Sunday, October 30, 2011

Play Day

Last week, the barn owner asked me if I would be able to help out on irrigation day (I was going to be in the neighborhood anyway) by opening up the last irrigation ditch port and keeping an eye on the last 20 or so minutes of irrigation.

So just for kicks, Mimi and I "monitored" the irrigation as it came riding in it.  Picture an approximately 4 acre pasture, covered in up to a foot of water in some places.  Because it was so newly irrigated and there's a mature (if sparse) covering of grass in the pasture, it hadn't yet gotten muddy.  The ground was firm, Mimi's bare hooves gave her plenty of we went out and played.

She waded pretty cautiously at first, testing the footing to see if it was solid.  When we ventured into the deeper section, she sniffed at the water, then started pawing at it.  A couple times, she felt like she was going to offer to roll, and that earned her a swift boot in the ribs.  Funny, because she's never once tried to roll in any other water crossings we've done.  Y'know, 'cause water crossing opportunities are so prolific in the desert... ;)

Flooded-out pasture.  Cell phone with its not-ideal camera
was the only camera I had on me.

It was a good chance just to play.  No pressure, no work, and a chance to remind Mimi that the saddle doesn't always mean doing boring circles.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Video Post

I had my camera down at the barn today, so decided to do a blog post via video today, composed as I rode Mimi around the arena.

Warning: Those that experience motion sickness may find the movement in the video to be somewhat distressing.  If you've seen my previous videos from endurance rides...this one is actually a bit smoother.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Go Bells

I could tell you the full story here...or I could just direct you to the new Go Bells and Go Bells Inventory pages on the link bar at the top of the page.


Check them out!  They're a colorful, pretty answer to letting those around you on the trail know you're there.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Memory Exercise: A Ride Story, One Year Later

I should win an award.  "Longest Time Waiting For Ride Story" or something.  It's been a year since I did the LD at McDowell Mountain Park with Beamer, and I'm just now sitting down to write about it.  Timely reporting fail.  It wasn't that the ride was bad, either.  I just lacked the motivation at the time to sit down and write.  Then we sold the horse, and I really didn't want to write.  I think I'm finally getting to the point where I feel like writing again.  Not okay with the horse being gone...will probably never be fully okay with that, because that means being okay with where my life is at right now, and that's not happening.

So we're going to put my memory to the test, and see how much of the ride I can remember.  Fortunately, I've got a lot of pictures.  So even if the story doesn't turn out to be very entertaining...enjoy the photogenic horse.


Going to the ride was something of a last-minute whim.  Well, last minute as in "a month ahead of time."  A month to get Beamer, who had never really been out on his own, and who had had most of the summer off, back in shape.  Mimi was down for the count with an abscess, Dad was down for the count with being crazy-busy with work...I was without a horse, Beamer was without a rider.  Do the math, and between the four of us, we had one functioning riding team.

He did really well in the month leading up to the ride out on his own.  Dad and I took turns taking him out by himself at the San Tans, and he really impressed me, enough to where I felt comfortable with the notion of taking him to a ride, where we'd at least have other horses around us, if not riding with us.  Also bolstering this confidence was the discovery that my saddle fit him.  My designed-for-flat-wide-backed-horses-with-no-withers Duett actually fit him.  The Skito Dryback pad provided sufficient padding to keep the saddle off his withers, and after switching between Dad's saddle and mine, there was no determinable difference in his movement.  All the sweeter for me, since I really love my saddle.  (As an date, that saddle's been on four different horses for rides, and fit all four of them.  Four varying conformations.  Color me impressed.)


Fast forward to the Friday of the ride.  He loaded into the trailer with nary a peep (this horse has awesome trailer manners) and dug into his hay bag.  Mimi, stuck in the barn, was furious, and sulked in the corner of her stall as we left.  I tried to bribe her with food, but that only went so far...

McDowell is about an hour away from the barn, and an easy drive.  We got there early afternoon, and as soon as I opened up the trailer, Beamer looked around, gave the horsey equivalent of a shoulder shrug, and hopped out of the trailer.  I'm sure it really helped that he'd done two previous rides there -- another reason I felt this would be a good ride for us.  This may have bitten us in the butt at some point...but more on that later.

We wandered around camp for a few minutes, him on a loose lead, taking in the sights.  Then it was back to the trailer, and he got installed on Mimi's side of the trailer -- and her HiTie.  He'd been on the HiTie approximately once before, and that was only after he had gone 25 miles.  Didn't phase him at all, although he didn't entirely catch on to the "I can turn myself around in a circle" concept.  He did like the "more moving space" concept.

If I didn't know for a fact this was Beamer (and the blue
bucket to prove it), I would swear it was The Pony.
He's a really good camper, and we ended up with horses next to us and horses behind us, so he was surrounded by a safe, horsey companion bubble.

Vet-In.  Dr. Rick knows me...and he knows Beamer.  Just not
together.  Had a couple moments of amused confusion.
We went over and vetted in, pausing along the way to explain to several people that "No, my pony didn't grow; No, I didn't technically get a new horse; Yes, that horse is familiar because it's actually my father's horse."  Vetting went off without a hitch, and I have to pause for a moment to admire Beamer's trot.  Even his lazy trot (which he did for that vet-in) is nicer than Mimi's best trot. Arab versus non-Arab, I guess.  (And younger and sound versus older and fused hocks.)  He also vetted in barefoot, which was awesome.  Beautiful decomposed granite that makes up the parking lot means great footing for trot-outs.

My biggest challenge was going to be pre-riding on Friday.  It's a necessity with Beamer.  He needs that time to blow off some steam, even if it's just a couple of miles.  He's usually higher than a kite, and feels like riding a powder-keg, per my father.  If we could get through this --alone -- than we'd probably stand a chance of managing the ride just fine.  We just had to survive Friday afternoon.

I'll admit -- I had more than a few nerves going on at this point.  Beamer is a lot bigger than I'm used to (five inches, to be exact) and a very powerful horse.  He'd tossed me off on a couple of occasions very shortly after we got him, and I've been a bit wary of him ever since.  So we started off hand-walking down the service road the 25s would the starting on the next morning.  The other necessity for me with Beamer is a mounting block of sorts.  I don't flat-mount 15hh horses.  About a hundred yards or so down the trail, I spotted some nice sturdy rocks just off the trail and used them to slither on.

Beamer was definitely up, and we tiptoed our way down the trail.  He gave me a couple head shakes on one of the downhills, suggesting how very much he would like to trot...and subsequently buck.  I declined.  We walked.  We probably went out another mile or so, then turned around.  Heading home, I allowed him some very brief controlled trotting moments.  He reminds me of a pressure cooker: You have to bleed the steam off slowly, in a controlled manner.  If you let it all out at once, your lid is going to explode and hit the ceiling.

Once we got back to camp, we stood around talking to a few people around the check-in/vet-in area, and he was great.  Standing there all relaxed and curious about what was happening.  He drank some at the trough, then we meandered back to the trailer.  He got dinner, and I got a ride briefing.

He was a great camper overnight...I never even heard him out there.  I did have to remember to talk to him when I'd open up the door, otherwise the sudden opening of the dressing room door would tend to startle him.

The Ride

Specifics escape me, but I want to say we had a fairly early start...6:30, maybe?  I was up super-early to allow myself plenty of time to eat, put Beamer's Renegades on, mess with saddlepacks, and the whole "new and different horse" thing.  Fortunately, the vet check between Loop One (15 miles) and Loop Two (10 miles) was back in camp, so I didn't have to pack the crew box or worry about getting food together.

Got my coffee and gave Beamer his breakfast, then set to work nibbling on something for myself.  I have to eat on ride mornings -- years of show training instilled an almost instinctive ability to eat, despite nerves and busy-ness -- but I can't eat quickly.  In between bites of hard-boiled egg and peanut butter toast, I slipped Beamer's boots on.  This horse was made for Renegades.  They go on so easy and fit his feet perfectly.  They were the one thing I wasn't worried about at all, since I've been with Dad and Beamer for every one of their miles and seen their track record with these boots.

(He's had two boots come off in a period of five years.  Earlier on, we had trouble with Beamer wearing out the Velcro straps very quickly, especially in the highs.  He'd drag his toes and roll the Velcro.  Shortening his toes ended that problem.)

Dad came up to crew for us, since home was only about half an hour away.  His help was appreciated, and most important, his moral support.  He knows the horse much better than I do, too, so he'd be able to give me feedback at the vetcheck of how Beamer looked.  (One of Beamer's nicknames, given in one of my not-so-charitable moments, is "Sandbagger."  He can be the biggest lazy-a** of a horse sometimes, and doesn't necessarily love haaaaaard work.)  Dad knows the difference between "Sandbag Beamer" and "Tired Beamer."

Dad was also responsible for getting a ton of pictures of us, since I wasn't brave enough to bring my camera along.  I was planning on two hands on the reins at all times, never mind taking pictures.

Last-minute tack adjustments.  Yes, we are disgustingly
color-coordinated.  Did I mention it was a Halloween ride?
I wasn't even going for the Halloween effect -- it was the
Renegade Sport Orange subliminal color advertising at work.
If the color didn't work, my Renegade t-shirt did.
Beamer is almost disgustingly calm on the ground.  Really, he has fabulous ground manners.  Please note the "no hands on the lead" display.  One of these days, I'm going to run across a horse that actually requires me to pay attention on the ground...

I did my last-minute tack fidgets, gave Beamer his accustomed couple circles of lunging, took a deep breath, and scrambled on.  It was still plenty early, and I had timed things just right to give me my accustomed 15 minutes of warm-up.  We walked up to the start and walked circles.  Most amusingly, the only behavioral indiscretion on Beamer's part came when we'd turn and start walking away from the start.  He threatened to hop up and down a couple times, and then settled as soon as we faced the starting area again.
Up, but keeping it together.  The tail is only at half-mast,
which is a good sign.  The grin isn't faked, either.

Okay, this is good.  He wants to go.

We started off pretty much in the middle of the pack, which is how Beamer prefers it.  The warm-up time allowed us to go right along at a trot.  He really held it together, despite the horse with the grass hula skirt that was right on his tail.  I could tell it was concerning him, so I let them pass, and he relaxed.

We hit a sand wash almost immediately, and I was able to let him move out at a nice trot.  I got a few head-shakes out of him when I'd check him, but again...keeping it together.

Alerting on the hula skirt behind us.
The wash was only a short stretch, and then we connected up to the Scenic Trail that runs along a ridgeline with a fabulous view of the Verde River in the distance.  Halfway up the hill, I experienced one of Beamer's acrobatic feats.  Tired of me checking him, wondering why the horses ahead of him all disappeared around the corner, and concerned about the horses in the wash below us, he let out an impressive buck.  While trotting.  On a rocky singletrack.  Uphill.

This horse is an athletic freak.

I checked him, let out some colorful language, and we kept moving forward.  Made some pretty good time along the ridgeline, and he didn't spook at the bench that Mimi always spooks at.  It's really a pretty trail, and I love the 360* views.  When I've done the ride in the past, the 50s didn't do this section of trail until the afternoon, and by then it was hot, and not nearly as much fun.

Down on the other side of the mountain, there was a water stop at the road, and the ride photographer stationed nearby.

Photographer Dean Stanton got a great series of pics.  B
was alert, a little wary, but the end result was beautiful!
 He wasn't much interested in water, but given that it was only five or so miles into the ride, I wasn't surprised.

Stopped for the road crossing.  He didn't want to stop.
There were sufficient horses around us that he was plenty motivated to keep going, and wanted to do more than trot.  Given we had only gone about five miles, and given that he had already displayed some vertical hind-end enthusiasm, I elected for a trot.  He's got a big trot when he's motivated.

This section of the park is probably my least favorite, especially as you approach the northwestern-most corner.  The trail has a lot of blind curves and is quite brushy in some places.  B has never been fond of it either, but we made it through unscathed, with only one bike popping up behind us and startling B.

There was another water stop at the far end of this loop.  I actually hopped off here to adjust my pad (general endurance cut, no billet straps, so it tends to wiggle about under my saddle) and sloshed a bit of water on B's neck.  He did not appreciate the gesture, even though he was fuzzy (I had clipped his neck earlier in the week, and braided his mane that morning) and getting sweaty.  He also didn't drink.  Again, we'd only come 10 miles or so, but he usually drinks by this point.  Internalized nerves were probably interfering to some degree.

The benefit of riding a horse you enough is younger, tougher, and has more natural athleticism than your own horse?  You only lose a couple of minutes worrying about them before taking the tough love, "they'll learn not to ignore water when it's offered" tactic.  Me being me, though...I still worried a bit.  But I didn't waste time trying to bribe him.  Found a suitable dirt pile and scrambled back on.  (13.3hh is sounding better all the time.)

A little ways past the water stop, one of my rear boot bags started flopping around, and I did my best to jerry-rig it in place without getting off the horse.  Also, with only using one hand, since I didn't trust him enough to let go of both reins.  It sorta stayed in place...until we started trotting again.  Yanked it off and clipped it to the front of my saddle, where I could hold it in place.

Shortly beyond this point, we got off the nice single-track and into a wash.  A rather deep wash that's really shrubby on both sides.  Beamer got very up and this point, so I hopped off to walk him, lest someone come up behind us and send him launching.  This was my major tactical mistake of the ride.  I got off to walk...and couldn't get back on.  There wasn't a good, safe place to mount, and whenever I'd go to get on, Beamer would sidle away.  So we walked.

Did I mention this wash was about two miles long?  I hand-walked all. of. it.  Unfortunately, this really cost us some serious time.  Finally got out of the wash and to the water stop.  Beamer drank, I sponged him, and tied my boot bag back in place.  And re-adjusted my saddle pad.  Again.

I was hot, sweaty, and a little bit peeved at this point, and a bit annoyed that there wasn't a suitable place to get on.  (Ya think you should learn to flat-mount a tall horse, O' Out-of-Shape One?)

So I ended up hand-walking out of the water stop.  Note to self: When someone offers to give you a hand, take them up on it.  Tried getting on a couple more times past the stop, and B wasn't having it.  He was liking this whole "rider walks" gig.
Low point...leading out because I can't figure out how to get
back on my horse.

I finally found a large pile of rocks that were used to surround one of the trail signs.  As Beamer sidled away one more time, the end of my reins might have connected with his shoulder, and I might have called him some very colorful names...but it made my point.  I was done with his games.

Funny enough, he stepped right up to the rocks after that.  Epic mounting fail on my part was what followed next.  I knew it was a bad spot to get on, but there was literally nothing else to use.  So as I hopped up and swung my leg, my foot hit the metal sign.

Kudos to Beamer...he really held it together.  That would have been enough to incite a bucking fit, but all he did was surge forward, with his butt tucked in concern and head up.  Fortunately I had my reins.  Only one stirrup, though.  So he redeemed himself, although I considered spooking him my revenge for the endless walking.

Now it was a mission to make up time.  We got trotting, and then cantering.  He's got a great canter.  The textbook, rocking-horse kind of canter.  It's not super-speedy, but we clip along, and it's really surefooted.  Best part was the trail was a gentle downhill grade, and he felt perfectly balanced and comfortable.  (Can't safely canter downhill on an already-downhill-built pony.)

Time was of the essence now...which is of course why he decided the water trough at the next road crossing looked delicious.  Guess he figured out that "use it or lose it" thing...

The way back into camp was The Wash that McDowell is infamous for -- two miles of fairly deep sand.  Having done this ride twice, Beamer knows this wash.  He was a trooper heading down it, though -- probably helped that we were heading for "home."

Sorta dragging in at the end of Loop One.  Grin is for the
camera, since I was more grim at this point.
We trotted most of the back in, and I hopped off just outside of camp.  Dad was waiting for us, a bit concerned because we were pretty near the tail-end of the pack.

 By the time we walked in, I loosened my girth, let him drink, and removed his S-hack, B was down.  Wow, that horse pulses in fast.  (It was probably less than two minutes.)

He vetted in great...I want to say all As.
He doesn't even look tired.  I, OTOH, look wilted.

We had an hour hold, during which time I managed to sit down for probably ten whole minutes.  (Tevis practice.)  I stripped tack for whatever reason, which is the first time I can recall ever doing so.  I suspect it had something to do with the heat, and the fact we were back at the  trailer, so could dump it on a saddle tack.  I think I wanted to pull the saddle pad out and reset the whole thing in an effort to keep the pad from wiggling so much.

In that hour, I managed to: untack, feed the horse, eat, pull off the annoying boot bags, check the GPS (alarmingly, the "15" mile loop was clocking in at 18), take a potty break, shed my long-sleeve t-shirt, re-tack, and be in the saddle again five minutes before my out-time.

A little effort, B?  Both of my feet are off the ground.

I was racing the clock now, and had determined that the next loop was probably somewhere between 8-10 miles.  I had an hour and half to finish.  I wasn't sure I could make it...but I was going to try.

B got another drink at the trough, and then we walked around as we waited for the "go" from the out-timer.

I was racing the clock now, and had determined that the next loop was probably somewhere between 8-10 miles.  I had an hour and half to finish.  I wasn't sure I could make it...but I was going to try.

Waiting to head out on Loop Two.
B got another drink at the trough, and then we walked around as we waited for the "go" from the out-timer.  I wanted to make sure he was plenty warmed-up so we could hit the ground running...okay, trotting.  I was determined to make every second of the second loop count.

The impressive trot lasted until we hit the sand wash again (all of about ten seconds...) and then it was back to peddle-peddle-peddle for the next two miles.  I'd get a bit of a peddle-trot out of him, then we'd slouch to a walk again.  Peddle-trot-slouch-walk.  There were two riders behind me, and we leapfrogged up the wash this way.  None of our horses were particularly motivated or wanted to lead, so the old "go ahead, follow the one in front of you" standby wasn't working so well.  Once we hit the single-track again, he picked up.  (Why does this surprise happened this way the other two times.)

Of course we had to stop at the water trough at the road crossing again.  After that, we did got a good clip going.  Until we hit the next wash.  B slowed down, but I wheedled, peddled, coaxed, cajoled, and encouraged him up the wash at a respectable trot.  Motivation was trying to stay ahead of the two ladies behind us.  He did really good, and got a lot of "atta boy" praises along the way.

Once we hit single-track, he picked it up again, and we really upped the speed with some nice stretches of cantering.  There was enough up and down on the trail that it really broke things up...good for the rest, but harder to keep up a good average pace.

The trail eventually looped back around to the same water stop from earlier in the day...and this time, I stayed mounted.  (She eventually catches on, that one...)  He drank, then we boogied.
I love this picture.  :)  Heading home for the final stretch.

We were both familiar with this stretch right after the water, and we flew.  I was so impressed with B...he was cantering along on a loose rein, cheerfully watching the trail.  At one point, we had an impressive skid moment...he hit a slick batch of decomposed granite and both hind feet skidded forward...and he never missed a beat.  Still kept right on cantering.  See above re: Athletic Freak.

We were clipping right along...came to the road crossing again, he drank (again), and then we hit the wash.  And B hit the wall.  Didn't matter how much I begged, pleaded, peddled, cajoled, prodded, whatnot...he wasn't gonna go.  Nope, not down that wash again.  He'd cheerfully walk out, but he wasn't going to trot again.  Well, we had about a mile and half to go...and five minutes to make it.  Well, that wasn't going to happen.

I was bummed, but resigned.  He'd done his best, and really, done more than I expected: 25 miles, all by himself.  I'm guessing he was just mentally done at this point and tired of being on his own.  We ended up coming in about 20 minutes overtime.  *sigh*  I'd called Dad from down in the wash to let him know.

Just as a courtesy, we pulsed down (B was something in the low 40's, so he wasn't physically tired, just mentally a bit done-in for the day.  He still looked really perky and was starving back at the trailer.) and did an exit check and turned in my vet card.

We took B back to the trailer and cleaned him up and let him rest while we packed up the trailer.  (Ooo, forgot how nice finishing while it's still early afternoon can be.)

So I was really tickled with B, even if we didn't officially complete.  But wait...there's an epilogue to this story...


Remember when I said I GPS'd the first loop at 18 miles?  Well, when I pulled my boot bags off at lunch, I forgot to pull out my GPS to record the second loop.  A couple days post-ride, I get an e-mail from the trail master of the ride, wondering if I had a GPS track of the LD.  No, not the whole thing...but I have the first loop.  Okay, she says.  We believe there were some mileage discrepancies, and I'm going to go out to the park today and ride the LD trail myself.

A couple days later, I hear from her and the ride manager: the 25 actually GPS'd closer to 29 miles, therefore the mileage was being increased to a 30...and the completion time extended by an hour and fifteen minutes.  Which means we actually got our finish.  Yeah!!!

We ended up coming in 33rd out of 38, with a ride time of 5:32.

October 2011

I can't believe how much of that I remembered.  It was clearly a good ride for me to recall so much.  I really had fun, and was pleased as punch with how Beamer did.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"Pony" is a four-letter word

Today was a "pony" day, said with much disgust and shaking of the head.  We were due for it...she's been an angel for the past couple of months, but the "pony" part of her personality is never far below the surface.  Today, it was standing up and doing the hula.

*blinks*  Now there's a mental image for ya.  (All of the costume classes I did, I never gave Mimi the indignity of a hula skirt.  Missed opportunity...)

We cranked out about half an hour of arena work, heavy focus on the trot and canter (and some rider torture in the form of riding without stirrups).  Brought my GPS out , just for kicks, and discovered that we covered about 2 miles with our laps around the arena.  Cool.  Better than nothing, and it is a sand arena.

She wasn't all bad.  I dusted off the jumping hackamore and got it adjusted properly, and she was working beautifully in it.  Seems to be a great choice for arena work, and she was even softer in it than the S-hack.  She had a fabulous whoa today, too...but that might have had something to do with the fact that she "didn't wanna work."  I don't think it'll translate over to the trail quite as well, since Ms. Curb-Your-Enthusiasm needs a little bit of a reminder that blasting off at Mach 3 is not on the recommended itinerary.

But I like keeping arena and trail gear separate.  It's something I've done for years, ever since show days: western bit for western classes, kimberwick for english flat classes, snaffle for jumping classes, and hackamore for gymkhana.  So it's a principle she's well-versed in: "X means fun, Y means work."

Worked on her hooves...they're looking really good right now.  Picture taking fail today, since I was pretty much done in by the time I got around to working on her feet and out of patience for messing with the camera.  Her hooves are slowing down in their growth as her system readjusts to the ever-decreasing amount of daylight and redirects its energies towards growing a fine, fuzzy winter coat.  In 95*.  Proof right there that horse hair growth is controlled by daylight hours, not temperature.  At least I don't have to worry about clipping her this winter, and the subsequent "to blanket or not to blanket" question.

It was also warm enough for her to get a shower (Horrors...I removed her protective layer of dirt coating!) after we were done, which made for east-trim hooves.  She was thoroughly hacked off that I had the nerve to get her face wet, and proceeded to whip me with her (soaking wet) tail during the rest of the process.  Thanks, pony.

All was well at the end, since she did her spiffy little bowing trick for a carrot.  Never mind that she almost fell over, she was so excited to see a rare, elusive carrot appear before her.  Carrots cure all ills, at least in her mind.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Here We Go Again...The Great LD vs. Endurance Debate


That's the bell going off for round whatever-illion of the never-ending "Endurance Versus Limited Distance" debate on Ridecamp and other email lists and forums.  Around the country, many people are starting to experience weather that encourages indoor hibernation, which in turn leads to sitting in front of computers and snarking, for lack of anything better to do.

This time, from my understanding, it started with a restructuring of points for 100s, which turned to talk of combined mileage recognition (lifetime accumulated miles of both LDs and 50s for a horse), which in turn has degenerated to the good old favorite topic of debate that crops up every winter...LD vs. Endurance.  Half the talk makes my eyes glaze over, mostly because it's points and mileage and stuff I've never concerned myself with because I've never ridden that competitively, and the other half makes me cringe because it's starting to get nasty. I've been an AERC member for six years now, and I've seen this debate...hmmm....annually, with a few minor rounds cropping up here and there during the year, just to keep people in fighting-trim.

Sometimes, I suspect it'll never truly end.

As someone who has done both 50s and LDs, I can understand both sides of the argument.  Neither side is all wrong or all right.  I'm sure I'm going to manage to inflame some people along the way, but to me, it's a pretty simple concept: Calling yourself an endurance rider is a privilege, not a right, and it is something earned through an extraordinary amount of work and time.  This is not to say that conditioning for an LD isn't work.  For some people, it may be their own personal equivalent of training for a 50, and this isn't meant to diminish a personal accomplishment.  But the bottom line is, 50s are more work and therefore earn the title of "endurance."


In the AERC bylaws, endurance is defined as "events 50 miles and above."  This gives us a baseline and standard of performance.  50 miles is not easy.  Maybe to those riders whose miles are hitting quadruple digits and above, 50 miles starts to become commonplace.  But for someone who doesn't even have an endurance mileage patch yet, the idea that a 50 mile ride may someday seem "easy" is a thought to be marveled.  Per Webster:

endure: to last; suffer patiently; tolerate

By its very name, "endurance" is to be celebrated as something that has been worked for and earned.  Let's face it: It takes a lot of work to get a horse 50-mile ready, and then keep them there.  It takes time, dedication, and then a bit of luck tossed in there for good measure.

And the fact is, not all horses can do 50 miles.  I did some teeth-gnashing during Tevis weekend, wondering how these horses can be 17+ and still able to even think about competing at the Tevis level -- and some of them finishing -- when my 18-year-old pony is retired from even LD competition.  She was a 50-mile horse at one point, and I'm so proud of every one of her 200 miles that she earned, because it was a lot of work, and she was a very unlikely endurance horse.

But the blood, sweat, and tears that we poured into training and conditioning gave us the right to call ourselves an endurance team for the three years we competed.  "Endurance" is a title that is earned through a lot of hard work and time...being able to call yourself an "endurance rider" is not something to be given out's a recognition of the effort that has gone into getting to that point.

At the moment, I'm not an endurance rider.  I'm a competition horse-less rider who will call myself whatever kind of rider I am on any given day I can snag a horse from somebody.  Right now, I'm a mostly-arena rider who "trail rides" on the streets around the barn.  When I've been fortunate enough to have somebody loan me a horse, then I'm a distance rider again.  But until I am riding 50s again, I am not an endurance rider.  I've done endurance in the past, but I'm not now...and to call myself an endurance rider is doing a disservice to anyone who is actively riding 50s and putting in the time and effort.

Limited Distance

I started AERC by doing LDs.  I did three years of LDs before my first 50, and have continued to do them since.  I still enjoy LDs, and quite like the fact I can comfortably walk in the days to follow.  Three of my LD rides have been on new or unfamiliar horses, and it was reassuring to know that if things went all pear-shaped, I only had to deal with it for 25 miles.

I've heard the adage that, "Any horse can do a 25."  Respectfully, I disagree.  I know plenty of horses that are unsuited for any kind of outside trail work, let alone 25 miles, maintaining an average speed of 5mph.  That's something I won't even ask Mimi for anymore.

As I stated earlier, for some people that are physically unable to ride for 50 miles, or have a horse unsuited for 50 miles, or lack the time to train, whatever the reason may be, to them, an LD could be a huge personal accomplishment.  And I'm not trying to devalue that or take that away from anybody.

But it comes down to this: Individual situations aside, 25s are not as much work as 50s.  Period.  End of story.  Therefore, LDs should not be elevated to the same level as endurance.  You cannot have the same amount of recognition for half the amount of work.

Let me say again: I do not have a problem with LDs.  I want to see them continue.  We need LDs to bring new people into the sport.  Most people are intimidated by the idea of riding for 50 miles right off the bat.  That's one of the reasons it's so important for more experienced riders to take an interest in LD riders.  Make them feel welcome.  Offer assistance or be a mentor.

It makes me sad when I hear LD riders say they feel "unwelcome" or "ostracized" because of the distance they're riding.  If that's the case, then shame on you, endurance riders.  I personally had a wonderful introduction to the sport.  My very first LD, I was fortunate enough to be camped next to a very, very experienced endurance rider.  Patty took me under her wing, answered questions that I didn't even know I had, and made me feel welcome the entire weekend.  

At another ride, an experienced endurance rider corrected my self-deprecating attitude of "only doing the 25."  Their response?  "It's still an accomplishment.  That's 25 more miles than most people ride."  (And after the last ride I did, I was glad it was "only" 25 miles!  I was out of shape and not sure I could have made it 50.)

I admit I don't go out of my way to mentor...heck, I feel like I still need a mentor some days.  But I do try to be welcoming at rides.  I might not have my electrolyte protocol down to a shareable science...but I can probably tell someone where the registration and check-in table is located.  The only way AERC is going to continue to grow as an organization is if we make people feel welcome and bring them into the fold...and that often happens through LDs as the first stepping stone.  And once people get hooked on LDs, it often opens up the possibilities of doing 50s.

Bottom Line

I probably opened a giant can of worms with this topic, but it's one that isn't going away any time soon.  Not that it needs to go away...a little healthy debate is what keeps thing interesting and innovative, but it also can't be allowed to tear apart our organization.

That said...

I feel that keeping LD and endurance separate when it comes to recognition is for the best.  It's not fair for endurance riders who have put the time and energy into conditioning to have an LD horse and rider be elevated to the same level.  And LD riders that want to be called "endurance" riders should have to put forth the same amount of effort and energy to earn that title.  

To call one's self an endurance rider is a title that is earned, not given.  You have to work for it...and I look forward to working towards the next time I can call myself an endurance rider again.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Finally Fall

I saw my breath this morning when I stepped out my front door at 7:00.  Yesterday, I got misted on when walking.  Wednesday saw me in a long-sleeved tee (with shorts and sandals, but that's beside the point).  Is it finally fall?  One can only hope.  I trying desperately to ignore the weather report for next week, the one that says we're going to be back up in the 90s again.

*plugs ears and hums loudly*

But for now, I'm going to enjoy every single reprieve I get.  This is my favorite time of year, when I can drive down the freeway with my windows down, music blasting, wind whipping my hair into disarray.

View from my front yard.  I live in suburbia
and board half an hour away in quasi-suburbia-
There seems to be another potential storm brewing (maybe the dregs of the one that dumped 2' of snow in the Sierras and put this year's Tevis into disarray decided to come south?) today, so I scuttled out of the house around mid-morning and headed down to the barn.

My timing was pretty good...Mimi had finished breakfast, and was just about to be turned out into the pasture.  It's so much easier to work with her when I can get to her before her pasture time...otherwise, she's rather put out about just getting settled into the serious business of grazing, only to be interrupted for that silly little thing called work.

The last half a dozen times I've ridden her in the arena, I've worked her pretty extensively in a bit.  I may have mentioned this before, but she hates bits.  Something about tiny pony mouths, and just a general distaste for hunks of metal crammed between her lips.

Last week, I inadvertently discovered that if I am going to use a bit, she much prefers it to be very snug in her mouth..definitely the "two wrinkles on the corner of the mouth" rule of thumb, and bordering on a third.  Adjusted that way, she didn't fuss, make too many weird faces, or try to gnaw it in half.  She was also very light in the face and extremely responsive.

Lesson out of all of this?  Don't be afraid to go against convention and experiment.  Just because something is "always" done a certain way doesn't mean it's necessarily correct for a given circumstance.

This week, I decided to use the S-Hack on her.  This is my headgear of choice for when we're out on trail, and I've always had great control with it.  But sometimes, I wish she was a little more sensitive to doing some of the finer nuances of arena work with this set-up.  So that was today's goal...make her do some actual arena work in the hack.  And she did really well.  She's pretty stiff and resistant to giving to the left, so we spent a lot of time working on that.

The cooler weather also has her feeling good, and in very good spirits, and she's a ton of fun to ride when she's that way.  I don't have to think when I'm riding her...we've been partners for so long, I can just ride her.  And y'know, I really, really like riding that little mare.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Path So Far...Looking Back on Six Years of Endurance (Updated with Pictures!)

Today marks the sixth anniversary of my foray into endurance. October 1, 2005, I did my first 25-mile LD ride at the Man Against Horse Race in Prescott, AZ.  It's a ride I've attended every year since, and high on my list of favorite rides.

It's been an incredible six years.  Even with my current hiatus status, I have every intention of returning to the sport as soon as I'm able, and still keep abreast of current happenings and goings-on.  After doing seemingly a little bit of everything within the horse world, I've finally found my niche in endurance.

So you'll pardon my somewhat stream-of-consciousness style of putting this post together (not to mention a long-a** post), but I'm writing things as they come to flashes of inspiration, often the same way the realization of an event as a learning moment struck.
Enjoy the might have taken a while to get there.
Saguaro Lake, January 2011

Patience, grasshopper.  Endurance has taught me nothing if not patience.  Patience with my horse, myself, my riding companions, the other competitors.  I can only control so much of what happens...the rest requires a (sometimes large) dose of patience.

The journey is now.  I admit this one comes and goes.  I am guilty of extreme forward-thinking, even having a potential ride schedule mapped out two to three years in advance of a specific goal. *cough*Tevis*cough*  The consequence of this means being disappointed on a regular laid plans and all.  It's been a task to rein myself in and to learn to live in the moment...make each mile count, to find the special in every ride, to appreciate the quiet whuffling (okay, pig-like snorting) of your horse as the two of you share an apple.  Don't get so caught up in the big picture and reaching an ultimate destination that you forget to enjoy the journey along the way, because there's no guarantee you'll even reach that final goal.

     Ex.: As anyone that's read this blog for more than a page knows, Tevis was always my ultimate goal with Mimi.  Obviously, that didn't happen.  In the back of my mind, I think I realistically knew it would take a miracle to get us to the start line.  The optimist in me never stopped dreaming.  But in our last year of competition together, that little voice in my head made me very aware of the good times.  Our last ride -- and pull -- not withstanding, the two rides prior to that were the best rides I could ever hope for from Mimi.  Man Against Horse 50 and Valley of the Sun Turkey Trot 50, both in 2009, were textbook rides that I will always treasure.  There are some fantastic memories etched into my mind from those rides:

Man Against Horse
- Starting in the thick of the pack, Mimi's ears flattened, weaving through horses and runners. 
- Trotting along the road that leads to the climb up the back side of Mingus Mountain.  Through the worst of the hard-pack and rock portion of the road and onto where it turns into smooth double-track.  Mimi was leading, trotting along the road on a loose rein, playfully ducking at the metal culverts on the side of the road, and I was cheerfully singing at the top of my lungs.
- Picking through the rocks near the top of Mingus Mtn.
- Leading through the woods on the way down to the third vet check, on a loose rein, blitzing through the single-track trail, in perfect sync.  Smooth, perfectly in control, checking herself on downhills, balanced around turns.
- Crossing the finish line.  We were walking sense in tripping on a gopher hole in the last 100 yards, but she still had to out-walk Beamer and cross the finish line ahead of him.  (She won, in her mind.)  I cried when I leaned over to hug her as she marched under that finish banner, I was so proud of her.  This ride was our Tevis.

VotS Turkey Trot
- Smashed in the middle of a whole bunch of horses invading her personal space at the controlled start, and doing nothing more than the Pony Sneer.
- Trying to dump me by spooking at the bench at the top of the ridgeline trail.  At 30-something miles into the ride.
- Leading down a single-track trail that made its way towards basecamp, at dusk.  Her lightly stepping over every single inlaid anti-erosion log on the trail, at a trot, and not tripping once.
- Doing a show-perfect sliding stop in the middle of said trail to stare at a barrel cactus.
- Riding the last three miles back to camp in the dark, no glowstick or lights of any kind.  Trotting along in the big sand wash, with her politely ignoring me when I tried to steer us down a dead-end trail.  She was absolute perfection and I had total trust in her.  She never missed a step.

Flexibility.  See above, with best-laid plans.  Endurance riders have to, by necessity and survival, learn to be flexible and adapt.  Expect the unexpected, and not to be too fatalistic, plan for the worst...or, at least, have a back-up plan.  Horses are unpredictable creatures, and endurance adds in that many more factors to amplify that tendency.  

"Nobody likes a sissy."  Words to live by, spoken (well, Facebooked) by friend and fellow endurance rider Renee Robinson.  It's become somewhat of a catch-phrase now, and it is so true.  With limited time, budgetary constraints, and availability of rides within reasonable traveling distance, I couldn't afford to be a fair-weather rider.  As a result, I've gotten wet at half of the rides I've done.  This desert rat is closer to a drowned desert rat.  But that's a lot of rides I would have missed out on due to potentially-inclement weather.  Mimi, however, has no such qualms about her sissy status, and will proudly admit it from her warm, dry stall.  She doesn't do cold, wet rides, and has told me so in so many words.  And when I don't get the message, she grants me a tie-up as thanks.
Have Gore-Tex, will travel
Las Cienegas ride, December 2006

Gore-Tex, or go home.  If you're gonna stick it out in the wet, you gotta have the goods.  And by that, I mean Gore-Tex.  Two failed "waterproof" coats later, Gore-Tex is the only way to go.  The one I have is from Cabela's.  It's a nice light, layer-able shell. This is the updated version: Cabela's PacLite Rainy River Parka.  They periodically go on sale, which is when I got mine, along with a set of matching rain pants.  Ideally, my next coat will have snaps in addition to the zipper.

We'll never have all the answers.  Why do they tie up?  How much electrolytes should I give?  Why aren't they drinking better?  Why did the vet check move?  Where'd the ribbons go?  Boot check?  Where's my crew bag box?  A few tongue-in-cheek questions mixed in there among the serious, but it makes the same point: There will always be questions.  Sometimes, we'll be fortunate enough to know the answers.  Some questions, we'll never know the answers.  (Like that maddening tie-up one.)  But part of the endurance adventure is the ability to try to find those answers...and ask the questions.

Crew boxes rock.  With two people and two horses and a whole ton of stuff, a box is a lot easier to pack than multiple bags.  And everything ends up being easier to find, since Murphy's Law comes in and rearranges my crew bag after I've packed it, shuffling exactly what I'll need to the bottom of the bag, so everything has to be unpacked to get to it.  Which brings me to the crew bag/box rule: It never fits in the same way again.  Despite emptying it of food, water, and horse food at every check, there's less room for everything to fit back in again.

Endurance people are some of the nicest, most helpful people out there.  I'm constantly amazed at the selflessness, generosity, and helpful spirits I encounter along the trail.  People have loaned me horses, opened up their homes for me to visit, mentored me, shown me new trails, taken me to rides, and have never failed to be there when needed.  I'm so, so grateful and thankful to every single one of you.

post-ride to Christopher Creek in Payson, Sept 2010
Hug your horse.  At the end of the day, they're your partner.  I've been lucky enough to have shared the trail with my equine soul mate and forever heart horse who has given me her all.  So remember to thank them for that...every ride is special.

Rider management matters.  Don't get so caught up in caring for your horse you forget to take care of yourself.  Eat, sleep, exercise.  I'm not advocating crazy diet plans or being marathon-fit...just be sensible.  The better you are, the better it is for your horse.
Desert Forest NATRC, March 2007, Wickenburg, AZ.
Going up "mini Cougar Rock"

"You don't know how far you can go until you've gone too far." (Julie Suhr)  There's a fine line between pushing out of the comfort zone and going over the edge.  But you don't know until you try.  That risk is part of endurance.  And sometimes, you'll be surprised at what you accomplish.

At the end of the day, SMILE!  You're riding your horse in beautiful country, some of which can only be seen from horseback.  And remember, it's called ENDURANCE for a reason!
view from the Highline Trail, just below the Mogollon Rim
Payson, September 2010

snow-covered Superstitions
view from the San Tan Mtn Park
January 2010

Picketpost Mtn
February 2011