In the Night Farm…Your Ride is Here.

Ride Stories

Shakedown Crusin’

September is still months away, but already Jam and I are fixated on our first 100.  Every ride between now and then will be a shakedown cruise — testing and adjusting everything from nutrition to hoof boots to training to tack.  Nagging physical and mental issues (horse or human) cannot be ignored.  And, there is conditioning to do.

Covering 100 miles in 2 days struck me as the most logical stepping stone between single-day 50’s and a 100-miler.  That’s exactly what I had in mind for last weekend’s Owyhee Fandango Pioneer.

Fandango is a popular ride in the Northwest Region, attracting riders from a number of western states and sometimes Canada as well.  I was surprised, last Thursday afternoon, to pull into ridecamp around 4pm and find a lot of open space still available in the lower camp.  Lucky me! I selected a level spot with an easy pull-out, knowing I’d be leaving Sunday morning while a lot of trailers remained for the final day.  I set out some buckets to save a spot for Jodie and her mustang Sonny, who rode with us at Tough Sucker and planned to do the same on Fandango Day 1.

Camp setup, registration, vet in, cold beer, ride meeting…you know the drill.  I left Jam booted but unblanketed and settled in for a desert night with lows around 50 degrees, and proceeded to sleep with frequent interruptions by the pawing of a neighboring horse.  Come morning, Jodie and I saddled up and hung back from the start.  She wanted to work on curbing Sonny’s raciness, and I certainly wasn’t eager for a repeat of the Tough Sucker bucking incident with Jam.

As it transpired, all the bending and quieting trail work I’d done with Jam between rides seemed to pay off.  Both horses started pleasantly, walking and jogging to the first creek crossing and remaining calm even when the young mare ahead of us took on the water with a spectacularly hilarious, flying leap-and-bolt maneuver.  A steep climb up to the ridge set us on our way.

Desert, desert, desert.  We trotted as much as we could along the cow trails and 4×4 roads, grateful for our hoof boots but still keeping down the speed thanks to a generous scattering of loose rock.  Many of the trails here used to feature pretty decent footing, but the last couple winters have choked up a lot of obstacles, making them tougher on hooves and demanding that we walk stretches we would otherwise have covered at a brisk clip.

Not that we were in a hurry.  Our goal for the day was to spend at least 7.5 hours on the 50-mile trail, focusing on bringing the horses’ speed down toward an average speed of about 7mph.  Good thing, since the route to the vet check took us through Sinker Canyon.

Sinker Canyon is a lovely little spot featuring repeated stream crossings, low-hanging branches, multiple gates, and a whole lot of rock.  If you care about your horse, you’re pretty much destined to walk the entire five miles.  It’s scenic down there, but I’ll be honest:  Sinker Canyon isn’t my favorite.  Too slow.  Too slow for me, and definitely too slow for Jam.  It can be hard to pass in the narrow places, and horses tend to get bunched up as they stop to drink or open gates.  Jam’s fast walk complicates matters; he really doesn’t like being smashed up in a group, especially early in a ride for which he’s more than fit.

So, Sinker was a bit stressful to begin with.  There was no need to throw in a rattlesnake.

Jodie and I rode around a corner about halfway through the canyon, feeling good about managing to stay in a small bubble between other riders, to find a crowd gathering on a narrow bit of trail leading down to yet another creek crossing.  Word floated back from those at the front:  Rattlesnake!  Right there, trapped against the cliff and rattling away.  He had nowhere to go, so urging him with long branches and tossed pebbles was useless.  Passing on the trail was obviously unwise — and even if we did, how would we warn riders to come after?  Hmm.

We were contemplating dropping off the trail’s edge and sloshing down a deep stretch of creek to bypass the snake when a rider in the back of the scrum dismounted and pushed his way forward.  Before anyone knew what he was planning, he chucked a basketball-sized rock at the snake.  Bam!  Smash!  Rattle rattle rattle.  The snake was trapped beneath the rock, doomed but still rattling.  Some cheered, others frowned.  I just worked to manage my horse (who was doing well, but starting to lose it) in the increasingly restless crowd.

Now, the riders coming behind us would be safe, but our present group still had to get around the very angry rattler.  We decided to risk the deep water rather than squeezing through the narrow spot where the snake — a good-sized one about 2 inches in diameter — still rattled away.

Jam hesitated at the edge of creek.  Leaned over the dropoff.  Lowered his head.  Snorted.  Plunged down.  We sloshed into the belly-deep water and I felt him gather as if to run, or buck, or possibly tuck his hind feet beneath himself and roll.  Oh no!  None of that, Buddy Boy!  I clapped him with my heels and we surged out the other side.  Whew.

To my relief, we finally made it through the canyon and were able to trot some on the climb up to the vet check.  Sonny took a few, extra minutes to come down to criteria.  (Not being an Arab, this is typical for him.)  Meanwhile, the vet took a look at Jam and asked “When are you going to start using him?”  It’s nice to have a lily-fresh horse 25 miles along a hot, rocky trail.

Jam ate very well and Sonny moderately.  Both drank a lot and looked great, so Jodie and I let them speed up a bit on the second loop, grateful for better footing.  We were about 10 miles from camp when Sonny hopped sideways in surprise.  The cable on one of his Renegades had snapped.  Drat.  Jodie pulled both boots off him (he was already bare in back), and thanks to lots of barefoot conditioning and those tough mustang tootsies, we made it back to camp just fine.

We cruised in at 7 hours on the nose — faster than we’d intended, but feeling as though we hadn’t rushed the horses or let them get away with pulling us down the trail unrated.  It had been a comfortably (even easily) paced day, so we were quite surprised to find ourselves in the top 10.  Sonny was a bit sore on his left hind and we knew the first place horse was well ahead of us (58 minutes, to be precise), so neither of us chose to show for BC.  Instead, we headed back to our trailers to clean up the horses, slather their legs with poultice, and ply them with feed before indulging ourselves with shorts, camp chairs, and beer.

Dusk brought a windstorm that drove up dust and hurried us into our campers, leaving our horses covered with light sheets and well supplied with hay.  Gusts swayed the camper all night, disrupting sleep, but morning dawned even warmer than the previous day.  I stripped to a single layer before mounting up.

Jam and I fell in at the back of the pack, well behind the starting horses, alongside Lynn and her Arab-Appaloosa boy Roger, who was out for his first 50.  We both wanted a slow ride — about 8 hours — and decided to see if our horses would fall in well together.  As it turned out, they got along fine, but Roger wasn’t up to Jam’s fitness level and we were soon having to slow up and wait for them at frequent intervals.   This was good training for Jam, who had some racy moments but overall rated quite well on the relatively-easy first loop, but I think he was glad to leave Roger behind at a water stop where Lynn decided to give her horse some extra time to rest and eat.  (She suspected a mild tie-up, but he turned out to be fine.)

Jam and I made decent time on the first loop, knowing that the second would be slower due to terrain.  Sure enough, Loop 2 featured some technical work including numerous crossings of steep-sided washes that involved easing down 8+ foot drops, then immediately lurching up the opposite sides.  It pays to have a level-headed horse for that kind of work.

We’d passed 6 or 8 horses during the first loop, and the riders closest behind me must have been a bit late out of the hold, because I was delighted to find Jam and myself alone in a nice, big bubble.  Once in a while, we spied other riders a mile or two ahead or behind, but for all intents and purposes, we had the trail to ourselves.  I even pulled out my phone to play some music (out loud, not through earbuds, as I like to be aware of my environment and my horse’s footfalls).

Gradually, we caught and passed the closest pair of riders, leaving them behind as we reached Hart Creek and crossed it to get to a lollipop section of trail featuring an endless sand wash.  I used the wash as an opportunity to drop my stirrups and stretch my legs.  Trotting there is a bad idea; the sand is too deep and bowed tendons are a real possibility.  So, we walked our way to firmer ground…which turned out to be not just firm, but rocky.

Good lord, was the rest of that loop rocky!  We trotted where we could, but it was rough going.  Hot.  Steep.  Windy.  Rocky.  Really hot.  Really steep.  Really windy.  Really rocky.  By the time we clambered up the knife ridge — one of my favorite parts of the Oreana rides, where the desert spills away on all sides, littered with boulders and sage, crinkled into an endless series of plateaus and ravines — even Jam was asking to stop.  Rough going, indeed.  I dismounted and walked beside him for a while.  We reached the final water stop, where he drank while I sponged his forequarters and belly.

Refreshed, Jam bounced back to his usual self for the remaining miles.  He trotted into camp with pricked ears, bright eyes, and plenty of compliments from the volunteers at the timing table.  To my immense surprise, I learned we had top-tenned again!  This time, the first-place horse had been slightly off (not enough for non-completion), so it was worth our trouble to stand for BC.

As it turned out, Jam was completely sound on his initial trot-out but displayed some shifting soreness (muscle stiffness, or, more likely, foot-weariness from all those rocks) during the BC exam, so that took BC off the table.  I wasn’t fussed.  Jam was happy, healthy, eating and drinking well, and seemed to have enjoyed his first multi-day ride.  And despite our completion time of 7:56, we’d maintained his all-top-10 record.

Even better, we successfully knocked down a few hurdles on our road to 100:

  • Jam ate his electrolytes in a mash of wheat bran and dry cob.  No syringe dosing!
  • I kept myself hydrated.  The key was wearing a 40-oz Camelbak so it’s easy to take sips even with my hands are busy controlling an energetic horse.
  • My legs remained almost pain-free, with compartment syndrome symptoms under control.  Prescription orthotics, preemptive ultrasound, anti-inflammatories, calf stretching, and a slower pace all played a role here.

What’s next?

I have an eyeball on riding 2-3 days at Strawberry Fields Forever.  It’s a 7+ hour haul down past Salt Lake, but the ride has an excellent reputation and the timing (mid-late June) is ideal.  And, I’m told there aren’t many rocks.

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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!


And Then It Rained: Fandango 2012, Day 2

Friday night, after the ride meeting, I slathered clay on Acey’s legs and went to bed.  The sky was dark with clouds.  It rained.  Though I slept well, I woke on occasion to note that it was still raining.  Near dawn, it quit.  And then, just as my alarm sounded, it began again.  The rain.

I fed the horses and myself.  It rained.  I tacked up Consolation.  It rained.  I joined Karen and Blue for the short walk to the start.  It rained.  We walked our excited horses for a bit, then mounted up and set off trotting.  In the rain.

We climbed up to the flats, where the ground stretched sodden and bleak beneath iron skies.  Wind drove heavy raindrops into the horses’ faces.  They trotted with their muzzles twisted sideways and ears alternating between forward eagerness and backward annoyance.

Blue seemed more bothered than Consolation, who cheerfully took the lead.  She was obviously delighted to be out of her pen.  We covered almost the entire first, 25-mile loop at a brisk trot, circling back for a hold in camp, where the rain had miraculously let up.

Temporarily.

50 minutes later, having changed into dry clothes and warmed our hands by the camper heater, we were headed back out.  In the rain.

It rained as we picked our way — much more slowly now — across a series of “whoop-de-woos.”  These washes, crossed perpendicular to the flow, require the horses to ease down very steep hills of a horse’s length or two, then climb immediately back up the other side.  It can be tricky at the best of times.  In the rain, or more particularly the mud, it was downright challenging.

On one uphill scramble, Blue lost his footing and went briefly to his knees while his hind feet struggled for purchase.  He recovered himself admirably while I, coming along behind, quickly redirected Consolation up an alternate path.  Still and endlessly, it rained.

Finally, we passed the whoop-de-woo section and were able to trot a little way to the creek.  It seemed like we’d been out there forever, but I knew exactly where we were and how long the loop ahead was going to be.  At least, I thought I did.

Sure enough, the ribbons led us across the creek and down a stretch of road, then back to trail and a long sand wash.  What I hadn’t counted on was the dramatic impact of all that rain.  The desert, which dries quickly when given the chance, hadn’t had sufficient relief to absorb the storm.  Her soil had turned to deep and greasy mud.

The loop suddenly looked much longer.

Trotting was out of the question, at least for those of us who cared more about our horses’ soundness than our finishing times.  The sand wash, though not slick, was much deeper than usual.  We walked it, too.  And then came the stretch of deep and cloying mud that the horses picked through in boots caked with pounds of clinging clay.  Off and on, it rained.

We re-crossed the creek and washed off a little of the clay, but plenty came with us as we splashed — trotting at last — along single track back toward camp.  As we passed the old homestead, Blue tore the gaiter off a hind boot and continued without it.  We climbed the knife ridge in biting wind.

I was dressed properly and didn’t get cold, but still I was glad to reach the final stretch of two-track before dropping down the slide to camp.  We crossed the flat in fits of trotting, pulling up frequently to march through patches slick with mud.  We dismounted to walk down the slide, then mounted up again for a triumphant trot along the last mile to the vet.

Consolation earned all A’s and appeared pleased with herself.  Despite the adverse conditions, I thought she’d taken on the ride with more enthusiasm than usual.  I’m quite sure she appreciated the fit of her new Stonewall.  The ride manager said twelve people (so far) had commented that this was the toughest 50 they’d ever done — but Consolation had made it feel pretty manageable.  There’s no question our slow, safe pace on the second loop helped.

I cleaned up my horse, plied her with blankets and feed, and even found time for a hot shower before awards.  During which, of course, it rained.


Little Horse, Big Adventure: Fandango 2012, Day 1

So.  I decided to ride Acey on Day 1.  Gotta get it overwith sometime, right?  Besides, out vet checks and two holds looked like the way to go for a first-timer with a buddy in camp.  Laurel and Buffy offered to let us join them, along with Linda and Ted, for a slow ride at the back of the pack.  Perfect.

The night before split itself between wind and rain.  I slept little enough to observe the passing storms, a victim of new-horse nerves, though I must say I wasn’t nearly as restless as I used to get.  I was confident that Acey was mentally ready for the trail itself, and that she’d eat and drink well throughout the ride.  But how would her fiery, emotional side affect her at the start?  What would happen when we reached the creek, only a mile out?  Acey is a heart-on-her-sleeve kind of horse, and she doesn’t always react calmly to new and intense experiences.

Near morning, the rain stopped.  I let myself hope for a dry start.  Alas, before my alarm went off at 5:30, the rat-a-tat tapping on the camper roof started up again.  And increased in volume.  And so, we tacked up in the rain.

I applied several wraps of duct tape to Acey’s Back Country boot gaiters, cursing the dampness that already threatened the likelihood of them staying on through mud and miles.   Acey alternately shivered and danced in place, but at least she continued grabbing mouthfuls of hay.  The chill and nerves were getting to her, and I was glad when the starters sent the bulk of the horses on down the trail.

Acey seemed fairly calm there by the trailer, so I mounted up…and quickly got off again as a glimpse of the departing herd sent her emotions skyward.  Right.  We’d start out in hand.

Along with Laurel and Linda, we headed down the road, Acey dancing and fretting at my side.  She didn’t resist leaving camp, but she was a nervous wreck and spooked dramatically when a couple other, late starters crested a small hill behind us.  We walked on and the moment she was reasonably settled, I stepped aboard and asked her immediately to trot.  All that energy needed to go somewhere, and a rational, forward pace made the most sense.

We reached the creek still jumping with nerves, but comfortably under control.  I moved Acey close behind her new friends Buffy and Ted, and (glory hallelujah!) she walked right through the knee-deep stream without batting an eyelash.  Soaked from above by falling rain, soaked from below by our saturated seat covers, but triumphant to have survived the toughest part of the ride — the start — we climbed out of the canyon and struck up a merry trot along the ridge.

Acey travelled with her ears up and eyes bright.  She managed the early climbs and descents handily, and my only worry was the frequent clopping of her boots against one another.  She doesn’t forge badly barefoot, but the too-large boots affect her breakover and I feared she would lose them, particularly in the muddy conditions.

Sure enough, we weren’t 5 miles out before we had to backtrack in search of a boot — the left front.  Or maybe it was the right front.  Either way, it constituted an inauspicious beginning — and belive you me, it was only the beginning.

We now had one boot with no tape.  I tried re-taping with a roll of duct tape from my saddle bag, but Acey was in no frame of mind to stand still.  The gaiter was hopelessly damp and sandy anyway.  I strapped it on, sans tape, and crossed my fingers.  [Note: finger-crossing is no guarantee of success.]  Somewhere around mile 7, I gave up on keeping that errant boot on Acey’s foot.  Having no room in my saddle bags because I’d filled them with water bottles, I managed to tied it to the back of my Stonewall, which wasn’t easy because BCs don’t really offer anything to tie to.  It rode there for a while until the footing got rockier and I tried putting it on again.

A few minutes later, I found myself carrying the boot.  It simply refused to stay put.  I wasn’t thrilled about sharing my hands between hoof boots and reins, but the vet check wasn’t too much farther and the footing was soft.  We’d make it.  [Ha!  Cue ominous music.]

Somewhere along the line, Linda’s horse lost one of his Gloves.

And then, as we trotted briskly across another flat stretch, the real adventure began.  Acey’s head went up and her ears went back.  Her hindquarters came up beneath me and I just had time to say “Guys, something’s really bothering her” before she bolted.  Zoom!  Up the trail we flew!  I chucked the hoof boot I was carrying and tried to rein her in.  Not a good move, apparently.  All that energy went up instead of out.  I’m told we made a rodeo spectacular as we bucked through the sagebrush, circling back toward our companions.  I stayed on…stayed on…stayed on…and came off.

I was on my feet again before I registered that I’d hit the ground.  Acey waited nearby, watching wide-eyed and bare on yet another foot.  I concluded that the boot had come off but the ring of duct tape had clung to her fetlock, causing her to spook in the first place.

We searched briefly for the missing boot, but gave up before long.  The loop was taking forever and we had a good 40 miles to go!  Now Laurel and I each carried a boot, Acey wore one, and the fourth was never to be seen again.

As we trotted on, I pondered the fact that I seemed to have landed right on the top of my head.  Neck stiffness would surely ensue.  Chiropractor, anyone?  But first, we had to get through today.  And tomorrow.  And maybe the next day as well.  All this assuming that I wasn’t forced to pull due to equipment problems.

You guessed it.  Acey lost her last boot before we reached the check.  Linda carried it for us.  At least it had stopped raining.

And, we were having fun.  Really.  Because we’re crazy like that.

Acey blew through the vetting with all A’s.  I strapped two of her surviving boots onto her front feet and got the vet’s approval to continue with bare hinds.  (Thankfully, he has a mustang mare very similar to Acey and understood that despite the rocky trail ahead, we had a good chance of being fine.)

Sure enough, the second, 25-mile loop went off without a hitch.  Halfway around, black clouds rolled over to drench us with rain and pelt us with hail, but the storm passed on a rush of wind and we arrived at the next hold with reasonably dry clothes and happy horses.  Acey again vetted with all A’s except a B for gut sounds, which I knew would rekindle as soon as she had a chance to dig into some much-desired feed.  Indeed, she ate and drank well and continued to look content and eager to move on.

Only 12.5 miles to go.  Home free, right?

Sure…until we mounted up and started walking out of the vet check, and someone lifted a big water tub directly behind Acey.  It wasn’t too close behind her — the person didn’t do anything stupid — but Acey’s ranch-raised brain isn’t used to all that human activity.  A replay ensued.  Bolt, attempt to pull up, buck.  Stay on…stay on…stay on…come off.

This time, I landed on my back.  Again, I hopped up and back astride before Acey seemed to realize what had happened.  She was still shaking and water tubs were still being loaded, though, so I got back off and led her a short way down the trail before mounting up again.

Yeeeeesh.

I’m pleased to report that the rest of the last loop went fine.  No more lost boots, no more spooks, no more unscheduled dismounts.  Linda kindly kept Ted an extra distance back, since Acey was a bit shaken, and we’d picked up a junior at the hold because her sponsor was pulled.  As we rode, I had time to ponder the connections between Acey’s spooks — always something from behind, always a bolt followed by major bucks when reined in.  I formed my theory about the bucking be a panic reaction to being constrained.  I began planning to teach her a single-rein stop, and decided that if she bolted again, I would let her run a bit if possible and pull her up with pulsing instead of firm reins.

We all returned to camp in good spirits.  Acey’s energy remained high and she earned all A’s again, though I could tell by a hint of unevenness in her gait that she was finally getting tired.  I couldn’t blame her!  It was after 6:00 and she’d never travelled anywhere near that far before.  All things considered, I was downright proud her.  All day long, she was nothing if not game.  She covered almost the entire ride, including the rocky 2nd loop, barefoot in back, and never took a bad step.

Best of all, she had fun.

So we have a couple issues to work through — hoof protection, behavior when spooked, excessive nervous energy in camp — but, all things considered, my hopes for the wee little firecracker are higher than ever.


Pre-Launch: Owyhee Fandango 2012

Well, we’re back from Fandango, and nobody died.  As a bonus, we had a good time not-dying.  We also learned some useful and  challenging things about Acey.  But wait.  Shall we begin at the beginning?

On Thursday morning, Acey loaded right up behind Consolation.  I threw a couple bales of hay in behind her and off we went, down Highway 26 to the cutoff toward Wilder.  Rain spattered the windshield as I drove.  In the distance, stone-gray clouds lay thick over the canyonlands.  Wind buffeted us as we wound along the 2.5 hour drive.  I pulled over a couple times and hopped out to make sure Acey, who is sometimes tense during travel, was maintaining her composure.  She was.

The sky split as we pulled into camp.  Spatters became deluge, then hail.  I tested a couple parking spots, looking for somewhere level, not too far from the vetting area, not too crowded, and with plenty of space for Karen Bumgarner to join us with her two horses that evening.  I settled on a spot sheltered by creekside trees, hunkered under the rain as I placed the blocks to level the camper, and spun the tires a little in fresh mud climbing up onto them.

I set up the panel pens in a reduced drizzle, thorougly soaking my boots in the process.  The girls unloaded nicely, if impatiently.  I put Acey in the pen that was anchored directly to the trailer, rather than the second pen that was anchored to the first, just in case she decided to throw a fit.  She circled the area a few times, tossing her mane and pausing to test the variety of semi-edible weeds, antsy but not crazed.  So far, so good.

Overhead, the sky cleared and the wind began drying things out as I set up housekeeping for myself and the horses.  Acey remained unsettled, but not too unsettled to eat and drink — nothing like as bad as Aaruba used to be.  (You longtime readers will recall how he’d fling himself back and forth, clattering against the panels, never relaxing until nightfall.  Ugh.)  I pondered saddling her up for a little test ride across the creek, to see how she’d handle the water crossing, but decided not to given the restless weather and her state of mind.  Better to face it in the company of other horses.

Instead, I led Consolation down to the creek to stretch her legs and check out the water level.  I was pleased to find it lower than I would have expected after the week’s weather.  Consolation, however, was plenty high.  She bounced around and hollered for Acey, who circled and screamed in agitation until we returned.  Grrrr.  This is why I really don’t like taking two horses to a ride.  But, it was no worse than I’d anticipated.  A pain for sure, but not a real problem.

During the afternoon, I watched part of the Easycare booting demo, standing in the transient sunlight to let my Ariats dry.  Kevin and company were showing how to glue on boots.  Interesting…good to know… but what a process!  I think I’ll stick to Gloves, thanks, as long as they’re working fine for 50’s.

Meanwhile, I pondered my game plan.  I had intended to ride Consolation on Day 1 and Acey on Day 2, leaving open the possiblilty of riding Consolation again on Day 3.  However, Acey’s level of agitation made me reconsider.  Perhaps she would be better served by blowing off some steam early instead of waiting in a pen for a whole day.  Plus, the Day 1 vet checks were out of camp so we wouldn’t have to deal with buddy issues at every hold, and there were two holds scheduled instead of just the one planned for Day 2.  Given her fitness level — which was on the low side of where I’d want to attempt a 50 — the extra rest time would be a good thing.

The obvious downside was that if I put Consolation off until Day 2, it was less likely she’d be up for a second go on Day 3.  On the other hand, that was a doubtful plan to begin with, and Karen had offered the possiblity of riding her backup horse Blue on Sunday if Consolation wasn’t up for it.  Hmm.

By the time evening came around, I’d decided.  I would saddle Acey up for Day 1.  Scary thought.  Exciting thought.  Plenty of thought to keep my mind busy as I tried to sleep beneath the camper shell hammered by periodic bouts of wind and rain…

I had a feeling Acey’s first ride would be more, ahem, memorable than Consolation’s.

Spoiler alert:  I was right.


Hold

Our season has run out of rides.

The last was a two-day in the canyonlands beyond Oreana, where about 30 of us Hallowed Weenies braved chill mornings to trot the trails a final time before tucking ourselves in beneath the coming snow.

The first day took us 55 miles under cloudy skies, with just the barest hint of rain on our first loop.  I rode with Karen Bumgarner and Thunder, and Laurel and her off-track, roan mare, Buffy.  The first loop was reasonably fast and uneventful…except when Thunder’s offside hind plummeted down an unseen hole, throwing him nearly to his knees as he struggled to remain upright.  After a few, tense minutes, we judged him sound.

He stayed that way through the endless second loop, which carried us for miles up a wash plagued with gnats.  Deep sand and exposed rock prevented trotting, and the obviously thirsty mares refused to drink amid the bugs.  We crashed through brush so thick we couldn’t see the trail, depending on ribbons strung from branches to help us find our way.  Sometimes, we could scarcely see for squinting and waving our hands to fend off gnats. 

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At long last, we climbed back to the rim and trotted again, found water, escaped most of the bugs.  We wound past the wind caves, whose eerie hollows carved by the elements play like flutes in a stiff breeze.  Then it was back up the rocky, sandy wash to the vet check, and back along the morning’s route to camp.

I didn’t sleep my best that night.  Though Thunder had finished completely sound, he had a small, unsual area of swelling on his off hind.  Karen made the obvious decision: He’s fine now, but he may not be after another 50 miles.  Not goin’ tomorrow.  Meanwhile, Laurel was going to stick in camp and volunteer becasue Buffy wasn’t ready for multi-days yet.  Consolation and I were on our own.

This wasn’t a novel concept.  We condition alone most of the time.  Consolation’s first several endurance rides were completed solo, or with whatever miscellaneous company we happened to join on the trail.  But this year, got into quite a habit of riding with Karen and Thunder or Blue.  Consolation and Thunder, in particular, have kindled their own little romance.  And while Consolation seemed finally to have discovered her ability to maintain a decent pace, I remembered how draggy she could be on her own…and, on the flip side, how racy.  How much of a battle might the morrow be?

These were the thoughts that tumbled through my head all night, as my camper heater clicked on and off and the temperature outside dropped just to freezing.  Come morning, I cooked some chicken and peppers and eggs, pulled on several layers of fleece, and stepped out to see what would happen.

…And Consolation was an angel.  She left Thunder in camp with little protest and a solitary neigh.  She covered the trail with enthusiasm despite putting in a few extra miles, thanks to a wrong turn.  We had intermittent company on the first of two loops, but rode the second entirely alone, spotting other riders only twice and at a considerable distance.  She ate and drank and jogged back into camp around 4:30 to claim 5th place.  And I’d thought we were nearly last!  (Not that this particular 5th place was impressive; there were only 16 starts — 12 completions — and the winners finished so far ahead of us that we didn’t bother showing for BC.  But still.)

And now, we are home again.  Weekends are slow and still.  I drink coffee from completion-award mugs and mull over the good times.

I marvel at how far we’ve come.  (Remember the days when all my Barbs were too wild to touch?  When illness and injury seemed to block Aaruba and me at every turn?  When training wasn’t going well and Consolation was NQR and relationships were cracking and money was tight?)  And yet, the Halloween ride tipped me over the 1,000 AERC mile mark.  Consolation is at 825. 

Yes, I marvel at how far we’ve come…and even more at how far I still want to go.

But for now, our dawns bring a wreath of frost for every fencepost, every blade of grass, even the fetlocks of sleeping horses.  I hunch my shoulders and watch the cloud of my breath as I trudge out to feed.  I am greeted with nickers, eyes dark and bright in wooley faces, the hollow ring of hooves on frozen ground.

This is resting time.  Consolation will have a month to eat, relax, and play before returning to enough work to keep her reasonably fit for 2012.  I have a couple projects in mind for us — ones we can work on even in winter conditions that sometimes render trotting unwise.

Yes, we have come far, and we have far to go.  This year, we found our way to multi-days at last, and we joined in the area’s last ride for the first time.  Perhaps, next year, we’ll extend a little more to include the first rides of spring.

But not today.  Today, we loosen our cinches and enjoy the hold.


Rock My World: Owyhee Canyonlands 2011, Day 2

Okay, I’m a couple weeks late getting this story up, but bear with me — there’s a surprise at the end. 

Thinking back…

Day 2 was a Wednesday.  It dawned warm enough that light, long sleeves plus a fleece vest were plenty.  I saddled Consolation for her first ride of the week, while Karen prepared Thunder for his second.  We started behind the herd as usual, and at first it seemed we’d have a smooth beginning.  BUT…

We were barely out of sight of camp when Consolation began acting strangely.  She refused to trot.  Lashed her tail.  Tossed her head repeatedly and violently to the right, nearly hitting my knee.  Threatened to buck.

Oh.  Crap.

Was she tying up?  Was her tack pinching?  Was she colicky?  Crampy?  Just plain bitchy?

I dismounted twice, uncinching, checking boots, and re-adjusting her saddle pad.  I tested her hindquarters for cramps, observed her expression and flank for signs of distress.  Nothing.  Karen couldn’t see anything either.  Nothing but odd behavior with no apparent cause.  Walking seemed okay, but trotting aggrivated her — any trotting, but particularly downhill.  We tried sending Thunder ahead as motivation.  Nothing doing.

So, we walked on for a mile or so, hoping that whatever the problem was would work itself out.  When we  came to the first uphill, I asked for a trot again, and Consolation agreed to move out.  She still felt a bit sticky, but the head tossing and tail-lashing had abated.  Her respiration and gait seemed quite normal.  We carried on.

Over the first five miles or so, Consolation gradually relaxed.  The strange behavior resurfaced a few times, but grew milder and then disappeared.  All we could figure was that she had a few hairs sideways and decided to be marish about it.  Perhaps all she needed was a bit of sweat under her saddle.

The trail led across the desert, dropping into a small canyon whose terrain slowed us for the last mile into the first vet check.  Though we’d only gone about 12 miles, Consolation was very interested in grabbing weeds to munch as we picked our way along.  She isn’t normally that hungry so early in a ride.  I speculated that the last night’s windstorm has interrupted her eating, maybe even made her a touch belly-achy from stress.  In any case, she seemed fine — just hungry.

Ironman met us at the hold, where Consolation received an unusual B on gut sounds but proceeded to eat and drink well.  Half an hour later, he waved as both horses trotted briskly out of the check, headed for a 25-mile loop known for very rocky footing and a horny jackass. 

(Yes, I did say a horny jackass.  We’ll get to that.)

The reports of rocks were not exaggerated.  Karen and I took the loop slowly, not willing to risk our horses’ soundness on the rough footing.  Those 25 miles took nearly 4 hours, but they were scenic, the weather pleasant, and the conversation engaging.  We climbed into sage and juniper country (which made me sneeze), dropped down to Crazy Woman mine, and passed an amazing stone corral.

Somewhere down there, a gigantic, horned owl flew up and Consolation spooked so hard she jumped right out of a hind boot.  I barely talked her out of a buck-and-bolt as the boot flapped by its gaiter, but managed to dismount safely and re-install it…just in time to climb the hill to our next adventure:  The Horny Jackass.

He’s a legend.  Everyone at the Owyhee rides knows about him.  He runs with a pair of wild bachelors, and earned his name for his aggressivly amorous behavior toward passing horses.  Horses under saddle.  Horses on endurance rides. 

We hoped not to see him (despite wanting a look at his wild herdmates), but you know what’s coming…  We followed the ribbons toward a fenceline above the stone corral, glad to be trotting again after all those rocks, and then we spotted them — the two horses and the Horny Jackass — right smack in the trail ahead!

Uh-oh.

Karen opened the gate through the fence while I gathered a handful of rocks in case we needed to defend our horses’ honor.  (Do I look like I need a Barb mule??)  We debated whether leading or riding would be better, and opted for leading.  We scooted away from the trail, giving the Horny Jackass a wide birth.  He followed us with eyes and ears, but kept his hooves planted.  Whew! 

On we went, and on, and on…

Back at the vet check, Ironman told us that the frontrunner’s gelding had had a rather personal encounter with the Horny Jackass.  Fortunately, no one was hurt (except, perhaps, the Jackass’ ego). 

Consolation’s gut sounds were  back to an A, her behavior was completely normal, and all was well as we set out for our final 12 miles back to camp, where we finished in the back third of the pack, which was just fine with us, especially since Karen had her sights on riding Thunder all 5 days.

 

We vetted through in fine form, and then began the preparation for the following day.  No rest for the wicked!  Administer electrolytes, untack, clean boots, hose down, soak beet pulp, restock saddle bags…   Finally, Ironman grabbed a couple beers and we led Consolation over to the grass to graze while watching the last riders come in. 

Half an hour later, I suggested we take Consolation back to the trailer so I could put clay on her legs and shower before dinner.  Ironman agreed, but said we should take the long way back, around the upper drive instead of through camp.

But why?  The other way is shorter! 

Oh, c’mon.  It’s a nicer walk.

Well, okay.

So we went the long way.  But Consolation was hungry, eager to get back to her hay.  Halfway around the drive, I turned her for a shortcut to the trailer.  Behind me, Ironman said, “Wait.”

I pivoted.  And he was kneeling on the gravel.  With a ring.

The details are my secret.  Suffice it to say that as I walked back to the trailer under a warm, evening sun, I had a good man in one hand and a good horse in the other.  That seemed just about right to me.


The First of Many! Owyhee Canyonlands 2011, Day 1

Dawn in the autumn canyonlands is dark, brisk, tinged with dust, filled with the rustle of riders sharing coffee and mixing feed.  Occasional whinnies send small thrills down our spines.  We are here.  It is time.  In two hours, the first of five endurance rides will begin.

I arrived in the Owyhees with the intention of riding three days and volunteering two.  Day 1’s trail ran along the Snake River, whose buggy, fishy shores have always failed to coax Consolation to drink.  With the only other water being at a vet check at 15 miles — just on the cusp of when Consolation typically starts drinking — I decided not to risk it.  I’d volunteer with Ironman on Day 1, and start riding on Day 2.

But then, my friend Karen Bumgarner offered her horse Blue, the sweet, 8-year-old Arabian with whom Consolation and I rode at Cheap Thrills.  I debated briefly — the money, the threat of worse back pain later in the week — but decided not to pass it up.  And so, dawn found us warming up Z Blue Lightning and Z Summer Thunder, who was staring down the 2,000 AERC mile mark.

We started as the frontrunners clattered out of sight, preferring to keep our horses quiet and relatively slow.  A long week lay ahead; no sense burning too much wick too soon.  Content to be in each other’s company, Blue and Thunder set out earnestly and carried on all day.  An easy trail — particularly by comparison to the mountain rides at Pink Flamingo and Old Selam — carried us across the desert to a vet check, where Ironman took a break from vet scribing to hold the horses while Karen and I set about refueling ourselves and our mounts.

As the four of us munched, it became clear that a large number of riders who should have been ahead of us, weren’t.  It seems that, just half a mile and one hill from the vet check, about 15 riders had taken a turn that was supposed to wait until after the hold.  Management was just re-marking the section when Karen and I came through, but the error cost the frontrunners quite a few miles — up to 14, from what I gathered.  Ouch.

Loop 2 took us 25 miles out to and along the Snake, which is broad and glassy between sage-dotted banks rising in places to dramatic canyon walls.  On our way to the river, we trotted one of my favorite stretches of Owyhee trail, a winding arroyo with steep sides and sandy footing.  (We rode it again on Day 5, which is when I took this photo — that’s Consolation’s mane in the foreground, not Blue’s.)

The horses felt strong and the day, though hotter than usual for the Owyhees in late September, relatively pleasant.  We breezed back to the vet check for our second hold before we knew it, and had only 12.5 miles more to get home.  Blue covered them easily, even sharing a little of his wonderful canter with me, and had already pulsed down when we arrived at the finish.  Thunder — now a 2,000 mile horse — looked like he’d hardly been out out for a stroll.

Day 1 down!  We untacked, washed Easyboots and horses, grazed the boys for a bit, reassembled our tack and crew bags for the next day, and managed to squeeze in showers for ourselves.  Blue Canoe served dinner, the talk of ridecamp at dinner was the Great Getting-Lost episode, and for completion awards, Steph Teeter handed out magnets with little Owyhee ride scenes she’d drawn.  At last, we crawled into bed (hooray for the new camper!) and let our weary bodies pull or whirring minds toward sleep.

Morning would come soon, and with it, 50 miles more.


Happy Place: Old Selam 2011

You know, I think I’m starting to get the hang of this.  Consolation.  Training.  Endurance.  Relationships.  Life.  Everything. 

Okay, okay, so I’m in a happy place.  Happy places don’t last forever, but they sure are nice.  And as Karen Bumgarner and I observed while scampering down another hundred miles of trail at Old Selam last weekend, a big part of being in a happy place is choosing to make the place in which you are, happy. 

So I’m nesting my place with happy.  Throwing rugs on the floors, putting pictures on the walls.  Settling in to enjoy the ride.

Speaking of rides, and happy places, Old Selam was pretty darn nice.  As always, it was friendly (mostly…I can’t deny that the community does have its cliques and politics, but I prefer to just do my thing and steer around that crap) and scenic and crowned with lovely weather.

Well, the mornings were cold.  Very cold.  I stayed warm in my sleeping bag with the help of some super-cool, military surplus heating pads I found at Boise Army Navy, but there was frost on the grass when I stepped outside.  I’d blanketed Consolation and left a sheet dangling over her rump while I saddled up, but she was shivering when we stepped out of her little corral for a warm-up walk. 

By the time I mounted, Consolation (who’d packed her good-girl attitude and stood pleasantly still, unlike at Cheap Thrills) seemed comfortable, but my fingers ached inside my gloves.  The hip I injured back in January registered its displeasure, too.  I rode up and down through ride camp, trying to loosen both of us up while letting the frontrunners take off down the trail.

Karen joined us on Thunder and we were about to start when a gray mule wearing a red blanket…and nothing else…streaked up the trail.  It was Reba on the loose, following the herd!  “Uh-oh,” Karen said.  Yeah.  If that loose mule caught up with all those excited horses, things could get ugly.  She didn’t, though.  A group of riders managed to coax here back to her trailer, still loose but content to be in a herd, and Karen and I finally headed away.

The first loops was long (about 27 miles) and beautiful, with plenty of water and new trail.  Another rider, Dennis Zatteiro, who Karen remembered from back in his junior days, joined us early on.  He and his lovely gelding, Rico, made for pleasant company as the sun rose and warmed us up at last.

But something was bothering Consolation.  A lot.  Every time we started downhill, especially trotting but even at a walk, she tossed her head and twisted her neck, slashed her tail, and stomped her hind legs as though being harassed by insects.  There didn’t seem to be any insects, though…unless you count the one that stung Thunder and sent him into a momentary frenzy, poor guy. 

Thunder recovered quickly, but Consolation didn’t.  At one point, I dismounted on a steep, rutted downgrade because she was so distracted I feared she’d fall on me.  I checked her over but couldn’t find anything wrong.  I searched my memory for incidents of similar behavior.  Nothing.

That was when I began to suspect the No-Wicky pad.  She’d seemed fine with it on the conditioning trail, but we weren’t going as far or fast or steep.   Perhaps, when moving downhill, the rough material pulled her hair.  That would certainly irritate me!  As soon as we vetted through at the hold (all A’s), I pulled that pad off and left just the latch weave wool pad I know she likes.

Problem solved.  Consolation’s behavior returned to normal on the second loop, which was great fun — especially because my back scarcely hurt as we trotted up the hills and down again.  Hooray for Feldenkrais!  (Yes, I did as promised and spent an hour on the floor of my trailer the afternoon before the ride, working through a complete lesson.  I also did a 5-minute mini-lesson during the hold.)

We finished in 7:18 with all A’s and the vet’s approval to go again the next day.  Ride management gave us “I’d Rather be Riding” sun shields for our car windshields as completion awards, then we hustled off to put our horses’ boots on in preparation for Day 2.

The second 50 was split into 3 loops and didn’t start until 7:30, plus we rode a little slower (7:46 ride time), all of which added up to a longer day on Sunday.  The trails were just as beautiful, but the second loop (23 miles) was a rough one for me.  My lower back seemed to have gotten over its enthusiasm of the day before, despite another Feldenkrais lesson.  Pain, pain, pain!  Even dropping my heels a little sent a jolt all the way up through my shoulders.  It was all I could do not to let it affect my riding, for Consolation’s sake.

During the second hold, I followed a rather instinctive thought and discovered that sitting Indian style on a hard surface, allowing my back to slouch, provided the stretch and relaxation those stiff muscles needed.  I leaned forward, then to each side, allowing my back to relax into the stretch for several minutes.  And voila!  The final loop was much less painful.

I still need to work on the solution to the back pain issue.  Perhaps there are some conditioning exercises I can do to better prepare.  Maybe between Consolation and Acey, I can do enough downhill trotting to prepare my body without beating up theirs?  I also need to keep up with Feldenkrais and flexibility work between rides — after all, these are things that provide the most benefit over the long term.

Anyway, we’re back home now.  A week out from the ride, Consolation looks fantastic.  We’re all set to ride several days at Owyhee Canyonlands, which starts on the 27th in Oreana.  I’ve taken delivery of 8 tons of beautiful hay from Oregon, which I now need to go outside and stack.  I bought a new toy that I’ll share with you all shortly.  This morning smells lightly of autumn.

And I am happy.


Take Two

The good thing about a promotion is that you make more money.  The bad thing is that you have less time for unpaid effort, like blogging.  The good news is that I’ve been keeping up on riding and training.  The bad news is that I haven’t written about it.  The upshot is that I’m now in for a memory test as I try to tell my Pink Flamingo Classic ride story…

*dream haze effect*

Once upon a time, about a month ago, I loaded Consolation in the trailer.  We headed up a winding highway alongside the roaring Payette River, toward the mountain meadow that would serve as base camp for our first attempt at two, back-to-back, 50-mile endurance rides.  We left around 9:00 am Friday, hoping to beat the weekend crazies that are all too common along the high-use road to a variety of recreational destinations.  As it turned out, construction work slowed everyone down (even the yahoos), and we pulled safely past a herd of pink flamingos and into ride camp around noon. 

Many trailers had arrived the day before, but plenty more pulled in throughout the afternoon.  The gentleman who claimed the patch of meadow next to mine and Consolation’s, set to ride the Saturday 50 on his Tennesse Walker, turned out to be excellent company.   Not only that, but his wife co-owns a new feedstore that popped up near In the Night Farm recently — and the other owner is very involved with raising Blazer horses in the next town over.  I haven’t needed to buy any feed yet, but when I do, I’ll stop by their place for a good chat!

Sometime between camp setup and the Dutch oven dinner provided by ride management, a small plane swooped overhead and dumped a load of inflatable flamingos.  I wasn’t quick enough to get my camera, but I assure you it was an entertaining sight.  Speaking of my camera, I hardy got it out at all over the Pink Flamingo weekend.  (Guilt, guilt, guilt!)  I offer instead this photo, taken last weekend by Karen Bumgarner during a ride at Snively Hot Springs.  The terrain couldn’t have been different from that at Pink, though, where mountain meadows, towering evergreens, and sweeping forest vistas stretched in all directions.

Anyway, the evening before Pink Day One passed quickly enough despite a late start on the ride meeting.  I set my alarm for 5:15 am and settled onto my cot in the horse trailer, smiling to the sound of Consolation’s munching as I drifted into sleep.

Come morning, Consolation was peaceful no more.  She was cold-backed (normal for her) and jumpy, and could hardly stand still for tacking up.  Was I ever grateful to have booted her (with knee-high nylons under the Gloves, to prevent gaiter rubbing over the two days) the night before!  Recalling her run-and-buck attempt when I mounted up at Cheap Thrills, I recruited a volunteer to hold her head while I stepped aboard. 

I met Karen Bumgarner at her trailer, where we waited for the herd to charge away before approaching the start.  Our horses were eager but under control, and a long uphill stretch took some starch out of their britches.  It also led to some truly spectacular views of the mountains and lakes.  We rode and rode and rode, uphill and down and around.  The ride was to be completed in two, 25(ish)-mile loops with an hour’s hold between — not an arrangement I’d tried before, having always been to rides with 3 loops and 2 holds, but one I found quite pleasant. 

Sometime on the first loop, we rounded a corner just as two deer leaped across the trail.  Consolation slammed on the brakes and I make a quick visit to her neck (oops), but everyone survived.  We descended into camp and breezed through the vet check.  Consolation ate moderately, as is typical for her at first holds, though I must say I wished I could explain to her that she wouldn’t get a second hold this time!  It didn’t matter, though.  She and Thunder both grazed well along the trail throughout the second loop, and we completed with all A’s.  Halfway done!

Back at my trailer, between chugging coconut water and cracking open a celebratory beer, I noticed that my inner thighs were quite swollen, apparently from rubbing against the wool seat pad I’d put on my Stonewall.  Hmm.  Sore No More and Advil were all I had to hand, and I used both liberally in the hope that I wouldn’t suffer much the next day.

As it turned out, my bruised thighs were a non-issue.  My lower back, on the other hand, was painfully tight on Day Two.  I only felt it only when trotting downhill…which would have been okay if there hadn’t been so much downhill to cover!  There was nothing to do but suck it up despite the gasping pain, make sure I didn’t sacrifice the support I gave Consolation, and plot how to avoid the problem next time.  But man, did it hurt!  (A month later, despite regular Feldenkrais work, those muscles still feel a bit tight.  Egads.)

Consolation, on the other hand, was fine.  She plowed through another pair of long loops without a hitch.  The only difference from her usual performance was that she drank earlier and ate more, which made me very happy.  Oh yes — she also stopped her marish snarking at Thunder and instead took to hollering for him whenever he left her sight.  Upon finishing (again with all A’s — huzzah!), she watched doe-eyed as Karen led him away…and then, another chestnut with a blaze approached from the other direction.  Consolation turned her whole head back and forth, one red horse to the other.  Which one was Lover Boy???  Ha ha ha.

Anyway, she looked so good that I decided to pack up while she rested for a few hours, and we headed home that night.  She stepped off the trailer in fine form, and proceeded to visibly inflate overnight on a buffet of hay and water.  Over the next few weeks, she filled out even more.  She looks like a bodybuilder now:  smooth-muscled, sleek, and powerful.   Excess energy fairly rolls off her.  We need another hundred miles of trail.

Good thing it’s time for Old Selam.

Tomorrow morning, we’ll set out for a different set of Idaho mountains, where we’ll attempt a repeat performance.  Two more days, two more 50’s!  And assuming we finish at least 1 day, Consolation will exceed the 500 AERC mile mark.  Sure, it’s little milestone, but it’s still kinda cool.  🙂

I do have a plan for mitigating low back pain, by the way:  1)  Continue focusing on riding without an arched back.  2)  Do Feldenkrais lessons the evening before each ride, including between rides.  I am taking my laptop to Old Selam for the express purpose of playing Feldenkaris MP3s.  (Yes, I should get an iPod.  But I am cheap.)  3)  Get off and run more of the downhills.  4)  Advil and Sore No More.  5)  Vicodin.  <–  Just kidding.  Probably. 

Wish us luck!

_________________________

Tack notes:  The saddle fitting issues we were working on earlier in the year have resolved as Consolation filled out.  Her latch weave wool pad continues to perform spectacularly.  These pads are also gorgeous.  You can get one here

I’ve recently added a thin, No-Wicky pad that Jackie Fenaroli with Stonewall sent my way for testing.  The No-Wicky goes between the horse and the wool pad, allowing sweat and dirt to run off rather than soaking into the pad.  At first, I wondered if it would be too scratchy, but when thin-skinned Acey consistently performed well under it, I decided to try it with Consolation.  Sure enough, she moves beautifully with the No-Wicky/Latch Weave combo. 

Meanwhile, we’re still using our beloved Stonewall saddle, roper cinch, Indian bosal from Crazy Ropes, and Easyboot Gloves.  If only I could get Acey’s hoofboot situation resolved, I’d be all set for both horses!