Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Mountain Climbing and More...
So on Saturday, I met up with the lovely and generous endurance rider who connected with me through my blog several weeks ago, and she gave me the scoop on a common conditioning location. We parked at the 4-H center near the Shenandoah National Park and started climbing up to Skyline Drive. Probably about half-way up, Nimo was convinced that he could no longer pick his foot up high enough to make it over a small stone barrier (as in about 3" high). We took a short break and kept going. Up and up, until we got to Skyline Drive.
Then my riding companion explained that we could continue going up, cross the road and go down for awhile, or turn around and go back to the trailers. To be honest, my original intention for the ride had been no more than an hour or a couple of miles because I figured that would be all Nimo could handle. He'd never done any real climbing, so I didn't want to overdo it. But, the day was gorgeous - partly cloudy, 80 degrees, low-humidity - and I was having FUN! The kind of fun that I used to have when I was much, much younger, before I got to be a serious dressage rider and I started pretending to myself that it was fun to do a trot lengthening across the diagonal. (Please don't get me wrong - there is something very rewarding about dressage movements - but I don't really consider them fun.) I checked in with Nimo and I was pretty sure he wasn't ready to lay down and die, so I opted to keep going, but down rather than up.
We crossed Skyline Drive, and headed back down a fire road. And I felt totally cool, like someday I might be an endurance rider. Plus, we got to mingle with some families there for sight-seeing and even got to make the day for a few young kids who loved seeing and petting the horses. After going down for awhile, I ended up having to get off to fix a loose clip on one of Nimo's boots. No big deal, except the trail was so well-maintained, I actually had to walk awhile before I found a sort of giant mount of dirt to use as a mounting block. I did decide that we should head back at that point, even though part of me just wanted to keep going to see what was around the next bend in the road. I remember that feeling when I was a kid. How I always wanted to explore a road that I hadn't ridden before, particularly at my grandma's house. It was in a very sparsely populated part of North Dakota, and I never knew when I'd come across an old house that had been abandoned for decades. I could just feel the history emanating from the building and it made me want to know who had lived and died there.
Anyway, nostalgia aside, my horse had to go back up and then back down several miles. Which he did without complaint, even taking the lead for a short distance as we got closer to the trailers. We ended up doing just about 7 miles, which I really couldn't believe. Nimo felt great for the last mile, perky and not exhausted at all, so I think I made the right decision on the distance.
My next step was to see if we could do another ride on Sunday over less challenging terrain. I made up my mind that I wanted to try for 8 miles, meaning that we would get in a total of 15 for the weekend. I've read several riders say that they feel like doing two 25 mile rides back to back is a good indicator for whether a horse is ready for a 50, so I thought I could apply the same thought process for a shorter distance.
I made plans to ride with a friend, and we ended up with 4 of us at Manassas Battlefield. We had ridden there before as part of organized rides, but never on our own, so it took a little investigating to figure out where to park. And we weren't really sure how to get to the actual horse trails because there didn't appear to be one that connected with the horse trailer parking lot on the map. As it turned out, there was a trail right off the parking lot, so we sauntered off on what was yet another picture perfect day, which is unbelievable for August. I guess it's just not possible to not ride on these kinds of days.
I've hiked many times at the Battlefield over the years and I thought I had a decent grasp of the layout of the park, but I discovered that there was much undiscovered territory. It was awesome! We did make it the whole 8 miles I wanted to go and the trails were like a movie set, they were so gorgeous. Here's a picture taken with my feeble cell phone that doesn't even remotely represent the awesomeness of the trails, but hopefully, you'll get the idea.
The Battlefield is mostly flat and the footing is nice and firm without being rocky. The only downside is that the park is bisected by 2 extremely busy highways, and it's almost impossible to get a longer ride in without crossing at least one of them. But, we had good luck with drivers willing to stop for us, and it really wasn't an issue.
We just walked the trails this time to get our bearings, but I'm definitely planning on making the Battlefield a regular stop for some more serious trotting work. With the relatively level, firm ground, the trails will be perfect for doing trot sets and maybe even some canter if I get a little braver:) And Nimo felt great on the second day. No soreness or stiffness that I could tell, and we did do a short trot and he felt very energetic and forward. I couldn't have asked for anything more from him, so he's getting a few days off to chill and then we're back to work!
The other accomplishment that I'm excited about is that I did what I think was a pretty decent trim on my horse's hind feet. It was much harder than I thought it would be just to move the rasp across the hoof, much less do something on purpose. But once I got the hang of it, it wasn't too bad. I really only had to do a bevel around the edge because we've been riding enough to keep them worn down. And I actually did the trim right before we did our mountain climbing. As in literally, I trimmed his feet and then loaded him. Because I wasn't planning to boot his hind feet, that might have seemed like a less-than-bright move, and maybe it was. But I didn't detect any sensitivity over the rocks or gravel, so it worked out.
I didn't have time to trim his front feet over the weekend, but I got to them yesterday. I think they were a little more difficult because there was more growth and some uneven sections. I didn't think I needed nippers because I was just doing a bevel again, but the hoof wall is pretty thick, so next time, I'm going to use the nippers to give myself a little bit of a break from so much rasping. Overall, I'm pleased with my first effort. I'll try to post more pics after the next trimming, so I can compare them with what I posted last week. Hopefully, there will be some positive changes.