Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Endurance is Life

a hot evening, September skies
Ask almost any endurance enthusiast to tell you a ride story and you'll probably be met with a broad grin and a tale that could contain completions, placings, goals met--or things going completely sideways--or both! Whatever the finishing result the story probably also contains excitement, joy, fear, frustration, pain, exhaustion; basically it's safe to assume you'll run through most of the gamut of human emotions out on the AERC trail. Whether you are riding your first LD, a long awaited 50, a bucket list 100, the mental and physical journey will be there. There are undoubtedly levels of difficulty and necessary preparation within those distances that must be acknowledged and respected. At the end of the day though, every person that crosses a start line at one of our beloved endurance rides has started somewhere, paid their dues in some form, packed their everything, kitchen sink, AND hopes into their rig, and if they're lucky, set out down the endurance trail on ride morning on a good friend with a dream in their heart.

Oh the places it takes us! Nevada Derby 50 2014
Photo credit Baylor/Gore
My passion for endurance began in 2001 when the previous owner of my first horse told me that she went camping, rode all day, and then got fed hot food and maybe did it again the next day--and it was a *organized thing that people did.* As a horse crazy 13 year old girl, nothing could sound more delightful, and without hesitation my rangy buckskin Appendix mare and I in our free postage stamp English jumping saddle and cheap local tack store leather bridle joined the awesome elderly ladies on their biothane-clad Arabians on weekend training rides. Previous to my owning her my mare had failed an AERC ride attempt or two due to being wickedly high strung and incapable of pulsing down if the day didn't go her way, but she and I were birds of a feather and we beebopped our way through our first LD in fall of 2002. By beebopped I mean the riders all passed a spot in the trail where nearly all the horses spooked violently including mine and my sponsor's. My sponsor was thrown and got a nasty concussion, but our horses stayed with us, she mounted back up, and we made it slowly to the halfway vet check. People were immediately networking on my behalf and I was picked up by another kind rider and my now-concussed sponsor insisted that I go on. My angsty mare magically transferred her affections from sponsor horse to new sponsor horse, and away we went to a fine finish. It was completely thrilling and terrifying and while it was technically a limited distance ride, I have been calling myself an endurance rider ever since.

No ride photos from those early LDs but here's my pretend endurance horse and I
 being pretend show people at the local county fair, circa 2002  ;-)
Of course, the journey won't always be smooth, from mile to mile, or ride to ride. That's the thing about endurance riding--it's a highly concentrated mini roller coaster ride in life, while you're busy living the roller coaster ride of the rest of your life. Hours and miles spent on the trail in concentration on a goal, getting to know your horse, breaking through on challenges presented and then not for a while, all strengthen, though sometimes the word seems more like toughen, your mental and physical hides. Perhaps most simply put, and in the colloquial meaning, it "builds character."

my right ankle, fall 2009
not according to plan...builds character! 
Blaze and I @ Whiskeytown 2011
We were Overtime by max 10 min & didn't get completion..
not according to plan...great ride though!
 photo credit Christie B's Photography

To not turn this into a novel, let me summarize by saying that it was 10 years, a lot of lessons, and 220 LD miles before I rode my first 50 milers, on Desire, in March 2012 at Cuyama XP. 

Cuyama XP 2012
Photo credit Lynne Glazer
While only 2 years ago, that photo seems a lifetime (and definitely was 45 lbs!) ago. Every ride, every ride weekend, every month and year are so packed with opportunities to learn and grow and enjoy, if you can overcome and thrive against whatever life and endurance presents you with.
My ride season plans didn't go at all according to plan this year, but at this point in endurance and life, I'm pretty much okay with that. Scrappy and I completed the first leg of the NASTR Triple Crown in April but then played with saddle fit all summer, which ultimately means that we spent a lot of time together figuring out nuances and filling in training and relationship holes, and I realized yesterday just how truly valuable all that time was.

We hit the trail early and my saddle set up, finally, felt perfect. I've been having finicky issues getting my Skito and Sensation treeless saddle just perfectly lined up together, as well as fretting over the inch or so of back and forward slide I get on steep up and downs, despite crupper and breast collar use. For once though I got everything just right and was not obsessing over tack for a moment or two. Unfortunately the air at the lake was smoky from wildfires both north and south of us, the worst air quality all summer, so my original mileage plan was immediately tossed out the window. Ah well, as you'll find in endurance, that'll happen.

pensive Scrappy..not so rolly polly these days..
smoky trails..time to go home
Despite less than ideal conditions, Scrappy and I were so clearly in tune with each other that we cruised a few miles at a sedate pace, including passing the trailer and adding another mile or two walk solely because Scrappy attempted Snarkitude regarding Being Done and Going to the Trailer NOW. On the way back he bobbed his head at his foot once so I gave him a "Woah" to give him an opportunity to scratch, and he immediately halted on a downhill and scratched his chin with a booted hind leg, with me perfectly balanced in the treeless on his back.  It was a moment of perfect balance (thank god!) and quite a nice change from the sudden halt and fling his head down without warning that our early days together entailed. When he'd taken care of his itch he moved smoothly on and a few minutes later the clouds shifted and I glanced over my shoulder and was captured by the light.

"HEY Scrappy, look at that!" I exclaimed and he immediately stopped, turn his head to where I looked, and I snapped this picture:
It was a hot, smoky, not according to plan ride, but it was maybe the best ride I've had all year. Of course, even as my flouted goal frustration cools and I embrace the relationship instead of the ride record I've built with my horse this summer, my little endurance demons have started dancing on my shoulders again, and I have a ride yet again in my sights. 

Just my first 100, no big deal. !!!

And so the life and endurance cycles continue.

look! Scrappy really is a grey! kinda...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Catching up with the Herd

It's struggling to be fall here in the foothills of the Sacramento Valley. Trees are changing, leaves are falling, there is a cooler touch in the evening air against your skin. In the last few weeks summer coats shed, and in the last few days the horse's bodies have one by one begun to assume that slightly fuzzy outline that suggests a winter coat growing in to hide the slick of summer. Paradoxically, the thermometer still reaches the mid to high 90s during the day, and I sweat, sip, slaver, seek shade, spray sunscreen, and repeat. I'm grateful for every day with my family and creatures in our beautiful home, but I am also so very very ready for the blessing of a cool fall and an appropriately wet winter.

while tractor work is done, Desire visits the filly pasture. Rather harmonious for a mare squad! 
Scrappy keeps an eye on the ladies, who as witnessed above, don't return the interest..

 tractor work was *quite* exciting if you asked Scrap and mini Napoleon
Rushcreek Aurora, 13 months. Ever curious!
Sheza left her dinner right after this photo to come present her shoulder for scratches <3

In wiener news, boys are easily pleased and little Kodiak knows that I haven't handed over everything that's in the Petco bag...

I've been toodling around the neighborhood on Scrappy in the Sensation treeless with Skito pad off and on lately and this morning I seized the opportunity to get a few more hilly miles in at the lake. Of course it was also the hottest day of the week (at least I hope it was..) and even though we got our workout in quite quickly for our turtle selves, it was just plain HOT when we got back to the trailer. Fortunately there are a few key water troughs out on the Lake Oroville trails and even when they have the *nerve* to re-cement them in a startling new fashion, Scrappy can be convinced to drink from them. 

It looks different, I KNOW IT

 Fine, I'll drink, but my life force will be sucking backwards and my ears akimbo
 We flushed a fox, scattered some squirrels, and tiptoed past many a deer
 Scrappy wearily tanks up back at the trailer as I recline against my hubcap, slugging water and eating his carrots
I just chanced looking at the weekend forecast and am consoling myself that yes, today *was* the hottest day of the next 3..by one degree..signing off from dry, dusty, dreaming of autumn land.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Exemplary Fillies

Rushcreek Aurora, 13 months
I know, I know, the perfection won't last. Growing pains and hormones and fillies being fillies, I'll no doubt be back with some training/behavior issue posts soon. For now, I'll merely fill your eyes with my clever, good looking Arabian fillies aged 3 and 1. They were both exemplary creatures today and I'll admit it, I'm *proud* of the places I've come with both of these gals in our respective relationships. Sheza has been a wonderful test of my inner calm and patience since day one, and after almost 5 months with my junior Rushcreek I have a hunch that Rory's bold bossy attitude is going to be a great stretching of the filly raising skills that I think I now have.

Rory's getting more solid by the week! Quite a difference 5 months makes
step sisters, but the amicable kind
Rory putting herself away with Desire. 2nd time doing this routine, she's a bit of a smarty pants
 Sheza had her briefest round pen session yet, executing everything I asked calmly and lining up for her gold star the first time around. I  decided to test that patience by giving her a thorough hoof trim; aside from a discussion on pulling her hinds away it was all groovy 


Thanks for the great morning, girls!