Wednesday, April 30, 2014

blast from the past: Wickenburg 2006

Kaity-n-Sonny, me-n-Mimi

I've talked numerous times on this blog about one of my best friends, Kaity, and how we've know each other and ridden together since our early teen ring, then NATRC, then endurance.

Now you get one of those stories of a time when we rode together...

(Regrettably, I don't have more photos from this ride. Well, technically I do...a whole stack of them my dad took...but they're actual printed photos that I would have to first locate in the depths of my photo storage, and then scan. Sorry. Maybe someday.)

The ride: Land of the Sun 25, January 2006, Wickenburg, AZ

Kaity actually drove out almost a week ahead of the ride so we could have a chance to hang out, ride the ponies a bit for fun, and prep for the ride without stress. (I was still at ASU then, so had that pesky thing called "classes" to attend for some of the time she was here.)

As I've mentioned before, any time Kaity and I get together, we have a complete blast. Lots of laughter, maniacal plotting, and some creative feeding of interesting ideas back and forth. (Ask me about the plot we hatched to ride our two ponies in Tevis and pull at Robinson Flat, just so we could get Cougar Rock pics. At the time, both ponies could reliably complete 35 it seemed like a logical plan. ;))

Eight years later, all of the details are a little fuzzy...but I remember this was one of my early-on rides with Mimi being barefoot, and I went with the only option really available to me: foaming on old-style Easyboots. Now, I can't speak for the current protocol of Gloves and Adhere...but I can say this for back then: What a pain in the ass!!! Using the old-style foam was a seriously messy endeavor, involving little mixing cups and stirring sticks, trying to get just the right amount of each part of the two-part foam, adding it to the boots, having it foam up all over the place...and don't even get me started on trying to get them off. And voice of experience: if you didn't get the components of the foam measured evenly and sufficiently mixed, they didn't hold.

So the awesome (not) fun of foaming on boots was part of pre-ride was trying to give the cranky, cold-water-hating pony a January. We took both of our trailers, since Kaity was planning to head directly back to CA after the ride versus back-tracking back to my place. Base camp was at the Wickenburg Rodeo Grounds/Constellation Horse Park...great place to have a ride. Lots of parking space, and arenas to turn them out in afterwards.

Again with the "fuzzy on the details" part...of pretty much everything from Friday afternoon until Saturday morning. Fortunately, I still have my vet card (!) so I can tell you that Mimi vetted in with all As and a pulse of 32. It was cold overnight...maybe not by northern Minnesota standards, but by Arizona-and-southern-California desert rat standards, it was cold. To this day, Kaity still talks about how it took until the vet check for her toes to thaw. :)

Mimi and Sonny were both experienced distance ponies -- NATRC and LD rides, although this was only Mimi's second LD -- so we had a nice, sane ride start...see the top photo for evidence of their business-like marching out at the start.

The trails at Wickenburg are, simply put, fun. It's a perfect mix of dirt roads, single-track, and washes, flat areas, and ups and downs.

happeeeeee pony

The 25s had our vet check at about 13 miles, and we came in at 9:48 after an 8AM start. It took us about 5 minutes to pulse down, after someone decided to be an obnoxious idiot walking into the check. So we pulsed in at 9:53, with a 10:53 out-time.

13 miles and she's dragging me into the check.

We had an hour hold, and my dad, who had come along for the weekend to help crew for us, grabbed a great spot and had a buffet set out for the ponies. This was a major frills ride, with all kinds of food set out for both horse and rider.

(I miss this ride!!!)

My right knee was whining at me (13 miles of holding back a strong pony, I wonder why?), so I wrapped it, found a conveniently-placed parking lot perimeter marker to use as a mounting block, and we were waiting at the out-timer for our go-ahead.

It was 12 miles back to camp for the finish and out-check. Scenery photos actually used from the 2008 and 2010 years I did this ride...I didn't have a camera I rode with in 2006. But the course ran over the same trails, for the most part, most of the years it was held.)

cool bits of single-track

AWESOME volunteers at this ride

sand wash...kind of deep in parts, enough to necessitate
"cautious trotting" as the speed of choice

The second part of the trail was really awesome, with lots of single-track interspersed with chunks of sand wash. At one point, we were leap-frogging with one ride who would pass us, then slow down, and we would pass, then they would tail-gate us rather obnoxiously. This carried on for a couple of miles until we hit a section of tight twists up a hillside through some shrubbery. Us being on very agile, athletic ponies hit this section at a fast trot and hung on...a few moments later, we heard crashing brush and "Oh, $#!# as the larger, less-agile horse missed a turn...that rider got the message and backed off and gave us our space for the rest of the ride.

The last several miles of the ride went by pretty fast, and we hopped off and half-walked the last 1/2-mile or so in to the finish. We let the ponies drink and pulsed in...ride time of 3:45, plus the hour that would have us in right around 12:45. We were 34th (Kaity) and 35th (me) out of 80 starters. Yes, 80!!! (And 71 in the 50.)

We vetted out right away (one B on gut sounds, the rest As), then went back to the trailers to untack, let them eat, and while Kaity took Sonny down to the arena to roll, I started in on the battle of the boot removal. I'd foamed those boots on so well I actually had to dismantle them by removing the outside screws to try to break the foam seal. It took a while, and some colorful language I probably should have known, to get them off...but they eventually came off.

Ride awards were actually held at the Wickenburg Community Center down the street, so we hopped a ride down there for a delicious dinner and great awards -- sweatshirts!!!

Wickenburg is far enough of a drive from the barn that we stayed over Saturday night, then packed up camp in the morning, said my goodbyes to Kaity, and headed back home.

Definitely a fun ride...and apparently Wickenburg will be making a reappearance on the 2015 SW ride calendar, so hopefully I will get a chance to be there and once again ride one of my favorite rides!

new page

I just put together a new page included in the header, "Ride Stories." It's a compilation of all of my distance competitions I've done, with links to the accompanying stories I've written.

I don't have stories to go with all the rides...yet. Many of them were pre-blogging days, so it'll be a creative memory exercise to see how much I can remember, but I'd eventually like to get something up for all of them. And some rides that happened during blogging years never got properly written if you search them out, there will be some half-hearted mutterings about them buried in another post...but I would like to go back and re-visit those from the perspective of a few years and less dramatic emotion.

It's organized by horse, and then by subcategory of yearly breakdown. So check it out...there might be story you missed, or take a tour de refresher course through my somewhat interesting ride career...

Ride Stories page

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lead Dogs

So many little white pony ear shots...the only thing that
changes is the scenery. Always bold and always perky.

In reading Funder's blog post about her Nevada Derby 50 ride, she had a section where she talked about sled dog racing, lead dogs, and the similarities to that and endurance. She put into words pretty much exacty what I was thinking, so with her permission, I copy it here:

I spent a lot of time thinking about lead dogs. 
This year I fell off into watching the Iditarod pretty closely, and I read two books about long-distance sled racing. It’s fascinating, really, the similarities and differences between endurance riding one horse and endurance racing 8-16 dogs. One of the main things sled racers worry about is their lead dogs. Not every dog has it in her to lead the pack, and only the best of the best can lead for a thousand miles straight. Most teams — even winning teams — rotate between several lead dogs. If your lead dog quits on you, he’s probably nottired, he’s just mentally tired from being in front, and he needs to just run with the pack in the middle for a couple (hundred) miles.
So that was perking along in the back of my mind all day. It’s hard to be the lead dog.When Dixie and I were leading, I noticed that I had to concentrate much harder to make damn sure I was on the right trail. Can I see a ribbon ahead? When’s the last time I saw one? How’s the footing ahead, should I slow us down, don’t forget to signal when you slow down! What do I remember about this section? Can we walk for a quarter mile and get to better trail, or is this a section where you trot ten feet and walk ten feet and trot again?
The horses are the same way. And they’re herbivores, not brave predators. The lead horse has to watch for rocks and pick her footing; the horses behind the lead horse just step exactly where the lead horse stepped. (You’ve seen this — you know that if the horse in front of you stumbles over a rock, there’s a 90% chance your horse is going to stumble over the same damn rock.) It’s hard to be the lead dog for a horse too! 
And I kept that in mind all afternoon as we swapped out our lead dogs. They’d all recovered fine, they weren’t lame, and Dixie and Kody are both hundred-mile horses. They weren’t tired; they were tired of leading. I didn’t get mad at Dixie, and I didn’t fall into my usual “she’s just not cut out for this sport we should give up” pit of despair. She did really well and she was really honest!
I've also dabbled here and there with an interest in sled dog racing -- enough to have several books on the subject, at least. And there's nothing like reading about sled dog racing to make you feel good about your sanity level as an endurance rider.

To be honest, I've never had to put a lot of thought into the mental pressures of leading. Mimi is naturally a lead horse. She prefers to lead, getting sulky, spooky, pouty, and sometimes downright naughty when kept in the back for too long. (When riding with friends, about the time they hear me cussing behind them is when they know it's time to let the pony lead.) She can also keep up with or out-pace all the horses we've ridden with, and is still overall one of the boldest, bravest horses I've ridden. (To be fair, she also has who-knows-how-many hours and miles of experience.)

She's also a pretty "easy" ride in the sense that the toughest thing to do is try to keep her to a dull roar and persuade her to not dislocate your shoulders. Especially at a ride, when she's "on" she doesn't even think about spooking or being naughty -- she just wants to get down the trail, preferably faster than what I'd like her to do. But when the pony knows her job and does it, it's pretty easy for me as a rider to do things like pay attention to the trail and ribbons. (Trail judgment...that's a topic worthy of its own post...)

My pony has me so spoiled.

This past year, riding so many different horses showed me that this is kind of bold leadership is not par for the course. While it happened to varying degrees with a number of the horses I rode, I'm thinking specifically about Liberty. 

Happy ears, just a couple miles into the ride and still
feeling confident.
Prescott Chaparral 2013
I touched on it a bit in my Prescott Chaparral story, and again in the Bumble Bee write-up, but Liberty is a classic case of needing the mental break from leading. She's still a young, green horse with not a whole ton of experience, and while she is naturally dominant in a herd, and has a curiosity, willingness, and boldness that will serve her well going down the trail, right now she still very much needs those mental breaks.

Less bold at this ride and much more
"wibbley-wobbley" young horse.

And riding horses who don't have it quite "all together" yet has been more mentally taxing on me as a rider, including a couple of times at rides last year of missing ribbons/getting off course. Apparently I don't multi-task as well as I thought...

It's been an eye-opener for me to experience this, especially once I made the connection of what was actually going on versus the automatic assumption of "I broke my horse." In all the rides we did, I only recall Mimi hitting a wall twice -- once on a ride we'd done multiple times on trails we'd trained on, on a hot day, going away from camp yet again and she really just wanted to be done; and once when she tied up. tend to hit mental walls more than she does, and it's often the perky pony attitude that gets me out of my funk.

I also touched on this a bit when musing about heart rate monitors -- that "mental wall" is part of why I do like to ride with one, especially on horses I don't know as well. It helps tell me whether they truly are tired and it's reflecting in their pulse, or if they're just mentally tired.

In front, and braver...but it took a lot of support on my part
to keep her there.

I'm sure some of this is my "growing pains" of adapting to riding other horses. Like I said, the pony has me spoiled, and the faster I get used to the fact that not every horse is going to be another Mimi, the easier it'll be on me. And fortunately, I've still got her to fall back on, when I need a confidence booster or don't want the pressure of having to be so "on" as a rider the entire time. (Not to say I let my guard down with her...the times I have, it's usually ended up in a parting of the ways...that pony moves fast.)

It's certainly true horses are a lifetime of learning, and the more of them you're around, the more they teach you. I know I've learned that my preference in horses is a bold, forward leader...I would rather have one I hold back a bit than one I have to constantly coax, cajole, and pedal. Obviously, there is going to be some degree of coaxing, cajoling, and pedaling on young horses while they're figuring life out...and that's okay. As long as they eventually turn into a bold, confident, reliable, trail-safe horse...I'm happy.