Jen, who is a local (for me) endurance rider, who has also competed FEI in the past (before the chaos began, sigh), and who is often competing in 100-milers on her gelding Eagle (which they have done 100% barefoot the past several times), needed a buddy for a training ride on the rail trail. She planned to do 30 miles with Eagle on Monday and was hoping for a buddy for the final 15 miles - planned average pace? 9-10 mph.
Hmm, I though to myself, Q really hasn't done a ton lately. They do say that pasture kept horses keep their baseline fitness better than most though. And its only been about 2 months since our 50. And she has been working still. Two trail rides lately, actually. With a rider + a saddle that are far heavier than what I'd be in on this ride. And this ride would be flat. Basically zero elevation gain/loss. Q has a very solid 8-9 mph trot on the flats. A 9-10 mph average pace just means cantering every now and again. And she'll have an easy 2-mile warm up and cool down where we can walk/slow trot. Yeah.... Yeah. She can do this. She'll be getting ample time off in the week after with the dramatically low temperatures anyway. Perfect training ride/LD opportunity with appropriate rest afterward.
|Cute mare standing in the middle of what remained of the old round bale. |
This was right after she nickered at me. <3
I apologized to Q as I fetched her from the field Monday morning (she even nickered at me as I approached her on this day - she NEVER does this at home, EVER). I knew she probably thought she was coming in for light work at best + her grain. She's really grown accustomed to this routine this winter. She's a fan, too, evident by her increasing interest in me when I arrive (e.g., meeting me half-way when I fetch her from the field, meeting me at the gate, and - now - nickering upon arrival). Poor little mare didn't even know she'd be trucking fast with Eagle for ~15 miles + the 4 mile warm-up/cool-down we had to do to and from the barn (2 miles one-way; 4 total).
Due to the myriad of tasks at the barn on this day, Q ended up just standing around for the first 2 hours as I trimmed Griffin, rode him, and helped K with Tempest. About an hour into this time, I put the Woolbak with *frozen* memory foam inserts on Q with her saddle so that her body heat could slowly warm the foam during that time.
I love this pad - especially with the treeless Ansur - but I don't enjoy that the foam becomes frozen/hard when the temps are low. It always requires forethought and planning to be able to tack up as I must allow for time for the foam to thaw/warm. Yes, I could take the pad home, but taking things home makes me more apt to forget them when I make impromptu visits to ride.
|Packed powder. Slick as snot.|
I was beyond ecstatic to finally be behind those brown ears again. I've had so much fun riding Griffin lately. SO MUCH. But I've dearly missed being behind brown ears, riding a big trot, and enjoying a balanced, usually collected canter.
Q was willing and forward as we left the property. She was a little hesitant about the very icy section preceding the creek crossing, but we worked through that quickly enough. Once in the field across the creek, she picked up a very collected canter (slower than her fast trot). She kept this gait until we reached the base of the first (and only) hill, where she extended her stride just a titch for the uphill portion.
She was very alert as we headed out, but not a bundle of nerves like she's been in the past. I was cautiously optimistic at this point. The rail trail has been a source of frustration for Q and I the past 6 months. Its where she spooks the worst at things I cannot even predict any longer. I have been able to learn and anticipate much of her idiocy, but last fall we reached an all-time low with our relationship as far as her spooks. Monday's ride was a big test for us.
The connector road we follow to the rail trail was packed powder. A slick sheen of white that could down Q in a moment if she spooked at all. We walked nearly the entire thing, me talking to my ever-alert little mare as we went.
Within 20 minutes, we'd reached the rail trail where Jen and Eagle awaited. Jen and I exchanged greetings, as one does, and then I cautioned that for cantering portions of our ride I'd really prefer not to lead because Q had really been wigging out at things in our recent rail trail pursuits. Jen noted that it wasn't a problem. She also shared that Eagle had done the first half of the ride faster than she'd anticipated, so this half may go slower, we'd see.
And so we headed out. Q in the lead for the first mile with a very forward trot. Alert and looky, but not spooky. The one "monster" she found (a bench) only merited a few lilting, lateral steps as we passed. None of her former horizontal teleportation moves. Good girl!
|Following Jen and Eagle.|
Q followed Eagle quietly. She had no issue with the pace. She didn't look around her to try to create monsters where there were none. She'd do a flying lead change as she saw fit to do on our longer canter stretches.
And the day was GORGEOUS. Blue sky, partly cloudy, a brisk breeze, and SUNSHINE.
Bliss. Pure bliss.
At the turn around point, Q and I took the lead again for a mile or so. Trotting with intermittent cantering. She was once again alert, but not a bundle of nerves over things. I observed her watching things, then moving on past them as she worked through what they were in her head. I could almost hear the cogs whirring as she figured through things in her mind.
THIS is the mare I used to know! Yes!
Jen and Eagle took the lead again after a time, picking up a solid canter with intermittent trotting for the rest of the ride.
Q began to slow for a period toward the end of the ride. Her mojo was beginning to fade. However, when Jen urged Eagle to canter the entire last mile of our ride, Q picked it up with gusto behind him, powering through to the end.
I was so proud of my little Q mare!
|Beautiful day for 18.25 miles on my Q-mare.|
Jen hopped off Eagle immediately at the end to check his pulse with her heart rate monitor. He'd dropped below 60 in less than 2 minutes despite that last mile canter. Impressive! Q was at 84 immediately after, but I wasn't overly concerned with this as she hasn't been training as heavily as Eagle (who has a 75 in 2 weeks and a 100 in March). Besides, Q still had a 2-mile cool down ahead of her.
I definitely plan to get one of those hand-held heart rate monitors in the future! What a great training tool! And at $80, they're really not unreasonably expensive. Being able to get Q's heart rate so quickly like that, in training or at a ride before heading to the vet check, would be really wonderful and totally worth the $80! It would be a relatively cheap investment! (I tend to purchase things that I know will be very useful to me. Cost isn't such a huge thing if the item is something that I am going to gain a lot of use out of over time. I look at these things as investments and think of cost per use over time. I guarantee I'd use something like this countless # of times. If I use it 80 times it'd be like $1/use. 160 times, $0.50/use. And the likelihood of using it >160 times is very high. Totally worth the initial purchase to me!)
The 2-mile jaunt back to the barn went without issue. Q was so calm the whole way. She was still alert, as she always is, but she plodded forward without concern. I was SO SO SO happy and proud of her. All of the time we've spent doing ground exercises these past 2-ish months has been so worth it. I plan to keep up everything we've been doing into the future, adding in trail workouts as we head into ride season.
Q may never be super chill about everything like other horses are, but the change in her lately - and especially on this ride (albeit with a buddy) - was very encouraging to me. With time, effort, and patience, I think I'll be able to have the mare I fell in love with when I met her nearly 2 years ago all the time.
The stats for this ride:
- Total ride distance: 18.25 miles
- Average pace for our warm up and cool down section: 4.8 mph
- Average pace for the working section on the rail trail: 9.6 mph
- Fastest average pace (that last full-canter mile): 12.2 mph