Saturday, October 30, 2021

Getting Old Ain't fer Sissies

 "Age is just a number."

This mantra is often intoned by those who would deny the effects of aging. And they're right, to a point. I know a number of individuals of varying species of similar age of wildly different physical condition. Eventually age gets us all. 

It's not the years, it's the mileage.

This morning, as I checked through my emails and social media and dandled the cat while drinking my first cup of coffee, I heard the rattle of a horse against a corral panel. Hoss is currently residing in one of the upper pens with Tess, his current charge. I listened and wondered if what I was hearing was Hoss struggling, yet again, to rise.

Me: Time to feed horses! Meowleficent: No

He gave me a scare a few months ago, with several days of being unable to rise well on his own. I really thought for a while there he had quite abruptly reached the point I was going to lose him. A down horse is a dead horse, and if he couldn't rise on his own, well, he was as good as dead. Fortunately having his hocks injected seems to have mostly cleared up this issue. He's even no longer wearing his protective boots. He still gets up ass first like a cow, but he can get up, and he isn't spinning on his hocks. I call it a win.

So hearing that sound of a horse in a panel, I had a moment of concern. It did turn out I had nothing to worry about. When I poked my head out the front door, he looked back at me, on his feet, in anticipation of breakfast. Likely he or Tess had been sticking their heads through to mess with the horse next door.

Hoss in all his booted glory

Hoss is 17. This is not old age for horses by any stretch of the imagination. These days horses commonly live and work up to their 30s regularly. But just as with people, some horses start to show signs of decay at a relatively young age. Hoss already has some significant arthritis. He's had signs of arthritic changes since he was 5 or 6 years old. Despite this, he had a successful career as an endurance horse, covering over 4,000 miles in 50 mile or longer increments, with fairly few pulls. He was top ten mileage several years, and brought home a handful of other awards as well. Nothing to sneeze at. What seemed to be his downfall was a rattlesnake bite, after which he never returned to his usual self. He now has a hard time recovering metabolically, and is no longer capable of disguising his front end lameness. I think he has some neurological deficits as a result of the bite, which would explain a lot about his current condition.

I love Hoss. He's a fantastic horse, and he's worth every penny I'm spending to keep him comfortable and more. The money spent to inject his hocks and keep him supplied in Equioxx and Lubrisyn is cheap at twice the price. 

Enjoying a graze during post-injection hand walk

I'd spend this money even if he wasn't so important to the breeding operation. At this point he has "raised" 6 foals, quietly teaching them what is expected and how to be around people, and accompanying them on their first trailer ride to their new homes. He has helped with the settling in of new horses and accompanied Demon and DC on their first trail and endurance rides. He's seen me through recovery after several surgeries, carrying me carefully and gently while I regained my riding muscles. He's still the horse I choose to ride for clearing trail or doing a search mission. Even though he'll never hit the endurance trail again, he will always be my steady companion.

Truly, he is worth far more to me than anyone could ever offer to buy him.

Monday, October 4, 2021

2021 Virgin Outlaw XP I & II

Link to video:

After 3 months of recovery and rehab for Demon, and a lot of work for me, too, it felt like time to get out and do a ride. Mostly I needed a chance to get away for a few days or a week, out of the day to day grind. While I certainly love my horses and my life generally, sometimes a change of scenery is required.

So, unsure how much we could or would actually accomplish, I submitted my entry for all 6 days and we hit the road.

It's been a few years since I've gone to VO, and I think I've only been once. So when I put the GPS coordinates into Maps and it told me it was 750ish miles away, it didn't seem especially unusual. I read the directions real quick but didn't commit them to memory. Seemed like I had every thing set up and ready to go.

We set out on Friday afternoon, much later than I'd hoped, and made it just under 300 miles. We boondocked at Cima Road overnight, then headed on in the morning. Had breakfast with my daughter. Continued on our way, expecting to make camp by midafternoon.

That is not what happened.

As I was driving along the 15, listening to my book, we passed what I thought should have been our exit and just figured Maps knew better than me. It wasn't until I was directed off the highway and I realized nothing around looked familiar at all I decided I'd bollixed something up.

I went back to the email, and tried again to use the GPS coordinates to no avail. Eventually I searched the road name, which seemed to put me in the right way.

I was some 100 miles out of my way.

Turned around, followed the new directions, got back where we needed to be after dark.

Then blew it at the turn down the forest road to camp.

Got turned around, got to camp, and proceeded to wander around camp looking for a place to park.


Sometimes this sport makes me feel completely incompetent and before I've got the horse unloaded.

I got Demon unloaded, took him to water, and got him set up. Decided it wasn't important to get the leveling and everything done until we'd rode the first day. I was going to need to unhook the truck and head into town, seeing as I'd forgotten everything I'd been meant to take with me from the refrigerator. I even forgot to pack a blanket for Demon. We'd do the LD in the morning and figure out the rest.

Day 1

In the morning I got up and knocked on Dave and Annie's door. Let them know I was there, handed over my handheld GPS, and went to put in an entry card for the day. Went back to the trailer, finished up breakfast and groomed Demon. Took Demon back up to be vetted in. Dave pronounced him clear to go. Annie let me know the tracks had not uploaded to my handheld. I was on my own.

So I set up the tracks to download to my phone while I finished saddling up. Once I got the tracks on my phone, I noodled around with EasyTrails in an effort to set it up to follow. The tracks were mostly titled in a way that made them easy to decipher, but a few were less than entirely clear. I looked at maps trying to decide which one I was meant to follow before deciding probably the 30ish mile loop was it. 

I wasn't feeling particularly good about trying to ride out of camp, something I've never been worried about doing. Demon was certainly no more amped up than usual. Nevertheless, I ended up walking out of camp.

This of course leads to an interesting predicament. I can't get on from the ground just yet. I'm too slow. I have to use a step of some sort in order to get on without pulling the saddle over. So I fairly quickly decided I'd better suck it up and get on.

I found a likely spot in an embankment cut by a seasonal stream. It was about 2 feet high. Perfect for getting myself on. So I sidled Demon up to the downward side of the embankment and mounted up.

Now, in order to line up alongside the embankment, I had to point Demon away from the way the trail was heading and by this time we'd been passed by nearly every other horse in camp. So it wasn't particularly surprising that he couldn't contain his enthusiasm and tried to head back to the trail. Except that, instead of going forward and turning around, he chose to back up. He chose to back up and turn. He turned up the embankment. Backward. I really did not have time to orient and determine how best to help him before we ended up turned around, sort of halfway on the embankment, and he lost his footing and fell over. Fortunately for him, he was relatively close to the ground. Me, not so much. Landed hard on my right elbow and wrist as well as my ribs. 

I decided to hike a bit farther.

We reached a gather corral and the person manning the gates directed us on through. We continued hiking and reached a road, where Dave and Annie intercepted us. Dave told me I had been misled, and we were on the wrong danged trail! Our choices were to continue on (having already gone a good 2 miles) and he'd submit the ride as a 30 for those who'd made the same error, or we could turn back and pick up the correct trail.

I chose Option A.

I hiked for quite a ways further, eventually looking for a likely rock or stump to get me on. Eventually we found a fallen log sturdy enough to get on and we were off. Once I was on, Demon needed to get moving! So we had a nice trot for a while.

Because we'd ended up on the wrong trail, we got to see Thunder Mountain Trail, an extremely beautiful section of white knuckle trail with stunning views.  There are portions of the trail narrow enough Demon was knocking rocks over the edge. There are portions with sheer dropoffs on both sides. It's absolutely gorgeous. At one point I did consider whether I might be safer on foot, but quickly dismissed the idea. Odds are, I would have simply fallen off the damned trail to my death, leaving Demon to figure out what he ought to do with himself. Demon is much more sure footed than I am, that's for sure.

I decided we'd make it a fairly slow 30. Seemed like a good day for it. Especially with the number of gates I had to get off to open and close. Precious few could be opened effectively on horseback, and of the ones that could, the chains were too low for me to be able to reach without just falling off anyway. Not that Demon is especially tall, more that I am not especially flexible. Most of the gates were wire ranch gates or dragged the ground and had to be lifted, or the chains were below the level of my knee on horseback, or the chains had to be passed around a post I needed both hands for. Overall, the only practical way of handling the gates was on foot. At least most of them had something soon after which served to help get me back on. A few I wound up hiking a ways for.

On the last section before heading up to camp, Demon was getting pretty thirsty. There was a cow pond off the trail. I did not want to go into the cow pond. Demon made it clear he was getting a drink from the cow pond with or without me. I elected to dismount and let him go in alone. Even still, he did a good job of trying to drag me in after him. I might have been better off to stay mounted, but every time we encountered a cow pond, which apparently he has decided are the best water on earth, I dismounted and let him have at it. I'm going to remember this the next time he insists his stock tank at home is too icky to drink from.

I managed to find a place to get back on, and we hit the jeep road at a good clip only to discover a gate. So I had to get off and handle the gate. At least this one had a stump on the far side.

Once we made it back to camp, after a really nice day mostly on our own, I declined the offer of continuing the 50 and went back to our trailer. I still needed to level and unhook and head in to town for some food.

Day 2

In the morning, I got up and ran my hands over Demon. He had a ridiculously itchy spot just under his girth, and was rather swollen behind it. He seemed a bit sore to the touch around it as well. Other than that, he seemed fine. Maybe a little cold, since I hadn't brought him a danged blanket. 

Ultimately I elected to have a day in camp and allow him and myself a little time to recover. I applied plenty of thick cream to what I decided must be a bug bite to protect it from the flies and let him have the day to eat.

Day 3

The morning of Day 3, Demon looked pretty good. The swelling and itchiness were significantly reduced. He wasn't at all sore. So I saddled up and we headed out.

The trail for Day 3 headed around Castro Bluff and back. There was lots of single track. At some point as we went hotting along, we managed to get off trail. Despite being a ride with few ribbons, it's not a ride with no ribbons, so I was pretty sure we'd gotten off trail when I pulled my phone out and checked. Sure enough, we were off trail. I turned around and headed back up, letting the riders behind me know we were off trail. 

We got back to the so well marked turn I don't know how I managed to miss it. Unfortunately, from there, I couldn't be sure which way we'd come from and which way we were meant to go. So I picked a direction and tried to watch my phone screen to see if we were going the wrong way. Fairly quickly, a couple horses and riders were coming at us. Pretty good indication I had chosen poorly!

And then we came to that cow pond again. Despite having recently had a drink, Demon wanted a drink from the danged cow pond. So I dismounted and let him wade in. At least this time I knew there was a gate just up the road, and just stayed off until we got past it and to the extremely convenient stump on the other side.

Once again turned back the correct way on the trail, we finished the first loop in good in order, did our hold, and headed out for the second loop.

The second loop was mostly jeep trails, so fairly boring. Coupled with not being Demon's favorite part of the day (unless he can have a nap), he wanted to just walk it. But I knew we didn't have time to play at walking. So I pushed pretty hard, going so far as to set a timer on my watch. We'd trot for 10 minutes, walk for 5. This routine got us through the loop quickly enough and we finished with time to spare.

Day 4

After a rest day, we were once again ready to hit trail. Demon's bug bite did swell up again with rest, but after walking him and lunging him in camp a bit I determined it wasn't bothering him particularly and it would probably do him some good to move. I did leave his girth looser than usual, having a couple weeks earlier determined I could do so safely enough so long as I didn't try to mount from the ground.

This day headed down Castro Canyon to pick up Thunder Mountain trail the other direction. I'd entered us in the 50, having by this time decided Demon and I both were in good enough shape to complete one, despite our fall early on and the resulting sore elbow and ribs I was experiencing.

Going down Castro Canyon at a good trot, I leaned right to get around a tree. Demon wanted to go left to avoid a boulder. These two things happened at the same time. The unfortunate result was, Demon was unable to clear the boulder. His right front smashed into the boulder. He hit it hard enough to be immediately all but 3 legged lame. 

We slowed to walk as Demon considered his position. That foot stung. He wanted to go, but he had a limp for a while. About the time I was thinking I needed to call back to camp for a trailer, though, he smoothed out and trotted sound. Even trotted sound heading up into Thunder Mountain, where we would be obliged to walk for some time.

After we made it through Thunder Mountain, we got back to a wide road. We found a bucket for a good drink, and started on our way. I asked for a trot, and he was clearly off.

Knowing now we would not be finishing, but having plenty of horse, I opted to ride at a walk back to camp. The times I had to get off to handle gates, it was clear I was not going to be able to keep up with Demon on foot. He was prepared to drag me if he had to. So ride I did, albeit keeping to a walk despite Demon's demonstrated desire to at least trot.

There was another cow pond just before a gate here, into which I was obliged to allow Demon to wade without me. At least this time he didn't try to drag me in.

Back at camp, I stopped at the trailer first to strip off the saddle, knowing we were done for the day, before taking him up to see Dave. In the few minutes it took for me to untack, he went from okayish to grade 4 lame. Dave had me trot him out and we discussed the possibilities. I allowed as I thought it was probably due to striking the boulder, and I'd take him back to the trailer and pull the shoe and run hoof testers over him.

We pulled from the 50, but we got a WDRA 30 completion nevertheless. 

Back at the trailer, I pulled the shoe and ran the hoof testers over his foot. From the outside toe quarter to just in front of the last nail he was pretty reactive. There was little question it was the source of the issue. I left him be for the night after a good rubbing down, and threw him lots of hay.

Day 5

Having pulled on Day 4, clearly we weren't going to be doing anything on Day 5, but since I was in no hurry to get home, I decided we'd stay in camp for the day. Besides, I needed to nail another shoe on his foot, and being in camp would give his foot time to settle down for the long haul home.

After a little breakfast and everyone else had left camp, I took Demon for a walk around camp. He was vastly less sore than when we'd gotten in the day before. Back at the trailer, I dressed the hoof and floated the sore section before nailing a spare shoe back on it. Then we went for another walk. 

With the affected section of hoof wall now not contacting the shoe, he was almost entirely sound.

Dave drove into camp along with Hosebag (Dave Rabe) as I was finishing up our walk and asked me to trot Demon out for him. He was impressed with the improvement, seeing him as almost completely sound. He wanted to see how he would look come the next morning. I allowed as I figured Demon was much better off, but I was concerned about trying to do a ride with the massive gap I'd put between the hoof wall and the shoe. There was no way to keep debris from building up and causing an issue. 

At this point, Hosebag offered to put a pair of Easyboots over the shoes, and we could see what that would do for him. So we went over to Hosebag's trailer and got a pair of boots. We'd re-present to Dave in the morning.

Day 6

In the morning, I led Demon around camp for a bit. He looked great to me. I couldn't see a thing. So I took him up to see Dave. Dave also proclaimed him completely sound.

We tacked up and headed out for a nice, late, 8am start. 

It didn't take long, though, before it seemed to me Demon just did not feel right at all. And every time I let him trot, he seemed less right. By the time we got to where Dave was stationed to watch the horses heading out on trail, Demon was definitely off. Certainly not as bad as he'd been, but definitely we were not going to continue. I turned a very disgruntled Demon back to camp.

At the last gate before camp, I dismounted to manage it and we walked a ways so I could use the cattle corral to get back on. Just so I could see from the ground, I asked him for a trot in hand on a flat section.

Completely sound.

So basically, it was me. He was sound in hand, lame under saddle. Still an improvement. It'll heal.

Since we were now officially completely out, and with nothing in particular to do in camp, I decided to pack up and head for home. It was an incredibly lovely week. I needed it. We needed it. Despite a mishap with a boulder, we proved we're able to do this. I did a lot of work on my riding to get here. Demon had some work as well. Obviously it has paid off. We're both in a much better place.

Until the next ride....

There will be video of this ride available. I got myself a cute little action cam, which I tried out on this ride for the first time. Now I'm just hoping it'll upload to YouTube. It will be linked here once it's finished!

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

2021 National Championships at Fort Howes

 It's enough to make a person question their life choices.

After pulling at 20 Mule Team with a stone bruise, and having addressed such with pads, and seeing no further sign of lameness in Demon since, I was fully confident we'd do well at National Championships and bring home a completion. It was not to be.

Two weeks before National Championships, I reshod Demon. The bruise in his hoof looked good, was well keratinized, and he was trotting sound even after a 10 mile ride. He got new shoes and pads before turned back out until we left for Montana.

The whole trip started out rocky. My elderly dog, Mac, suddenly took an extreme turn for the worse and clearly required euthanasia. The vet couldn't get out to perform the job until noon Thursday. I had planned to leave Thursday morning. Well, OK, guess I'm leaving in the afternoon. Shouldn't be a huge problem.

Mac, may he rest in peace

Once the vet left, I got loaded up and we were on the road a little before 2pm. This is when I realized that 6-8 hour delay in departure was a bigger deal than I'd thought. I had it in my head that the drive was 1200 miles. Nope. 1400. This meant my planned stops were right out the window. Add in having left so much later meaning more traffic (and there were some serious accidents on the road, too) and it took 10 hours to make 500 miles. 

Just to make things even more interesting, a little over 200 miles into the trip, another driver honked and waved at me, indicating there was an issue with the trailer. I pulled off and walked around the rig, discovering one of my brand new (less than 1500 miles) trailer tires had separated. Here I'd been thinking Demon was being particularly antsy in the trailer. It wasn't him. It was the tire. 

I'd stopped in a poor place for actually executing a tire change, so I limped us on down the road a couple of miles. I found a spot where, if necessary, I could unload Demon. 

I'm very glad I had stopped with my devil-may-care attitude about having a spare and all the appropriate tools. I had a tire iron, chocks, and the Trailer-Aide device, plus had carefully put the trailer's spare tire in the truck (the spare tire mount in the trailer itself was in a rather unfortunate location and I'd stopped using it long ago). 

Being appropriately armed, I proceeded to changing the tire. The first challenge was the lug nuts. The unfortunate side effect of getting new tires is having these young bucks who do not understand about galling nuts and bolts putting the lug nuts back on after mounting new tires. Some of them put the nuts in the impact driver, then put it on the bolt, significantly increasing the odds of galling. Which thus increases the difficulty of removing said lug nuts without a breaker bar or impact driver. One of my lugs was badly galled, and was not wanting to break. Normally, it's not a big thing other than the sweating and swearing. The problem I was having was that the rim was not resting firmly on the ground, depriving me of anything to brace against. I ended up putting a chock under one side, kicking it under there as hard as I could, and my toe under the other side, doing my best to limit the turn of the hub as I struggled to break the lug free. I did ultimately persevere, but as one person said when I told this story, "safety third!" The next challenge was getting the spare out of the truck, which involved climbing up on top of the hay, pulling it up onto the hay, getting off the truck, and pulling the tire down behind me. It was a ridiculous amount of work and took me a solid hour to accomplish. I will be purchasing a cordless impact wrench in the very near future, just so I don't have to worry about galled or over torqued lug nuts.

Flat ready for removal, at last!

When I did finally find a place to stop for the night, I couldn't take Demon off the trailer for more than a walk. There was no place to park where I could safely tie him to the trailer and not have vehicles come alongside. He's black enough I've had people nearly walk into him in the dark, and I'm not trusting drivers to do any better even with headlights. So after a walk around, he had to spend the night on the trailer. He was not happy about it. I had to keep the pass through door between the LQ and the horse box open so he could see me, and he still fidgeted an awful lot.

This left 900 miles to hammer out on Friday. I wanted all day Saturday for both of us to recover, and having had to spend the night on the trailer it seemed even more important to have that for Demon. Not to mention I didn't sleep especially well with an unhappy horse on the trailer with me. At least I was able to make this push at a faster clip and we arrived in camp about 10pm, and even still had enough light to manage leveling the trailer.

We both slept much better with a quiet and level spot.

Saturday was a quiet day, but I did a lot of walking back and forth. At one point, my left knee, which has been giving me trouble since the left hip was replaced in November, was so painful I almost couldn't walk at all. I managed by putting on a brace for the walking part.

Sunday was an early start. I got up at 3am and chucked a bunch of food and an electrolyte mash in front of Demon before laying down for a little longer. I walked down to check in and leave my wagon in the vet check area to lug my saddle back to the trailer during the vet hold. We had a good start, leaving well after the fastest riders. Demon felt really good. He drank or at least tasted the water at every opportunity. At the 9 mile trot by, he was drinking and eating, and judged sound. I clambered back on with the assistance of the mounting block ride management had brought out, which was a shorter one than I'd usually use, but got the job done.

We continued down the trail and Demon felt strong and good, wanting to chase other horses. I did my best to keep him from getting too obsessed about other horses. He has this thing, he wants to see all the other horses, either passing or being passed by, at least once. He'll slow down if horses he hasn't seen yet are coming up behind, but once they've passed him, he'll pass them and continue without a care in the world for them. It's a tough dynamic to manage at times.

The first loop was relatively flat with minimal (at least to my Southern California, done a lot of Duck rides mind) rock. So I allowed Demon to keep up a good clip, although I was still aiming for a 7.5mph average. We were sitting at 8mph, but it was early in the day so I wasn't concerned about it.

We were trotting along nicely and I noticed my left foot didn't feel quite right. Somehow it was stuffed all the way into the stirrup, well beyond where I'd normally want my foot. It took multiple strides before I was able to recenter it, only to have it push forward again. I was having one heck of a time keeping it back where it belongs. At the canter, I looked down and could see my leg flopping around from the knee down, and I couldn't do a damned thing to stop it. Standing resulted in the entire leg moving forward. 

It wasn't long after I'd realized I really had little control over that left leg that Demon bobbled just a bit. I slowed him to a walk for a bit before he gamely offered the trot again. He seemed sound, but just as at 20MT, something did not seem quite right. We varied walking and trotting back in to camp.

After coming in to the vet check, I pulled the saddle and checked his pulse at the knee. I can't hear well enough to use a stethoscope anymore, so I do it manually, although my fingertips are a little insensate so it's not perfect. All I can tell for sure most of the time is if he seems to be down enough to present to the vet. He was down enough to feel confident I could present him and we went to the vet line.

The vet took his pulse and sent us for our trot out. I spooled out the line to let Demon trot a little ahead so I could watch him. I wasn't sure, but I thought I saw a couple of bad steps. When we got back to the vet, he said nothing and continued the exam. I thought I must have been imagining things, since I've never had a vet not tell me immediately upon return if my horse was off. Once he finished the exam, he told the scribe Demon's CRI (60/68) and informed me is was off. Having now heard Demon's heart rate coming in was 60, I told the vet I was confident our day was done, as Demon has a very rapid recovery and has never come into a vet check with a heart rate over 52 unless something was wrong. The vet held our card and asked me to re-present him toward the end of our hold time.

We went to the trailer, where Demon drank well and then laid down for a nap. He wasn't able to lay out completely because of the hi-tie, so I dragged my chair over and put a leadrope on. We just hung out together while he napped. He rolled onto his side and went right into deep REM sleep for about 5 minutes. He had a good lay down for 15 minutes, then got up and drank some more and started casting about for food. I took him back to the vet, where it was determined he was still off and we were sent to the treatment vet.

Long story short, the treatment vet went over Demon quite carefully. I even removed his shoes, as with pads on it's next to impossible to use hoof testers. The treatment vet thought maybe something had gotten under the pad, a theory which was quickly disproven by the undisturbed presence of the hoof packing I'd used when I shod him. Nothing of note was found. The treatment vet even checked his temperature (100.2, on a really super hot day, too). 

So, after giving ourselves a couple of hours to rest, I decided to pack up and head for home. By the next day, when we got to Scipio, Utah, and I had a nice arena to turn him loose in, he was completely sound. 

There is little more frustrating than an intermittent lameness which resolves so quickly it's impossible to diagnose.

The game plan now is to have the chiropractor out (she's exceptional at detecting small issues in horses, and has helped us get appropriate treatment for multiple horses no vet had yet isolated an issue in). If she doesn't find anything of note, we'll start riding again after a 6 week total lay-up, with the goal of completing an LD before the end of the year. I'll be visiting my doctor to pursue what the heck is going on with my knee (I'm sure it'll need surgery, and I'm bitter about it). Depending on the chiropractor's findings, there's a significant possibility that Demon's lameness is him compensating for stupid things my left leg decides to do. 

Tevis, obviously, is out. One does not bring a horse with 2 consecutive lameness pulls to the starting line of Tevis. But, hope is a good thing. So, Tevis is on the calendar for next year. July 16, 2022.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Sunflower Ranch Obstacle Course

 Hoss needs to get out and have some fun, too, so when a local ranch was putting on an obstacle course day, I decided we'd load up and go. Hoss really does like getting out in public and being fawned over, and this sort of event is right up his alley.

Our "go time" was 1pm, and nothing was being timed for this little informal event. We got there around 12pm so I could check in and look around. Hoss stayed in the trailer while I looked at the vendors and got myself a pulled pork sandwich. I sat and watched horses working the obstacles while I ate, then went out and unloaded Hoss.

We tacked up and headed in to the ranch. At 1pm we went in the gate and got mounted up.

Since it wasn't timed, I really more or less allowed Hoss to decide where he wanted to go. His first choice was to check out the blue wavy man thing. You know those things on the blower motors with the ridiculous waving arms? That sort of thing? He not only wasn't afraid of it, he wanted to check it out up close!

Once we'd seen that, I directed him over to the first obstacle, a series of pool noodles one is meant to pass between the ends of. They're arranged so the ends of the noodles emulate branches that are across a trail. This was easy.

The next thing was not so easy. A wooden box with scrunched up plastic bottles. He wanted nothing to do with this nonsense. Of course, what he was really doing was seeing what he could get away with. We discussed it a bit and after a gentle pop with the quirt, he remembered that yes, he does know how to do these things and it really is kind of fun. He walked through the bottles fine after that.

There were several different bridges, a pathway with rocks and logs, a hillside with rails and rocks, two water crossings, beach balls blowing around, barrels with pool noodles poking out hanging from a shade shelter, all sorts of stuff. We went 'round and tried different obstacles, doing some of them several times. When he figured out there were treats in the mailbox, Hoss kept taking me back to it.

We spent an hour going through the obstacles and having a good time just doing something together. There was a photographer, from Simply Gaudy, so we got a whole lot of pictures to share.


Going up the multi-step bridge

And over

Very small carpet lined box

Through the tiny water crossing

Over the dome bridge

Into the water bottles

Up the rocky hillside

The very best obstacle: a treat dispenser!

Posing on the plank

Carrying the flag

Another headshot.

And another... He had a lot of head shots

20 Mule Team 100 2021

 Some trails just feel like they're out to get ya.

The 20 Mule Team ride is known to be fairly easy to moderate and not particularly challenging. That did not mean the trail didn't eat us.

We arrived in camp late Thursday night for our Friday ride. I knew camp was going to be very full and parking at a premium so I wanted to get in early so we'd be able to find a suitable spot. With the help of the ride manager, we parked at the far end of camp along the "road" through camp.

This turned out to be a poor choice. We spent all day Friday watching horses and people walking hither and thither past our camp. And Demon, on the Hi-Tie, was right next to the road. It didn't take much inattention on the part of a human to end up bringing a horse extremely close to him. If someone came from the rear, they could be unaware Demon was even there before he had seen them and nickered. So Demon wound up being on high alert in camp all day Friday, and although he ate and drank well, it still felt like he didn't get as much relaxing in as he usually does.

Saturday morning ride start was 6am. I carefully went over the map and cut off times and established the times I was shooting to get in to each check. Quick, but not super top ten quick. I was shooting for a 6.5mph average.

Ready to go in the pre-dawn light.

I got us ready and we were out the gate at 6am. Demon was on the muscle immediately, which isn't unusual for him. It can take a little while for him to settle in, so I wasn't concerned. But, he was going much faster than he usually does and he wasn't paying attention to his footing like normal. He was all eyes about the other horses.

The earliest part of the trail is pretty even, so despite being goofy, I felt cautiously OK about letting Demon more or less have his head. I knew he'd settle after a while, surely before we got to the heavy rocks. Well, more the fool me. He did *not* settle down.

We somehow ended up in the lead. I snuck a look at my GPS to find we were averaging Ludicrous Speed. I wanted him to slow down. He did not want to slow down. We were starting along the trail along the highway when he finally decided he could slow down, which allowed another horse to pass us. I figured at that point we'd be OK, he'd let others pass and drop back to a more rational pace. But no.

At this point we were getting to the rockier stuff where attention to where he puts his damned feet became important. I kept asking him to slow, he kept bulling on. Walking was all but out of the question. He'd walk a bit then the jigging would start. Reluctant to end up in a war, I did my best to meet him in the middle and allow him to trot. But of course making him slow down had meant other horses passed, and I don't know where this hyper competitive horse came from because he's not the one I'm used to riding. 

We were up on the old rail road bed when he tripped hard in the canter. He caught himself and barely unseated me, and kept going without turning a hair so I didn't think much of it. He looked fine.

Then a little later, I found myself doubting. I thought I saw a head bob. I thought I felt his hind end not right. I hovered over the saddle and watched, trying to determine if I was right or if I was playing tricks on myself. He looked good. He felt good. He kept wanting to go. So, go we did.

I tried to get him slowed down for the last mile into the vet check at 19 miles, and he was just not thrilled with my plan. We had some moments trying to take it easy and not gallop in like Bonanza. When we got to the road, I did allow him to trot for a good stretch, just to settle my mind that he looked and felt sound.

I was tired. I went to get off as we arrived, and ended up hooking my right foot over his hip to get myself over. Hooray for a well broke and tolerant horse! We got our time card and walked over to the pulse takers.

I finally was able to get a good look at my GPS. We had a 8.5mph average. Yeesh. Quite a bit faster than I'd hoped to go.

I knew before the P&R volunteer said a thing that we were in trouble. She spent far too long with her stethoscope against his side. I knew he was not recovered, and that was not a good sign for Demon. He typically will be in the high 40s for his heart rate coming in as we did, even with all the excitement. So when the volunteer said he wasn't down, I knew in my heart our day was over. It only took a few more minutes, and we went to the vet.

After the physical exam (which he passed with flying colors) we trotted out. I spooled out the line and let him get ahead of me, as the sound of his footfalls behind me was not quite right. Just barely, he had a bit of a head bob. 

Back at the vet, she completed the exam and we talked about the lameness. The vet said she watched him trotting up the road and if that had been all she had to go on, she would have pronounced him sound. She wanted to see him again and see if he was better at the end of our hold time. I agreed, although I really did not think it was in our interests to try to continue. We hung out and he ate and drank. I picked up that left front foot and probed at it, but nothing was obvious (yet). 

Waiting for our ride, watching other horses come in.

We went back to the vet, and he was a little better. I was told we could continue, but I declined. I already had a suspicion it was a stone bruise, it just hadn't developed enough to find with my bare hands. We waited for our ride back to camp.

While we waited, I went and picked up that foot again. And lo and behold, now I could feel the mushy spot. Not sensitive enough to get a reaction from thumb pressure, but definitely the source of the issue. I was just as glad we were having a trailer ride back to camp.

At least I knew what the problem was and could address it at home.

We spent a few hours in camp chatting with others before packing it in and heading for home so Demon could spend the night in his nice big turnout rather than tied to the trailer.

On Sunday, I lunged him and he was completely sound. Took him to the barn and pulled the front shoes. I thought I'd just put pads under the shoes he was already wearing, but decided they were not quite big enough with pads, so he got a new, larger pair. Which of course got me wondering: Should I have taken him up a size when I shod him? Maybe? I did have to do more work than usual to make these fit. I know I should have reshod him more than 1 week before the ride....

The bruise is barely visible just next to the shoe at the 2nd nail. I had to manipulate the color to get it to show.

Second guessing is part of the game. I'll never be sure if he would have been OK if I'd used larger shoes, or if I'd padded him to start, or if we'd parked somewhere we weren't having the Parade of Horses past the trailer all day, or if I'd laid back and not started right at the beginning of the ride and got hung up with the leaders, or if I'd managed to slow him to a more rational speed, or, or, or, or, or.

Home, and not pleased about it, either.

In the long run, he's fine. I stuck the pads on him and he's been in his turnout ever since, bored for 3 weeks. He's done some trotting in his pen and he's sound. We'll get some saddle time this weekend and assess where we are. I plan to make some changes for National Championships in June, though. First is those bigger shoes. Second is pads on his fronts, even though he has done just fine without pads for 5 years. We'll park where there's less foot traffic. We'll give the leaders a good 5 minutes to get ahead of us. If we finish, of course, there's no way to know what elements make a difference and which don't, but this really isn't science.

This marks the 4th time we've been to 20 Mule Team. Of those 4 times, only once, the National Championship in 2019, did we finish. I'm starting to feel like this trail has a vendetta against us in particular. Maybe 5th time's the charm....

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Eastern Mojave @ Coso 2021

Due to the pandemic, the ride typically known as Eastern Mojave and held at Cima Rd and I15, was moved way up the 395 near Olancha, in an area known as Coso Junction. This is where the Death Valley Warmup/ Coso Junction ride is usually held in early December. That ride didn't happen so the location made for a perfect replacement for the usual Mojave location. 

I definitely had a little trouble getting out of the driveway for this ride. When I went to hook up the trailer, I discovered the batteries were completely dead. I had already set up shore power for it, as the solar didn't seem able to do anything for it, and it had taken most of a charge when I put it back on the solar. But when I went to hook up, the solar panel was showing no power and the power panel was completely dead. Putting it back on shore power fixed the issue, only to have it go dead once back on the solar. Dreading an issue with the charging system, and knowing if it wouldn't charge on the solar panel I'd be without power in the living quarters pretty quickly, I fetched Mike and his tools and we proceeded to go over the thing seeking the issue.

After we'd opened the junction box Mike commented the blue wire felt warm. Well I've done enough wrestling with trailer wiring to know the blue wire provides power to the brakes. This seemed really weird. Why would the brakes be drawing power? 

And then I noticed it.

The cable and switch for the breakaway brakes was missing.

Now, this warrants a little explaining. I can't tell you how many years I drove around without a breakaway on my trailer. It wasn't until fairly recently I became aware such a thing even exists. Even more recently that I discovered they are required on 2 axle trailers. So I went a long time without a breakaway, and thus a long time not needing to go through the process of connecting and disconnecting one. Due to this, it wasn't long after I bought this trailer that I forgot to hook up the breakaway to the truck and dragged the end off the cable. So I had half-assed it for a while, until I got what I needed to repair it and hook it properly to the truck.

Which I promptly forgot to disconnect the next time I used the trailer.

The brakes were pulling power because, well, the switch was open. 

The cure was to, for now, cut out the breakaway. 

And we were finally able to hit the road at 1:30pm.

We arrived in camp at 7:30pm, to find everyone buttoned down and the ride trailer shut up. There were perhaps 5 rigs in camp, which, coupled with the ride trailer being closed, caused me to think perhaps I'd gotten the dates wrong. A quick check of the website assured me I was where I wanted to be when I wanted to be there. The wind was so horrendous there was no parking in such a way as to reasonably block it. When I tried to step out of the truck, my hat blew away. I set up camp as quickly as possible and did not bother to unhook the truck, which made the trailer much more stable in the circumstances.

Day 1:

What a great day to Duck* around in the desert.

In the morning, I went and knocked on Dave and Annie's trailer. Annie answered and greeted me with a smile, telling me I could go into the ride trailer to get a packet and put in an entry. She informed me everyone was doing the LD, with a particular look I understood to mean she really, really hoped I'd do the LD, too. Seeing as 50 miles mostly by ourselves didn't sound super fun, I was fine with doing the LD instead. Bonus: ride start was 8am.

After a leisurely morning, we saddled and headed out with the few other brave souls who had elected to brave the desert. A winter storm was predicted for the area, which resulted in many riders begging off. So 6 riders started the first day.

On our way out of camp, I looked down and lo and behold, there was my hat, in a tire rut. I was thus obliged to dismount, recover the hat, and put it in the truck. This did not please Demon, as it meant most of the other horses were already well on the trail by the time I got back on.

We started out along the road up into the desert. Demon was super happy to be out and going. We quickly pulled ahead without much sign of a desire to slow down. He also stopped and had a drink at the first water stop, a skill he's picked up over the miles. These days he rarely passes up an opportunity to drink or eat.

The first half of the ride was mostly a long uphill pull. We settled back to a walk several times, letting Demon catch his breath. Eventually we were caught and passed by Bart Eskander, and we ended up riding together genially for the rest of the morning.

After we turned back downhill, we mostly went faster than we had uphill. We stopped at the vet check for about 20 minutes to let the horses drink and eat before hitting the trail back down to camp.

We did not go as fast as we could have. It was a lovely day and I certainly didn't mind being out longer than otherwise necessary. Demon and I were awarded the first place finish by dint of arriving at Annie first. Bart and his horse did a lot of leading, not because Demon wasn't willing, but because Bart's horse is naturally faster.

Day 2:

Our first 50 mile point ride of the weekend.

Start time was 7am, which I didn't mind particularly. I checked the weather before we left, to decide if I should take my duster or if my jacket would be enough. I decided the jacket was enough. This decision would haunt me later.

We left camp a bit more sedately than the day before, still with the leaders. Much of the trail was the same as the day before, although the other direction. I was keeping a close eye on my GPS and our average speed. My goal was to do about 6.25mph. So when, about halfway through the first loop, Demon wanted to slow, I wasn't unhappy. He'd been going pretty fast. But then, he didn't want to speed back up. He just wanted to poke along. He kept casting about for grass, which is rather sparse in this area. I would make him trot for a while before he would fall back to a trot and want to stop for a bite. I was thinking he needed to pee. In the past, before he got pretty good at peeing under saddle, he'd simply plod along until we got back to the trailer and he would pee there. These days, though, that hasn't really been a problem so I was rather mystified until we had our vet check. He ate a bunch of hay and, when we hit the trail again, was back to his normal, cheerful, and forward self. He was just hungry!

Of course, halfway through that first loop, the clouds rolled in and the snow started. And all I had was that jacket.

After we left the vet check, we got motoring and, since we're pretty danged good at downhill, took advantage of it to make some time. Except it's tough to make time when you can't really see where you're going. Fortunately most of the time Demon was very confident and was able to keep us on trail while I squinted and basically stared at his neck. The snow frequently blew straight into my face. It was only when the wind was sideways to him Demon was reluctant to go forward with much speed. It made for a slow ride back to camp. Making it tougher was the small loop we had to do which took us away from camp about a mile and a half out. At first Demon was really annoyed, but when he realized it was good, fast trail, he picked it up and we got it done relatively quickly, even if the sleet did start blowing right in our faces when we turned up the road.

Back at camp, we trotted out quickly (4th place, as well as last place) and went to the trailer to untack. I got his blanket on and threw food in front of him before taking myself into the living quarters to dry off and warm up. Bizarrely, my arms were soaking wet. I thought my jacket must have leaked through, but how odd for my arms to be almost solely what was affected. I didn't have much energy to think on it. I got the water heater going and bundled under the blankets until I had hot water for a quick shower, after which I dressed in the next day's ride clothes and my fleece pajamas.

Day 3:

The snow was still with us in the morning, despite ride start having been delayed until 8am to give the horses a chance to warm up before the start. I elected to put my duster on over my vest, in an effort to stay as dry as possible. This presented the problem of storing my phone and GPS in places where I'd be able to access them readily. The duster unfortunately lacks pass throughs so I can keep those items where I normally would on my belt. Fortunately, it does have rather large pockets and I was able to drop my phone and GPS as well as gloves, spare batteries, and my map into them.

There were more riders this day, as more people had rolled in the prior day, and so we were riding along with several fresh horses. Demon was feeling really good and drinking and eating well, so I allowed him to largely keep up with the front runners. He was doing so well, in fact, that I could allow him to drink while other horses were also drinking at the same station. 

The vet check was back in camp, and after almost 5 miles of flat or downhill two track roads, we had an average speed of 7.5mph. We slowed as we approached camp and came in well recovered for our hour hold.

During the hold, I checked the weather forecast and determined it was safe enough to switch back to my jacket. I hung the duster and we left camp with the jacket.

We started back out on the flat portion of the trail, and Demon was charging along nicely until the trail started heading uphill, at which point he decided he found this annoying and he didn't want to trot uphill. So we went fairly slowly, allowing the leaders to leave us behind, and made our own dogged way around the second loop. Once we were back to flatter and downhill territory, Demon picked it up again and we finished with an overall average of 7.25mph, the fastest Demon has ever done a ride.

Day 4:

Once again we had an 8am start. This day was very clear and the sun rising in the east lent its warmth to the morning quickly, even if I did need my jacket for the start.

Again we were with the front runners, but this being the day after doing his fastest ride, and his 4th day in a row, my goal was to finish, and speed was irrelevant. So when he decided he didn't really want to go quite so fast as the fastest horses, I was more than happy to allow him to drop back.

We happily kept our own counsel through the now-familiar trails. By this time I was pretty spent, but Demon was starting to get stronger. This is a common phenomenon in multi-day rides. As the days go by, the horses get stronger while the humans start needing naps. It's not unusual to have riders pull in to compete the last day, thinking they can do well against a bunch of spent horses, only to get their doors blown off, much to their dismay. 

But today, despite feeling pretty danged good on average, it was a good day to go at a more relaxed pace.

We turned down the mostly flat portion of trail to head back to camp, and took up a steady trot which caught us up with a couple of riders. One of the horses, a dark bay mare, took a shine to Demon. I could see her glancing back at him and watched the rider correct her several times. That mare wasn't even observably in heat, and she wanted nothing more than to canoodle with Demon. Once there was enough space to give a wide berth, Demon and I went off into the desert and passed by at a smart trot.

The vet check at camp was shorted to 30 minutes due to a cold breeze that had taken hold. So I got Demon fed and made myself some lunch as quickly as I could, and we headed back out on trail.

For the second loop we had to head off to the north toward the LA aqueduct and several mining operations. Much of this is fairly flat, but it does have some interesting points. Demon headed out smartly enough, then saw the two mares we'd passed earlier hit the trail and slowed down until they caught up and passed us. 

The biggest reason Demon is not a winning horse is he wants to see every other horse on trail in front of him at some point before he wants to lead. It's not that he minds leading. He just wants to know who's behind him.

Once the mares were ahead, we picked up the trot to keep up. When they slowed, Demon did not, and we continued on for a bit. I quipped to the other riders, "See you in a bit!"

Sure enough, Demon slowed down again and the mares caught us again. The dark bay was still being quite the flirt. Demon was very professional about it and ignored her studiously. 

After we hit the high point and started back down, we rode along the aqueduct, which is covered in concrete. Water had pooled on top. Demon was pretty thirsty and he could smell that water. He made a move to jump up onto the concrete top (about 3 feet) to get a drink, and did manage to sip some water off when the pooling was lower. Not having any idea how well such a structure would hold up to 900 pounds of horse plus rider, nor feeling especially good about traction once on top, I did not allow him to indulge his desire to get up there.

Fortunately once we turned truly back toward camp there was a water bucket and Demon was able to get a good drink. After which we were able to get in some good trotting for some time.

Once we got within 2 miles of camp, Demon wanted to walk, and the mares passed us again. This now being Demon's "thing" and not being especially unhappy with a horse who isn't interested in charging back to camp, I allowed for the nice little mosey back to camp.

At the ride meeting that night, I was pleased to find Demon and I had been awarded fastest time (who else ya gonna give it to, if there's only one horse and rider what did all 4 days?), but particularly thrilled that Dave awarded Demon the overall best condition award. While clearly there were no other candidates, Dave would not have awarded it if he didn't feel Demon had deserved it. If he felt I'd overridden Demon or otherwise pushed him harder than he was fit for, Dave would not have put that on the plaque.

Overall it was a great weekend and I feel really good about both of us. I was a lot better off after 4 days than I had been after the 2 days I rode at Laurel Mountain. I was able to run enough to trot my horse out without looking like I was going to fall down. Demon ate and drank both in camp and on trail quite well. Any time we stopped to wait for other horses to drink, he'd cast about in the desert for something to eat. Demon was able to drink while other horses were close by drinking, and even when riders weren't paying close attention to keeping their horses' heads away from him, Demon kept his own and didn't do anything foolish. In the past I've had to wait for other horses to leave before I could allow him to drink. This is a great thing for him to be able to do, as on the Tevis trail it will likely be far harder to get him a trough all to himself. As to the hunger, I have a suspicion I need to up my electrolyte game. I suspect he's looking for food in an effort to get electrolytes. While it works, there's simply not enough time and sometimes not enough food to replenish electrolytes. So I will fiddle a little with how often I do electrolyte him when we do 20 Mule Team.

* Yes, I mean Duck. These days it seems few people are aware of Dave Nicholson's nickname, The Duck. The story of how the appellation came to be hung upon him varies depending on when you ask and how many drinks are involved.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Laurel Mountain XP Ride 2021

 The second best thing I've done in my life was getting my left hip replaced on November 16th, 2020.

The best thing was having the right one done in November 2013.

Now that I have a matching pair, I'm feeling a lot better in the saddle, and  put it to the test. February 4-6 I entered Laurel Mountain, a 3 day XP event, planning to ride days 1 and 3 and do the limited distance rides. 

Demon and I arrived in camp about 4pm on Wednesday afternoon. The wind was howling out of the South, putting the kibosh on my plan to park with the tail of the trailer to the South. I wanted to keep Demon and the camper door out of that wind. It was strong enough I almost couldn't open my truck door. I parked the trailer with the driver's side to the South, putting the Hi-Tie and camper door to the North. This way at least Demon wouldn't be battered by the wind and I wouldn't be trapped in the camper by it. As it was, the wind was so strong it found it's way through the cracks in the trailer and nearly kept the stove from running.

By 8pm the wind blessedly died down and we had an otherwise peaceful night in camp.

Settled in for the night

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, sign-in was accomplished by virtue of management having put out packets with entry cards, maps, and detailed information about the ride. There had also been an email a couple of days earlier with GPS tracks. I had successfully loaded those on my Garmin eTrex 20 so I'd have the tracks to follow. I took my day 1 card, filled it out, and entered us as planned for the 25 mile ride.

The ride start for the day 1 25 mile ride was 8:30am. Felt like phoning it in. I was up at 4am to feed a very demanding Demon. He's been doing this endurance thing long enough to have developed the understanding he's meant to have as much hay in front of him as he can possibly consume, and is to be provided food upon demand. He'd been pestering me for a while and I'd been ignoring him as best I could, but I finally tended to his desires. 

While waiting for start time, I wandered around camp a bit to see who was there and chatted with a few people before heading back for coffee and cereal for breakfast. I saddled up and we headed over to trot by before hitting the trail.

Demon was eager and super happy to be heading out. My only concern was how long it had been since he'd done much work. After Grand Canyon, we got home, I put him in his pen, I didn't ride him again until January 1st. He hadn't worked until then for 4 months, and the longest ride we'd done between then and Laurel Mountain was 7.5 miles. Not only was I concerned for his fitness, I was concerned for mine. Since the hip replacement in November, my left knee has been giving me fits, really making my life unnecessarily difficult. And I am definitely not yet to the point of mounting from the ground.

The first leg of the 25 is a fairly straight shot up the canyon toward the Laurel Mountain Golfball. I am not sure what, exactly, this structure really is. While it certainly *looks* like a golf ball on a tee, it is far too large for Earthly golf courses. My best guess, based on location and what's around it, is it's a radio tower of some kind.

We were trotting along on the gradual climb toward the mountain, and Demon was absolutely, 100% positive we were meant to be somewhere off to our left. He was trotting along looking ever so slightly left, and at any opportunity, he'd try to turn left. He even sort of stealthily drifted left, trying to head off into the desert in search of the trail he was absolutely certain his stupid human had missed.  But we finally made it up and around and climbed to the Golfball.

I hopped off when we reached the vet check and Demon, having not seen water in some 10 miles, promptly dragged me to the water tanks. Typically I can decently hold him back. That was not the case this day. It was all I could do to keep up well enough not to get literally dragged. At least my knee had not collapsed beneath me when I dismounted, as I had greatly feared it might.

The trot out after our hold must have been a sight to behold. I could just barely go fast enough for Demon to trot, and I limped the whole way. But we were cleared. I then realized I hadn't thought far enough ahead to getting back on after the hold. Fortunately Annie found a spare bucket and turned it over for me to get on with. I may have walked a long way before finding something of sufficient height to get me back on.

We walked the steep hill back down to the flats, then set up trotting again. I kept thinking he'd want a break, but he really didn't. He just kept right on trotting along. He even asked to canter, a request I happily obliged each time. He only stopped for water and when I pulled him down for some of the more technical downhill sections and some rocky stuff.

We got back to the road back toward camp and had to pass the gun range. This wasn't a big deal last year, but this year, some dude was firing off some heavy rifle and that was enough to spook Demon. I was able to keep him calm, but he definitely thought getting by there quickly was ideal. I obliged and we set off at a smart trot to leave that particular nonsense behind.

Before arriving at camp, we had to turn left back out into the desert for another 3 miles. Most horses, upon hitting this turn, the wind goes out of their sails and they really don't want to move out. Not Demon. He'd been gradually slowing as we approached camp. When I asked him for that left turn, he surged forward and headed back out into the desert at a smart trot. However, when we made the turn back toward camp on the trail we'd headed out on in the morning, he slowed to a walk. It took some prodding to get some trotting for at least another mile or so.

It's really funny having a horse who's disappointed to have the day over with.

Once back at camp, we unsaddled and settled in for a nice post ride rest.

Friday we had the day off and stayed quietly in camp as the other horses went out and back all day.

That afternoon, I went over the map for Saturday. I was contemplating the distance of the LD, and thinking about how I wasn't any worse off after 25 miles than I'd been at 12.5 miles, so if I was going to ride 35 miles on Saturday, I may as well ride 50.

I entered us in the 50.

Saturday's ride start was at 7am. I was again up by 4am to feed and water, and got my coffee going so I could lay down for a bit longer. We were saddled and ready to hit the trail after a quick trot by at 7am.

This was a pretty long, technical 35 mile loop to start the day. There's still plenty of jeep road with decent footing to make time on. There's also quite a bit of history in that part of the country. Old buildings from mining days gone by still stand, or at least partially stand, as nature slowly takes them back. These days it seems some of those old mining claims are being re-explored, as several old encampments along the Bonanza Trail are active once again. Much of those 35 miles are very scenic and interesting. 

Bonanza Gulch Post Office

Then there's Red Rock/Inyokern road. Miles and miles of almost entirely straight, virtually flat dirt road. That was a bit tough. Demon really likes single track, so trotting along on such an unvariegated stretch of road, having allowed the other horses to get away from us, was a little disheartening for him. We took several walk breaks, although they were not long, as Demon would seem to get his resolve back and we'd head off at a trot again. Eventually we turned right onto a smaller, more interesting jeep trail where he was able to have a drink and we had our mojo back.

Red Rock/Inyokern Road

I was running the track on my handheld, so I knew how far we were from camp. I kept sneaking peeks at it, and peering off into the distance, thinking surely I should be able to see camp by now? We got to within 2 miles of camp and still no visual sign. I was beginning to wonder if there was some glitch in the track, or if this was some sort of elaborate practical joke, when we crested a hill and camp came into view. I breathed a bit of a sigh of relief and we rode in for our 1 hour hold.

After our hold time, I got back on and we rode over to Dave, where we did our trot out before heading out for the second loop. This loop is a bit more boring and there's considerably less going on. It's also the loop we had a nasty fall on last year. So neither of us was feeling particularly brave about ramming through those miles to get it over with.

Not long after we headed out, another horse and rider caught us up. We exchanged greetings as they passed and continued on. After a bit, the other rider paused her horse, unsure where to expect the next turn. As I was using the GPS, I was able to assure her it was a bit further ahead. Ultimately, we ended up riding those last miles together and I wish I had written her name down, because I am *terrible* with names. We mostly trotted, with a little walking here and there.  We managed to miss a turn somewhere, but were able to find our way back to the trail with little issue.

Then we had to pass the shooting range again.

This time, an extra heavy rifle was being fired. With two horses reinforcing the idea that going that way was stupid, it was much more difficult to get them to go. I managed to get Demon onto the road and then off into the desert a bit and pick up the trot so we could get the heck out of there. All the while never quite sure when the next shot was going off. Both horses were unhappy, but at least they weren't bucking or rearing or bolting. Some sideways spooking and a powerful desire to bug out were the worst of it.

Once again we had to turn off to the left away from camp. Demon, having done this before, was well pleased and knew what to the expect. So we led the way at a cheerful trot until the turn back to camp. Even though those last two miles were mostly walking, we made good time.

Back at camp, we trotted our horses by Dave to vet out. Headed back to the trailer and enjoyed the rest of the day and evening.