Saturday, January 10, 2015

2015 Death Valley Encounter, Day 2, 50 Miles

Day 2 was Hoss's first day at this ride. Riding fresh horses on consecutive days is a bit of a challenge, I will say. I was glad, though, to ride Hoss after having ridden DC rather than the other way around. Hoss is a seasoned horse and while bigger and stronger, he also knows what is expected of him.

When I pulled Hoss's saddle pad out of the truck, it was frozen into the weirdest, least horse-back-shaped position I think it could possibly be in. It would have to warm up some before it assumed an appropriate shape. The saddle went on over it and my next hurdle was before me. Hoss has gotten a bit pudgy, and between that and the hard saddle pad, I couldn't get the girth around him. It took me and my husband putting an effort in to get the girth secured.

Because the girth was not tight, once I was ready to go I started simply leading Hoss around camp. Once the saddle pad warmed up, I was able to tighten the girth properly and mount up.

We got out on trail, going at a pretty hot clip. Hoss knows his job well. On this day, he was pretty motivated and wanted to go fast!

Of course, being seasoned doesn't mean Hoss doesn't ever misbehave. He's also strong willed and opinionated. He will take advantage of me when given the chance. We caught up with a pair of riders, and Erasmo wanted to say "hello" to the camera. So I turned it on, and while my attention was distracted laughing and joking, Hoss got one over on me. He got in a good bolt, and it took quite some time before I was able to get him back under control (see the video above).

I was pretty tired from managing DC on Day 1, so I finally said the hell with it and pretty much let Hoss has his way. This turned out to be not such a bad idea. He stayed with the front runners all morning, coming in to camp for the vet check in 9th place. I laughed and said that wouldn't last.

We took back to the trail after our hold time, moving a little slow since he'd already been in camp for a while and didn't see any purpose in leaving (well, he feels that way about out vet checks, too). He still got going at a pretty good clip once I convinced him we really were leaving.

We held our position for quite some time. For what seemed like a very long time, it felt like we were out there completely alone. The trouble started when we hit trail we had done earlier in the day. He thought this meant we were going to do the exact thing we'd done before, and without other horses nearby to keep him from getting discouraged, he wasn't having it. He dropped to a slow walk.

I decided I wasn't going to let him be demoralized, and held onto a positive outlook and just kept telling him how awesome he was. He really did not want to believe me. I persevered. I wasn't about to let him pull me into his dour outlook. Ultimately it worked. Sort of. He'd pick up the pace when we headed toward camp, and slowed when the trail took us away from camp.

Toward the end of the day, we came within a mile of camp, only to have to turn away for several more miles (very similar to the Coso Junction ride of a couple weeks before). As soon as we headed away from camp, Hoss slowed to a walk.

Hoss is a very helpful soul. He kept showing me trails that would take us back to camp. He was completely convinced I was lost, and he needed to show me the way.

A couple of horses passed us, and I hoped he'd perk up and want to keep with them. No, that wasn't about to happen. He didn't want to be with those horses. Those horses were just as stupid as his stupid rider!

Finally we turned back toward camp and he picked up the pace. There were moments when he thought I might be tricking him, but ultimately, he made it back to camp.

We placed 11th. Had he cared, he could have kept his 9th place position. But that's jut not Hoss. Still, he acquitted himself well, and I am very proud of him.

2015 Death Valley Encounter, Day 1, 50 Miles

After a very good performance in the 25 at the Coso Junction ride, I decided DC needed to do a 50 or two. She needed a little humbling. I've done Death Valley several times, so I had some idea what to expect. I decided it would be best to ride her on Days 1 and 4.

Day 1 is a big, long loop with an out vet check. It's a tough ride, but Days 2 and 3 have tougher trail I'm not ready to expose her to just yet.

In the morning I did my normal routine of feeding at 5am and getting my own breakfast. I was very fortunate to have my husband along, meaning I had a nice hot breakfast and  fresh coffee every day.

DC was quite nervous when the time came to saddle up. Now she really knew what's up. It's likely she's always going to be tense while we prepare. She settles down quite nicely once we're on the trail.

DC walked nicely out of camp and across the road, feeling a little conflicted with Hoss at camp calling for her. By the time we crossed the road, she got down to work and was ready to get after it.

We caught up with a group of riders I often ride with, including Laurie and Joan. I thought we might stick with them. It became evident DC is far too fast for that group, so I let her move on. I don't really want her getting into wanting to be with other horses anyway.

We were sailing along pretty well, and doing very nicely. I didn't realize at the time, but we were pretty close to the front runners.

At the top of a hill, I realized I needed to tighten DC's girth, so I hopped off and took care of that task. I didn't realize until later that in the process of getting off I had dislodged my phone, which remained behind.

I got back on, oblivious to the loss of my phone and we kept chugging down the trail. I had switched her recently to a hackamore, and now I learned that was a mistake. The idea was for her to get used to eating and drinking on trail and not have to contend with a bit while learning. Now I had nothing to drive her forward into, and she was over reaching badly. When another rider commented on the sound of her hind shoes clipping the fronts, I quipped, "At least I know the shoes are still on!"

Once we had broken free of other riders, we moved out some more with me trying to keep her together and not having much luck. At one point, her right front foot stopped hard, and she just kept moving on. I thought, she'd either hit a rock or pulled the shoe.

She had pulled the shoe.

It was only about 10 miles into the ride, and she wasn't about to slow down if she could avoid it.

We came to a dry creek crossing with a very steep step down. I decided she didn't know enough yet to try to carry me down it and hopped off to lead her down. As soon as I stepped down, the ground gave way underneath me. My only saving grace was that stupid hackamore. Since there was no bit in her mouth, I felt comfortable using the reins to keep me from falling completely, and she complied nicely by holding position and giving me something to brace against.

I recovered from my near-fall and continued leading DC. We were on single track trail, and she wanted nothing more than to catch up with other horses in the distance. I was eventually forced to get back on and hope that right front foot would hold up. She just would not walk compliantly and she was going to get me hurt.

Once back on, we were off and trotting again. I managed to keep her back some, but elected to dismount to control her on another downhill and she was determined to catch up. At least at this point we were on a road, so she was less likely to kill me. The absolute determination was beginning to get to me. For a moment I considered removing her bridle and letting her go and see if we ended up in the same place at the end of the day.

At this point I realized I'd lost my phone. Now I was thoroughly discouraged. DC had a shoe off. My phone was gone. All we were going to be doing at the vet check was getting a ride back to camp.

Another pair of riders caught up, and one called out to ask if I'd lost a phone. Why, yes, yes I had. Indeed, they had my phone. And, they offered me the use of a hoof boot. It was a size too big, but it seemed to stay on pretty okay.

We continued on our way, me watching our shadow carefully to make sure that boot was still on, her looking for horses to overtake. She would catch up and overtake horses, then keep going to be sure they stayed behind her. Occasionally she'd slow down, figuring she was far enough ahead to risk taking a breather. If another horse caught her, it was on again.

The boot turned out not to work. It would stay on until she over reached and stepped it off. By the time I gave up on it the gaiter was wrecked.

I finally led her into the vet check, having gone faster than I had expected and slower than DC wanted. If she'd had her way, we would have been to the vet check an hour and a half earlier.

I found our crew bag and got us set up. This was DC's first out vet check experience. She had learned enough in her last ride to know she'd better eat. Still, she was pretty amped and wanted to look around. I insisted she be reasonably still and not spin circles. She ate her hay relatively well, but ignored the bran mash.

After we'd been in for half an hour, I took her to Alyssa to vet. I mentioned the lost shoe and that she hadn't taken a lame step. She passed the vet check without taking a bad step. OK, so we were going to continue. If nothing else, even if she was disqualified at the end, she needed to learn a little something.

We finished our hold time and headed out. DC did a nice controlled trot for a time, and then caught sight of other horses. And we were off. She cantered just shy of a gallop for a good length of time across the valley floor. Other horses caught us when she slowed, then she'd get up moving again and pass. I managed somehow to keep her from completely running away with me.

What finally slowed her was the heavy climb out of the valley. We were now with two other horses on a rocky, treacherous section of trail. She was fine with staying behind Ann Marie and Woody at this point.

Never once did DC take a lame step as she powered back toward camp. Her only concession to maybe being a little sore footed was the switch to cantering on the other lead toward the end of the day.

Concerned about that foot, I got off and led her in the last bit. Consequently, we were passed by several horses and dropped out of the top ten. Had she not lost that shoe, she certainly would have been in the top ten. As it was, she still dragged me back into camp at the end of the day.

Did I say something about humbling her? Never mind.

Friday, January 9, 2015

2015 Death Valley Warm Up, Day 2, 25 Miles

On Day 2, I saddled DC up with her new gear to head out. She was quite nervous, not sure what to expect, and knowing Hoss was distressed. Hoss, of course, understood what it meant that she was being saddled and he was not. He was giving her last minute instructions as I saddled her up and walked her away.

DC sporting the ugly saddle, the day we found it.
I knew Hoss would be OK by himself. He's a smart and sensible guy and generally quits acting the fool pretty quickly. I did make sure his lead rope was well secured. By the time we left, he was looking up and nickering, but mostly keeping his head lodged in his hay bag.

Getting ready for the ride, feeling nervous
DC was a little silly at the start. She was spooking at every little thing she could think of to spook at. I realized her girth was not tight enough, but she wouldn't stand still for me to get off until another rider, taking pity on me, stopped her horse in DC's path so I could dismount.

Once the saddle was tightened sufficiently, I got back on and we were on our way. It only took a few miles for DC to settle in and get to work. She was clearly a little mystified by the number of horses around. It's been a long time since she has been at a ride, and our last one we took a wrong turn and it was her, me, Hoss, and Wendy for miles and miles. This was really a rather new experience for her  to be around a bunch of strange horses all going the same place.

We trotted along and stayed with various horses for brief periods, but DC never really hooked up with another horse. She could take or leave any of them. Often, preferably, leave them.

The vet check was a quick check and short hold. We didn't have to stay long, and DC showed no interest in her hay, so we got back on the trail quickly. She was looking back and trying to determine what in the world it was we were up to, so it didn't take long for another rider to catch up with us.

Our horses were pretty well matched (other than the gelding walked faster than DC does), so we remained together for the rest of the ride.

DC quickly discovered trotting downhill was a pretty nifty way to make time. And when we got to the long more-or-less flat portion, she got right down to cantering. Cantering is her new favorite thing. She would pop over into the canter and just go right along. I kept thinking she'd slow down on her own, but that wasn't going to happen. I kept having to slow her myself.

I was having difficulty keeping myself centered in the saddle. The previous day's ride on Hoss had left me pretty much without any "leg" left. Every time DC took the right canter lead, the lead she prefers, I'd start to lose the left stirrup. And every time I tried to get the stirrup back, DC thought I was asking her to go faster. She is, I have to say, quite fast. I could tell she had another gear to give. I kept her back, not wanting her to blow herself up.

We sailed back to camp, and I had to get off to get her to slow down. As we walked along the paved road back into camp, I could hear the telltale sound of a loose shoe. That left hind shoe was near gone. This was not a surprise. After all, she was due for shoes the next day.

After I got DC vetted out (she didn't give a hoot about Hoss; her heart rate came down right away), I took her back to the trailer and tended her. I got everything packed up and we were ready to go two hours after we had finished. I was satisfied with this time before loading up.

At the end of the ride, she thinks she's got this all figured!
I had loaded the horses in the trailer and was putting away the last minute stuff when someone yelled to ask what my out time was. Out time? I was done! I guess I've been doing 50s so long, it never occurred to anyone to think I was doing an LD.

We pulled out at 3pm, and were home by 10. DC cantered off into the pasture, shoe clattering, feeling pretty darn good about herself.

2015 Death Valley Warm Up, Day 1, 50 Miles

It's been a few years since I went to this ride. I decided pretty close to the last minute to go. We'd finally gotten DC's saddle issues figured out, by dint of finding for her the ugliest, quite possibly oldest existing Abetta Western saddle in existence. It's in reasonably good shape, all things considered, even if it is ugly. And it fits her. It fits her well enough she feels like a new horse under it.

So I decided both horses were going. I dithered a bit about DC's shoes, having noticed her left hind sounded a little off, and ended up taking her in shoes just days shy of six weeks old. I could have gotten her done beforehand, but I just never got around to getting to it. I decided it wasn't such a huge risk not to take.

DC's first "truck stop bran mash"

It was the longest trailer ride DC had ever been on. She got anxious in the trailer after a couple of hours. I stopped at our regular truck stop and unloaded both horses. DC handled it pretty well for it being the first time she'd been off the trailer in an unusual place. We even had a little walk around the dirt parking lot. Both horses ate a sloppy bran mash beside the trailer before we loaded up and finished the drive. DC was quiet the rest of way, aside from flapping her lips in the breeze with her nose stuck out the trailer.

Because I was on my own, and we would have to head home on Sunday, I opted to ride Hoss in the 50 on Saturday and DC in the 25 on Sunday.

Saturday morning, I got Hoss ready and started him warming up. I was a little concerned about leaving DC at the trailer by herself, but I knew enough people would be in camp and she's sensible enough to be safe. Usually I don't do much warming up, but I wanted to monitor DC's behavior before we left.

We made several laps so I could see DC. The first three times, she was still there, decreasingly anxious. Just as the trail was about to open, I peeked over one last time, and she was gone. Lead rope and all. I went trotting on Hoss back toward camp hollering about my loose horse. Another person had found her and was walking her back. Laurie Birch, another rider, kindly offered me the use of her horse's pen while we were gone. I gratefully accepted and hemmed in the silly little mare.

Hoss was of two minds about leaving camp for the first mile or so. Once we were far enough away for him to focus, he got down to work.

We were by ourselves for a time, then were caught up by a group including Laurie and Taz (who Hoss loves) and Joan and Dodge. We trailed along with them for some time. I realized Hoss really has the ability to go faster than this group tends to go, but I also had a feeling he wasn't going to pass them. Rather than set him up to fail, I allowed him to fall behind until he finally let them go. When he did let them go, he was feeling a bit unmotivated and really not interested in getting up the hill. I had to pedal him quite a bit.

Getting to the vet check felt like an insurmountable task until we found ourselves there. Hoss recognized the trailer and the people and cheerfully started hunting for his crew bag. He ate well and even slurped up his bran mash. At this ride, I did not give him any electrolytes other than what he got in his mashes, so no syringes during the ride. This is a pretty big change for him, which I decided to do after he spit out half the syringeful the last time I gave him one. I have decided to trust him to tell me when he needs electrolytes.

After the hold, it was back on the trail. There were a few horses ahead, and Hoss was feeling motivated, so I let him move out. These horses were faster than him, so I had to hold him back a bit, but he was doing very well.

We chugged our way up the big, fat hill, then got to work getting back toward camp. We caught up with, passed, and were caught and passed by the other horses we'd been chasing/riding with since the vet check.

It turned out the other horses were on the LD ride, which meant an interesting little divergence. We got to within a few miles of camp, and the LD riders continued straight while we, on the 50, turned right for an additional four or five miles. Hoss trotted along cheerfully enough, clearly knowing we were close to camp, and thinking that was where we were headed, even if we weren't with the other horses anymore.

Then I asked him to step up onto the double track, and he caught on. This was definitely Not Back To Camp. Oh, he could not possibly have a more cruel and inhumane owner! He dropped to about a 2 mph walk. I know the score when he's in a mood like this. There is no making him go faster. No power on this earth will get him moving until he gets out of the snit. The only option is to simply ride through it. Kicking and urging will just wear me out and get me nowhere.

We went at this snail's pace walk for about a mile before another horse caught and passed us. Now that he wasn't the only horse being forced to walk The Wrong Way, Hoss picked up a desultory trot to sort of keep up. He wouldn't catch up, but he'd get to a respectable distance.

We got to the end point and turned back toward camp. Hoss did not believe at first that we were really, honestly and truly, headed back to camp. After a bit, he realized we must be finally going to the finish and picked up a more respectable pace for the last couple of miles.

I presented Hoss to Alyssa when we arrived, only to have him fail to recover. I knew exactly what was up with that. DC had been hollering to him for some time, and all he could think about was the mare. I went back to camp and got her, and when I re-presented him, he was fine.
Full moon over camp

2014 Sesenta Años

Since Cthulhu's birth, and the subsequent intensity of time required on my part, I hadn't ridden much. By November, Cthulhu was ready to be weaned, and doing pretty well all things considered (there will be more on him in January). Things were going well, so I decided to get in a ride.

Initially I planned to go to Lead Follow or Get Out of My Way in Arizona. Unfortunately, as the date approached, I realized Hoss's Coggins test was far out of date, and we didn't have time to get a new one. So, I decided we'd go to Sesenta Años in Santa Barbara.

I was feeling a little ambitious, since the ride is a multi-day, and thought to take DC for a limited distance ride as well. Unfortunately, she was having a terrible time with lameness, and it became evident her saddle had a lot to do with it. So, she stayed home with Cthulhu and Hoss and I headed to Santa Barbara.

My husband had come home from work for his regular two weeks off a few days earlier, and he wanted to go with us. He had an important doctor appointment on Friday, so we didn't get to the first day. My plan was to ride Saturday in the 50 and Sunday in the LD.

It's been a long time since I've done much in terms of endurance riding. As a result, I forgot my video camera *and* my still camera. Fortunately I did have my phone and was able to get a few pictures.

We were very late arriving in camp on Friday night, mostly due to my GPS suddenly developing a mean streak. I had put in the address, but it wanted us to go up the 5, and that wasn't happening. Ultimately it ended up sending us over 100 miles out of our way and running us into the most bizarre places where no horse trailer should attempt to travel.

Because we were so late, I picked up my paperwork and took it with me back to camp. We got camp set up and went to bed.

I got up early in the morning and fed Hoss as usual, thinking ride start would be 7am. I filled out my paperwork and took it to Annie. It was a good thing I went when I did. Turned out the ride started at 6am! I had twenty minutes to get Hoss tacked up and vetted.

It was still pretty dark when I walked back over with Hoss in tow to vet in and head out on trail. I heard Cheri Briscoe, owner of Echo, who is one of Hoss's best friends, talking in the darkness. I called out to her and we were able to chat a moment. The drawback of this was Echo and Hoss seeing each other. They were both very thrilled, but Cheri does not like to let Echo socialize, and for that matter, I'm not a fan of letting Hoss socialize, either. Cheri pulled Echo away while I led Hoss to Alina for vetting. When I trotted him out, he was still in a snit about Echo, and he bucked his way along beside me.

We walked around waiting for the trail to open for a while. Hoss was pretty amped, but he was being a pretty good boy. It's nice to have a horse who will obey even when he can barely control himself.

The trail opened and we started on our way. Pretty early on, I discovered there's a skill I haven't gotten back since the hip replacement: I can't stop a horse cantering without jumping in his face! Usually Hoss will slow back down at the slightest suggestion, but he wasn't having it this day. I wound up letting him get away with his version of bolting several times before I was able to at least talk him into not doing it.

We were going at a pretty good clip, and we met up with another horse and rider we've been with before (Joan and Dodge). Hoss and Dodge, when it's just them, are reasonably well matched. The biggest difference is that, while Hoss will give a solid 5%, Dodge will put in 20%. Dodge's trot is generally faster than Hoss's, but if it's just the two of them he'll slow down and let Hoss catch up.

This ride turned out to have some pretty spectacular hills. Unfortunately Hoss and I had been training for Lead Follow, a pretty flat, low elevation ride. Sesenta Años is much hillier and much more elevation change. It started to tell on Hoss pretty early.

We came into the vet check at just shy of 25 miles at 9:30. Hoss took a few minutes to come down, while Dodge was down right away. This meant Dodge would leave the vet check about 5 minutes before we did. I was kinda okay with this, as Hoss simply wasn't ready for a ride quite that strenuous at the pace Dodge can do it.

The perversity of horse
Hoss was not especially interested in his bran mash, but ate his alfalfa relatively well, and was drinking just fine. He was pretty interested in the dry grass! When our hold was over, I got him ready and we headed back out. By this point, Dodge and Joan were long gone.

Without the motivation of another horse, Hoss was slower and more manageable. I was OK with this.

The loop after lunch included a long (about 10 miles) stretch with no water and a whole lot of climbing. I really knew Hoss was feeling it when we got to the top of a hill, ready to go down, and he just stopped and looked at me. I ended up leading him quite a bit, as I just knew he was feeling a bit humbled by the experience.

We climbed out of the section without water with Hoss feeling like he was gonna die. I had given him a dose of electrolytes, which had helped, and he really needed water. Finally there was a water tank, and he was able to get a good, solid drink.

Once he'd tanked up, Hoss was much happier and picked up the pace for a time. We were trotting along well and getting close to the finish when he just quit on me. Chalking it up to a combination of under condition and lack of company, I got off and led him.

After we'd been walking a while, and he had showed no interest and moving on, Echo caught up to us. Thinking he might be motivated if he was with his friend, I hopped on and asked him to move out. He did not feel right. He felt lame.

I got back off and looked him over. He had sprung a shoe, and now was moving stupid. I continued leading him, sure we would be disqualified for lameness at the end.

We trudged into camp and walked up to Alina for our vetting out. I was tired and sore, and so was Hoss. When Alina asked how the day went, I admitted neither of us had been truly ready for this particular ride, and told her Hoss's right front shoe was sprung.

Hoss is truly an interesting character. The last time I had looked at him trot, he looked dead lame to me. When I trotted him for Alina, I swear he knew what was at stake. He shuffled along and disguised his problem well enough for Alina to say he looked normal to her. I just shook my head and took him back to the trailer.

A lovely sunset in camp
Our original plan had been 50 on Saturday and an LD on Sunday. With a sprung shoe, moving on it for well over 4 miles, and no way to fix the shoe anyway, we decided we'd be going home in the morning.

When I went to settle my entry fees, Annie handed me a couple of boxes and a mug. All the items involved were awards from the XP rides Hoss and I had completed in 2013.  We brought home a *lot* of stuff.

Awards from individual rides in 2013
Our awards for Gold Medal on the XP -- over 1,000 miles!

 *It took me a little while to get to writing this post. I felt the need to figure out how to do a tilde before I wrote it. My father was a Border Patrol officer, and having grown up in Southern California I understand the significance of the tilde. It utterly changes the meaning of the word. My father had this story to tell:

While out with a bunch of rookies, a group of illegals (that's what we called them way back then) was apprehended. One of the rookies went to questioning one of the illegals. This is how that conversation went:

Rookie: Cuantos anos tiene?

Illegal: (looking confused and perhaps a little offended) Solo uno señor!

Because "años" is years; "anos" is anuses! The rookie's question literally translated as "How many anuses do you have." Yup, I'd be confused and horrified!