Concert Day

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Tonight is an orchestra concert with dress rehearsals in the afternoon, so very little barn time. But with spring weather flirting with us, I had to take a little time in the morning with the girls.

Khaleesi seems to be continuing to improve. She’s walking even slightly better today.

Faygo and I took a fast short ride on the side of the river we don’t use during the winter – new scenery is always a bonus!

IMG_8305We went 4.2 miles with a moving speed of 5mph (that’s a little improvement) and overall speed of 4.3. I would love to not have to stop for barbed wire gates and double locked gates- but otherwise we moved pretty quickly through the whole loop and she barely broke a sweat.

Till soon!!

IMG_8302

Stall Rest

Friday, March 20, 2015

There is a saying: Once a horse is born, it spends the rest of its life trying to kill itself.

Thankfully Faygo seems to not fit that mold- she rarely injures herself accidentally. Some horses seem very accident prone – if there is a nail they will step on it, if there’s a splinter in the fence it will end up imbedded and infected somewhere… then there are the rest who seem to fit into the middle of the road with occasional accidents.

Khalessi has grown up mostly out in the herd and seems to be pretty good at avoiding injury day to day, but something happened to hurt her this week which has her temporarily out of rotation.

I believe that Sunday when I rode Faygo and left Khaleesi in the barn with partial access to the boys (the top door was open), they keep her company while we’re gone, some horseplay went on. Her halter was on (probably will think twice about that now) and it ended up on the ground outside- which leads me to think maybe someone got hold of it and pulled it off her- and in doing so pulled her shoulder into the bottom half of the door- which bruised it.

Monday when I came in to feed Khaleesi was slightly off and I assumed a hoof abscess- after all we just had a farrier visit on Friday, then I rode her. That would be the second time she had a hoof issue after a trim. [note to self] I figured it would eventually release and we’ll soak and manage it.

Tuesday when I came to ride Faygo, she was worse. I rode Faygo leaving Khaleesi in the field (where now I believe she ran around stressed out at being left behind seriously inflaming her injury). I called my farrier for advice on the hoof.

IMG_8261Wednesday my farrier happened to be in the area and stopped in to see her, she could barely walk. He watched her and thought it would be a simple abscess release and good to go. Yet he couldn’t find anything in the hoof. No sensitivity, no heat, nothing… the leg seemed ok too. We sadly realized it was more likely a shoulder injury. A little bute (horse aspirin) and locked her in the stall while I called vets.

Thursday I hadn’t gotten very far with the vets, but did get a name of someone closer than my favorite vet who might be a good contact. My vet via phone said she still thought there was a decent chance it was an abscess, but in an area that would be hard to detect. So hard to tell when they won’t talk to you about WHERE exactly does it hurt!? Upon checking in, Khaleesi had improved with stall rest and bute. I thought it could mostly be the pain killer, so I moved her to an outside stall and brought Faygo over to be closer so they’d be happier for a longer confinement period. I couldnt tell if there was a difference in digital pulse (would help us know if it was in the hoof or the shoulder) and she seemed to be just as bad on grass and pavement – so maybe it’s not the hoof? No more bute, I wanted to see if she was improving or not on her own.

Friday someone had sprung her from her cell! I came to find her in the pasture with Faygo – small field, so not a huge deal, but I got video of her walking back up to her stall, and she is definitely improved since Wednesday. She is on the mend at the moment, so I’m going to keep her confined, possibly give her a little more bute as anti-inflammatory agent, and then see how she’s doing in a couple days. Have a call into the new vet to ask advice about the bute- I don’t want to mask the symptoms or make her feel like she can put more weight on it if that will harm recovery, but I’ve also heard that some anti-inflammatory can help in healing.

I have an annual vet visit scheduled mid-April, so at the moment I hope she continues to improve and I can have my vet look at her then to see if she needs any help getting everything back in place and healing well. I’ll have my eye on her to decide what to do next week.

Thankfully she’s not my only horse, and she’s still very far away from being ready for any kind of event- I still have some work to do with Faygo for our ride next month, so we’ll give Khaleesi a break to heal up. Though I can’t wait to get more saddle time with her when she’s ready!

IMG_8277

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.

Over the river and through the woods

Friday, March 13, 2015

Today was another farrier day. Faygo now has front shoes on for the season and is looking good. Khaleesi got a trim and her feet are also in good shape. The bruise from 6 weeks ago has hardened and healed up and with the hoof trim you can’t tell it happened now.

Judy on Faygo
Judy on Faygo ahead on the trail

Judy came out again today and rode Faygo so I could ride Khaleesi on her second trail ride. She was great! Still moves slower than Faygo at a walk, but I try to remember it’s only her second time and the footing was muddy and slippery.

I talked with my Farrier again about our riding goals and how to move forward on hoof care. He also recommended a local rider to get to know who has time and miles in the AERC and is successful in finishing 100s. I think I’ll be able to meet her in April.

IMG_8212I have also been doing some research on gaited horses, saddle fit, bits, and how to help them gait. I believe that Khaleesi will have either a rack or a running walk and I hope to help her find that without frustrating her with unnatural aids (like a martingale to make her hold her head in place… or a bit that would use pain avoidance to force her to collect herself in form… or weighted front shoes to encourage her to pull her front feet up higher).

I ordered her a gaited horse bit that is identical to the one I use on Faygo and I’m going to at least try to start working on getting a gait from her a more “natural” way first and see if I can get somewhere before going the “old school” way of forcing her into it. The research I’ve seen tells me that if you have the right IMG_8205equipment and the horse is comfortable then you can ride the horse at a walk to it’s “breaking point”, meaning the horse wants to “break” into a trot at that speed, but continue to hold the horse in a walk- then you will start to get it’s natural gait to appear. I’d like to at least give that a try with her first.

We rode an easy 5.5 mile trail and both girls were great. I think Khaleesi and I are ready now to ride with other horses and not only Faygo. Here is video of her crossing a little stream.

We had a blast… I couldn’t be happier with how well she’s doing!

LOVE this girl!
LOVE this girl!

Spring Ahead

Sunday, March 8, 2015

IMG_8133Daylight Savings Time begins!

I still teach until well past dark most evenings, so it won’t help much with more riding time, but on weekends it’s nice to have just a bit more light to play with- to not have to hurry quite so much to get into the barn before dark. So we’ll take it.

I am still loving the saddle pad, and the heart rate monitor is working 100% now giving me great data on how hard she has to work, and hopefully I’ll start being able to better judge it instinctively. We mostly work in the light work zone with small bouts of hard that is usually when we’re climbing the mountain. We had a solid day- nothing too exciting- but we finally got some miles:

IMG_8154

11mile loop, moving average was 4.1, overall average 3.4

I had hoped to get at least 12 miles, maybe if all went well even 15, but the snow took its toll. It just kept us at a slower pace and I felt her working harder to move through it- even if it’s not deep, it’s kind of like sand training.

We are still hoping to be ready for a 30 mile ride for our first AERC event at the end of April. I feel good about our goal, we need to start increasing our mileage significantly, but she’s doing well with our current rides and comes in strong to continue. We are not at our limit for sure- with the right conditions, my time (it’s not easy to find an entire day off lately!) I am sure she’d be good for 20. If we can do a strong 25 by early April, she will absolutely be able to do 30.

We ditch the hoof boots in a tree after the snow keeps pushing the velcro. We did pick them back up on the way home!
We ditch the hoof boots in a tree after the snow keeps pushing the velcro. We did pick them back up on the way home!

So as for the snow! Yes, I still think it’s pretty, but it’s time for it to go because our foot gear comes unvelcroed in it, and it slows us down. Bright side? It’s a great workout for her muscles. When the snow is gone- we SHOULD start gaining some speed!

Fingers crossed (Faygo’s are too- she is tired of all this work!) I can get back to riding Khaleesi at least one day a week soon!

IMG_8135

The Tack

Friday, March 6, 2015

With another snowfall midweek, Friday came with some fresh snow, sunny skies and mild (for winter) temps in the 20s and because I wasn’t sure how the footing would be I decided to ride Faygo alone. If I’m dragging “the anchor” Khaleesi along it’s harder to maintain good balance in case we had any questionable sections of trail.

IMG_8091
Riding Faygo with trail dogs Linus & Peggy Sue on a gorgeous sunny afternoon.

My concerns were unfounded, it was absolutely beautiful and the footing was fine. It also occurs to me that I started this blog because I want to journal my path to a 100 mile endurance ride with Khaleesi, and for the moment she has taken the back seat to Faygo who is more of a “step one” on the journey– helping me get an introduction into the sport with a horse I know is solid. As for my green horse: our obstacle course is under a tarp and 2 feet of snow, I haven’t been able to get anyone to come up the freezing ice roads with recent snowstorms to ride Faygo so I can get on Khaleesi- so if you’re wondering, I haven’t forgotten her… she’s just on hold until we have a better environment for working her!

This post is centered on the tack… horse gear… I ordered a new saddle for Faygo.

It’s something I’ve been struggling with for over a year now since we had a kind of meltdown Fall of 2013. She became increasingly irritable and almost out of control on rides. After months of trying to sort out what was wrong, I learned that A: her saddle at the time that I’d been riding her in for a few years was now hurting her pretty severely, and B: she had contracted Lymes disease and was not herself. These things were likely related- but I haven’t spend a ton of time sorting out the chicken/egg issues with the saddle and her topline [equine speak translation: her back will change shape depending on her muscle development, how she’s using her muscles, how much and what kind of work she’s doing etc etc. The topline is what we talk about when we are looking at the shape and muscular development of her back where the saddle needs to sit].

I had to sell her (my) saddle and try to find one that wouldn’t hurt her while we worked on her overall health. We treated the Lymes with antibiotics (made an improvement) and got her some body work and I looked for saddles to borrow short term that wouldn’t cause pressure/pain. Her topline would eventually change again as she felt better, grew stronger again, moved better and used her body properly.

Saddle fit and rider position is a labyrinth of “the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know” kind. There is a saying that if you ask 10 horse people about it you are bound to get 12 different opinions. I am going to clarify here that I’ve had to decide what I believe and what works for Faygo- so I don’t think my answers are necessarily THE answers for everyone.

Faygo, her back and muscling looking pretty good this winter
Faygo, her back and muscling looking pretty good this winter. She is still slightly wide-backed for her size.

We’ve gone through two temporary saddles this year as she’s changed. Now she is doing really well and her back is muscling back up. The saddle I am using now isn’t causing pressure points, but it isn’t as stable as I’d like. Our mountainous terrain is unforgiving with less than perfect tack, and when I’d take the saddle & pad off I would find “kinky” hairs which meant it was rubbing and moving too much. I tried a few different pads I had on hand, none made a significant difference, and bought her a better girth from Total Saddle Fit (LOVE THAT GIRTH!). This helped, but still, I knew we’d outgrown this saddle. I felt we had come to the time to really find the right saddle for her long-term.

The entire year I have been looking around, researching, talking to people, borrowing saddles I could try out and I kept coming back to the concepts of Gaites of Gold which is now Phoenix Rising. My friend rides in one of their saddles and I borrowed it once as a try-out and loved it. Their website has great videos and articles. The video I kept coming back to was about rider position. Their concept is that if you were to ride bareback you would be seated much differently than most saddles put the rider: both in angle and position. If you were riding bareback you have to be in the best center of gravity to balance on the horse properly. Their saddles situate you as close as possible to that bareback “sweet spot” and with your legs slightly in front of you- like you would bareback. The saddle fit video on their website is long- but there is a part in it if you’re interested where they show a bareback rider and then a rider in one of their saddles and they transpose the image back and forth and you can see how the position is almost identical.

Also in the video they have the rider in the “sweet spot” where you can ride as comfortably as possible bareback- then ask the rider to change to a more “upright” seat which is similar to most standard saddles and the horse changes it’s stride. Her ears go back (unhappy) and she stops moving forward and seems uncomfortable. The reason I bring this up is I felt this may have happened to me on our ride- only, the reverse!

(If you’re interested, it’s the “Gaited Horse Saddle Fitting and Equitation video”: http://phoenixrisingsaddles.com)

Phoenix Rising "4-beat" pad
Phoenix Rising “4-beat” pad

They were incredibly helpful. I took the pictures they requested of Faygo from different angles and she called me the next day. She told me where she would imagine a standard tree saddle would have put pressure (she was spot on) and said that Faygo is unusually wide-backed for a horse her size (this is what I’ve been struggling with). She said a wide tree should fit her just fine, and if not even though the saddle is custom built for me, they will take it back within 2 weeks if it doesn’t work. They were super easy to work with and she shipped the saddle pad immediately and I had it in one day.

Close up of the pad at the pommel, you can see it is slightly raised and is also thicker with more support than my usual pad.
Close up of the pad at the pommel, you can see it is slightly raised and is also thicker with more support than my usual pad.

The pad is heavy duty, has a thicker material in it, and is constructed in a way that you couldn’t lie it flat out- along the horses spine, the pad is slightly raised. I used it with my current saddle and was immediately impressed! The saddle was more stable and I could move the saddle more forward that I was able to without a substantial pad before. I was closer to that “sweet spot” already, and the pad gave stability to my saddle and helped take some pressure and movement out of the equation.

(As an aside- I will eventually need to figure out the best saddle for Khaleesi long term, but for now I have some options in the barn that are working, and because I haven’t really started working her, I think it’s too soon to know how her topline will look long term. Also- I need to get a feel for how I’ll be riding her, if she gaits and how she gaits so I can best decide what type of saddle we’ll be happy with.)

I noticed immediately that either Faygo was in an unusually good mood, or she felt the difference because we walked right out of the barn with a better stride and more forward motion.

I used the heart rate monitor and we had a fantastic work out! Climbing the mountain in the snow was the thing that put her heart rate up in the 80% range, but I noticed if I slowed her down just a touch we could bring her rate down easily and we started to have more control over how hard she was working. We also worked on gaiting more [Faygo is a MO Foxtrotter, so she has a 4-beat gait that is smooth to ride and faster than a walk. She likes to canter which is ‘easier’ for her, at least for a short stretch and is a 3-beat gait, but she can’t sustain that as long, so I need to get her to start really “gaiting” for longer distances. On the website there’s gaiting advice as well and I read an article about pushing the horse to it’s “breaking point” of gait. That means that I keep her in a walk but as fast as possible without letting her pick up into a canter- then she will ‘break’ into her gait instead, and that seemed to work really well yesterday.] We had some lovely canters in the snow as well. The footing as I mentioned was fine, the snow not too deep and we did our 5.5 mile loop with a significantly faster pace of 4.3mph! Her heart rate was great and was down to 71bpm when I took her saddle off in the barn. Again- we would have an easy time returning to the 60bpm required within 30 minutes.

I could feel her hind working more today as well- the snow can make them engage their hind end for more strength to “plow” through, but I believe the saddle pad and position helped- it’s enabling her to use her body more correctly because my weight and position aren’t interfering. It was a noticeable difference. Also, I have considered her “barn sour” in the past… I have to be careful she doesn’t get out of control when we’re heading home. But this ride we moved equally out and in- and I let her move at the fast pace she prefers, I rarely held her back unless I knew we were not in good terrain and it might be dangerous- but even so, we worked so much better as a team and she didn’t fight me when I asked her to slow. She seemed more happy out there than I can remember in a long time.

Sunday is supposed to be decent weather and I hope to get in a longer ride. Again- what we really need is miles. I’m looking around my maps for a solid 15 miles to see how she does. Of course I’ll keep you all posted! And as the weather breaks I have a few people lined up to come ride Faygo so I can start putting some miles on Khaleesi as well. I think she’s ready to get some more saddle time!

Spring is coming... looking forward to more miles!
Spring is coming… looking forward to more miles!

The saddle I ordered will take about a month to make. I can’t wait to see how it fits and if it helps her going forward. It’s amazing the difference the right gear makes… for me and for her!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lend me your heart…

Beginning of March, 2015
I’ve been on a blog-break and spent a week in sunny Florida where we DID take a palm tree forest trail ride to see a different kind of riding, it was just good to get on a horse in short sleeves.

Naples Trail Ride IMG_7970

Upon returning to the cold VA mountains we found almost 2 feet of snow and yet we rode, not far, not fast, but we rode.

Though FL was a fun escape, I think the warm weather was equal in need to the downtime with good friends. There was so much laughing I think I actually might have improved my abs (or at least partially offset the eating and wine)! Even so, I can’t imagine leaving the mountains behind for a FL winter.

I am not good at being uncomfortable, so it’s good for me to be forced to deal with things I would possibly avoid if given the chance. Like Winter. I think it makes me stronger.

Besides riding through clean untouched snow (which is some of the most beautiful riding ever) I love the intense quiet. I love how clear the sky is at night, and I love the break on my senses I get… less noise, less color, less options. I love making it through and seeing the rebirth of everything. I am however not giving up all the seasons for a life in Alaska or Northern Canada. I don’t love winter because I like being cold- I love the changes. Thus at this very snow end of the season, I’ve been dreaming IMG_7976of mild spring temperatures and thinking about spring activities like getting shoes and spring vet visit…. and hoping I can have Faygo ready for a 30 mile ride at the end of April- that’s next month! We need less snow now, we need better footing and more miles.

 I’ve been getting back to the gym and while running on the treadmill, looking out the window at over a foot of snow I kept my spirits up by imagining riding in our first AERC event- and not being cold. I heard this song that inspired me this morning for some thoughts during my run.
IMG_7986
I once read the reason people love horses so much is some of us are at heart centaurs. When you are on a horse, you are no longer just a human- but a half horse half (wo)man and both you become better beings. As a team, the horse has to give up her natural flight instinct and trust you to understand the world from a higher brain perspective… in many ways you change what the horse sees- instead of a life threat it’s just a plastic bag, a lamb, or a dark shadow crossing the stream. As a team you move together but on her legs as you trust your horse will put aside her instincts and fears and not throw you on the ground and run to safety when she sees sheep (Faygo is terrified of sheep).

Not everyone may agree, but I believe the only right way to “work” your horse is as partners. You have to both trust and give up a little of your own being to become one. But the last line of the song is what really touched me: Your soul you must keep, totally free. I want cooperation, I want a partnership, but I never want to break the spirit of my horse for my own purposes. I want her to make the choice and be willing to lend me her heart, her hooves, her eyes, but never her soul. Once again, I find that working with horses teaches me how to be my best person.

Can I practice this in my human relationships? Can I love my husband enough to partner with him in our hearts and without crushing the wildness of his spirit? Can I bend myself to be a better partner to him? Can I love my family and my friends?  The people closest to me make this hard as too often I want to mold them into my vision instead of loving their own unique souls? It’s because I care and want to align with them because I DO love them– strangers are easy to move on from. I fail at this too often but my horses teach me to remember. I can do better. They seem to believe in me, even when I fail them.

centaur
I did a couple adjustments on the lyrics to fit my horse thoughts, but here are the words that so inspired me…

Awake My Soul: Mumford & Sons
Lend me your hooves and we’ll conquer them all
Lend me your heart and I won’t let you fall
Lend me your eyes I can change what you see
But your soul you must keep, totally free

For the love….

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

No electronics, today was the anti-gizmo. We rode on Tuesday after a gorgeous snowfall only for the love of riding.

IMG_7477

Khaleesi is slightly less of an anchor, she’s starting to move along with us.

IMG_7479

Faygo is more patient and I was Stacy Westfall for parts of the ride- no hands on Faygo! Well, I’m no Stacy Westfall, but I tried to channel her spirit a bit today.
Faygosnowride

Here is a short video of us trekking through the gorgeous woods in snow. Glad you could join us!

For the coldest parts of the week the girls have been eating hay and staying warm as possible. I’ve decided that single digits is just too cold to ride (and forget it with the negative temperatures!) It’s not great for their joints and muscles to have to work in that extreme cold, and hard on their lungs if they are breathing hard with such cold air. Oh- and my face might freeze off.

So we are on a break for now, and then I am taking a few days to go with the horse riding girls to Florida where it is still summer. When I get back… spring will be much closer, and we’ll have work to do!

Gizmo

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?)

All bundled up for a cold weather ride
All bundled up for a cold weather ride

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.

Heading up the power line road
Heading up the power line road

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.

Still not fast enough, but a good start
Still not fast enough, but a good start

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!

 

The girls ready for the big storm to come
The girls ready for the big storm to come

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twenty-Three

February 13, 2015

Twenty-three degrees. Really, it wasn’t so bad. I did invest in winter riding tights and sub-zero gloves, I might as well have an occasion to use them! And it was sunny, lovely afternoon really…

Once again, without a goal in mind I might have just stayed home. I wasn’t thrilled with some of the spots that rubbed Khaleesi’s foot wearing her hoof boot for 3 days straight (her sole looks better) and Faygo had either a muscle twitch or was slightly shivering in her shoulders. Maybe you shouldn’t try to ride today…. was the little voice in my head, it was strongest when I heard a howl of wind gust blow over the barn roof. No, you need to do this. Just a short one… Don’t be a wimp!

Trying out the heart rate monitor gizmo
Trying out the heart rate monitor gizmo

My first goal today was to try out the heart rate monitor I ordered. The directions were clear as mud to me on how to attach the electrodes under saddle pad and girth… I am a visual thinker, so reading it on paper “3 inches below the top line and 6 inches away from shoulder movement” and putting the electrode on after the saddle is already in place with a loose girth took some time for me to think through. Then I slathered on the electrode gel and gave it a shot. Attatch the black cord where you would normally use the stethoscope, and then attach the velcro strap to the girth… they should have just said to attach the thing to the girth… that’s how it stays in place anyway. Then plug in to the main terminal and wrap in the velcro pouch and attach to D rings in front of the saddle.I was pretty sure I had done it wrong and would need to look up some video help at home later to sort out what I was trying to do. I put on the watch. No heart reading.

Oh well, I don’t have time to stay in the barn all day messing around with this thing- we need to just go. I’ll leave the pieces in place for now. I didn’t even bother with a saddle or bit for Khaleesi, knew I would not get on her today at all. She must have known as well because she came right up to me in the field, asked me to put her halter on, came right in to the barn for lunch.

Once we got outside, it was beautiful. Crisp blue sunny sky, some leftover snow in patches on the ground. I knew it would be a short ride so we went barefoot and the footing was fine.  The girls were in good spirits today (all three of us).

Looking for heart rate
Looking for heart rate
First reading shows up
First reading shows up
Climbing the hill
Climbing the hill

Though I had given up on the heart rate monitor, I stopped to click the watch over and see if it would give a reading- and then I decided to at least take a picture of the watch telling me I had gotten it wrong. And then a miracle happened… as I was taking a picture of the watch……. NUMBERS appeared! IT WORKED IT WORKED IT WORKED IT WORKED!! I couldn’t believe it worked.

I think she has such thick fur right now it took a little movement and a least a tiny bit of sweat to help the connection happen. The readings were pretty good most of the ride. We started out around 60 (which is the resting hear rate we’ll have 30 minutes to return to at a check point) and got up to at least 136 while climbing some of the hills. It stopped working toward the end of the ride so I don’t know what we finished at, but that’s ok. We only walked about an hour, as it was so cold I didn’t want anyone sweaty for turnout, and this wasn’t a ride for testing heart rate and fitness. I just wanted to see if I could make the thing work. Once I really know where the electrodes need to be I may cut back or shave the spots there so I can make better contact and put them in the same place every time.

wrong way girl...
wrong way girl…
Ok, almost... don't stop there
Ok, almost… don’t stop there
Yes... keep coming
Yes… keep coming

The other new thing I tried today was using a long line to pony Khaleesi. I’ve heard people say that it’s better to have enough line to allow the horse to make mistakes when ponying and when she stops to poop and Faygo keeps going with an 8 foot rope I’m usually lucky not to end up on the ground. A little extra line couldn’t hurt. I’m not sure who made more mistakes today- she or I, but we ended up with the line underneath her (if she trotted to catch up and I wasn’t fast enough reeling the extra line in and she stepped right onto it), around her head, wrong side of trees, and tangled in a mass with Faygo’s reins. It’s just about as bad as the line control i have in fly fishing (you can ask my husband!)

We survived the cold, in fact it wasn’t so bad. They say the only rides you regret are the ones you don’t take. I have found that to be true.I have been on some hairy rides very stuck in the weeds (rocks, cliffs, briars…) almost left by my horse on the mountain and praying no one gets hurt and we can get out of the mess I found on some exploration trip… and thankfully neither Faygo or I have been hurt out there… but even on those rides, I’ve never regretted getting out. Now I have marked my GPS with some places NEVER to go again, but how will you know if you don’t try?

This weekend is going to have brutally cold nights, so I went ahead and blanketed the girls before turning them out. I think Faygo was shivering when I pulled her in today, and I figured I might as well do the same for Khlaeesi. One weekend in the year can’t hurt them.

It’s supposed to be warmer on Saturday- at least by a few degrees!