Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Review: Taylored Tack Simple Hackamore Headstall

Bear with with just about everything I do, there's usually a "why" for it...and an accompanying story.

Funny enough, I have a minimalist of a pony, especially when it comes to tack. It's taken me a while to realize this, but the less stuff on her face, the happier she is. Too much material, especially around/behind her ears, makes her sweat, which in turns makes her itch. End result of that is she then tries to over-enthusiastically remove the paint from whatever surface she is tied next to (vehicle, horse trailer, railing) by virtue of her itching and scrubbing her face against said surface.

My trailer ended up with more than one scratch in the paint from her rubbing before I was able to remove her headstall. (Powder coating being rubbed by metal buckles does not end well.)

The other thing I struggle with is that she doesn't have a whole lot of surface area on her face. "Pea head" is the term used on more than one occasion. And as lovely as all of my halter-bridle combos are, they don't work as well in conjunction with an s-hack when there is limited space available. The struggle I ran into was that in order to get the s-hack high enough on her nose, the chin strap would end up cross right on top of the underside of the halter noseband, which meant it wasn't engaging with her chin the way it should. (Translation: Less brakes and slower pony response time than I like.) Also, her ground manners are less than stellar in flat halters. (Read: "Let me run right through you during a trot-out.")

(Interestingly enough, if you look at a bunch of my ride photos, I used the Zilco equivalent of this set-up and never had a problem with was only when I stopped using Zilco and switched to beta that I noticed this, so obviously the proportions of the Zilco halters are different.)

I've also used the add-on headstall over a rope halter idea. Her ground manners are much better when I have to lead with that, but I'll be honest: I don't love the look of the s-hack with a rope halter. Call me shallow, but..."If you can't ride fast, ride pretty." (Or just blame my show background.)

To me, this is just "too much stuff" crammed
on her pretty little face.

I've used the standard western headstall set-up (browband, throatlatch) with the s-hack before and it has worked well, but it was still more than what I really needed -- browband and two crownpieces behind the ears.

I really liked the look of the clean-line, simple headstalls, so that's what I ended up getting:

The Taylored Tack Simple Hackamore Headstall

Mimi's is, of course, purple.

I haven't had the chance to test it super-thoroughly (as compared to 25/50-mile rides/long training rides with the other set-ups) but the advantage of riding a horse for as long as I have her is I know when something works for her. And so far, I think this is working.

It's definitely been warm enough to generate the itchy, sweat pony effect, and the fact she's not throwing her head into my arms to "get this off me, now" is a good sign. It's also plenty secure, I was able to make all the adjustments needed, and as with all things Taylored Tack, the workmanship is gorgeous. I love how clean-line of a look it is, and it really sets off her pretty little head.

As far as leading/halter underneath...Mimi leads just fine from the s-hack. She yields to pressure from the noseband and chinstrap, and if need be, I do carry a small rope halter in my pack for ER purposes.

This will definitely be a set-up I revisit in the future for any additional pea-headed horses.

Now I'm itching to add a custom TT breastcollar to Mimi's tack collection, since I've never actually found a breastcollar to date that I've been completely satisfied with how it has fit her...

Friday, May 2, 2014


So I sort of let the blog's anniversary (8 years as of April 23!!!) slip on past with little-to-no fanfare...

Most of the time it doesn't seem like I've been blogging that long. Probably because I am inconsistent, not at all prolific, and sometimes goes for chunks of time running radio silent, or with one post a month. And then I go do something radical like this month and give you three posts in a row.

Sometimes I feel like I don't have a ton to talk about, especially now. I don't have my pony in my backyard to talk about her daily antics, or even close enough by to justify frequent trips to the barn just to see her. Would love to...but a barn that's 25+ miles one way means that's just not practical. And when I do ride...there's nothing particularly earth-shattering about another round of arena circles.

I know things will change...this is just another "season" in life...but in the meantime, it means I'm a bit uninspired right now. But the silver lining of the whole thing is that it is giving me a chance to do things like spend time with my boyfriend and explore some non-horsey pursuits, and put a lot of time into my puppy during this critical and impressionable age of turning her into a good canine citizen.

boating out on Saguaro Lake last area with
a lot of my favorite riding trails as well

lots of playtime with the puppy...
Artemis is just over seven months old now and
turning into an awesome companion dog

The biggest obstacle to my being a really good blogger is my inherent lazy streak. (This is my biggest obstacle in writing, period. That, and my tendency to overthink.) Or lack of good subject material. (Okay, not that there's ever truly a lack of good material when it comes to horses and endurance, but right around the time I think,"I should do a blog post," I can't think of anything to write about.)

I can appreciate that blogging has made me a better photographer in that I try to take more photos. One of my big regrets of my early years in distance riding was I didn't have a camera, or was too busy just trying to stay alive that I couldn't be bothered to take photos. When I'm busy actively riding, I have very little faith in my ability to handle reins, camera, horse, and staying in the saddle all at the same time...I want a helmet cam.

I do wish I had done a better job of tracking and logging information from the start, though. I would love to know how many hours and training miles I've logged on Mimi over the last 13 years (we started conditioning in the summer of 2001). Lesson learned: I will attempt to do a better job of tracking things with the next horse(s). Even if I'm too lazy to bother with computer programs, a large handwritten calendar should do the trick.

So I never thought I'd make it this long with blogging...I'm notoriously bad at sticking with/finishing for me, that's doing pretty good. Guess I'll keep on keepin' at it...

Mimi and I on "mini Cougar Rock"
Desert Forest NATRC March 2007
Wickenburg, AZ
photo by Ray Brezina

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Tevis 2013: As the Crew Sees It

About ten ('s been a standing deal since we were about more than 10...) years ago, two girls agreed between themselves to crew for each other when they would ride Tevis. Never mind neither of them actually had a Tevis horse at that time, or had even ridden a 50-mile endurance ride.

Kaity Elliott and I were those two girls.

July 20, 2013, I was the first one to fulfill the crewing agreement when Kaity rode her horse Kody through their first Tevis...and first completion.

I already went into detail about the Wednesday before Tevis pre-ride in which I borrowed Lucy's pone Roo and got to ride from the Finish to No-Hands Bridge and back.

Thursday was the day dedicated to packing and prep. In order to comfortably accommodate rider + crew, as well as for faster set-up and break-down time, we were taking Lucy's rig, a 3-horse semi-LQ gooseneck, plus Lucy's Subaru Baja as the crew car.

As anyone who has ever trailer-pooled before, working out of a rig that is not your own and different to what you're used to can be interesting. Speaking from personal experience, I always knew where that one errant little item you'd never think to need until you really need it was -- but would someone else think to have it? Fortunately, Lucy, Kaity, and I are all cut from a similar cloth: paranoid over-packers who bring everything + an extra kitchen sink. And fortunately, Kaity is very organized and believes in making lists. (I firmly believe in the power of The List when it comes to ride prep and organization.)

So we went down the list, pulling what we needed from Kaity's trailer and transferring it into Lucy's, and double-checking things that Lucy had that we didn't need to pack. We also hitched up the truck + trailer...a first for both of us, as it was a gooseneck trailer, and it happened with a minimum of drama and colorful language.

Slightly more drama was involved when it came to moving horse feed, in the form of an entire fluffy bale of  bermuda hay exploded over Lucy's driveway...much colorful language was uttered at that moment, as the poor bale of hay turned into the outlet for all pre-Tevis stresses and nerves. Eventually we got it together (figuratively and literally), got the hay packed in such a way it probably wouldn't completely blow out of the truck before we hit Robie Park, then ran into town to grocery shop.

Kaity and I both love food, and are the kind of riders who, if we don't eat during rides, tend to turn slightly homicidal. So food is of the Utmost Importance...and the two of us food shopping together can be a dangerous combination. (If you're one of those riders, set aside enough in your Tevis budget for plenty of food. You will thank yourself later...and your crew will love you.)

Lucy's poodle Finn helping me clean boots

The rest of Thursday was spent with more packing, and organizing. The rest of Kaity's crew, in the form of boyfriend KC and sister Brenna, arrived late afternoon. Lucy brought home pizza, and I'm pretty sure a semi-reasonable bedtime was managed by all.

On the road to Robie, precious Kody cargo in the trailer.

We caravaned up to Robie Park late Friday morning, KC, myself, and Lucy's friend Sally (another Tevis rider) in the Baja crew car, and Kaity, Brenna, and Lucy in the truck with Kody ensconced in the trailer.

The drive up to Robie Park is so gorgeous. I love that I-80 drive, with all of the trees and mountains. The dust on the last few miles in to Robie Park was, as always, impressive, and KC and I belatedly remembered Lucy's comment that the Baja A/C was we either rolled down the windows and got dusted out, or rolled up the windows and sweltered. We compromised for partway rolled-down windows and a light dust coating.

Upon arrival, we found a lovely parking spot (not telling's lovely and somewhat hidden and not dusty and easy to make the early-morning escape...and it's ours!!!), Lucy parked the rig, we settled Kody in, Kaity finished some paperwork, then we all wandered down to scope out the vendor area and get Kaity her rider packet. And I shopped. (New crupper to go with all my orange gear, new tights, and new water bottles.)

Kody loves his food.

Finishing off the part they read  when you finish and take
your victory lap around the stadium...

Rider packet!

No photographic evidence of my shopping expedition.

Kaity then went back to the trailer to tack up Kody for a short pre-ride while Lucy and stayed down in the vetting areas to watch riders and horses vet in. We oohed and aahed over our favorites, greeted people we knew, and took lots of pictures. (I thought I took more pictures. Turns out I was too busy watching to actually use my camera for any useful purpose.)

Melinda and Farley

Before too long, Kaity was back, and we got Kody untacked and Kaity vetted him in.

Was it something I said?
photo by Lucy
All business
Happy smiles after getting the "good to go"
photo by Lucy

Getting the official butt number
photo by Lucy
After getting Kody settled back at the trailer, we hoofed it back down (so. much. walking. It really helps, as a crew person, to be in decent shape for this ride.) to the dinner and ride briefing. I'm always a bit shell-shocked by how big the briefing is. So many people, between riders, and crew members, and volunteers, and management.

And I'm always surprised by how short the ride briefing really is, when you get down to it, especially considering how large and important of a ride it is. I know I've done local rides that have had a longer ride meeting than Tevis. 

We had pretty much everything packed in the crew car ahead of time, so we wrapped up with a last-minute mini crew briefing of our own, and retired to our respective sleeping spots.

Honestly, I'm pretty sure sleep at Tevis is highly overrated, even for crew members, as I don't ever remembering really sleeping well until it's all over...and then it's the sleep of the dead for 10+ hours, usually.

Ride start is at 5:15, which means camp is usually stirring around 3:30-4:00. Some people call this "morning." I say that I only like to see one 4:00...and AM ain't it. Ah, the things we do for endurance...

Fortunately KC had coffee brewing (if I must do mornings, caffeine is an absolute necessity), and we got the pony fed and dressed...and the girl fed and dressed...and then it was time for Kaity to mount up and head down to the start. Lucy and I walked with her (and I proceeded to find every rock, hole, and tree root to stumble on in the dark), and hung out off to the ride until they released the Pen 2 riders, then we hustled back up to the trailer where KC and Brenna had packed things up and were waiting to go.

photo by Lucy

Vehicles can't start up/leave until 5:30, since riders leave on the same road out of Robie Park, so we twiddled our thumbs until the appropriate time, then joined the Great Trailer Race back down to Auburn. Anyone who has crewed Tevis will remember this...a several-miles-long line of trailers and cars, bumper-to-bumper, and a line of dust that can probably been seen from several miles away.

Since KC and I had the car (and could drive faster than the faster speed limit than vehicles with trailers), we zipped ahead, down I-80, and stopped for gas/Starbucks while Lucy and Brenna proceeded directly to Foresthill. We actually caught up with them several miles out from FH, so just followed them right in, where we found a pretty awesome parking spot for the trailer that was not only easy to find ("directly under the cell tower"), but would be easy to pull the rig out of again.

Rig parked, we all jumped into the car and headed up to Robinson Flat.

Once there, we hit a minor snafu in that, unbeknownst to us (nothing was said/published about it), they shut down the caravan line (that would allow you to drive up to the top, drop people/stuff off, drive back down and park, and have the driver walk back up) at 8:30. It was 8:45 when we got there. We were furious.  Especially because Kaity believes in being...ummm..."well-stocked" with supplies, so it wasn't exactly as simple as hauling one little crew bag onto the shuttle bus and being done with things.

Well, we made it work...ended up being the last people on the bus, wedged in with a ton of stuff...and poor KC had to start hauling the (non-folding) cart up the mountain. The bus dumped us off at the top, and Brenna and I proceeded to haul stuff by hand (but we found a killer crew spot...and no, I'm not sharing where ;)) while lucy headed back down to help KC. Fortunately a kind person who had permission to be driving on the road back and forth stopped and put KC and the cart in the back of their truck and drove him up.

We got the crew spot laid out beautifully...buffet for Kody, a chair and cooler full of food for Kaity, then headed up to the road the riders come in on to wait.

Lucy was our photographer extraordinaire and got some great shots in action...

the handoff...I led and fed while the others stripped tack
photo by Lucy

They were taking blood samples between P&R and the vet
exam as part of a completion/pull study. Kody
hates needles
so I distracted with a pan of sloppy and he didn't even protest.

photo by Lucy

Kaity chatting with the vet
photo by Lucy

Post vet exam, I whisked Kody away to our crew spot and set him up, first with his hay. (Rule was he had to eat some hay for forage/fiber first, and once bored with that, he could have his beloved sloppy.) As he munched, I worked on sponging the worst of the grime off, and checked to see if I needed to do any boot adjusting.

While I tended to Kody, everyone else tended to Kaity. As you can see, they were very attentive...

time to clean the grubby rider...
(FWIW, fresh mountain water is
photo by Lucy

Apparently rider care included sponging, feeding, and foot massages. (Hey, waitaminute...I want hercrew when I ride...)

Kody is Mr. Shy Pee'r, so I had to stealth-ninja peek at him
to check for color and volume. Crewing is
SO glamorous.
photo by Lucy

That hour hold passes by really fast (although fortunately Kaity didn't have to wait in long lines for P&R or vet), but we got her in the saddle and out on time.

and away they go...
photo by Lucy
Then came the fun of getting everything back down the mountain. We begged a ride off another crew person who was able to drive her truck up to the top of the road, and we proceeded to play "endurance rider Tetris" with everyone's stuff...

Th best part was riding this load down the mountain, sitting on the back of the dropped tailgate. Fortunately it's all downhill and gravity worked in our favor for once, and no items or crew people were lost along the way. (Move over Disneyland...this is an endurance rider's idea of an E-ticket ride.)

Between Robinson Flat and Foresthill is a long stretch of downtime, as it's probably at least 6 hours before you're going to see your rider again. Lucy headed back out to go to the Chicken Hawk check (a gate-and-go-style of check, but it's apparently nice to have a smiling face and extra set of hands meet you there). We got the back of the trailer swept out and the shower area all set up and ready for Kaity to use. I arranged the crew cart with everything we would need for later, then wandered around a little bit looking for people I knew, including Funder, crewing for Mel, and A, crewing for Karen. I loaded A down with more Renegade goodies and we chatted for a bit before she had to go.

Around that time, Kaity's parents showed up, so I spent some happy time catching up with them (again, known them as long as I've known Kaity and they're sort of like another set of parents to me), and then her dad and I drove down to the Foresthill market for ice and provisions re-stocking (more Gatorade).

After we got back and hung out around the trailer a little more, Interesting Things started happening, which meant riders were starting to come in. I wandered down to Bath Rd to watch and cheer, since it was still at least a couple hours from when we anticipated Kaity arriving.

Once Lucy texted from Chicken Hawk to let us know Kaity was through and headed to FH, we grabbed the cart and stuff, and trundled further down the road to wait. Lucy made it back before Kaity arrived, so got more Crew In Action shots...

see how we're a blur of motion?
photo by Lucy
We stripped tack, and started cooling -- water is plentiful here in FH, including a hose, and the ice I'd fetched earlier. It was HOT this year, and we did some pretty aggressive cooling/hosing/sponging of ice water on Kody as we headed up the road. It worked, as he pulsed right in, and Kaity and I headed over to the vet line.

letting the hungry hippo eat
photo by Lucy
After a successful vet exam, we went back to the trailer, where Kaity was shoved to the back of the trailer to shower, and the rest of us worked on getting tack set up for nighttime (glowsticks, headlamp) and I messed with/replaced a couple of boots Kody had pitched in the canyons.

heading to the out-timer
photo by Lucy

There was a brief delay at the out-timer when the Desitin in Kaity's saddle pack turned up missing, and Lucy had to run back to her trailer for more, but we still managed to get her on trail in a timely fashion.

waiting at the out-timer
Once we saw her on her way, the rest of us headed back to the vehicles, packed up what looked like the aftereffects of a tornado, and drove back down to Auburn and the fairgrounds.

Kaity had gotten one of the horse camping slots next to the finish line area, and we had scoped it out ahead of time. End spot with lots of room for rig, vehicles, tents, and horse. We dropped the rig off and left the camp set-up in the capable hands of KC and Brenna. Lucy and I had volunteered to help work the Lower Quarry check during that "downtime" of dropping off the rig and Kaity's arrival in Auburn (all part of my plan to see/experience as much of the ride as possible before actually riding it), so we headed down there.

We missed the Top Ten riders coming through, but then saw the majorit of the rest of the riders come through in the next several hours. As volunteers, we were basically available to help riders with whatever they needed: hold their horse, cool/sponge them, provide hay/mashes, refill water bottles, point riders in the direction of the food table, do a courtesy pulse check.

It was really, really fun to interact with so many different horses and riders and help them, in some small way, with their ride. We offered Kaity the same basic services as everyone else (since crews are not allowed at Quarry), and after she was through the check and on her way, we made our exit and booked it up the road. We managed to hitch a ride with some volunteers who were driving out, so we didn't have to jog/walk the whole way back to the car, so we had plenty of time buffer to drive back to the fairgrounds and settle on the "grassy knoll" overlooking the finish line at the water trough.

Crewing wasn't allowed until after riders were through the stadium, so we waited for her to arrive, cheered like a bunch of lunatics, and walked with her down to the stadium.

photo by Lucy
I admit it: I cried when I watched them go around the stadium. I know this has been a long-time dream of Kaity's, and to do it on a horse that she raised up from a fuzzy baby to a beautiful, grown-up, 100-miler TEVIS HORSE is an accomplishment that goes beyond description.

post-completion exam...a SUCCESSFUL FIRST TEVIS!!!
photo by Lucy

friends that have been through this long journey together
photo by Lucy

it takes a village to get through Tevis
photo by Carol Elliott
Tevis has been doing a post-post-completion check 1-2 hours after finishing, so we went back up to the trailer where I wrapped Kody's legs, and by the time we got him all wrapped and clean, it was time to go for the re-check, which we did, then staggered back to the trailer and fell into bed. It was probably around 6AM at this point. (Seeing two sunrises in the course of 24+ hours is a bit much.) I passed out for a couple of hours, but woke up around 8:30 or so feeling like a turkey baking in an oven. (Metal trailer, full sun, closed doors.) Lucy was also up, so we blearily stumbled down to the showers, washed over 24-hours of Tevis grime off, and searched out breakfast.

After food (and coffee), we watched the Haggin Cup judging, which is always interesting to see, then we browsed the vendors, looked at ride photos, then lolled about in the shade and grass until it was time for awards.

I was definitely done by the time awards were about halfway through...lack of sleep and full depletion of all of my energy reserves meant I teetered on the edge of an emotional breakdown, as all I really wanted to do at this point was go back to Lucy's and sleep.

(Full confessions: Tevis is very emotional for me, both good and bad, and part of me always has a bit of a hard time coping with seeing other people getting what I want so badly. Mostly I hide it well, but part of my coping mechanism is "let me disappear and have a good cry for a little bit.")

The rest of the afternoon/evening is a bit fuzzy...I know I got back to Lucy's, had my private meltdown, then crashed for several hours. I think we all kind of slept in typical "me" fashion, I woke up around dinnertime, ate something, then stayed up for a few more hours chatting about all things endurance and Tevis before crashing again.

I'd wisely given myself an extra day before having to head home, since I had extra stuff I needed to send home (Renegade boots, shirts, and a saddle I was borrowing from Lucy), so I got to see more of the scenic Sierra foothills as Kaity and I drove to the UPS store (and searched out junk food).

I flew back home Tuesday, and promptly spent the next week getting my sleep patterns back in order. 

AS I mentioned, Tevis is always a very emotional thing for me. I'm in love with this ride and I want to do it SO bad...all it takes is for the yearly entry forms to go up online and I get Tevis Fever all over again. And yes, I'm already committed to crewing (for Lucy) for Tevis 2014...