Wednesday, September 4, 2013

And more of those pesky horseflies...

I took Nimo to the Manassas Battlefield on Monday for some more conditioning work because I was committed to getting some trot work in, and I tried to block Saturday's miserable experience from my brain.  The day before, I'd gone to the Visitor's Center to pick up an annual pass, so I didn't have to keep buying the daily passes, which can only be purchased at the Visitor's Center, where there is no horse trailer parking.  And, if any employee from the Battlefield is miraculously reading this post, please understand that it is stupid to require that passes be purchased only at the Visitor's Center (instead of online, like many other parks) when horse trailers cannot park there (except briefly to buy the pass).  It is also stupid that the map of the horse trails is not published online, like the map for hiking trails.  I was able to obtain the map below from the Visitor's Center when I purchased my pass, and it is significantly more helpful than just hoping that the signs will provide trail information along the way.  According to this map, the Main Loop is 10 miles, the Brawner Loopis 8.5 miles, the Portici Loop is 3 miles, and the Matthews Hill Loop is 5 miles.  Of course, it is not quite so clear where each of loops actually starts, so I brought my GPS to help with mileage readings again.

We were once again on our own for this ride, which was actually a good thing, as much as I would have appreciated company.  The Battlefield trails are active enough that they probably come close to simulating an endurance ride.  Riders are coming from both directions, there are some hikers, and sometimes you are either passing or being passed.  So one great thing that came from this ride is that I learned a little bit about how my horse reacts to passing and being passed.

Our ride started off hot and muggy at about 9:30 (I meant to start earlier, but I dinked around because I wasn't meeting anyone), and I had killed 7 horseflies within the first 8 minutes of the ride.  The horsefly population was definitely lower than on our ride on Saturday, but they were still pretty bad.  However, I was insistent that we were going to be doing trotting work...until I realized that Nimo just didn't have the energy for it.  He was moving well at the walk, even a little faster than usual, but he was really lackluster at the trot.  After pushing him for a couple of miles, I gave it up, and figured we would just walk for awhile and maybe turn around before the 4 mile mark (my goal was to do at least 8 miles).  The heat and humidity were just too awful.

However, after we walked for probably about a mile and half, Nimo seemed to really perk up.  This perkiness may have been due to the constantly biting horseflies, but just when I was thinking we needed to turn around, he took off trotting like a bat out hell (my horse rarely canters unless he has a really good reason, like thinking he will be attacked by aliens or I'm threatening to beat him in the arena).  I think what happened was that he got bitten by a bunch of horseflies at the same time.  I think this because shortly after he started trotting, he also started bucking and weaving, and then darted up a rocky trail we hadn't been on, and that possibly was not even a horse trail.  Out of the corner of my eye, while dodging tree branches, I caught a sign that said "Winery Access."  I admit that I briefly contemplated the chances that I would be able to get to the winery, that they would serve my sweaty, stinky self, and that I could convince my husband or a friend to bring my trailer to pick us up.  Then, I was forced to pay attention to my immediate problem of a semi-out-of-control horse on an unknown and ungroomed trail.  Luckily, Nimo's antics must have worked, and he slowed down, free of horseflies.

We walked for a little bit while I contemplated the winery again and tried to decide if we should keep going a little more.  I finally decided that we should turn around because I was pretty sure that the distances listed in the map were wrong and what I thought might be a 10-mile doable loop was likely much longer.  So we turned around, and my horse surprisingly maintained his perky attitude.  So we trotted.  And trotted.  And trotted some more.

And by trotting, I mean something that went like this:  Horse trots for 30 seconds or so.  Horse abruptly halts and tries to buck horseflies off his butt.  Rider pitches forward and then flails around trying to kill the offending horseflies.  Rider manages to kill one or two horseflies.  Horse resumes trotting for 30 seconds or so.  Horse abruptly halts and nearly unseats rider...and so on and so on until I wanted to lie down in the leaves in a fetal position and cry because I was so hot, sweaty, and ANNOYED.

Then, finally, we got a break from the terrible Reign of the Horseflies, and we pretended to be a real endurance team.  And by that I mean that we allowed someone behind us to pass.  And then we walked for awhile even though Nimo wanted to trot to catch up.  And then we trotted and we got to pass someone - WhooHoo!  And then we walked and got passed again.  And then, somehow during this leapfrog game, Nimo actually settled into this great trot.  It was probably about 9-10 mph and he maintained his pace very consistently despite a winding trail and changes in the footing from gravel to mud and he was on a loose rein!  It wasn't a very long time period, but it was there.  And then he did it again a little later.  I have to say that getting that trot, even for a short time, made every misery all weekend totally worth it.  I was able to relax a little and let my shoulders lose some of their tension and just enjoy the lovely trail.  And I hope Nimo was able to do the same.

We did do a little more trotting after that, but we were getting close to the trailer, and I wanted to make sure we walked the last 15-20 minutes to give Nimo a chance to cool down.  Unfortunately, we were passed by a group near the end and while I tried to maintain a respectful distance back (because of course, Nimo picked up the pace a bit with horses in front of him), the group inexplicably decided to trot the last 1/2 mile back to the trailers.  So, I got to spend some time working on the collected trot as Nimo fought to trot back too.  Luckily, another group soon passed us from the opposite direction and Nimo was torn about which group he'd prefer to follow, so he walked slowly the last few minutes.

However, when we got back to the trailer, he was still panting pretty hard.  I knew he was ultimately going to be fine because he is actually pretty good about telling me when he's had enough and his motivated trotting told me that he was still feeling OK, but I did want to get him cooled down fairly quickly.  He never drinks water at the trailer, although he will out on the trail if he gets hot and thirsty, so when I filled a bucket for him, I honestly didn't expect him to drink, but he did.  Which was great, because now I know he will drink if he's thirsty.

The problem that I have discovered with a lot of trailer parking areas is that they seem to be some kind of vortex that sucks in heat and humidity to make them feel like saunas.  I'm not sure this parking lot is usually like that because it seems open enough, but the sun beating down on us was HOT!  And there wasn't much of a breeze either.  After sponging Nimo off and walking him for a few minutes, I decided the best course of action was to load him and head home.  I've got a pretty open stock trailer, and I thought the breeze created when we were traveling might help cool him better than wandering around a sauna.  So, I loaded him up and headed home.

I think that strategy worked well.  By the time we got to the barn (about 30 minutes), he was cooled down, breathing much better, and starving.  So I tucked him in his stall for a few hours of resting and eating before turnout and called it a day.

So that wraps up my holiday weekend of riding.  Nimo definitely earned a few days off before some arena work on Thursday.  Thankfully, the temperature and humidity has come down significantly and evenings are actually a little cool now.  With any luck, we won't see the crap we saw this past weekend again until next June or July.


  1. Flies are the worst! That is all.

  2. Saw this linked elsewhere and thought of you:

    Hope you don't run into this guy -- take care!

  3. Holy crap! This guy sounds like a wacko! I really hope I never see him. So far, my experience with drivers at road crossings has been really positive.

  4. Hahah, the whole thing was Real Endurance Riding (tm). "Why won't my horse trot? Oh, now he'll trot. Wait, why won't my horse walk? Am I on the right trail? Damn, can I stop this stupid trotting business and go do the fun things normal people are doing? Aaaaa why won't my horse walk!"

    LOL, I know I sound like the worst cheerleader for endurance, but you only really remember how awesome it was after you finish. Today I quite cheerfully thought about how excited I am to go ride a hundred miles, then I tried to remember how bad my quads hurt after Sunriver, but I just couldn't quite remember the pain, just the fun.

    So glad he's drinking at the trailer for you! It took years of fingernail-biting angst for Dixie to learn to drink, or for me to trust that she would drink, one of the two.

    1. I was actually just thinking that the lyrics from the song Counting Stars by One Republic might make a good second motto for endurance riding - "Everything that kills me makes me feel alive."

      I have to admit that part of the draw of endurance riding for me is that it's tough. It's not like a dressage test that is over in 4 minutes and I'm left feeling like if I'd just had a few more minutes of warm-up or could have just explained to the judge that normally my horse does stay on the rail, everything would have been better. With endurance, the preparation really matters. There's no cheating or relying on the fact that your horse is a push-button horse, so you don't really need to practice. I'm sure there are plenty horses and riders who don't have to put in the same effort Nimo and I do to get to the same point, but that doesn't bother me because I'm not doing this as a competition against somebody else. I'm doing this to become a better horsewoman. If I wanted to go buy an Arab, I could. But what I really want is something that makes me work hard and that makes me care about the end result and that when it's over, I can feel like I really accomplished something. So bring on the chafing and the muscle spasms and the sunburn!

    2. I have to admit that part of the draw of endurance riding for me is that it's tough...With endurance, the preparation really matters...But what I really want is something that makes me work hard and that makes me care about the end result and that when it's over, I can feel like I really accomplished something.


      I really, really love the combination of essential planning/preparation with an activity that takes long enough to appreciate as you go. I love(d?) running XC and I don't think that endurance replaces that, but XC was always -- even at the long-format I did -- over SO QUICKLY and everything happened SO QUICKLY, it was hard to savor and enjoy the moment.