The Kenny Chronicles: Bandit Springs 2017

In what seemed like no time at all after our May Mt. Adams adventures, Kenny and I found ourselves back at travel buddy T’s last Wednesday evening for another endurance undertaking; this time we were Oregon bound with a night LD and maybe more on the agenda. T was bringing Rex, her home raised 6 year old chestnut Morgan gelding and another friend in OR was planning to join us at the ride with her chestnut Morgan gelding, so it was set to be a very entertaining chestnut Morgany good time.

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Kenny not amused by the human/Kenny very amused by messing with T’s boarder gelding, pooping along the fence line was particularly offensive and therefore beloved of Kenny

Before we even left the driveway on Thursday morning a tire pressure check by T’s dad revealed that the passenger rear LQ tire was holding 0 PSI–ruh roh! He gave us a refresher on tire changing putting the spare on, with the fabulous ramp we pack that make PITA jacks unnecessary–which was fortunate considering the adventures yet to come! Horses, gear, and ice made their way on board, plus an air-up of the suspect 0 PSI tire, and eventually we were on the road. We had smooth travels for about 200 miles and were making good headway in Oregon when a passing car staring at us caused us to critically re-evaluate mirror contents and I caught sight of the passenger front LQ tire waving at us, totally blown. We didn’t feel or hear a thing, but there it was, so we pulled over on the side of Hwy 97 with semis blowing past us and got to work. We quickly found that the open bottomed tire changing ramp sunk into the deep gravel alongside the road; after not producing a chunk of wood adequate to fashion a bottom and prevent sinking, we settled for scraping the gravel away down to hard pack for both the ramp and to make space for the tire application. The tire now on was the one that had been at 0 that morning, and  sure enough it turned out to not be holding air reliably after re-inflation, so we googled our way to the next Pilot station for fuel, Fix a Flat, and air, then made our way another 40 miles to a Les Schwab in La Pine for the one new appropriately sized trailer tire they had to sell us.  The geldings hopped out in the busy tire bay with wide eyes but got right to their self care, sucking down water buckets and enjoying the grass and shade out back while the trailer got the first of it’s new shoes for the weekend. Here we committed a fairly significant error, as it would have been entirely logical and our men folk reminded us to get the leaky spare we’d had to put on to get there patched. We didn’t. And it bit us in the bum later!

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tire shenanigans..

It was evening but still daylight when we pulled into ride camp outside Prineville, directed in with clear signage and impressed by the grass in all directions despite the heat. Ride literature had cautioned that camping would be snug and with attention to keeping our horses to the inside of a fenced area due to wild Mustangs who had caused some trouble at the ride the year before, but we still found accommodations quite roomy compared to California ride camps. The boys couldn’t wait to get their graze on and all walks for the weekend were punctuated with much green consumption. T and I have a solid camp routine down and before long we were all settled in for the night, marveling at the high bright moon and eager to be riding under it the next night.

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Morgans rocking self care/Ride camp at last!

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cozy steeds/great moon/Rex pose/saddle pose off

By Friday morning our buddy who had also been inbound Thursday hadn’t appeared. We had last heard she had some sort of brake sticking issue and we were concerned but were also cell service-less and knew she was self sufficient, so we saddled up mid morning and headed out to check out the trails. The footing was immediately very friendly and the boys moved out cheerfully–so cheerfully that while cantering across what I found out later is known to some as Concussion Meadow, I let Kenny choose his path and he veered snappily off to the right with his usual Let’s Do Something My Way attitude ever to hoof. I rolled with it until he was well off track, then began circling him back towards T’s progress–whereupon he hunched his little back and started bucking! Fortunately he wasn’t rodeo quality and is short, so I managed to step off, surprised, still holding the reins which caused him to dramatically zip backwards in a half rear, thrashing his head. I released the reins, he stopped and blinked at me casually. I remounted, swatted him between the ears, and on we went, with nary another issue all weekend. Ponies, man.

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pre riding

There were some truly dusty spots on trail but overall they were shady and beautiful with some really fun winding dirt single track and nothing rough to speak of so T and I rode our geldings barefoot with Hoof Armor for the events. Both of our horses train barefoot on rough terrain at home; Hoof Armor provides a protective coating against excessive wear while promoting hoof health with antibacterial qualities, but will not provide cushion for horses accustomed to shoes/boots. The hoof has to be conditioned just like the body, so just like a horse in pasture has some fitness but not a lot, a horse barefoot in pasture has some hoof toughness but not necessarily a lot. It requires time under saddle, barefoot, to get the body and hoof to a level of competition, and it is certainly easier to have tough hooves and use Hoof Armor in dry climates, though HA can be applied with aid of a heat gun if necessary.

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T applies Hoof Armor to the boys after Friday afternoon vet in

Not long after we returned from our pre ride we saw people start to rush the boundary fence we had parked near, flags in hand. A ripple of excitement accompanied by WHOOPWHOOPS had us looking hard across the meadow and sure enough, the Mustang stallions were coming! A shiny healthy looking herd of 3 bachelors which caused T and I to tourist out enthusiastically while the locals drove them off most effectively with a quad. Last year one of the stallions had come into ride camp and gotten a corral panel stuck over his neck, freeing a horse and running off into the night with the panel on. He was tracked and the panel removed, but against such potential trouble the ride officials were very diligent on protecting camp all weekend.

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Morgany nap time/Mustang stallion shenanigans

Our buddy H rolled in to camp after the Mustang show, her brake issue addressed, and Friday afternoon saw us vetted in, numbered, Hoof Armor’ed, and off to a 5 pm ride meeting for a 7 pm start. This was the first time that Bandit Springs held a night LD ride and it was so well received that they have decided to add it to their annual schedule. There were close to 20 riders and we all received glow necklaces to wear, which was really fun and helpful for following buddies later that night!

The first loop of the evening was 10 miles of good fun, mostly stellar forest footing that we moved out on, cruising back into camp around 9:30, where Kenny pulsed and vetted right through and got down to eating. All three of the Morgans took stellar care of themselves throughout the weekend and the vet remarked that our group had some of the loudest gut sounds that she heard.

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Ready for/riding the Night LD

Heading back out for the 15 mile loop it was getting near dark and a huge, stunning moon was rising.  Our glow necklaces and my friends’ neon green/yellow tack made for some track-ability and it was an utter adrenaline ride getting that loop done out in the dark! I’ve done some night riding here and there, including a lonely desert wander at 20 Mule team this year, but not enough for it to be anything less than disorienting, exciting, and occasionally seeming like a bad idea. My allergies had been in overdrive since arrival at ride camp and my stomach was decidedly not my friend after dark but I kept forcing down micro amounts of water and food and mostly just enjoyed the heck out of that night loop. We were redirected at one point to take a road back to mutual trail as they didn’t have enough glow sticks for us to safely navigate a meadow crossing, but the redirect was clear and we found our way quite nicely back to trail we recognized from earlier. The final miles back to camp found us whooping in hysterical laughter as the horses trotted UPDOWN through stomach churning whoop de whoops in darker spots of the forest and we vetted out at 12:30 am with happy horses and satisfied humans who also kinda felt like crap. To Bed!!

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good morning ride camp

I’d entertained various notions of what I would do after completing the Friday night LD, i.e. ride the next day or ride some distance Sunday. After falling into bed at 1:30 am Saturday and waking feeling pretty rough, Saturday was off the table for sure. We pretty much ate and napped and ate and napped all day, and I tried all my tricks to get rid of the nagging sinus headache that was coupling with that time of the month to make me feel like utter dog crap. Finally around ride meeting time Saturday evening H gave me 600 mg of ibuprofen and in thirty minutes I was reborn. H and T were both planning on the Sunday LD and we had to leave for California after riding; part of me felt that I *should* ride the Sunday 50 since he’s been doing 50s this season, but in the end I decided that what I should do was have fun. After feeling rotten that day and with another hot day forecast the next, I opted for the LD again. It was the same course as the night LD but with the loops reversed, so we knew we could get it done and in fact planned to get it done a little faster, in the name of conditioning and getting on the road as needed. T and I took the boys for a final longer walk Saturday evening but were retrieved by the four wheeler patrol who said the stallions weren’t far away, so we hustled back to camp inside the fenced area under the rising moon.

We got to use the same vet card for both days and vetted in with a trot by Sunday morning, heading out on the loop that had been our dark time excursion Friday. We were pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t near as steep or rocky as it had sounded/felt riding it in the dark, and zipped our way through the 15 mile loop efficiently.

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Bliss ❤  Credit Cassidy Rae Photography

Vet checks went smoothly for the group and we all scarfed PBnJ’s during the half hour hold before heading out onto the second loop that we knew had even better footing.

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Sunday LD

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Kenny stepping out on Sunday’s ride, credit Cassidy Rae Photography

It was warm and dusty on trail by that point but the water troughs were plentiful, grazing was always available, and our Morgans ate, drank, pooped, and peed their way along to three Top 10 finishes in a field of 19 (Kenny was 5th 🙂 ). It felt like great conditioning to move out at speed more than I would on a 50 and with more sustained trotting than I generally manage training at home and with a vet card full of A’s and pulses lower at the Finishes, I was very happy with Kenny’s efforts–the rest of the gang all rocked it, too!

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The Morgan gang having a blast, Bandit Springs ’17, credit Cassidy Rae Photography

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Weekend Vet Card and a sweet completion award

T and I collected our sweet completion/Top 10 awards (a ratchet/screw driver set, vet card neck ditty, and the flask with the ride name on it, in Kenny’s colors!) and had camp broken down in no time; our first stop was Prineville’s Taco Bell where burritos were calling our name and we knew could check in with cell service for the first time in days. And oh boy, was cell service a revelation. My phone immediately blew up with messages as I learned that on Friday afternoon a 5,000 acre fire had broken out less than 5 miles from my house, with my rig left at T’s up north, leaving my husband home alone with one rig, 4 1/4 horses, dogs, cats, pigs, and us the last house outside the mandatory evacuation zone. As I frantically caught up with my Inbox and online I learned that multiple friends had rushed to my husband’s aid with trucks and horse trailers, and he had had all animals loaded and ready to evacuate in 25 minutes. Fortunately the fire had turned from us and he hadn’t had to leave, but he’d done a dry run loading all animals and my tack(!), and good people had been there at his back. The gratitude that I feel towards all who came and checked in can’t entirely be expressed, but I hope that it is understood.

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The Wall Fire breaking out behind our house/Ashes that rained down

Meanwhile, our own rig adventures weren’t done yet! We had made it back to our old friend La Pine when T stated that she could see an LQ tire on the driver side waving at us this time. Not again!! Fortunately we immediately spotted and pulled into a small market with a big parking lot and one tree casting shade, and began our now-familiar tire changing dance. Except remember that we hadn’t fixed that leaking spare on Thursday. And now it was Sunday so everything was closed. With the option of fix-a-flatting and limping air to air on the table, we gave USRider a shot, hoping they would bring us out a tire as other’s had reported they would. After much phone time, T was informed that the only person available was three hours out and would only patch the leaking spare. Unimpressed, we went for the fix a flat and limp air to air method for a few nerve wracking 40 mile increments, but ultimately the tire was holding less and less air, daylight was fading, and faced with a long airless stretch of road we pressed the Adulting Now button in favor of parking in T’s family friend’s driveway for the night and starting over at the tire store Monday morning. The noise of the highway and train couldn’t compete with the annoying clatter that was two Morgans tied next to each other that night, but getting off the road was the right call despite our disturbed sleep!

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Further tire & and camping shenanigans/the reward at the end of the rainbow

Klamath Falls Les Schwab claimed much of our time and T’s money on Monday but by afternoon we were rolling with a total of 5 tires purchased in as many days, the four on the LQ now a higher rated 14 ply in hopes of not repeating these shenanigans any time soon. Our Morgan passengers were stoically making their way through the endless stops, drinking bucketed water any time it was offered and munching their way through packed hay bags. Our favorite burger stop in Worden just before the California border filled our bellies, water buckets, and fuel tank, and at last we rolled into T’s to collect my truck Monday evening. The gear and horse transfer was as efficient as two exhausted grubby endurance riders can huck things and Kenny and I made it home a little before midnight after encountering some road closures due to the fire. PHEW!

After six days on the road in the heat, 2 barefoot LDs, and a few breakdowns, Kenny was his same old Kenny self back home, trotting snarkily out of pasture in hand for a bath and looking pretty good if I do say so myself! 😀

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Kenny’s Hooves after Bandit Springs barefoot with Hoof Armor (top: Fronts, Bottom: Rears)

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the man himself ❤

 

Up next in our Never Been To/Completed This Ride Before Tour: Chamberlain Creek 50 miler, West Region, September! 😀

The Kenny Chronicles: Mt Adams 55 Miler, 2017

It’s been a few weeks since the event but here’s the story of Kenny the crooked wonder pony traveling to Washington to take on his first 55 miler! 

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Wednesday afternoon of ride week found Kenny and I at our buddy T’s barn for the night so that we could get on the road north in the morning (T being my Kenny source and traveling companion to ROM). Kenny was his usual relaxed, mildly rude self, and as he used to live with T’s herd and we often overnight and ride there currently, he settled right into his stall/paddock next to her Arabian mare, Niki, who would be riding the 100 miler while we did 55. T and I eat the same things and both have allergies so it’s pretty much the most convenient thing ever to travel together; we grocery (and sudafed) shopped together that night, grabbed ice in the morning with quiet steeds on board, and were on the road to Washington by 8 am!

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We took the 97 up through Oregon and had smooth travels, with the requisite “Oh crap, should we have fueled up before heading out into these mountains?“, “why didn’t the fancy app show us this (brief) road construction?” , and “Oh crap, did we just wedge the rig somewhere that backing out of may be interesting?” Waffling over pulling into a rest stop halfway through led us to pick the next Large Lot with Grass that Will Work, and it worked just fine. The longer road trip revealed that Kenny hunkers back in the corner of T’s trailer in a rather hilarious but effective traveling stance, and both steeds were happy to stretch, pee, graze, drink, and have some probios and carrots on the stop.

As T drove I’d been reading aloud from a Facebook thread about “the bridge of death/doom,” an upcoming obstacle on our route that apparently some people detour completely to avoid. We were intrigued to see how bad it really was, and received some good advice to pull in the truck mirrors, which we prudently followed.

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It was certainly tight and would be much worse in a larger rig, but T guided us smoothly across the narrow bridge and then we were officially in Washington! We had mused that maybe everything would be instantly green once over the border and well–it was. We ooh’ed and aah’ed our way along the final short leg to Mt. Adams Horse Camp in Trout Lake, with signs and ribbons directing us the last few miles in to the largest meadow ride camp that I’ve ever been in. The meadow didn’t even close to fill up over the weekend even with a trail ride, ride n tie, and 25/50/75/100 milers co-sanctioned with FEI going on, and the horses thought that the grass was the best ever.

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ride camp

Lest I ever fail to convey the hilarity that is palling around with a redheaded Morgan/Welsh Pony, here’s a few Kennyisms. Upon arrival, the horses dove into grazing, and who can blame them. We were all for the munching, but also thought stretching their legs was worth doing, so they grazed their way across the meadow and we eventually made it back to the dirt road we’d come in on, intent on a walk-about. Niki, ever the get-er-done Arabian mare, began marching down our chosen path in her businesslike manner. Kenny? He shuffled a few steps, stopped, glared at me, turned his head back toward the delicious meadow, glared at me again, then shuffled on with a sigh at my cheery, “c’mon on then Ken!” Aaaand repeat. Shuffle, stop, glare, sigh, glare, shuffle. He couldn’t have been clearer that the moronic humans had brought him to a delicious far away field and now were walking away from it!

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A: “yay, ride camp!!” K:”So much judgement.”

Just one more..You may notice in the smaller right hand photo below that Kenny is on a hi-tie, and then in the following larger be-robed photo that he isn’t. That is because Kenny lost his hi-tie privileges in a record ten minutes after set up. See, I forgot my rip-off safety doo-dad for my non-bungee rope hi-tie unit, borrowed Tera’s hi-tie bungee, merrily attached Kenny to it–and proceeded to watch him test the bungee with progressively more aggressive Ninja pony Neck Flips. Take your average sassy equine neck snake movement and then add the devious intent of a Morgan pony who sees grass all about that he can allllmost reach. You could almost hear the “HiiiYAH!!” as he heaved his neck out and downwards at evasive grass and the bungee streeeeetched. It was really rather impressive and he had such destructive intent about him that soon the hi-tie was declared off limits in the interest of unbroken things. As I filled his water bucket after hard tying him to the trailer I said, “you wouldn’t tip this big old bucket of precious water over, would you now chum?” to which Kenny replied with an ominous BUMP of the tub with his large nose. You can see by the bungee around the orange tub that I believed him. True stories, every one!

We had a peaceful night after our day on the road and it was most luxurious to have all of Friday to relax in ride camp, I can’t recommend leaving a day early enough for a long haul excursion if you can swing it. The horses consumed and expelled gloriously, we applied Hoof Armor to bare feet where needed, went for a morning ride in the lovely springy footing, assembled our gear for ride day, and check and vet-in was still just beginning.

Hoof Armor is a Kevlar based penetrating epoxy with antibacterial qualities that is easily applied to the sole and hoof wall rim with a HA-specific gun. It sets fairly quickly and while not the same as pad or boot protection (i.e. don’t apply it to a horse that’s used to full protection and expect magic), in regularly barefoot horses it helps prevent excessive sole and wall wear as well as promoting a healthy hoof. Kenny regularly trains fully barefoot or with just front boots; he wore Easyboot Gloves on his front hooves and just Hoof Armor on his hinds. http://www.hoofarmor.com/ 

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pre riding: shade/sn*w!/Mt. Adams in ride camp

Check in was casual as you didn’t even have to have entered until Friday in camp, while vetting in was interesting; at an FEI co-sanctioned event and/or ride in a different state you often experience varying protocols/procedure when vetting in and this one was no different. Kenny was numbered first, then had his pulse checked (36!), THEN saw the vet, not an order I had done things in before but apparently the absolute norm in the area (or not), depending on who you asked. Kenny (and Niki) vetted in nicely with all A’s and I must say, I am proud of Kenny’s trot outs these days, just a lift of the rope and off he pops into his stretchy efficient trot! He seemed to love the footing in and around camp and would hop into a trot pretty much any time I was handling him all weekend, quite nice enthusiasm as Kenny truly only shows it when he means it!

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kits packed/vetted in/evening walkies

T’s mentor and buddy H came to crew for her and we were all up early for T’s departure on the 100, then I whined at experienced H to help me tape and cram the cursed front Easyboot Gloves on for our own departure on the 55. I truly don’t enjoy using Gloves and sometimes have issues on wet training rides even with them power strapped and taped, but so far they have stayed in place at endurance rides and Kenny moves quite happily in them, so c’est la vie!

I had resolved at this ride to be ready sooner, warm up longer, and get out of all holds ON TIME, as well as have a well attached rump rug on-board all day, so in keeping with all that I was aboard Kenny and wandering about the field warming up 15 minutes early, rump rug in place, with only mild jigging from the equine half of the equation. His first two endurance events we camped AND rode with T and Niki so I was pretty intrigued (cough*concerned*cough) how his attitude would be taking on a 55 miler on our own. He had yelled a bit but not been unreasonable when they departed on the 100 and generally seemed quite bright and eager, a two handed ride to be sure, but we had our composure as we took one more walk past camp/crew headed for the Start…only to see H on the phone, shaking her head and mouthing, “She’s out!” T’s day on the 100 miler had ended early with an unfortunate muscle cramp not long after starting. She was transported back to camp and happily the mare is just fine but it was a bit of a confidence blow as Kenny and I headed out!

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The trails were beautiful right off the bat, cool, shady, and scenic, with a touch of humidity in the sun but overall quite pleasant. Kenny was quite forward the entire first loop and I quickly began to contemplate strategy as the terrain was shaping up to be pretty mild and the footing excellent, meaning lots of places for sustained moving out versus slowing to ascend/descend as we mostly train. Sustained long trotting is for sure a weakness of mine as our trails and habits tend to the hilly, so I felt that it was important to pace Kenny for the 55 miles ahead. I really tried to work WITH Kenny on this ride, seems a no brainer but with a snarky stubborn pony things can become a battle of wills quickly so it can take some real awareness to keep finding places to let Kenny have something he wanted, as he gave me what I wanted (i.e. thanks for those five steps of walk, have 10 steps of trot! It worked). I balanced that seemingly effective strategy with a resolution to walk any and all up or downhills, even if it was a very shallow slope. We had to get breaks in somewhere and it just wouldn’t do to walk endlessly on the abundant flat, great footing, so walk the shallow ups and downs we did, and I also did the few long downhills on foot alongside, but mostly we just did a lot of smooth moving out. Kenny felt unquestionably stronger than he had at March’s sandy first 50 of the year and shady green forests are my jam, so we were pretty happy campers throughout the ride and cruising back into camp for each check! H and T were kind enough to support and crew for me on our various forays through camp and I’m pretty happy with my self management as far as water consumption, electrolyting with salt capsules and eating small amounts often no matter what my stomach says.

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Fuel stop! photo by David Honan Photography

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vet check 1, hungry & not too concerned his buddy is back at the rig and to be left

One of the best things about Kenny is his unwavering dedication to himself, as he will not hesitate to (stop to) poop, pee, eat, and drink as he needs. At various points throughout the day we found ourselves briefly with other riders and a few times he coolly stopped to take care of bodily functions or dive off the trail to a shallow stream to imbibe, giving zero shits about the horses leaving him at speed. We got a good rhythm going where I would wave a carrot from the saddle at his peripheral vision, he’d stop and turn to grab a bite, and on we would jog, some good tunes softly playing from the saddle bag. Heaven!

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With a 1/4 mile hand-walk in to camp at the end of each loop that always included convincing perky pony not to trot, Kenny pulsed and vetted through beautifully all day and I kept to my resolution of being AT the Out timers ready to mount with five minutes left til my time (versus still being at the trailer as was my previous habit). As a mid to back of the pack rider who doesn’t actually enjoy chasing cut offs, I really can’t afford to waste five or ten minutes being late out of vet checks, especially at a ride with four checks. We encountered snow on the ground and rain in the air on the third of four loops but our steady pacing, snug rump rug, and timely departures made for a really pleasant day on trail and a pony that was STILL trotting in hand as we came around the now-familiar corner to the Finish!

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snow/sunny and rainy road/tanking up/Finished pony all aglow

His happy attitude all day, final CRI of 52/48, and general embodiment of Fit to Continue was really thrilling, just really fulfilling and exciting after our bumpy journey getting to know each other since we became a team in November 2015. Over the years I’ve ridden some good horses, but also those who didn’t really enjoy the sport for reasons both anxious and too relaxed, and I’ve felt Kenny finish a 50 when he was just fine but not really ready to go farther–this was so undeniably different, he was so smug and unphased by the farthest distance we’d ever gone, well I guess it’s why we do all this crap to ourselves in the first place, maybe!

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Coming like a little red freight train! Photo by David Honan Photography

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the morning after, au naturale

We had an uneventful haul home on the 97 on Sunday, managing to utilize the rest stop we’d bypassed on the way up where we randomly encountered some off duty and friendly fellow endurance riders; we rested the horses again and enjoyed a delicious burger just Oregon side of the CA border, and were back at T’s for the night before midnight. A couple hours of easy travel in the morning had Kenny and I back home, and it felt good.

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final Washington view/happy steed at home/Hind hoof after 55 miles w/ Hoof Armor

Kenny has since had over two weeks off in pasture, then returned to work with a sure footed 12.5 miles in the hills with his stallion buddy Aqua last week. I really think that against all odds, this crooked legged, charismatic little fella likes endurance!

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Up next in our Never Been To This Ride Before Tour: Bandit Springs, July, Oregon! 😀

Redirect

Some of you may have noticed that my blog and profile no longer reflect Renegade Hoof Boot Dealer status. That is a choice that I have recently made when faced with news from Renegade that despite my years of enthusiastic and honest representation my recent use of a competitor’s product on Kenny, my wonky built pony that I’ve spent two years trying to dial in for endurance comfort, made me ineligible to work an Expo event as a Renegade Representative as previously arranged. It’s incredibly disappointing that seeking answers for the performance happiness of a challenging conformed horse and sharing my results honestly evoked such a response from a company that I have believed in for years. As a consumer, I find someone who has run the gamut of options and still strongly prefers one product over others to be most persuasive, however it seem that sentiment is unshared here.
Renegades are a valuable (and my preferred) tool in a barefooter’s arsenal, but my allegiance always lies first and foremost with my horses, and the truth. No one product will work for every single horse. May we always be so lucky as to have so many options out there available!

Please redirect any further Renegade inquiries to the company: support@renegadehoofboots.com

The Kenny Chronicles: Rides of March 50 miler, 2017

In November of 2015 I traded a pair of Renegade Hoof Boots for a crooked legged 14.1 hh Chestnut gelding named Kenny. He was 11ish years old and is a Morgan/Welsh Pony we think. It’s not entirely known, as he was bought literally off of the slaughter truck some years and a few homes ago; what’s undeniable is the magnitude of attitude packed into his little red frame, the smoothness of his gaits, and the high quantity of laughs that he has brought to my life nearly every day since.

We’ve changed bits and saddles, been through steel and various trim, boot, and vet incarnations, been on Ulcer meds, and ridden a lot of miles both snarking at and enjoying each other.

Last April we completed an LD at the Whiskeytown Chaser and this March we tackled our first 50 at Rides of March in Nevada. I had never been to the ride and was still half convinced Kenny’s wonky front legs were going to fall off partway through, but if you aren’t a little nervous you aren’t doing something awesome, right?!

The final step in little Kenny’s prep for his endurance debut was a smashing clip job done last weekend by his former owner and our great buddy (and my trailer host for this ride!), T. We had clipped Kenny last spring and it seemed to help him a lot, as he’s heavily muscled despite his short stature and has excessive yak Morgan hair. The weather for this ride turned out to be quite interesting overall, but on both Arab and Morgan we were happy that we had clipped as it allowed them to dry quickly from both their and the skies exertions.

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Kenny before and after Clip (Yes, that’s a strut, he started fighting his gelding fence line buddy by the next morning, undeniably smug about his personal couture

T picked us up Friday morning and we were all in good spirits, the horses looked good–and we went all of ten miles before an intermittent ominous WHOMPWHOMP noise started to cut off our conversation and cause nervous smiles and half hearted dismissals.

Maybe there’s mud in the tires/undercarriage from recent 4 wheeling…

yeah, sounds good!

If you caught my story of my first 100 Mile attempt from last month, you may be empathetic to the amount of NO EFFING WAY a DTN (Disturbing Truck Noise) this soon into this trip caused me. We did in fact pull over, peer under the truck, pronounce it a Truck with Intact Tires and Bits We Think, and continued on our way feeling worse and worse–until I glanced over my shoulder while under way and saw the grooming tote  in the truck bed heaving itself up and around in an intermittent mini vortex behind the gooseneck hitch. WHOMPWHOMP.

Thank you horsey jesus 

From there, smooth sailing and possibly a year or two returned to my life span! After two recent long hauls, the border crossing jaunt to the Red Rock Road area north of Reno felt gloriously brief and we had arranged ourselves in ride camp by early afternoon.

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My kit/My ride/the drive/ride camp spotted and set up in/Epic Saddle Posing

One of the major perks of my snarky little pony is the ease of being with him, hauling with him, camping with him. Sure he lets you know his opinions, flips over unsecured (and sometimes secured) containers, and has put me through it dialing in his comfort for endurance just so, but he loads right up  every time, eats in the trailer, eats as soon as his rope hits the side of the trailer, takes care of his bodily functions unashamedly, and loves to drink. He’s also kind of cuddly despite himself on the ground and always pops right up into his Trot outs. If you don’t intensely value all of these characteristics, you haven’t ridden/owned a problem child yet.

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Steeds settled in with a view/Spying on Kenny/T does Hoof Armor/bareback spin from camp/Derping with my buddy

One really nice feature of this ride was how friendly the ride management, volunteers, and vets were. They were all accessible and encouraging, information was clear, and the atmosphere was great throughout the weekend, despite the challenges that inevitably arise. Vetting in and the ride meeting on Friday evening were uneventful and time seemed to have flown by as usual as we finalized our saddle pack contents and made warm mashes for the steeds past sunset by T’s sweet rig lights.

Things have been going too smoothly right? Ready for a rookie mistake curve ball? Good. As I mentioned in the beginning of the post, I’ve been through it sorting out foot wear for Kenny, as his narrow fronted, toed out conformation and over-striding way of going made my usual strap-on Renegade answer not quite adequate, though he did quite well in Renegade Glue-ons. Not wanting to have to glue for every event, I recently sucked it up and went back to the dreaded Easyboot Glove with some friends’ help and after a successful high speed, deep mud, hilly test ride I had brought the 4 power-strapped  Gloves to ROM as his preferred foot wear. The literal fact that they are essentially thin rubber gloves give him some protection without bulk, and since he has Yak skin I don’t have to worry about gaiter rubs like I have in the past. Of course, I didn’t actually try wedging these cursed things onto Kenny myself after our final test ride where my Easyboot saavy friends had applied them, as time was too short to get another ride in and I’ve used Gloves in the past and can be over confident at inconvenient times. If you heard excessive profanity involving the name “Kenny,” accompanied by the hollow Thwack of a clog hitting absurdly tight boots on Saturday morning in ride camp, I apologize. With much sweat and disbelief I did manage to wedge his 0.5 Gloves on the front, with the LF taped as in the experiment–but there was absolutely no way I could get the hind Gloves on. My buddies had done it, but it wasn’t happening for T or I that morning and not certain just how good the promised good footing really was, I threw T’s conveniently correctly sized Renegades onto his hind hooves and off we went…

Another fun feature of this ride was my former project horse Apache attending his own first 50 miler with his momma E, my trailer host for December’s Death Valley Adventures. Unfortunately she had an adventurous arrival to camp this time and then got the full effect of Apache’s flank sensitivity on ride morning when a split girth he wasn’t used to caused a bucking episode. Tough bird that she is, she was already back in the saddle grinning about it when she reported it near the start, and we ended up leap frogging with them throughout the day.

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Use what works (but practice first)/lovely sunrise/on trail with Apache and co/lovely views

Kenny and T’s mare Niki rated well together last year at the LD and we regularly train together, so it was a lot of comfortable fun setting out down the endurance trail together again. Our steeds were entirely reasonable in the early miles, with me once again thanking E, this time for the ported Pelham bit that she had lent me recently that has been the breakthrough for Kenny and I on being able to communicate lightly. I got Kenny as an adult Morgan pony cross and one that had been through green riders’ hands at times at that, so in the wrong head gear he’ll happily pull/take death spirals to stop. The Pelham allows me to ride with mostly no contact, and a light sponge at the reins is all it takes when needed.

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decent weather to start/lovely views/pics  of us by T and E

The trail was all sand all day, great footing as promised. We had snacks for humans and horses and we partook of them along the way, with the horses drinking well at each of the plentiful water stops. We only missed one turn the entire ride, early on when we hadn’t realized their more gradual spread of three ribbons indicating a turn versus the tight cluster we were accustomed to. Once we had that clear, the trail was very easy to follow! A trail note, before grandly proclaiming how great your tack works, i.e. Man I love how my Saddle/pad stay in place without an Excessively tight girth–look down at your self and make sure that your saddle pad isn’t making a bid for freedom out the back of the saddle because you never actually did re-check your girth. 🙂

We cruised back into Camp for Vet Check 1 after 20 miles with happy steeds, both pulsing right through after our quarter mile or so walk in. Kenny had one C on one gut quadrant but otherwise all A’s and his pulse was lower yet after his trot out. So far so good!

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Vet check line/Good ponies scarfing on 30 minute hold/Heading back out                                 (vet check pics by Mallory Weiller)

I’m still not great at getting out of holds on time, and it’s something that I always aim to be better at. Still, T and I had inhaled some stellar burritos my husband had made and sent, shed trash/repacked carrots and waters in our packs, electrolyted humans and horses, and were back on trail for the 15 mile second loop in what seemed like no time. While there had been intermittent wind in ride camp/on trail, it wasn’t until midway through the second loop that the weather took a literally darker turn, with some ominous clouds gathering overhead.

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sun/wind/rain/cool rocks/found snow on the ground

About halfway through the second loop I was leaning towards taking off Kenny’s hind boots. The footing had been nearly flawless throughout and he usually conditions completely barefoot–something I both had and hadn’t accounted for when making my last minute decision to throw on Renegades that morning. IF I had a boot issue, he’d be fine barefoot; but also, while they aren’t excessively heavy, they certainly add weight to each hoof, and extrapolated over 50 miles plus the non stop sand, there’s clearly room for extra/over muscle use. I can’t claim my thought process was actually that linear while on trail, more of a gut notion, Hey I should Take those Unnecessary Hind Boots Off, and I mentally decided I would at the next hold. Kenny, being a smart alec, promptly flipped his left hind boot off, prompting me to pull over and remove them both there and then.

We were traveling in a small group with some other riders around that time when the rain began in earnest, despite my skipping Make It Rain on my Pandora every time it had tried to play that day. Out came jackets and it was a rather grim faced TrotTrot on out of the valley crossing and back up towards mutual trail and camp. The steeds had chomped through all their carrots again at that point and were ready for something more substantial;  T and I were looking forward to our hour hold for some good grub (and dry gloves) as well.

The 35 mile one hour hold went quite smoothly as well! We pulsed right in again, vetted through with even better pulses and grades, and both horses tucked into their hay back at the trailer. T and I swapped out our outer layers and gloves, restocked packs, and grazed steadily out of the coolers (i.e. PBJ, salami, cheese, bananas,oranges,nuts,etc) while the ponies stole a nap.

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Leaving ride camp for the third time on the final loop Kenny felt a little stiff in the hind end; with the cold wind/rain and after he took a lovely clear pee just outside ride camp, it seemed most likely that he needed to warm up again, and we strode back out into the desert behind T’s lovely mare in pink. In a mile or less Kenny felt loose and cheerful again, and we cruised along until a cutoff led us to a very long and deep sanded descent, which we humans hoofed alongside our horses, popping hay cubes and treats into their mouths every once in a while. We felt like we were the only ones out there at this point which is always a uniquely titillating endurance experience–and I was glad that I glanced over my shoulder at the bottom of the hill before enacting a plan of dropping trou for a pee, as a group of riders were suddenly right behind and then passing us.

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Having a blast in some beautiful desert country

We had a great time cantering along a short repeat flat section with great footing; Kenny travels fabulously with great hind end impulsion, especially at the canter, a gait that we have conditioned in. Since removing his hind boots about 30 miles in he felt extra powerful and I never had to lay a leg on him, which is saying something for what started as a very ornery pony. It took Kenny a solid calendar year to believe anything I said, and ever since and the farther we ride, the more we connect and work together as a unit instead of fighting each other. He’s a very challenging and rewarding little critter!

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With daylight in the sky and over an hour on the ride clock we claimed our beer from the troughs a mile out from ride camp and enjoyed our brews and tunes and great horses all the way to the Finish line. We may in fact have been too leisurely about it, as when we vetted in and trotted out T’s mare went flawlessly but I heard the vet mention a hitch in Kenny’s gait, Left hind, and he even trotted Kenny out for me so that I could see–which I could. It wasn’t major and we were given our completion; I was shell shocked to see anything as he’d felt so good on trail. All other parameters were great and Kenny cheerfully tucked into his hay and mash back at the trailer with his first 50 Mile Completion while I had a mini pity party for myself and contemplated what may have gone wrong.

There were a few things to add up: his apparent stiffness leaving the hour hold that he worked out of, and likely back into as we had our leisurely walk to the Finish, caused by both moving out in pure sand for 50 miles with no sand training, and adding Hoof boot weight to his hinds when he wasn’t accustomed to it. Feeling his tight hamstrings and the two knots on his left side haunch particularly, paired with his cool tight legs, great looking hooves, and otherwise cheerful attitude, we figured that he had muscle soreness that he’d likely work out of in a day or two. Should I have tried on/figured out the hind Gloves myself beforehand? For sure. Should I have stripped the heavier Renegades sooner? Probably. Learn by doing, errr, screwing up, I suppose!

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Steeds the morning after ❤

Both horses consumed and expelled most expediently overnight and enjoyed their walk in the morning, drinking deeply at the cow trough we passed on our stroll. We had an uneventful (and paperwork checked) journey home over the border back to CA and despite my conviction that Kenny would get out of the trailer looking stiff and terrible, he trotted out into his pasture, rolled vigorously, and looked quite sound. A faint step here or there, but already working out of it. I pulled him again to give him another Sore No More slathered haunch massage and much to my surprise he trotted right to me to be caught! Kenny can’t be accused of that on an average trail ride day. I do think he enjoyed himself! Doesn’t he look smug? 🙂

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pro ride photo by Baylor/Gore Photography

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Kenny the 50 miler pony and Miss Piggy the escaped pot belly: Equally smug

I think that we have some more miles and dialing in to do (glaring at you, Gloves) but I also think that my unlikely little crook legged pony and I have some more endurance ahead of us,too! 😀

Up next in our Never Been To This Ride Before Tour: Mt. Adams Endurance ride, May, Washington 😀

 

The Answer to All of Your Horse Questions

is….

It Depends 😀

The longer that I am fortunate enough to be owned by a varied herd of equines, and ride and board others,’ the more certain I am that there is no one straight recipe for success with horses. Okay, yes, they all benefit from movement, good forage, basic healthcare. But beyond that, bigger picture, in the epic minefield that are the “What is the best…” Questions, I can only say: It depends on the horse.

Case in point: Kenny, Sir Kenneth of Crookshanks, my Little Red Flyer, a Morgan/Welsh Pony cross who in the year and a half that he has been in my life has had me turn my routines and suppositions and skills upside down. He sounds like such a simple thing (if you don’t know Morgan/Ponies): now-12ish, just over 14 hands, a gelding who will pack kids and husbands, technically. Ah, but little Kenny is so much more. He’s toed out in front quite epically, has a particularly crooked right front hoof, and a very strong opinion on pretty much everything.

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Wut, Human

Once home, booting him in Renegades for conditioning was immediately a challenge; while the oval profile and forgiving Captivator shape of the Classics could accommodate his upright Morgan style hooves, I couldn’t seem to cut them back short enough to prevent him from forging with his massive over-stride. With his knock kneed and toed out front conformation and therefore in-swung movement (which is actually incredibly smooth and a pleasure to ride), the bulk of the Renegades clearly bothered him.

Viewing his crooked hoof capsule and “tall” hooves when I brought him home, I had quickly resolved to “even out and normalize” his angles. I fussed with his hooves almost weekly, and was excited as they started to look more as I thought they should.

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Kenny early 2016, deep into “fixing and normalizing” his hooves

We completed the Whiskeytown Chaser LD in April 2016 in Renegade Glue on boots with plenty of pony to spare–and when we next rode, Kenny was lame on his wonky RF that I’d been busily “bringing down to normal.” I immediately took him to a local well known and respected veterinary clinic, worked with a podiatrist/lameness veterinarian, x-rayed, and on his recommendation and by his farrier had one of my horses steel shod for the first time in years. Then watched Kenny stand more crookedly than ever and rip off his right front shoe in one day, and then the reset in a day and a half, despite wearing the recommended bell boots 24/7.  As that was clearly a fail, I pulled Kenny’s one remaining shoe and left him in the pasture for a  few months, no trims, just horse time.

And then after some months of being a horse in pasture, he was sound. And cranky as ever. With a dental and chiro done and constant attention to saddle fit (he muscled out of his semi QH bar Big Horn before long and I have had to adjust shims in the Specialized Trailmaster now on him 3 times already), I decided to try Gastroguard for the first time ever in my horsey career to see if any of Kenny’s attitude was ulcer related. While it was err, enjoyable? dosing a snarky pony every morning for 14 days, I saw zero difference in him and on vet’s recommendation didn’t pursue the entire (pricey) 28 dosage.

Ever seeking to do better and suspecting it was my own trimming and angle tampering that had lamed Kenny early on, I had a local trimmer with barefoot training trim him a couple times in mid/late 2016. Things seemed fine but with trimming skills myself, I can’t legitimize paying outside professionals for long unless absolutely necessary. And so I kept riding Kenny, and letting his hooves grow as they wished, conditioning entirely barefoot on rocky trails from Oroville to Redding throughout the winter and into this year. Every time I went to trim his feet there just wasn’t much to be done, feeling and seeing that Kenny was sounder and moving better than ever with the angles that he was rocking on his own.

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Kenny 2017

With a year and a half of LSD, one successful LD in rough terrain under our belts, and a sounder and stronger pony than ever in the early months of this year, I began to pick out Kenny’s first 50 miler. He does well in the cold and with friends egging us on that it’s a good First 50, we have set our sights on the upcoming Rides of March in Nevada, and/or good ole Whiskeytown Chaser closer to home (April). Conditioning barefoot is a lovely thing, but I’m simply too paranoid to attempt 50 miles+ barefoot, so the inevitable What Will He Wear question came roaring back to the forefront once I had settled on potential events. I had of course proven that Renegade Glue-ons work for Kenny, but I think we can all agree that it would be lovely to have a strap-on option for our horses and not have to rely on gluing for every event, especially for relatively good footing.

And so this latest blasphemy was born:

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For the first time since giving up on Easyboots in disgust in 2012, the pony gets an EB pit crew–thanks friends!

To backtrack briefly, I first took my horses barefoot in 2011 when I could not secure a reliable and skilled farrier. An Easyboot trimmer and dealer took over my horse’s hooves, and was kind enough to teach me my early trimming skills as well. I even bought my mare, GE Blazun Haatdesire, from Global Endurance, some of the top Easyboot users and dealers in the nation–and could not keep Easyboots on her for anything. Or if I did, they rubbed her raw. Taping and whacking them on with a mallet, then controlling my mare’s gait so she wouldn’t lose boots, the various incarnations of anti-rub attempts(baby powder, desitin, stockings anyone?) if she did retain boots, Oh, it was an aggravating journey, culminating in using 10 Easyboots and 12 hours to complete Cache Creek 50 2012, a notorious water+hills boot eating ride. And then I found Renegades. They seemed to magically stay on despite not needing to be tight, they didn’t rub, and they came in pretty colors. Sold. I became a Renegade rep not long after, and have used them successfully on so many horses and client horses that I have lost track.

all pro photos by Baylor/Gore

And then there was Kenny.

SO, back in current-times, a couple EB buddies and I conducted a boot test with water and hills last week that was entirely laughable. The boots were old and didn’t have power straps, and Kenny shed all 4 in under 2 miles. I can’t tell you how little I ever wanted to hear that rubbery WhompWhomp of an Easyboot hanging off it’s gaiter like an anklet again, but as it wasn’t a fair test due to the boots’ condition, we headed back out a few days later in new Gloves with powerstraps.

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And oh how we romped, through sucking mud up over the boots, across countless streams, and then ZOOOM, up hills, trotting and cantering with ease and endless “Do I have boots?!” questions, as the wind roared, drowning out potential WhompWhomp sounds. Yes, You’re good, You’ve got 4 tires, I was reassured continuously, and 13 brisk, muddy, and speedy miles later, we had 4 Gloves, a frisky pony, and a Renegade Rep ready to buy her horse some Gloves. Because it just depends on the animal, and if you aren’t willing to step outside the comfort zone of what you know or like best (coz let’s be clear, this works for Kenny–me?  I’m whining all the way to the mallet and athletic tape sections), you might never have that beautiful AHA moment (on that same ride, the +/- 10th bit that I’ve tried on Kenny gave me another AHA moment: Ported Pelham wins!).

Go forth and experiment my friends. May we all have deep toolboxes!

20 Mule Team 100 2017: Endurance, All Ways, All Days

I’m freshly back from my first 100 mile attempt at the 2017 20 Mule Team Ride based out of Ridgecrest, California and I couldn’t be more amazed at both human and animal perseverance–and my desire to sign up for another 100 miler as soon as possible. If that has you wondering about possibly smooth travels and a successful ride completion I must immediately burst your bubble and instead urge you to settle into a comfortable chair with some popcorn and prepare to read a winding tale of Things Gone Wrong, Everywhere, that still ended with big smiles, hugs, and the desire for more.

Thursday 2/23/17, The Getting There

In mid January my friend W asked me if I’d like to ride her 19 year old Arabian stallion Aur Aquavit in his first 100 mile attempt at 20 Mule Team on February 25th, with her crewing for us. I had never ridden Aqua before, or any stallion, and had never done a 100 miler either, but was fresh off a successful 4 day multi-day catch riding at Death Valley and while not high mileage in any way (655 endurance, 505 LD), I have quite a number of catch riding completions on different breeds and temperaments and thrive in the cold, so felt that I could give 100 miles on a new horse in the Southern California desert in February a good shot.

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First Ride on Aqua

The weeks leading up to leaving for our entire team’s first 100 were anything but smooth. W’s truck was getting worked on (Hahahaha, the irony!!!), the Oroville Dam Spillway in our town was crumbling (I live above and some miles from the dam, fortunately, while W was on the edge of evacuation), and I had a raging cold and pinkeye. Auspicious beginnings, no?

Still, we were packed and on the road Thursday morning of ride week still decently in the early a.m.’s. We being W, her 6 year old daughter, and myself, in the single cab bench seat ’97 Ford dual tank diesel, towing a giant LQ full of our junk, with Aqua the stallion waaay back in his quarters. Spirits were high, as were nerves. One of the many hilarious ironies in this story is that I myself drive a ’97 Ford dual tank diesel, and as drivers of old vehicles, we exist in a territory of paranoia about break down, with generally sharp ears and highly attuned noses for the possible scent of our next Oh Shit moment. Fair enough, as we made it all of 30 miles from home before I sniffed up the first whiffs of a horrible burning rubber/metallic smell, and we quickly unanimously decided to pull over on the side of Hwy 70 and investigate. As we stopped we could now hear a undeniably unhappy clanking to the idle, and the first SOS calls went out. While W wrestled with AAA dispatchers I got in touch with fellow locals also headed to the same ride, and fortunately (for us, not them..) still behind us. E and her extra handy military husband, B, pulled up behind us and for the first but absolutely not last time got to sorting things out. B quickly discovered that an arm of our AC compressor had broken off and was causing grinding, sparks, and a charming smell. With it somewhat addressed, we limped the rig the short way off the main road and between B and some of W’s local friends, the conclusion was made to bend the piece out of the way and run it, as it solved the idle problem, the belt was intact, and the compressor hadn’t seized (yet). And of course our back-up gooseneck-hitched vehicle was my own ’97 Ford diesel that has recently developed a penchant for randomly turning itself off. 😀

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To prevent this story from being endless, let’s just say that while the A/C compressor jerry rigging worked, the Ford also decided to play games about switching between it’s fuel tanks, and there were a few more quite tense moments before we finally pulled into Ridgecrest Fairgrounds ride camp in the dark, some 12 hours after we had started the 7 hour drive, and with no real clue if we’d have a functioning truck to get us home. Aquavit, like the amazing animal he is, had handled it all calmly and quietly, nonchalantly eating every time I anxiously checked on him.

2/24/17, This Just Got Real

What I learned from my successful decision to set aside some horse injury-related PTSD and ride unknown horses at Death Valley 4 days straight while sleeping in the back of a friend’s trailer is that you just can’t think about these things too hard. To be clear, you absolutely obsess over them, pack and re pack over and over in your head, and just generally never stop thinking about it–but without actually *Really* acknowledging and wallowing in the details of the facts that are signing up to do something that halfway terrifies you. You just do it. Winging it, while as overprepared as possible, I would call it. Because the Actual Reality of it might stop you from doing something awesome and missing something amazing in this very short thing called mortal life.

Friday morning found us successfully installed in Ride Camp with a very calm and collected Arabian stallion who ate, drank, pooped and peed his way through this entire epic tale. I will probably say this a million times, in this post and for the rest of my life, but Aur Aquavit is an amazing horse, and just as importantly, W has done amazing training and homework with him to make him an absolute pleasure to be around and ride. W got Aqua as a 14 year old pasture breeding stallion, completely unbroke, and did all of his training herself. I am the first person to ride now-19 year old Aqua besides W herself, and in my last couple of years riding alongside them on our home trails on every conceivable equine companion, I have been nothing but impressed by Aqua and eager to ride him. To her I must say again, Thank you for Sharing an amazing animal.

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Just being epic, Friday at ride camp

Friday’s pre-ride was a very important thing to do for a variety of reasons, the main one for me being to reassure myself and Aqua that we were going to be on the same page for this whole endurance ride thing, where a horse is often at it’s friskiest and most competitive. I also wanted to be sure we had the Boz saddle correctly re-rigged after cleaning as necessary, as I was not familiar with it at all, it being my ohhh, maybe third time aboard Aqua or in a Boz ever (I’m not a fan of how the saddle rides by the way, but it’s great on Aqua’s back and that’s what mattered). I saw two other endurance buddies saddling up for a pre-ride in camp late morning Friday, one of whom, Lucy, has finished the 100 multiple times, so I hustled to get mounted and headed out with them for whatever trail insight I could glean. Aqua did some jigging and I did some quiet swearing, and I quickly resolved to continue on alone after the other gals turned back, as we HAD to establish some sort of good behavior guidelines then and there or ride morning was sure to be worse. That’s a commentary on all horses, by the way, the need to recognize an issue when it’s an issue, and address it in a timely manner, before they use their clever successes against you. In all  of his freshness Aqua wasn’t even a fraction as terrible as my own mare used to be, and in fact the moment my buddies had turned back on the pre ride Aqua picked up a businesslike power walk and assured me that we were kosher, showing no desire to turn back with them. Turning around to head back to camp, however, turned into another jiggy head tossing session so we did some turn around around and backtracks (so what?),turn around and back towards camps (Yeah, whatever lady, now I jig), and finally resolved on drunken steering side to side going forward as the One Thing that irked him into politely walking instead of jigging and getting swerved. As a catch rider I feel it’s incredibly important to establish early on with a new short term mount that you are both firm, but very fair. Power walk your heart out pal, just don’t jig. Okay, says Aqua, and I immediately felt better about the 100 miles facing us. Lots of brain and heart and good training there, no doubt.

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More truck tinkering, and Vetted in with great scores and a sexy beast stallion!

2/25/17, Ride Day

One of the perks of ride camp being at a fairgrounds was the super hot shower I got to take at 4:30 am Saturday morning, with W feeding up the steed, and on track to tack up and head out timely but after the front runners. Here on ride morning, a couple of rookie mistakes almost bit me in the butt. First, I almost rode in only-worn-once new shoes, the same model as my old riding/hiking shoes, but not THE ones I’d been wearing. I was smart enough to try the newbies in camp Friday and concluded that despite them being the same shoe, they just weren’t as comfortable yet, and were fired. That was a good call, but then I almost mounted up to leave for the 100 miler still in my comfortable morning Muck Boots!  No rookie nerves here, nope! 😉 Shoes corrected, I was on the steed and heading out on trail at a brisk power walk in no time it felt like. My actually fully committed rookie mistake was not leaving ride camp with a rump rug on Aqua. I also think I should have been on him sooner and walking around warming up, as I only completed a circuit or two of the immediate fairgrounds before seeing Lucy heading off and thinking that it was as fine a time as any to get on trail. And finally, I believe that despite advised discussions and conscious decisions, we should in fact have pre-loaded Aqua with syringed electrolytes, not just done salty mashes. Sometimes you just don’t know until you try!

Our first 17 miles to vet check 1 felt pretty darn good for a rider on a 100 mile fit Arabian stallion that she’d barely ridden, in a saddle that she didn’t love! Sponging at the reins and keeping up a running dialogue with Aqua as his momma did when he got jiggy got me a quite reliable 7-8.5 mph trot and after waiting for a rider to mount early on who turned out to be the guy that had marked the trail, I felt pretty calm and optimistic about the endeavor, even as we encountered trail marking sabotage within the first 10 miles (!).  Aqua drank at the 10 mile water stop and tore into the multiple alfalfa bales we encountered in those early miles, and just overall felt like a totally reasonable customer as we cruised into the first vet check.

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Vet Check 1 to Vet Check 2

Aqua pulsed right in and we coolered him up and settled him in front of food as I hustled around to pee and get some food myself, then the first Really Exciting Moment occurred when a buddy’s horse being crewed next to us spooked, ripped free of containment, and proceeded to gallop at reckless speeds through the heavily occupied vet check, eventually breaking her companion horse’s reins by galloping through them so that they both ended up zooming around for a minute. Aqua stood at his hay pile throughout all of this, I believe he may have stopped chewing, but that was it. Eventually the two horses stopped back by their humans (and both of them went on to completions looking fabulous by the way) and with my heart rate barely recovered we took Aqua over to vet in. All was going well until the vet intoned, “feel his rump,” and I felt the tight muscles where things should be soft. The vet cautioned to keep an eye on his muscles while not thinking a recheck was necessary, so Aqua went back to hoovering hay while we immediately covered his rump with another rug, commenced massaging, and I stayed about 15 minutes extra on my hold continuing this process and seriously talking over with W whether we should continue. We agreed that I would carry on, with a rump rug, and walk for as long as I felt necessary, imagining that our friends who had come in a bit behind us might take some time to catch us on trail and then we could trot on with them if ready. And so Aqua and I set off, already behind our Out time, rump rugged and walking, and I proceeded to go through every conceivable emotion in the 18 or so miles to Vet Check 2. Our friends caught and passed us only a mile or less after leaving Vet Check 1 after my late departure, and neither Aqua nor I felt that was the appropriate pace for our ride in the moment, so on we walked at a brisk, ears up pace but still a walk, already in last place or darn near.

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riding the highs and lows of your first 100 on a good horse

I resolved somewhere in those first miles out of vet check 1  as I questioned what in the bloody hell I was doing that I was going to start giving Aqua small doses of the Enduramax syringe I was carrying, but only after he drank well again (he had already taken multiple 30-swallow drinks to that point, starting at 10 miles). Years ago at the hot and challenging Cache Creek 50 my mare that I had only been using salty mashes on for electrolyting had a hind muscle cramping issue right at the base of their biggest hill of the ride, more than halfway through and miles from help; a passing rider who was also a vet gave me a tiny dose of enduramax and told me to just go slow–so I dosed my mare and hand walked up the entire hill. At the top of the hill the mare drank, pooped, peed, and despite my previous resolution to RO at the next check, dragged me down the other side of the hill, around the vet check where she never stopped eating, and on to bright eyed completion. It was on this and the recent Death Valley XP experience where we only electrolyted after good drinks, that I based my decision to introduce small doses of a powerful syringed electrolyte into his system after his drinks, something that I don’t take lightly. God bless that stallion, he took my messy syringing and even sadder attempts at rinsing his mouth out with a water bottle in stride, only covering one of my arms in spat electrolytes, and not getting harder to dose each time as some are wont. As I was syringing these powerful salts in I noticed that he had a small rub from his snaffle at the corner of his mouth and it struck me as a terribly uncomfortable combination, so after my mouth washing efforts on him I took his bridle off, swiped at his mouth with some more rinsing, and rode/hiked him the rest of the way to vet check 2 in his halter, as I’d seen W do many times on our home trails. This horse you guys, this horse ❤

17078420_10100123865135346_85847532_nAs we hiked down the long hill together toward Vet Check 2 at 35ish miles and after two big drinks and 2 small electrolyte doses, still in his rump rug and with the muscles feeling looser, Aqua began to pick up more and more speed and I could tell his A game was entirely back, though at that point he wasn’t deigning to accept carrots after electrolyting, because Eww my Mouth!  We trotted nearly into Vet check 2 in his halter and had the place to ourselves, being both the last 100 riders on course but also still the earliest Last they had had through the check in years. That was one of the odd parts of the experience, being certainly not fast, but definitely last, alone, and yet not actually pushing cut offs like it felt I must be. Our vet through was better than ever, the few Bs on guts improved to As and solid trot out. He drank and ate the entire hour hold, as did I, and I rolled out of Vet Check 2 feeling like we might actually get this thing done.

Vet Check 2 to Vet Check 3

Thanks to some Facebook consultations by W, I had saved some great How To Get This Done overviews into my phone from a couple of experienced riders, including Mel and Lucy. It was really helpful to open my notes in my phone throughout the day and reassure myself that I was following the general advice (“then ride the boring trot section, then climb the hill, then go down the other side, then ride to the trestle, then ride to the next check”). I also had music playing quietly on my phone in my saddle bag, and those two things were vastly soothing during this Doing My First 100 Solo thing, as that’s essentially what it became, not seeing a rider most of the time from Vet check 1 to vet check 2 and then not at all until Vet check 3 at 55 miles.

I can’t say enough good things about Aqua. As we climbed the big hill 40-something miles in we had started to mind meld. I thought about how I had to pee badly, and he immediately stopped and stood quietly as I obediently bailed off, peed, handed him a carrot (he now gave no shits about chomping a carrot directly after his electrolytes after drinking or any other time that I offered), and mounted again, he waiting to resume his power walk uphill until I was comfortably seated. We kept snacking, and drinking, and climbing, and life was good.

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We spotted the first lit glowstick on a bush at 5:37 pm somewhere in the 40 mile section, and I was pretty darn excited to have gotten to glowsticks before dark. I eagerly sent the news on to my crew (it was very VERY nice to have cell service almost the entire ride), then encountered deep sand that slowed us down yet again. At about 50 miles we were practicing our first trotting by glowsticks in near-dark together and it felt pretty good if slightly terrifying. I was feeling confident as I rode toward a truck with lights and a human with a clipboard, thinking I had finally gotten to the 55 mile check, so I bailed off cheerily with vet card in hand–only to discover that it was just a number taking volunteer, and a newly arrived and confused one at that, who told me both “Oh they’ve been looking for you!” (what? I thought I was in contact and kosher?!) and “I can’t find you on the list” (UHHH?!) and then reassured me that he didn’t know where the next vet check was either. With my carefully gathered calm starting to disintegrate, Aqua tore into the hay bales at what I now recognized as the common trail we had started on earlier in the morning, I mounted from a bale, and we trotted on after the glowsticks, starting to eyeball all the various lights sprinkled around the gathering dark and wondering which, if any, were this promised vet check.

I was riding towards the lights of the highway at that point which gave me some hope but it’s quite deceptive to follow glowsticks through the dark too, as things never seemed to get closer. I couldn’t figure out how to turn up the light on my GPS to look at mileage but was on track with glowsticks so I just kept trucking until I saw a large black figure moving along in front of me and wondered if this was my first hallucination that all the experienced 100 milers had warned me about (it’s too early for such things, my brain argued). It took two calls forward to get a response back that this was a rider, and not just any rider but Mark the Mustang guy, who I had ridden for at Death Valley. And who had been near the front all day?? My brain clicked over furiously trying to make sense of this until he said he was approaching his last check, so essentially lapping me as he came into 90 miles and I came into 55. We rode into the 55 mile check not long after and I confess to bleating “Just do something!” at my crew as I hurried to the porta potty. While I’ve certainly finished 50s in the dark before, and as recently as Death Valley Xp, I had never been at 55 miles in the dark and not done before. Aqua vetted through great and set to eating as enthusiastically as ever while I gulped down a mercifully hot and salty cup of noodles W had provided and tried to remain calm about the fact that my headlamp and glowsticks hadn’t made it to this stop. Overhearing this, Mark, who had a headlamp on but was interested in still getting his Top 5 (in fact, No. 3) place Finish, offered to wait the few extra minutes for my hold to be up and take me along for the 10 miles back to the Fairgrounds for the Finish/Next Check. It was an act of mercy for a team of Newbies and it was much, much appreciated. I had some of the most fun I had had all day in those ten miles in the dark, trading wry remarks with Mark, a nip of Fireball from his flask, and then hurtling along both on hoof and by foot to keep up with his impressive pace. Aqua felt amazing, doing some sort of fleet footed trot-canter-gait behind Mark’s Mustang, and only taking a little convincing that yes we were going to “jog” in hand down the black hill behind Mark’s bobbing beam–I say “jog” because Mark apparently has wings on his shoes as well as his horses, and zipped his way on foot down the hillside while I Jesus Take the Wheel’ed my way along behind him praying that nobody tripped and that I didn’t drop my vest that contained my vet card but that I had to strip off in a sweaty panic as I ran. It was everything hilarious and slightly mad that this endurance game is to me, and the fresh fresh horse under/beside me made it even better.

I left Mark to enjoy his successes at the Finish line about a mile out from camp and made my way easily by glowstick into my 65 mile Vet check and hour hold, garnering so many “Wait you’re ONLY at mile 65?” remarks at the vet check that Facebook friends days later told me that they’d heard it from afar. At this point I still wasn’t pushing cut offs, but apparently they were used to a brisker pace 😛 Aqua vetted through looking great and power walked back to the trailer to eat his way through his hour hold, as I did the same inside the LQ. I had thought I would shower at this hold but instead felt that I had sweated all my gear into place and I didn’t want to peel it off and reveal potential rubs that would feel worse once unmasked and might get worse in different clothing. I also couldn’t fathom taking a nap as some had suggested, since I felt I needed to keep my energy and optimism rolling or else. We had rather another comedy of errors in the LQ after I ate, when I almost taped on my finally located headlamp without checking if it had batteries (it didn’t!) then didn’t *have* new batteries, so in yet another Jesus Take the Wheel moment I prayed the used batteries that I harvested from a clock would last as I needed, said Nahhh I don’t think I need a Jacket in the Desert at Night in February (good coz they were still out in another crew’s vehicle and not at the fairgrounds) and headed out into the pitch black alone. What, can you smell the Greenness from there?? 😀

We went about 2 miles successfully navigating by headlamp beam and glowsticks before I couldn’t spot the next glowstick, panicked, and back tracked a half mile to the last big intersection, where riders coming in to their 100 mile finish assured me that yes, I had to take that left turn and head back the way I’d already been going. Turning a willing Aqua back that way, we jogged on and immediately spotted the glowstick farther on ahead that I hadn’t seen the first time. Okay, phew, on track, and we continued on another mile and a half or so until the glowsticks Just Ended. I did large looping circles from the last glowsticks I could see trying to locate the next, then decided to just keep navigating into the night with my headlamp, map, following hoof prints and poop, and seeing a chalk marker or ribbon just about the time I was convinced I must have finally gone wrong. I saw an arrow that said “100’s Out” that was quite encouraging…and then I just saw nothing but hoofprints for a while, and the headlights way ahead of me on the hill had petered out and I suddenly realized I was riding away into total darkness with no lights ahead and no glowsticks anywhere nearby.

The first “I think I’m Lost” message went out to my crew at 10:48 pm, nearly 5 miles out from leaving the 65 mile ride camp hold. I’d gone almost 70 miles deep, had a good, willing, sound, forward horse under me, was feeling physically fine myself–and I knew then that I wouldn’t get it done. With 6 endurance ride distances happening the same day plus a running event that all used the same style of daytime marking (chalk, ribbons) I simply couldn’t navigate correctly without glowstick confirmation that I was on the right trail and not some other distances’ trail with poop and chalk and ribbons. I was the last rider on course so no one would be coming along. It was up to me to backtrack and get my horse back safe to those city lights and it was getting colder.

Because it’s completely hilarious and encapsulates the experience of being new at this and lost at this, here’s a screen cap from that night between my crew and I, who are both just continuing to do our best in a highly stressful situation (you can thank my phone for editing my colorful talk to text 😀 ):

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You may imagine my incredulous face at “Get to walmart,” which was merely the latest thing relayed to my crew from the ride authorities who knew that I was lost. There was no getting to Walmart to be done (apparently a past pick up point for lost riders), but I did manage to find the last glowsticks I had seen a few miles back and was pretty sure that I was on track to successfully save myself, while W and a new friend decided to off road the gal’s quite nice car in an attempt to find us. As we traded “can you see me now” inquiries and I anxiously trekked along a road that I swear had had double the glowsticks when I had come out it that it now had, and I passed various vehicles off roading in the night that weren’t W, we had a hail mary “tap your brake lights” moment and suddenly off to my right I saw tapping brake lights, at the same moment that I found the big intersection I had backtracked to in my first turn-around earlier, common trail I had traveled many times at that point, and then I knew that I was alright. The relief I felt was immeasurable, and though my logical brain poo-poohed the idea that they need escort me in the last mile by their lights, as I knew now I was on trail, the OMG I was Just Lost In the Desert At Night part of my brain jumped in and said Actually Yes, Don’t Leave Me, Thanks!

We cruised back into the fairgrounds at a power walk after about 75 miles of ground covered and rustled up a vet for a Rider Option vet out around midnight, and I’d like to thank vet Melissa Ribley, former manager of this ride, for being so calm and gracious and comforting in the moment. We tucked Aqua in with his hay bag and mush after another long drink, I took a gloriously hot shower, and that, my friends, was that.

2/26/17, The Day After and Drive Home

Aqua looked and moved fabulously the morning after his impromptu 75 miler and I am happy to report that I too felt great, despite riding in the Boz saddle that I don’t relish the riding position of. All of my time on foot and changing diagonals throughout the day definitely helped, as well as remembering to ride Long, Straight and Strong with lowered shoulders and uncurled toes (a chant I use as I ride),  K-Taping my ankles the night before the ride, and taking Redmond Salt Capsules throughout the event, ala my Death valley XP strategies.

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Aqua the morning after ❤

As this ride story has already been epically long, let me just sum up the drive home by saying that it took us 12 hours again, we broke down again, and it all ended in the dark again, with Aqua being picked up by another trailer and a AAA big rig towing the truck and trailer unit home. Aqua took it all in stride and is now happily home and enjoying his well earned rest, while I feverishly look at the AERC calendar and wonder what my next Extra Nuts Dirty Unparalleled Really Awesome Night-Involved Crazy Extravaganza will be!

Congratulations to all the folks giving it their all at 20 Mule Team last weekend, and thank you to all the organizers, volunteers, and Vets that made it happen. See you on the trail!

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20 Mule Team 100 2017, photo by Gore/Baylor