In the Night Farm…Your Ride is Here.

Endurance Conditioning

Power Pony

Look who got to go on a trail ride!

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Sunday afternoon, following a 20-miler on Consolation, I hauled Acey across the Snake River for a ride up the Big Hill.  Her bare feet don’t handle the gravel road very well, and I’m still holding out for the Glove Wides to be released, so we needed some good footing on which to start getting her in shape.  I figured that pointing her up a long slope on a hot day was the safest way to start out, particularly as we were riding alone and she hasn’t seen many miles under saddle yet this year.

…and she handled it beautifully, beating Consolation’s first-climb-up-this-hill time by a good 5 minutes.  We went a total of 7 miles, mostly at a walk, which was nevertheless a pleasure because Acey really cruises along.  According to Garmin, her preferred walk is a good 4-7 minutes per mile faster than Consolation’s.  (Yeesh.)  I’d forgotten how good Acey is downhill, in particular.  She positively glides; I’ve never felt anything quite like it. 

We had just one medium spook and very little drama, though I can see I’m going to need a lot of tools in the toolbox for dealing with her enthusiasm.  Tiny she may be, but Acey has a whole lot of “go” — and as she gains confidence, I’m betting she’ll fight to use it.  I can already imagine her at the start of an endurance ride, when emotions are high…  Yeah.  Lots of ring work is in order.

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Nerd in Paradise

It’s here!  My Garmin Forerunner 305 is here!

Actually, it arrived in the middle of last week.  I spent some time reading the instructions (!) and, happily, encountered no difficulty using the device for the first time yesterday.  So far, my favorite feature is the “auto pause,” which stops the timer when we stop moving, so grazing and photo breaks don’t skew our average pace.  I haven’t tried the heart rate monitor yet; I’ll read those instructions next.

According to Garmin, we went 16.13 miles yesterday at an average speed of 4.6 mph.  SLOW.  However, we climbed 3,000 feet and descended them again, so there was plenty of walking in the mix.  Consolation is an excellent downhill trotter, but there’s no point beating up her joints by conditioning that way.  Also, I gather that GPS is not entirely accurate in hilly terrain, because it measures as the crow flies and doesn’t account for the extra distance resulting from altitude change (though Google searches fail to confirm this absolutely).  The variance estimate I hear most frequently is 10%.

The software that turns rides into maps, charts, and graphs is fascinating.  I’ve entered Consolation and Acey as “users.”  Let the nerdfest begin!


Canyon Climb

Last one, I promise!  I’ll stop posting ride photos for a while after this, but I had to share.

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These are from Consolation’s and my climb out of the Owyhee River Canyon at Snively Hot Springs.  The trailhead (if you can call it that; the closest thing to a trail was an occasional cow path) is a little more than a hour’s trailer ride from In the Night Farm.  Leaving Ironman to fly fish on a flooded river bank (good luck!), Consolation and I started up a creekbed, swung west, and began our climb. 

It was slow going and very technical in places as we leaped up rocky ledges and picked steep, winding routes among small boulders.  Between ridges, we threaded our way through gnarled sagebrush, trotting when we could before reaching the next, steep climb.

Surprisingly, it took us just two hours to reach the rim and find our way back again, sometimes with my feet braced in stirrups tilted to the points of Consolation’s shoulders as she navigated the downward slope.  Boy, was I glad to be secure in my Stonewall, on a horse that responded to light cues so she could have all the rein she needed!

I’m guessing the whole ride was less than 8 miles, but believe me, it was a workout.  Consolation is resting now, having put in 45 miles last week, and so my attention swings back to Ripple and Acey…


Canyon Rim

This is from yesterday’s ride.  We started at the bottom of the canyon, by the river, and picked our way up to the rim.  Who needs a trail when you have a great horse? 

More photos to follow, when I have time to process them.


Climbing

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Consolation and I took another ride on Saturday, again in the hills overlooking the Snake River.  She went barefoot this time with no problems; in fact, the previous days’ rainstorms had left the ground extra soft.  It was slick in places, but mostly quite managable because our soil here is so sandy. 

We climbed the Big Hill, which really is quite big.  We spent 26 minutes going up it (walking and trotting) and 38 coming back down (walking only).  Once on top, we followed a fairly level trail to an apparent dead end at a rock quarry, then doubled back cross-country and picked our way down a very steep hill, switchbacking our way to a dirt road that ran through the valley below.  The road led us back past the quarry, now well below it, and to a winding wash with steep sides and footing swirled by recent runoff.

We trooped through the wash, Consolation all prick-eared enthusiasm, then charged up a long hill so steep that I clung to her mane and felt my heels tap her stifles as she climbed.  (Check out the photos taken from the top.)  Next, we circled back to the summit of the Big Hill and made another loop similar to Thursday’s.

All this time, the sky grew darker and more beautiful.  It was ominous indeed by the time we descended the hill.  The first raindrops hit the trailer just as we arrived.  Consolation was hungry, but clearly still had plenty of “go.” 

We rode pretty steadily for 4 hours, pausing occasionally to graze, trotting all we could but slowed frequently by slick footing and steep descents.  I’d guess we totaled around 18 miles.  (If my Garmin would hurry up and get here, I could know for sure!) 

I could get used to this hauling-out business.


Decision

Wow!  Am I ever glad I wasn’t in ride camp last night.  Southwest Idaho was slammed with 40 mph winds and pounding rain all evening and again in the wee hours.  The first thing I did this morning was hurry to the window and make sure all the ponies remained secure in their paddocks.

I’ve decided not to take Consolation to the ride.  She seems all right, but between just coming off a period of NQR behavior and a month’s rest, I feel more confident waiting until next time.  A new ride, Cheap Thrills, No Frills!, will be held in the Owyhee Canyonlands in late June.  That’s what we’re shooting for.  (I’d love to haul down to Strawberry Fields in mid-June, but I have a business trip that week; also, as a friend pointed out, Utah may not be the very best place to travel with our horses right now.)

I’m disappointed, but at peace.  I am also determined that this is the year I’ll get at least one more horse legged up — preferably two — so all my plans aren’t riding on a single mount.  More on that soon.

Meanwhile, I do feel comfortable putting Consolation back on the conditioning trail.  Our new pro-fitness, anti-boredom campaign starts today.  I’m on vacation, the dawn is crisp and bright, and we’re going exploring!

Ironman and I went on a trail-hunting excursion recently, literally hopping in the car and heading for the hills, and found quite a few exciting possibilities.  Some look like they’ll offer stunning scenery and technical work, which Consolation enjoys, and all feature the big climbs we desperately need. 

I know, I know.  I’ve long resisted hauling out for conditioning rides because it takes so much time, and I have so many horses needing training at home.  I can get more done in a day if I condition right from my driveway.  However, I’ve reached the limit of fitness Consolation can achieve without more challenging trails.  Besides, she’s bored.  Time for me to suck it up and trailer her to new and better places!

I’ll take my camera.

…Which reminds me, I did order a heart rate monitor with GPS!  My shiny new Garmin 305 with V-Max Adaptor Kit will arrive in a few days.  (Psst, they’re on sale with free shipping at The Distance Depot!)


Torn

Oh, geez.

Consolation looks good.  She feels good.  And Fandango is this weekend.  I’m actually considering going for a slow 50.  Considering, debating, wrestling, wrangling…  What to do?  Is she ready?  Better to wait?

Reasons to go:

  • A month ago, just before she went NQR, I’d have said she was ready.  We’d enjoyed a couple 30-35 mile weekends and one 28-mile ride.  Horses don’t lose much conditioning in a month, and Consolation’s rest has been active (turnout plus 30-60 min. of light exercise most days, ranging from handwalks to ring work to hacks).  Also, I know my own tendency to worry overmuch about conditioning. 
  • Her body condition is excellent.
  • Her hooves look good, her boots fit, she’s landing decidedly heel-first, and I got her some comfort pads just in case.
  • Her attitude is normal.  She plays and bucks at liberty, and is relaxed and forward (not fast, but that’s standard for her) under saddle.
  • Nothing was ever really, definitely WRONG…just Not Quite Right…

Reasons to wait:

  • NQR is still NQR.  It matters.  Consolation seems back to normal, but I haven’t tested her on a real conditioning ride.  I wish I had one more week to experiment, but I don’t.
  • We’ve done a total of 20 miles of “conditioning” in the last month — two 6-mile rides and one 8-miler.  Everything else has been very light activity.  Also, I’d like to have climbed more hills with her before her first ride of the season.
  • She’s still acting hypersensitive when saddled.  This is not uncommon for her and doesn’t disturb me terribly in and of itself; nevertheless, it’s worth considering.  I can’t locate any back pain, but it could still be there, or it could be be ulcers, or it could be just “her.”
  • EHV-1?  It seems quite unlikely that an exposed horse would be at an endurance ride and that any given horse would perish, even if there was an exposed horse present.  On the other hand, all the ponies all share water troughs, have the same vets’ fingers in their mouths, etc.  All things considered, I don’t think this is a good reason not to go.

So.  What to do?  I’d like to do the ride for the fun of it, and for its conditioning effect on Consolation.  There’s no reason to miss it if taking it on won’t do any harm.  But I’m perfectly willing to wait until the next ride (June 25) if that’s safer and wiser.  Wish I knew…

Thoughts?

Just for fun, here she is modeling her new rump rug.


The Flight of Spring

This morning, before sunrise, my farm floats in a pocket of air between two seas.  The clouds above roll wavelike and dark, the valley below is gray with mist.  Up close, I can see the buds on my apricot tree, bright against a backdrop of emerald pasture.  The horses have buried their muzzles deep in piled hay.  Consolation’s coat is splotched pinto with mud.

Yesterday saw Idaho’s first endurance ride of the season.  I didn’t go.  Consolation isn’t quite ready, her conditioning having been delayed by my injury in January.  But we did ride.  We rode in the morning in a floodlight of sunshine that poured through the horizon ringed with clouds.  The day was tank-top warm, dotted red with robins and tulips.  We trotted 17 miles at a medium pace, the kind that features a looped rein and stops to graze and a happily wandering mind.

Not so last week!  One day we set out early under leaden skis, goaded by the scent of an oncoming storm.  The wind had crept into our bones, and when we hit the perfect footing of the irrigation road, I leaned in the saddle and Consolation flew.

To ride this mare at speed is to ride a bird.  She is so smooth, so quick, that I marvel at the vast, slick network of muscle and bone that bounds beneath her coat in perfect, mindless effort.  Our canter shifts upward into hand gallop,  The thrust of her quarters races up her back, along the reins, through my seat, down to her flashing hooves again.  The oxygen in our nostrils, our lungs, our blood, feels endless.  We lean on the curves, change leads on a shy, watch a harried pair of ducks fly up from the canal again, sure we’ve come to hunt them down.

It is the kind of ride that cannot be partaken alone.  Both partners must be there, fully present in body and mind, in spirit and soul.  Each becomes less that the other might make her more. 

And then we are home, and the rain arrives, and I bring hay and blankets and rub the sweat from her hide.  She leans into the brush, content, transformed from raptor back to mare, almost pony, a little treasure in my care.  I rub her crest and stretch my other hand to catch the rain.  In a few weeks, it will pass.  Summer will be upon us.  And we will ride to meet it.


High Gear

Twenty days have passed since I first stepped back aboard Consolation, post-injury. Despite craziness at the office and an astonishing panoply of spring weather conditions, we’ve put in several good rides each week. My hip, though still noticeably sub-par, is getting stronger by the day.

So is Consolation.

Between winter storms and my recovery time, she enjoyed a 4-month break. I wondered how quickly she’d come back to endurance fitness. So far, I’m impressed. She’s already lost the huffy-puffies of our earliest sojourns, her attitude is bright, and she’s sound and solid every step of the way.

And, she still has her turbo thrusters! You may recall that, after two years of sloooooow trotting, Consolation finally discovered SPEED near the end of last year’s endurance season. In fact, I worked my tush off trying to rein her in on our last day at Owhyee Canyonlands 2010.

After that race, I decided that if Consolation wanted to flip a speed switch at rides, she was perfectly capable of conditioning at a brisker pace, too. Enter the dressage whip and “power trot” sessions…and finally, FINALLY, our average pace ticked upward.

And then, winter. Long rest. Would she remember, come spring?

Well, let me tell you: Not only does she remember, she wants to trot fast! She wants to canter! We’re focusing mostly on LSD work, obviously, but our “L” is longer than I expected it to be this early in the season, and our “S” isn’t nearly as slow as it used to be.

Now, if we can just get a few days without rain, we’ll haul out to the nearest stretch of BLM land and motor up some hills. Va-room!