"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Friday, August 15, 2014

Back At It!

We returned from the Ride Between the Rivers to put the girls to work.

Monday of last week: 
Dressage school with Lily in the arena for 45 minutes. Worked on transitions, transitions, transitions until she was "up" and trying to anticipate. Successfully did the 10-10-10 exercise for the first time in like, forever: 10 strides trot, 10 strides walk, 10 strides canter. Mix and match. 

Tuesday of last week: 
Worked Gracie in the stall boarder fields. The stall board horses are currently on night turnout and all of their fields connect to one another via gates, which the boys just leave open during the day. So that's like 10 acres of fields to play in. I had been lunging her prior to riding if she'd had more than a day or two off to let her blow off steam. However, on this day she was so happy to come with me from the field and so chill while tacking up, that I chose to just get on without lunging. It turned out that my gut instinct was correct: Gracie was awesome. We worked on consistent gaiting and on cantering the inclines of the fields as short hill sets. 

Gracie in the field on Tuesday.

Gracie got worked in the fields again, pretty much the same thing as on Tuesday. I was bored with arena work so I took Lily out on the driveway and asked her to trot out as fast as she could. I wanted to see how much mileage we could do in half an hour. We threw some canters in because she was all, "This fast trotting is hard. It's easier to canter." So I let her canter and trot as she wished. She ended up doing 5 miles in 39 minutes. WOWZA. This is the mare who used to consistently average out at a speed of 6-8 mph...

Old picture of Lily and the driveway.

I was going to take Lily to the park across the street but one of the other boarders warned me that the trails over there are currently full of ground bees. Her friend and her horse, also boarders, had gotten swarmed by the bees and stung repeatedly. They were okay but it was a horrible experience. I was so frustrated. I'd wanted to do a longer ride with Lily over there, a minimum of 10 miles. But then I had a lightbulb moment: I could do exactly that using the stall boarder fields. I fed her beet pulp mash and a flake of hay so she wouldn't be doing this longer ride on an empty stomach and tacked her up in my Alta with only a water bottle. (No heavy saddle bags.) I made sure all of the field gates were open and hopped on. After a walk warm-up, I started Map My Run and asked Lily to trot. She offered her quiet arena trot. 
"Nope, I want faster," I told her.
"But you told me for two years that this is what you wanted," she said.
"We're doing a different sport now. You can go faster. You need to go faster."
"Yes, really. You're mostly Thoroughbred. I know you can do it."
"Yes, but it's my pogo stick trot...are you sure that's what you want?"
"Yup, that's what I want. I can keep up."
"Ok then."
She surged forward into the fast trot that I discouraged for so long. Lily has upright showers so she will never have a long raking stride. But she also doesn't have a lot of suspension so it's pretty effortless to post to her trot at a million miles per hour. 

My jaw dropped when the app called out "Distance: one mile. Pace: 6 minutes and 23 seconds..." Guys. The mare has a 10 mile per hour trot. (For the non-endurance readers: that's fast. That's very fast. You get 6 hours to complete a 25 mile distance or LD, which means your pace has to be about 5mph to complete within time with a vet check somewhere in there. Really competitive horses can complete an LD in under 3 hours...so that gives you an idea of what this means)

Alrighty...so then I wanted to see if she could maintain it.

18 minutes into our trotting, she had already clocked 3 miles effortlessly. 

We did 3 loops around each field in each direction before moving on to the next field. After that initial 3 miles, I started adding a canter loop in each direction so she could engage different muscles. When doing lots of trot work, it's recommended to let the horse canter every so often so their muscles don't get fatigued. After every canter lap, her trot would have renewed enthusiasm. Adding a lap or two of canter per mile bumped her average speed up to 12 mph.

The middle field is set at an incline that matches the bridle path hill; maybe a 20-30 degree incline. I worked on having Lily maintain the gait and pace going both up and down this incline. She had no problems either trotting or cantering down. At the trot she rocked back onto her haunches and flicked her toes, and at the canter she collected so she could be more cautious about her footsteps.

The far field, where Queenie and Déjà are turned out, also has a decent slope by the front fence, and Lily was happy to accelerate up this incline whether at trot or canter. We stayed in this particular field for 3 miles since the terrain was so different from the other fields that are flatter by comparison. I started asking for a couple of strides of gallop when we cantered up the slope, and I had to laugh when Lily flattened her ears and burst forward in a true gallop like she'd been launched from a slingshot.

She used to be afraid of accelerating like that. She wouldn't believe me when I asked for more at the canter. Now she does. She knows I can handle it, and she knows she won't get punished for it. (Cowboy + spur stops in her past. You can understand her anxiety with speed.)

She'd gallop 5 strides to get to the top of the slope, then slow to a canter on the downward side. Good girl! 

The good thing about riding in these fields is that there are plenty of water troughs to drink from. I gave Lily the option to drink numerous times but she chose not to.

After 3 miles in this field, we returned to the first field which is truly flat. Without the inclines now, Lily's trot accelerated to 12 mph without the addition of cantering. 

We completed 10 miles in 1 hour.

As soon as the app called out the 10 miles, I immediately dismounted, loosened the girth and hand walked Lily to cool down. It was hot in the sun though so I ended up just taking her into the barn wash stall so she could be in the shade, untacking her and hosing and scraping until the water coming off of her was cool. I then gave her a proper shampoo bath, rinsed her off and linimented her with Vetrolin. Which thanks to Sprinklerbandits, I remembered I had a bottle of. :) She then went into a stall to stuff herself with a buffet of hay, beet pulp mash and her TC Senior + supplements.

You can see the elevation gain of the fields. Yeah, kind of a joke. But it served its purpose: to work on speed.

Baby's got back.
Next it was Gracie's turn. We had an off-property ride planned for Sunday so I decided to try to get similar results with her but without getting to 10 miles (if you work a horse 10 miles, they should ideally get at least the next day off). I tacked her up and decided to just use the driveway, since by then the stall board horses had been turned out for the night. 

Gracie was a spitfire despite having been ridden the day before. Not in a naughty way, she just wanted to GO. We started out gaiting up and down the driveway to warm up but then G-mare wanted to canter so I let her canter when she chose. 

As we were going back down the driveway for the third time, I realized that the gates that connect the driveway to the bridle path were both open! So off we went that way. 

I hadn't been on the bridle path since our bad ride over a month ago. We went up the hill and Gracie asked to canter. So we cantered. We gaited back down and turned left to go onto the bridle path between the horse fields. Gracie's mane was dancing back in the wind like blonde flames with the speed of her gait. When she is happy she snorts every other stride, which is unusual in a gaited horse and makes it feel like you're riding a freight train! She was snorting as we went down the bridle path. 

As we reached the end of it, she suddenly threw up her nose and gave a small explosion: all four feet left the ground at once.

"NO Gracie," I said.
She came to an abrupt halt. "Aww really?"
"Yes really. No airs above ground."
*Snorts* "Oooookayyyyy."

We turned around and gaited back up the bridle path, cantered the hill one more time, went back down, and returned to the driveway. 

Gracie was an absolute saint about no more airs above ground. We had so much fun going up and down the driveway and then back up the hill and down the bridle path. We ended up doing 7.4 miles in 54 minutes. Her average pace was 8.5 mph. Like with Lily, I dismounted, loosened the girth and hand walked her up the driveway. She too had a bath and was linimented. She was not exactly patient about waiting to dry off while I loaded her tack up in Kathy's trailer for the following day. Every time I walked into the barn aisle, she would stop whatever she was doing and look at me attentively.

"Whut? I'm not fidgeting. Ignore the hoof prints..."
"What are you talking about? I'm not scratching my butt against this here door..."
One is a model citizen...
...and one is not...
"WHY am I tied up on both sides???! How come Lily gets to be tied by her lead rope?"
You can see how Lily had not changed position at ALL during these three photos...

I couldn't stop laughing. 

I turned them out for the night and went home. 

I met Kathy at the barn at 11:00 am. The plan was to go to Annapolis Rock since Kathy had never been there. I had gone with Carol back in May

Lily would have Sunday off. She looked fine: bright, no heat/swelling in her legs after the previous day's ride. 

I got Gracie and took her up to the barn to groom her and get her ready for the trailer ride. 

She loaded up with minimal encouragement. Queenie really knows the drill now and I honestly think Kathy could get her to self load if she wanted her to. Off we went!

Annapolis Rock is not far from the barn. There were a couple of horse trailers there when we pulled up. We unloaded the mares and set them up with haynets while we tacked up.

I chose the first trail straight ahead, taking Kathy along the Annapolis Rock trails but I managed to detour off into one of the trails that takes you into Patuxent. 

We basically ended up doing the same trails I'd done with Carol prior, but backwards.

And then we found ourselves in an entirely different area that I had not seen last time. It was beautiful.

That is a river off to the left.
I decided I really wanted to cross the river. Regular readers have probably noticed by now that I have a thing for taking my horses into any available (safe) body of water. All of the crossings had really deep mud that I wasn't comfortable riding through without fear of one of the mares pulling a ligament. I found a small side trail and followed it with Gracie...and discovered a less-travelled route into the river!

Gracie stepped into it without much convincing. We walked through the river and over to the trailhead on the opposite bank, which was deceptively deep. Both Gracie and Queenie had to jump up out of the mud due to the suctioning hold it took on their hooves. 

We discovered a property with an open gate (and no signs) that had a cross country field. I had Gracie gait over to what appeared to be a water jump for a closer look, but Kathy decided that we should probably leave before the property owners got mad at us for trespassing.

Open gate up ahead. Note the coop on the right!
Cross country field.
We left the cross country field and retraced our steps, which meant we had to cross back through the river. There only seemed to be the one muddy route back. Queenie led the way because I knew Gracie was not going to like stepping down into that mud. However, from my vantage point behind Kathy and Queenie, I got to see exactly how deep that mud was: Queenie sank in it to her hocks and knees! She continued on through it nonchalantly in typical Queenie fashion, but I was afraid of making Gracie step into such deep muck, have her freak out and possibly break a leg in the process.

I told Kathy what I was doing and turned Gracie around, riding up the trail again to look for a different route into the water. The banks were pretty high on this side of the river, but I finally found one section that was only about 10" high, with a drop into very shallow water. Gmare hesitated and tried to turn around once, but I brought her back to face the water, encouraging her forward. She planted both front hooves on the edge of the bank so that they slid smoothly down into the water, then stepped down. It was quite hot out and despite having only been walking, she was pretty sweaty. She asked to just hang out in the water for a minute so I let her, during which Kathy took this photo:

We continued on our merry way and soon found ourselves riding through a pine forest. I looked up and gasped: it literally looked like we were riding through a pine cathedral. We had made it back into the Annapolis Rock trails.

Isn't this gorgeous??!!
We looped around through these trails, exploring and enjoying the sights.

This was some dumped heavy machinery something that Gracie decided she was afraid of. I was laughing at her because recently she had startled at an alpaca that was rolling in the field adjacent to the bridle path back at the barn, but it was nowhere near as dramatic as her reaction to this machine. "Why are you more bothered by an inanimate object?" I asked her. She tried to dart away but I asked her to stand and look. She did her big blasting snort, "What IS that?" but just stood watching the machine alertly. Remembering Magic Man's antics of wanting to touch things that frightened him, I thought, "I bet I can teach this mare to be the same way." So I asked her to take a step forward and investigate. She obliged...
And then she realized there was green shrubbery growing next to the machine and started eating it! The green blur in front of her muzzle is a small branch that she was chewing on. She didn't give a hoot about the machine.
I had mentioned the meadow trails to Kathy and we finally found them. They seemed much farther from the trailer parking than they had when I visited with Carol.

We cantered through some of the sections of trail then decided to call it a day and returned to the trailer. We completed 9 miles in 2 hours and 40 minutes. Yup, it was all walking but both mares were quite sweaty!
Elevation gain for Annapolis Rock + Patuxent trails we did

The mares both had hay and beet pulp mashes back at the trailer before loading up to go home. Again Gracie got on the trailer without issue.

It was a great ride!


  1. Beautiful photos of your ride! It's really cute how different your girls are.

    1. They literally are opposites in every single way: color, body type, metabolism, hooves (Gracie has some incredible rock crunchers), personality, the training approach that each requires. But they are very similar in my one favorite thing: they love people and are both very sweet mares! Interestingly enough, they are also best friends. :)

  2. I really want to ride through the pine tree shot you posted. That was magnificent!

    1. It was my #1 favorite part of that ride!

  3. Those trails look great. Its nice to hear someone else using fields on repetition to get miles in! I always hear about people with access to miles and miles of trails out their back door and I worry I won't make it without that.

    1. Yup, you can make do with fields! Just get in some high intensity interval training on them if you're conditioning for a ride with hills. :)

      We have about 10 miles of trails at the park across the street that are about as rugged as it gets for this part of MD with enough hills to have ensured our completion at the Old Dominion 50 back in June. And then we have access to Patuxent River State Park which takes up 2 counties. You can literally ride in there for days. But for the first we have to cross two really busy streets and now there are ground bees, and for the second you have to cross another busy street and ride across open farmland before you can get to any of the trail heads. There are some days in which I really don't want to deal with crossing streets! I'm actually kind of looking forward to colder weather, when people stay home, the parks are empty, and there is no heavy machinery at work at the farm on the weekends. :)

  4. You make me miss trail riding, my friend and I used to do it a lot in the woods in college and I remember a couple scrabbles we got into.

  5. As I said the other day, I still don't know how you manage to work them both at the level you do! I have such a hard time getting on both horses for the same level of workout in one day. Alternating is the only way I can keep relatively sane. Alternating by riding different ways helps, too. To go out and do almost the same mileage on each horse? Yep. Youza crazy lazy to be able to do that. Some kinda supawoman.

    1. Haha that was the Weekend of Distance! I'll do a week or two of this with Lily and then the next we'll work in the arena on other things. My goals with Gracie are to just continue building on her baseline fitness but she loves working so much that she continues to be an overachiever in a jock kind of way, whereas Lily is an overachiever in a nerd kind of way. Lol As to the distance: I used to do the same thing back when I had both Lucero and Indio, as I was conditioning them equally with the same goal in mind and they were at similar fitness levels. And this is what happens when Charles is working on the weekends and I don't have anything else planned. Haha I do get tired of riding alone for so long. I think that's the hardest part for me. Lately I'll put in a 10 mile ride on Lily over the weekend just so I only have to ride one mare the next day. ;) I also simply don't have time to do any kind of significant conditioning during the week with my backwards work schedule. :/

  6. Wow, gorgeous!! We have trees, but not quite like *that*.

    Any tips on getting a bigger trot? I think Confetti has a 9-10mph trot somewhere in there, but it's been near-impossible to pull it out on command.

  7. I've actually just started the repetition method of riding for speed workouts too, although I haven't gotten to the 10mph part yet!:) And Nimo would cry if I made him do canter too! Lily is just in amazing shape and I agree with Liz that it's amazing how you're able to do so much with both horses in one day. If I do a 10 plus mile ride, I'm done for the day:)

  8. I'm getting caught up.... again. I LOVE the pictures of Gracie in the cross ties. Still giggling. Sounds like you've had some really great rides. :D