Valentines Day, Saturday, February 14, 2015
It was a Faygo day. Tomorrow is supposed to be true winter storm: high winds, snowfall, and subzero temperatures. Yes, I’m dedicated to training even in less than perfect days- but I’m not doing that. So today is the last riding day I’ll have until possibly Friday if the weather is passable- then I’ll be out of town for a week. We needed to get some miles.
There were about a million reasons not to ride today from wondering if Faygo might be a touch off- or was it just really too cold? Then there was the wind that sounded like it was going to rip the barn roof off. The sky was also a bit ominous (was this dedication or stupidity? would I get caught in a white out miserable and half frozen to death in the woods 6 miles from home?)
I decided there will always be a million reasons not to ride. I geared up in my full head/face mask, helmet cover, scarf, long johns, turtleneck, winter tights, toasty toes, hand warmers in vest pockets and my 10 below riding gloves.
I earned the nickname Gizmo on our cross county ride, and it fit today. I had my GPS (data about my route, MPH and mileage) and the heart rate monitor (data about her fitness). I changed my mind as to what route we’d ride about 12 times as either the sun would peek out, or Faygo would just seem tired and I wondered again if she was 100%, the footing would be great and we’d sail along (we’ll cover tons of ground- maybe we go all the way to Poor Farm), or then we’d come to freezy spots and slide all over (we should just do a short loop and get back sooner than later).
The heart rate monitor still doesn’t seem to work until we get on the trail a few minutes, but it did work for most of the ride today and I got great data!
I learned that early on that though we mostly were walking because I wanted her to have ample time to literally warm up her muscles and joints, coming up the steep hills behind the farm houses really raised her BPM- the watch gives me a percentage of where the heart rate is for work and we got into the 200s for a bit and instead of a % reading it just blinked “HIGH”. I hear you watch… but it’s sometimes hard to slow the girl down especially because after those hills we COULD turn off and go back to her barn at Mill Run Farm.
I was able to get her heart rate down a bit as we WALKED (walk Faygo… walk walk walk walk) down into the cow fields, but I also noticed her heart rate goes up when she’s mad at me.
Faygo: Through the gate and that’s the shortest ride ever!
Jaime: No, we’re actually going for a longer ride today
Faygo: Are you KIDDING me?! Do you know how cold it is, and windy, and we’re ALONE (did you forget Khaleesi?)
Jaime: [has to bump Faygo’s side to not allow her to turn toward the gate] No, I didn’t forget her, it’s just you and me today.
Faygo: I hate you sometimes, why do you make me DO this? Ride her next time, I want to stay home and eat.
Jaime: I know… we’re working on that, but for now, it has to be you.
Faygo: I am SO mad at you.
So, during this exchange we don’t really change much in pace and are just at a walk but her heart rate is very high. Not surprising, arguments tend to raise our heart rate, right?
It’s early in the ride, we’ve hardly done anything and already she’s through the roof. I think to myself you should have known… she’s not cut out for this, she has the heart (the drive, the will once she’s on the trail), but well… not the heart (the lungs and physical capacity) for it. At least now I an resigned that we have more of an uphill battle than I thought. We can still try.
I get her to take my path off the farm up the mountain and she falls into acceptance, has a decent walk, and the monitor comes down. She settles in to somewhere around 100BPM. I’ll take it. We climb off the farm onto our logging road without stopping and head down the trail. If the footing is ok I ask her to move a little faster- mostly still a walk but if she’s willing a gait. We stay steady in easy range of 90-110 BPM (still not pushing her at all). If you look up heart rate zones for horses, we haven’t even left “Zone 1” which is very light work until you pass 140BPM.
I’m not cold, we’re doing well, so we continue to my “power line loop” which is not all the way to Poor Farm, but it’s a lot longer than I thought we’d get. It also has a gradual but significant incline for the entire power line road that is tough. I want to see how she does today.
She knows she’s on her way home and she takes on a big stride, sometimes gaiting, mostly a fast hard walk. I watch the numbers. She is holding steady around 120-145BPM depending on if she’s trying to push me or if it’s more of an incline. We were at about 50% workload most of this hill. I have never climbed this entire road up the mountain without stopping for her to breathe, and I did think she was working “hard” but she never tried to stop, so I didn’t encourage her to today.
We got to the top, and started heading down and hardly got to 150BPM a few times which is still considered “Light” work.
When we got back to our main road we celebrated (she celebrated that we are that much closer to home, I celebrated that she was doing so much better than I’d thought she would) and I let her pick it up (if footing was acceptable) and we gaited and cantered the forestry road until we got back to the logging trail. Never went above “Hard” at 180BPM.
The logging trail is more obstacle course than clear road, and we have to pick our way through, but I encouraged her instead of holding her back (yes, she’s barn sour- but years of making her slow down on the way home hasn’t changed that very much). Instead I asked her to think carefully about where we were going, to partner with me in finding the best path quickly, and though we moved faster- if she started to get out of control (it’s obvious when that happens and she shuts me off, lowers her head and tries to just GO) I insisted she get back in control and work with me. For the most part we were were in light to moderate work zones less than 150BPM for most of it- and never got above 180BPM.
Except for a detour my dogs took us on around mile 8, we rarely stopped, I hardly even drank my water, but we weren’t out of control and we never once went back into the “HIGH” zone. The detour screwed up our stats- because the dogs dove off the trail following some animal melee involving a bobcat that sounded much worse than it was. Peggy Sue is still too new to trust that she can “take care of herself” and from the sounds I couldn’t tell what was hurt, one of my dogs, or the thing that was being attacked… and the howling, barking and screeching was bad enough that I pointed Faygo down the side of the mountain and we went to find them. I knew I would never forgive myself for not trying IF they didn’t show back up at the barn later. Faygo is a great (though reluctant) mountain horse and we picked through some bad stuff together trying to get to the dogs. But it wasn’t at “speed” and getting back meant her climbing out of it which was hard and tricky. It took a good few minutes and some stopping to work our way through. We did get the dogs- who were a little scraped up but not much worse for wear. I thought about killing them myself for a moment- but decided against it (that would just take more time!).
We made it home with no other worries. I usually make her really slow down and walk in that last mile or so. Today I let her push at a fast walk or gait until we reached the farm gate and her heart rate was only around 90BPM. When I untacked her (and removed the monitor electrodes) she was at 71BPM and that was less than 10 minutes from reaching the barn. I am certain she would have been back at 60 or less with plenty of time to spare in the 30 minute window.
Of course, it WAS cold outside, and she was sweaty, so we spent a lot of time in the barn cooling down, brushing, towling, and I gave her a snack of soaked grain (I wanted her to have the water) as a reward for such a great job. When she was fully dry I put her blanket back on and put her out where she rolled and went for a big long drink.
I learned a lot today. Faygo has always had issues with breathing hard on hills (she has a mild case of RAO or heaves which is considered a chronic lung disease), and she pushes herself harder than I like sometimes. Now I hope I can start to get a better feel for what is good work and what is too hard where she needs to slow down and get her heart rate under control. She rarely is the one who wants to stop- I have to make her, which I am always willing to do- but I need to let her keep going more than I realized. I see today that I have been stopping her at points where monitoring her heart rate showed me she had only been at light to moderate workload. If she isn’t getting some good workout time (meaning 2-3 minutes even) of 80%-90% she isn’t getting the anaerobic work she needs to actually break through and build new capacity and stamina.
The other tool I used- my GPS told me that we went 10 miles (just under) and had about a 4mph pace. Not bad for February. I think sometimes my friends make fun of me and my techie tools, but I like the data, and hopefully I can learn what the heart rates feel like over time and I can get better at judging my distances and speeds as well. Hopefully I can use my tools to become better at observing the world around me more accurately.
For now- I learned today that my mare’s got game. We are in better shape than I thought!