Sunday, January 18, 2015
I decided two things in January of 2015: to take seriously the thought that I could complete a 100 mile equine endurance race and to write about my journey in a blog.
I’ve thought about writing down my experiences since moving to the rural Virginia mountains in 2007, but never sat down to do it. Though I’m not sure if anyone besides my mom (shout out to mom… always my biggest fan!) will want to read this blog- I decided to give it a try.
Like any good story, let’s begin in the middle.
This afternoon I rode my trusted trail horse Faygo (Gray, middle aged MO Foxtrotter mare) and ponied along my green horse (for anyone that doesn’t speak equine I’ll translate in some of these early posts: she isn’t actually a green horse though she was born on St. Patricks Day… green means with very little training- opposite of Faygo my trusted trail partner), Khaleesi, for our first training ride. It was cold, and late in the day to get started, but though there were pretty sunny patches of blue skies, there were occasional gusts of wind, and it had rained a bit on and off so I had procrastinated as long as I could. I might have just not bothered, except I had just made the decision in my mind that Khaleesi and I were going to do the 100- so even though it was cold, an hour from dark, a bit windy, and threatened to rain on us, we saddled up around 4pm.
We crossed the highway with trail dogs in tow (Linus and Peggy-Sue) for our first ride with intent on the goal. Even though I knew what our route would be and had no concern of getting lost, I had my GPS to begin tracking our distance and speed. As we walked along (1.8mph- Faygo, this is not going to get us to the finish line…) a big gust blew the tops of the trees and the dark clouds began to move from the Southwest again. I stopped the girls and pulled up my hood and put on my gloves. I can handle a little rain, we’ll only be out here an hour.
This wasn’t the beginning of the journey. That is a bit more vague… was it in July, right after my birthday, when I went to pick up a young horse that I had no idea if I would be able to train? Maybe it was a couple years ago when I signed an agreement to lease-to-own my first horse (Faygo) from one of my best friends and equine mentor? Was it in the years before that when I begged anyone with horses to take me riding and logged in some miles on a rock solid quarter horse mare of another friend? (those were some great adventures!) It might have been during childhood when no vacation was complete without trying to visit a trail riding stable and paying for an hour on a trail horse with a guide… or maybe it goes all the way back to when I was 6-years old, living in a subdivision in Las Vegas- looking up ads in the newspaper for horses for sale and having my mother dismiss my begging with “If you can find someone to sell you a horse that can live in our backyard then sure you can have one.” I did make some phone calls. I can’t even imagine what the people on the other end of the line though of a 6 year old girl asking questions about buying and keeping a horse in her backyard.
For the purpose of this story, we will start with Khaleesi.
Born Ireland on March 17, 2010 at Apple Horse Farm, her mother is a gray TN Walker X Arabian and her daddy is a black and white paint Racking Horse X American Saddlebred. I call her an American Rackarabian Walker. She is dark but not black- lets call her a black bay with one white ankle sock. As my trusted mare Faygo (Faygo my first equine love… Faygo the fine… Faygo the fantastic…) is passing middle-age and had a battle with lymes disease last winter, I decided I would like to find a young horse (a 2 or 3-year old) that I could bring home, get to know, and gradually spend time bringing her along so when the long miles our riding friends enjoy get too hard on Faygo, I’d have another horse coming up to take over some of the work. I decided summer was ideal for me to take this on at first as I had more free time than during the school year when teaching gets busy.
I called a girlfriend whose brother breeds (gaited) horses and asked if she could find out if he might have one to suit me. I wasn’t too concerned about a specific breed or color, I wanted a young mare who would ideally gait, and be well suited for the kind of hard-core trail riding we do. She called me shortly after and said there was one that seemed like the right pick and I went to see her.
Apple Horse Farm has some of the most stunning horses- beautiful paints, reds and grays and there is a lot of Saddlebred in the genetics there- so high heads and alert ears and beautiful bones. Then there was Ireland, in a pen by herself looking dark and plain and not striking in any particular way. But she was a pretty mare and though she didn’t seem fearful, she would not come over and say hello and let me touch her over the fence. She didn’t come over and say “take me home with you…” She was curious but held her distance. She seemed intelligent and alert without being spooky. She turned out to be 4, but after some handling around age 2 she had lived on the acres in the horse herd and was entirely green.
Inner voice: you have no idea how to train a horse… what on earth are you thinking?
Outer voice: Yes. I’ll take her.
So here we are, 6 months later (almost to the day). I am riding through the woods on a cold January late afternoon checking my GPS to see if I have any concept of how fast we are walking and looking at the dark clouds that threaten to soak us in a cold stinging rain imagining that someday I might have to ride at night, in miserable rain after riding 15 hours already remembering a day in January when the same horse wasn’t even ready for a rider on the trail.
And I feel a sense of joy when instead of a pelting rain, large fluffy snowflakes begin to swirl around us as if dancing along in the breeze. It was the first snow this winter I’d been riding in and it was everything winter should be, quiet, beautiful, and still. We walked along in the forested snow globe to do 4.5 miles at an average speed of 3mph. That includes stopping, so it might be a bit higher. Faygo does have a faster walk, but Khaleesi has been an anchor on our pony rides- I’m hoping this is just her getting used to working out and not a sign that she will always be a slow poke! Will she make an endurance horse? Does she have what it takes? When I looked around for answers to what horse makes a good first endurance horse, the answer I got every time was “The horse you have now” and that every sound/healthy horse can finish a long distance race with the right conditioning.
On my conditioning chart, the average horse is supposed to walk at 3.5 – 4mph so we are not setting any records here. Still, it’s January, and my endurance horse isn’t even ready to carry a rider on the trail. So we’re setting a baseline and starting slow conditioning. Basically, we are not even at zero yet. The starting point I’ve read suggests riding your horse about 3 days a week for the first month at an average of 5mph (slow trot) mostly on the flat (that’s a challenge here).
Today: Ponied Khaleesi with Faygo at about 3mph for 90 minutes.
It’s a start… and everyone has to start somewhere.
I promise to mix in a bit of the past six months as well as the journey going forward is as we go. And most of the entries won’t be this long.
I hope you see you here again, and I hope some of my experiences will entertain you enough to read on….