Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Level of Condition-The Morning After

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 .

Monday, April 26, 2010

M Classic Grace

Finally got around to a couple of photos of Grace. She is finally settling in a bit. We were worried about her initially as she seems to be quite afraid of alot of things. She isn't the same horse we knew 7 years ago but I think in time, she'll be fine. I have been taking her for daily walks, hand grazing and grooming, although as you can see, she isn't exactly lacking in the way of groceries.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Who's on First?

Two and a half more weeks .. before school is done..
Then maybe I can get back to posting something worthwhile on this blog.
I have been riding a couple times during the week, just at home in the arena. Sometimes I can only sneak in a half hour, other times, its over an hour. JB has been laid up, as I mentioned in an earlier post but there is good news. I’ll get to that in a moment.

While JB has been off, I had to shift gears a bit about who would be my mount for the ride in July. Initially I hadn’t planned on riding Maggie for that . I didn’t think I could have her ready and still don’t, but with this recent development with JB, I had to at least work toward that as a goal. I still have faith that JB will be fine but in case he’s not….

I rode her three times last week at home and last Saturday, I made a fast dash with Maggie to Herron Park for a quick 5.5 mile loop. Yes, I drove 16 miles one way for a very short ride but I needed a study break and it did us both a world of good. This was only her second time out on a “real” trail and she did beautifully. She was tired and sweaty since it was all uphill on the way out, but she did learn that trotting uphill might not be such a good idea after all…she also started to really figure out how to travel downhill without crabbing.

Sadly, for safety reasons, I have had to stop riding on the dirt roads near my house for conditioning. After another recent close call of nearly being run into (what appeared to be on purpose by a crazy neighbor who hates the world), I decided enough was enough. I am tired of fighting crazy drivers; I am tired of my quiet horses being given reasons to be scared of traffic. I am tired of assholes… to be perfectly honest. Trying to ride on the roads around here is just creating anxiety in my horses.. and me , for that matter. I can’t say I blame the horses, when trucks and cars come whizzing by at 55mph , kicking up gravel and stones and dust. Anyways, I digress…

Without the use of dirt roads for conditioning, that only leaves me the arena, pasture and my dead end half mile cul de sac for riding during the week, but at least my horse and I are safe. In a couple more weeks, after school is out, I’ll be able to get home a bit earlier in order to load up and get to a trail head at least once during the work week. That combined with long days in the saddle on weekends will have to suffice for conditioning.

On to JB. JB has maintained a level of fitness from last year so even at this point, so even with this setback, I could still have him ready for July assuming this issue clears up. At the same time, I also realize the window of opportunity is closing in on me for that. I’ll only be doing the limited distance but I had really hoped to ride him both days for the limited distance. The ride is less than 11 weeks away, considering I wouldn’t ride the week before. I am trying to stay positive and flexible at this point.

The good news is that the lameness is improving and I would consider it a low grade at this point. The chiropractic/body work lady came out on Tuesday. By then, JB was already making some improvements and moving about 65% better than he was even 3 days prior. I had thought initially it was front left, where he had been kicked but it was a bit hard to tell because to me, he felt off in the front and the back. When she worked on him and watched him move, she felt his soreness was on his front right. My first thought was .. “Oh no, not again”. Of course, JB’s issue 2 years ago was a sole bruise on his front right. I know that he hasn’t bruised anything because he is only ever ridden in boots and none of our paddocks have rocks since it’s old river bottom. Given that, I knew I could rule out another bruise as a potential issue this time. It could also be compensation, for his front left. It’s really hard to tell. Long story short??? I have no idea at this point what I am dealing with. The good news is that everyday he is showing improvement. There continues to be no heat, no swelling, no odd bumps, etc. The chiropractor felt he was certainly sound enough that I should start riding him again. Light riding, of course, no tight circles, or anything like that and see how he does for the next few days. I don’t think I am ready to take him into the vet for a lameness exam quite yet. I know it will end up in doing nerve blocks to identify the area of lameness and that gets extremely expensive.

So last night, for the first time in over 2 weeks, we saddled up and took a spin. He actually did pretty well. He didn’t feel obviously off like he had 2 weeks ago but at the same time, he definitely didn’t have the “gusto” in his trot I would like to see. He didn't do the stumbling thing like he was two weeks ago when I discovered the issue. We worked for about 20 minutes and I put him up. We’ll do the same thing tonight. Keep your fingers crossed that he continues to show positive changes.

With no tests to study for, I’ll be in the saddle most of the daylight hours this weekend.

So many horses to ride, so little time....

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Special Delivery from Texas

I seriously considered not mentioning this bit of news. After all, it has little to do with endurance or anything of that nature. It doesn’t matter whether any of you know or not. It has little to do with this blog , just like so many other aspects of my life that I don’t share here. In fact, it’s really not all that important, in the larger scheme of things.

And yet.. it is.

Because not too often do you get a second chance on a bad decision you regretted for the next several years. .

Let me rewind to a bit. Approximately 7 years ago we (my husband and I ) decided to get rid of all the mares we owned. We had three of them and wanted to down size and simplify.. He had 4 horses and I had 4 horses. We were just engaged and we wanted to keep the management of the herd as easy as possible. So we sold them. I also ended up selling one of my warmblood geldings, a TB gelding and my TB mare. Tom sold his last remaining Morgan mare from his breeding program, known as Grace. Of all the horses sold, she was the hardest to let go.

As a result, it took us a while to find a buyer for Grace. A potential buyer corresponded with us for 3 months before we made the decision to finally sell her. We wanted to be reassured that this would be a good home. So the deal was made and we shipped Grace to her new home. The owner called a couple times to ensure us that Grace was working out wonderfully. She had bought her for her daughter and that they all just loved the mare. 2 years after we sold Grace, we got a call from another lady, who was claiming she now owned the mare. WHAT???? This alone was a huge shock, since we had the original buyer sign a first right of refusal agreement.
This new owner was calling to get background information on the mare. The new owner was led to believe that the mare had only recently come from Montana, within the last few months. Apparently, the mare was in really bad shape and half starved when she bought her. The original owner said she came to her this way from us. Long story short, we set the record straight and even sent the new owner photos of Grace the day we loaded her on the trailer to go to her new home. The new owner loved this mare and was getting her back to health. Ever since that day, we’ve kept in touch with this new owner over the years and even developed a friendship of sorts as a result of the entire debacle. Grace has had a great home ever since and has been dearly loved. She was groomed twice day by the ranch hands, had a bug free, temperature controlled barn to go into at night and all the grazing she could ever want.

This past December, we got another call. It was Grace’s owner. Things had changed in her personal life due to medical reasons and she was needing to get out of the horse business. She wanted us to buy Grace back. We weren’t in any position to buy any more horses, currently sitting on six head as it was. I even considered selling Maggie to get the money. As the weeks went by, the topic of Grace often came up in conversation at the dinner table. We were worried of course about where Grace would end up next, given the hisotry but we couldn’t give the owner the money she wanted for her and didn’t want to insult her with a low offer. Both of us realized in our own ways that we regretted selling that mare over the years…. but you can’t go back…

In late February, we got another call. It was Graces owner again. This time, she told us that if she had to get rid of her, the only place she felt safe sending her was back home to us and that if we could arrange to get Grace back to Montana, she would give us the mare back. We were shocked. No , we didn’t need another horse, that was certain. But this was mama Grace and sometimes, things work out for reason we don’t always understand. We told the owner that we needed a little time to sort things out, see what shipping would cost (or what it would cost us to drive down to get her). She said take as much time as we needed. She would hang on to her for another year if we needed to but she wanted her to come back to us.

So the shipper arrived with Grace this afternoon all the way from Texas. I can’t wait to see her and give her a big hug.

Sometimes, you really do get second chances…

Welcome home Mama Grace. We missed you.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Weekend Horse stuff...

This was the first weekend in some time that I was able to focus almost entirely on horses and horse related tasks. Let me say this...it felt good. No errands, no family obligations, no other things to I must do. I forgot just how good it feels to just say no to all the other demands on my time .
It started out with JB getting his scheduled trim. His feet continue to be doing very well. I curried, curried and pretty soon had another layer of his winter coat off of him and onto me. I booted him, saddled him, and off we went. It was a bit chilly so we started out slow, doing lots of bending, leg yields, circles, etc at a walk. I had decided to work him in his bitless bridle Tom recently made for me (another post maybe) and this was only the second time I had ridden him in it. He was responding nicely, much better than the first time I put him in it. I decided to ask for a trot after about 15 minutes of warm up work. He hesitated.. "well, it has been a while and it has been cold..." , I thought to myself. I asked again , this time a little more insistent... He picked up the trot, although he pinned his ears a bit . He offered three or four strides and then he was back to a walk. I thought that was odd but since Tom had just left with his gelding maybe he was being a bit barn sour. I gave him the cue to trot again, and he obliged , but clearly wasn't happy about it. The trot he gave me was choppy, slow and then he started stumbling all over the palce. Then I knew something was definitely wrong. When he had foot trouble 2 seasons ago, that was one of the most noticeable symptoms, he stumbled over nothing. I got off him, pulled his saddle and bridle off, and made him move at liberty in the arena. There is was, a definite front left gimp. Tom came back out about then and asked what was goin on. He watched him too, definitely front left. His previous foot issue was his front right and was due to a stone buise of the sole. His soles have thickened and he also had his boots and comfort pads. Besides, his trim was only a small amount of rasping. No sole was taken and JB hasn't even sluffed his winter sole yet. So I knew whatever this lameness was , it was unlikely that it was foot related. I caught him up again, ran my hands down both front legs, no swelling, no bumps, no heat, no nothing. I pulled the boots, no soreness in the heel bulbs, no rubs, no nothing.

Hmmmm. Maybe he just strained himself playing with Brego.

Right about then, Tom said..

"Didn't you say the other day that you noticed he had some hid missing on his shoulder?" "Which side was that?"

It was true. He did have a good sized scrape and indeed it was his front left shoulder. Initially I assumed it was a bite when I first saw it because he and Brego are constantly playing and biting one another. I looked at it again, it could easily be a scrape from a hoof, without a doubt. So,JB is mildy to moderatly lame.

My plan? Give him a week with some slow easy walking work and see if it goes away. If not, called the chiropractor , if still no improvement, off to the vet for a lameness exam. Initially at the discovery of this, my stomach flipped as I envisioned my already short season being ripped away from me. Howevewr, I was encouraged when I turned him back out to his pen when he was rather playful and willing to jump around. At the very same moment, I decided it was time to separate him from Brego for the time being. He is now in with just Rebel. They don't play and JB usually bosses Rebel. His chances of getting injured further would be far less.

As for Maggie, well.. Maggie and I are at a bit of an impass. Maggie is learning that she can go as fast as she wants to and I will still be there. Here's the thing, Maggie gets anxious and travels around tense and thinks that if she just goes, faster things will be better. That combined with that fact that she is terribly herd bound. Fighting her with half halts isn't working, its just frustrating her more. She's too strong willed. Maggie needs to learn to let go of that anxiety and if she needs to move her feet to do so,then that is what we will do. Think about it, have you ever tried to run a mile holding every muscle in your body tense?? How tiring is that???? Could you travel 25 or 50 miles like that? Maybe but not without a high likelihood of injury at some point.

So, today, we started out slow and as predicted she wanted to go faster. I let her and pretty soon we were moving around the arena (and eventually the pasture) at a big trot or a canter if she felt the need. As a disclaimer, I should mention that while we are moving at a quick pace, she isn't in runaway mode. So I let her go, while directing her a bit with circles and changes of direction. Then, every so often, I offer her a good deal, asking her if she would like to maybe slow down a bit, using my seat and reins, If she responds, we slow up a bit. If not, we kept on moving at the speed she feels the need to move at. sometimes it was a canter and sometimes it was a big fast trot. We continued this pattern for some time. Pretty soon, when I suggested she slow up, Maggie listens and her pace slows, maybe just a bit, but that's a try, and that's something... Pretty soon, Maggie is trotting quietly around and eventually she slowed to a walk. several times, this walk only lasted for a few minutes before she decided that she needed to go quickly again. We repeated this process and I rode her for quite a long time. At the end of it, she had made some progress. We could trot a lap or two around the arena at an easy pace with out her trying to hurry. Better yet, I could ask her to slow to a walk and she willingly walked and stayed in a walk. I ended the lesson at that point.

Some might read this and say, sure, you just tired her out.. and I would say that that is a wrong assessment. Believe me, this mare was far from tired. It's crucial that Maggie learns that she doesn't need to travel so fast and tense. I can see that I am not going to be able to make any training progress on anything until she lets go of this anxiety and tenseness and I refuse to be in a horses mouth constantly to get them to slow up. In order to do that, I need to put her in a physical bind to get a mental change. Remember , I didn't ask her to move quickly or choose the pace we traveled at. I let her decide and continually suggested..... "We can slow down now if you would like" . When she did , I rewared her, and let her slow down. When she left quickly ,I let her but directed her feet. I am a strong believer in presenting things and then letting a horse work through all the possible options. Eventually she'll figure out that she doesn't need to work so hard. I know this process will need to be repeated several times before we get it perfect but it's a good start to a long road ahead.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Submitting to the Schedule

Ok- I give. I took at week off with plans to get some really concerted riding done, but the wheels of the universe had other plans, apparently. I think I rode once the entire week, when there was an abbreviated break of snow and rain. The wind however nearly blew JB and I across the field. Needless to say, I didn't get much accomplished, but atleast I got on and cruised around a bit, stretched our legs. It felt good nonetheless. So what did I do with my week off?? That's the infuriating part. Not a whole lot of anything I considered overly productive. Family consumed most of my time, and not exactly good ol' family quality time, but I won't get into that. When I wasn't playing taxi for someone, I did manage to get my dresser painted and re decorate the bedroom a bit, but otherwise, not much else

So the schedule isn't looking a whole lot better in the next several weeks. I have succumbed to not even try to get serious about my endurance conditioning until after the week of May 12. Besides, we got more snow in the mountains over the last several days. Can't get too far without having my horses sharp shod, which I refuse to do at this point.

Hope everyone else is getting some good ride time in!