In the Night Farm…Your Ride is Here.

Endurance Conditioning


Jammer was the last, trained gelding to sell last year from Belesemo Arabians.  He wasn’t bred on their farm, which is only 10 miles from mine, but on an Idaho ranch where he spent his youth tearing about the hills with his herd of equine hellions.  He was handled for deworming and hoof care, but not doted upon.  This, and his reserved personality, made him amenable to handling but hardly the pocket pony that is more typical of Belesemo’s stock.

He didn’t snuggle, so he didn’t sell.  Until I got a look at him.  I found him not stand-offish, but a perfect gentleman.  Big, honest, and willing.  He had the “kind eye” we all read about from Black Beauty on up.  A big, smooth stride built on old-style conformation made to win races, not halter classes.  Solid training.  Desert smarts.  The mind and physique I was looking for.  I took him home.

Fully mature and under saddle, he was ready to jump into conditioning right away, though it was too late in the year to register for any rides.  We focused on getting to know each other, laying baseline fitness that would pay off come spring.  He swallowed his workouts whol, and enthusiastically, demonstrating increased fitness every time we hit the trail.  Our longest ride last fall was around 25 miles in hills, and he came through fresh as a spring daisy.

But it wasn’t spring.  It was winter, and winter fell deep and cold.  There were days in December when the weather would have let me ride, but my heart did not.  That was a time to focus on other things, to rage and process and accept.  And so I did, and February came, and Jammer was still there in his thick, silver coat and black eyes to match his mane.  His personality warmed with the weather.  He’ll never be a “velcro horse” like Majesty or Ripple, but that wild-horse caution slowly vanished from his face.

We returned to the trail and stacked on miles.  We started with about 20 miles per week, split among two or three rides.  I moved him along faster than I would have done with a younger horse.  He was coming 8 years old, ranch raised, under saddle with regular riding for over a year.  I kept an eye on his appetite, tendons, and aspect.  Consistently 100%.  Excellent.  Over about two months, we worked up to a brisk 30-miler in the hills.

And then it was time.  We registered for a ride.

There’s more.

All this time I was getting to know Jammer, I was also getting to know Tyson.  We met on an unseasonably warm, February day.  It was one of those meetings we all have now and again — the kind in which you connect with someone on an uncommon level and sense potential beyond the average sweetheart, co-worker, friend.  It happens in all kinds of relationships, not just romantic ones, but it doesn’t happen often.  And when it does — especially when you’re both single and share all the right interests and worldviews — you pay attention.

So we’ve been busy.  Skiing.  Hiking.  Dual-sport motorcycling.  Travelling.  Hanging out on the farm.  Exploring music and food.  And taking Jammer to endurance rides.

Yes, rides.  Plural.  He’s already up to 110 AERC miles (oops — spoiler!)  and I owe y’all some stories.  Stay tuned.


Horse, not Force

I heard on the radio that experts are predicting another dry winter.  This is bad in a lot of ways — Idaho could use some precipitation — but purely from a riding perspective, I’m delighted.  Since I missed out on most of the summer riding season, a winter in the saddle sounds pretty good.  I’m sure I’ll pay for the privilege in hay prices.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to ride enough to have Jammer and Maji ready to ramp up quickly for 50’s come spring.  With a full-time work schedule, a long commute, and Daylight Wasting time approaching, reality dictates that each horse will be lucky to get three rides per week.  Two is more likely.  One and none are bound to happen occasionally.

That, and the fact that both horses (especially Maji) are green, means my conditioning plans are pretty flexible.  The most important thing is that I just get them out and ride.  Maji needs to experience the world, and both horses’ fitness will benefit from whatever miles I can put on them.

But you know me.  I do have a bit more construct in mind than just “go ride.”  In an ideal winter world, I’d ride each horse three times weekly:  Once for LSD (that’s long, slow distance, for those who were wondering), once for a shorter, speedier ride, and once for arena work or a hack in the hills.

Yesterday was supposed to be Maji’s speed day.  Speed is relative, of course, both for the horse and its level of fitness.  Right now, Maji’s “speed work” would be about 8 mph for 4 miles on level ground.  (Jammer’s is 9-10 mph for 6 miles on level ground.)  Just enough to provide some challenge and build fitness, but not enough to beat up their untried legs.

Well.  It was early afternoon and gusts of wind herded dark clouds across the sky.  Maji didn’t seem bothered by the weather per say, but she was tense as a banjo string from the moment we crunched out of the drive.  High-headed and jumpier than I’ve ever seen her, she behaved as though she’d never left the round corral before despite the fact that we were headed down to a canal bank she’s travelled several times in recent weeks.  I even dismounted to walk her past the house with 5 hunting dogs in the yard, then a sugar beet field where a farmer’s roaring tractor pushed the giant, lumpy produce up in rows.

I mounted up again when we reached the canal — just in time for Maji to have a complete meltdown at the sight of a 4-wheeler ramp in the back of a farmer’s pickup.  (Um, really, Maj?)  She leaped sideways to the top of a crumbling bank and flailed around up there, trying to get her footing, turn around to run, and keep her popping eyes on the ramp all at the same time.  It took me a minute to break through her mental static enough to help her edge past.

She continued to ogle everything that moved — which was plenty, given the wind.  A heron rose from the canal.  Cornstalks rattled.  The last puddles of irrigation water flashed with minnows.  Tree branches waved.  Ravens swarmed the fields in billowing murders.  Harvesters roared on distant roads.  Our shadow slid over mounds of dirt.  I rolled my eyes and prepared for a tough go.

The old reminder rhymed in my head:  Light in the leg and soft in the hands, ride the horse and not your plans.

Yup.  Forget the speed work.  This ride needed to be about Maji’s mind.

First, I tried asking her to trot.  I find that a tense, spooky horse often responds well to just being put to work.  Get them in a rhythm, burn a little energy, and they let go of the mental bugaboos.  Maji trotted…sort of…in that awkward, jolting way of very green horses.  She raced ahead, responded to seat (sloooower, Horsie), stared sideways instead of watching her feet, trotted on.

She was just beginning to settle when we encountered the Weed.  It was, to my eye, exactly like 500 other weeds we had already passed.  But what do I know?  I am only human.  Maji saw a bloodthirsty killer.

She went straight from a brisk trot, right past a stop and into reverse, in half a heartbeat.  This wasn’t your average “startle.”  Oh no.  It was the stiff-legged hit-the-brakes crouch followed by 20 paces of the fastest, lowest backing I’ve ever ridden.

Funniest.  Thing.  Ever.

Poor Maji.  She saved both our lives and all I could do was laugh at her.

We cut a dicey path around the Weed and proceeded another mile before I took a look at the sky and decided to head home.  I also decided to try another tactic on the way.  Instead of trotting, as the get-to-work method wasn’t helping much, we would try to relax at a walk.  Give her more time to absorb the sights.  Chill out.

I thought I might have a fight on my hands, keeping her to a walk on the way home, but last week’s No Rushing lessons seemed to have sunk in.  She hardly broke gait at all, and instead settled down (mostly) on a long-ish rein.  And so, we salvaged a decent trail ride out of the whole mess and she learned that having a baby-brain day doesn’t mean she doesn’t have to pull herself together and behave.

As soon as we got home, I didn’t even pull her tack but snapped a lunge line to her halter and worked her at a brisk trot for 25 minutes.  This was not punishment by any means — horses don’t understand that kind of consequence, and besides, she hadn’t done anything wrong — but simply a safer way to burn some of her abundant energy.  Lunging isn’t my favorite method because I don’t think all those circles are great for their legs, but I’m not afraid to use it occasionally.  This seemed an an appropriate occasion.

By the time we were done, she was sweaty but bright-eyed, happy, and ready for a snack inside the horse trailer.

All’s well that ends well, they say, but I must admit that I hope today’s ride is easier!

Gearing Up

My butt hurts.

You know how it feels when you haven’t ridden a bike in years and then you decide to pedal 10 miles around the state park on Labor Day?  Your legs may feel fine, but your tush gets bruised.  It just ain’t used to that seat.

Well, that’s what the weekend’s rides did to me.  I got so little saddle time over the summer that I lost my anti-butt-bruising “callous.”  On the bright side, the bruising means I’m riding!

I took both Majesty and Jammazon out on Saturday, one after the other, for early conditioning rides along the irrigation canal.  Garmin came along to help me start assimiling how each horse feels at certain speeds, what kind of pace each adopts most naturally, etc.  These will be observations logged over time, of course, but you have to start somewhere.

I clocked 4.3 miles of the 6-mile total trek.  The balance of the mileage, spent on warmup and cooldown, was along the paved road between In the Night Farm and the canal.  I didn’t want to time that section because it’s harvest season and I knew we’d be interrupted.  Sure enough, we were obliged to move well off the shoulder a few times while potato, onion, and sugarbeet trucks roared by.

Jammer had 90 days of training last spring, followed by a couple rides per week all summer, until about the last month when he didn’t get much attention because his trainer’s time was demanded elsewhere.  So, his fitness isn’t at its peak.  (Okay, okay.  He’s fat.)  We trotted about 50% of the level route and walked the other 50%.  Total time was 37 minutes, so we averaged 6.9 mph.

Maji’s fitness level is similarly low.  Over a year ago, she had 60 days of training and was going pretty strong in hilly terrain, but she hasn’t done much since. We took a 6-mile walk/trot along the canal bank last weekend, and have put in some arena time over the past few weeks to soften her up and re-charge her brain cells before heading out.  On Saturday, we trotted about 75% of the route and walked 25%.  Total time was 44 minutes, for an average of 5.9 mph.

Fascinating.  Maji’s walk is perfectly acceptable, and she’s game and speedy at the trot as well.  But Jammer brings a whole other level of power to the trail.  At 15.1, he has the advantage of size to go with his “go.”  He walks out at 5mph easy; according to his trainer, there’s a sustainable 7mph walk in him too, but I haven’t tried that yet.  If you look at the walk/trot percentages and total times, you can see how that walk pays off!

Two good horses.  Two good rides.  One sore butt is a small price to pay.


Site Update:  You may have noticed a new page on this site — the Conditioning Log.  Way back in the beginning of The Barb Wire, I kept a log of my conditioning rides on the site in the hope that it would be helpful to others getting started in the sport.  Indeed, it has proven to be a popular feature.  To this day, I receive emails of thanks for it.  (Emails like that always make my day.)  Now that I’m starting a couple new endurance horses, I reckon it’s time to bring the conditioning log back — hopefully, it’ll be better than before because I’ve learned an awful lot since I started riding Aaruba.

These Three

On Friday, driving between meetings, I listened to Science Friday on NPR.  The interviewee was quadriplegic and the recipient of new technology that permits human thought to direct a robotic arm.  This individual had been damaged by a stroke rather than an accident, but the horror of her situation struck me in a manner that such stories usually don’t.

I can’t say exactly why.  It’s not as though I don’t know the risk I take every time I ride.  All horsemen do.  Endurance riders, especially, consider the danger of our regular pursuit in which we set out at speed, for many miles, over unfamiliar territory — often alone.

I pondered this yesterday, astride Acey as she cantered along a dirt path 10 miles from anywhere another human was likely to be that day, or perhaps for many days.  If I fell and was badly injured, I’d face a hell of a challenge getting to help.  That’s assuming I was able to help myself at all.  But I went anyway.  Again.  I do it all the time.

To get where we want to go — today, and in the larger scheme — we must have faith.  Faith in our riding, fallible though it is, to keep us astride a stumble or spook.  Faith in our training to stop or turn or rush our horses as needed to avoid unexpected hazards.  Faith in our and our horses’ good sense, good instinct, good decisions.  Faith in the people we told we’d be back by 4:00.  We must have faith.

We must have hope.  Hope that today will not be the day of the freak accident, because they do happen.  Hope that if it doesn happen, it won’t be too bad.  Hope that our horses’ minds and ours align today, so we can hear each other.  We must have hope.

We must have love.  This is the Do it Anyway.  Do it when we are tired.  Do it when we are afraid.  Do it because we know there’s a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, which we may or may not ever reach.  Do it because we aren’t content until it’s done.  Do it because the land is rough and the wind is wild and the sky is endless clouds and blue and the mane is soft and tangled ’round our reins and the hoofbeats and the heartbeats swell and we wouldn’t take away the danger if we could, because this is what we love.  This is what we do.  We must have love.

I believe it was the Corinthians who first read the words:  And now these three remain ~ Faith, Hope, and Love.  And the greatest of these is Love.


Consolation has been on anti-inflammatories for 2 days now, and she is a much happier horse.  Her whole aspect is brighter.  She’s relaxed and no longer suspicious about being handled.  Her skin is still strange (a bit crinkly under the haircoat, with those strange black flakes) in the affected areas, but the heat, swelling, and tenderness have vanished.  Because the saddle area is all clear, I’m going to go ahead and try riding her this afternoon.  Stay tuned.

Acey is moving right along toward her first endurance ride.  On Sunday, we did 11 miles at a decent race pace of aboaut 7 mph (for beginning distance accumulation, obviously, not winning) in the sandy hills near Adrian.  I like this route because it includes 3 sustained climbs for strength and an interval effect when taken at a steady pace, plus long stretches of gently rolling hills that can be trotted with only a couple breaks to walk down steep grades.

Monday afternoon, her legs were firm and cool and her eyes bright, so we saddled up for a speed ride.  The maintainance road for the irrigation canal a mile from In the Night Farm makes a perfect track:  packed-sand footing, no traffic, nearly flat for a good 6 miles, and a few duck fly-ups to keep things interesting.  I like to use this route for the occasional evening trail ride, but it’s even better for sustained, fast trots and extended canters.

Garmin was busy charging, so I didn’t get to record our actual speed and distance.  I’d guess we travelled about 7 miles at an average of 10-12 mph — not bad for a 13.1 pony.  That that was our cruising speed, though.  The workout was periodically interrupted by Acey’s need to ogle the cows and calves populating the BLM land on the opposite side of the canal.  By the end of the ride, she was pretty much over it, so hopefully that won’t be as much of an issue next time.

Acey consistently surprises me with her recoveries.  I’m going on perception here, but she never seems to get really winded, and she has plenty of spring left to offer just minutes after finishing a hour of effort.  I should hook up the heart rate monitor so I can watch what’s really going on.

Power Pony

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This is the creature I plan to ride today.  (Wish me luck.)

Okay, so Acey doesn’t behave like that on the trail.  She does, however, bring an enormous amount of enthusiasm to her work.  She has the let’s-go-see-the-world! attitude that I’ve missed ever since Aaruba retired.  Her walk is a march, her trot is speedy and smooth, and her canter…oh, she has the most adorable canter.  Remember those little quarter-fed, mechanical horses outside grocery stores?  It’s like that, only 1,000 times cuter.

I took her out yesterday for a brief hack.  She’d already put in her 30 conditioning miles for the week and didn’t really need more (ha!), but there was a break in the weather and I wanted to test a hoofboot change.  We’d just walk a few miles.  Right?

Riiiiight.  Instead, Acey strapped on her jet packs and took me for a flying trot across the countryside.  Maybe I should have taken her to do the LD today at Tough Sucker, after all.

Actually, I gave that idea some serious thought yesterday morning.  It would have been a last-minute thing, but how hard is it to pack for an LD with the hold in camp?  As it turned out, I couldn’t get a farmsitter.  Which is okay, because it’s hard to stomach forking over $150 or so in ride fees and diesel to do what is basically a conditioning ride.

Which remindes me, y’all did see the blowup over on Ridecamp about Endurance vs LD and the need for new AERC members and the possiblity of shorter, introductory distances to draw more people to the sport?  Wow.  All I can say is that I totally agree with those who say that LD (let alone trail rides) isn’t endurance.  Of course it isn’t.  The thing is, I think most LD riders know that.  For various reasons ranging from physical limitations to personal interests to training requirements, some people want to do LDs.  Some want to take advantage of the opportunity on rare occasions, others want to have fun on the trail without the worries and strains of endurance-length rides.  And their fees inarguably subsidize the longer distances.  What’s not to like?  (Well, there’s the LD racing thing.  But that’s a post for another day.)  And I don’t know about you, but I still remember when 25 miles seemed amazingly, impossibly far to ride.  Sure, it doesn’t seem like much now, but it did then.

Anyway, the way Acey behaved yesterday, I rather wish we were saddling up for that 25 today!  We’ll probably do 14 or so miles right from the farm instead, then go climb some hills tomorrow.  No point in rushing.  (You hear that, Acey?)

Blackjack: An Adventure in the Cards

It was a ride full of questions.  Most of them sounded pretty much the same:  This way, or that way?  The good news:  We had all day to find out.  The bad news:  There wasn’t any water.

I booted all four of Consolation’s hooves.  Packed some complete feed pellets and trail mix.  Tossed an extra water bottle in the truck.  We were on our way to Adrian, to climb the big hill and trot across the flat, then turn left instead of right in search of the long trail around Blackjack. 

(I didn’t have my camera along, so these photos are from May 2011 rides in the same general area.)

It’s a loop I rode once before, about a year ago, in the opposite direction.  I remembered rocks, lots of climbing, and a distance of about 25 miles.  The day was sunny, pleasantly warm, but complete with a nice breeze to help keep Consolation cool in her partially-shed winter coat.  Tufts of green grass sprouted beneath the tall, dry wisps of last year’s growth.  The trail stretched endlessly ahead.

I expected the first 6.5 miles to be slow.  The trail in this section undulates over a series of very steep hills — too steep to trot up safely, for fear of stressing a tendon or ligament.  I rode up each hill at a walk, then dismounted to lead Consolation down, up and down, over and under…  It took forever, but what a workout for the pony! 

Finally, we completed the “weightlifting for horses” section and broke out onto a long, gradual uphill slope with decent footing.  Consolation seemed quite relieved to be trotting again, and carried me eagerly up and away across the range.  Before long, we arrived at a landmark I remembered:  a barbed wire gate stretched beside a yellow cattle guard.  So far, so good.

A half-mile later, the questions began.  We arrived at an intersection of the sort of dirt roads that wind across Oregon’s BLM range, travelled — some much more than others — by an assortment of ranchers, hunters, ATV enthusiasts, and yahoos I’d like to beat soundly with their abandoned beer bottles.  The road we were on curved south.  The other led north-northwest, roughly the direction we’d eventually need to go in order to circle back toward our rig. 

Hmm, I thought.  This way, or that way?  According to Garmin, we’d only gone 9.something miles.  It seemed too soon to start looping back…so we took the southbound track.  It meandered uphill and down, through another gate…

Uh-oh.  I only remembered one gate from that other time.  But then again, I was never sure that I’d actually ridden the whole Blackjack loop before.  Consolation felt strong and the day was young, so we proceeded through the gate and into the wild yonder. 

We paused occasionally to crop grass — “GU” for horses and the only moisture to be found — and watch herds of mule deer and pronghorn bound away from our approach.  Cattle dotted the hills.  We trotted and walked and trotted some more.  I kept one eye on Garmin’s map feature and the other on landmarks, trying to evaluate our position and hoping for another intersection, at which time it would surely be right to loop north.

The only intersection we found was a battered track that led to the crest of a hill and faded into nothing.  From the top, we inspected the vista for signs of a return route.  Nothing presented itself, but the land is so crumpled and broken that one wouldn’t necessarily see a path even if it was there.

Back at the bottom of the hill, I wondered again:  This way, or that way?  Backtrack, or carry on?  Oh, what’s life without a bit of adventure?  We carried on.  And on and on and on.  Clear out to the massive, cross-country powerlines that we’d seen from a distance and that I knew were not the same ones that run roughly parallel to the Owyhee River and that, if followed, will guide a lost rider back to Adrian.

Not that we were lost.  I had a pretty good idea where we were.  The problem was, I had no idea whatsoever whether I would be able to find a passable route to get where I wanted to go.  I decided that if we arrived at the big powerlines and didn’t find an intersection, we’d turn around.

Lo and behold, there WAS an intersection under the powerlines!  Granted, our new path was a mere pair of tire ruts winding over rocky ground toward the Owyhee canyon, but it led us northwest, than north, than north-northeast.  The right direction!  The breeze kicked up a notch into full “wind” mode.  Consolation sensed the turn toward home and picked up her pace to match.  Garmin pegged us at 15 miles.

Trot, trot, trot.  Slow to pick through rocky sections.  Pause to stare at more deer.  Things were looking just about how I wanted them to when our road vanished.  It simply petered out into a barren tumble of rocks and sagebrush. 

I looked this way, and that.  I looked at the rough country ahead and the long road behind.  I looked at Garmin and I looked at my horse.  We could backtrack and log several more tough miles just to get back to the spot were we were 15 miles from the trailer, or we could pick our way cross-country and meet up with our previous track that lay a couple miles east.  This way, or that?

Cross-country it was!  Consolation protested my demand that she walk carefully down into a ravine, then up the other side where small, black boulders sprouted like mushrooms.  We crested that climb to be greeted with bad news:  the next ravine was more of a canyon, with steep rock sides and no guarantee of safe passage.

Back down the rocky hill we trekked, to the bottom where an east-west cow trail meandered.  If the cows could do it, we could too.  We wound through the windswept ravine.  Rounding one turn, we shared a mutual spook with a cow and her brand-new calf.  Still wet and flopping around it its first effort to stand, the black baby and its mama needed some space.  Consolation and I gave them a wide berth and circled back to the cow trail, which led eventually to our prior path.

Whew.  Now there was no question.  It was time to backtrack.  And so we did, up and down, back through the second gate to that initial intersection.  Here, we had another choice:  Turn northwest and loop around Blackjack as planned — hoping not to take any more wrong turns — or follow the known path home, over all those slow and brutal hills.

We turned.  Why not?  We’d been out only 3.5 hours, it was a bright afternoon, and both Consolation and I were still having fun.  Besides, who in their right mind would want to backtrack across those nasty hills?

Not that I expected the remainder of the Blackjack loop to be easy.  It was, as I expected, long and rocky and home to plenty of long climbs and descents.  I dismounted and ran beside Consolation down the long hills, a practice she seems to enjoy and for which I want to personally be in shape when the ride season arrives. 

Eventually, we met up with the familiar powerlines and followed them most of the way back, though we retained a sufficient sense of adventure to explore a few more cow trails that crossed the familiar area we normally ride.  Might as well!  A fresh bit of scenery never hurts, and this is the time to do it, before the weather gets hot and the rattlesnakes come out.

Garmin called it a wrap at 26.24 miles in 5:32.  Figuring in the 10% error for hilly terrain, I reckon we actually logged close on 30 miles.  A week of work, done in one fell swoop — and good thing, because our first week of daylight savings time is supposed to be washed with wind and rain.

This morning, Consolation is bright-eyed and frisky.  Her legs are tight and cool, her appetite strong, and her water tub much emptier than usual.  I gave her a bit of alfalfa for breakfast, in addition to her usual mound of grass hay.  She earned it.

Comin’ on Strong

Well.  Consolation seems to have her aerobic capacity back. 

I took her out on the road yesterday, figuring on spending a couple hours covering 12 miles.  Her Majesty had other ideas.  She offered speed, and I took her up on it.  We cantered up all the hills (for what they were worth — total elevation gain was only about 650 feet), trotted down them (I’ve taken to doing a lot of running alongside her for this), and hand-galloped some level stretches.  We lost one hoofboot to a torn gaiter (oops) and backtracked to recover it (hooray!)

(Dirty, but pretty anyway.)

She switched her tail as sweat trickled down her legs, pointed her nose into the wind and asked to go faster.  (No thanks, Lady, this is fast enough.)  I pulled her up now and then, made her walk or jog a few hundred feet, and 14 miles later she was still full of blood and air.  I handwalked her the last quarter mile, watching her P&R drop like a stone down a well. 

Equine fitness is truely fascinating, is it not?

Today, we’ll go much slower.  We’re going to meet up with Karen Bumgarner just across the Oregon border and try to find our way from Adrian to the Owyhee River.  I think the whole trip will be 25 miles or so.  Eat your breakfast, Lady!


March, already!  She arrived shaking a mane of snow that blew in the dark and oblitered the freeway lines as I drove to the city.  It seems like all I do is work, lately, but the legislative session is (fingers crossed!) more than half over.  On weekends, I can peek beyond the confines of Outlook and power suits to glimpse endurance rides on the horizon. 

I’m hoping for an early start this season.  Our area’s first ride is the Owyhee Tough Sucker Part I, to be held on the first full weekend in April.  I think there’s a good chance of Consolation being ready.  We finished several back-to-back 50’s last year, the most recent at the end of October, and the weather cooperated such that I kept on riding right up until mid-December. 

At that point, I decided to give Consolation some time off while her new Stonewall was built.  We experienced a couple delays in getting just the right tree for her, so the saddle isn’t here quite yet, but in February we started putting in a few miles on the weekends.  She felt bright and strong, despite some “huffy-puffies” due to dimished aerobic capacity, which is the aspect of fitness that comes and goes most easily.  That capacity is rapidly improving despite irregular work, thanks to my schedule and some furious windstorms that drove mountains of tumbleweeds against the fences and sent great sheets of metal from the neighbor’s barn roof cartwheeling across the countryside. 

This morning, the dawn is cloudy but relatively warm.  Remains of Thursday’s snow still lie in the shadows, drenching the trails.  I suspect my planned, 25-mile route around Blackjack will be too slick for safety, so I’ll settle for some shorter rides around here.

Maybe I’ll even take a few pictures to post as my desktop wallpaper.  I could use a reminder that “this too shall pass.”


I rode Consolation on the flats Wednesday.  There’s an unbroken stretch of irrigation canal that winds between cow-dotted BLM land and vast wheatfields, where the footing is good and there’s no traffic or downgrades or fences to distract us from pure, exhilirating effort.  It was Consolation’s first test on familiar terrain since I returned her to work after her spring weirdness.

I’ve suspected for a couple weeks now that she is back to normal, but it was hard to evaluate given that we’ve been riding in such different environs.  To be positive, we needed to ride in one of our old haunts.  Conditioning-wise, we also needed the kind of long, brisk trot that we can’t always do out in the hills.  Wednesday was the day.

I was a little nervous.  What if she wasn’t better?  What if the balky, jumpy, witchy mare from our last ride along the canal resurfaced?  What if I was wrong, and we wouldn’t be ready for Cheap Thrills after all?

I needn’t have worried.  Wednesday’s ride was the flight of spring all over again, complete with ducks, but without the muddy hide or rain.  We blasted through 12 miles at 10 mph, and at the end Consolation was still full of air and offering speed.  It was just the ride we needed.

So, what was her problem?  It’s hard to be sure, because I was too interested in finding a solution to waste time being methodical and scientific.  I tweaked several factors at once, at least some of which must have been the right ones.  My best guesses:

  • She was footsore.  Most of a month off, with careful barefoot trimming and vigilance against thrush in the wet weather, followed by rides on trails instead of gravel, could have addressed this.  Her hooves have certainly done some remodeling of late.
  • She was marish and/or magnesium deficient.  The more I think about it, the more I believe this was an issue.  It helps explain why Consolation exhibited some similar behaviors last spring.  After a month of magnesium supplementation, she is no longer cold-backed or girthy, and her attitude has improved dramatically.  I also tried a sample of Mare Magic that I had sitting around, and she seemed to benefit.  I’m now awaiting a shipment of bulk raspberry leaves from HerbalCom.  (At $20 for a year’s supply, how can I go wrong?)
  • She was bored.  Consolation isn’t a huge fan of trailer rides, but she’s learning to relax, and she surely does seem more intersted in workouts when we use them to explore new trails.

Now, if only I can remember all this and apply it next spring, perhaps we’ll be all set.