Death Valley XP ’17: Lessons from the Trail

Last year after after 4 days on 4 different horses at Death Valley XP I shared some of my favorite Survival and Comfort Items while catch riding a multiday. This year I’ve already pretty thoroughly covered how we pin-balled through multiple vehicular malfunctions, so it seemed timely to now share some things learned/confirmed while riding the same horse for 50 miles for multiple days.

FB_IMG_1515107925345Bring All the Things…   Kenny has never needed splint or fetlock boots before in our mileage together and I rarely have ever used them with any horse, but I’ve been packing both types of leg protection boot for years now. This ride this habit proved invaluable, when at lunch of the Day 2 50 miler I noticed that Kenny, naturally knock kneed/toed out on the front with an inward swinging movement, had given himself a knick on his left front with his right front. I made it a point to run back to the trailer to grab the fetlock boots before we left on the second loop, and when on a pee break I saw the interference mark freshly disturbed, on went the fetlock boots. Kenny wore them the rest of the 150 miles, barefoot and booted, and there were no further issues.

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I also got very lucky in the Bring All Things regard, because when transferring gear from my rig to T’s, my husband threw in an extra saddle pad that I hadn’t planned to bring. It was a green Coolback pad with a 3+” longer flap than the barrel pad Woolback we usually use, and it too proved vital when I noticed that Kenny had a spot of rubbed off hair right where his clip started/pad ended, where the leather billets ran. I have never had any sort of rub on Kenny before in 50 milers with this clip, but this was a multi-day that crossed mountains, so possible issues were handily revealed! The pad my husband had unwittingly included proved to be perfect under the Specialized and covering the rub spot, and there were no were further issues.

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..Plus Back ups! While I had covered my boot-gluing failure by bringing Hoof Armor, Easyboot Gloves, and Renegades, I quickly discovered how shallow your pool of supplies can run on a challenging multi day. I used the most tolerated Easyboot Gloves on Kenny’s fronts for the mountain crossings and he went bare in the sandy valleys, for reasons such as this: when still Gloved and loosed into cheery higher gears in the valley after endless walking down a mountain, Kenny flung off a front boot. This was discovered later in camp, along with the revelation that a brand new hind sized Glove had also leapt off the back of my saddle somewhere on trail.

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I quickly went from 4 of his most tolerated boots to 2, and one was technically the wrong size. Fortunately, Kenny’s fronts are only a half size larger than his hinds and Gloves are supposed to fit snugly, so I managed to get the remaining hind Glove onto his front for the remainder of the 50 Day 2. Then, on our rest day, it was revealed that a friend had picked up the Kenny flung front Glove and the Duck had picked up the brand new hind Glove somewhere on trail!  Lucky me, but, sparesies of what you know work are certainly essential on long-and-multi-day rides!

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Feed them What They’ll Eat, Mostly: Kenny slurps down wet mashes with relish at home but will completely shun the same recipe when on the road. I have wasted a lot of extra groceries accepting this fact! He will eat up dry rations (LMF Super Supplement, a handful of something tasty, powdered electrolytes) like they’re the best ever, and drink greedily afterward. Okay, dry rations at rides it is, for the most part, though I’ve also discovered he likes soggy beet pulp and whole oats at rides, too (he isn’t impressed by the same at home). T and I had a wide variety of basic, healthy feed (whole oats, alfalfa/grass pellets, LMF SS, black sunflower seeds, stabilized rice bran pellets, carrots, apples) and four different types of hay which ensured both steeds, Arabian and non, ate with relish the entire trip.

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There is always more to learn on the endurance trail and multi-days sure are great prep for larger goals ahead!

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Death Valley Encounter 2017: There and Back Again

Welcome to the latest saga dear readers, as indeed I can once again deliver a wild tale of adventures gone awry in pursuit of endurance riding. The calendar year of 2017 was one for the record books for me as far as rides traveled to and vehicles gone wrong, and I really wrapped the year up with a smoky, flamey bang!

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The morning after Christmas once again found me with gear packed in preparation to catch a ride to the Death Valley Encounter 4 day. Last year I traveled down to this ride with my old school chum E and another buddy and I catch rode different horses each day ; this year found me with a whole lot more gear to transfer as Kenny and I were going as a unit, with a goal of 2-3 50 milers as part of our conditioning for a first 100 miler attempt next fall.

Plan A had already become plan A.5 as a rookie hoof boot gluing attempt by my husband and I never even got out the gate thanks to clipping the end of the one glue cartridge that I had bought too short, effectively ensuring the glue would never make it all the way down the tip to the boot; instead it exploded gloriously out the base of the tip no matter what we did, and I had zero time to go driving about in search of more glue. Err, right then, I brought all my gluing supplies, all of my Hoof Armor supplies, my meager Easyboot Glove supplies, and even the Renegades Kenny despises for good measure. Kenny barely tolerates strap on hoof boots due to his knock kneed conformation and deep striding gaits, but I knew that the trails were part sand, part wildly rocky mountain crossings, so I figured worst come to worst I could put his Gloves on for the mountains and pop them off in the valleys (with Hoof Armor on all around too, of course).

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Christmas/packed/well we tried/Kenny in his extra grocery pen

With my husband dropping Kenny and I off, T and I rendezvoused at a convenient Walmart on Tuesday which also allowed us to finalize grocery/supply items.  That transfer all went smoothly and we set off for the 500 mile drive to ride camp well past noon with T at the wheel of her semi-Bullet-proofed ’05 Ford 6.0. It had only been a couple of hours when she mentioned that there was rather more exhaust output than she was to accustomed to; not knowing the truck myself I had no useful input on the matter, but the Oh Shit spidey senses definitely started to tingle. We sent out inquiries to a host of diesel savvy folks in our lives, from tire guys to log truckers to T’s dad who usually worked on the truck, and they all advised that it was likely a stuck injector, we should put it in an additive, and keep on driving. So we did. The exhaust output was by this point definitely excessive, white, then black, and soon the truck sounded like shit as well, being particularly unhappy if it had to idle at all–imagine panicked perusing of google maps to find us a Walmart not too far off Hwy 99 where we might find an additive while idling at traffic lights as little as possible–and yep, it was already dark outside.

We managed to limp along Nowhereland with a Googled goal of a safe spot to stop for the night and morning reassessment until somewhere outside of Bakersfield, when we heard a terribly ominous KACHUNK, followed by billowing black smoke out the passenger side exhaust pipe, then a volley of sparks. It would be melodramatic to call them flames, but sparks barely encompasses the alarming sight of such an output. Profanity echoed through the failing truck cab as T steered us for the nearest off ramp, a steep uphill sandwiched between two overpasses, and there we came to rest, barely out of the off ramp lane, in the dark, on a semi route, outside of Bakersfield. The truck still started and we debated trying to get off of the off ramp, but being dead on an overpass was probably worse and in the end the truck didn’t have the oomph to drag the LQ any farther anyway. In an all too familiar scene we began calling USRider, various family members who needed to know, and this time we called CHP too for good measure, figuring we needed some flagging assistance so an exiting semi didn’t take us out.

We spent the next five hours or so on that off ramp, eventually joined by CHP who didn’t set out flares but did set out cones, which the exiting semis promptly ran over. USRider proved themselves worthless once again, essentially boiling down to an out of country call service that uses Google and fills out pre set forms with no understanding of what a horse person is dealing with. Finally CHP reached a semi truck towing service out of Bakersfield who found towing a truck and 3 horse LQ with 2 horses on board totally doable and by the wee hours of Wednesday morning the very capable tow truck driver was hooking us up to his big ole sleeper-cab rig.

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salvage attempts/well that’s not good/rescued at last

Once hooked up and after double checking his work thoroughly, the kindly tow truck driver asked us where we would like to be taken in Bakersfield at 2 am. We were operating on disbelief and waning adrenaline at this point and had only a Google’d diesel mechanic name to offer up; the driver, a local, shook his head decisively and told us that his boss at the yard had Andalusian horses and might have a better idea. The boss, that dear, kind man, told his driver to bring us back to the semi yard and park us next to his horse trailer as there was nowhere else safe to be in Bakersfield at 2 am. By 3 am we were parked in the razor wire lined yard, next to a freshly painted horse trailer and a burned out RV hull, across from a fleet of semis, and so very grateful that T has her CCW and always carries. Our horses were un-phased, no doubt judging this an odd ride camp location but settling right into their hay bags and shared water bucket next to the burned out hull.

The semi yard was in use all night, with trucks and drivers coming and going, and not long after daylight we were up and figuring out Plan B. It truly took a village to pull this entire shenanigan off and we would have many thank you baskets to send out, dinners to buy, and repair bills to help with by the end of it.  By mid morning my buddy E who I had gone to Death Valley with last year offered up her diesel Dodge with a gooseneck hitch, my husband was driving my old Ford to E’s to start driving her Dodge down, and T’s dad was rounding up another truck and a trailer big enough to put her dead Ford on and haul it back home, planning to take my husband back north with him. They would get to us Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile, T and I decided to ride to Taco Bell. I had never ridden through a drive thru and how many people can say that they have checked off a bucket list item in Bakersfield, CA?

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Post Taco Bell we applied Hoof Armor to all 8 hooves and T clipped her mare’s coat, watched over by the friendly truckers and mechanics of the commercial yard who also lent us a tape measure and were just generally salt of the earth good people. My husband arrived in E’s truck about 6:30 pm and we pulled T’s truck out of the way, hooked up the Dodge to the LQ, and abandoned my husband to wait out T’s dad’s arrival a few hours later.

7:30 pm Wednesday found us heading out into the night Trona bound,  with me at the wheel of my friend’s performance enhanced manual truck, hauling my other friend’s LQ, all our gear, and both our horses. Deep breathing ensued. Somewhere in the dark desert miles from Trona the headlights in the truck suddenly turned themselves off, but were resurrected by pumping the headlight switch, and decided to stay on if I didn’t use the high beams. Okay. We found and rolled through Trona sometime around 2 am and a few miles later pulled into a very quiet and very full ride camp, completely lucking out with a spot large enough for a simple pull up, back in maneuver. We whispered apologies to our neighbors as we emptied the LQ living area, pulled corral panels off the LQ, and settled both ponies in, then fell into bed with alarms set for a few hours later as we were determined to check in, vet in, and ride this Day 1 50 if it killed us.

Fortunately, it didn’t! The Duck and co are very relaxed and accommodating so we managed to tack up, check in, vet in, and hit the 50 mile trail only 15 minutes late Thursday morning. I forgot my phone in the trailer so T and I collaborated on photos on her phone that day. Day 1 was run in reverse of last year, a decision that I greatly enjoyed as it presented us with the most challenging climb and descent of the Slate range in the morning, a cruise through the Panamint Valley to the 25 mile lunch vet check, and then a kinder crossing back over the Slates and home to the Finish at ride camp in the Searles Valley, well after dark at our speed.

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Due to the epic shenanigans getting to the ride, I had adopted my last ditch plan of riding Kenny with front Gloves in the nasty rock portions and pulling them off for the sandy Valley miles while leaving his hinds entirely bare (and Hoof Armor’d), which met with his approval. The scenery was stellar, the steeds were reliable and excellent on self care, and it was overall a lovely day in the saddle wrapped up with a 10 hour finish on strong ponies.

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Day 1 50 miler, photo credit Steve Bradley

Day 2 we headed up the Slates again, this time riding along the ridgeline in a long climb to the radio towers at the summit before descending to Searles Valley again in a truly challenging 30 mile first loop. Kenny hit his first and only doldrums about halfway through that first loop, convinced his human was an idiot who had gotten them lost in a faraway land. He trotted past the photographer part way up the mountain but he did it his way, as ever..

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“gdamn stupid human got us lost up another mountain and is up there waving like a fool grumblegrumblegrumble” photo credit Steve Bradley

Day 2 Loop 1 was the truest of true endurance, featuring stunning views, arduous miles, questioning of sanity and recreational choices, and saddle bags thoroughly emptied of horse and human snacks miles before anyone though it appropriate.

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Day 2 50, Loop 1

We were thrilled to get back to ride camp after the 30 mile loop, even as I realized that our enthusiastic final zip in had abandoned one of my front Gloves in the desert, and a brand new hind sized Glove that I carried on the back of my saddle had also parted ways with us at some unknown juncture. Fortunately Kenny’s fronts are only a half size bigger than his hinds and Gloves are supposed to fit snugly so after T reapplied Hoof Armor to all hooves at lunch and we all snorfled through as much food as we could in the time frame, I managed to get the remaining hind boot I had onto his front hoof for the last loop. It was a shorter loop than the first thank goodness, around the Searles valley this time, and with our Rumchata filled flask on board Kenny we had a good time navigating our way in to the Finish via moonlight once again.

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Loop 2/moonrise/pointing at the radio towers we had climbed to/sunset

Our steeds cantered into the moonlight finish on Day 2 and vetted out nicely but we were all well and truly tuckered at that point and I knew that Day 3 was essentially Day 2 in reverse, with more epic Slate range climbing. We pulled the Adulting card on this one and decided to take Day 3 off, something which I am still pleased/proud about to this very moment. Would our horses have gone all four days? Probably. Was it fair and intelligent to ask it of them, all things (existing condition, travels, future goals) considered? We didn’t think so, and so day 3 was spent sleeping, eating, strolling, applying one more coat of Hoof Armor, and eating some more, with a plan to the hit the trail again Day 4.

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walkies, snacks, more walkies, more snacks, Kenny..

We vetted in again on the afternoon of Day 3 and at dinner that night it was revealed that a buddy had picked up my Kenny-flung front boot on trail from Day 2, and the Duck had picked up the brand new Glove that had leapt off the back of my saddle somewhere, too. Score!  Day 4 was two loops around Searles Valley with no mountain crossings, so both ponies went entirely barefoot, but it was sure nice to get the boots back.

A bit of weather rolled in at this point just like the last day of the 2016 ride, but just enough to make beautiful clouds and interesting light at various points throughout the day on trail. Our horses snacked and drank and peed and trotted their way around as steady as ever and it was the perfect wrap up for 150 miles riding; without the intense climbs we cantered into the Finish before sunset.

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Loop 1, wherein Kenny tries to roll in deep sand and Aurora shrieks

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Loop 2, in which there is drinking and music and high fiving

Sunday evening after finishing we got the ponies tucked in with vittles, had the first showers we had taken since leaving home early Tuesday, and took our bottle of wine over to the ride management provided New Years Eve dinner. We were well fed throughout this ride and there was a live band NYE, however we didn’t last much past eating that night, finding our warm quiet bed preferable. After all, the Voyage Home would begin early the next morning.

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Rig/NYE gathering/my 150 mile pony

T and I are quite efficient at breaking down camp after so many road trips together so we had everything stowed, manure and hay bagged, ponies loaded, and were back on the road for northern Cali by 8ish on Monday morning. We got through two fuel stops successfully but on the third the Dodge started making an ominous whine when I accelerated to get back on the highway. It seemed to happen only if I accelerated too strongly, so the truck and I settled on a non-whining 45 mph cruising speed while once again we sent out the uuhhh, Guys…. messages. 45 mph on Hwy 99 and I-5 is a pretty piss poor speed to get things accomplished but it’s better than 0, so 45 we went, for hours, shuffling through contingency plans. Finally we settled on limping the truck to it’s home at E’s which was the closest base (and only 20 miles from my house); she and her ever tolerant and helpful Airforce husband met us at the base of the last climb before their house and he got the rig in the driveway while we rode in disbelief in E’s car. Two for two on trucks! Humans and steeds sank gratefully into guest accommodations at E’s for the night, with yet another plan to be formulated come morning.

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Kenny stretching his legs at E’s, a week and 150 miles riding since Home

Fortunately we had not yet exhausted our pool of kind friends. Tuesday morning yet another Dodge headed South, this time to pick up T, her LQ, and horse, and get her home. My husband had left my Ford at E’s when he picked up her Dodge on the first rescue mission, so I hooked up my old Ford to E’s two horse trailer, loaded my gear and Kenny in it, and made it the 20 miles home with no further issue, trailer to be returned later. T’s final leg of the voyage went smoothly as well and finally, a solid week later, everyone was back to their barns by last night. PHEW.

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I didn’t even realize it at the time but Sunday’s 50 miler completion on Kenny bumped me over 1,000 AERC miles, something I have been after for a long time. This entire adventure made us question everything a number of times, but there is no question in my mind regarding my love for riding horses, far and long, over mountains, through valleys, beyond the threshold of comfort zones, through Plans A-Z. We couldn’t have done it without each other, our great horses, and a whole bunch of kind humans, strangers and loved ones.

THANK YOU, EVERY ONE.

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Day 4 50 miler, 3/3 50s, crossing the 1,000 mile mark ❤   photo credit Steve Bradley

Goodbye, Hello

This holiday season, as most, I find myself reflective. This holiday season, more than usual, I find myself raising glasses, proverbial and literal, to many great spirits gone on ahead.  It is the nature of things, animal and human, light and dark, beauty and pain; they come and go, rise and fall, elate and depress us.  We clamber up and summit with dreams realized, then find ourselves cast back on the lowest shores, wondering Why, Where, and How. Coming to terms with this cycle, or not, defines us because it’s Life: rarely pretty, often beautiful, ever a roller coaster ride.

This holiday season I’ve said goodbye to family members, good friends, and my beloved horse Blaze. Life taught me early and thoroughly that Everything Dies; I consider myself fairly well versed in coping with it, thank goodness, as it is a blow to be dealt over and over as a human. But really, honestly, I’m often convinced that the first slight sign of malady in any beloved human or beast means something terrible, means Goodbye. Notice I didn’t say that I was good at coping with it, just practiced. Anyway, point is, I’m human, you’re human, we’re all human, except for those amazing and wonderful animals that grace our lives, and are generally better than humans. Animals are my saving grace here and now when other lights have gone out, and I am genuinely comforted by the thought of seeing my boy Blaze again on the other side later on.

All my love, safe journeys, and see you again Kay, Douglas, Dusty, and Blaze 

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I did promise a Hello, so let’s step to the lighter side of the curtain and welcome a new friend to the RHE herd. I wasn’t ready, it wasn’t financially intelligent, and we all love her.

“Zella”

11 yr old, 14.3 hh mare

Section D Welsh x Arabian

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~~Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and onward to the new year~~

Kenny and I are embarking on a big adventure next week, check back the first week of January…

Gold Rush Shuffle 2017 & Season Wrap up

I’m a person of gut feelings and mild superstitions. Ignore either, particularly the first, at your peril I have found. It’s an interesting mix when paired with goals and ambition; it becomes a delicate balancing act–I’m doing it!!  Look out world! Wait..is this niggling feeling paranoia or the trusty ole gut kicking in? Hmm…hmmm.

You see, I was just outside the AERC season-end points in my weight division and the last ride of the season, the Gold Rush Shuffle 3 day, takes place 45 minutes from my house. I’ve never been national year end anything, except frustrated and hopeful, and honestly I don’t really give two figs about point standings or placings, generally. It was just so close this season, after a personally unprecedented AERC tour of 4 states and a streak of catch riding had my annual mileage the highest it had been in 5 years. So close. Yet far enough, as others with the same notion would no doubt be attending the three day ride, surely bumping me out if I didn’t go.

Take Kenny!  you say. Welllll…I suppose it’s timely now to ‘fess up my long term goal for my small, snarky, crooked legged amigo. I’ve got my eye on the purported extremely-rocky-but-great-time Virginia City 100 Miler next September, and as such I have a tentative training/ride schedule for him all lined out. It definitely does not include a flattish ride in terrible-if-it-rains footing on trails I’ve ridden til I’m cross eyed for the last 10 years, in pursuit of an egotistical goal. After all, Kenny for sure gives zero shits if I make it into the points. Actually he might give one, on my boot, for funsies. But you get my drift.

I had an option to ride Mustangs again for Mark but I had an abundance of stress going on in daily life and when offered Chief, a local friend’s Pintabian gelding I’ve known as long as the trails who’s first LD I put on him 5 years ago, I went for the better known option. Catch riding has natural adrenaline already built in for me with my history of kissing dirt and low grade PTSD and I find adding more nerves and uncertainty to the situation rarely does you favors with an equine partner. I felt good about Chief and I could still keep Kenny on his VC100 schedule. I packed my truck with my Catch Riding Essentials (I’m writing a post on that, btw), set up my cozy bed in the back seat–and set off into rain.

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well, we’ll give er a shot…the weather cleared, and my steed looked good

Thursday was Thanksgiving of course so I had enjoyed a turkey dinner at home with the husband before setting off and after a little ride camp visiting, vetting in my steed (A’s), and packing my saddle packs, I headed to bed for a good turkey coma pretty quickly.

I hadn’t set foot in Chief’s stirrup since his first LD 5 years ago but I knew he was a good boy and his owner J had been keeping him tuned up. Soon enough it was 6 am (6:30 start), the stirrups went up a hole, I settled in, and Chief and I were off to figure each other out again. He was forward but reasonable, his worst trait being his enthusiastic hollering for his stable mate, who obliged by yelling back. We did some laps around the dirt roads below camp, warming up, not wanting to be by the front runners but not looking to be buried too deep either. Chief had breezed through the hilly Chamberlain Creek 50 miler hours faster than Kenny and I the month before and these were his non technical home trails so I planned to maintain decorum but not hold him back beyond reason.

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early a.m. Day 1 50

Chief quickly impressed me. He took to a steady jog when asked, took one or two No Reallys but then slowed to walk on the descents and muddy bits–and his hill attack, phew! He dropped his nose to the ground, rounded his topline, and powered at 4 mph+ uphill at the walk, rarely trying to break to a trot. I’ve ridden a lot of horses in my life and in this year and that was one of the more impressive attributes I’ve experienced the benefits of. As other horses jigged or trotted, Chief effortlessly passed at a power walk. He also had buttercream trot-canter transitions, in both directions. He had been a good solid prospect 5 years ago but now he felt polished and powerful.  If I could name any detriment to Chief’s potential, it would be how hard his hooves hit the ground, he was smooth and comfortable but not light on his feet, something that rings warning bells in me ever since retiring my mare Desire at 18. She was a ground pounder like no other and arthritis came fast for her. You know how it is, once you’ve had a horse with an issue in an area, it is a paranoia strobe light for you while riding all others. Anyway, J had told me that Chief probably wouldn’t drink for the first 15 miles or so and I had packed carrots and other goodies so we cruised along in our own pocket, snacking, enjoying the day.

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getting er done, Day 1 50

Riding a reasonably behaved horse put me in the position of being other’s brakes and steering a few times throughout the weekend and I can only encourage those that find themselves in that position to ask if it’s okay as you almost crash into the horse in front of you, and thank those who did…

The first Loop was 25 miles (he drank at mile 17, good call Mom) and brought us back into ride camp, right up a steep hill, which served to amp up Chief in a couple of ways. For one, these are his home grounds so he knows exactly what and where ride camp is. Also, he knows his stable mate is possibly there–OMG NEIGH!!! And finally, a steep hill does great things for bringing down heart rate..err. J had told me that Chief’s metabolics were not his strongest point, i.e. he’s a large horse who needs cooling and smart riding, he wasn’t clipped (hindsight 20/20), and it was sunnyish and humid, so she met me out with a cart to strip his tack. We tried to protect our ear drums from his hollering (stablemate was gone on LD at that point) as we hosed his front end and legs off in camp, and he was pulsed down in 5 minutes. We decided to take him back to the trailer to eat and drink and relax in a bit before vetting then took a peppy Chief over for a check of mostly A’s, with a couple Bs on hydration indicators.

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peppy chief heading to vetting/Loop 2/CFW Lake

Loop two was even flatter and we made good time cruising along still in our pocket. Chief was in his element and drinking deeply when offered at that point. I did forget to repack carrots at the lunch hold, it really is such a great gut/parameter bump to keep feeding those little quarters into the slot as you ride, or stop for grazing breaks. Some of the second loop skirted Camp Far West lake itself and there were a few spots that showed the lake levels had clearly risen in the last day or two, as the paint markings occasionally disappeared into mostly shallow water then visibly resumed farther along the shore. I knew the lake shores to be muddy and deceptive so I skirted all of these, but witnessed a particularly deep “crossing” from afar: three riders approached the newly underwater area and leaped into it with seeming abandon, somehow seahorsing it across intact, though all that attempted it that day weren’t so lucky. It was quite a sight. The ride manager encouraged everyone that night to skirt such issues should they come upon them again.

I wanted to pulse right through at the Finish and was enjoying the evening so we meandered in the last couple of miles, I hopped off to handwalk the last half mile, and we came in to a 56 BPM and A Overall finish. J’s other horse completed the Day 1 LD and showed for BC to round out a good day. My Day 1 completed card was my vet-in for Day 2’s 55 miler and after mashes and dinner plates all around it was most definitely bedtime again.

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Day 1 50: completed, credit Baylor/Gore Photography

Day 2 found Chief just as eager as Day 1 and I’d resolved not to head over into the start area chaos so early this time, so I mounted more like 6:15 and warmed up on the far side, heading for the start once the trail was open. It was another sublime NorCal winter morning and Chief and I settled in with our Pandora tunes softly playing for a slightly slower day on trail. It was Day 2, 55 miles were to hand,  and steady was the name of the game more than ever.

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early Day 2, 55 miler

After some eyebrow raising encounters in miles 1 and 2, 4ish miles in a polite and friendly rider approached us from behind, under control, and asked if I minded if we cruised along together. I had no objections, my caveat always being as long as the horses are rating well, and we proceeded to ride almost the entire first loop together, chatting amiably. It was nice to have some company after flying solo Day 1 and the horses rated well together until we were almost back to camp when the larger more forward mare riding her first day naturally forged ahead. Chief was definitely quieter 20 miles deep into Day 2 but got back to yelling as we approached Ride camp for the 25 mile vet check. He pulsed right in and I settled him in to eat and drink for a bit again as we had done successfully the day before. I snorfed down some delicious turkey wraps from Chief’s crewing parents then headed over to vet in.

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Day 2, 55 miler, Loop 1

If you haven’t seen that thoughtful look on a vet’s face after returning from your trot out before, well, I hope it never comes to pass, but it probably will. It’s not an Oh Hell No look, it’s a Hmm, Did I see Something? look, and it was on Dr. Jamie Kerr’s face after Chief’s trot out halfway-ish through day 2. He said that he thought he might see something in the front end and he was going to have another vet take a look after we finished the rest of the vetting. As Chief’s otherwise great scores came in, I felt a tiny flash of but the points.., then my better self kicked in and even as I trotted again for two vets, I knew I was Rider Optioning if I wasn’t pulled. Chief had history of a front leg injury a couple of years ago and though in the moment I couldn’t even remember which front leg it was, “front” was enough for me. There was absolutely no way I was going to risk a horse for a silly human goal. Dr. Kerr gave me the Okay to continue after re-check but I went with the R.O–L and put a peppy and yelling Chief back in his pen, job well done for the weekend.

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Chief post RO, he was pretty sure he could go catch his buddy

Doing the right thing doesn’t always taste great but it’s the flavor of life for me, or so I try to make it. Chief went home sound and happy, J’s other horse finished the Day 2 LD in style with her aboard, showing for BC again, and overall it was a really enjoyable weekend. The points goal will retire quietly to it’s shadowy grave, here are the stats that really matter to me in the end:

My 2017 AERC:

*355 miles completed AERC 50/55s: 7/8 completed, 1 Rider Option

*80 LD Miles, 3/3 completed

*1st 100 Miler attempt: Rider Option–HLD (Hella Lost in the Dark)

*7 horses ridden for 5 owners, 4 different breeds,  zero hard pulls

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credit Steve Bradley/David Honan Photography/Cassidy Rae Photography/Gore&Baylor Photography

Thank you to all the owners who trusted me with their equine partners, to all the great horses that carried me, and to everyone else–see you next season!!

Goodbye dear Friend

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On Monday, November 27th, I said goodbye to my best friend of many years. Blaze came home for my 22nd birthday and my god, the trails we traveled, the smiles he brought, the growth I went through with my chunky bay amigo at my side. From cow sorting to gymkhana to AERC rides, kid’s first rides, elders re-rides..Blaze was a saint, one of the truly good ones. After a decline in recent months, he had a morning in the sun eating alfalfa and apples and now he rests in peace here at home.

Blaze

1992-11/27/2017

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Blaze and Angel, two friends gone on ahead now 

The Kenny Chronicles: Chamberlain Creek 50 miler 2017

After a successful day AND a night LD (total:50 miles) at Bandit Springs in July , Kenny enjoyed his usual 2 weeks off plus another while I traveled on a really fun 10 day trip to Maine with my mom and nephew to visit more family. I had a lovely time, squeezed in a horseback ride, and ate as much lobster as possible, then returned to yet another excessive run of California heat (105+ for days) which meant not a lot of riding: a total of 63 miles on Kenny, mostly un-marking local endurance trail, in the 7 weeks from back-to-work to the Chamberlain Creek ride. Kenny is estimated to be 12 years old, lives in pasture barefoot year round, and he has now had almost 2 years of endurance conditioning after an initial base of light trail work. My does it show come a cool September ride morning…

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Kenny back to work..unmarking trail, snacks with buddies, snarky naps..

I will get to the ride story soon, I promise, but first some ruminations in gratitude. (Pre-Chamberlain creek) I have had the privilege to go to 5 different endurance rides in 4 different states for a total of 335 completed AERC miles and one 100 mile Rider Option pull so far this season–all trailer-pooling!! I’ve ridden 5 different horses for 3 different owners (4 completions, 1 RO) , as well as my own (all completions), and I just feel blessed. I am a back of the pack rider that was converted to AERC as a teenager, admires decade teams and 100 milers,  and likes to “get my moneys worth” out of the trail, but endurance has been a struggle for me these last years as I’ve tried to find the right partner. It’s wicked cliche but I have learned so much and met so many of the people that have made this year so much fun; what is even cooler is that a lot of the fun has been with people that I’ve known for almost decades and over decades now. As a reflective 30 year old, having old (I’m not talking age here), good friends is a sort of new and wonderful feeling, if you know what I mean.

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a fabulous weekend truck camping in Lassen Volcanic National Park with my buddy and her adrenaline junky tot! Complete with auto shenanigans..

SO. Due to the above mentioned awesomeness, Chamberlain Creek became the first ride that I had trailered to on my own in over a year! I found myself entirely sure of what I needed to pack and do, but also a LOT more nervous than I had been in a while. I have gotten pretty efficient about tossing my kit (1 tote of camping gear/food/random essentials, 1 bag clothes/toiletries, pillow/bedroll,  tack and helmet if catch riding–all of that plus basically the same list over again, if for Kenny) into someone else’s trailer and hitting the road, but I have also had some pretty epic travel shenanigans, so I was anxious to cover all possible bases for the solo jaunt. Due to the wonders of technology and old friends, after a clear chiro check for Kenny and last minute organizing for me, I entered Chamberlain Creek a few days before the ride via Facebook Messenger (A) . I generally try to be more prompt than that but..life. I Hoof Armor’d Kenny, baked a double batch of chocolate chop cookies, threw together my Oh Shit Kit, and away we went!

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clean tack, Oh shit Kit(+bananas), awesome fall weather, Neapolitan hay bag, Hoof Armor–CHECK!

The old friend mentioned above was the long standing Ride Manager herself; you see Chamberlain Creek was the first AERC ride that I ever attended, at 14 years old and sponsored by the lovely lady that had sold me my first horse and then taken me under her wing. I had been back to Chamberlain 4 more times after that over the years, completing the LD 3 more times on various non-Arabs and Rider Optioning the 50 in 2013 on my Rushcreek (during the back diagnosis saga) . To top it off, I had sold the RM a nice Rushcreek filly last year 🙂 Also at this ride were my former boss, my first horse shoer and his wife who co-sponsored me through that first-ever LD back when, buddies that I started in the sport that I hadn’t seen in ages, and many other friends from various stages of my growing up. After an uneventful drive Friday morning, ride camp arrival 30 minutes before my noon goal, and a zesty pre-ride on Kenny, my mom even visited ride camp and brought me my favorite calzone! ❤ Half of the cookie batch went to the RM and the rest to my buddies.

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lovely morning drive/Kenny briefly thinks he sees a friend/my changing&feed room/napssss

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pre riding/mom visit/camp/what you get if you don’t walk Kenny when he wants

Vetting in mostly went well, with his usual great trot out, a good pulse and grades but when the vet went to check Kenny’s mucus membranes Kenny took great offense and hurled his head upwards and sideways, with the vet grimly hanging on. I apologized while smiling through gritted teeth and grabbing pinchfuls of Kenny’s neck skin and promising to practice this at home. To be honest, he’d never done that before, but I’m pretty sure we were already operating in a two strike zone considering I’d brought him alone to ride camp (rude) and had turned around on our pre-ride before he was ready (stupid human).

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I socialized everywhere Friday pm, slept cozily in the back seat of my Dodge (tested that set up on the Lassen trip), and got up way too early Saturday morning to do the pre planned things (feed horse more, wrestle on front Gloves) plus all the things that I had forgotten to do Friday because I was too busy chatting with folks! Which was mostly just load water and carrots in my saddle packs and apply the second coat of Hoof Armor to Kenny’s hinds. Once again on this ride I got a lot of questions about Hoof Armor because Kenny was barefoot about 85% of the ride on hilly hard packed road, gravel, etc. The main misconception about it seems to be that it will immediately help ouchy horses be sounder. It generally won’t, in that it’s not a boot or shoe, it’s a quick-set epoxy coating so in the words of the HA inventor, “think of it more like a moccasin,” in that it keeps from wearing the healthy conditioned barefoot hoof off over distance but one could still feel  a sharp stone, for example. It will however promote hoof health used over time as it possesses antibacterial qualities. In the lessons learned department, having already sent out my crew bag Friday pm, I should have sent my HA kit along with a friend’s crew to the one main vet check that we frequented twice. It would have been prudent to reapply the HA to his fronts which only had one coat at the 35 mile one hour hold, but at that point I didn’t realize how much fully barefoot time we would be doing as I had my mind set on using front Gloves. Never bank on your own plan when you ride a pony!

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First Loop, slow Kenny says goodbye friends then Snarky Kenny awakes and hell breaks loose/feigned innocent at Vet check 1, 20 miles

As indicated in the caption above, Kenny was his usual slow starter in that we left for the start which was a mile from camp (as was the finish, but those miles were included in the ride mileage) at a reasonable extended walk and took to a forward jog behind buddies once we hit the dirt road. He wasn’t perturbed to let the larger and faster horses pull ahead and I’ve learned my lesson on letting other’s set my horse’s pace so we just sort of jogged along at 7ish miles an hour while I fiddled with my Pandora music app and took a few photos. Around mile 6 a friend passed on her businesslike CMK mare and suddenly Kenny decided She was the ONE, and it was on like Donkey Kong. I haven’t had a fight like that since riding my truly Blazun Haat Sheza’s dam Desire in endurance in 2012. Kenny was pretty reasonable traveling with the mare but the natural ebb and flow and leap frog effect of multiple attempted back-of-the-packers kicked in, including waiting for another rider who’d been left by friends to successfully mount her horse, and with constant rolling uphills and downhills we didn’t achieve any sort of status quo at all on Loop 1. A creek crossing plus some steep ups and my rookie mistake of not taping his front Gloves all coupled for a twisted boot on his wonky RF, and if any of you haven’t had the pleasure of trying to correct an Easyboot on a raging maniac on a hilly course, well, may you continue to be so lucky. I had been there done that with Desire in 2012 and hoped to never use Easyboots again but with the perfect application (tight, power-strapped, taped, etc) they have been working on Kenny’s fronts this season when used in competition. Let me hammer the point home: Do the Essential Things, No Matter What. K tape your ankle like you usually do, add that extra coat of Hoof Armor your gut says is prudent, and tape your effin boots even though it sucks. Ahem, anyway.

After the boot twisted a second time and I had to liberally “stroke” Kenny in the chest with said boot to keep him off my toes, I called it and pulled both Gloves. He had a coat of Hoof Armor on the fronts, the footing hadn’t been anything worse than he’d done on barefoot Ld’s and training recently, and while I had Mueller tape in my saddle bag, there was no way I was going to successfully tape and re-boot while alone with this tiny madman. You know that you’re battling a fit and feisty horse for true miles when some tiny desperate part of you hopes that the vet pulls you for something minor at the check just so it will Stop. We zipped past the photographer barefoot with boots riding passenger, both drenched in sweat and righteous indignation and pulsed right into Vet Check 1 at 60 BPM.

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*And he did it hiiiiis waaaaay*  Pro Photos by Baylor/Gore Photography

Neither of us had really eaten, drunk, or peed since his Turbo had kicked in early on so I was a bit flustered at VC 1 and he had some B’s on his gut sounds and hydration indicators but otherwise looked great (40 BPM at vet!) after 20 hilly miles. He chowed while I shoveled grimy salt tablets and apple sauce down my throat and in no time our 15 minute hold was up and we were outward bound.  A friend and crewing husband figure handed me a foil wrapped chicken and cheese wrap and a crisp apple just before I left for Loop 2 and I will be thanking him in the afterlife for that as they were super delicious and revitalizing. I almost dropped the apple multiple times managing an expectant, friend hunting, but entirely more sedate Kenny, but managed to eat enough to feel good again and think that maybe this hadn’t been a terrible idea after all.

The course was relentlessly hilly but I had some pony brain back and things briefly improved even further when we caught up to long time riding buddies E and C who we’d let go early in the morning. Then we learned that E was on foot because her horse was NQR and she ended up turning back to RO before too long (he’s ok!). C was riding E’s mule Red who Kenny loves and rides with at home, so Kenny was quite reasonable for the rest of Loop 2 and C and I chatted our way into Vet Check 2 where Kenny was at 52 BPM in 4 minutes. He vetted through with all A’s and only a B on one gut quadrant as he’d drunk well on trail Loop 2 and I had resolved to cram more carrots in his gullet–plus ride management had a lovely water stop with hay at the top of the gnarliest hill!

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Loop 2/found Friends/lost one/had fun/Vet check 2 at 36 miles

Unfortunately our mule buddy unexpectedly got pulled Lame at VC 2 and with great paranoia and no Hoof Armor on scene I asked Easyboot-savvy E to tape and apply Kenny’s front Gloves for my solo journey out on Loop 3. I refilled waters and snacks (though should have grabbed more carrots), happily accepted a PBJ from E’s crewing husband, and headed out solo on a fairly willing Kenny. It was yet another big hill with an eventual long descent with nasty footing, and everyone agreed it was smart to boot up. Everyone except for Kenny, who went about 1/2 a mile up the hill while he could still see another horse trotting ahead, then stopped dead when he lost sight of the horse and decided he’d Just Rather Not. He used to do this while wearing Renegades and I had already heard him forging with the front Gloves, driving himself from behind up the hill as he does, so I suspected he was both pissed about leaving friends alone AND wearing the boots. Something had to go and it wasn’t me so once again I pulled the Gloves and we cruised up the hill and through the 43 mile Vet Check in nearly last place. He had a VC pulse of 48 BPM, A’s, and some B’s on hydration/ gut sound parameters which confirms for me that Kenny operates on the same Eat and Drink a Little, Often system that I do to feel our best, so I will always be sure to carry lots of carrots and a baggie of grain. I did this time, but not enough for a ride out of camp all day! Ride management had once again thoughtfully provided hay and mash at VC3 though and Kenny partook while I chatted with more old friends and made ready to head out solo yet again for the final 7 miles. It was a long, rolling descent that I remembered and the footing was pavementy/gravel/rocky road so I decided to both hike the majority of it and have another go at booting Kenny for that bit more protection. It was the worst footing of the day and he was finally showing signs of being tired so with the human mostly on foot he deigned to wear the Gloves for the final few miles (which I will admit felt looonnnnnnggggg) and strolled into the very quiet Finish at 5:51 PM with just over an hour to spare 😀 There were plenty of vets and no other riders around so Kenny slurped down some water and had a fun and thorough final Exam resulting in an overall A (once again, some Bs on hydration/gut sounds) and one tired and happy rider!

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Loop 3 alone/smiling after boots came off and Kenny moved again/VC 3/Well placed signage/FINISHED!

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24th out of 26 on this ride, 6/6 completions for Kenny 🙂

I hiked the mile back to camp as a moving, singing, hay dispenser for Kenny and was happy to see all my friends back safely, too. Dinner was delicious tri-tip and our completion awards were our ride photos! I hit the hay early that night with a good book and woke early but let someone else be the first That Guy that starts mucking around making an early a.m. ruckus. Still, I was on the road with a refreshed and snarky Kenny pony by 7:30 a.m. and rolled into a much warmer-than-ridecamp barnyard after another mercifully uneventful trip. A warm bath, fly spray, and a big mash and Kenny was free to be all Kenny again. I think he is feeling good! Did I mention that he’s a tad snarky?

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When you return a Kenny to the wilds but haven’t delivered his Victory Mash

That was a tough 50 and I plan to give Kenny plenty of time off after it, while also setting my eye on continuing to build toward some higher mileage goals next year! He is proving himself to handle the 50 mile distance well and is a total hoot to be around, so I’m just going to go slow, enjoy what I have, and dream. Happy trails for now!