Cuneo Creek 50 2019:And Then There Were Hills

Kenny and I had good fun at the inaugural running of the Nevada multi-day Torre Creek in May. We saw rain, hail, snow-capped peaks, and gorgeous flower-accented desert trails; we sponsored a junior on an LD and had a lovely time–but we didn’t get in our 50 miler for the Decade Team Goal.* Summer whipped by with a lot of work and some play, and suddenly we were looking at an ever dwindling ride calendar quickly heading towards season’s close on November 30th.  I hit on the notion of trying out Red Rock Rumble in Nevada in October as I liked the ride management and Kenny had completed his first 50 in that area previously. 

* (“The Decade Team recognizes those equine and rider teams who completed at least one endurance ride (50 miles or more) each year for 10 years. This would not have to be consecutive years, and the rider must be an AERC member each of the 10 years.”).

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summer riding at Lake Oroville home trails

Then one day on a ride at newly reopened fabulous local trails with my dear riding buddy N and her Tennessee Walker, N asked why I had never been up to the Redwood Rides; simple: as 6+ hours hauls up into a rural area, I deemed them an unfair task for my 22 year old truck that is reaching for the 400,000 miles stars. N has been through an incredibly tough year that, among other things, resulted in needing to replace vehicle(s) and she wondered if I might be interested in hooking up my much larger horse trailer (she hauls a Brenderup) to her 2019 Dodge Diesel and going to September 7’s Redwood Ride Cuneo Creek together.

Why Yes. Yes I was!

pulling old Orange out of the way, Kenny know what’s up/packing with weiner assistance

N and I set up a day a week ahead of time wherein she brought the truck to my house and we made sure that the hitch drop, ball, and lights were all in compatible order with my Logan BP (recommended, we did end up using a completely different hitch than either of us usually use).  N, Josey-Walker, and N’s pups then came over and spent Thursday night of ride week so that we could piece our rig together in the evening and be ready to pull out at a reasonable hour on Friday morning. Again, recommended, as we still both managed to feel slightly stressed even with our provided lead time–it would have been a lot less fun to try to combine rigs AND drive 6+ hours in one day. Plus, we had this hope we might make it in time to score some of the promised corrals at a ride camp said to also have bathrooms and showers–ooo, la la!

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NonArabs ready for an endurance adventure!

I was eager to drive the 2019 and N was happy to be driven so I donned my chauffeur cap and proceeded to have the smoothest haul that I can remember. Everyone except Butte County is repaving their roads and there was no traffic or road construction so once we flew the coop it was just smooooth sailing 6.5 hours up to Cuneo Creek Horse Camp near Honeydew, CA. We found camp easily, were warmly greeted by ride management, and shown to what I’m calling the best camp site in the place: under a huge shade tree, with our own picnic tables, close to the water spigot and bathrooms(Showers!), a mostly level trailer spot for sleeping, gazing down a gentle slope at our steeds enthroned in lovely safe corrals.

possibly the best ride camp I’ve ever been to, with perks like corrals that don’t share fence lines

My phone camera has decided to only take videos lately so every photo that I have from the ride is a screenshot taken off of a video and I missed some of my usual quick snaps like Vet Card pics, le sigh. You’ll just have to take my word for it that Kenny got his usual 44 pulse and all A’s at vet in–and a body score of 6(buahah). Ride meeting was mercifully brief and well conducted and I made sure to apply the second coat of Hoof Armor to Kenny’s bare hooves as well as load up my vet card, drinks, and snacks for the morning.

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first photo of the morning, after a few miles of switchbacks

We tried to choose a quiet-ish pocket and hit the trail with 50ish(?) other 50 milers at 7 am in glorious cool, breezy, redhead weather. I want to speak carefully here because I don’t intend criticism, merely to share my experiences; asking people ahead of time who had done the ride previously, the trail was said to be very doable on lovely winding forested trails with a few climbs. At ride meeting, the only trail described was a lot of road that has been recently redone, with new culverts covered in large rocks. Also, a bridge with dodgy planks to get carefully over. I confess by ride time I really wasn’t sure what sort of 50 miles I was actually in for.

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trit trot, one ear on the tunes

In a word: Hills. Hills up, hills down, and then some more hills for dessert. There was a lot more road than I expected, but the footing was still all pretty pleasant; Kenny cruised nonchalantly barefoot with Hoof Armor throughout which was a true joy, especially considering the many many water crossings lying in wait for boots.

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Yes, I will tighten my helmet strap…

Kenny didn’t drink for most of the first 25 mile loop but that didn’t concern me as he was well tanked up, the weather was cool, and I knew he would start drinking when he needed to. He is no speed demon and I may be “always walking” as another rider apparently said of me, but this little pony boy knows how to take care of himself day after day, and you can’t put a dollar value on that in my opinion. I do walk, all of the downhills and this ride, some of the uphills too! I’ve always been willing to hoof it down while expecting my horse to carry me up, but the thing about a partnership and trying new things is that sometimes you have to shake up expectations to get ‘er done. Kenny’s self care intelligence also means that miles into endless hills, alone on trail, there is a good chance he is going to stop and turn and look at me and say “Right, Your Turn.” And I cannot blame him, not one bit.

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I was also advised to remove my rump rug during this ride and I would heartily recommend to folks that they go ahead and ride their own ride on their own horse. I have seen and experienced some OhCRAP situations where a crucial rump rug really could have helped, and I am pretty liberal with my use of them, while not feeling like that is something others must do as well.

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snacksOnSnacksOnSnacks

Somehow we came into the single one hour hold in 3 hours. I can’t say that we’ve ever done an LD that fast but we had good trail in the morning to make time and I ran a lot of dowhills, so there we were.

hiking in/carrot bandits at vet check/smart Ken in vet line

A couple of B’s on gut sounds and A’s on everything else had Kenny snarfling food and then resting in his corral for the hour, roll included, while I stared at the ground sort of eating for my self-allowed amount of time and then leaped into action near the end of the hold throwing one more coat of Hoof Armor on his front hooves as I had heard there was less friendly gravel after lunch (Pro tip: just DON’T put excess gluing/Amor’ing tips in your mouth, it’s hard to tell what’s new and what’s used and yes my tongue now has some Kevlar protection–but hey it’s food grade!).  Kenny was having a nice nap and we had whipped through the first loop so I had planned to leave the hold a few minutes late which was good because I ended up catching a loose horse in camp and being late anyway!

Loop 2 was a real mental game. We left alone, out the same trail as the morning, and did the same 2.5 mile climb UP. Kenny generally thinks leaving alone on Loop 2 is a poor idea concocted by Humans, and leaving alone UPUPUP is really not on his list of approved activities. He went about 1.5 miles up and just stopped. No encouragement from aboard would persuade him and me dragging him by the reins on foot barely did better. Uh OH? All of his parameters were good, his butt felt loose and non crampy, but he was just serving up a big steaming plate of Nope. I know Kenny very well by this time and this can be a Morgany pony game he plays, but this seemed very final, and I got nervous. I concluded that I would hike up to the water trough that I thought I knew was ahead of us and if nothing had improved horse motivation wise, I would turn around and hike my sorry ass back down to camp and RO because Kenny said so.

Right about then, I heard voices. 2 riders merrily passed me and said they hoped that their horses might encourage Kenny. Kenny glared at me, summitted the last of the 2.5 mile hill–and proceeded to drag me down the other side. Mmmmkay. After going up and down Nope Hill, there was another– even longer and steeper. Kenny and I were happily with another rider at that part and we all took it in shifts, riding, walking, leading, following, until at last we got Up, then Down, and on to some fun winding Redwood trails.

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lots of great trail marking, never got close to lost

 

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forgive the blurry..videos, man…one of many creek crossings 

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the fun Redwood section

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tritTrot through the trees

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doing that smart pony thing

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Meandering on in to the finish

We leap frogged with some folks in the latter part of the ride but were on our own cruising into the finish around 5 pm (cutoff 7 pm).  I had drunk 6 bottles of water on the ride and still run out of water a few miles before (thank you amazing lady who handed me a cold water at the finish line as I babbled),  done way more hiking than anticipated, and was just Really Effin Proud of the teamwork that Kenny and I put in to get that trail done and come across the Finish line pulsed down (well he was, I probably wasn’t). On our Completion trot out the vet asked us to trot a few times as she thought she maybe saw a completely inconsistent something unidentifiable to any leg and only on the downhill sloping gravel trot out, not on the uphill return. We were given our completion and Kenny trit-trotted his smug little self over to Josey and settled in for a nap ❤  N had RO’d Josey as she had felt the first loop was entirely enough hills for what they were prepared for,  so while it wasn’t all exactly according to plan we all did have a lovely time and tucked into tri tip and all the fixings with gusto.

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been there, done that, got the tshirt    😀 

Lest any loyal followers think that we got off entirely without vehicle shenanigans, we had a gentle 2019-truck scare when just parked safely back at home Sunday evening; N’s dogs promptly hopped on the auto locks with the keys inside the truck. Fortunately this was not my husband’s first AWCRAP rodeo and in about 10 minutes he had it unlocked. PHEW. I’ll take it, as far as vehicle scares! Kenny received a fat bite on his shoulder from Josey on the drive home, another kick in the butt for me to improve my totally lame stock dividers, but otherwise smooth sailing and a triumphant pony boy home to show off to his mares!  Mission Complete.

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Until next time Happy trails, whatever your goals or steed!

(official ride photos to come at some unknown future date…)

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Torre Creek 2019: Scenery, and Snail!

Kenny and I jumped aboard adventure pal W’s trailer last Friday morning for a journey to the new high desert multi-day endurance ride Torre Creek in north eastern Nevada. Kenny and I’s last endurance ride (complete with exciting travel issues) was in September and we had had truly minimal saddle time since the new year between life and the new job; that coupled with ride camp at 6500 ft elevation (we live at about 1200 ft) with climbs promised had me already weighing the idea of changing my planned 50 to an LD once or twice in the week leading up to the event. 

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that’s how the big dogs train, right?

Morning of departure, the weather forecast was dire and we had a long (7 hr) drive ahead of us, but a friend of W’s was putting the ride on and we had long ago committed to attending. Feeling as discombobulated as one does after not going to a ride in ages, and then not in your own rig, I scrabbled together what I thought we would need for an “arrive-Friday, ride-Saturday, home-Sunday” weekend and off we set (note to self: always pack more hay than you think you should).

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rig tetris at W’s

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getting up into that green+snowy high desert, wowee

An aside: If you have followed this blog at all then you may know that trucks have a tendency to misbehave around me. Here I would like to record a BIG shout out to W’s 1997 Ford, who laid to rest all past transgressions by charging through the 14+ hours of travel like a fresh faced youth, apparently unphased by being backed into at ride camp mid weekend. Thank you, Ford!

Suffice to say that we arrived at ride camp as planned late afternoon on Friday–and that’s about where “as planned” ended for the weekend! Things got real quite quickly, as Kenny has barely made his opening tour of the grounds and taken in his ride camp spot before it started hailing– with conviction.

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Hmm, where have we come, Human?

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First hail storm..of many..What have you done Human

W and I lay in the uninsulated steel trailer Friday night in all of our layers listening to the storms blow through and contemplated our life choices as the roof gently dripped on us; early Saturday morning we had an RM query if we would like to volunteer that day and ride on Sunday, as the weather looked better Sunday (and looked impossible to get back home over Donner Pass on Sunday, for that matter). That would push our return home to Monday so options were weighed, but seems to me that if the ride manager suggests something on their home ground, you go for it, and we did.

Saturday we spent volunteering. Paperwork, campsite checking, we moved camp spots when W’s rig became the rescue trailer, and I spent 5 or 6 hours outside working the Finish line. The storms continued to blow through in alternates of rain, hail, and wind, and it was a true blessing to have the large heated fairgrounds hall as a clubhouse to retreat to–indoor bathrooms and all!

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just some of the fabulous awards at Torre Creek! My husband made the wooden turtle awards 🙂

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not a bad view from working the Finish line!

Kenny alternately took in ride camp smugly and glared sullenly at me during storms, while I tried not to feel too bad for dragging him about in such terrible weather. His girlfriend for the weekend was the RM’s chestnut Arabian mare, approved.

Saturday evening as everyone reheated themselves indoors, W encountered a junior who had come to camp only to find her horse lame upon arrival. W offered to pay a ride entry if the junior could find a horse and in no time a horse was offered up for Sunday’s 25 miler. All that was needed now was a sponsor to ride with, and W and I readily agreed to escort her. The weather had still not let up in the least and we all felt quite A-ok with a 25 miler at that point!

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ride camp (behind me) sunset Saturday

It was only raining lightly Sunday morning as we bundled up for the LD and had let up again by trail open. Junior B on her borrowed steed, W on the RM’s mare, and Kenny and I set off together but within a few miles W made the call to turn back. B and I continued on and had 4 out of 5 hours of solid weather on some truly beautiful high desert trails.

Our two snarky little chestnut geldings cruised well together and we enjoyed mostly good footing despite what had and did fall from the sky. Kenny trucked it barefoot as it his wont and enjoyed the bunches of green grass and plentiful water along the trail.

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B leading the way

We had a 30 minute hold out, complete with hot dogs, hamburgers, and all the fixings. There is truly nothing so delicious as a hot something on trail mid ride and ride management had also provided hay and mashes–there was even a bonfire!

 30 minute vet check hold, all A’s and 40 BPM 🙂 

The promised next storm was gathering quickly as our Out time approached. I had Kenny walk between bites of alfalfa as he was getting a little shivery even under his rump rug and I was quite happy to hear it was time to get moving again. We zipped up all our available layers and took to the trail back for camp, enjoying another 20 or so minutes of Totally Doable before it got Really Nasty.

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the phone wasn’t out for a while after this!

I had never ridden in snail before, never even heard of it before this weekend, but here it was. Snail in regards to weather is said to be a mix of snow, rain, and hail. And yes, yes it is. When delivered at speed sideways, it makes for quite a uniquely uncomfortable experience! I did a good job on Michelin-man layering my top half, which remained fairly comfortable but my bottom half and hands  were immediately soaked cold, like painful cold, while winds buffeted Kenny and Fritz who protected their eyes as best they could and trooped down through the storm.

Fortunately, with a few miles left to go, the storm finished with us and we trotted and cantered our way on still very doable footing in to a 1:30 pm finish, 30 minutes to spare as intended.

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post storm, ride camp in our sights

In the end B and I were last and next to last in the LD so I made sure she took home the super fun turtle awards, which included one of the decorative wooden awards made by my husband. ❤

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B and hardworking RMs!

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Sunday night ride meeting

It cannot be overstated how hard the ride managers (and vets & volunteers) worked, re routing the trails every day and dealing with all of the excitement that can come from managing a ride, and a first time multi-day ride at that. Thank you all! The fairgrounds venue was solid, the heated building with bathrooms a miracle, and the countryside truly gorgeous. The weather was not at all the norm (and is on it’s way to setting a rainfall historical record) and rumor is that the ride managers intend to go for it again next year. I encourage folks to pack their warm clothes and attend!

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credit Baylor/Gore photography

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congratulations and so nice to meet you, B!

After one more night of solid rain and hail we packed up and made it back home (on a much snowier drive than previously) by Monday evening. Kenny took it all in stride as usual and returned to his mares with style.

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In the end this made for a solid conditioning ride for Kenny and I, after this we will choose a 50 miler to knock out this season for our continued Decade Team goal. Til next time!

New Year!

Suddenly it’s January 2019.

2018 was a fantastic dumpster fire, to the detriment and loss of many. We said goodbye to Sheza’s dam Desire just months after we laid dear old Blaze to rest. Finances were tough, an entire town burned down, and it was just generally time for a new year.

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Run free war mare~ GE Blazun Haatdesire 1996-June 2018

So, here it is!

I spent Christmas with my husband and dogs and New Year’s Eve on the coast with my family and their dogs–and today with my ponies! May it continue, we’ll see what the year and AERC season brings.

Chamberlain Creek 2018: To Plan, and Not

2018 has been a singularly challenging year here at RHE; from interpersonal relations to human and animal and truck injuries to general financial struggles, this year has finally cemented in me that desperate adult notion that “next year will be better!(right?!?!)” In the face of it all I am certainly ever reminded just how good that I do have it,  so we’ll just let this short paragraph sum up all the Aw Craps of the year to date and move on to a new ride story, which as per usual is filled with semi ridiculous hi-jinks. Just think how boring my blogs might be if things ever went entirely to plan!

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Chamberlain Creek 2018 found Kenny and I in power puff trail duo shape, having ridden most of the summer including quite a bit of endurance ride clearing, marking, and unmarking and exploring the Tevis canyons, while not having actually competed since Death Valley in December due to saddle fit readjustments and the life shenanigans mentioned above.

spring, summer, snacks, n saddles

I have long wanted to attempt the much celebrated Virginia City 100 mile endurance ride that takes place in Nevada in the fall and I had had some notion that Kenny and I would try our hooves at it this year, but with an unorthodox ride season consisting of endless saddle fit adjustments and well, no rides, I revised that grand plan to a September 50 miler on our old home grounds in the Redwoods. We had seemingly muddled our way through Kenny’s latest Goldilocks moment and settled on a wonderfully comfortable Passier English saddle with shimmed Equipedic pad and crupper, Kenny and I had completed Chamberlain 50 in fine style last year, and with bigger goals on the horizon I was interested to see how Kenny handled the hilly 50 miler after a season of trail work versus competition miles.

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September 2018 pre ride Kenny

I was prepped, loaded, and out the gate early last Friday morning feeling like I had things pretty under control, which is generally your first indicator that the endurance gods have settled onto their couches with some refreshments and are about to thoroughly enjoy messing with you.  The first snafu was within a half hour of leaving,  wherein our usual simple back-road-to-highway access, generally a matter of a few admittedly bumpy miles, turned into a loud, rough, debris-filled 45 minutes praying that my tires survived driving in rubble in a ditch, as a road crew had torn the route down to below pavement without bothering to post a sign at a useful intersection where a trailer might choose another path that that was what you were in for. I had words with a cluster of orange clad fellows standing about, patted myself on the back for hauling Kenny in a fly mask (while regretting not stopping in the Pilot line to close the trailer windows), posted a hopeful Facebook note that that was our Unexpected for the weekend (hah!), and on we rolled.

I quickly became entirely sick of the cheery orange Road Construction signs that popped up like mushrooms after a rain all along my route that day. Oh well, it’s a Friday, California found an absurd road work budget somewhere all of a sudden, c’est la vie, I thought, as my old orange Ford rumbled up the 101 grade towards Willits. Cue truck power ebbing and a cheery red CHECK ENGINE light flashing on as Old Orange shuddered suddenly on the loooonnng uphill. Less calm French (and English) words were uttered as I crammed myself into a sort-of pullout barely large enough for the rig, just before a blind corner that I really didn’t want to break down in the middle of. Once parked, CHECK ENGINE and the troubling symptoms immediately ceased as the “OH SHIT” messages flew from my phone into the atmosphere. For all that my brother and husband helpfully responded quickly, bottom line I was pulled over near the top of  a huge grade alone, with zero room to try out my truck’s power, a blind corner in front of me,  and no clear further symptoms from the truck. I figured I had to try to to get to a safer spot so with my heart in my throat I eventually reentered the slow lane with my Hazard lights on and crept at 20 mph to the top of the grade…and along the top, picking up speed…and down the other side, with zero issues.  Our hive mind diagnostics suggested that fuel put into the truck tanks from the truck bed tank before leaving home may have been watery/dirty, so with fresh fuel on board and no further truck symptoms, Kenny and I voyaged on through Willits and out of cell service toward Chamberlain, hooves crossed.

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and we made it!

Without further ado Old Orange delivered us to the lovely shady Chamberlain Creek ride camp around 1 pm Friday and I was quickly comforted in my notions of truck trouble by the fellow who had lost his steering en route to the ride. We were golden compared to that anyway, right?(hah!)

My projected notions of a peaceful weekend away already well disturbed, I tried to shake off the And How Will Driving Home Go worries as I settled Kenny and I in. As I rhapsodized about in last year’s Chamberlain ride story, this was my first ever endurance ride back when I was a junior and it is always a homecoming atmosphere for me which is wonderful. Check in and pre-ride were total non events, aside from Kenny briefly taking up vigorous head shaking on the pre ride that threatened to throw us off balance as he heaved his giant orange ballast about and my truck-roughened nerves yelped What The Hell is This, Guess I better Show the Vet, AHhhh WTFFF–of course, the head shaking stopped after riding and never resumed –vet in 40 BPM, all A’s– just a little Kenny fun!

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nap time

My sleeping set up this go round was the epic foam mattress from my now-sold Gooseneck trailer crammed like a hot dog bun into the tack room of my Logan, with me as the hot dog filling (only left one necessary saddle rack in, rest of the gear was packed in the truck bed). At 5’4″ tall this set up actually worked quite comfortably, the extra mattress padding the cold steel sides and creating a small “table” space to set my water/book on, with all the tack hooks handily around for glasses and clothes,  and I really enjoyed being that close to Kenny, who made sure to check in often and drool on my feet. I was more comfortable in this set up than my previous sleeping in the truck set up, though admittedly if you are tall or get cold easily a tack room probably isn’t going to be your jam.

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My family started arriving at ride camp to visit around 5 pm and I had the absolute best time Friday evening hanging out at my camp with my mom, stepdad, brother, and sister in law.  I was a  bad girl and missed the ride meeting but really, they brought everything from home grown apples to home made fudge to a bag of books to a pizza party! Good food, good books, good people, and my steed, truck troubles forgotten, this was what endurance and life is all about ❤

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Kenny and my stepdad were instant snarky buddies

I didn’t sleep but a few hours Friday night between standard ride weekend adrenaline and my neighbors’ pivoting metal hi tie which allowed their horse to move about more than a fixed hi tie but also made a fantastic metal screeching sound any time the horse moved. All that means is that I was up in plenty of time on Saturday morning to don my headlamp and kit Kenny out in 4 taped Easyboot Gloves which any of you Easyboot users will know requires plenty of time, patience, sports tape, profanity, and a hammer.  I am getting better at (Relatively) quickly applying them but I also still think the word Easy being in the company name of such a product is an entirely laughable joke: If you aren’t sweating and cursing to get them on and off, they probably aren’t tight enough for endurance miles. Why 4 boots this time you may ask, well, playing the Kenny comfort game is a fine balance: Narrow set up front so at risk for interference, short coupled and deep striding behind so at risk for forging, topped off with upright Morgany donkey feet that are happiest bare and oh PS aren’t symmetrical, I have been through the gamut of hoof protection for Kenny over endurance distances. The best best option where he is happiest and almost all of his conditioning happens is completely barefoot, with Hoof Armor applied for excessive wear protection. That works pretty well for a lot of footing, sand miles, etc, but Chamberlain Creek 50 miler is both non stop hilly and pretty full of hard footing, with some gravel road sprinkled in. Not ideal for a fully barefoot horse and I didn’t have my shit together to glue on shells which is Kenny’s other most preferred method of travel (no gaiters to interfere) , so opted for our tried and true He Wears Gloves Until He Won’t Tolerate Them, Then They Come Off method. It’s admittedly a bit of a PITA to voluntarily mess with Easyboots during a race but Kenny wants what Kenny wants and he continues to succeed as his demands are met, so obey him I shall!

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Saturday morning, GO!

From here, the ride itself quite happily isn’t a particularly fascinating story. In usual Kenny style he left camp on a loose rein, meandered his way through the first 6 miles clearly not dedicated to the notion of going far, around mile 7 decided he was far enough away from camp that he had better get to work getting back to it (though we would be out of camp all day), and from there we zipped right along through the first 20 mile loop, leap frogging with a few other riders.

At the first hold, 30 minutes, Kenny snorfled through his cereal bags, dissed the expensive hay that I had packed him, and vetted through with his usual lovely metabolics and A grades. My early early morning had left me time to discover an ancient glitter tube in my camping gear so I had bedazzled Kenny’s rump a bit and that stirred up some smiles amongst the vets who also declared him the cutest horse of the day ❤

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20 mile Vet Check

Loop 2 of the 50 boasts a beast of a hill climb that I remembered well from last year and I was proud of my Easyboot skills as they stayed in place for the hills after a creek crossing; Kenny was not nearly so amused to climb this hill alone as he had been with compadres last year, and we climbed and puffed and climbed our way along in a bit of a doldrums until our previous leap frog associates reappeared and inspired Kenny again. I realized at this point that I had made an error in forgetting to pack carrots in the saddle bag as they are my quarters that I feed into the slot to keep the pony ride going and Kenny’s slightly lower gut scores at Vet Check 2 reflected that he could have used some chomping along the way. I also discovered what else I had forgotten near the end of the loop when, as if hearing my resolve to remove Easyboots at the next hold, Kenny smugly ripped his left front boot neatly in half, knocking himself a nice pink spot on his ankle for good measure. He had done this once before while booted at Death Valley and since then I had been carrying a fetlock boot for the possible occasion but somehow it had migrated from my saddle pack. He wasn’t any the worse for wear and was much more cheerful without the boots (with 2 coats of Hoof Armor already applied) and we vetted into our hour hold at 35 miles in fine shape.

Both Kenny personalities! credit Baylor/Gore photography

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The final loop leaves out of the vet check up another solid hill and Kenny resumed trail for Loop 3 with a bit of a sigh and eyeroll, but before long the leap froggers passed us and that was sufficient to inspire us up through Vet Check 3 at the top of the hill and on to the last few miles. Endurance on Kenny is certainly nothing like endurance on Arabians of yore; sure, there are times he’s ripping my arms out and Hi Ho Silvering away, but more often there’s just steady, snarky Kenny, trundling his way along, stopping dead mid trot in a group to poop (watch your knees!), letting horses on out of sight when he has to pee, always game to stop and eat. It’s a very casual and unhurried method of endurance riding and I really do enjoy it as I watch others beebop about trying to regulate more fiery athletes. We have our own challenges due to conformation and we’ll never be fast but boy do I love smoothly riding along listening to quiet tunes, loose reins gathered in a fist, staring up at the trees and appreciating the sky.

strolling into the Finish Line together/hiking back camp

 All told I think we finished the 50 miler about 20 minutes faster than last year, in just about the same position in the pack, affirming Kenny’s steady dedication to 9 hr something-minute 50s regardless of preparation or terrain. Consistency, man! Ride dinner was most epic, featuring garlicky pork roasted on site and our ride awards were the professional photos, a nice touch for those of us on a tight budget who always love to both support the photogs and take home tangible memories. Kenny and I both felt good but like we had done our first 50 miler in 9 months and fittingly I was out cold by 7 pm Saturday night, no hi tie could wake me.

….you didn’t think I would merrily end this story on and we had a smooth drive, now did you ????? Of course not! Heeeeeere’s Kenny, judgily parked at his Sunday afternoon side of Highway 20 hang out spot, after our dear old Orange has nearly stranded us on an uphill grade with NO pullouts, and I have made the call to surrender her to a AAA truck while awaiting my husband en route with our one remaining vehicle.  I’m fairly certain Kenny would like to trade me in for someone who owns a newer model but dog bless him for being such a cool traveling customer.

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Both trucks, the trailer, humans, and horse all made it home the same day in the end, despite being 130 miles from home with a 100 mile towing radius and other good fun. It looks to be a clogged fuel filter and sticky injector diagnosis for old Orange, not the end of the world at 350,000 miles, and in her defense I must point out that the other epic endurance ride truck shenanigans that I have been a part of in the last year or two didn’t actually involve Orange as I am quite circumspect about pushing her to long trips. Kenny did his part as usual and has set us back on track to some larger goals in the coming season so all we can do is save up our hopes and our pennies, wield our mechanic wrenches, and keep on trucking and trotting!

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cool tight legs and a smug grin, what more could you want

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!

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