Walk a mile in my hoof boots

Sunday, March 15, 2015

I looked back at some of my posts and the thread I found recently was the constant question: “When am I going to get more miles?”

Today. We got more miles today.

IMG_8225-0Weather was great (cool but nice), footing was acceptable (slightly muddy with a thawing top to a still frozen underneath, but many areas were pretty good), I had the whole day off. It is shedding season so I donned my painters suit and cleaned the girls up- today was Faygo’s distance ride training day.

I use my GPS, but it’s still a bit of a IMG_8244-0crapshoot exactly how many miles my rides will be as I piece together parts of my trails. In weeks past I’ve slightly undershot my mileage goals but today we did the opposite. I had hoped for a nice 13-15 mile ride and ended up with just under 18.

Walking together through the woods when the trail got steep.
Walking together through the woods when the trail got steep.

I heard someone ask Karen Chaton recently how she stays fit to ride endurance. She says she hauls hay around, and gets off sometimes and jogs with her horse on the trail. Today was the first training ride this year that I’ve gotten off and hiked. We were about half way through the ride, climbing steeply back up the mountain and she was starting to struggle. I hopped off and walked alongside Faygo to give her a break from carrying me up that steep section- then we kept walking together for a while. I enjoyed that part a lot actually, and I did get a little exercise.

I also found some good places for her to gait and I found her easy gait was around 8mph and her heart rate stays right around 120 which isn’t bad to sustain for a while. At mile 12 (still going strong) we hit her favorite canter spot- the footing us almost always pretty good and it’s a slight incline. I couldn’t help but let her fly – the rare moment where I don’t hold her back at all and feel her go into that next gear. My GPS says our top speed was 31mph. Joy!

We took 10 minutes to graze and have a drink at Poor Farm before heading up the mountain toward home.
We took 10 minutes to graze and have a drink at Poor Farm before heading up the mountain toward home.

Something that’s come out of training for this goal with Faygo is my change in how I’m riding her. In my time with her she’s always been forward, smart, and independent. I have spent a lot of time encouraging her to hold back, stay under my control- maybe the footing isn’t the best, maybe we’re riding with friends and their horses are not in such a hurry, maybe we’re on the way home and I’m trying to “train” her not to be so barn sour (bad habit!)… but I have made a conscious decision to let her control more of the ride than I used to. I have to trust her to not hurt herself or me, and riding alone means we don’t have to worry about if another horse is capable or interested in keeping up. It has been particularly fun to let her move through “technical” areas where we have trees down, rocks, branches to duck- we are becoming partners on a whole new level as I have to stay out of her way, stay balanced, hold on, and be ready to duck or move around an obstacle. I don’t allow her to run or canter through dangerously- but she’ll walk fast right at the edge of her gait and I’m amazed at just how good she is.

Old Car along the trail in the woods
Old Car along the trail in the woods

My biggest concern is that we’ll push too fast, too far, too soon and she could get hurt- a tendon… ligament… muscle… yet I believe we have to find what we’re capable of and I hope not to have an injury- but we have to find our limits. With Faygo I can shout out to my friend Nancy who I bought her from- she rode the tar out of that mare while she had her and I’ve kept her in great shape for recent years as we all ride a ton of miles. Our training for this ride is not from square one as a horse who hasn’t been conditioned in the past. Our challenge now is adding speed – and with a forward horse like Faygo, I never need to push her. I’m learning to let her go!

IMG_8232-0The true lesson of this ride though came early on. I found myself thinking too far into the future… about the ride in April… about our goals… and had to remind myself that this IS the goal. Today- our beautiful ride under sunny skies, with the struggles we had (Faygo was not in a good mood and had no problem letting me know as we started out),  but regardless of any of that, this was the goal. The journey IS the point. Be present on THIS ride, on THIS day, with THIS horse. THIS IS IT.

Sometimes I need that reminder. Leave it to my horses to be the ones to do it.