Saturday, January 25, 2014

Q: Training Ride

Part of my marathon horse time this past Monday-holiday was consumed with a training ride on Q. An 18.25-mile training ride at that!

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
So, I agreed to meet Jen at the trail at 1p that Monday to catch up with her for the second half.

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.
By 12:40p, when I needed to leave to meet Jen and Eagle, the foam was warm. I tightened the saddle, tossed reins on Q's halter-bridle, and with a wave to K, her dad and sister, I set out.

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.
Around the second mile, Jen passed and kept the lead for the next 6 miles to the turn around point. She and Eagle kept a fresh pace for Q and I to follow. Cantering with intermittent trotting.

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

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