Saturday, December 31, 2011


Who here likes to make inebriated declarations of good intent New Year's resolutions?

I actually don't.

To be more specific: I set goals for the year, try to plan things in advance, and accept that fact that 75% of those plans will end up getting kicked to the curb through little fault of my own.

So while I'm not completely against the idea of resolutions in general -- hey, they obviously work for a lot of people -- I have a tendency to go way overboard in the expectations department.  I also might not be 100% in touch with reality some of the time.  So rather than creating a list of unrealistic resolutions that then leave me with an abject sense of failure when they don't happen, I've settled on the more vague "plans and goals" approach.

Or maybe I just don't like the idea of being held accountable, even by myself, to declarations made when I've stayed up past my bedtime.

But even without specific goals/plans/outlandish fantasies in mind at the moment, I'm looking forward to writing 2012.

(Okay, okay, so I've got a couple things in mind: Keep up on blogging.  I've gotten back into the habit of it again...Maintain it.  And this past fall, I cracked down on my own health and lifestyle.  Nothing drastic (I'll never manage to create a stir in diet-blog land with it), just taking a very sensible approach of watching my portions, eating a well-balanced diet, walking every day (2-4 miles), and some kind of resistance workout a couple times a week.  It's working, and I'm slowly shedding pounds and feeling good about my own fitness and health.  Keep at it.)

Superstition says that whatever you do on New Year's is what you'll spend the rest of the year doing.  Superstitious or not, it sounds like a good excuse to go ride.  :)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Let the Record Reflect

I love looking at ride records for both horses and riders.  They really tell an interesting story, whether you're looking to purchase a horse with some endurance miles (Was he raced from the get-go, or started slow and taught to be in touch with his brain?  Any pulls?  What kind?  What kind of ride does he seem to excel at?), or looking for bloodlines and/or close relations of a youngster (Please let him have even a tenth of the endurance talent as his mother/brother/second-cousin-twice-removed.).

The same goes for rider records as well: Did that bit of advice you got around the campfire come from someone with upteen-thousands of miles who probably knows what they're talking about, or an upstart flash-in-the-pan with a handful of raced LD miles to their name?

Too bad the records don't tell the whole story.

Let's use a very personal example: Me.  Honestly, if I looked myself up on AERC, I wouldn't be too impressed.

17 rides
13 completions (9/9 LDs, 4/8 Endurance)
Pulls: 3 Rider Option, 1 Overtime
5 different horses

Nothing to brag about, right?  There's a reason I don't sit around the campfire and offer too much endurance advice.  I might be experienced around horses in general, but I still consider myself very much an endurance newbie.

But who wants the inside story?  (For the sake of the rest of this post, I'll pretend somebody just raised their hand.)

To start: 17 rides in seven ride seasons?  Some people get that to that many rides in one season.  Lucky them.  I've had to work around around: full-time school, part-time job, and limited resources, meaning sticking to in-state rides.

LD record?  Nothing eyebrow-raising.  A couple of Top Tens in there on Mimi.  Full disclosure?  They were small rides.

Endurance...ouch.  In my defense, I turn to the pull codes.  Three Rider Option.  The story behind those? 1) I broke myself. 2) I broke myself. 3) I almost broke my horse but stopped before I did.  The story I tell myself to make me feel better is that I've never had a vet have to pull me...I exercise common sense and good judgment...the truth?  I'm a paranoid, slightly neurotic wimp without access to good pain meds.


I'll be the first to admit that I don't have a high pain tolerance.  My ankles were each responsible for a pull, and I've learned I can't ride with a sprained ankle.  Some people can.  But I always sort of sucked at the ride-without-stirrups thing and tend to rely pretty heavily on my legs for keeping me in the saddle and balanced.  But the bottom line is, I don't really feel like giving myself permanent damage for the sake of a hobby, something I'm supposed to be doing for fun.

Overtime pull?  Tough ride, bad weather, silly horses.  'Nuff said.

That last RO pull should really be a RO-Metabolic, but that was before they really started keeping track of the more specific RO pull codes.  And the vets couldn't find anything wrong.  But I know my pony, and she was at the "ADR" point -- Ain't Doin' Right.  If we had kept on going, I know she would have tied up.  We called it a day.

And the five different horses?  Only one of them is mine.  I have generous friends that need horses ridden.  I'm happy to accommodate.

So, to sum up: I'm a paranoid, uber-conservative rider who still has a pain threshold, riding an older, not-entirely-suited-for-endurance pony who has given me enough scares and traumas to make me even more paranoid and conservative.

What the ride record doesn't tell you is how many hours I've spent training and conditioning.  I believe it was Julie Suhr that said something to the effect of, "If you don't enjoy the training, you're in the wrong sport."  Well, if it weren't for the training, I wouldn't end up doing much riding!

I love the training me, that's where the most progress and bonding is done.  I'm resigned to the fact that, at rides, I might only have 75% -- at best -- of my horse's brain, and that I'm kind of just along for the ride sometimes.  But training rides?  Those are the blood, sweat and tears that go into the foundation of getting to the actual rides.  I wish I'd done a better job of keeping training records...I would love to know how many hours I've spent in the saddle and how many miles we've covered.

Moral of the story?  Just like you can't judge a book by its cover, you can't judge an endurance rider by their record.

At least, not entirely.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

'Tis the Season

Mimi has her own Santa hat.  On the years I 1) remember and 2) don't misplace it, I pull out the hat and take embarrassing pictures of the pony.  It's the sort of activity that reminds her of a pony's station in life: to be a little girl's dress-up toy.

She finds it less than amusing.

This year, I not only was able to find the hat, I remembered to take it down to the barn before Christmas.  Here's a few of today's antics and outtakes. I'm saving the "nice" one for Christmas.

It rained today. Funny, it rained last time I was down at the barn.
Mimi's over the rain.

For a sweet pony, she can pull the bitchiest mare faces.
Grouching at her stall-neighbor.

"Uh oh...I remember this..."

"Did I mention I hate you?"
Reward for tolerating five minutes of indigation: a warm beet pulp mash.
Stall-neighbor Ava wants to share.  Only thing Mimi shares is flying
hooves and teeth.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Bit of A Collection

I have a confession to make.

I collect bits.

I probably can't even count how many bits I've used/owned over the years.  Start between "a lot" and "a ton" and go from there.  It started with my show days and went from there.  I think I probably used seven or eight different Western bits over the years, starting with a snaffle and very quickly moving into all manner of ported/shanked leverage bits.  The joys of a young pony with no brakes and a young rider with no upper body strength.  Shortcuts R Us.  But I didn't know any different at the time.   I was still trying to figure out how to ride a young horse, let alone train one.

English was easier...very quickly moved into a kimberwick and stayed there for pretty much our entire show career.

And gymkhana quickly complicated things again.  Snaffle while I was still teaching her the patterns, then over to a mechanical hackamore when we started picking up the speed.  But of course it couldn't be that simple...maybe one style of mechanical hackamore works better than another?  And then on a whim, the week before our last show, I snagged an S-Hack while at the feed store.  I had done about a year of distance riding at that point, and had seen distance riders using them.  I figured I might eventually be able to use it.  The real whim came about at the show when I put it on Mimi (without any testing/pre-riding at all) and ran all of the games in it.  (And had some of the best runs ever.)

But distance riding really fed my bit obsession.

Mimi's always been a bit fussy.  She has a low palate and a tiny mouth, and spends half of her time evading the bit rather than working with it.  My trainer and I spent a lot of time swapping out bits, trying to find one she would work in.  Fortunately, I learned my bit collecting ways very well from my trainer, and she had an entire box of bits to raid.

Distance riding also expanded my horizons and really furthered my education.  For the first time, I was really examining the why of things, instead of accepting that something was "traditional and always done this way."  Bit function was one of those areas of education, and that exploration brought me to the Myler bits.

I love Myler bits.

Mimi tolerates them.

I've gradually gotten rid of all of my other bits in favor of just keeping the Myler ones.  I really appreciate their form and function and how they're designed to work with the horse.  I feel like I end up with more of a connection and softer feel of the horse's mouth.

(Not a spokesperson/representative/paid mouthpiece for Myler.  I just really like the product.)

And irony of ironies?

I barely use any of the bits I have.

As mentioned, Mimi really doesn't like bits.  She tolerates the Myler ones.  But she prefers to go bitless.  Remember that S-Hack I mentioned earlier?  Yep.  That's her preferred headgear of choice.

It sort of looks like a jumble of purple spaghetti, but that's Mimi's trail bridle.  Zilco Deluxe Endurance Halter/Bridle with the Wind Rider Aluminum S-Hack and Hought Beta-Biothane Noseband.

I really like the flatter beta nosebands that are out there now...much easier on their faces than the stiff rope-style nosebands.  I've seen the rope-style used on horses that pull, and they eventually develop a bump on their nose from rubbing/pressure. Several layers of Vetwrap is supposed to combat this...

My major caveat on the hack: I prefer to use it on a horse that's already well-schooled in giving to pressure and going along nicely in a bit.  Mimi responds really well to it, and I think a lot of that is due in part to the fact she's just happy it's not a bit, and therefore will cheerfully obey without fuss.

It still took me a couple of years of doing NATRC to work up the nerve to try it on her at an actual ride.  She did great when I did finally use it, but then right about that time I started getting involved in endurance, and the idea of the faster pace and more race-like environment had me scrambling back to my comfort zone of a bit for our first year of endurance.  October 2007, I used the hack on her at a ride, and haven't gone back to a bit since, except for schooling.

My preferred set-ups for schooling at the moment.  Myler Kimberwick with Comfort Snaffle mouthpiece (MB02).  It's considered a "Level One" (mild, typically used for intro level) mouthpiece.  I like that it acts very much like a double-jointed snaffle, but it has less "play" in it and it's less work for the horse to hold it in their mouth.

I pulled off the regular kimberwick curb chain and replaced it with a biothane curb chain, because 1) the constant jingling from curb chains annoys me and 2) I'm lazy and hate having to always fiddle with the on/off of a curb chain.  I like the ability to switch between the curb and snaffle setting on a kimberwick.  When I was competing with this bit, I'd often start with the reins clipped to the curb setting, then switch to the snaffle setting after she settled down and quit pulling.

My only grumble is that they only stock the kimberwick in 5" sizes.  Myler bits tend to run just a touch on the large side anyway, so 5" is really too big for pony's pea-head.  They do custom orders , but I use a bit so little now that it hardly seems worth it.

Exhibit B is my "cowgirl" set-up.  Myler Western Dee Snaffle with Sweet Iron Bristol Roller (MB11).  Also a Level One bit.  It's basically a "dog-bone" double jointed with a little spinning copper roller around the middle of it.  Mimi works well in it, mostly because I think she likes the copper and sweet iron.  She tends to drool and slobber after a while because she's so busy working the spinning mouthpiece.  Not a good bit on days when we're working on "quiet mouth."  Rides "looser" than the comfort snaffle because the joints on the snaffle have a lot of play between them.  Not as good in the "subtle communication" department.  But it's a pretty bit that appeals to my inner cowgirl.  (Me, shallow?!?)

And then I've got several "homeless" bits...ones that live in my drawer of extra tack, ones that are either similar to something I'm already using, or have been tried and discarded as absolutely unsuitable by the Pony Committee of One.

Round up the usual suspects. Clockwise from upper left:
Myler Western D w/ Hooks, Mullen Triple Barrel MB32-3
Jumping Hackamore
Myler Loose Ring French Link MB10
Myler Full Cheek Twisted Comfort Snaffle MB01T
I've used all of these for training and rides (except the jumping hack...haven't done a ride with that yet, want to replace the noseband with one of the beta ones) at some point.  The Western D was a good ride bit and I used that one several times, but the flat mullen mouthpiece made eating more difficult.  A like something with a little more "lift" in the mouthpiece and more room for the tongue.  The Loose Ring Snaffle is kind of a joke...I have more ride pics of Mimi's head almost vertical as she gleefully ignored my requests to slow down.  And the full cheek snaffle is relegated to used as a training bit under strictly controlled circumstances only.  Those full cheeks, while wonderful for teaching a young horse concepts like turning and steering, really suck when they get caught on various the cheekpiece of the bridle, or your belt, or the water trough...ask me how I know this.  ;)

And of course, I have a couple other bitless rigs floating around as well.  This one's a vosal...mechanical interpretation of the old-time rawhide bosals.  I'm on the fence about this one.  Definitely a lack of fine-tune control.  No side-to-side lateral control whatsoever.  I still keep it around, though.

Not pictured is a traditional sidepull.  Well, the braided nylon variety of traditional.  It lives down at the barn as my "backup" headgear, but I rarely use it other than for aimlessly wandering around the arena for a few minutes.  Requires way too much force to get Mimi, in a strong-and-opinionated mood, to listen to it.  But I keep it around because it'll probably be a good young horse training tool in teaching them to give to pressure.  But Mimi needs a little more authority in the form of the curb chain and leverage of the S-Hack.

And I have, of course, the rejects.  Those aren't pictured, since they got sent on their way a while back.  Aside from some of the show bits, I've gotten rid of comparatively few bits and/or headgear that I've used for distance.  The ones that stick in my mind are:

- Myler Combo Bit with triple barrel mullen mouthpiece.  I didn't care for this bit at all.  It was too fussy to mess with, harder to use with a halter-bridle on pea-headed ponies, and it just seemed like it was too much at one time.  Mimi hated it and fussed a ton with it on.  Down the road it went.

- Myler Kimberwick with Forward Tilt Ported Barrel (MB36).  I liked the comfort snaffle mouthpiece better. This was one of their Level 2-3 bits, and it was a lot of bit.  It was great for the arena, but I tend to have "controlling hands" when out on trail, and prefer to ride with a mouthpiece that is a bit lighter and doesn't give them so many signals at once.  Plus, I don't think Mimi's tiny mouth accommodated the more forward set of this particular mouthpiece.  Didn't see the sense in leaving it around, so...sometimes I wish I'd held onto it, jsut in case I need it again.

- Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle.  As far as bitless goes, not my favorite option.  Used it on the latter half of a NATRC ride and spent that seven-or-so-mile loop feeling like I was getting the proverbial middle ringer from the pony as she gleefully barged through it.  Nice.  Also didn't like the fact that it was tough to get it to release the pressure once it was tight.  It found a new home pretty quickly.

To a lesser degree, I passed some of the bit interest along to Dad.  His horses have been less complicated.  Lucky him.  His Foxtrotter mare Kelly came to us with a good old Tom Thumb snaffle and a habit of head-tossing.  Gee, wonder why?  We quickly swapped her over to a Myler short shank comfort snaffle and the head tossing really settled down, then several years later, put her in the same Myler kimberwick as Mimi.  She really loved that bit, and when she went to her new home, we sent the bit with her in an effort to keep her happy and encourage the new owners to keep using said bit.

Beamer was even simpler...Myler English Dee snaffle with French Link mouthpiece (after schooling him in my Loose Ring snaffle...but the English D doesn't have the same "pull through the mouth" potential as the smaller-ring cheekpieces, and therefore doesn't need a curb strap less thing to fiddle with) for several years, and then transitioned him into an S-Hack.  Sent both of those along with him, since he works well in both, but prefers the S-Hack.  (Anything that makes eating easier...and it's less work, not having to carry a bit.)

And I have no doubt I'll still keep collecting as I eventually expand the herd, since I'm big on each horse having their own bit.  You might say I'm a bit obsessed.  ;)

Monday, December 12, 2011

When I Don't Ride...

...I cook.  In between all the other necessary tasks of life.  Like sleeping.

I love to cook.  And I've probably explained over a dozen times why I don't want to make a career out of it: It's something I really enjoy doing.  The kitchen is one of my happy places.  I don't want to ruin that by having it become something I have to do.  Maybe that's weird -- after all, isn't the pinnacle of job searching finding something you actually like to do and then get paid for it?  (Says the perpetually self-employed, jack-of-all-trades freelancer.)

But I digress.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah...I love to cook.

We've been having a colder and wetter earlier than usual winter this year in Arizona, which has sent me scuttling into the kitchen for warmth and sustenance.  Today's offering?  Red Velvet Hot Cocoa.  I love all things red velvet, and even have a pancake adaptation.  So this ended up being right up my alley.  I've already been making homemade hot cocoa, so it was easy enough to adapt the basic recipe and turn out this delightful treat.

(No pictures,, I'm a bad food photographer.  Two, my camera and computer are temporarily not speaking to one another.)

So I'm sort of a bad person to get recipes approach to cooking is very much that of an inexact art versus measured science.  (Except baking.  I still measure when baking.  Otherwise, I subscribe to the "pinch of this, touch of that" method.)  So I tried to guesstimate on amounts when recreating this recipe.  Adjust the agave to your preference...I don't like my cocoa super-sweet.

Red Velvet Hot Cocoa
(per serving)
3/4 c milk
2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
2 T blue agave syrup
red food color
heavy cream (less than 1/4 c)
1 T cream cheese

Heat the milk in a saucepan on the stove. While it's heating, mix the cocoa powder and agave together until it forms a chocolate syrup. May need to add a touch of water, or more agave to taste. Add food color to get desired shade of red. Stir into milk and keep heating until steaming. As it's heating, whip the cream cheese into the heavy cream, along with a drizzle of agave. Keep whipping (or use electric mixer) until you get whipped cream. Pour chocolate mix into a mug, top with the whipped cream -- the cream cheese gives it the "cream cheese frosting" effect.

It's a fabulous "special occasion" drink.  Rather rich and I certainly couldn't drink it frequently.  But it's the kind of recipe that would lend itself well to to being a holiday tradition sort of drink.  Red Velvet Cocoa for Christmas Eve, anyone?

I'm going to start posting a few recipes here and there, especially things that I've found work really well at rides, either as pre-ride dinner or on-trail food.  I can't survive on the Gu-and-Gatorade ride diet, so if you're looking for real food idea, check back here!

the weather outside is frightful

So maybe "Let It Snow" is an exaggeration here in the desert (unless you were in Cave Creek/North Scottsdale last Monday when enough snow fell to turn the ground white for a short time), but we do occasionally have our own winter weather in the form of rain.

Today is one of those days.  It started about 7ish this morning, and five hours later, it's still coming down.  Not a torrential downpour, but a steady, consistent rain.  It's really a lovely change of pace, and it really makes it feel a lot like winter for me.

It's also the kind of weather that makes me unashamed to pull the "wimp" card and be relieved I don't have to be out riding in it, making sure I get my conditioning miles.  Cowgirl up?  Nah, pass me another cup of hot cocoa and a fleece throw.

Mimi certainly isn't begging to be out in it, either.  She really hates this kind of weather -- both times she tied up, it was in cold, wet, rainy weather.  I sometimes wonder if it was deliberate...

(Yes, I know horses can't deliberately tie up as a way of getting out of working in weather they hate.  But as clever as that pony is, it makes one pause and speculate...)

So on went a hat, waterproof boots, and something heavier and more weatherproof than a sweatshirt, and out I went to brave the elements for a trip to the barn.  Not only did I need to drop off Mimi's supplements for the week, it was a good excuse to spoil her a little bit with a warm beet pulp mash.  Must encourage drinking in the cold weather.  And, yes, I like to spoil my pony.  Beet pulp, ground flax, a touch of oat bran, a scoop of e'lytes, a drizzle of agave syrup, and chopped up apple and carrots.  Mix together with hot water, and by the time I got down to the barn, it had cooled to a comfortably edible temperature.

She was still licking her lips when I left the barn.

Days like this make me glad for large covered stalls.  I think it's also the rare occasion Mimi doesn't mind being in a stall instead of braving the elements.  She, too, knows when to pull the "wimpy show pony" card.