Tuesday, December 31, 2013

year-in-review, 2013 edition

While I'm the first to admit I'm not a prolific blogger by any stretch, 2013 was my second-best year to date for actually managing to chronicle some of my adventures. It's been my best year by far in terms of ride attendance. So, what happened this year?


I started the year off with volunteering at the Bumble Bee ride. Then I jumped back into the competition saddle and did my first ride in two years at Fire Mountain on friend Kaity's horse Kody. (A road trip that also involved my first tire blowout in all of my years of travelling for rides.)

January also marked my one-year anniversary of working for Renegade.


Most note-worthy happening of the month was going out to the 20 Mule Team ride and crewing for friends Lucy and Kaity, riding the 100.


Brought a successful ride weekend at Sonoita, taking Rocco through Day Two of the ride and Frenchy through Day Three, making it my first time at back-to-back 50s.


Mimi was appointed the "barn babysitter" when we started going out for more trail rides with other boarders at the barn.

I did the Prescott Chaparral ride, riding Rocco on Day One, and riding and falling in love with Liberty on Day Two. Gina and I got to ride together on Day Two, which was a total blast and the first time we've had the chance to do so.


A wild mallard duck hatched out eggs in our backyard and proceeded to amuse us for the next several months with their antics as they grew up. (Incidentally, we still see "Mama" and some of the "Littles" on our morning walks.)

I rode some more on other people's horses, then packed up and headed out to New Mexico over Memorial Day weekend for another ride, in which I had my first top ten in a 50...and turtled at the same time.

Mimi turned 20!


I got my first AERC mileage patches in the mail, for 250 Endurance miles and 250 LD miles.

And I rode yet another different horse.


TEVISTEVISTEVIS. I got to pre-ride the last few miles of the trail, and once again have neglected to write up the actual crewing part of my adventure. I crewed for my bestie Kaity and her horse Kody, seeing them to their first Tevis finish (first Tevis for both of them)! Plotting to crew for each other at Tevis has been a long time in the making, so I was thrilled to be a part of their Tevis team.


August was typical for Arizona -- you just try to survive. Mimi got to go out several times, and was happy as a clam since she loves hot weather.

August is also my birthday month. Since it was completely unmemorable, I'm pretty sure I celebrated by doing something like working.


Mimi got a massage for the first time since we stopped actively competing, and it seemed to make a big difference in how she's moving.


I failed to write it up (work-in-progress, kinda like my Tevis story), but I went out to Kaity's again and rode Kody two days in the LDs at the Bill Thornburg ride. Had a blast riding with Kaity again, and Kody is always fun to ride. (Edit: Ride story is now complete!)


I got a puppy! Artemis will become my ridecamp and traveling companion, and she's doing a great job of completely upending my life (in a good way).


We went on An Adventure -- pony, puppy and I packed up and headed down to join friends Lucy and Patrick for a horse camping trip down at Catalina State Park. We had a great time, Mimi was better than she's been in ears, and Artemis proved she's going to be an awesome ridecamp dog.

A hat tip to 2013, and a champagne toast (if that's your sort of thing) to a bright, productive, fun 2014!

Ride Story: Bill Thornburgh Friends & Family Ride 30 & 25

(Only two months late...)

My 2013 ride season has come full circle. I started the year in January with the Fire Mountain ride on Kaity's horse Kody. Last weekend (last weekend being the last weekend of October), I did what is likely my last riding ride of the season (since I'm committed to working the McDowell ride next month) on Kody. As in January, our purpose was again companionship and babysitting of "greenie-brain" Ani, Kaity's up-and-comer.

In between January and now, Kody has done three 100s, including Tevis and Virginia City. Needless to say, I felt very privileged to get to ride Kaity's Tevis!pony.

I also decided against a repeat of the tire incident from the Fire Mountain trip and elected to fly out to Kaity's this time. (Turns out this was also more economical than filling my gas guzzler.) I flew out bright and early Tuesday morning on a packed Southwest flight, stuffed my bags in Kaity's car, and we zoomed back up the hill to her place, with stops along the way for Starbucks, pony food, and girl food. (Did you know you can fit two girls, two suitcases, two sacks of feed and a dozen grocery bags into a four-door Chevy car? Neither did I. But you can.)

Packing and prep went without incident, including being warm enough to give the boys a bath. ("Woe is us," says Kody and Ani.) We pulled out of Kaity's mid-morning on Friday with one very stuffed truck and trailer, since apparently packing for two girls + two ponies + two days = a lot of stuff.

The Bill Thornburgh ride is located in Inyokern, about 2-1/2 hours or so from Kaity's place. That is, if 395 isn't shut down due to a shooting/police chase in Ridgecrest that detoured us out and around the long way. We did go through Red Rocks State Park, so got some pretty scenery.

Just a small sampling of the pretty. If we didn't
have Places To Be, I would have loved to explore.

Once we checked in and got our rider packets, we set up camp (weather was nice enough to tent camp this time), then took the boys out for a leg stretcher. Since I'd flown out, I decided against trying to wrangle my own saddle through the airport, instead electing to ride in Kaity's FreeForm. I'd had a chance to do a couple of short training rides in a FreeForm this summer, and didn't dislike it as a saddle. And I figured I could put up with almost anything for 25 miles...but it would be nice to know what I was in for by doing a short pre-ride.

Turns out that once you get the stirrup length right and the stirrup position/leg hang right, the FreeForm is wonderful. Not to spoil the ending, but this is the first ride I've ever done where I haven't come off of the weekend with tight, crunchy calves. Two back-to-back days with lots of trotting and I felt fantastic. One of them has definitely been added to my wish list.

Derp faces all around.

Kaity and Ani on our Friday leg-stretcher ride.

We vetted the boys in after our pre-ride, and Kody vetted in "nearly dead" with a pulse of 30(!). We also continued our trend of completely sucking at trot-outs. (At least we provide entertainment, since it was soft sand and I thought I might fall down at least once.) The rest of the afternoon was spent packing the crew bag and hauling it back to the vetting area -- camp was about a block and half away from the check-in/vetting area, so we treated it like an "out check" with everything at the check area instead of traipsing back and forth to the trailers.

Per the ride meeting, we would have two loops: Loop one was 11 miles out to the water/number-check/turn-around point, and back on an approximately parallel track into the check for a half-hour hold, then back out for a 9-mile short loop. Vet criteria was 56. It was warm and ponies were woolly, but there was lots of water along the way, with enough to sponge/scoop, and as far as I know, there were no treatments and only a few minor pulls over the two days. And the start time was an incredibly civilized 8AM. 

Every other time, I sleep like the dead. But for whatever reason, the Friday night before a ride is usually more like zombie-apocalypse restless dead, and this Friday was no exception. Not made any easier by the water truck pulling up right outside our tent and re-filling the giant water trough that we had so conveniently parked right next to. Sleep happened, but it didn't seem like it at the time. I'm also not used to this "sleeping in" concept, so was up before the alarm, slowly pulling on my riding clothes and shivering.

Surprisingly, the typical "Battle of the Breakfast" was not a part of the day's scheduled programming. I was able to eat a yogurt, a hard-boiled egg, a banana, coffee, and juice without any protest and/or mental trickery.

The boys got festively adorned with Halloween decor all around.

Kody's witch hat and mane clips
The boys ready to go.

Ani's pumpkin heads and mane clips
glittery spider on the tail

And us riders didn't do too bad in the festivity department, either.

Orange in my helmet, tights, and Kody's boots

Kaity wins (this time) for most orange, an honor (?) usually
taken by myself
Ride start was a very civilized 8AM, IIRC. (I think...I stopped this partway through, and am picking up writing it again two months later.)

dust cloud of the rest of the pack ahead of us

We casually meandered out of camp, pretty much the last ones to leave, and tiptoed past the scary stuff along the road. (The usual suspects: tires, trashcans, other horses, barking dogs.)

And then we were on the trail, and this series of photos shows a pretty good idea of what the next 11 miles to the turnaround point looked like:

turnaround point is a water stop just past those vehicles
Yup...flat, straight, sandy. I was warned ahead of time that the Inyokern rides are "good ones to do with a good riding buddy." And it's true. Kaity and I chattered and laughed pretty much non-stop through both days. To me, at least, I found the scenery to be interesting and pretty, since it's a different desert than my desert. I was on a good horse, the weather was good...and flat, fast trails are their own challenge, since you the rider have to consciously think about things like changing gait, changing positions, and making sure you and your horse don't get sore from the "sameness" of it.

at the turnaround point...Kody noms alfalfa
while I rummage for something
(probably food)

lava flow -- we rode right at the base of it to the turnaround

me-n-Kody, heading back after the turnaround point

Kaity and Ani on the trail back to camp, part of which was an
old railbed trail

baby pistachio trees

heading back into camp for lunch

shabby view, eh?

monitoring the hoover's food intake at lunch

I don't remember how long lunch was -- 30 minutes, maybe? I just remember thinking, "Ugh, not long enough." I don't like having to eat that fast...but whatever. The thing about riding with Kaity is she makes sure I take care of myself -- "Are you drinking?" "Are you eating?" "Ash, leave the horse alone and sit down and eat." Yes, ma'am. So I sat. And I ate. Bologna/cheese sandwich, tapioca pudding, Kern's nectar.

And then it was time to put bridles on, tighten girths, and head back out. (Yes, I used the big water trough for a mounting block. No, I did not fall in. Yes, this is considered a bloggable accomplishment.)

Loop two was shorter -- approximately 8 or 9 miles...whatever made up the balance of mileage after the first loop (22ish miles) to get the distance up to a 30.

And loop two was fun.

It was a lot of single track, which Kody and I lead through at a great, zoomy canter. (Hey, cantering through the desert...I feel almost like a real endurance rider!)

skeeery tire. brave Kody had to lead past it.

more pistachios

the start of the really fun single track
I'll let the next series of photos speak for itself. This section of the loop was gorgeous, with the Sierras always in sight.

And then we were out on a road that paralleled Hwy 395...

And then turning off onto part of the trail we had pre-ridden the day before...

And then we were done! Both boys pulsed down immediately, giving Kaity and I finishing places of 12th and 13th, respectively. (Out of 18. Started dead last and still made up a few placings.)
(photo actually from Friday pre-ride, but you
get the idea...snorkeling pones)
And then we took advantage of the perks of riding the LD: shower, sit in the sunshine, nibble on snacks. Watch exhausted (uh huh...) ponies nap.

poor 100-mile pone, exhausted after 30 miles...not
Ride dinner was delicious...tri-tip with all the appropriate sides. (Beans, corn on the cob, salads, and a huge dessert table.) Day one completion awards were t-shirts, and Kaity won a Halloween bucket of goodies for "Best Coordinated Horse and Rider".

Fortunately, I made up for my Friday sleep deficit on Saturday night, and it probably would have taken something running over the tent to actually wake me up.

Sunday morning was a repeat of Saturday, food-wise, and Halloween decorations were once again installed on pones. (Except Kody lost one of his little witch hats from his mane somewhere along the way.)

Sunday's trail headed us out in the vaguely same direction as Saturday -- towards the lava flow -- but we paralled Hwy 395 for a while before peeling off, doing some loops through the desert, and coming back in the same way.
even more orange today...
Lather, rinse, repeat for lunch...

And then back out on the same loop two as Saturday. More cantering, more views. And because we knew where all the dips and soft spots were, we made better time.

photo by Tony Wilkie
We finished in 12th and 13th again, out of 24 on Sunday's ride. And Kaity and Ani won the overall LD horse of excellence award for the weekend!

The boys got to snooze in the sunshine while we packed up camp -- the wind had really picked up, and predicted to get worse, so we wanted to head back before Hwy 395 got closed due to blowing dust.

We got back to Kaity's early enough to unload the boys, clean up, then head out for Mexican food and obligatory celebratory margaritas!

 I still had a couple of days to spend at Kaity's, and we filled the time with things like off-roading with Kaity's boyfriend KC:

And admiring the high desert mountain weather:

And the general, life-enjoying shenanigans that Kaity and I manage whenever we get together. Woe, as always, that we live in two different states, but glad, as always, that I've got such an awesome friend that shares in the craziness of endurance, horses, and life.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Catalina camping trip

Holiday shenanigans abounded this weekend when I loaded up the Go Pony, the puppy, and myself and headed down to Catalina State Park for an overnight camping trip. It was the puppy's first camping trip, and since my plan for her is to be my ridecamp and travelling companion, it only made sense to get her started early on the whole idea.

As for the pony? She was beyond thrilled to be going. It was her first camping trip in nearly four years, only lacking all of the typical pre-ride prep such as a bath. (She got to go in all of her filthy pony glory and her "sparkly whiteness" was still commented on.)

I was able to borrow a friend's truck/trailer to go down, complete with gooseneck trailer space for sleeping. Both puppy and pony traveled well, Artemis in her crate in the truck with me, and pony happy because she was by herself. (Not exactly prone to lone travel anxiety, that one. She seems to prefer an open trailer, only bellowing once when she got in as we were leaving, and upon arrival at the campground.)

Of course, this still being 2013, the Tire Misadventures weren't quite done with me, and I had to deal with this on the trailer before even pulling out of the barn:

better to discover it now than on the road...

At least it was on the trailer, not the truck, and I had it changed in about 15 minutes. Then the pony was loaded up, and we were on our way!

puppy goes on An Adventure
I didn't hear so much as a peep out of the pony, and after her customary first five minutes of crying and squirming about being shut in her kennel, Artemis quieted down and slept pretty much all the way down.

Catalina State Park is about an hour and half drive from the barn, and it's a nice, easy, smooth drive -- perfect for someone hauling an unfamiliar rig. (I'm also completely sold on gooseneck trailers now.)

The whole point of the trip was to meet up with endurance friends Lucy and Patrick, who were spending their holiday horse camping at Catalina. Catalina seemed to be a super-popular designation for the weekend -- fortunately, they saved me a spot to park as well as snagged a corral that morning for Mimi to stay in. (Yay for not having to listen to the pony attached to the trailer all night. Love her, but she's active -- she rolls, she boings her hi-tie, she clatters buckets, she rubs, she slings her hay manger around...)

Pony installed in her temporary weekend home

This was one of those trips where I was super-grateful to have the experienced pony along -- no drama or fuss from her, being an old hand at this whole camping thing, so not having to worry about her left me free to deal with the puppy.

late afternoon sunlight on the Catalinas

morning sunrise over the Catalinas
The beauty of camping trips is the ability to kick back and not really have any pressing schedule to follow. (I'm sad to admit that the last horse camping I did for fun, and not associated with being at a ride, was back in 2009. 2014 goal: Change that.) Just doing a single-night stay meant that I didn't have a whole lot to set up, either.

But winter in the desert does mean chilly nights, and I broke my cardinal "no dogs in bed" rule and let Artemis into my sleeping bag to stay warm. (Apparently I am a sucker for the "small, shivery puppy" routine.) I had a portable little propane heater, which was working pretty well right until the middle of the night when it ran out of propane, and I figured getting out of my warm sleeping bag nest would be more trouble than it was worth. Hindsight, maybe I should have at that point, since it got quite chilly in the next couple of hours, but I had extra sleeping bags, and managed to create quite a nest up in the gooseneck for us.

Artemis typically has me up between 5:30 and 6 to go out. This time, she poked her head out of the sleeping bag, then promptly ducked back in and snuggled closer. We both eventually dragged out of bed once the sun was peeking up over the mountains and it wasn't quite as frigid, and went outside long enough for the puppy to relieve herself. Back inside, she requested (looked up at the goosebeck area and whined) to be put back in her nest, so I put her back up there, she dove into the sleeping bags, and stayed there for another couple of hours while I did pony chores.

(Having just seen Disney's "Frozen" the night before I left, thoughts of eternal winters and ice and talking snowmen were at the forethought of my brain...)

Mimi was warm and toasty, ensconced in her fleece and sheet. She was also quite happy about not having to be up at the crack of freezing-cold dawn for an early ride start. I thawed out slightly by doing pony chores -- feeding, watering, cleaning the stall -- and once that was done, puppy was ready to wake up and join the world for things like breakfast and enjoying the sunshine.

Saturday morning was a chance to loll about and relax. Lucy made breakfast, we walked the dogs (they had Finn the standard poodle, who became Artemis's new best friend), then Lucy helped me with Mimi's hooves. I feel like I've gotten into a trimming rut -- after a while, you either don't see the problems or you're not sure what to do differently to address them, and a fresh set of eyes really helps -- and I like how Lucy trims, so she gave me some pointers, adjusted a couple of things, and the pony had pretty feet again. It also helped give me another good baseline to try to maintain when I trim. (Pony feet...a constant learning process.)

future ridecamp puppy watches the proceedings
Artemis watched all the goings-on from the safety of a camp chair -- she's still very leery of the horses, something I'm doing nothing to discourage at this point, since she has a strong prey drive and the last thing I want her learning is how to nip at horse hooves.

All of that done, we eventually got tacked up, stashed the dogs in Lucy's trailer, and headed out.

Patrick on Fergus (buckskin) and Lucy on Roo (grey)
I'd never ridden the Catalina trailers before, and they'e gorgeous. A great mix of some technical bits, single-track, sand, and rocks, always with the magnificent Catalina range in view/overhead. I couldn't tell you where exactly we went, other than it was around 11 miles, and we covered a whole range of trails, including heading back to a hidden waterfall. But I think the photos tell the story best...

rude pony showing how well she tailgates
(never mind death to any horse who tries it with her...)

gorgeous view only improved by the addition
of a cute grey pony

after seeing 'The Hobbit' before I left, I was getting somewhat
of a Mirkwood/Middle Earth feel...

first view of the waterfalls

Mimi and Roo could pass for twins

technical bits!
to my recollection, I don't think I've ever done
steps with Mimi before...no big deal

in the lead and moving out

the creeks were running, and we probably crossed
water half a dozen times
(did we drink? of course not)
I honestly can't remember the last time I had such fun on my pony. She was an absolute blast, and cast some major questions as to why she was retired in the first place. She was competitive, fast, strong, and definitely showing off for her new audience. I'm pretty sure she thought she was at a ride again, and SO happy about it.

The last couple of rides with other people, she's been testing the limits a bit with her s-hack, sticking her nose in the air and generally ignoring my requests to travel nicely. So I put a running martingale on her...and oh, boy, was I glad for it. After all, it's not every day your coming-21-year-old pony tries to run off with you...

I think one of the biggest differences was my attitude and approach to Mimi and her enthusiasm. I've always treated her like she's made of glass, always afraid I was asking her for too much, trying to protect her. Riding as many different horses as I have this year has really given me more confidence in their toughness (yes, they can be delicate, but they can also be incredibly tough) and that I need to trust her to be able to handle herself. Well, she handled herself just fine, and we only had one "discussion" when she was too busy dinking around  in speed-racer excitement to watch her footing and almost face-planted at a fast trot.

Also, she-who-doesn't-canter gave me some gorgeous, collected canters with a ton of impulsion and enthusiasm. And while I'm sure the adrenaline probably helped, I'm thinking some of her arena reluctance has been more mental than physical, since she wasn't at all sore or tired afterwards. We did a total of 11 miles, and while her winter coat had her looking like a sweaty yak, she pulsed down immediately, drank well, and when we got back to the barn, jumped out of the trailer and tore off across the arena and pasture, herd trailing behind her.

The trip home was without incident -- I even navigated a gas station with the trailer -- and she was acting like she won the Kentucky Derby, trumpeting her return to the entire herd as soon as I pulled in the gate. 

If anything, this weekend showed me she's not quite done yet, and I'm making plans to attend an upcoming NATRC ride in January with her. We will do the 9-mile fun ride, which she should easily handle. And this showed me that I just need to make a point to get her out more. I've got the opportunity to borrow the same rig again and more often, so I just need to do it. Getting out = happy pony and happy rider.

Next weekend is the Bumble Bee endurance ride with Liberty...can't wait to see and ride her again, either! Great way to kick off the 2014 ride season. We're doing the 25...should be a fun ride!

(And in other news, I changed my weight division for 2014...dropped down to Featherweight. My saddle, stuffed to the gills with way more than what I need/want to carry was the only thing keeping me in Lightweight anymore. )