In the Night Farm…Your Ride is Here.

Latest

Tough Enough?

In all these years, I have never made it to a Tough Sucker ride.

Maybe I just don’t want to be a sucker.  But more likely, circumstances have always pushed me out of the running for the first spring rides in my area — Tough Sucker I (early April) and Tough Sucker II (late April).  Weather, tack issues, whatever.  I’d have to go back and have a look to recall.  Or maybe I don’t want to.  The point is, I never had a horse ready.

This year, abdominal surgery (on me, not the horse) kept me out of TS I.  Grrrr.  The surgery (actually, the aftermath thereof) was more complicated that absolutely necessary, and I wasn’t able to ride for a couple weeks after mid-March.  Once again, I was not quite tough enough.  (Wow, look how dark Consolation’s coat was back then!)

But TS II is still ahead.  Next weekend.  And I think Jammer is ready.  And so am I.

We spent today on a long ride in the hills, and I registered for the ride this evening.  Could it be?  Are we finally Tough Enough?

 

Rider Option

Empty paddocks.

That’s what I see when I look out my window now.  Empty paddocks.

There are horses, still.  Six of them.  Two will leave at the end of the month.  The remaining four are mine.  They will stay.  And I will have time to give them the attention they deserve.

Six years ago, I started this blog with a dream of promoting the Barbs by riding them in endurance.  Colleagues in other states would train and promote other Barbs in other ways.  My breeding stock would be available to help meet growing market demand through commissioned foals.

I spent endless hours working with the horses, all of which came to me virtually untouched.  I trained them one by one, chronicled triumphs and frustrations, solved dilemmas ranging from recalcitrant attitudes to ill-fitting hoof boots.   I took them down the endurance trail.  They did fine.  Not spectacularly, but respectably.  They did fine.

Meanwhile, the market changed.  The Great Recession cut into nearly everyone’s lifestyle.  Raising and selling horses was never an easy business, but now it grew even harder.  Especially for a small, hot, “boutique” breed without a long performance record in an area that focuses on stocky, quiet, Quarter Horse types for western sport.

In other areas, fellow breeders seemed to be collecting stock but not really using their horses.  Word was not getting out.  Interest was not growing.

And I changed.  I wanted to focus more on endurance and less on training.  I wanted to go faster down the trail than the Barbs wanted to carry me.  It took years — literally years — to release the old dream enough to buy a pair of Arabians for my endurance mounts.  When I did, I was glad.

But what to do with the Barbs?  I loved them as a breed.  I loved them as individuals.  I had two, world-class stallions, five lovely mares, and a gelding that, while stunning, didn’t seem suitable for endurance.  I also had a single income, a fun but wildly busy life, and too much awareness of what happens to unwanted horses to even consider breeding foals that I didn’t have time to train and that the market simply wouldn’t bear.

In the sport of endurance, rider can choose to pull her own horse out of the race.  Anytime.  For any reason.  No questions asked.  No vet or manager approval required.  Because sometimes, the rider senses something no one else can, and the rider knows what is right.  This kind of pull is known as “Rider Option.”

Nobody ever wants to quit mid-race.  It usually feels like failure.  But life has taught me that what looks like failure often is not.  Journeys left unfinished were not taken in vain.  (Remember this post?)  Dreams shift.  We carry treasures with us from memory to motivation.

And so, after months of consideration, I made a decision.  I would pass the Barb breeding torch to others.  Insider and Acey went to Wisconsin.  Tuetano is with a trainer who is preparing him for travel to his new ranch in Texas.  Incognito (rechristened Inara) is with a Barb enthusiast here in Idaho.  Consolation and Sandstorm leave for Colorado next month.  CJ is with an Idaho family, soon to be started under saddle.

All except CJ (a gelding) remain in the Spanish Colonial horse community.  They went to homes of people I have known for years.  They are safe.  They are valued.  They’ll be used to preserve and promote the breed.

And the empty paddocks?  I’ll tear some out to make room for a barn.  Others will house Jammer, Maji, Ripple (yes, I kept one Barb), and the new mare I picked up as guest mount for less experienced riders.

Those empty paddocks are sadness, but they are also deep relief.  They represent the end of guilt over having such fine horses and not using them.  A gift to the breeding community.  Lower hay costs.  Attention freed up for the horses that remain.  And especially, more time to ride.

It is, after all, called Rider Option.

See you on the trail.

Prospect

Successful 100′s don’t happen overnight.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading, a lot of thinking, a lot of looking at the AERC records of 100-mile horses.  There are people to consult and plans to make, equipment to consider, training and experimenting and conditioning to do,  and not a small amount of finger-crossing for luck.

First and most obvious, I needed the right horse.  Said horse would come with the body, brains, and “bottom” on which to layer careful conditioning sandwiched between abundant recovery periods, proper hoof care, smart nutrition…not to mention the requisite finger-crossing.

Once upon a time, I hoped Consolation would be that horse.  She had the mind and conformation, but lacked motivation and eventually retired from endurance due to a mysterious veterinary issue.  Giving her up just as she reached the point of being a successful multi-day horse was tough.  I spent a few months deciding what to do, and ultimately went shopping.

Late in 2012, I brought home my choice from the kind folks at Belesemo Arabians:  HHR Jammazon.  Jammer is a big, strong boy with Crabbet/CMK blood.  I don’t claim any expansive knowledge of Arabian bloodlines (my strengths in that department remains with the Barbs), but it’s clear that this is no halter horse.  Everything from his profile to his croup is less delicate and more practical.  His gray hide and black gaze bear the marks of a ranch-raised horse:  tough, tested, thoughtful, and bold.

Of course, physique isn’t everything.  You need attitude as well.  Jammer’s first year on the trail revealed an enthusiastic partner, always ready to motor down the trail — often faster than I’d let him — and maintain a pleasant, businesslike demeanor all day.  He’s mannerly around other horses, a good traveler, and reasonably relaxed in camp (a bit talkative at times, but at least he eats, drinks, and stands still). At vet checks, he typically drinks well and settles into his meal instead of gawking at all the activity.

But no horse is perfect.  The Jam does have a chink in his 100-mile armor: Like many ranch-raised horses I have known, he isn’t particularly keen on feed concentrates.  He’ll eat grain, Strategy, bran, beet pulp, and the like when he’s in the mood, but overall, he prefers hay.  This makes it difficult to get Show & Go, magnesium, and other supplements into him.

At rides, he’s even less interested in concentrates.  He eats just fine, but he chooses hay or grass instead of anything into which I can mix electrolytes.  That means dosing him with a syringe, and even when I mix his ‘lytes with apple- or banana-flavored baby food, he HATES it.  Electrolytes notwithstanding, it surely would be nice if he’d consume some kind of concentrated energy source.

I guess that means it’s time to experiment.  Is there some kind of concentrate out there that he’ll really love?  Maybe a different bran of electrolyte would go down the hatch with less fuss.  Perhaps he’d prefer papaya juice to banana mush.  Hopefully, it won’t cost me too much to find out!

On the bright side, none of my experiments will go to waste.  Majesty eats anything.  :)

How Long the Road

Nearly seven years have passed, but I remember my first LD like it was just last May.  I had so much to say afterwards that I needed two, lengthy posts to tell the tale.  Later that summer, my good friend, a photographer, drove a couple hours on a frigid morning to document my first 50.  That story also took a long post, plus some related posts, to tell.

Since 2008, I have completed 30 endurance rides, plus a few LDs before I gave those up altogether in 2009.  My record is hardly notable — riding with friends like Karen Bumgarner has a way of keeping a person humble — but still, 30 rides will get you a long way down the road.  1515 AERC miles, to be exact.

That’s enough miles to make your average 50 nothing to write home about.  Oh, it’s still one of my favorite ways to spend a day.  It’s still fun and beautiful and painful and sweaty and all the rest.  It still gets my attention and makes me look for ever-better ways to prepare and care for my horse.

But it just isn’t the big deal that once it was.  It isn’t a major challenge.  It isn’t sufficiently HARD.

(Did you notice that, last year, I wrote up only one of Jammer’s six endurance rides?  Yeah.  Partly that was because I was busy playing with whitewater and backpacks and motorcycles, but it was also because there just wasn’t much to say beyond: “We had a great ride!”  Yep.  Sure did.  Next?)

I’ll tell you what’s next.  It’s what I’ve wanted from the day I first learned that endurance riding exists as an organized sport.   It’s the thing that still lures me, still scares the crap out of me, the thing I must do.

100′s.

JammerBW

Trailhead

Hello, old friends!  I am not dead.

I have been doing this (and this…and this…and this…):

Skiing Beach Backpacking2 Backpacking Moto2 Moto Halloween OldSelam Rafting Shinumo

Yeah.  Just about everything I did last year required a helmet.  Even Halloween.  I have so many helmets that I’ll soon need to buy a bigger house just to store them all.

But never mind that.  It’s almost time to gear up for the 2014 endurance season!  Jammer earned himself 310 miles during his first year in the sport.  He’s had a nice, winter break and is raring (not *quite* literally) to go for more in year two.

I have a few goals: 

1.  Survive Maji‘s first 50 — and several more!

2. Survive my first 100.  On Jammer.  A couple possiblities are staring up at me from the AERC calendar…  *GULP*

3.  Get Ripple and Incognito well started under saddle.  I may hire someone to do this so that I still have time to wear all my other helmets.

4.  Sell some more Barbs.  I know.  Heartbreak.  But it’s the right choice for everyone.  More on that later.

That’s enough.  I’ve learned not to be too specific.  You never know what’s going to happen.

So.  Grab your helmet(s) and come along for the ride.

 

This Ain’t No Lollipop! Eagle Extreme 2013

Friday morning, May 10.  I’ve taken the day off work.  Ride camp is only a hour’s drive away, but I’m ready for a little vacation and don’t want any pressure getting settled in for Jammer’s first endurance ride.  I reckon we’ll pull in early, set up camp, and spend the day basking in the sunshine while the rest of the trailers roll in.

We surely do get that sunshine!  It’s unseasonably warm for this area — close on 90 degrees, and expected to be just as hot for Saturday’s ride.  And I’ve ridden Eagle Extreme before.  It’s deceptively difficult.  Close to home, just in the foothills overlooking Boise, on the trails where many local riders condition their horses.  But close and familiar don’t mean easy.  There are some long climbs ahead.  And as I say, it’s hot.

On the bright side, Jammer is a gem in camp.  He takes in the sights calmly, eats and drinks, hollers some but doesn’t fuss.  When Karen Bumgarner arrives with her horse Blue, we set the boys up next to each other, and Jam’s world is complete.  He and Blue have only met once, but Blue and Karen are our babysitters for Jam’s first ride.  The pair of them appear to get along swimmingly.

It’s good to see old friends at the ride meeting.  I’ve been away from my sport too long!  Management backs the start time up from 7am to 6:00, out of respect for the heat.  That’s welcome news.  I’m all for saddling up by lantern light and trotting past the vet at daybreak.

Come morning, Blue is a bit doggy right out of the gate — he’s used to starting at a walk, but this vet requests a trot — but Jam is feeling frisky.  He prances along with his nostrils full, but his manners are intact and I’m not working overly hard to hold him in.  We see horses ahead on the trail, but he doesn’t rush.  Before long, a few late-starters pass us and he isn’t fazed.  Oh yeah. I’m really starting to like this horse.Jammer Eagle Extreme 5-11-13

The sun climbs.  The horses climb.  We ride up and around the cliff known for the woman who died when her husband pushed her over the edge.  Her friends put a white cross at the top, years ago.  It’s still there.  We pass it twice on the lollipop trail — the first lollipop of the day — and trot merrily back to the vet check where both horses earn all A’s.

Eat, drink, you know the drill.  Jam hasn’t done this before, but you wouldn’t know that by looking.  He’s already drinking at every opportunity, using his head, focusing on his food instead of the usual ridecamp bustle.  Yep, really starting to like this horse.

The second of the two loops features the real climb.  Up and up and up and up and up!  We trot much of it but walk some as we follow a creek bed, then a gulch, up from the sage desert to where the lupines grow.  Near the top, we take a short detour to visit a water tank that fills from a slow spring; Karen knows it from prior years, so our horses get an extra drink without having to add more than a few extra steps to the ride.  Lucky horses.  It’s really hot now.  Sunscreen stings my eyes.

Finally, we reach the top.  We’d be thrilled, except that we know what’s coming.  The long lollipop.  And I do mean long.  Lots of rolling hills of the variety that tend to slow you down unless you want to beat up your horse’s legs.  Looooooooong lollipop.  Lots and lots of rolling hills.  We ride all the way out to the Emmett highway before circling back, then have to go past the quickest route toward camp and come down the long way to add even more miles.

It’s somewhere in that last stretch that Karen exclaims, “This ain’t no lollipop — it’s an all day sucker!”

She’s right.  Boy, are we glad when we finally drop into the valley and hit the homestretch!  Jammer knows where we are and trots in strong, all day sucker notwithstanding.  Good horse.

The timers cheer us in and congratulate us on our turtle placement.  “Ummmm….”  Uh-oh.  We can’t have turtled.  We know for certain (thanks to lollipop trails) that there were riders behind us when we came into the hold.  Nobody passed us on the second loop.  Something has gone wrong.

We pull out our maps, discuss the issue with management, and figure out a likely scenario.  It appears that the three riders behind us missed a turn on the second loop, which brought them into camp too early, without having covered all the miles.  Drat.  The ride manager heads over to their trailers, where they are already unsaddled and changed into shorts, to discuss their options.

Meanwhile, Jam vets through with top marks.  His pulse is low and he looks fantastic.  The vet suggests we try for BC, but Jam’s trot-outs aren’t spectacular (training oversight, totally my fault!) so we decline.  In hindsight, maybe we shouldn’t have.  Ah, well.  Maybe next time.

Management re-appears to let us know that the mistaken riders have decided to head out again and finish the miles.  They’ll trailer out part way to save time, ride the missed section, and earn completion only.  That puts me and Karen in 8th and 9th place, with a ride time of 8:38.  It’s dang hot and I feel badly for those poor teams that have to go back out, but I’m impressed that they’ve decided to do it.  Real endurance riders do what it takes instead of throwing in the towel.

Back at our trailer, Jam drinks more water and dives into a pile of hay while we riders find a scrap of shade and some beer.  First 50 done!  It was a tough one, but Jam made it feel easy.  Yep.  Sure do like this horse!

Partner

Jammer was the last, trained gelding to sell last year from Belesemo Arabians.  He wasn’t bred on their farm, which is only 10 miles from mine, but on an Idaho ranch where he spent his youth tearing about the hills with his herd of equine hellions.  He was handled for deworming and hoof care, but not doted upon.  This, and his reserved personality, made him amenable to handling but hardly the pocket pony that is more typical of Belesemo’s stock.

He didn’t snuggle, so he didn’t sell.  Until I got a look at him.  I found him not stand-offish, but a perfect gentleman.  Big, honest, and willing.  He had the “kind eye” we all read about from Black Beauty on up.  A big, smooth stride built on old-style conformation made to win races, not halter classes.  Solid training.  Desert smarts.  The mind and physique I was looking for.  I took him home.

Fully mature and under saddle, he was ready to jump into conditioning right away, though it was too late in the year to register for any rides.  We focused on getting to know each other, laying baseline fitness that would pay off come spring.  He swallowed his workouts whol, and enthusiastically, demonstrating increased fitness every time we hit the trail.  Our longest ride last fall was around 25 miles in hills, and he came through fresh as a spring daisy.

But it wasn’t spring.  It was winter, and winter fell deep and cold.  There were days in December when the weather would have let me ride, but my heart did not.  That was a time to focus on other things, to rage and process and accept.  And so I did, and February came, and Jammer was still there in his thick, silver coat and black eyes to match his mane.  His personality warmed with the weather.  He’ll never be a “velcro horse” like Majesty or Ripple, but that wild-horse caution slowly vanished from his face.

We returned to the trail and stacked on miles.  We started with about 20 miles per week, split among two or three rides.  I moved him along faster than I would have done with a younger horse.  He was coming 8 years old, ranch raised, under saddle with regular riding for over a year.  I kept an eye on his appetite, tendons, and aspect.  Consistently 100%.  Excellent.  Over about two months, we worked up to a brisk 30-miler in the hills.

And then it was time.  We registered for a ride.

There’s more.

All this time I was getting to know Jammer, I was also getting to know Tyson.  We met on an unseasonably warm, February day.  It was one of those meetings we all have now and again — the kind in which you connect with someone on an uncommon level and sense potential beyond the average sweetheart, co-worker, friend.  It happens in all kinds of relationships, not just romantic ones, but it doesn’t happen often.  And when it does — especially when you’re both single and share all the right interests and worldviews — you pay attention.

So we’ve been busy.  Skiing.  Hiking.  Dual-sport motorcycling.  Travelling.  Hanging out on the farm.  Exploring music and food.  And taking Jammer to endurance rides.

Yes, rides.  Plural.  He’s already up to 110 AERC miles (oops — spoiler!)  and I owe y’all some stories.  Stay tuned.

Joyride

I’m baaaaaaack!

I haven’t been posting, but I have been riding, and it’s just about time to put Jammer in the trailer (along with the usual assortment of hoof boots, tack, blankets, feed, sprays, ointments, breeches, chaps, helmets, sunglasses, trail mix, propane…) and head for the hills.

We’re all set to attempt his first 50 at Eagle Extreme.  It’s a desert ride, and we’re expecting warm temperatures for this early in the season.  The horses still have a bit of winter coat hanging on, and the day is supposed to get up to mid-80′s.  That may slow us down, but it isn’t as though I was planning to burn up the trails anyway.  Not on Jam’s first time out.

I have a lot of packing to do between now and Friday, when we’ll leave for ride camp.  Preparing for an endurance ride is always a project (10-page packing list, anyone?), but this time I’m out of practice.  Can you believe I haven’t done a ride since Consolation’s last 50 at Fandango last May?  I’m just about a year — and a lifetime — out from that ride and I am way beyond excited to be back.

Excited in a quiet sort of way.  A content sort of way.  A way that has learned to be at peace in this moment, because we never know what is coming, but today there is sunrise and coffee on the north deck and horses in the pasture and people who care about us scattered all across this world.

Back in December, when there was more darkness than sun, I posted this L’Amour quote:  “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished.  That will be the beginning.”

It was true.

I knew it at the time, but it’s nice to be on the other side.

No, I haven’t been posting.  But I have been riding.  And living.  Learning.  Exploring.  I have taken up new sports (because I have time for THAT, right?) and enjoyed friends and worked hard and met someone special who can both understand my being and broaden it.

Fifty miles on the back of a horse under the Idaho sun sounds like a perfect place to contemplate it all.  To let the gratitude sink in.  Because that is what I feel.

Those mugs and hats and t-shirts have it right, you know.  Life is good.

See you on the trail!

Overflowing

A small chalkboard hangs in my kitchen.  I scribble quotes on it from time to time, bits of thought encapsulated by someone who stopped to think about what is good or right or true. 

For a while now, it has offered only two words:  Live beautifully.

Some people raise their eyebrows when they see it.  Some shift in slight discomfort, as though it were an inappropriate glimpse behind the curtain of my soul.  Most ignore it.  A few ask.

What do I mean by that?  Live beautifully. 

I mean that I choose to fill myself with all that is whole and healthful, genuine and bold, gentle and courageous and wise.  Things that build instead of break.  Exploration that brims the heart to overflowing, until I can’t help but share my gratitude with anyone, everyone, in my path.  Quietly.  Subtly.  Beautifully.

Of course I fail at this sometimes.  I am no better than anyone else.  But it matters that I try.

The best views follow the steepest climbs, my friends. 

And I am atop a mountain.

Your responses to my recent posts are part of what got me here.  They have filled.  I hope to repay you.

Maj&Jammer1-13

Bittersweet

My first job was at a small, shabby horse farm in the valley below my childhood home.  Its driveway peeled off from the corner of a gravel road lined with triple-strand hotwire paddocks, all nibbled bare and dotted with broodmares.  The barn was creaky and drafty, with packed dirt aisles and a cloth-draped radio tuned to the country station.  It smelled of shavings and Coppertox, of wool coolers and, when the wind blew west, the manure pile out back.

I remember the horses, each dished face with black globes for eyes.  Each name and star and sock and personality, even the patterns they left in the stalls I cleaned day over day for a couple years between the ages of twelve and fourteen.  I can still sing along about you and me goin’ fishin’ in the dark.  I remember the mare that colicked and made me put my foot down with my mom for the first time, because I really could not leave her to go to my piano lesson, $60 paid in advance or not.

Most of all, I remember the farm’s owner.  She was short and craggy, with cropped hair dyed black and heavy makeup that sharpened her narrow eyes nearly as much as the suspicion that always lay behind them.  I rarely saw her without bloodred lips.  The lips almost never smiled.

Her name was not Mae, but let’s pretend.

Mae had a jovial husband, round in the belly and sad behind his grin.  I saw him only occasionally, but he was always kind to me.  I marveled to see him with Mae, because the pair of them were so different.  He gentle and she harsh, he easygoing and she tense.   Terse.  Poised like a wire stretched too tight, clinging white-knuckled to her tough persona.  I wondered, even then, then if it was all she had.

She loved her horses in the way hurting people do.  In the way that says: you alone will not betray me.  You are not my daughter who grew up and moved away and never calls.  You are not the old husbands who cheated, the farmhouse falling down around my ears, the abusive parents, the unfair manager who cost me a career, the drunk driver who jabbed this endless pain into my spine.

I am guessing.  Mae never told me her story.  Not in words.  But I worked for her long enough, well enough, that she sometimes let her armor slip aside.  Beneath cowered a woman who wore Paloma Picasso and gave me a tiny bottle for Christmas.  Who sold me a colt for less than he was worth, taught me to build his hindquarters and stand him up, paid for an overnight trip to Washington where he won Reserve Champion at the big Arabian show.

She gave me tea in her cluttered living room on rainy days, rasped in her smoker’s voice over the soap operas that were the anthem of her afternoons.  She said little of substance, but the things she did not say told me her rocky exterior was only a dam of anger holding back a lifetime of tears.

I think of her in the hard times.  How quick she was to wrath, how limited her capacity for joy.  Her path, whatever came before, had left her all but devoid of any ability to trust.  I think that’s why she liked me, and perhaps her husband, too.  Our loyalty was simple.  Consistent.  It surprised her.  It was the only thing that reminded her to smile.

The thing about hard times is that they end.  Worst case scenario, they end because we’ve died.  Best case, and most common, either we or events around us shift and the trail widens and we carry on.  This is when we make our decisions:

What will we carry with us?  The pain, or the healing?   The betrayal, or the wisdom?  The longing, or the truth?  Will we come away with greater confidence than before, and with gratitude, because we have learned how strong we are?  Or will we be cut off, shut down, stolen away?

I saw Mae cry once.  Several years after I stopped working for her, I dropped by her place to deliver a framed pencil drawing I’d done of the stallion Ben Bask.  It was one of my better pieces.  I have no idea why I wanted to give it to her, except that I thought she deserved to be remembered.  To be thanked for teaching me — without knowing, through bad example — how I do not want to be.

She is probably dead now.  Resentment like hers destroys body and soul before their time.  But I am not afraid to hope (because that I what I do) that before the end she found another way, and didn’t let the winter take her after all.

RubaWinter2012web

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 104 other followers