It’s a sad state indeed when non-horsey people see a dismounted rider and assume something is wrong.
Riders – I implore you to dismount and work on your own fitness! It should not be a shocking sight to witness someone dismounted on the trail tailing up an ascent. Panic should not cross the poor bicyclist face as you jog downhill with your horse. Especially if the rider is in spandex and running shoes, but just happens to be wearing a helmet and leading a horse.
At less than 2 weeks from a 100 mile ride, it is not my usual protocol to go on a strenuous ride. But I had a difficult conundrum – our last “real” conditioning ride was at the beginning of January. We have had a couple of good technical rides, and have done quite a bit of dressage – but no rides where she really moved out and stretched her legs. I really needed to get a good ride on her to test both of our readiness for the upcoming ride. So I compromised – we would do a ride on Monday that was challenging (but well below maximal effort), but shorter than usual – 10-15 miles max – to test our fitness and readiness.
The plan and execution
I wanted to be as tired and sweaty looking as my horse by the end of the ride. I also wanted Farley to have FUN. We have an understanding – she has to be obedient and submissive during dressage. So, during our trail work, I let her have as much freedom as practical. I still have ultimate control over pace, but try not to micro manage her too much.
It went well. Overall our pace was 5mph….but we did a little bit of everything from grazing in the shade to galloping full tilt up hills. The terrain fluctuates a LOT and within a 1/2 mile I might –
- tail up a steep section
- canter/hand gallop a flat
- jump off and jog down a slight incline
- get back on and power trot over a flat and a decline
- gallop up a slight incline, jump off (while she grabs a bite of grass) and jog a flat section
- walk slowly up a hill (mounted).
I probably mounted and dismounted 20 times in a 3.5 hour period.
Within that, intersperse bikers, joggers, hikers, and mom’s with strollers. For each one, Farley and I would transition to a walk and be good ambassadors. I would be especially friendly to the women and Farley would be especially adorable and pony-like to the children. How awesome is it that I have a horse that can go from a full gallop to immediately standing still for children?
It was a warmer day and she sweated a LOT but didn’t seem to be in any distress. If it’s hot for 20 MT her recoveries are going to be a bit slower, but I think we are going to be OK.
I decided to do this ride in a hackamore. Because of doing so much dressage, I feel like it’s even more important to stay out of her mouth if I can for endurance. I think working in a hackamore works well if the horse and rider are on the same page about 90% of the time. I’ve done all my trail work since the beginning of the year in the hackamore and I feel very comfortable. I have finally stopped thinking about the fact I’m riding in a hackamore and I just ride. About 10 months ago I first tried a hackamore with Farley, and after about 3 rides went back to the bit. It just goes to show that just because something didn’t work the first time, with some time, behavior can change. I was pleasantly surprised that even at a full gallop I don’t have any loss of control. We still won’t be starting a race with a hackamore, and I’m not sure when I’ll be able to switch over, but for right now it’s enough that I can do our conditioning rides in one.
I hadn’t ridden in my renegades since Desert Gold (end of November), but used them for this ride. Her feet are doing so very well I haven’t felt like I needed them. During our very muddy technical ride, there was a section of HUGE sharp gravel rocks. She pranced over them barefoot with me mounted like they weren’t even there, and her feet look GREAT (round with heels that are amazingly WIDE). However, I needed to verify that they still worked with any changes her feet have undergone etc. I continue to be VERY impressed with these boots. After almost 3 months of not using them, they went on perfectly with no modifications and stayed on through some challenging transitions and hill work. The gravelly jeep roads at Livermore where I do most of my conditioning is wearing down the tread on the fronts significantly, but they are still fine for now. I couldn’t be HAPPIER with these boots. They continue to be trouble free.
Conclusion and Thoughts
Everything went FABULOUSLY. I’ve lost some fitness since Tevis, but not as much as I feared. Farley seemed to be happy and responsive. As long as her legs stay cool and tight today and I think we are both ready. We will be taking it slow for the 100 miler on the 27th – no galloping or fast cantering allowed (!) but it was nice to let her have a little fun after all the rain and mud we’ve had. My plan is to take her jogging with me and continue to ride her in the arena this week and next. Then it’s off to 20 Mule Team!