I've ridden at this park once before, and I really liked it because the trails are so well-maintained and marked. You'll notice a little blue marker on the tree to the right of Nimo's head in the photo above, and all the trails are marked by color-corresponding markers with the name of the trail on them. It's an amazing system that I've never seen anywhere else, and it's so easy to follow. There are also these great post markers anytime trails intersect:
Nimo totally stalled out for the last quarter mile of our 10 mile ride the last time, and I wanted to see if there was any improvement in his conditioning over the last 7 weeks. I didn't plan to do 10 miles again; instead, I wanted to do 8. But, rather than having several of those miles be flat next to the river like they were before, I wanted to stay in the forest and make the miles harder.
The park actually classifies the bulk of the equestrian trails in the forest as difficult. After having worked on actual mountain climbing, I can truthfully say that none of the trails at Andy Guest are difficult. At their worst, they are moderately challenging. However, I would not recommend that a horse that didn't have at least some baseline of fitness climb these trails. When I took Nimo the first time, we'd been focused on trail riding for 3 months, and he had a hard time on the forest trails (the river trails are completely flat). I think that is because there are a lot of short up-and-down climbs. It really doesn't look that hard, but climbing the trails is probably a little like doing an awful lot of short intervals, and I think that constant up-down motion takes a toll, especially when it's hot out.
Luckily, we had beautiful September weather, and we set out to explore the trails on our own. The best thing about this ride was that we did do the 8 miles I planned (despite me leaving the excellent map in the truck and winging it), and Nimo kept an incredibly consistent walk pace of 3.2 mph. That may not seem like that big of a deal, but first, we were on our own, and Nimo always walks slower when we're on our own (like 2.8 mph slow). Second, the trails do involve a lot of climbing, so keeping a steady pace over uneven terrain is more challenging. And third, my horse is the slowest walker I've ever ridden with the exception of my last horse, who started his young life being trained for western pleasure futurities. I don't mean to offend western pleasure riders here, but I can find nothing remotely enjoyable about walking slower than a 95-year-old with a walker.
Anyway, my eventual goal is to get my horse to maintain a walking pace closer to 4 mph over easy to moderately challenging terrain, and this ride definitely made me think we might get there before I die. We also did a little trotting on the easier sections of the trail, which I hadn't initially planned on because I thought walking would be a sufficient work-out. But Nimo felt good and I took advantage of his willingness to trot over terrain that we hadn't ridden on before (another thing that typically slows him down).
Once we got back to the trailer, I pulled his tack off and then got out my brand new stethoscope.
I absolutely got an unnecessarily advanced stethoscope, but in my defense, I thought that I might possibly want to do more with it than just find a heart rate. And I just like gadgets, even if I never figure out how to use them...Just in case you are interested, this one is a 3M Littmann Classic II S.E. It has something called a tunable diaphragm, which apparently allows switching between high and low frequencies. I may never even learn what that really means, but if I have to, I guess I can listen to high and low frequencies...
Anyway, at precisely 10 minutes after our ride, I checked Nimo's heart rate...and got a little surprise. It was 44 bpm. I'm not really sure what I expected, but I guess I was thinking something closer to 60 bpm. It was a warm day (mid- to upper-70s, 50-60% humidity), we did some trotting, we did some climbing, and we did a decent amount of miles for us, so I thought I'd be pushing him a little for cardio. But apparently not. However, it did occur to me that I did not know Nimo's resting heart rate and that possibly because he is a bigger guy, his heart rate might naturally be slower than a lighter horse. So, I did what I always do. I googled it. And, I didn't really find anything definitive. As luck (or lack therof) would have it, my vet was out a couple of days ago (you'll find out more about that visit in a subsequent post). She measured Nimo's heart rate at 32 bpm, and confirmed that larger horses tend to have slower heart rates.
This information kind of knocked me for a loop. While I know that my training strategy may need to be modified because of my horse's breed and size, it never occurred to me that I wouldn't be able to use the same fitness measure as what I've read in books (i.e. 60 bpm or less within 10 minutes of stopping work). I asked my vet (who is not an endurance rider) what she thought, and she suggested a rate of 52 bpm after 10 minutes of stopping work might be more reasonable, but she also said it would be best for me to really monitor his heart rate during and after work to get a good feel for what is normal for him. That is good advice, but I was really hoping to avoid the whole heart rate monitor thing until we were competing in 25s and training for 50s. I'm already messing around with hoof boots, breast collar, and pommel pack, and I'd like to not have to add one more thing until I get used to the crap I have. So I'm wondering if I should just get the heart rate monitor now or if I should stick to my original plan to use my perception of how hard Nimo is working until we get to more challenging distances. Gaaa!!!!!
But, overall, this was a great ride. My horse is definitely in much better shape than he was 7 weeks ago, which means that what I've been doing is working. Whether he's getting into shape as efficiently as possible isn't really a concern for me. I really don't want to push too hard, and I'd rather take longer to get the conditioning level than risk an injury because I did too much. I've at least got a stethoscope now, so I can start monitoring heart rate recovery and my initial impression is that I can probably push a little harder than I have been, especially as the weather cools down.