- My experience on the trails in the Smoky Mountains two summers ago prepared me well for this trail though. It was rough, but not nearly as treacherous as trail I rode in the Smokies - or even some of the trails I've ridden in the WV backcountry. There were very few, if any, areas of this trail that had huge consequences if a footfall or two weren't perfect (unlike the Smokies).
|Mountain tops aren't as bald as the Smokies, but they're similarly rugged here!|
- For Q, the magnitude of rocky area was the most difficult part of this ride. Q can pay mind to rocks and be very good - we've done it on some super sketchy trails in WV - but this ride (and lately in all riding) Q was more concerned with what was AROUND her instead of being cautious about her footfalls. Her movement over the rocky areas on the second ridgeline trail became sloppy and careless as a result, which was highly frustrating.
- The sustained incline/climbing sections up the mountain on this ride surprised me from a trail building/maintenance standpoint. These trails are so unfriendly for any travel because they lack switch backs. Additionally, this kind of design leads them to serve as areas for washouts during high precipitation events, which harms the integrity and condition of the trail over time.
- Downhill inclines at speed are a huge issue for Q and I. I am cautious with these in training and had no choice but to make time on them during this ride. This is no bueno. I need to strive to build rider fitness in this area; I need to train myself to be better at running downhills so I can still do them with speed without the increased stress on Q. As it is now, running downhills makes me incredibly sore. I cannot do it and walk the few days after a ride. These OD rides leave few opportunities to make time up for the areas you HAVE to walk if you don't take advantage of these downhill areas on FS roads. Q had a bit of inflammation and swelling in her forelegs after this ride that I suspect is in large part due to taking these downhills at speed. Additionally, I cannot physically get off and walk her UP any hills to help through those areas if a ride is > 60 degrees. I am too prone to heat illness to be able to do this and remain healthy and sound myself! So downhill training it is!
|Queen Q and her flop lip.|
- Q's score of B for anal tone at the second-to-last check was really telling for me. This ride we spent nearly 2 hours longer on the trail than our other 50s. That was a lot, and it showed.
|Q taking a pause from drinking.|
- As much as it pains me to say this - I think Easyboot gloves on the hinds is what works best for this mare right now. I had ZERO issues with these this ride. The failed Renegades on the hinds during the beginning was really frustrating. It may be that Vipers on her hinds will work just as well as they do on her fronts (we only had one very minor moment where the toe strap came undone in the second loop on a downhill and her foot came out as a result of the SLICK clay/silt/mud in the boot to deal with for the Vipers). So one day, when I can afford Vipers for her hinds, maybe we'll try those, but right now, Vipers on the front and gloves behind is working...even though it pains me to deal with getting those gloves on! Renegades behind in this terrain is just difficult though. The kind of soil we have creates such SLICK mud. And we have a LOT of water crossings on trails over here in the east. I'm never overly surprised when I lose a boot after a stream crossing - as that is when it almost always occurs! That slick mud coupled with fast movement uphill makes it difficult for most things to stay on horse and human alike thinking back on times I've kicked off my own shoes on accident, haha.
- This was the longest Q has been on trail for a 50. It was her toughest, yes, but also the longest. The fact that she was STILL spooking - and being worse about it even - at the end was SO FRUSTRATING. I think I definitely need to pus her harder in the future to make her more tired (like she was at No Frills) so she can't spook on that last loop. Ding bat.
Positive and Negatives on Gear, Etc.
- Electrolytes really seem to be working well for Q. She's drinking much better than she did last year with the addition of electrolytes. I'm please and will keep her on this until it isn't working as well - at which point I will reassess. Currently her mixture is half Perform N Win, half Enduramax. These are mixed with a solution of molasses and applesauce to make it tasty. Having actually tasted it myself, I can honestly say its not too bad! Salty, obviously, but not bad otherwise.
|Bizz-oots! Vipers on the fore, Gloves behind.|
Q was doing her big trot here, evident in how her hind end
tracks outside of her fore as she strikes forward.
Basically, she moves like she's got a huge pair of nuts.
- Begrudgingly, I have to admit that the Easyboot gloves on Q's hinds do beautifully. We completed the second half of Fort Valley and No Frills with them. I have to vet wrap her hinds prior to putting the boots on, but once on, they don't budge. The failures with Rennies on the hinds has only occurred due to cable issues where the cables break or tear out. In past rides with Rennies on Q's hinds, I've had little to NO trouble with them. I think the Vipers will be a much better fit and have fewer issues, but until there is a time I can afford to get them, I will be using the gloves.
- For me, a half gatorade (the light blue kind!) and half water is heaven's elixir. I guzzled this down each loop from my bottles. I was SO hydrated all day. It was awesome. Additionally, Mike MADE me eat and drink at each check, before, and after the ride. I was really well taken care of!
- Saddle bags...I set out both this and the No Frills ride with TWO saddle bags: pommel and cantle. All I really keep in the cantle are my water bottles and spare boots/vet wrap. Nothing else. I'd really like to eliminate that cantle bag completely for future rides. I'm just a bit hesitant about wearing a Camelbak again for my water as it made my shoulders sore before. I guess we will see...
Training Changes for the Future
- Rider fitness on downhills: I plan to start running all the downhills when I do trail rides with both horses. Downhills tend to make me really sore currently, so I obviously need to start working on them! Hopefully, by my next ride, I'll be in better shape and be able to gain time on the downhills without trading the health and fitness of Q's legs.
|I chowed down so hard at this ride. NO training needed to |
- More hill/mountain work on sustained inclines: I've got at least four sustained (between a 0.5-1.0 mile long) climbs. I need to hit these up more and really work them. Back to the previous point, I need to take advantage of the training grounds I have and use it to our advantage!
- More time on the trail: I really need to get Q out onto the trail and increase her miles out there. Not because she needs more miles and more trail fitness, but because she needs to see more of the things that seem to scare her so much. "Desensitizing" an animal can only work if they see the stimuli that triggers them in a "normal" setting. Doing work with her around the barn and barnyard to help her get over these issues won't help her when we're on the trail. Only trail work will help that. I'm hoping that with increased time on the trail, her degree of spookiness will lower. I'm not naive enough to think it will go away completely, but if I could get her back to just balking and not launching herself away from "monsters" I would be a lot happier. With a plan of jogging the down steeps and powering the up steeps, the flats are the only areas I need to be concerned with her spooking. She'll be unconcerned on downhills if following me on foot, and uphills make her work too hard to have time/effort to spook. Sadly, the flats are where we need to make time, and the flats are where I'm scared to make time because her spooks are a million times worse when done from a canter than from a trot. :-( I have to help her to overcome this if we're to further our riding career together. I just have to.