Lovely ride with Q the past two nights. Her first two rides solo since the very first ride I took her on when she came to her new home.
She's doing absolutely beautifully. Resists my guidance a bit for the first half mile or so, but once we hit the woods she's all business (for the most part). She's really observant of everything around her. She is happy to move out and let me guide her once we're in the woods/trails away from home. She weaves like a champ around trees and low branches - at multiple speeds, too!
The majority of our rides have been around 3.5 miles so far. We've had two 5 mile rides thus far. Since my current goal is the 30 mile LD in August, I'm shooting to have her maintain a 4-5 mph average speed for our rides or to get in 5 miles in an hour-ish. (Ultimate goal to get in 10 miles in two hours twice a week prior to ride.)
I know at a walk on Mayer we can do 8 miles in 2.5 hours (this includes stops to tie horses, lift fallen trees, maneuver horses under and through said trees one at a time [we didn't have a saw]). So if Q can do some trotting for even a minimal amount of time I know she should be able to accomplish the goal of 10 mi. in 2 hr. (Q's trot is a solid 6-7 mph according to what we've documented with Endomondo so far.)
Currently, I'm pretty psyched that she's doing so phenomenally out on her solo rides. She's a completely different horse from the first one we did on her first day at the farm. On that ride she was beyond distracted - but that was fine with me. I wanted to do it as a base line to see how far she would come as time moved along.
Sure, she's a little more forward moving once she knows we're homeward bound, but with a "whooooa" and some pressure applied to the reins she comes down to a walk nearly instantly. "Whoa" means "whoa" as far as she's concerned - and I LOVE it. We ride on a loose rein 90% of the time.
I test her a tiny bit more each day with a little more distance or a little more speed. (Excluding the first ride I ever had on her that was 6 hours over god knows what distance...I was distracted with the task of capturing a proposal and then slightly intoxicated after the fact - don't judge me.) We've maxed out at 5.1 miles thus far with a max speed of 16 mph and a max average speed for a ride at 5.5 mph.
We walk all down hills right now, whether they steep or slight. Down hills are a good half of our rides if not more sometimes and they are good training ground for her to learn to walk down and for me to have boundaries to not push too much too fast. We do a fast walk or a trot on all of the up hills. If its excessively steep she has to fast walk, if its a slow, but steady incline we trot for either all of it or half of it depending on how she is doing. I strive to not max her out, but I still want to challenge her a little bit each day - even if its only for a minute at a time.
I know I pushed Orion too hard last summer. It was at the urging of friends who hadn't read up on training - but it was ultimately my fault for not reading up either. Additionally, I knew little about conformation last summer and those who did were afraid to crush my dreams and didn't speak up until he'd been injured - he just wasn't built to do endurance (or jumping for that matter). I'm bound and determined to not make those mistakes again.
I've done my research well this time. And many of you have helped me in my learning by posting about your own experiences, and for that, I thank you greatly. Thanks to you, among other sources, I know to add distance or speed, not both. I know to focus on time largely in the beginning instead of speed. And instead of basing my goals for each loop of the ride from my first experience, I'm shooting to just FINISH the ride within the limit allowed with a goal of the most minimal amount of miles per hour possible. (I was very fortunate on my first LD adventure - I trained very well for 6 months on perfect terrain. A lot of beginners luck in my training led to me finishing the 30 miles in 4 hours with ease. It helped that the original track for the race to be held on - that was later nixed due to endangered species issues - was my training ground!)
And now, the source of the title of this post. Q hates bears. We were right about 3 miles on my goal of 5 miles for today's ride when WHAM she comes to a stop. I hear rustling up the mountain to my left and see movement around the turn ahead of us. I cluck and urge her forward, a little confused. She takes a step and won't move further, blowing hard, ears erect, body stiff. I lean down and around her arched neck to see a nice sized sow sprinting away. From experience with bears up-close, she was AT LEAST 160 lbs, likely more - she looked fat to me!
Q wanted NONE of that bear. She attempted to turn multiple times. Danced in place. Began blowing and snorting. Full-on Arabian behaviors. I decided with the risk of cubs + momma + Kenai it was probably a better idea to just back track instead of making the loop (with more hill action) as I'd planned. So once Q stood still for about 10 straight seconds I turned her around and headed home.
I love seeing bears, but I also respect them. While our Appalachian black bear population is by and large scared of humans (over hunting with dogs), I still have a large respect for them. I'm happy Q is so alert and can point such things out to me. It really helps the partnership we're developing. I can focus on where and when, she can focus on the train under her feet and potential threats around us I may not smell/hear/see. When you're alone in the middle of no where, that's pretty valuable.
Loving my little mare.