Monday, June 19, 2017

Conditioning in Canaan

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.


  1. Go Stan!! He is looking so good...nice tone and very fit. Hope you guys have an awesome time at RBTR!

    1. Hopefully our last month of conditioning gets us in a good place!

  2. Gooooo Stan! So awesome that you were able to get him out and try out some new trails.

  3. Love Stanley! No wonder you guys were so competitive the first time around at RBTR! Damn that was a lot of riding!

    1. Yeah, in hindsight it was too much, but we were both young and handled it well. We were also training on what was supposed to be the course, but then it got changed last minute!

  4. Replies
    1. Sure hope so! He's definitely capable of going out and completing a slow LD. I HATE racing the clock more than anything though, so I'd like to be fitter than this so we don't have any trouble. =)

  5. With a ride like that, there is no doubt you will have him ready. Go Stan!

    1. I hope so! I know you and Gem did similar amounts of riding and were ready for your rides, but Stan isn't the amazing superfreak Gem is ;-) Hopefully us mere mortals can muddle through.

  6. Stan is looking great! I'm also riding a Quarter Horse and conditioning for endurance. I would love to hear more about your stats and how you started him up etc. I'm sure you will do great in August!

    1. I've got a lot of history with Stan which helps a lot. I know from over-conditioning out of ignorance 10 years ago what it takes to get him in peak shape. And now, as a more seasoned endurance rider with an Arab cross that I successfully competed through many 50s and one 100 miler I know what base level conditioning to put into a horse. (Conditioning is detailed through the years on this blog with my Morab mare, Q. She doesn't take as much because of her Arab side fortunately! Conditioning a non-Arab just takes a bit more forethought and preparation from my experience.)

      I'm kind of taking a middle of the road approach with Stan this go around: trying to get two solid rides a week and will ramp up to three closer to the ride. My biggest concern with Stan, as a non-Arab, is getting him to pulse down within criteria. I'm anticipating having to come very slowly into the holds to give him the best opportunity I can. Because we condition on harder terrain than the ride, I know he'll be able to handle the terrain. Because we'll have tougher conditioning than the ride day and I'm planning for a moderate pace, I'm not super concerned with his metabolics, though I will certainly electrolyte him to help!

      Man...I could write a book on this haha. Feel free to ask any specific questions you may have so that I can focus in on answering better ;-)

    2. You really should write a book, "Pasture Puff to Peak Performance", haha. Those were my concerns with Rev is mostly the pulsing down issue. I'm excited about your first ride to see what exactly your electrolyte protocol will be and how it will work out. Are you electrolyting now to test things out? Did you officially start conditioning Stan for the RBTR in May? Will you be pushing for 50's if he does well at RBTR? That's my goal with Rev is to get to 50's as quickly as possible *IF* he handles an LD or two with ease. I think it would be awesome to get a Decade Team with him, but he is 8 as of February so I need to get that going ASAP. I was thinking working Tuesday and Thursday for about an hour and then Saturday and Sunday for longer rides. Is that excessive? I honestly have no idea.

      I will definitely be planning to walk/lead him into holds and my hubby will be crewing so I will have plenty of ice and water on hand for him. I think I could do a few rides from the house in the heat of the day and "come in hot" for a "hold" and have ice and water on standby to see how long it takes him to pulse down and then add in some time for ride excitement. Our first ride will hopefully be 11/4 so we have 4 months and 15 days. How much time off before the ride are you hoping to give him? Last question for now, what kind of saddle are you using on him? I'm going to relurk your blog and get some conditioning info. :) Thank you so much! I'm beyond excited that such an experienced E-rider is doing this with a Quarter Horse, this is awesome!

    3. Electrolytes: I do a half-n-half mixture of Endurolyte and Perform N Win (mixed with molasses and applesauce) for rides. I dose 1x/day on Thursday and Friday, then once in the morning and once at each hold and once following a ride on the day of. If it is hotter, I may give a double-dose or give a half dose on trail.

      Conditioning: If I had all the time in the world with Stan, I'd try to do about 20 miles a week split over three rides. I've got the terrain to work on, so it's mostly a matter of time and miles. Without easy trail access, I focus on 1 day of dressage-based training, 2 days of cardio (either hill sprint sets or gallop sets on the flat), and 1 trail day of at least 5 miles, preferably more. And then, once a month, I like to try to get in one longer ride >10 miles. Not sure where you are, but around here, having mountains and rocks to condition on makes a big difference. All of my horses handily tackle climbs and technical terrain because we have practice with it. Without that practice, we'd definitely have to go slower.

      Holds: Ice water makes a HUGE difference!! As does hand-walking in from ¼-mile to ½-mile out with a loose girth. Heat conditioning also will help greatly if you have summer competition planned.

      Time off: For an LD, I do a week taper. For a 50 I do a 2 week taper. For my only 100 so far, I did a 4 week taper. This doesn't mean NO work, it just means tapering down so that they "peak" at the ride. I was a competitive swimmer for 10 years and thus use the same conditioning plan on my horses I used for myself when I have big competition looming.

      Stan's last "big" training ride will July 14 weekend when I plan to do 15-20 miles on one ride. I'll probably put in a 3-6 mile ride twice the following week and then one ~3 mile ride the week of the ride + a warmup ride when we get to camp (3 to 5 very easy-going miles).

      It's important to remember that rest is just as important as work! Micro tears/injuries occur from work and giving them time to repair is paramount to finding success.

      Tack: I've been using my old Wintec AP saddle with a Skito pad with inserts on Stan this go around. Back in 2007 I had a janky-ass ancient Crosby saddle of questionable condition. For the past several years on Q, I used my treeless Ansur dressage saddle with the same Skito pad.

      Feel free to email me (estout18 (at) gmail) with any questions. More than happy to banter back and forth with you. =)

    4. This is great! I am going to save it and print it out if you don't mind. I am in North Florida but I am from TN. In fact I think you recently went to White Rocks and Sand Cave, that was his first trail ride ever and his most common one. Down here, there is one small hill that I could trailer to and do some sprints on beside the road. We do have the heat training on lock down though haha. Our first ride will be in November so it will likely be about 75*ish degrees or really cold or 90*, it's impossible colic weather here lol. I think training all summer for it should have us as good as we will get for the actual ride. I will definitely be emailing you later so I don't keep going with the two page comments. Thank you so much! I feel so much better already.

  7. What gorgeous pictures and so cool to be able to get back out and train for real again!!! That's kinda funny about sharing the trails with a race too - I've never even thought about that before lol

    1. There's an endurance ride in Arizona and in Vermont that are run alongside ultra runners! I'd love to attend the VT one eventually.