In the Night Farm…Your Ride is Here.

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Still

May 29, 2014. That was the last time I posted.

I’m still here at In the Night Farm. Still riding. Still writing, though more often in my head than on the interwebs. Still training some, but riding more. Still exploring the world in hiking boots and rafts, on skis and rappel.

May 29, 2014. Since then, Jammer and I have completed nearly 1,000 competition miles, bringing his AERC total up to 1,420. I’ve also done a handful of rides on other horses, including Maji (KS Bold Rusha Rain) and HHR Levjis Sualowa, a chestnut mare related to Jammer.

We’ve won a ride and a few BC’s, top-tenned more often than not…and completed our first 100. And our second 100.

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My only regret is that, despite many gains, I have lost the time for regular blog updates. I thought of you all, out there on the 100-mile trails. Some of you were there from the beginning, when I had a farm full of untrained horses and a whole lot of will and a distant goal. A distance goal. The 100.

I’ll tell you a secret: It wasn’t as hard as I expected. We did the 100 at Sunriver Classic last June, then Oregon 100 in September. I may not have loved every minute of every mile, but I came damn close.

And I still want more.

Jammer and I have our eyes on the Mount Adams 100, which is coming up in just a few weeks. But our real goal for this year is the iconic Bighorn 100. A mountainous, big-loop 100 (with no returns to camp until the finish), Bighorn is reputed to be as beautiful and challenging as Tevis.

Speaking of Tevis: It scares the crap out of me. But still…

If anyone is still out there…stay tuned.  I’m considering opening a new blog with a broader scope, wrapping in my other outdoor adventures along with endurance. What do you think?

 

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Trial Run

I have a tendency to get caught up in rides.  It’s not race brain.  I don’t over-ride my horse in the hope of getting ahead.  I just get busy.  Focused.  Too busy to spend a few seconds testing a theory.

Well.  I need to get over that, because there are things I need to know before I enter Jam in our first 100.  In order to know them, I must test them.  Home testing can only go so far.  Sometimes, you have to experiment with what a particular horse will do at a ride.

For example:

Snacking.  I need to figure out what Jam will eat along the trail when there’s no forage.  Commercial horse cookies are out; he won’t eat those even at home.  What about grain?  Alfalfa pellets or cubes (at water stops), which he’ll eat out of his tub at home?  Please tell me I don’t need to carry a backpack full of hay.  We’re going to try alfalfa-oat cubes on Saturday.

Electrolytes.  So far, I haven’t managed to get Jam to eat electrolytes at a ride, so I always end up syringe-dosing, which he hates.  I’d love to find a less stressful and messy method.  He isn’t a big mash fan (bran or beet pulp), but I have discovered that he’ll eat slightly-moistened, unsweetened COB with half a dose of Quench per pound…at home.  This weekend, I plan to find out whether he’ll do the same during a ride.  I suspect not, but it’s worth a try.  If that doesn’t work, Plan B is to pick up a bucket of Perform N Win, which a recent discussion on the AERC Facebook page indicates is sweet and preferred by many horses.

Plain old calories.  At rides, Jam prefers hay and grass.  This is all well and good for a 50, but I suspect he’ll handle 100 miles better if I can get some concentrates into him.  He really likes dry COB (sans electrolytes) at home, so I’m hoping that will carry over to rides.  We’ll try that on Saturday.

And then there’s me.  I need to get better at sipping water on the trail.  I bought a little-bitty (40 oz) Camelbak at Backcountry Pursuit (shameless plug for you Boise-area readers!) for skiing and riding.  I haven’t actually tried riding in it yet, but I suspect that having  a bite valve right there at my shoulder will help.  I might test this on Saturday, but we’re in for stormy weather so there’s a good chance that particular experiment will have to wait for Fandango next month.

Okay, all.  I have my marching orders.  Hold me to it.

 

 


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!


Announcement

I have been shopping.

During my long summer of painful indecision, I stocked up the cash I would have spent on rides, with vague thoughts of purchasing a horse.  Though I hadn’t yet chosen the path of selling some Barbs and buying some Arabians, the handwriting was on the wall.  I just didn’t want to read it yet.

It’s not that Barbs can’t do endurance, of course.  I’ve logged almost 1,000 AERC miles on them and never had one pulled.  They can finish just fine.  They typically have good minds and strong bodies, though some individuals are superior to others, just as with any other breed.  But let’s face it:  if you to do really well in endurance, your chances are best if you have an Arabian between you and the ground.

So I kept an eye out.  Casually at first, then more aggressively.  I began sending queries on ads for likely candidates.  I asked experienced endurance friends who know a lot of people and have good eyes for horses to keep their ears to the ground.

Here was my shopping list:

  • Gelding
  • Arab or mostly-Arab cross
  • Raised with plenty of varied terrain on which to roam, with proper health and hoof care
  • 4-7 years old, well started under saddle (because goodness knows I have enough training to do already)  Maybe even a slow 50 or two under his girth, for conditioning.
  • Big, clean bone and straight legs
  • Excellent feet, preferably black (not so much for the hooves themselves, but to reduce the risk of developing scratches)
  • Efficient stride that is smooth and easy to ride
  • Naturally fast walk (this one was a big deal for me, having dealt with Consolation’s amble)
  • Firmly installed brain that can think through problems and has a high flight threshhold
  • Good ground manners and laid-back personality
  • Plenty of “go” on the trail.  Must be game and enjoy his work.
  • Low resting heart rate
  • No history of lameness, colic, etc.

Easy, right?  The catch was that I had to find it all in a single horse.

…which leads me to the announcement.  I found him.

I haven’t taken a good photo yet, but here’s his ad, video and all:

HHR Jammazon

Welcome home, partner.


Back on the Horse

Well.  This has been a rough year.  I rode a whopping 175 AERC miles early on — 50 each on Consolation and Acey, and 75 on Karen Bumgarner’s boy Blue.   After that, I spent the summer trying unsuccessfully to diagnose Consolation’s mystery issue and treating Acey for ulcers.  I’m not sure whether either of them will return to the sport.  Only time will tell.

I’ve probably ridden fewer than 20 hours total since June.  Though I have done some training, I have been largely absent, both from the endurance world and from The Barb Wire.  I have been thinking.  About horses.  Priorities.  Dreams.  Direction.

I am pulled between two passions:  the Barb Horse, and endurance.

My herd contains some of the finest Spanish Colonial blood available.  I want to see it preserved, promoted, and used.  Beyond that, I know and love each individual horse as though it were part of my own soul.

And yet, I find my endurance focus sharpening.  I want to ride more, more competatively, over longer distances.  To have the best chance at success, I need to ride the right horses.  Arabs.

You are about to see a shift.  More of my Barbs are available for sale to approved homes; I’ll update the sales page shortly.  And I am bringing home a couple Arabians.   I think I know which ones, but final decisions remain to be made.

I’ll soon be riding more.  Which means I’ll be blogging more.  Which means I’m back on the horse.

Ride on.


The Scramble

The clock is ticking.

Fandango is nearly here.

I have SO MUCH to do:  Wash tack, pre-measure supplements, pack hay, load panels, clean trailer tack room and truck cab, pack camper, prepare horse feed, prepare human meals, pack clothes, touch up hooves, cut comfort pads, charge camper battery, buy propane and beet pulp and coconut water…not to mention riding…

I’m pretty sure this would be easier if I didn’t work full time.  But the paycheck is nice.  I digress.

I have decided to complicate my life further by taking two horses to the ride.  (Ugh.  Buddies.)  Encouraged by my extremely experienced, unofficial mentor, Karen Bumgarner, I have decided that Consolation is likely up to two days and Acey up to her first 50.  EXCITING!!!  And a little scary.  But not too scary.  Ever so slowly, I am getting through my thick skull an understanding of how capable horses are of retaining their fitness over long periods with relatively little work.

So here’s the plan — subject, as always, to change:

Day 1:  50 on Consolation.  This should be pretty managable.  I don’t know yet whether I’ll be riding with anyone, but Consolation is fine with heading out alone.  The complicating factor this time will be Acey’s presence in camp.  Last time she came along, Consolation hollered for her for a good 5 miles.  Embarassing, but what’re you going to do?  The good news is that all holds are out of camp, so we won’t have a repeat performance on every loop.  Last time, she pulsed down fine at the finish despite wanting to get back to her buddy.

Day 2:  50 on Acey.  I think she’s up to it.  I’ll keep the pace sane and probably slower than Acey would prefer.  The trail consists of two, 25-mile loops out of camp.  This could be good if Acey doesn’t do as well as I anticipate, and it’s always easier not to have to pack for out checks.  However, Acey threw an absolute fit about leaving Consolation last time I took her to ride camp.  That was 1.5 years ago, though, and she’s come a long way in training and confidence.  Worst case scenario, I have to lead her the first mile in hand.  Worst-worst case scenario, I have to recruit help to have someone bring Consolation over so we can pulse down.  (Blech, I really don’t wanna do that!)

Another question mark about Acey is water crossing.  The only other time I’ve had a chance to try her over water, the creek was very low.  It wasn’t a problem, but it wasn’t a knee (or more) deep spring rush like it will be this time.  On the other hand, Acey grew up in a large pasture bisected by a creek that the herd crossed multiple times per day, so maybe she’ll take it in stride like Consolation did on her first ride.

Day 3:  60 on Consolation?  This will depend how she looks after resting on Saturday.  If she looks tired or footsore, we’ll skip it.  Assuming we do the ride, we’ll again have the anti-buddy benefit of out checks and a familiar trail.

And now, it’s time to get busy.  I want to put a moderately-paced, 20-25 mile ride on Acey today, followed by a short ride tomorrow, before she takes the rest of the week mostly off (we’ll still do enough to keep her limber and safe from tying up).  Up and at ’em!

 


Pony Fury

Gusto.  That’s the word I’ve been trying to think of to describe Acey’s approach to life.

She tears down the trail with abandon, dives into beet pulp like Scrooge McDuck into gold, and stretches a wriggling upper lip when scratched.  Fun and daring bubble around her.

But when Acey gets mad, her black eyes smoulder and roll.  She isn’t above sitting down and backing 100 feet with her muzzle in the air.  Impatient when tied, her hoof slashes graffiti in the earth.  Her spooks are brief but dramatic.

The pony tantrums are growing rarer with training, of course, but I imagine there will always be a part of her that reminds me of the old nursery rhyme:  When she was good, she was very, very good…and when she was bad, she was horrid!

Maybe I should call her Curly.


Power Pony

Look who got to go on a trail ride!

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Sunday afternoon, following a 20-miler on Consolation, I hauled Acey across the Snake River for a ride up the Big Hill.  Her bare feet don’t handle the gravel road very well, and I’m still holding out for the Glove Wides to be released, so we needed some good footing on which to start getting her in shape.  I figured that pointing her up a long slope on a hot day was the safest way to start out, particularly as we were riding alone and she hasn’t seen many miles under saddle yet this year.

…and she handled it beautifully, beating Consolation’s first-climb-up-this-hill time by a good 5 minutes.  We went a total of 7 miles, mostly at a walk, which was nevertheless a pleasure because Acey really cruises along.  According to Garmin, her preferred walk is a good 4-7 minutes per mile faster than Consolation’s.  (Yeesh.)  I’d forgotten how good Acey is downhill, in particular.  She positively glides; I’ve never felt anything quite like it. 

We had just one medium spook and very little drama, though I can see I’m going to need a lot of tools in the toolbox for dealing with her enthusiasm.  Tiny she may be, but Acey has a whole lot of “go” — and as she gains confidence, I’m betting she’ll fight to use it.  I can already imagine her at the start of an endurance ride, when emotions are high…  Yeah.  Lots of ring work is in order.


Desert Ride

Yesterday morning, Consolation and I trundled over the Snake River to some new (to us) trails.  Blue skies alternated with doomesday horizons, unfathomable beyond the ridges.  Range cows roamed.  Angry curlews circled overhead.  Nobody else was out.

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We rode for three hours, soaking up the hills we’ve lacked too long.  We trotted some, walked others, and bucked one.  (After that one, we trotted few more than we walked!)  The footing was mostly packed earth, with some sand.  Consolation didn’t need boots; we’ll leave them behind next time.  The trail went on and on — perhaps I’d inadvertently taken the 20-mile route my friend mentioned — and eventually turned around because, having topped yet another hill, I couldn’t detect any sign of a trail looping back, but I could detect an oncoming storm.

Consolation hopped right back into her new trailer (she seems to prefer it!) and arrived home safe and sound.  This morning, she looks fantastic.  Where shall we go tomorrow?


Gentling

Photo by Michael Ensch.

 

The best horse trainers are broken enough to feel afraid

and whole enough to try again

despite it all.