Training the athlete

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

I had the whole day and decided to drop myself off on the road to Wilson Mountain and ride home from there along the ridge. It’s a beautiful ride and one that passes through a hunt camp that is off-limits during hunting season so I wanted to ride through there again before fall. Also the trails are well maintained and easy to navigate so it sounded like a stress free fun ride.

Thankfully we have permission- only when there's no hunting in season!
Thankfully we have permission- only when there’s no hunting in season!

I had originally invited a friend who ended up not able to join us- my disappointment was short because I figured you always get the ride you need, and apparently I needed an alone day with Khaleesi.

My goal was to push our limits and get us both out of our comfort zone (how many miles can she trot- but just as important, how many miles can I?). To really train as an athlete and not just a nice day on the trail team. Since we were alone and could pick our own pace, I planned to ride the 17 miles without a true break, and keep a good trot down for as much of it as was reasonable. I believe if she can do a 15-17 mile ride without much break she should be good to go for our 30 mile because no AERC ride loops are longer that 15 miles (at least for the rides I’ve been at). She’s young and has good recovery, so if we could do a strong loop, she’ll get a 45 minute break and should be pretty fresh after that to continue on.

The start of the ride is 3mi uphill on a dirt road, about the most ‘boring’ riding you can do around here, but we practiced some Jedi training. I was so pleased how she would pick up the trot so quickly from my energy now! We did intervals, trotting until a pre-determined spot on the road then walking (transitions, and also some conditioning- trotting uphill) and that was great for both of us. I worked on the rhythm of her foot-falls and rode eyes closed off and on to see if I was correct when I opened my eyes as to what her feet were doing. I’m getting better at feeling it, and relaxing my hips so we move more together.

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I wasn’t comfortable at the trot for a long time on this ride. It is a new saddle for me, I tried lowering the stirrups… that was worse, I felt all tossed around, then I put them back and that was better, but she just didn’t seem to have the graceful movement. After a couple miles I checked my pack and it seems the extra hoof boot I carried was in a position to rub her back behind the saddle, that couldn’t be great – so I removed it and just tied it on.

Whether that helped, or just that we found our ‘stride’ or the footing was better as we got onto the ridge grassy trails, eventually we did settle into a good trot rhythm.

My only regret is that I didn’t use our heart rate monitor. That would have been the perfect ride for it!

What I learned today about her speeds and conditioning:

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**She has a slow trot that she can maintain pretty well of about 5mph as long as the footing is ok, we can go uphill or slightly downhill with it.

**She has a fast trot that we kept up for about 1/2 mile that is average about 14mph that is REALLY easy for me to ride when she hits it.

**She has a medium trot that seems to be easy for me and sustainable for her of 7-10mph that we rode through Bolar on the flat road for about 3 miles.

**She does like to canter, and even through I KNOW better, I let her a few times because it’s so fun. My graph says we had a short spurt of about 30 mph, but I’m not sure I believe it. That seems awful fast, but I remember that little canter and we were flying for a few seconds for sure. I can tell you it was faster that 15mph which is her fastest trot. Maybe she did hit 30 for a second – but from my experience clocking Faygo (who I’ve ridden in a fast canter around 25mph) I would guess it was closer to 20mph.

Otherwise, as far as my 100-horse training goals:

**We took on some rocky terrain from the flooding that was tricky through some of our trotting passages. A few times I would encourage her:

Me: Go ahead, you can move through this.

Khaleesi: Sure I can, but you’re a mess up there on good footing! I’m not trotting downhill through these rocks with you bouncing all around like an idiot!

Me: Ok… you’re probably right…

(Sometimes she does have the voice of reason- at least she has good horse-sense.)

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Khaleesi drinking out of it
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The tiny puddle

**She didn’t drink a lot early on, but about half way through the ride she stopped me at every single puddle we passed for a quick sip. She got a decent drink once from a mostly dried up run and at first I couldn’t even tell there was water there at all. I was super impressed with this and glad to see that when she needs water, she’ll drink from a mud puddle or a water hole so small the thirsty dogs had passed it by.

**My worries about her as the slow-poke anchor horse are dissipating with each ride. She had a great forward walk today and was eager to trot out as long as I asked and the footing, incline was ok. She picked up my trot energy quickly and willingly. She isn’t lazy or slow and though she’s not conditioned to extended fast trots yet and won’t be “top tenning” any events this year, she should finish comfortably within time in our LD circuit.

**I had my first fall, and it went very well! I have not come off Khaleesi in all our training and riding until now. It’s kind of like the first dent in the new car. We were almost home, trotting up a long driveway when a baby deer jumped up out of a culvert just next to us but on the other side of the fence. We saw plenty of deer today- some of them ran right across our path just in front of us, she’s not afraid, but this quick little animal movement took her (and me) by surprise and as we were trotting along at a good clip she stopped short and then scooted over about 3 steps. Just like in a cartoon I kept going straight and I felt like I was suspended in air without the horse underneath me in slow motion. It was one of those split second “bail or try to save it” moments and I bailed onto the grass. Wasn’t hurt, landed easy, and the best part, I had let go of the reins (didn’t want her pulled over onto me!) and she was just standing there looking at me like “oops“.  She didn’t move an inch until I got up and hopped back on.

Crossing the wooden bridge is no problem now!
Crossing the wooden bridge is no problem now! – just ahead is the spot along the driveway I ‘came off’

I believe it was our longest solo ride thus far and as always I was impressed with her. She did try to turn me around a few times before our half way point, but I didn’t even need the “popper” to tell her to continue on. I noticed her slowing down as we approached our last 2 miles to walk more and not pick up the trot. I asked her to once in a while to see how she was doing and she would trot, but it wasn’t the same easy willing trot. So I gladly let her walk in the last couple miles- she had worked hard for me and I was very pleased with her.

Boots: I give them an A- for the ride today. The back boots finally stayed on 100% without any fuss. One of my front boots needs a cable adjustment. I have to tighten the front velcro too much to get the right tension and I just didn’t do it yet, it still works, it’s just not ideal to have the velcro take such a small surface area in the front and the cables too long. The support of the front of the boot is not ideal this way. Still, the boot never came off- but in our fast trot through Bolar on pavement and right before we turned back onto trail I noticed she was trotting off with a head bob too. I had a quick panic moment hoping I hadn’t made her lame and when I looked down the boot was twisted just enough to have her stepping funny on it. I was able to take the boot off right in the road and put it back on within a minute and hop back on to continue with no other issues. If every ride I just had one quick adjustment like that I would say they are working great.

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beautiful view on the ridge

Thursday is her day off and Faygo will get a good ride. Friday Khaleesi and I will join our friends for a 23 mile ride in West Virginia that should be a bit more leisurely as most group rides are. I’m pretty confident that even with her 10 day vacation before the big ride she will do just fine at the Iron Mountain ride.