No electronics, today was the anti-gizmo. We rode on Tuesday after a gorgeous snowfall only for the love of riding.
Khaleesi is slightly less of an anchor, she’s starting to move along with us.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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).
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.
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!
In thinking of a title for this post I could only come up with something to attempt to describe how pleased, happy and elated I am after today! This is the best day of 2015 (so far!).
I felt Khaleesi was ready for a trail ride, but not alone, and I had come up short today for someone with the experience to come “babysit” us and be able to keep Faygo in control. So I resigned myself to find a “Plan B” and after some thought I came up with a really fun afternoon plan of riding around the arena as an obstacle course with both my girls. It turned out that Nette was available to come “play” with us this afternoon. I was looking forward to spending some time with Nette, and psyched to do some fun activities and put off the trail ride until the circumstances were truly right.
Sometimes you have to be flexible and believe that it’s just not the right day for what you thought you had planned.
But as I so often find when I let something go- it sometimes comes back to you. In this case I got a last minute call from an experienced rider saying she would love to drive an hour up here to take a trail ride and be the one in Fagyo’s saddle so that I could get Khaleesi out on the trail.
On the most beautiful weather day this year Plan A and Plan B were coming together- splendid!
I have to take a moment for a shout out to my fabulous husband who helps me with everything that comes up needing a power tool! He took off Khlaeesi’s saddle horn with the sawzall (which ended up being much harder than I thought). You may notice the purple, blue and black animal print duck tape (duck tape has the coolest patterns!) on the saddle pommel where we wrapped it. Also, he helped make my jumps and a platform so I could set the course up in the first place. He is ever patient and long-suffering with my obsession- in fact I haven’t overheard him tell anyone at a cocktail party lately he wishes his wife only had a drug problem… “no… worse… it’s horses….” He is such a good sport and I am lucky to have his support in my horse crazy life, as I’m sure it’s not always easy on him.
We began with a walk-through of the home-made course – I led Khaleesi and she had no issue with any of it. Then Nette walked her through- and she was nonplussed.
For fun (my fun, not so much hers!) I rode Faygo through it. She came through a bit hot, and not nearly as clean as Khaleesi, but she did everything I asked (with a bit of expected Faygo-tude). She is a T-R-A-I-L horse, not an A-R-E-N-A jump through hoops horse you know!
Then I got on Khaleesi and we rode through the course, not perfect control, but certainly passable. It was a blast to have her do so well and not be fearful of anything there. Also, we did it in her training halter- not a bit, so I was pleased with the amount of control we did have!
Ironically, today, the first day I ever set up a little home-made obstacle course, the person who came to help ride Faygo for me, Judy, competes in evening. I tried not to be self-conscious of my jerry-rigged course as Judy came walking down to say hello. I was happy to hear that she was impressed that Khaleesi walked right onto our wooden platform on her first try as I overheard her say to Nette “Not all horses will do that you know”. (True! Even Faygo balked at me our first time over it)
After some fun in the arena, we put on our boots (the horse boots) and hit the trail. Before getting on her the nerves began…
are we really ready for this? am I moving too fast? breathe like it’s no big deal or she’ll wonder what I’m afraid of!
She walked off from my mounting stool a few times and I hoped it wasn’t a sign that she was going to be total disaster. But eventually I did get on her, and we posed for a quick picture (Thank you Nette!) and then walked off together toward the same trail we’d ridden in times past (ritualistic habituation again- start with what you know, then build from there)
Khaleesi was fantastic, sure-footed, under control, and she took the lead spot occasionally as well as followed easily. If we got behind a bit she didn’t fret. We went over, under around and through up there on the mountain, and no matter what she had to do we worked it out as a team. We even unlatched a gate together (though we couldn’t quite get it open ourselves). We rode over 5 miles today at a decent clip of around 3.5 mph. No, not enough to finish an endurance ride, but certainly a great starting point. And Khaleesi “the anchor” kept up much better with me riding her as opposed to dragging her along.
Ok it was just a trail ride, but I felt like we rocked the mountain! I felt like I was on top of the world.
Not to take anything away from Faygo the fine… she was patient, waiting for us every time Khaleesi pooped (most horses can walk and poop- Khaleesi hasn’t figured that out yet), she let us take the lead on occasion and never griped, she kept a good pace without leaving us behind entirely, and though it’s still a little slick out there (especially with front boots), she took great care of Judy (who is a lovely rider herself) and did everything exactly right. She even closed our last gate with Judy hardly having to do a thing!
I am so proud of my girls- I am beaming that they did so well — I can hardly share it in words. I am so proud of what we’ve accomplished in less than 7 months, which seems like a long time in some ways, but such a short time in others. I don’t think I’m any kind of amazing horse trainer, or that she is any more impressive than average horse. I’m sure that in some other situations people might say 7 months is a long time to take a 4 year old horse from green to on the trail- but, we’ve made our own path, we’ve done it our way, and bonded in the journey. And as the AERC folks would say- we are riding our own ride!
I have focused mostly here about training and conditioning the horses but I have been thinking hard about the fact that an endurance ride also means conditioning and training of the rider. Me. I’ve read a ton about what I need to do to get my horse ready, but I’m not completely sure what will make me most fit to finish the ride healthy. 100 miles and over 12 hours on a horse sounds exciting, but given a horse today that could do the distance- could I do the distance? What would be my weakness that I’m not aware of having never ridden that long at one time?
I ran a marathon the year I turned 30- I’m aware of the need for discipline and mental toughness. I know that a large part of preparing myself for this ride is mental; physical training helps to build mental resolve along the way. Also, I realize that many people get off and walk or jog miles of the race to give their horse a break and to move their legs, so being able to run a few miles during the day will be vital.
There is also the issue of weight. Water, fat, muscle- sure more weight in muscle means I’m more healthy than if it is fat, but in the end my horse would still prefer I lose the pounds I gained last holiday season. When I registered for AERC, I had to sign up for a weight class (Lightweight, rider and tack weight is 160 to 185 pounds). I assume I will have at least 20 pounds in saddle and tack. Right now Faygo’s saddle weighs 21 pounds alone- that doesn’t include any other tack. I’d like to get Khaleesi a lightweight saddle, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Thus, for now I’m taking the cold mornings and heading to the gym trying to cross train (though mostly cardio types) climbing, rowing, elliptical, and treadmill make up my week hoping to lose a few pounds and also stay fit. I hope to interject some yoga when I get the opportunity to continue to work on strength and flexibility as well. Since I’ve gotten more serious again and started making better food choices and drinking more water I have lost a couple pounds but yes, even more important for now, I feel better physically.
This morning I ran 6 miles on the treadmill and when I get bored or tired I try to imagine dusk on the trail, many miles left to go and riding in some beautiful place heading into the darkness with my horse knowing we are still going strong. Cheesy, absolutely, but it keeps me going. It is important to work on mental imagery that will help me when I really am riding in the dark, tired after a lot of miles, and be my own cheerleader – remembering back when in a cold winter I ran miles on the treadmill in anticipation of the honor to ride in an endurance event.
In the afternoon I went to pick up the girls.
I ran 6 miles… now your turn! Let’s GO! yeah!!!
They were laying in an old hay pile half asleep.
They were not as pumped about our goal as I was.
They did get up and come into the barn however- grain is a great motivating factor!
Khaleesi’s new hoof boots came (well they are used- gotta love ebay!) but new to us, and fit great. I’d put the boot on to continue to try to heal her sole/bruise and it was looking pretty good. Fed them, cleaned them up, saddled and now they have matching boots for the trail. The weather wasn’t too cold today, feet protected… we’re set…
Here’s a quick video of her walking with two boots for the first time- you might notice that one foot (her Left) is the one with the bruise and she’s had the boot on that foot for a couple of days already. Her Right is new to her, so the Left walks normally while the Right is a bit off at first. Of course she figures it out and is fine in a few minutes.
Though I do think Khaleesi liked the foot protection- she seemed to have a slightly better pace and didn’t have to pick so carefully through footing, she is still the anchor horse. I reminded myself that these are her first real rides, she is building muscle, working tendons, ligaments, joints, the mental ability to focus on a trail ride for over and hour. I have to remember she is still NEW to this. We basically go her pace, which is on average 3.2mph. Considering our average speed a week ago was about under 3mph this is a slight improvement! just realizing this as I write….
ok… i’ll that that… any incremental improvement is good!
We rode about 4.6 miles which isn’t terrible (not the 6 I ran that morning myself though girls… really, you have 4 legs and are meant to cover ground!) then we stopped as usual to work at the farm. I decided to take a break from our habituation pattern and we never go into the arena today- we make a change. I walk her in the big field first and then hop on. We ride in the big field, big squares [well, kind of squares, we still don’t have straight lines down so well. We do zig zags.]
Our steering is like:
Jaime: We’re going to head for that pole
Khaleesi: I want to head for the gate to visit Faygo
Jaime: Nope- the pole
Khaleesi: the gate
I put a very short video of us trot trotting back to the camera after a zig zag back from the pole. I left the end on because I like the moment where I take her back to the camera spot, I ask her to step over (AND SHE DOES!) and stands while I pick up the device and work the video setting for a moment.
All in all We have a nice ride. Still in the comfort zone, but at some point — I am not even sure what I was thinking or about to do — I was in a drift for a moment I guess……………. all of a sudden I am airborne and pop back down in the saddle- slightly brushing the horn with my thigh (that horn comes off today) and am like WHAT WAS THAT? there’s a little buck action and then we’re stopped again.
What I think happened is that Khaleesi started to slip her back feet in some mud while we were on the fence line and her back foot hit the wire fence and she did a little panic and it felt like her rear end was bucking. Or she was “done” playing with me in the field and thought she’d see if she could dump me and head for the grass. Honestly I’m not completely sure what happened it was so fast. What the end result was though- I did not fall off, and I made her walk around that area a few more times before we wrapped up – she was resistant of that area now. I wanted to be sure that if she slipped she didn’t have a phobia about that place (the footing wasn’t bad, but there were two slip marks in the grass where we were) it was a freak thing. And if she bucked me she realized that was not going to get her what she wanted either.
All in all a good day, but I need a Faygo day now. We are both a little tired of dragging the anchor horse around, and if I’m going to start AERC events with Faygo- she needs some real miles and we need to do some of them alone. Saturday is Faygo-day. I’m going to see what kind of miles on a mild winter day we can tack on and at what reasonable speed we move, and how she does, what kind of shape she’s in today. She may not be excited about it, but I am. A day with my first love….
Saturday Faygo and I did take a ride together. We did 7 miles at a moving pace of about 4.3mph, total average 3.6mph (including stopped times). She walked out nicely, but she gets very hot heading home, this is fun to ride, but she’ll kill herself before she slows down. At one point at the top of a hill I had to get off her for a minute so she wouldn’t prance, dance and toss her head while heaving away. (Also I needed to check my GPS as I wasn’t exactly sure where we were). I don’t know what her heart rates are, or how her recovery is and I’m curios to see that data for her. That is my biggest concern, she has huge ‘heart’ and she would die trying to finish (get back to the trailer!). I need to work on pacing her and being sure she can clear a checkpoint. I think we can figure this out- I have a heart rate monitor on order for her.
It was a lovely afternoon just the two of us. Sunday is supposed to be gorgeous… not sure what I have in store for that day yet….
Winter is a busy work time for me- I would love to have more days at the barn, but teaching, grant writing, meetings and rehearsals turn me into a weekend rider from mid-January through about April. Things gradually ease up through late spring and longer days and decent weather make riding more accessible. These are the dark days.
Weekend barn time is still barn time- so I’ll take it! This time I’ll combine my two days into one post to catch up here at the blog. It will be a kind of long post… hope I don’t bore you with too much at once…
Friday was ugly- we had sleet and snow with high winds. I spent a little time with the girls in their run in barn feeding, grooming, checking feet. Khaleesi’s hoof bruise is spreading if anything. She isn’t lame on it, but I don’t like the way it looks. I clean it out and hope it will continue to improve. Faygo looks great- the snow cleaned up her always dirty coat (she is always rolling in dirt, mud or whatever is going to make her beautiful white hair discolored), and she is a nice weight and is healthy this winter.
It was just nice to see them again and have some non-agenda time. I love watching them munch contentedly on their hay bale. I love the smell of horses, hay, and the cool fresh air. I think that’s important to do once in a while- not only bring them in and make them work every time you see them.
My new winter tights and below zero rated gloves arrived just in time for an early afternoon ride! I head to the barn with the plan of taking the pony ride to my arena and doing some more training with Khaleesi. Ideally I’d like to ride at least 4 or 5 miles but it doesn’t work that way. Khaleesi is incredibly slow today, I wonder if her feet are tender- though she doesn’t look off. We ride to our favorite look out spot (climbing the mountain is good for a work out even if it’s only an hour or so of riding) and then instead of doing the loop I’d hoped to, we descend to the barnyard for some work in the arena.
My goal today is to begin with what we finished with last week (6 imperatives: we’ll go around the arena both directions, then try for some figure 8s to show we really do have some control). I turn Faygo out to graze and do my groundwork reminder, then hop on Khaleesi. Every time I get on her things get easier. Her little tantrum arguments are less scary for me and are shorter with each work session. Today we only have a brief “conversation” before settling into our job and we do a nice walk around the perimeter in each direction then I go for some figure 8 patterns in the center of the space. I set the camera up to get a video and didn’t realize it was on time-lapse. So this video made me laugh, but I loved what it showed. We have have some good steering beginning now!
We finished with adding a little bit of trotting on a slight uphill part of the arena where the footing was decent. She has a fun trot though I have no idea if it’ll be a good endurance trot. Personally I think it’s a little big to ride it for 100 miles- at the moment I feel like I’m being tossed into the air with each step. But I’ve never owned a trotting horse- and only ridden a trot a few times, so it is probably only my perception. I don’t think the little western saddle that I picked up as a good deal (at least until I figure out what saddle to use with her as we get into a riding routine) is the best for riding a trot either. Basically I like the saddle- but a more english style saddle might put me is a position better for doing a trot for very long).
Of course, I have no real idea if I even will be riding a trot. If she eventually racks- I think that’s going to be the gait we’re working toward, and that should be very different than riding or sitting a trot. At the moment, I’m just happy we trot a little!
Upon returning to the barn I found Nettie and her friend waiting for us to say hello (and get a horse fix). Nette has helped me work with Khaleesi from the very beginning when I was lucky to be able to tie her.
Nette was there the first day we got a saddle on her back- in fact she ran home for a bottle of wine that we toasted in red solo cups to our exciting accomplishment that day and watched her walk around eating grass wearing her first saddle. There was a time Nette was slightly nervous to be around Khaleesi (she was slightly unpredictable as all young horses can be), but today she took the lead rope and walked her around like a real “grown up” horse with no concern at all. I love thinking of the past experiences and comparing them with where we are today. It’s nice to be reminded there was a time I couldn’t even tie her without wondering if she’d break a lead rope.
Nette and her friend helped me untack and groom and we decided to clean her hoof where the bruise is and pack it with some Ichthammol and do a duct tape diaper protector boot to see if that might help. At least I’d like to keep it from getting infected or continuing to get worse. She was a champ as we covered her hoof in the diaper and then wrap, wrap, wrapped it good with pink camp duck tape (that’s all I had on hand, but it’s a nice fashion statement). She is overall a pretty compliant horse. She didn’t like the whole idea, but after getting over it she didn’t seem to mind all that much. Cleaned up, turned them out.. went home for a soak in the hot tub. What a great day.
How does this work?
I’ve been doing tons of reading… and listening (to videos, podcasts…) anything I can get my hands on to help me figure out what this process is supposed to be. I have tons of questions.
How do other people do this journey? What do I not know that I will need to know? What mistakes am I most likely to make? Is my horse right for the job? How will I know? What is the first ride like?
I loved hearing an interview with Julie Suhr who has many awards and has finished the Tevis Cup over 20 times in 5 decades (she is in her 80s now). Her first Tevis (100 mile) attempt was within 2 years of returning to horses (after a 20 year break). She really had no idea what she was in for at the time- I was ready to hear her amazing story of novice horsewoman finishes in the top 10 on her first attempt without even training. But I was delighted (well, that might not sound right as I don’t delight in her failure at all, but it was refreshing…) to hear how she barely made it into the first checkpoint, her horses heartbeat didn’t go down at all, and her jeans had already chaffed skin off her legs. She was pulled at the first stop. Yet she became addicted, and learned all she could about how to train and became one of the most successful endurance riders of our time.
The 100 mile cannot be done on a horse younger than 60 months (per the AERC rules), but it’s recommended that no horse be truly trained toward this kind of distance until they are at least 4, preferably 5 years old to really allow their tendons, bones and joints to mature before putting the kind of stress on them this training takes. Thus many seasoned endurance riders suggest you shouldn’t have a horse under 6 or 7 in an 100 mile race. This works well for us- next month Khaleesi will turn 5, and we are just beginning the journey.
Here are some other horse specific things I’ve picked up along the past couple weeks:
One of the most important things an endurance rider looks for in a horse are good feet. They should be healthy (not crack easily), not too small, and it’s better for them to be slightly longer than wide. (Check: except this hoof bruise, her feet are basically hard, don’t tend to crack, and though she is slightly smaller than Faygo- her feet are larger, and slightly long. In fact I had a challenge finding hoof boots for her because her feet are a bit on the long side)
It is better for a horse in endurance to have spent much of its young life turned out in a herd on a large property with a variety of terrains. That horse learns to think and fend for itself more than one kept in a stall or small paddock, and works it’s muscles and joints in more ways as they are developing as well as learns to drink from just about any puddle and stream and learns balance on different kind of footing early on. (Check: Khaleesi was brought in at age 2 to get handled for a bit, but until I took her at age 4, she lived in a horse herd on a large property with diverse terrain)
As for temperament- some people find a hot, sensitive horse to be helpful as they tend to want to go-go-go. This is not really the case with K. On the flip side, others say it’s better to find a stable more grounded horse that is not so distractible as those go-go hot and sensitive horses also tend to be the ones who may fall apart. (Hopefully Khaleesi will find some decent gaits and speeds eventually and yet have stability. It’s a bit to early to tell if she’s start moving as we work, or if I will constantly have to push her and find she hates the miles).
For now I entertain myself asking if she is the right horse for the job. I look for signs she will be “the one”, but truly I have no idea if she ever really will do 100 miles.
I head to the barn to find the girls laying at the edge of the field half asleep. I have to walk all the way over to them (slightly unusual for my girl to not come running to meet me at the gate). Faygo gets up and walks away to eat- Khaleesi does not move. I walk all the way up to her (hoping she is ok). Her head is up, alert, she doesn’t appear to be in distress. Her pink camo hoof is still on- is she too freaked out to walk on it? Has she laid here all night because she is afraid of her duck tape boot?
I approach her and rub her head. Are you ok? Are you just taking a nap? Can you get up? I crouch down and rub her neck enjoying a quiet moment where she is just content. She is breathing deep and slow, but not seeming in distress. I put on her lead rope and tell her its time to get up- if she can… and if she can’t……
She puts out her duck tape hoof first and stops.
She looks at me Can you get this thing off me please??
I pull out my pocket knife and cut it off for her. Ok… now you need to get up for me before I start to worry…
After some coaxing with the lead rope she gets to her feet, she drags behind me as I walk across the field are you sick?
I stop at the water trough and we wait for Faygo to catch up with us (she is also walking slow): did you guys eat something bad? are you just tired today, feeling lazy?
Khaleesi just stands by the water… I figure she isn’t going to drink, but Faygo is coming so I wait a little longer… Khaleesi pushes some water around with her nose then takes a big drink- Good, that’s good to know, she is drinking.
We head to the barn, Khaleesi reaches her nose around and scratches her side- Are you colicky? or just need a scratch?
I put out grain for both and they devour it- another good sign.
I get the thermometer- another first for her… sticking something up her butt… well, the day had to come eventually…. she danced around a moment then got back to eating her food and seemed to comply (she’s pretty compliant, I think I said that earlier). Temperature barely 98 degrees F. That’s a bit low. Not red flag exactly, but I assume she should be closer to 100 or 101.
I groom them up, deciding if they are fit to take out, or if I need to scrap plans and turn them back. They seem to be fine- the hoof is the same, not better not worse, not very sensitive, and she’s not lame on it. I decide they were just in mid-morning nap mode and not actually sick.
We tack up and it starts out as a nice gentle ride. We walk easy, still haven’t gotten Khaleesi’s boots (they should arrive this week) so again we walk SUPER slow and do the same mountain top loop down to the arena as the previous day. My GPS says we walked 2.3 miles at an average of 2.4 mph, actually I thought it was like 1 mph (or so it felt) so I suppose that’s not so bad. The walk home was shorter, but climbing the mountain is good exercize so I’ll take it.
Same routine… Faygo grazes, groundwork, get on, ride the fence line… both directions… figure 8s… We have another argument today- more serious than yesterday but I am not afraid anymore, I hold onto the saddle horn, kick her and insist we do this.
Today she amps the tantrum up one notch and as she says FINE, WE’LL DO THIS she trots and does some canter steps instead of walking around and back toward the gate.
I say Great- I wanted to trot today anyway! That was fun… we’re going to do that again! I turn her and tell her to go again.
She says Oh come on… I’m not in the mood today.. but then she goes, and here is the video:
I am working on voice commands with her- if she does have some different gait options, I’d like to be able to ask for trot, or rack, or canter (if Carrington can do this, I think I can learn to as well!) So for now I’m saying “Trot Trot Trrrrot” when we trot.
I love it! It’s fun! we’re finally moving!
So then I decide. Today is the day. Not because she’s behaving so well, but because I realize that I have gained confidence finally to the level that I am ready. Not that she is is ready or not ready- but that I am ready.
I hope off her, open the arena gate and we walk out.
I get back on.
Outside the arena.
I try not to hold my breath You have to breathe… you have to breathe…
She gets a slightly different feel of energy in her body- we have no fence now to stop us. Of course, we are in the “barnyard” so there are trucks, tractors, buildings – not just an open field. It’s a good first environment.
I ask her to walk over along the road (the farm road, not a real road). She says no, I don’t think so- lets eat grass.
I say yes, walk on in my happy voice… kick her, then drive her with my reins just back and forth on her whithers- nothing that hurts, just annoying… she takes a step.
Yes. We are doing this.
She walks tentatively and doesn’t like the big tractor with the massive hay spike (that’s ok, I don’t want to get too close to it either girl…) so we avoid that by going under a big wire encased in plastic holding up a power line pole- I think: I couldn’t have asked her to do that if I tried- that’s good, I’ll go through that space. It’s easy for us to fit through. We take a few steps and stop and smell the air, look around, do the same again. We are walking outside the arena, going around the office barn buildings and will be out of sight of Faygo for a bit (that’s good).
She comes around the other side on the ‘road’ and we return to where Faygo is eating (she couldn’t care less what we’re doing). Then we cross the ‘road’ again and do the same loop. I have learned that 3 times is the charm with her. It takes her 3 times to do what I ask before she is confident and easy with it. This is confirmed again today. The third time in that same loop- through the power line wire, around the building, back to Faygo we are “trot trot trotting” most of it.
It’s getting time to head home. Always end on a good note- don’t push to where she gets frustrated. I let her eat a bit while I get Faygo ready and hop on her. We take a shorter loop home and celebrate another great day.
Now I just need to get someone to come ride Faygo- while I ride her… on the trail…
Monty Roberts believes there are 6 imperatives for the riding horse. No matter what the discipline is, there are six basic things that a horse must reasonably do for one to be able to ride: “It is absolutely essential that your horse go forward, be able to turn left and right, stop, back up, and stand still.” Today, Khaleesi and I went back to the arena and I am ready to say that she has at least a basic level of all six. I am now confident that I can make her walk forward, we have steering (left and right) – though it’s not power steering- it’s basic understanding of turning both directions, and I can make her stop, stand still, and yes- we can even back up.
I heard Monty Roberts do an interview not long ago where he talked about the research he has been doing on ritualistic habituation. I can’t say I completely “get” it, but the basic concept I picked up was that horses do best when learning one skill only- until they “cannot get it wrong”- then build on that skill one more skill at a time. This was so specific that he even insisted doing only ONE SIDE of the skill for that work session. [equine speak note: you have to teach horses things on each side separately. For example if you are able to ask the horse to step over with pressure on the right, you cannot assume she will transfer that information to step over with pressure on the left without practicing that side separately.]
I have decided to give this approach a go, and the last training session we rode in the arena about two weeks ago I ONLY worked on going around the arena in one direction focusing on her left steering as much as possible. Last weekend I decided not to work with her under saddle because she came in with a strange swollen cut on her mouth/lip and though she seemed fine overall I didn’t want to take the chance something with the bit or reins might come in contact with the wound and hurt. My hope for this horse to have positive experiences as much as I can control to keep her as interested in working for me. Now that she was healthy again (face wound healed) my goal for the day was to start with the direction we finished in our last session and hope that she “couldn’t get it wrong” and then turn her and begin working in the opposite direction and work on her right side steering.
Getting “selfie” video is a little tricky, but I can set my phone up on the fence and if I end up in that zone there is at least some footage. Both the “stop” and the “stand still” imperative is pretty solid while I get the camera function ready, then I have to lean over to set the phone on the one area of the fence it will balance safely. Unfortunately the part of the arena she always chooses for her argument is outside the zone, so though I know what it feels like, I am curious what it looks like.
Let me back up a step as this is my first post of the riding part of our training. For the winter I have moved my two mares to the farm next door where there is a better shelter for them. At our “home” farm, we have a pulled wire fenced in area that used to be the garden that is a great size for training. I call it “the arena”. We are used to being in that space, and there are no other horses in view here, so less distractions and a little more focus on me. There is a lovely scenic route that is about 2 miles from our winter barn to the arena and I have found it’s nice to take a little pony walk to get there with her in saddle and bit, getting used to her tack, getting some energy out, as well as having to focus on me before we start our work.
Our routine right now is to take a 2 mile walk through the woods to the arena, then I give her a couple minutes break to graze on the good grass while I situate Faygo to hang out while we work. When I’m ready I collect Khaleesi and it takes a couple minutes to explain to her (language gap I suppose) that she is done eating and needs to pay attention to me now. To do this we start with groundwork: walking her around the square exactly how I plan to ride her. If she’s not hearing me (listening to me) she pulls her head away, tries to eat with more attitude and a couple sessions ago even rears up behind me to tell me very loud and clear “I WANT TO EAT- NOT WORK! GO AWAY.” If it comes to that we do some more fast changing intense ground work that pulls her head into the game: back up, walk forward, stop, walk fast, stop, walk normal, turn directions with me, stop, step over, back up… etc… At some point there is a switch where she stops trying to eat and gets in tune with what we’re doing. At that point is when I hop up on her back.
After a few steps with me in the saddle is generally when the argument starts, but only when we are in that same corner of the arena. Each ride the argument is less serious- and never have I thought she was going to hurt me. Here is our script:
Khaleesi (stops and refuses to move): No, I don’t want to walk that direction. I want to stand here and eat grass.
Me (with my legs): You have to walk – this is why we’re in here; and (with my hands): also, I want to go THAT way.
Khaleesi (does little bucks with her back end as I prod her on): I’m going to throw a tantrum and see if you’ll give up.
Me (still kicking and very aware of my breathing- do not get excited, do not yell, calm and focused and fair, if needed sing… how much is that dogggyy in the window…. the one with the wagggin taillllll….): This is a lame tantrum. I am not afraid of you, we’re friends, remember… WE ARE GOING TO DO THIS and I will get my way every time…
Khaleesi eventually: Ok, it seems like it’s easier to just do what you’re asking and not make such a big deal about it. Actually, this isn’t so bad after all.
The first argument a few weeks ago was the worst and I wondered if I might get hurt (the day she reared up while I was leading her), but we worked through it safely and calmly. Each time we work the argument has less heart in it. Today I was ready for it, and it was pretty brief. I continue to gain confidence that I can make her do things, and she continues to learn that I will always make her- so lets not fight.
So.. where were we?
Ritualistic Habituation… right… After three times around the square in the old direction (review the last lesson first) she completely “got” what I was asking. It was solid. Then I decided to turn her around and walk the opposite direction. It’s the same skill, but because it’s the other side- I have to look at it like an entirely new skill, though one she has some reference points for so hopefully the second side will at least be a little quicker. The video shows us walking in the original learned direction (our 3rd time of the day), then I stop her (one imperative) and she stands still (another imperative) while I fix my feet in the stirrups as they had been slipping a bit, then I ask her to walk on (3rd imperative) until we come to the corner the camera is set up, the gate. I always enjoy watching her moving her lips around while she thinks and works. Then we try the new direction. Here is thought bubble play-by-play at that point:
Me: We are going to turn around here and go the other way.
Khaleesi: This is the wrong way, you must be confused.
Me: I hear you, but I think we can go the other direction too.
Khaleesi: If I throw a tantrum or pretend I don’t hear you can we just stop here and eat grass?
Me: No… walk on now.
Khaleesi: Ok.. fine… wait… hey, you CAN go the other way.
I find it interesting how much it took me asking her (this wasn’t an argument, really it was just a conversation) to go the other direction before she settled into it. One reason I like seeing video is being able to notice later how things went as I don’t always remember it fully after the fact when I’m focused on what I’m doing.
After reversing direction with right hand steering today I can say we have at least a grasp on the 6 imperatives for the riding horse. We have a long way to go in improving control and fine tuning, but I feel good about having the basics in hand now. My next goal in the arena is to ask her to trot for more than a couple steps. The footing was really sloppy today, and I do want to give the “one skill a session” approach an honest try- so though I wanted to push her and start working on trotting around the arena (it’s so fun- she has great trot!) I decided to exercise self-control and end while we were still ahead giving her only one “new” skill to process.
I released her to graze a bit (reward, rest after a good work session) while I went to get Faygo and we returned our two miles home. I think she might have a small bruise on the bottom of one of her front feet. She didn’t appear to be lame on it, but I made a conscious effort to really slow Faygo down and Khaleesi’s pace home. Most of the ground is good, but there are a few patches that are a bit rocky and I wanted to let her pick her way more carefully in case her foot did hurt and to not make the bruise worse. Hopefully with the weekdays off it will improve.
So ends another great day at the farm: two fantastic mares, one more small step towards our goal. AND speaking of goals, I joined the American Endurance Riders Conference [AERC] today. I’m not sure if we’ll able to ride even a “Limited Distance” ride this year, but we are officially members now and for the moment Faygo is my registered horse. I hope we may be able to do a beginning ride and get a feel for how they work.
I hear the weather is supposed to be very cold this week- we are still waiting for winter to rear its ugly head and this year. I have been pretty lucky to do as much riding as I have- eventually Old Man Winter will keep me inside and make riding the horses tougher. Today was a gift!