Saturday, December 21, 2013

It's a Heat Wave!

After what seems like months of torture (even though I think it's been maybe 3 weeks), we're getting some warm weather.  And not just any warm weather, but the possibility of 70 degrees by tomorrow!

I admit that I've totally sucked at keeping to my riding plan so far this month.  Part of it has been the cold, part of it has been the fact that it's December and there are all the Christmassy things that need to be done, and part of it has been a severe lack of motivation on my part.  The cold part is now taken care of, the Christmassy things are done, and Jane Savoie's Choose Your Own Riding Adventure program (see my last blog post for details) has fixed my motivational problem.  Also I have another lesson tomorrow, and it's possible that I need to practice...ahem...

Last night, I finally made it out to the barn for some actual riding.  Not dropping off feed, not doing a mash to keep the pony hydrated, and not just a quick drive by to make sure all four legs are still functional.  And it was great.  It was mostly great because it was still 60 degrees at 5 pm, but it was also great because I rode.  I did not wander aimlessly around while lecturing myself about being more disciplined, which happens more than I care to think about.

Because there was still a little light left, I decided to do my warm-up by walking along the road that runs through the farm.  It was pretty muddy from all the rain, sleet, hail, snow, and other God-forsaken frozen and wet crap that has been falling on us all month, but I figured that would just inspire my horse to pay attention to where his feet were.  This strategy actually worked pretty well...sort of.

Nimo started off just sort of plodding along on a loose rein and my mind was wandering a bit while I started the mental decompression that is necessary for me to be able to focus on riding.  And then...the spin-and-bolt.  Except it really was not Nimo's best work.  I think he caught sight of a small white sign on a fence that has always been there, but I know things look different at dusk, so obviously it had gone from an innocent white sign just hanging out to an evil, alien, horse-eating sign that could spring into action at any moment.  Anyway, he didn't even manage a full 180 degree turn and the bolt only lasted for 2 strides.  If I were rating it, it would have gotten a 3 out of 10.  I think the mud slowed him down and he decided it just wasn't worth the effort.  His walk was definitely more forward after that, though, so mission accomplished with the warm-up:)

If possible, I try to do both my walking warm-up and cool-down for arena work outside the arena.  I feel like I get a more active walk out of the arena and then a good chunk of the ride is out of the arena too, so it kind of breaks things up.  I'm not yet brave enough to do the cool-down in the dark, but I think we can handle warm-ups at dusk.

Anyway, once in the arena, I did end up contending with a couple of hunter riders getting a lesson.  The arena is huge, so there is plenty of space, but there were quite a few jumps to work around, too, so I ended up having to improvise a little more than I wanted to with my ride.  I had intended to revisit the things we'd done at my last lesson: spiral-in/spiral-out on a circle at the trot, 3-loop serpentines in counter-bend, and drifting toward the rail from the quarter line at the canter.  But, I had a little trouble staying out of the way of the lesson and working in the areas of the arena that had the most space for the work I wanted to do.  So, I settled on doing halt/sitting trot/halt transitions, trot lengthenings, leg yields, shoulder-in, haunches-in, and a little counter-flexion work at the trot.  I also threw in some canter transitions and even got a halfway decent walk to canter transition on the right lead (Nimo's easiest lead right now), but I felt like I never quite got to the balance that I'd had during the lesson.

At the end of a ride, particularly one involving a lot of lateral work and sitting trot, I like to do at least a few minutes of working trot on a loose rein.  I think it helps loosen up any muscles that have tightened because of the focused work, and it helps me assess the success of my ride.  A swinging, consistent, forward, and balanced trot tells me we did the work correctly.  Last night, I got a very forward and energetic trot that lacked a little consistency (there were some minor changes in rhythm and speed) that was a little too on-the-forehand.  That tells me why my canter didn't feel like it should have.  We got the forward part of the equation down, but we needed to get more weight on the hindquarters and work on balance a little more.  I think a little more counter-flexion work would have helped and doing some spiral-in/spiral-out circles would have been good too.  But it just wasn't in the cards last night.  What was important is that we did work and had a few really nice movements or transitions.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Jane Savoie's Newest Release

This is just a quick post to tell you about Jane Savoie's newest product.  It came out yesterday, and you can take a look at it here.  It is called "Choose Your Own Riding Adventure."  And no, it isn't like an Indiana Jones movie:)  However, it is pretty cool.  Basically, what Jane has done is develop 69 audio tracks that can be downloaded to your mp3 player in a customized "playlist" for your ride.  The tracks cover pretty much everything, from warm-up to basic movements to flying changes and canter pirouettes.  I would say the vast majority of the tracks are for 2nd level and below, but there are a few for 3rd or even 4th level.  The tracks range in time from 6 to 20 minutes and work like mini lessons to listen to while you ride. They can help you problem solve or just give you a formula for your warm-up.

The reason I'm writing about this product today is because it is on sale until December 21st, and her sales are usually pretty good ones.  The way the product is set up, you can purchase a fixed number of tracks for different price points, starting with 5 tracks, and then you can incrementally buy more as you need/want to.  Or, you can purchase all 69 tracks for $347.  I went ahead and did the whole package, using the money I had earmarked for a biothane bridle and breastcollar, because I've always been impressed with the books and videos I purchased from Jane in the past.  Having nice tack is great, but I really want to do more dressage schooling and having a tangible lesson plan helps motivate me.  I've used Jane's Happy Horse program, which consists of DVDs that show you how to do a lot of the things that are in the CYORA program, and I've found it really helpful.  What CYORA does is take the Happy Horse 45-60 minute lessons and break them down into smaller chunks that you can customize for your ride.  It also builds on it and provides more combinations and more problem-solving/technique information.

I will definitely provide a more detailed review of the program as I work through it, but for now here's what I accomplished yesterday.  I purchased all the tracks, got a log in to the site, downloaded all the tracks to my computer, and transferred about 20 of them to my mp3 player.  I've listened to all of a couple of the warm-up tracks and parts of some of the more advanced tracks.  What I love about Jane's products, which is continued in the CYORA, is that she is very down-to-earth and practical about her training.  Many of the dressage masters can get a bit "up in the air" when they talk about dressage.  I wish I could find a good example of what I'm talking about, but all my dressage books are packed because we're renovating our office.  I guess what I mean is that when I read a book by someone like Paul Belasik, there's a lot of language that doesn't really make sense to me.  It sounds a lot like an academic, who is respected in his field, but can't communicate his knowledge to people who aren't at his level.

Jane, on the other hand, is a great teacher.  I see her using a lot of techniques that I learned in my education classes.  For example, she breaks down the connecting aids and goes through the order in which they should be applied.  Riders with experience know that combinations of aids are usually given almost simultaneously, but before you get to that point, you have to learn what effect the individual aids have and how they work together.  And she gives beginners or even more advanced riders who are just having trouble a way to work through learning the aids.  She also provides problem solving tips.  For example, what if you followed her directions about applying the connecting aids, and it didn't work?  And that problem-solving advice may be what I love the most about her.  I haven't ever had much trouble applying the techniques from her books and DVDs, but she never assumes that everyone who listens to her automatically has complete success, which is a wonderful attitude for a teacher.  I've worked with trainers and read books by dressage "experts" who basically say, if you did what I told you to do and it didn't work, then you just didn't do it right.  That may, in fact, be true, but it's not helpful to the student.  Instead, you need some trouble shooting tips.

Anyway, this post turned out not to be that brief:)  I'm so enthusiastic about Jane Savoie because I used her Happy Horse program at a time when I thought I might not continue riding anymore and it saved my relationship with my horse and rejuvenated my love of riding.  And when I wrote to her to tell her about my experience, she responded the very next day with a substantive e-mail of her own and a link to another Friesian owner's website.  This other lady had experienced a lot of the same problems I had, and put together a video about it, which made me cry.  If you're interested, you can view it here.  And of course, Jane uses her Friesian, Moshi, quite a bit in her Happy Horse program, and it was so cool to see a Friesian moving so beautifully!

Note: I have not been paid to endorse any of Jane Savoie's products.  I've just had great experiences with them, and wanted to let you know!

Monday, December 9, 2013

How my trailer got snow boobs

After conducting a brief survey of a few people, I discovered that others do not find this picture as amusing as I do.  However, after what turned out to be a very long and stressful day, I thought the snow formations on my trailer were hilarious.  This may be due to giddy relief at being alive, but I thought I'd share just in case any of my readers have my same demented sense of humor.

So here's what happened...Several weeks ago, I signed up for a dressage lesson with Allison Spivey, the assistant trainer for Sprieser Sporthorse.  Over the years, I have heard some pretty good things about Lauren Sprieser, the head trainer, and more recently, her assistant trainer.  Lauren is in Florida for the winter, but Allison is still here, and offering Sunday afternoon lessons at a decent price.  In fact, at one point, I had looked into boarding at the farm, but Lauren only accepts full training clients, and while the now $2000 a month price tag does seem to be a good value for what you get, that kind of expenditure just isn't possible in my world.  Plus, I really didn't want my horse in training 6 days a week.  I like to procrastinate and ride when I feel like it.  I always imagine that the inconsistency adds a new dimension to the relationship I have with my horse.

Anyway, I had decided that I really needed to start getting some regular lessons to help motivate me for my dressage schooling this winter.  And I was looking for someone to work with who does not view dressage as an elite sport for the dressage queen few.  It turns out that Allison is just the ticket.  Her mother has competed in endurance riding for a long time, so she is familiar with that world and understands that dressage can be a means to an end instead of an end in and of itself.

So I booked several lessons over the next couple of months to help keep me on a regular schedule.  And I crossed my fingers.  Working with a new trainer is always hard.  I've only done it a few times, and each time was nerve wracking until I got to know the new trainer.  I think having a trainer is sort of like dating.  It is important that you get to know each other (although not too well too soon) and develop a mutual respect for each other.  I have come to expect my trainer to treat me as a person who is knowledgeable about my horse, who is capable of riding well and understanding complex concepts, and who can say that I've had enough or my horse has had enough without the trainer getting offended.

Unfortunately, as anyone who lives in the mid-Atlantic or northeast part of the country can attest to, Sunday was not a great weather day.  There was a winter advisory out for most of the day in my area, and unlike previously predicted weather "events" that turned out to be nothing, this one turned out to be something.  Here's the thing, my lesson was scheduled for Sunday at 2:45.  The Sprieser farm is about 25 miles from the barn where I keep Nimo, which doesn't seem like a huge distance, so against the common sense voice screaming in my head, I decided not to cancel my lesson.

I kept telling myself that I'd see how the roads were on the way out to the barn and if they seemed too treacherous, I'd call and cancel.  So I drove out to the barn, and I stopped for gas on the way, which took waaaayyyy longer than necessary due to the lines of people waiting to fill up their cars, their ATVs, empty gas cans, and possibly even their lawn mowers.  Saiph mentioned some of the nonsense that can occur in the Washington, DC area during even minor storms in this post, and I've found that nonsense to be a constant in the 12 years I've lived in the area.  The threat of even a lot of rain will empty grocery stores of bread, milk, and water within hours and these same idiots who believe the world could end in 2 inches of snow are apparently licensed drivers who are incapable of driving in even light rain, thus leading to stupid accidents and the need for any halfway decent driver to drive as defensively as possible.

Luckily, traffic seemed reasonably light and while there was some minor accumulation, I didn't see anything to get excited about.  So I hooked up my trailer and loaded my horse and started what turned out to be an hour and a half drive out to Marshall, Virginia.  Once I passed Warrenton, the last 10 or so miles of the trip were brutal.  With the roads less traveled and the terrain going from gently rolling to some steep hills and curving roads, I became concerned about my decision.  But, being so close to the farm, I opted to keep going.  My truck has 4-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes, and some kind of skid control feature that diverts power away from an axle when a tire starts to spin.  These things were great (I drove in 4-wheel drive all the way to the lesson), but I noticed that on a couple of hills, I would lose power to an axle because of slipping, and the hill was steep enough to be difficult to climb with just one axle (usually the front) working.

Anyway, I made it to the lesson in time.  Nimo was definitely apprehensive at first in the indoor arena (which reminds me a lot of the one Hannah writes about in this post), but he settled enough within a few minutes to get some work done.  The lesson turned out to be one of the best I've ever had.  When I rode on Saturday, Nimo was strung out and heavy on the forehand.  Within minutes of starting our lesson, he was trotting smoothly and in a much more connected way.  This great movement was the result of an exercise that we've done before but that I thought was too advanced for us after taking such a long break from serious dressage work.  We started out trotting regular 3-loop serpentines, then did the serpentines with normal flexion for the first and third loops, but counter-flexion for the middle loop.  Finally, we did the serpentines with counter-flexion for all three loops.  Never in a million years did I think we were ready to do that type of more advanced exercise, but it went very well.

Next we worked on canter.  We easily cantered more in the lesson than we've cantered in the last 6 months.  And even more amazing was that the canter was actually decent.  Nimo picked up the canter smoothly and was able to hold it for up to 2 whole 20-meter circles.  I know that doesn't sound like a big deal to most of you, but canter is a notoriously difficult gait for Friesians.  While Friesians must be inspected at age 3-4 to be entered into the Dutch studbook (I'm not sure what the German studbook qualifications are), they are never evaluated for canter.  Stallions are as part of their special approval process, but mares and geldings are not.  And I think that has led to the breeders to fail to properly weight a horse's canter quality as compared to walk and particularly trot.  Anyway, it was awesome to get such a great canter and then Allison had us work on coming down the quarter line and "drifting" to the wall in the canter to help improve the action of the inside hind.  It was a hard exercise for us both, but even asking Nimo to drift improved the quality of canter.

Allison was really positive during the whole lesson (no comments about how I suck as a rider - yes, I used to work with a trainer who told me that on a weekly basis - and no comments about how my horse was inappropriate for dressage - yes, I've heard that one too) and her conclusion was that Nimo was a nice horse and I was an effective rider.  Both were great to hear and I am really looking forward to more lessons!

But once the lesson was over, I still had to get Nimo back to the barn, and the weather had not improved.  I won't bore you with all the details, but a couple of miles into our trip home, we hit the Hill of Death.  I almost made it to the top, but eventually lost power to both axles because of loss of traction.  The road was just too slick for me to haul my heavy-ass horse and trailer up this hill.  So, as carefully as I could, I backed the trailer all the way down the hill, trying to figure out my options.  I could call for a tow, but it could be hours before someone could get to me, and in the meantime, I'd be blocking the road (it was one of those 1-and-a-half car width country lanes) and my horse would be stuck in the trailer.  I had brought hay and water for Nimo and food for me (I like to always be prepared in winter), but it still wasn't a great situation.

As I was backing down the hill, another car came up behind me.  I got out to tell the other driver what was going on and ask if there might be another way out that didn't include such a steep hill.  She told me there was another way, but that the hill was even worse.  She offered to help, and at first I couldn't really think of anything, so I told her I'd try to get my truck and trailer as close to the side of the road as I could to see if she could get around.  Then, as I was walking back to my truck, inspiration hit.  If I could just lighten my load, I could probably get up the hill.  So I turned around and asked this Good Samaritan how comfortable she'd be with holding a horse.  She was fine with it, having ridden and competed horses for much of her life.  So, I unloaded my horse in the middle of an icy road, handed him off to a stranger, got back in my truck, put it in 4-wheel drive low, 1st gear, and drove up that hill.  Then I walked back down the hill, profusely thanked this lovely lady, and led Nimo back up the hill.  And about half-way up, I gave him an impromptu tailing lesson because I was near death from lack of oxygen.  I now understood why the truck had so much trouble - it was a damn steep hill.  I loaded Nimo back on to the trailer and headed back home.  Some creative driving kept us from getting stuck on any more hills and we made it back safely.  And when I got out of my truck and saw how the snow had formed on my trailer, I just couldn't stop laughing.  I'm thinking that I might have to name the trailer now...

I know there are those of you who are thinking that I must not have the intelligence God gave a turnip because I hauled my horse in bad weather.  Here's the thing.  On the one hand, you're probably right.  On the other hand, I grew up in North Dakota and then lived in Iowa for 8 years.  Both states have long, cold, snowy, windy, crappy winters.  And that's how I learned to drive in bad weather.  I don't enjoy it, but I can do it.  And the only way for me to know how my trailer is going to haul in winter weather is to haul it.  I don't intend to haul in bad weather routinely, but the fact is that I have to haul for all my conditioning rides and all my lessons.  For me to ride this winter, I'm going to have to haul and ride in less-than-ideal conditions and even if the day starts out great, I could end up hauling back to the barn in surprise bad weather.  Now I have an idea of what I can and can't do, and even a potential solution if I get stuck.  There's always US Rider insurance, which I have, or calling a friend for help but waiting for a tow or asking a friend to come out in stormy weather is not my idea of fun, so if I can figure out how to get out of a situation on my own, I'd rather do that.

And that's the story of how my trailer came to have snow boobs...

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Cold weather riding

Winter arrived in Virginia last Sunday.  We went from typical fall weather to full-on winter temps overnight.  There was no transition, and we pretty much skipped the month of December.  Winter temps in Virginia usually aren’t too bad.  January and February can be chilly, with temps ranging from the teens at night to mid-thirties during the day, but there are typically quite a few warmer days with highs in the 40s and 50s.  However, apparently a colder than usual winter has been predicted, and so far, that is true.

I admit that I wasn’t ready.  I saw the forecast, but I made plans to meet a friend to ride on Sunday anyway.  I guess I was in denial.  But being in denial doesn't mean the thing you're worried about won't happen.

Sunday dawned frigid and windy.  By frigid, I mean 26 degrees and by windy, I mean gusts of probably 30 mph.  The high was only supposed to be 36 degrees.  We had made plans to ride at the Phelps Wildlife Management Area on Sunday because there is normally hunting there, but Sundays are no hunting days.  Phelps used to be quite low on my list of places to ride because we could never find the trails.  The last time we rode there, though, we finally started to figure things out, after trying several times, parking in different lots, and wandering around a lot.  For those readers who might theoretically ride there, the Sumerduck lot, which is just past the entrance to the park ranger's house as you head south on Sumerduck road, is the best parking lot we've found so far, with respect to access to the trails/roads.  I love that we have to pay to ride there, but no one can be bothered to use the money to produce either a useful map or mark any trails.

I kept expecting my riding buddy to text me and back out of our ride, but she never did, so I was forced into hooking up the trailer and loading my tack and horse.  I figured it probably wouldn't be too bad once we got riding, but that wind gave me some post-traumatic stress flashbacks to my life in ND, where the minimum wind is 25 mph and it goes up from there.  Winters can be particularly brutal with -30 temps plus nasty winds that create wind chills in the -60 to -80 degree range.  And yes, I've ridden in that weather because I was an idiot, but also because if you don't ride in that weather, you may not ride for awhile.

Anyway, we arrived at the park, saddled up, and started riding.  Perhaps stupidly, we went a different way than we had the last time.  But we're smart women, right?  (Actually, I'm one of the most directionally challenged people in the world, but even I can remember if I turned left or right at an intersection...)  We actually had a really great ride.  There were leaves on the ground, crunching as the horses stepped on them, which is one of my very favorite sounds.  Ever since I was a kid, I have loved riding through dead leaves in the fall.  We did some trotting on the hills and even did 2 short canters up hills.  WhooHoo!  One of my goals with Nimo is to start legitimate canter work on our conditioning rides, so this was a great start.  In fact, I think Nimo might have even galloped a few strides on our second canter, so I'm excited to start doing more canter work with him.

However, as we were riding back to the trailers, we realized that we were not on the right trail.  After trying a couple of different options, we eventually turned the decision-making over to my friend's horse.  He is a very centered Irish Draught Horse and we figured he might be the one most likely to find the trailer.  (My horse is happy as long as he can find something to eat, so he isn't really that inspired to find the trailer.)  And kudos to this lovely animal, because he absolutely found the way back.  It was not the way that we came, but we ended up riding for almost 2 and a half hours, so I was pretty happy to get back to the trailer any way we could.  Next time, I'm definitely bringing some clothes pins with ribbons to mark the turns, so we can find our way back more effectively.

Despite getting lost and the cold wind, it was definitely a fun ride.  And it gave me a chance to evaluate my winter riding gear.  It is doubtful that I'll ride when it is much colder that it was on Sunday, so I now know that my gloves are pretty effective (Heritage extreme winter riding gloves), my breeches (Kerritts Power Stretch Tights) could use a little supplementation with maybe some silk tights, my jacket could use another layer on windy or especially cold days, I really need to remember to wear my half chaps (Tredstep Deluxe Leather Half Chaps), and I really need to find the special earmuffs I have for my helmet.

If anyone has any gear that works well for them during cold rides, please post a comment about it.  I love finding out what works for others, and because I still need to improve my own gear a little, I'd love to hear from you!

And Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Glenmore Hunt Club Fall Hunter Pace

Several years ago, I first heard about the concept of a hunter pace, and I really wanted to try it.  For those who aren't familiar with hunter paces, here's the general idea.  Pairs of horse/rider teams complete a cross-country course set with jumps that are similar to what would be encountered during an actual hunt.  There are different divisions and my research indicates that hunter paces vary depending on the club sponsoring the event and even the region.  The variances can include the speed at which the competitors ride the course, the number of miles and jumps on the course, the height of the jumps, whether the jumps are optional for one or both riders, the dress code, and even the style of tack allowed.

Anyway, Friesians aren't really known for their jumping ability, and I could never find anyone to ride with me...until this past weekend.  A trail riding buddy of mine suggested we try the Glenmore Hunt Club's Fall Hunter Pace, and I leaped at the chance to give it a try.  This particular hunter pace was a perfect fit for us because it included a trail riding division which allowed western tack (my friend rides in a western saddle) and which made jumping completely optional.  There was no minimum or maximum speed, but the team that completed the course closest to the optimal time set by the sponsor of the event would be the winner for each division.  And presumably the optimal times for the different divisions would range from full hunt pace for the most expert division to something much slower for our division.  The interesting thing about this hunter pace (and many others) is that the optimal time is a secret.  You have to guess what the optimal pace is based on your division and the terrain and ride your horse as close as you can to what you think you should be doing.  Of course I have no idea what an optimal hunter pace is because I am positive that no respectable hunt club would let me or my horse within 10 miles of them if they had a choice.  Nimo and I just don't have the hygiene skills required of hunt club participants.

So, on Sunday morning, we set out for the Staunton, Virginia area without really knowing what to expect, other than a few basic guidelines.  It was a fairly long drive - over 2 hours - and we arrived at about 10:45.  After checking in and tacking up, we ended up waiting for awhile to see how the start was supposed to work.  There were no assigned start times and it was basically just a line of teams with 1 minute or so between starts.  After figuring that out, we got in line.

Nimo was totally jacked up.  He was fresh and ready to get going, so I ended up walking him in circles while we waited our turn.  Once we got started, it was apparent that both horses were feeling their oats, so after a warming up at the walk for about 10 minutes, we trotted when we could to get some of the kinks worked out.

At first, the terrain seemed a little hilly, but nothing too exciting, and Nimo and I were even able to jump a few of the early jumps because they were essentially just big logs.  Once the coops started coming up, we had to bail around them because they were just a little bigger than we were used to, but I think by next year, we could do at least a couple of them if we practice.

Then we also noticed that despite the rolling hills appearance of the terrain, we were actually in the mountains.  Those mountains meant a lot of climbing and very little flat land.

We did ride through some forest:

And a lot of fields:

And we even saw some cows:

Warning: Cows are much closer than they appear!
And it became apparent that we were riding through what was actually pretty rough terrain, although the footing was always really good, with very few rocks.  We did our best to pretend to be hunter riders, though.  We trotted up quite a few hills, but in the end, it was clear that seasoned hunt horses are at least as conditioned as endurance horses and can cover ground at a pace that we can only imagine.  I could not believe the speed at which most of the teams covered ground, especially with pretty much only steep hills to go up and down.  And I should note that I did not see a single Arab, and I did see several heavier-type horses.  There is no question in my mind that the 6.5-7 miles that this ride covered were overall more difficult as a whole than any 6-7 mile section of the OD Intro Ride that I did last month.  There was virtually no level ground during the whole ride and most of the hills were pretty steep, and some were even fairly long.  Our horses did great, though, and we definitely could have easily handled more distance.

And we had an absolute blast.  Part of the reason I have so few pictures is because I was having so much fun.  I loved doing the little log jumps and Nimo started getting the hang of them.  At first he literally jumped with his front end, paused, and then jumped with his back end, but he was doing the logs more smoothly later in the ride.

The other reason I have so few pictures is because many of the ones I took were of the ground (see below).  I just got a new iPhone after having had an HTC for several years, and apparently there is a learning curve.  And I had to keep brushing the hay dust off the phone every time I took it out of my pocket.  (Note to self: empty pockets of hay dust before my next ride.)

Anyway, the ride was tons of fun.  It took us about 1:45 to go what I estimate is 6.5-7 miles (I'm still enforcing my GPS ban for this month), which was a great pace for us, given the terrain.  I never found out what the optimal time was for our division or where we finished in relation to that time, but I got the sense that this ride was really meant for people to just have fun, rather than to obsess about competition.  I'm definitely planning to keep my eye open for more hunter paces, because I can see that they will make great conditioning rides, be a blast, and give us the opportunity to ride through private land that isn't normally available.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Back in the Saddle

After 2 weeks of riding vacay, Nimo and I were back at work this past Saturday.  I had originally intended to take only a week off after the OD Intro Endurance Ride, but life happened and it ended up being longer.  For some reason, the month of November seems to usher in a new level of errand-running and Things To Do.  Perhaps it's the upcoming holidays or maybe it just seems extra busy because my expectation is that things will slow down, and they don't.  However, even though we are riding again, we're going to spend a few weeks just doing fun rides and some arena work before getting back down to the business of serious conditioning.

Anyway, we returned to work via the Blue Ridge Center for Therapeutic Horsemanship Benefit Ride.  It was held at the scenic Blandy Experimental Farm, which hosts an arboretum and about 7.5 miles of bridle paths.  I rode at the farm back in June and really loved the trails, so I was excited to get another chance to see them and maybe explore a bit more.

View of the arboretum from the horse trailer parking lot
As I was checking in, one of the volunteers asked if I would give an interview to a gentleman from a local news channel (who was presumably trying to do a human interest story and not a story on people who get up in the dark so they can hook up their trailers in freezing temperatures, load their horses and their tack, and then drive over an hour just to ride for a few miles).  I admit to being a little flustered.  Of course, I'm happy to help because I think therapeutic riding is wonderful, and I want to support it any way that I can.  However, I am the mother of a one-year old who does not sleep according to any logic or what any of the books on baby sleeping say.  I am chronically sleep-deprived, and as a result, I often appear to be a bit dim-witted and my hygiene is not what it used to be.  This particular morning, it had been 2 days since my last shower, and I was wearing the same clothes I'd worn the day before, which included the tomato sauce stain on my shirt from the previous day's lunch.  Also, my daughter woke up at 2:30 that morning and didn't go back to all.  My husband did relieve me at one point, and I was able to get about 45 minutes extra sleep, but I was really running on low and I had the bags under my eyes to prove it.  I had even strongly considered bailing out on the ride, but I was meeting someone, and I didn't want to disappoint (although one could argue that my presence was not that great in the first place).

So, against my better judgment, I did the interview and I'm sure whoever edits the footage will be swearing my name because he/she will have to figure out a way to somehow get across that therapeutic riding is a wonderful cause to support using my barely intelligible phrases.  And I should mention that the news guy also filmed me unloading my horse and then frantically brushing him because, of course, his hygiene has suffered too, and he was filthy when I unloaded him.  I think a few other people were filmed too, and I can only hope that they provided more worthy film than I did.

I did get a chance to ride, and one of the ladies I rode with was quite familiar with the trails, so she showed us around, and I got to know a section of the park I hadn't seen the last time.  There are definitely some great trails for trot/canter sets, and I will absolutely come back when there is no chance of being on camera to see if I can come up with a good work out for Nimo.

Here's another picture from the trailer parking area:

You can see the mountains in the distance (I think the Blue Ridge Mountains, but I'm not positive about that - all the mountain ranges look the same to me).  I think the farm probably looked like that at one time, but after all the trees were taken down for agriculture, the farm looks more like the rolling hills from North Dakota, but with trees, green grass, and tolerable weather.  It ended up being a gorgeous day with all sun and a temperature of about 60 degrees.

My 15 minutes notwithstanding, it ended up being an awesome day for riding and while I didn't ride with a watch or GPS (both are banned for the month of November to give me a break from my obsession with constantly tracking mileage and speed), I estimate that we probably rode a couple of hours.  We mostly walked, but did a little trotting, and when we were done, Nimo felt like he could do the same ride again and again.  He clearly felt good (not stiff or sore) and was very ready to get back to work, which is great.  I had worried that with so much time off, he would need a few rides to get back up to speed, but that doesn't appear to be the case.  Next week, we're going to be brave and try a Hunter Pace, something I've always wanted to do.  And don't ask me what a Hunter Pace is or how it works because I have only the slimmest of ideas.  I'm hopeful that someone will explain it to me when I sign in at the ride!:)