Stan has been home in Canaan for a little over three weeks now.
While my riding frequency has unfortunately not increased much, the quality of our conditioning rides has increased ten-fold. In May, we managed to fit in five conditioning rides for a total of 30.6 miles. In the first half of June, we've managed to fit in four rides for a total of 41.2 miles.
Before having Stan in Canaan, we were only able to fit in one or two rides a week due to: juggling two horses in full work, living 50 minutes from the barn, work sucking, life responsibilities. These few rides were limited to the big back field and a hill for sprints because of the new douchecanoe new neighbor forbidding access to trails we enjoyed for 5+ years.
As a result of not having trails, most of our rides were "easy" conditioning miles (in my opinion) and lacked significant elevation gain and had zero tricky footing. They were also only about 5-6 miles in length because doing laps around the same field gets really tedious for both horse and rider after a point.
I really knew these 1-2 rides/week were not going to cut it for preparing a non-Arab for a 30 mile ride. When I conditioned Stan for our first go at Ride Between the Rivers
(RBTR) in 2007, I was 18, didn't have a full-time job, didn't have many
responsibilities in life, only had one horse, and thus had lots more time available for
conditioning him. We rode 1 to 3 hours a day 5 to 6 days a week. When I was out of town for summer camps, my BO would put in rides on him. We didn't know what the hell we were getting into, so we conditioned the hell out of him.
With RBTR fast approaching, you can imagine how excited I was to get Stan closer so we could get in bigger and better rides on trails - even if they weren't going to be with the frequency that I trained 10 years ago!
The first few conditioning rides I had with Stan in Canaan, he was completely barefoot. This seriously limited our options for places to go. Technical rocky terrain is the norm around here.
Fortunately, my hunches on how to connect certain areas I knew to be mild footing were correct and we gained access to amazing training terrain that was barefoot friendly. We tackled two training rides on that terrain with a good 1,000+ feet of elevation gain on each ride in addition to a shorter "warm up" ride with only 300-400' of elevation gain.
This past weekend following application of front shoes by Dan, Stan got to venture into Dolly Sods for his first time.
Over the course of 4 hours, this old quarter horse tackled 23 miles of trails like a boss, leading the whole time (Lauren came up to train with me).
It was my first ride in the Sods without Dan. This was odd for me mentally, but I knew I could manage on my own easily enough - especially with Stan. And, unsurprisingly, the day went wonderfully. I even tackled some trails I hadn't previously done with Dan but knew were good (read: passable) for horses.
Stan would have definitely benefited from four shoes instead of two, but he did remarkably well with just fronts. If he had four, we'd have been able to maintain a trot in some areas that we walked and would have been able to lessen the time we were out.
The biggest limiting factor in keeping us moving along wasn't Stan's feet though. I accidentally scheduled our training ride for the same day as the annual Highland Sky 40-mile ultra run in Dolly Sods! We intercepted and leap frogged runners for a large part of our day. Fortunately, the majority of our ride wasn't on shared trails, but the parts that were were very slow going!
Typically, ALL trail users should yield to horses, but on this day, I was more than happy to make an exception to that rule for the competitors. We very often stepped off to the side and gave them room to keep trudging along. Every one of them was very grateful and very amicable toward us.
We also ran into a number of hikers. We only received dirty looks from two and the other dozen or so groups were very friendly.
I made a point to Lauren throughout the day about how important it was to initiate conversation other trail users. It not only helps the horses identify bulky backpackers or brightly clad hikers/runners as humans and not monsters, but also helps shine a bright light on equestrian trail users. I'm all about being a good ambassador for horse folks in areas like this!
Lauren loved the ride and seeing new trails. I think she did get a bit of a shock about the roughness of the terrain at first. Better to learn now than be surprised later! We had several conversations about how our training trails compare to competition trails. Basically, if she can handle what we train on, she'll be able to handily tackle any competition trail she finds herself on in the east (and honestly, probably much of the west, too, if she ever ended up there; the only thing we can't practice that the west has is work at elevation).
Beyond trending toward slower and lazier than Q, Stan was an absolute doll all day. He was absolutely unflappable through everything we encountered on trail. He is as steady as the day is long and more than worth his weight in gold. He may be 16, but he's got a lot of go in him yet.
I anticipate getting another 20+ miles of conditioning in this weekend through a combination of rides. We won't be going out and winning RBTR in August, but I think this ol' quarter horse will definitely have a solid shot at earning a completion.