Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Realizations and Refocus

I should be packing and preparing to attend what would have been my first ride of the season this weekend, (yes, while the rest of you have already attended 5 or more already!) It’s a new ride this year in Potomac, Montana. A one day ride that offers both a limited distance of 35 and a 50 miler. Between weather, work, saddle fitting issues and a huge list of other bumps in the road, I never got into a conditioning schedule this year with Maggie. I have managed to get few good 10-12 mile rides under my belt but that was it. Any remaining delusion that I could have Maggie ready for the July 23rd ride was quickly decided for me a few weeks ago when I actually looked at the calendar , factored in that I was gone the week before the ride, and considered Maggie’s latest recovery rates on our conditioning rides. Maggie was barely managing 12 miles of hilly country at a moderate pace.

It was just enough to know I couldn’t ask her to complete a 35 mile ride, in hilly country.

So, yet another ride scratched for the season. But it’s not a bad thing. In fact, I am feeling a bit rejuvenated over the whole thing.

About 2 months ago, it was just a tickle in my brain, a passing thought here and there.. is endurance is even worth doing in this part of the country? We only have 1-2 rides that are even remotely close (5 hour or less drive away) and if your lucky, you might be able to seriously start conditioning in June. That alone makes endurance a difficult goal where I live. Then there was the issues I was seeing in Maggie that I didn’t like. Over the course of the last several weeks, that nagging thought kept coming back every time I climbed on her. She was tense, rushy, bracey. Every ride with others was getting a little worse, a little more of a battle to keep her quiet and relaxed. I realized I needed to do something. I don’t know about other endurance riders, but I refuse to have a horse that is a barely controlled runaway with t braced jaw and braced back just so I can fly down the trail and compete in endurance. Not my idea of fun and I am sure not much fun for Maggie either.

When you keep trying to do the same thing and you keep running into road blocks, it’s time to change the path. That is what I have decided to do. No, I am not giving up on endurance. I am just refocusing. For now.

Without the hours of pounding out the miles, I have been spending more time in the arena with Maggie and I have realized a few things. Things I didn’t like. For one, endurance has really done a number on my riding. I have become stiff and bracey in my sitting trot, I have developed tension in my hips and lower back and guess what? It directly translates to my horse.

I have enough years of dressage and equitation lessons to draw upon to fix all of this. It just requires me to spend time on it. And that is what I intend to do.

The arena work has always been there but it was a means to an end, just enough to get by, to get down the trail. A little bending, a little lateral work, a few circles, a few half halts, etc. Now, I am going full blown back to my roots of Dressage, Equitation and maybe a little jumping just to mix it up a bit. I f I want a soft responsive horse that does more than go down the trail, its what Maggie needs. We are already making some good progress and it’s only been a couple weeks of concerted effort. Maggie is finding her slow relaxed trot and getting as soft as butter in my hands. For the first time in a long time, it feels really good to ride her and I think she is happier as well.

So, this weekend instead of packing up to go ride 35 miles, I am packing up to get a few private lessons with a respected horsewoman, Alice Trindle. She is in Hamilton, Montana putting on a 3 day clinic and it’s been a few years since I have had the opportunity to train with her. I think it will be money better spent for where Maggie and I are in our journey.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Mental Health Days

I took time off work yesterday and today just because. I needed a few days to catch up on things and just have time to myself and not worry about being somewhere at a certain time. Yesterday, I paid bills, ran errands, and got groceries. Today I went riding, a long slow 12.5 miles. A friend joined me today but in the last two weeks I have logged more miles than I have all season. I guess with no one to distract me (husband) I found that riding was as good of a distraction as any, and the weather is finally cooperating.
This past week , I managed to go out and hit the trails 3 times. That has to be some kind of record! Maggie is slowly coming back into condition but it's taking a while. Today she was tired when we finished out 12.5 miles and we didn't ride fast at all. The last few miles she started getting a bit stumbly. I'll give her a few days off, which probably works out best since driving in this valley on the Fourth of July with a horse trailer is nightmarish. People seem to come out of the woodwork.. I guess it's all the summer residents with their fancy lake homes.

I think I am starting to figure Maggie out a bit. When I ride alone, she is getting much more confident and is much more relaxed on the trail. I actually prefer , and I think she does as well, when we are alone. We can trot along the trail in a nice relaxed trot, loose rein for miles on end. It's absolutely wonderful.
Add another rider and horse, she gets competitive and racey. It's not enjoyable because I am constantly having to be on her mouth half halting and getting her to slow up. She assumes MACH CHICKEN speed most of the time and trying to find a rhythym in her trot is impossible. I just have to get in two -point and stay off her back a bit. There is NO posting to that gawd-awful pace! Today we clocked a 14 mph trot. Those are the times I think, " I should just sell her as a harness trotting horse!"

So, as long as I don't ride at any gait other than a walk when another rider and horse is along, we're fine, right? Problem solved.. BORING!!

I will say that Maggie is a total ROCKSTAR on those narrow windy trails that have tree roots and rocks. She's like a cat, and it seems the faster the trot, the better she is. She just picks her way effortlessly as we fly through the trees. I never have to worry about her taking a missed step. It's a pretty cool feeling to ride a catty little horse that handles technical terrain so well at speed.

So I guess the plan is that we'll keep working on pacing at home, and getting Maggie to listen to half halts and hope that it continues to translate to the trail when others join us, but if any of you have suggestions out there for a race brained mare, they are more than welcome here.