Monday, March 25, 2013

adding to the roster

I fell in love with another grey mare.
Because that's totally unexpected...
My "horses I have available to ride" got expanded by one today when I rode Stephanie's new mare Kasha on our training ride. This mare is awesome...I cannot wait to ride her at Prescott. "Kash" (pronounced more like "kosh" versus "cash") comes out of a show/arena training background, so just my kind of horse. I mean, we're blasting along up a sand wash at a fast canter, and she's offering up flying lead changes around the turns.

Love, love, love.

At least everyone else's horses have good manes.
Makes it easier to ignore the pony's pitiful one.
Looks like I'll get the chance to ride her one of the days of Prescott next month.

Liking the camera theme of "Kash ears"
And I'm even further convinced of the conspiracy to get me to ride large horses, since she's somewhere around 15-15.1hh.  She doesn't look that big, even when you're standing next to her, since she's so well balanced and put together...but reaching for that stirrup on a flat mount, you know exactly how tall she really is. But I did flat-mount her.
Very well-trained, but still "trail green" and has to look at
things like dead cactus and downed logs. And unexpected
picnic tables and random benches in the middle of nowhere.
We did about 10 miles today, trotting and cantering whenever we could to meet our time deadline. I did a lousy job of keeping track, but I think we were done in about an hour and half, possibly less. Tons of fun, though, and this mare is solid. Completely trustworthy and I felt totally comfortable jumping on her back and asking for a speed workout. 

Definitely the kind of horse I like to ride: Super-responsive to rein and leg, maybe needs a little bit of support along the trail learning curve as she figured out things like uneven footing, rocks, and hills...but that makes me feel like an active, engaged rider...and teaching trail savvy is way easier (at least for me) than trying to teach a died-in-the-wool, old-time endurance horse how to leg-yield. But that's just me and my preference. :) Guess the old show ring is never too far away...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ride Story: Old Pueblo, Day Two: Let's Do It Again!

You can read about day one HERE, although my day one was technically Day Two of the ride, and my day two was Ride Day Three. Clear as mud now? Good. Now that that's settled...

Sunday's ride on "Frenchy"
50 miles
photo by Steve Bradley

photo by Steve Bradley
Yes, the mane is as ridiculously long
as it looks.
And the matching boots and tack were
a happy coincidence.
I'm really not sure what got into me, but apparently I felt compelled to earn my endurance stripes this weekend. First I said 'yes' to riding back-to-back 50s...having never done so before. And to top it off, my day two horse was one I'd never ridden before...climbing on him at quarter to seven on Sunday morning was  my first introduction to his movement, how he rode, controls, steering, et cetera. I never thought I would be one of "those" type who can (seemingly) easily climb on board a strange horse and go for 50 miles, but I guess I surprised even myself.

So, let's rewind a little bit back to Saturday afternoon. Rocco and I successfully finished his first 50, and he was still looking at me like, "That was fun." He was a little "Ergh...whut???" when I hugged him, but he figured out soon enough I wasn't actually trying to strangle him.

After taking care of him and getting him re-situated in front of a large amount of food (Rocco says, "Food is good. Endurance = food. Therefore, Endurance is Good."), I scampered over to retrieve the horse I would be riding the next day: Frenchy, who belongs to my friend Nick.

I now firmly believe there is a conspiracy afoot designed to try to break my attachment to my "go-cart ponies." It's true, I have an affinity for anything 14.2hh and under. They're smaller, handier, easier to get on. So why is it that everything I've been riding this year has been 15hh and over? Apparently someone is trying to improve my mounting skills...or something.

Anyway, Frenchy is a big boy, hitting nearly 15.2hh. Stretch, Ash, stretch. He vetted through fine, being somewhat of an "old hat" with half a dozen rides under his girth. I also got him fitted into Renegades for the next day. (Not much of a switch, as he is already barefoot and used to going in boots...but using any other boot is somewhat of a conflict of interest.)

A note on my decision to do this: I had the owner's blessing to ride in whatever boots I preferred. The horse was already barefoot and accustomed to boots. I was confident in how they fit him and how they looked on his hooves to trust I wouldn't be spending the next day jumping off and retrieving boots the entire ride. Maybe some would call it a leap of faith...I call it confidence in knowing that a reliable product works. And I was right. We didn't have a single boot issue all day long. I put them on in the morning and took them off after we were done. No rubbing, no twisting...and they got a serious workout, both from the horse and the terrain.

Incidentally, they were the same set of boots I used on Rocco on Saturday. (Convenient. Must endeavor to find horses with the same size of hooves...) And they did excellent on him as well, including sloshing through a mud-lined stream. Put on in morning, take off after finish. I was always impressed with how Renegades have done on my boot-challenged pony, despite not fitting her all that ideally. So to put them on horses that they do fit ideally...I didn't think it was possible to love these boots any more than I did. Well, apparently it is, and I do. Stay tuned for some more news regarding Renegades coming up soon...

And back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I wrapped up Saturday night with an impromptu boot party in the back of Steph's trailer, happily "talking shop" while swapping out some boot parts for some other people. I'm actually loving this "work at the ride" aspect. It allows me to socialize, yes, and I really do like doing hands-on troubleshooting and customer service.

Another restful night on The Most Comfortable Mattress in the World, and I woke up feeling really good. I took one Motrin the previous evening, but that was it. This was the best I've ever felt the day after a ride. Typically, I'm all crunchy muscles and whiny body. This time? Nope. Some soreness in the upper shoulder area, but I think that was more a side effect of the unaccustomed wearing of the Camelbak the previous day, combined with...err..."upper body baggage." Doesn't matter how padded the sports bra straps are...

But I was able to quite cheerfully (for 5AM) slither out of bed and dress, cram down a near-repeat of the previous day's breakfast, gather up all of my last-minute gear, and be over at Nick's trailer to start tacking up.

I had a brief moment of "What the heck am I DOING?" nerves as I scrambled off the mounting block onto my rather tall target, not helped by briefly getting stuck on the water bottle on my cantle pack. (Like I muttered multiple times over the weekend, I wish I could be one of those riders who survives the ride on a water bottle and a grapefruit. But I'm not, so I always have to remind myself of how to fit between all the stuff on my saddle.) Frenchy was good, though, and we had a nice calm walk up to the start to check in with our numbers. (No greasepaint butt numbers at this ride...dang, means I actually had to remember my rider number[s].)

Things briefly got...interesting...when we walked away from the start. Seems Frenchy didn't want to leave in the opposite direction of all the action, so I got treated to a bit of a temper tantrum display of head tossing and some hopping up and down. He responded to a few cross words, and we went back to walking a nice warmup loop around the backside of camp before heading out towards the tail end of the pack.

Both Frenchy and Nick's horse Moon walked out of camp politely, and a couple minutes out of camp, we picked up a nice working trot. Ooo, Frenchy had a nice trot. A bit strong and eager, but responsive to my requests to keep it to a dull roar.

The Sunday trail is my favorite of the Sonoita trails. It heads roughly northwest out of camp, crosses under the highway, picks up the Arizona Trail and follows it around for a while before breaking off to complete what is basically a giant lollipop loop that rejoins the same trail close to the highway before heading back to camp...only to fake you out when you're literally within a couple miles of camp and take you on a dogleg mini-loop of another handful of miles before spitting out back out on the same trail within sight of camp.

Sunday's trail also has a lot more up and down and climbing. GPS stats report approximately 3100' of climbing and 3800' of descent. (Hah, my bruised shins are vindicated knowing it was a "downhill" ride.) But it's a great mix of terrain: Lots of single track, with a lot of it being the kind you can still make good time; some sand wash; some rocky areas. Lots of good practice in "trot when you can" on some of the more technical areas, but with some good service roads thrown in where you could really open it up.

Like I said, Frenchy was a strong, eager horse, so I kept two hands on the reins the whole day and didn't get photos. (Also, I discovered on Friday afternoon driving down that I'd forgotten to charge my camera battery. That, or I had charged it and the charge isn't holding anymore.) Sort of a shame, because the area is gorgeous. The areas we were going through still had patches of unmelted snow ("Scary," says Frenchy) and an interesting mix of high desert/low mountain foliage: junipers, prickly pears, oak trees, ocotillo, yucca, and lots and lots of other plants whose names I don't know.

Frenchy would like to take a moment to point out the extreme horse-eating-monster-ness of downed oak trees and stumps...of which there were plenty.

You know what else there were plenty of at this ride? Gates. Lots and lots of gates. However, when you are the shortest person riding the tallest horse and riding in the company of chivalrous men, you typically don't have to get off and get the gate. :) I'll admit it: The only time I got off Mr. Tall Thing, aside from the vet check, was to go under the highway underpass. Something to work on...but I wasn't confident in my ability to get back on him without a large rock or stump close at hand.

I was somewhat familiar with Sunday's trail, although the last time I had ridden it, the Arizona Trail was mostly running through washes and service roads compared to the beautiful, interesting single-track that now winds through the area. This ride -- this trail, this day -- was my first attempt at a 50-miler, 7 years ago, riding a friend's horse. It was also my first pull after the stirrup leather on the borrow saddle torqued my ankle around so badly as to leave me unable to actually put any weight on it, so I RO'd at the vet check. I'd not made it back to this ride since, and it's been one of my own personal challenges to come back and successfully complete this day.

One of my goals after the past couple of years hiatus had been to enjoy the ride this time around. In the past, I've gotten more hung up on finishing the ride and "getting it over with" in a way...I just wanted a successful completion...that I forgot the appreciate the whole process.

(Okay, not entirely sure how much I'm supposed to enjoy getting somewhat thrashed and battered the way I was feeling partway through Sunday...but just think, I could be sitting inside doing something like a crossword puzzle instead of out out enjoying perfect weather, good company, and a fun horse. Bruises fade...and in the meantime, make great war wounds stories.)

I feel really good about how much of the ride I was able to appreciate and enjoy along the way, even though Frenchy and I did have some disagreements about speed: He wanted to Go Faster and Tailgate. I preferred he Back Off and Watch His Feet. We compromised by leapfrogging who was in the lead off and on all day and that seemed to keep both of the horses happy.

In contrast to Saturday's multiple checks, Sunday had one out check. I did hop off and walk the loooong downhill into the check...a relief to get off and stretch at that point. Frenchy was already down by the time we reached the check, so we vetted through right away and grabbed a spot for them to start happily munching away on foodstuffs.

45 minutes for a hold passes way too fast, although I had plenty of time to refuel, rehydrate, and go visit the tall shrubbery. I did take an Aleve at this point, but that was it for the whole day. Back out after lunch, it's not too far before the big loop ends up rejoining the trail from the morning and starts heading back to camp. (And I reliably overshot the same turn to the highway underpass that I overshot while doing the LD on Mimi six years ago.)

Off Tall Thing to go through the highway underpass again, and successfully remounted on the other side off just a little ground berm without embarrassing myself or looking like a flopping platypus. The trail goes back though the same (scary) oak trees and the submerged cow tanks. Interesting concept...sink standard stock tanks into the ground so that only the top two o three inches of lip stick out. Supposedly this is to keep people from shooting them and draining the water? The horses were not fans of the concept...and I can't say I was either, since it ended up feeling like you were going to do a header into the water.

Then we had the evil fake-out loop that abruptly departed from the direct trail back to camp. Once you got past the, "Excuse-me-what-the-this-sucks" attitude of both horse and rider, it was a really fun little loop. Lots of single track, a chunk of it which traversed the same really fun single track from the previous day. Frenchy, who had typically slowed down earlier in the day when put in the lead, found a few extra gears and did quite a good job of leading through a lot of this section, including bravely cantering along in the lead through some really fun, twisty-turny, beautiful trail.

Advantage of this little loop was after a certain point, it was all repeat to anyone who had done the previous day. So I knew exactly where we were, that it wasn't that far back to camp, and I could survive one more downhill trot.

The horses wanted to race back into camp. We made them walk. Again, pulsed down and able to vet through right at the finish. Frenchy finished well, with mostly As. And Sunday's finish put me at 300 miles, which means I'm technically Tevis-qualified. (Not that I'm going to do anything with that yet...this year...)

We came in 15th...I think we were done around 2:30 or so. Both days of the weekend were definitely the fastest I've ridden, although I think the average moving speed was around 6.5mph on Saturday and 6.1 on Sunday. More thoughts of pacing and speed in another post.

Because home wasn't too far away (3 hr drive, approximately), Steph and I headed home that evening. I managed to pull everything out of her trailer, load it back into my suburban, drive home, and still have energy to start relating some of my weekend tales to my parents. And then I wanted a shower and bed.

And I woke up on Monday rather stiff and crunchy. But that's what I was used to feeling like after a one-day 50, so I'm pleased it took two days and two different horses, one of who was quite enthusiastic and vigorous in his movement and forward go-button (a lot like riding the pony on one of her extreme go-days, only 6 inches taller...), to make me feel that way. A couple of days of slathering arnica on my shins took care of the bruises, and I was back to walking normally after a few days.

All in all, an extremely successful weekend in which I hit major milestones, conquered some personal demons, and a good time was had by all.

Stay tuned for the always-popular "What Worked/What Didn't/Lessons Learned" post still to come.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ride Story: Old Pueblo, Day One: Back At It

My friends are a bad influence. That's my only excuse for how I was quite readily talked into riding two days back-to-back at Old Pueblo. Two 50s, that is. Never mind that I hadn't finished a 50 since the end of 2009...that I've done a small handful of LDs since that time...that my saddle time hadn't been all that rigorous over the winter...

Oh, and did I mention that I've never done back-to-back 50s before? NATRC and LDs, yes. But prior to retiring the pony, I still hadn't gotten to the point where I was able to view a 50 as "easy" or "just another ride" and the idea of doing two back-to-back made my muscles whimper.

My friends are a bad influence...and I'm so grateful for it, because I don't know if I would have completed my first back-to-back 50s without their support, encouragement, and company. (And there's something to be said about wanting to live up to other people's expectations...when everyone else had full confidence in my ability to do it, it's hard not to rise to the occasion.)

And I had a blast. I "get" the appeal of multi-days now. There's something to be said for one drive, one camp set-up, but multiple rides. It seemed a little less rushed, less hurried. And getting the chance to ride with endurance riders who have years and thousands of miles of experience on me is a fantastic learning experience.

Sooo...I haven't done one of these [ride stories] for a while. One thing I don't have is photos...the first day, I was riding a (somewhat) green horse on his first 50, so juggling him + camera wasn't on the agenda. And on the second day, I was on an enthusiastically forward mount, so needed both hands on the reins for him.

But I do have great ride photos. :)

Saturday, 55 miles on "Rocco"
photo by Steve Bradley
He's a very photogenic horse.
Love those greys...
photo by Steve Bradley

I carpooled down to the ride on Friday with my friend Stephanie, whose horse I would be riding on Saturday. "Rocco" was previously introduced in an earlier post ("Other People's Horses") as an up-and-coming endurance prospect...physically, 11 years old, but with the mental experiences and exposure of approximately a 6 year old. He's very solid and steady, with a huge 'try' button and little-to-nothing by way of explosiveness or over-reactivity. (In other words, the mental maturity indicative of his age, now it's just a matter of getting him experiences.)

It had been over 6 years since I had been down to Sonoita, but aside from some freeway-expansion construction around Tucson, it didn't look like a whole lot had changed. The same golden, rolling grasslands surrounded by beautiful mountains. And there were still patches of unmelted snow decorating the perpetually shady parts of some of the hillsides.

After unloading the horses -- Rocco, Steph's seasoned campaigner Hadji, and her new mare Kasha, brought along for the weekend for the camping experience -- and registering and vetting in, we still had time to take the boys out for a quick pre-ride before ride meeting. Saturday's ride would be pretty straightforward: four loops, with a 45-minute hold at the end of loops one and three, and a pulse-down/trot-by at the end of loop two.

While I'm not world's biggest fan of multiple loops in and out of camp, the part of my brain that kept reminding me of just how long it had been since I'd done a 50 was somewhat pleased: If I had to make tack adjustments, et cetera, it would be much easier to do in camp. Also, the "small bites" effect. Just concentrate on getting through each loop.

Plus, you don't have to pack vet check bags for when you're in camp, or figure out exactly what food will appeal at that point. And it's easier to shed/add clothes.

For whatever reason, it seemed like everything came together really fast, at least compared to what I remember, to the point where I was in bed by 9:00, even after Steph and I watched an episode of 'Grey's Anatomy' on her portable DVD player. I slept like a log (most comfortable mattress in the world resides in the gooseneck of Steph's trailer) and was actually up about 2 minutes before my alarm went off at 5 the next morning.

One thing that hasn't changed: I still hate to eat breakfast early in the morning. I managed an unfrosted blueberry poptart, a couple slices of cheese, and half a yogurt. Kind of pathetic...but I forgot the peanut butter and undercooked the hard-boiled eggs.

I was greeted with an unpleasant surprise when I looked at Rocco: During the night, he'd gotten into a fight with his corral panel and  lost when a loose horse came visiting and got too close to Kasha and Rocco had to let the world know in no uncertain terms that was his girlfriend and anyone that got near her would suffer the consequences...too bad he forgot about the panel that got in his way...

He managed to scrape a chunk of hide and hair off his right hind leg, just above the fetlock...and another chunk on his left hind just above the coronet band. He was walking sound and wasn't too terribly concerned when we poked at the I saddled up. We did do a quick trot-by for the vet, but he didn't notice anything amiss, so off we went.

We started out toward the back of the pack, worked our way up towards the middle, and pretty much stayed there the rest of the day. Rocco did a spectacular near-face-plant less than a mile out of camp when he moved off the trail to dodge a tangle of branches...and tripped over the hidden log. On a downhill. That was fun. But he kept it together really well, didn't freak out...and learned his lesson about over-zealous dodging around branches.

I really had to keep reminding myself it was his first 50. He is just so solid. He didn't get overly concerned when horses would pop up behind us, he didn't really care about being passed, and would pass others politely. He is kind of an Energizer Bunny in that he likes to keep moving, and doesn't quite get the concept of standing quietly under saddle (yet) waiting for the multitudes of gates on this ride to be opened/closed was a good lesson in patience for him. Still working on getting the drinking thing down...he passed up more opportunities to drink than I was happy with...but one hot ride will teach him.

Back to camp after the first loop, he was pulsed down by the time we reached the P&R area, and he vetted through with all As...except for needing work on the trot-out. To be fair to him...I don't know if he'd really been trotted out much in-hand prior to this weekend. sooo...handler-fail on my part...but we figured out that if Steph trotted Hadji out at the same time, Rocco would follow we got our decent trot-outs that way. Oh, on that before the next ride.

The second loop included some really pretty sections of service road that wound through stands of old oak trees, and another eally fun section of single track that traversed along the valley floor between two ridgelines. Prior to this ride, Rocco gave off the impression of being a "good little worker bee." Not spectacular, not particularly fast...but pretty consistent and would get the job done. Probably a good multi-day horse, but probably not one to top ten.

All I can say is, "Sandbagger." At the ride, he offered up a previously-unknown big power trot that easily clocked 12mph on the GPS (we didn't canter a single step the whole day and the max speed hit 14mph). But the beautiful thing about him was even in that power trot, he naturally rated. Maybe it's lack of experience and exposure, but he wasn't inclined to be "racy" and didn't pull on me at all.

Back into camp for the pulse down and trot-by, then we were out again before my brain had a chance to register the thought of "break." Loop three was short...go out the same way as loop one, but cut off about halfway through then rejoin with the last third or so of loop one. Loop three also included a water crossing, something Rocco "hasn't done a lot of so might not be wild about." So proud of him when he marched through the mud, into the stream, and back through the mud on the other side. Would have liked for him to stop and drink...but again, a case of him wanting to "get on with it." And we were only a few miles out from a water trough.

It got kind of warm on the third loop, and back at camp, it took Rocco about 10 minutes or so to pulse down to the required 60bpm. Looking back, I probably could have gotten him down faster if I'd stripped tack and done some more aggressive sponging/scooping of water. He wasn't super-high with his pulse...just hanging for a bit at 64 before dropping to 60. And we'd done 40-something miles at this point...he was probably ready for a break. (I know I was.)

A hot lunch during this check tasted fabulous: brats and burgers provided by ride management. I'd done really well during the first check with raiding the cooler and doing my best hoover impression (past 8 in the morning, I can cheerfully eat a wide variety of food), so felt really good and fueled up for the second loop...but the pulse-n-go check after loop two didn't leave time to refueling, so I'd relied on an energy gel and squeeze-applesauce out on the trail. And now I was hungry again.

But I was mostly amazed at how good I was feeling. I'd taken one Motrin after loop one, and wasn't feeling the need to take another one yet. There's really something to being on a horse who doesn't beat you up and is a consistent ride with soft gaits, and doesn't pull or necessitate a lot of bracing in the saddle.

Loop four was a short loop, out the same way as loop two. As we headed out, I could practically see Hadji rolling his eyes and giving of a very clear, "This again?" attitude. But Rocco, bless his naive little heart, practically bounded out of camp. As I said before, Energizer Bunny who just loves to go, so the notion that we kept going back out again was thrilling his little soul. He was so thrilled, in fact, he actually took over leading for part of the last loop! He hadn't shown a lot of previous inclination towards wanting to lead or being particularly brave out front...but the fact we were now on a trail he'd already seen was a huge confidence boost for him, and he cheerfully headed out front and gave me a nice working trot. We pretty much motored through the last loop -- which was basically the first and last part of loop two.

And then we were done! We walked in, nice and easy, and by the time I'd dismounted and retrieved my vet card, Rocco was already down, so we vetted through right away. His only 'B' was on skin tenting...the "still figuring out how to drink whenever water is offered" probably caught up with him a bit...but other than that, all 'As' and still looking great! (I think he lost maybe 5 pounds. Maybe. And then gained it all back overnight. Easy keeper.)

And with that finish, Rocco earned me my first endurance mileage patch for 250 miles!

And I felt great at the finish! Muscles that had been used, but not abused. A little tired, but exhilarated. Lots of happy adrenaline from a successful finish and a ride that did a lot towards chasing the ride-demons that have been plaguing me for the last couple of years away.

After taking care of Rocco, I had just enough time to vet-in the horse I would be riding on day two...Frenchy. But that...and the rest of day two's still to come...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


After being gone for the last three weekends in a row, I've got a lot to catch up on (including riding my pony). I did good in getting my 20 Mule Team crewing adventure story out in a timely fashion, but the next two weekends required a lot more prep to get ready, so relating those tales got pushed to the back burner.

Two weekends ago, I did back-to-back 50s at the Old Pueblo ride in Sonoita. It was my first 50 in three years, and my first time doing back-to-backs. I finished both days on two different horses, one of whom was doing his first 50. Great fun and an awesome weekend and I predict the write-up will be long and extensive. (Isn't it always?)

And last night, I got back from the AERC Convention in Reno. I ran the Renegade booth at the trade show and had an awesome time. It was my first time going to the convention and I had a blast getting to hang out with old friends, meet people face-to-face, and make new friends. Bottom line: Short on sleep, long on fun, and a good time was had by all (I hope). More photos and stories to follow on that as well.

Now it's back to catching up on work and sleep...and the riding of my own pony.