Monday, June 24, 2013

getting excited yet?

It's that time of year again...the time when my excitement levels regress back to that of a kindergartner just given half a box of sugar cookies. No, not Christmas.


The gremlins are determinedly making their rounds, causing Incidents and Things That Always Worked to Suddenly Not Work, leading me to beat my head against a wall at least several times a week, but we will prevail. Did I mention that I'm not even riding? But apparently crewing and rider coordinating is enough to attract the attention of the gremlins.

More details the closer we get to Ride Day, but I'm super-excited to be doing Renegade rider coordination ahead of time again, and this year, crewing for one of my best friends who will be riding...both her and her horse's first Tevis!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

For Father's Day

And for always. Thank you to my father for so much.

For passing on a love of all critters, exploring the great outdoors, and loving roadtrips and travel.

For being the one to first pick out my pony and encourage me to consider her.

For being an awesome show dad, wrangling heavy saddles, a sometimes-twitty pony, and a teenager.

For being the best riding partner.

For being a fantastic role model and friend.
I love you, and thank you.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Stewart Mountain Loop

So, I tend to look at the entire endurance process as one big training opportunity that's all building up to my eventual go at Tevis. Today, I practiced getting up early. I was up at 3:30, dressed in my riding gear, drank my coffee and a (pre-made) breakfast smoothie, and was out the door by 4:00.

I met up to ride with my friend Lancette, and she brought her horse Khan for me to ride.

meet Khan
I realize at this point that my readers have probably given up trying to track all of the different grey horses I've been riding of late. It's okay. I can barely keep track myself.

first view of Saguaro Lake
Our destination: the Stewart Mountain Loop by the Salt River near Saguaro Lake. I'd ridden this loop years and years ago on Mimi with some friends, but to be honest, the only part I really remembered was the area that's like a sandy beach and provides easy river access for horses.

trail traverses a ridgeline with a view of Saguaro Lake
I also remembered the part that goes up to a ridgeline and gives a great view of Saguaro Lake for a bit -- this section I'd last ridden just a couple of years ago.

Because it's a loop, the trail can be done in either direction. We chose the way that meant getting the longer section done first and getting to the river towards the end of the ride, when we'd be hot and sweaty and the cooler riverfront section of the trail would feel really good.

The spot on the river that's easily accessible for horses is a nice sandy mini-beach, and the water is slow-moving and clear enough that it's easy to see how far the sandbar goes out into the water before the drop-off starts. 

We didn't go any further in than knee-deep, but that was enough for Khan to have a great time splashing and pawing the water. He never tried to roll, but he figured out that pawing the water made it splash up onto his belly and chest. I wasn't complaining about the overspray, either.

Salt River, looking upsteam

Salt River, looking downstream
Running the loop the way we did, counter-clockwise, the trail that heads back to the trailers from the river is this fantastic section of technical single-track. There are a couple of slightly "hairy" areas that involve a bit of clambering over some rocky outcroppings. The whole trail traverses the area between a vertical cliff and the river, and while you'd probably still be in one piece if you fell off the trail at that point, it definitely wouldn't feel good.

I did put the camera away and ride thru the worst sections
Fortunately Khan is very experienced and has a lot of trail savvy, and never put a hoof wrong. So much so that I whipped out my camera and was happily snapping away, putting it away only through the worst of the rocky sections that required two hands and ride attention.

Lots of loose, sharp rock in this section, too...Khan goes in Renegades and I was glad for it. (Pretty sure he was too.)

good overview of the river section
I wish more of the trail ran along the river, but all too soon we were back out in the desert, and back to the trailers. 

The loop is just about 8 miles, and we covered it in about two and a half hours. We were out for an enjoyable ride, with only one of the four horses in our group in full competition shape, so it was a good day to take it easy and enjoy the trail. Khan was a fantastic ride -- very sweet, happy to go, cooperative, and darn near unflappable, the kind of horse who is trustworthy with the greenest of beginner, but a smart and active ride for an advanced rider.

I love that area around the Salt River. It's definitely an oasis in the middle of the desert, and a real treat for us otherwise parched desert rats. Makes the hot days a little more bearable, and the early morning wake-ups worth it.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

warm weather warriors

It's summer here. It's been summer since April. But now it's really summer, which typically means oh-dark-thirty wake-ups to get in a semi-decent ride before your brains gets baked out of your head.

even Tevis crew needs heat conditioning
But that's just kind of a factor of Arizona life. I won't say I love it...but I'm used to it. And I object to the idea of shoveling myself out of 5' snow drifts even more than I object to convection-oven summers.

And I get Tevis heat conditioning just by existing, and doing things like doing my short-distance errands without air conditioning. (Seriously. I drive a Suburban. Sometimes the drive time is shorter than interior vehicle cool-down time, which makes running the a/c pointless.)

"Mom, I'm sleeeepy."
Yesterday, I had to make an impromptu barn visit to drop off my monthly board check. It was a busy work day, so I waited until the evening hours after dinner to make the trek down there. Yes, it was hot...but darn it, if I'm going to drive half an hour each way, I'm sure going to get more out of my trip than just sticking an envelope on a cork board. So along came the saddle.

I also needed a live-model photo demonstration for a boot-fitting concept as well, and it just so happens the pony is an excellent hoof model.

By the time I got down to the barn (fighting rush-hour evening traffic, yay) and took the photos I was after, the sun was hanging lower in the sky, a nice breeze was fact, it really wasn't too bad out. 103* without direct sunlight is much more pleasant than 103* with full, blazing sun.

ride off into the sunset...
However, I don't know how some endurance riders ride in shorts. It was hot and I was lazy, which meant I stayed in my running-shorts-t-shirt attire all day, including down to the barn. I figured I wouldn't ride for long, and I have a full sheepskin on my would be fine. It was fine...but not comfortable. For one, I felt weird without my tights. Two, that sheepskin isn't as soft and fluffy on bare legs as it is with a fabric layer between skin and sheep.

I spared y'all any photos of my dayglow-white legs, but suffice to say, I'll be sticking with my ridiculous tights.

"Oh, look, activity next door."
My little warm-weather night-owl pony was downright sassy. She really does prefer warm weather, and she hates early mornings even more than I do. She'd been snoozing all day long, so by the time evening rolled around, she was ready to party.

I'd barely swung my leg over the saddle before she was striding off. Ummm, excuse me??? Standing still to mount is one of my cardinal rules of horse behavior, and last I checked, that hasn't changed for the past, oh, 16 years. Ahem. 20 years old and still testing the limits...

shadow chasing
While we just did arena work, she was in very cheerful form, lapping the arena with her perfect 7-8mph endurance horse trot. A couple of times, I tried to slow her down into a Western pleasure jog, and she was having none of it. Nice to know I took my perfectly trained show horse and turned her into a perfectly trained endurance horse.

for warm weather survival, add e'lytes
And I finally tested the Purina Electro-Ease paste. Response? Meh. I think I prefer being able to mix my own custom doses with powder and whatever base I choose. The paste sticks to itself really well, but it doesn't squeeze out of the tube very quickly or easily (fast syringe work is the key to the pony), and because it sticks to itself in a big glob so well, she was able to just spit it out onto the ground. 

Plus, the taste is very, very concentrated. Yes, minty flavored, but once the flavor and coating wore off, the saltiness was very strong. I was able to syringe enough into Mimi on round two, after knowing what to expect from the consistency, that she got enough to thoroughly taste test. Her reaction? Initially, okay, since she loves mint. But the saltiness lingered so much that I had to rinse out her mouth before she was willing to take a bite of apple afterwards.

So, overall, probably won't be adding this to my e'lyte regimen. Jury is still out on the powder form...that one isn't as strong and mixes well in liquid bases.

Pony says, "No thank you for making me your guinea pig. Pick on someone else next time."

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

more mileage goodies

After getting my first AERC endurance mileage patch in the mail a couple of weeks ago, I got this in the mail this week:

it takes a few 25s to add up to 250
First Limited Distance mileage patch!

This one was 8 years in the making, my first LD ride being the Man Against Horse 25 in 2005 on Mimi.

The really cool thing about my LD patch has been how many different horses I've had the chance to ride to get to that point. Mimi did about half of those miles, but the others have been on other people's horses, and it's all added up to 250 miles of fun! To me, I get so much personal satisfaction out of finishing 50s, and my ultimate goal is 100s...but I still have a blast doing LDs.

So thanks to Mimi, Harley, Beamer, Thor, Kody, and Liberty for some fun times and great rides!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

the road is never easy. it was never meant to be easy.

Just before I left for Ride the Divide, I got this in the mail:

the first of hopefully many more
My first endurance mileage patch. It may seem like a simple embroidered piece of fabric, but it's what it represents. It's been a hard-won award that took me 6 years to reach.

The endurance road has not been an easy one for me, but it's taught me a lot about perseverance, patience, and life lessons in general. Sometimes I look back and wish it had been a little "easier." But at least for me, things that are too easy don't mean as much and I take it for granted.

I treasure every successful mile, every completion, just as I learn from every pull or less-than-stellar experience.

Here's to many more completions and life lessons.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Ride Story: Ride the Divide 2013

Or, "How to Top Ten and Turtle At the Same Time."

Memorial Day weekend, I headed out to Quemado, NM with Stephanie for the Ride the Divide endurance ride. The weekend ended up being a good lesson in "not every ride is going to be a great one." I've had (for me) an extraordinarily good ride season so far this year. I was due for a dose of endurance.

First, this happened:

 I swear, I'm not a tire jinx. I'm just having a very...challenging...year for tires either belonging to me or in my proximity. But I'm not a tire jinx!

Fortunately, we were at a gas station when we discovered it, and fortunately it was on the trailer, which is light-years easier to change than a truck.

People are very friendly in New Mexico, at least based on the number of offers of help we received, but we were two capable endurance women and we had that tire changed and on the road again 20 minutes later, including the originally-intended stop to fill up with diesel.

Base camp is located at just a hair under 8000' elevation and the weather was gorgeous all weekend. A bit windy (and dusty) but gorgeous.

Quemado Lake, view from the drive in to camp.
Lake not actually visible from camp.
Lake briefly visible from parts of the trail. More visible if you
miss a turn and keep going almost to the lake.

The ride was small, with maybe a total of 50 entries over all three days and both distances. I did like the low-key setting and relaxed atmosphere of a smaller ride, but I also don't want to see ride managers lose money on a small ride. :(

We checked in and vetted in...I was riding Rocco on day one. Went out for a pre-ride, survived, came back and went to the ride meeting, then had a delicious dinner of homemade pork enchiladas (thanks, Darla!).

It gets cold at 8000' elevation at night and this happened overnight:

frosted propane

Steph's heater decided not to work Thursday night/Friday morning, so chattering teeth accompanied my morning routine. Coffee, strawberry/banana juice, a croissant, and cottage cheese with a chopped-up hard-boiled egg made for a good breakfast, something I was very grateful for later on.

There were 16 starting in the 50-miler on day one, and pretty much everyone headed out in one controlled start amoeba pack. A small field makes for a pretty sane start, and we had a pleasant couple of miles of trotting along, winding through trees, ducking branches (who put that sharp turn on a downhill anyway?) and heading out across a lovely open meadow.

At one point, I looked across the meadow and saw a cow elk wandering just below the tree line. Prime elk country, with lots of water, grazing, and shelter.

And then it all kind of fell apart from there. Most of the pack was still mostly together at this point, and somebody realized we hadn't seen a ribbon for a while. Cue lots of back-and-forthing and the larger pack splitting into smaller packs and winging off in different directions trying to play spot-the-ribbon.

And at one point, Rocco whiplashed me when he spotted a Rocco-eating bush and gave the appropriate Arab-teleport-and-spin-180 maneuver. I barely stayed on by the skin of my teeth, a handful of thick mane, and a slightly irrational desire to not fall off of 15.1+ hands tall.

AS it turns out, where we were supposed to go was the area where I'd seen the elk. Hmmm. Seems like somebody had herself a delicious ribbon breakfast buffet.

It wasn't the best first loop one could have. That kind of mental uncertainty and frustration is draining and doesn't do much for bolstering one's confidence levels. (What the heck? I never get lost at rides and I've gotten lost/off-course/misplaced several times this year. Maybe there is something to the idea that, "If you don't screw up at least some of the time, you're not doing something enough.")

Loop one was 10 miles and back to camp for a trot-by. I jumped off, trotted by, shed my jacket, visited the porta-potty, then hit the trail again for loop two, which was a 15-mile out-and-back. This section was probably the ickiest in terms of footing. Old logging road that turned into slightly newer forest service road that turned into maintained forest service road, onto more old logging road...and back the same way. It was hard to make time in the footing: when you're dealing with softball-sized, ankle-turning rocks, you can only make so much time.

As an aside, boots were flawless. I've been riding in the new Renegade Vipers this whole spring and have put about 250 competition miles, plus another chunk of training miles, on them and love them. They're the bright green boots that have been showing up in my photos of late. This ride, they got abused by really rough footing, lots of rocks, stop-n-go pacing, mud, and water crossings. (We might have squished a tadpole or two.)

water stop partway through
loop two
Back to camp, I was feeling the 'blehs', having managed to eat one whole GU the entire first half of the ride. (Not for lack of trying, but Rocco wasn't having anything to do with the sound of rustling paper or wrappers and threatened a spook-n-bolt every time I went to dig in my saddle packs. Thank goodness I wore my Camelbak and could at least drink.)

Rocco was down to 60 immediately and vetted through fine, the only 'B' for gut sounds. (He'd finally caught on to the grazing thing partway through the second loop.) Back at the trailer, I was all too happy to tie him to  off, throw a pan of sloppy food in front of him, and slump down in a chair for the next 30 minutes.

Lunch was water, gatorade, bologna, cheese, apple slices, and tapioca pudding. After sitting and munching for a while, I was back to a much better humor. A bit of housekeeping (refill Camelbak, potty, bodyglide) and I was ready to tackle the last loop, 25 miles and another out-and-back.

This loop had some of the prettiest scenery of the day. A good part of the trail was on an old service road that wound up through a little valley. There was water, grass, and enough trees that we weren't exposed to the hot sun for too long of periods of time.

water crossing
It was a tiny little creek-lette, so rather than politely cross,
Rocco decided to show off his potential as an eventer.
Darla on Apollo behind me.
The footing was also much better for the vast majority of this loop, so we were able to make better time and keep a more consistent pace.

Ultimately, we finished at 6:40...11 hours and 10 minutes after we started, including the 45-minute hold. It also got upgraded to a 55 after riders' GPS tracks showed that it was definitely over 50 miles. (I think mine was 54.7.) Rocco vetted out well, just another B on guts.

Management was kind enough to set aside plates of the spaghetti dinner for us, and we had a chance to put the horses up and get our dinner before the ride meeting. I was starving, having not eaten anything the entire second loop. (Please note this is not how I actually prefer to operate.)

16 starters and 10 finishers...I came in 10th. My first top ten...and I turtled at the same time.

Originally, the plan was for me to ride day two on Stephanie's mare Kasha. Partway through the third loop,  I realized just how late we'd be getting in to camp, and I still had to fit Kasha for boots, make any saddle/pad adjustments for her, and generally get myself presentable for a second day. I said, "No way." Yes, I could get everything that I needed to done...but I was thrashed after day one. My lack of eating and taking care of myself had caught up with me and I really needed a day to recover.

I slept like a log Friday night, helped by the fact that the heater decided to start working again, so went to bed nice and toasty. I slept in until the decadent hour of 6:15, then stumbled out for coffee. 

morning of day two: Rocco paced and Kasha mare-faced
I spent the day as intended: lounging around camp, reading a book, taking a nap, refueling, re-hydrating. I felt better by evening, enough to go vet Kasha in for day three...but still not overwhelmingly enthused about going out again. Ultimately, it turned out that Steph took Kasha out on day three after I decided that one day was enough fun-n-games for me for that weekend. It also meant we were able to get an earlier start to head back home, since I was able to get camp packed up.

Coming home involved no drama and no blown tires.

So that was my Ride the Divide weekend. Having had a week to ruminate on it, I'd still go back and give it another go. It's a beautiful area, and a challenging ride. But you need a challenging ride to tell you where your horse is at and what they can do. And it was a close enough, easy drive as well.

I honestly didn't have any major revelations or gear changes at this ride other than to say, "taste-test electrolyte drinks before blithely mixing them up and guzzling." Lemon-lime GU Roctane Endurance energy drinks are nasty. Weird because I love the grape and tropical fruit flavors...but the lemon-lime didn't work at all. Sticking with my Succeed Clip2, since I know that works and I really like it. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Happy Birthday, baby girl!

My sweet baby girl is 20!!!

Okay, so her birthday was actually last Sunday, but I lose horsey mommy points for being off gallivanting at a ride on the exact day...with another horse...the nerve!

I have a hard time believing this pony is actually 20 years old...she does not act her age most of the time. (Crunchy hocks notwithstanding.)

She was in quite a happy mood this morning and obliged me with several rounds of "The Many Faces of Mimi."

itchy face!

trying to figure out her reflection

she does not do self-portraits
(or she thinks my orange phone case is for her)
And a bonus for me: New half chaps! My old ones are just about dead and can only be taped/repaired in so many ways before they just won't work. They're also getting a bit too big and baggy on me, so I've been having some challenges with them rotating around on my leg.

These are from Just Chaps, the fringed suede style. Super comfy, and the elasticized back means they have some good stretch on the size, allowing me to get a smaller sizer that's short enough for my lower legs. Yay, no chaps bunching around my ankles or jamming under my knees.

And I love the flippy western fringe! Didn't know if the flopping would drive me nuts, but I figure that it never bothered me with my full Western show chaps back when I was showing, so these would probably be okay...and sure enough, once I'm in the saddle, I never even notice.

never too far removed from my show-ring