There have been a few posts of late out in the blog world of endurance riders about maintaining a level of condition on their horses. A lot of good, thought provoking questions have been raised on the topic such as how much conditioning is needed on a weekly basis to be ready for a 25 or 50 or more, how much conditioning is too much, how many miles should be put on in a week’s time and what should those rides look like, (i.e.; speed, hills, intervals, etc)
Just like so many other endurance riders out there, these questions have been spinning around in my mind as well this year. I haven’t had as much time this season to devote to conditioning as I would have liked, it’s just the way it is right now. A few weeks ago, I sheepishly admit to having a couple of meltdown moments where I slid into “catastrophize” everything mode. Between limited time to ride, having no place to condition unless I haul somewhere(which doesn’t really happen during the work week) and only having one ride in the area that I don’t have to trailer 9 hours to, I was feeling a bit frustrated with the state of things. I had all the reasons in the world to want to throw up my hands to this sport in those moments. I suppose it didn’t help when JB came up lame either, which probably created my momentary tail spin. But, in the end, it was just a meltdown and regardless of all of those things, I still want to ride my horses. I still want to do this sport. If I only manage to attend one endurance ride a year, so be it. I’ll do what I can, when I can, as much as I can.
So with that worked out in my mind, and getting myself refocused, I wanted to get a good feel for what my two horses current level of condition really might be. In my opinion, I am able to judge alot by riding a horse one day for a longer distance and then seeing how they are feeling the next morning. Sometimes I work them undersaddle, other times, it will just be liberty work.
Side note***(JB has recovered from whatever issue he was having that was causing his lameness. It’s a bit of a mystery but I’m chalking it up to the kick in the shoulder he sustained and keeping my fingers crossed at this point).
On Saturday, with the help of Tom who willingly offered to ride Maggie for me, we set out for a ride. Given the foul weather, high winds with gusts of what seemed like at least 40 mph, we decided it might be best to ride over at the State land which offers lots of cover and heavy timber to protect us from wind. Of course, the compromise for lack of wind then became creaking trees and the occasional branch crashing down.
I thought that a 2- 3 hour ride would be a suitable ride time and probably put us somewhere in the 10-12 mile range, which was more than sufficient for both of them. I even hooked up my HRM, (finally) to JB but apparently did something wrong or didn’t have enough goop because I couldn’t get a reading. We headed out on the loop that offered a few good hills to start out with but then switches to open flat after the halfway point. We walked most of the first half. Tom had to work pretty hard as Maggie is still figuring out the hill thing. Riding Maggie downhill is something akin to water rolling down hill. She just keeps building speed if you let her. Maggie motored up the hills with the occasional detour to one side or the other , going off course a bit. I am not sure if she thought she had a better route but it seemed that each time she detoured, she chose what appeared to be the steeper route…. Aahhhh.. greenhorns…. I tried not to snicker too loudly at all the machinations Maggie was going through as she tried to figure out how to engage her engine. Ofcourse, right about when I was feeling overly confident with my mount and his stoic behavior, a branch came crashing down behind me , landing only 5 feet away. That sent JB charging ahead for a leap or two. It didn’t seem to even phase Maggie, even when JB bumped into her as he jumped ahead in his momentary startle.
JB and I mostly stayed behind Maggie. She tends to get a bit racey at this point when she isn’t in front and for Saturday’s ride, Tom wanted to choose his battles for the day! ( I can’t blame him and I wasn't going to say anything ,afterall , he was doing me a huge favor ) Other than the branch incident, JB was very good about staying behind Maggie. It was a perfect opportunity to spend some time working on staying a horse length behind her. He surprised me and settled into his own pace, which happened to be a horse length behind. For most of the ride, I rode JB on a loose rein, even on some of the steeper downhill. Normally I have to give a little half halt on the downhill’s check him back. This time, he carefully picked his way down and I never had to remind him to slow up. I know we have yet to actually compete or finish in an AERC sanctioned ride, but JB seems to be graduating into seasoned trail/endurance horse. To ride him on the trail, he feels like he just gets down to business and is ready to do his job these days. I definitely felt as though we have maybe begun to cross over into some new territory.
We rode for exactly two hours and if I am correct, the loop we rode is a 10 miles. So we averaged 5 mph. Maggie worked up a pretty good sweat even though it was cool out. Ofcourse, as a green horse just learning the ropes, she’ll likely tend to work harder than JB , atleast until she starts to figure things out. No doubt she was tired at the end, but, had we asked her, she would have gladly kept on going. I see some great potential in her. She’s certainly a tough little mare…
As far as level of condition on these two horses, it’s kind of like comparing apples and oranges. JB has been consistently ridden for 3 years now and at the end of Saturdays ride, I probably could have easily done another 5 miles oh him without too much trouble. Sunday morning he looked bright eyed and bushy tailed so I decided to saddle up and do some arena work , mostly at a walk with a little bit of trotting. I wanted to make sure he still felt sound and I wanted to work him through some lateral work to help with any stiffness he may have had. He felt like he had had a week off of no work and willingly dropped into a couple of sweet little canters. Considering his conditioning has been in fits and starts this spring, he felt very good for his morning after. I think he either maintains his condition extremely well or the little bit of riding I have been doing is helping more than I thought. It probably also helped that he was not wasting a lot of energy in how he traveled. He just set a pace and stuck to it, even when we did some long stretches of trotting. I think we’re still on target for a limited distance in July.
Maggie has come a long way in a short amount of time. She is definitely the orange in the equation. She’s built a bit heavier, a bit rounder, than JB. Based on that, it may take her longer to become fit for this sport. She is also only 5 years old this month so she is still developing. It was less than a year ago she was severely overweight. Have you ever tried to get weight off a Morgan? Good grief. She’ll definitely be an easy keeper! On Sunday, I watched her pretty closely to see how she would do after that mileage. I found that she was laying down quite a bit that morning and seemed pretty tired. I took her out to the round pen later in the day to move her around at liberty, hoping it might help to work out any stiffness she may have been feeling. At first she moved pretty slowly but after about 5 minutes, she was kicking up her heels, literally, and was rather playful. I suspect that while she was a bit tired from her day before, she was still in good spirits and that was a good sign. Right now her stamina isn’t built up yet, her muscles, tendons and ligaments are not accustomed to long distances. We’ll continue with regular riding, and keep the rides in the 10-12 mile range for her for now. I think I could probably have her ready for slow limited distance in July but we'll definitely play it by ear.
Looking forward to July 17th and 18th .