Monday, February 24, 2014

Riding with Saiph

Many of you may know Saiph, or at least her blog, Wait for the Jump.  Because she lives in Maryland and I live in Virginia, and we're both at similar points in our conditioning for endurance riding, we decided to get together this past Saturday for a ride at Manassas Battlefield Park.  We also brought some friends whom we enjoy riding with, but who think that endurance riding is crazy and prefer to spend their time at a slower pace on the trails.  So, we decided to split up into 2 groups.  Saiph and I left first, so we could move at a faster pace, while our friends left a little later, planning to go at a more leisurely pace, with hopefully all of us arriving back at the parking lot at the same time.

I wasn't sure what to expect, honestly, both in terms of the footing (we've gotten a crapload of snow lately) and in terms of riding with someone I'd never met.  I needn't have worried about either.  There were muddy sections on the trail, but there were plenty of drier sections that made for good trotting.  As for Saiph, she was as engaging and positive in person as she is on her blog.  In short, we had a blast.

While I ride at the Battlefield a lot, I haven't had a chance to explore every section of trail yet, and on Saturday, we were able to go a little farther down one path than I have gone before, and I was able to make a mental connection about how a couple of loops connect, so that was great.  However, even better was that we crossed Bull Run, which after all the snow melt we had, was a legitimate river.  The water was deep enough that my boots got wet, even on my nearly 17 hand horse.  I wasn't sure how Saiph and her horse, Lily, would feel about it, but both of them were game, and I desperately wished I had brought my camera at this point.  Nimo and I got to the opposite bank first, and when I turned around to see how Saiph and Lily were doing, Saiph's face was a priceless tribute to how much fun she was having.  It was so cool to see.  I think this was their first water crossing of significant magnitude and Saiph was definitely enjoying it.  I have to admit I was a little unsure about attempting it, and I never would have done it on my own, because I just wasn't sure how deep the river was and the current was strong enough to give me pause, but it was awesome to have done it.

We rode a little bit more before turning around, and we ended up doing 9 miles in just over 2 hours, which got us closer to our target pace of 5 mph.  My expectation is that I'll need to be in the 5-6 mph range for actual endurance rides, which really means I'll need to be able to ride faster than that on conditioning rides, especially on sections of trail that are easy terrain.  Old Dominion rides in Virginia unfortunately tend to have significant portions of really rugged terrain, which means it's important to be able to make up time on easy sections of trail.  So, I still have some more work to do on the conditioning front, but this ride was easily the fastest, most sustainable pace we've ever done, so it was a real milestone in our conditioning work.

I'm really hopeful that Saiph and I will be able to ride together again and maybe hit another milestone.  I really can't say enough about how wonderful it was to ride with someone who was at a similar point as me.  I love riding with just regular trail riders, in particular a friend whose company is great and whose horse is super brave, but I do need to push the pace a little on at least some rides in order to get in shape for a real endurance ride, and this ride gave me confidence that we can get there.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Riding in a blizzard

Apparently, at least half the country was assaulted by this latest winter storm (I think The Weather Channel is calling it Pax).  Northern Virginia, where I live, was no different.  By the time the first round of the storm was over on Thursday morning, we had over a foot of snow.  That meant the Federal government was closed, so my husband was home from work.  I still had to put in my usual part-time schedule, but by 3:00, I realized that both my husband and I had our to-do lists done for the day.

And then it occurred to me that I could go riding.  I usually don't have a chance to ride during the week, especially this winter.  I have to wait until my husband gets home from work and if we want to have dinner together, it means that I can't get out to the barn until well after dark.  At which point, the temperature is typically in the 10-20 degree range, and I think that is too cold to ride.  I can cite some study on how the cilia in your lungs start to die once the temperature gets much below freezing and you're doing aerobic work, but really, once your nose feels like it is going to freeze shut and ice forms on your eyelashes, it's just downright unpleasant to be out riding, no matter how your lungs feel.

Anyway, yesterday, the temperatures were hovering in the 33-34 degree mark, which was definitely rideable.  There had been a sort of weird mist coming down all day, but I wrote that off as inconsequential, and got in my truck to head out to the barn.

Now might be a good time to mention that our street had not been plowed and my husband had only shoveled half the driveway (the half that my truck was not parked on).  I guess he thought that my truck could just power through anything.  That is generally true, but I had parked on ice the night before (I felt compelled to go check on my horse as the storm was starting) and our driveway, while short, is very steep due to the fact that our entire subdivision was built by monkeys who didn't understand how important proper grading is for driveway management.  That means that despite putting the truck into 4-wheel drive, low gear 1, I was unable to make any progress at all.  I ended up shoveling the rest of the driveway while cursing my husband's name and then I managed to get out OK.

Until I got to where our street (a cul de sac) intersects with a more major residential road.  I love how the snow plow operators apparently have no clue that when you plow 12 inches of snow and leave the residual piled up at the intersection, it defeats the point of plowing in the first place, because no one can get past the 4 foot high mound to actually drive on the plowed roads.  (Of course, maybe that was the intention all along...)  Anyway, I was able to blast my way through to the main road, where everything was in good shape all the way out to the barn.  (I'm always so surprised that rural areas have much better snow removal than urban ones.)

Unfortunately, the barn owner had decided to leave the horses in for the day, citing concerns about dangerous footing.  It is true that trying to walk through deep snow is a cardio exercise, but I think the horses probably would have just hung out at the hay bale and been fine.  However, I felt no concerns about my horse's welfare, and I promptly put him outside to play a little before I got on.  Nimo is 11 now, and much more mature and less prone to stupid behavior, but I didn't think that riding him after he'd been cooped up for almost 24 hours was the best choice.  As it turns out, I needn't have bothered with the turnout.  As soon as he figured how much work it was to go through the snow, he headed for the run-in shed to hang out while I cleaned his stall and retrieved my tack from the trailer.  (Note to self:  Do not leave tack in the trailer even if you think you won't be able to ride, because it really sucks to hike through deep snow to retrieve said tack if you stupidly decide you do actually want to ride.)

I did get these pictures of Nimo enjoying the snow for about 2 minutes.  The lighting isn't great, so he looks more like a silhouette, but I did capture the elusive moment of suspension in the trot picture.

Here's the thing, by the time I finished picking Nimo's stall, getting my tack ready, and chatting with a couple of people, it was snowing again.  And not just any snow, but the kind that is being blown sideways because it's actually blizzarding out.  Apparently, the mist was not so inconsequential after all.  Sigh...I really wasn't dressed for a blizzard, but I decided to ride anyway.  I figured even 20 minutes was better than nothing, and I had hauled my tack all the way from the trailer, so really, I was committed.

Because the snow was pretty deep, although I think it was less than a foot, I decided to do the bulk of my ride as "laps" up and down the driveway with short forays into the deep snow as a sort of interval training.  The driveway was plowed pretty well and it is quite long (maybe a quarter of a mile?)  After the first trip down the driveway, when my face became numb on one side, I revised my plan to include trot work.  That ended up working well.  I'd walk Nimo near the barn, then trot the rest of the way down the driveway, walk to turn around, trot until I got close to the barn, then walk through a field of snow, turn around, walk past the barn, and then start trotting again.  And repeat.  I even added a little canter - whoohoo! I did my little routine 3 times before it started getting dark.  I'm not really sure how long I rode, but I think it was probably about 45 minutes.  I wish I could have done a couple more loops because by the third one, Nimo was really loosening up and I was feeling warmer, but I didn't want to have to ride after dark and because Round 2 of this stupid blizzard was clearly well under way, I thought it would be prudent to get home as soon as possible.

If I had to do it again, I definitely would have worn face protection, but otherwise, my clothes served me well.  Everything was completely soaked after the ride, but the water hadn't penetrated the top layer, so I was dry underneath.  Nimo was wet and steamy, but it didn't look like he had worked up much of a sweat, so I decided not to blanket.  He's got a ridiculously dense coat that requires two rounds with water and soap to even penetrate in the winter, so unless he sweats, I don't worry about him getting chilled when he's wet.

And the great thing about all of this is that I RODE MY HORSE!  It's such an awesome feeling to have done it and it motivates me to do more.  It looks like today is supposed to warm up into the 40s, so I'm thinking another ride would be great.  My husband will understand if I skip Valentine's Day dinner, right?:)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Oh, Baling Twine, How I Love Thee!

So, as I was having a lovely ride about a week and a half ago, one of the snaps that attaches the breast collar to the saddle broke.  I could chalk that up to the very forward motion Nimo was giving me (we cantered, by ourselves, out in the middle of a forest!) or it's possible that because I have never really cleaned it in the several years I've owned it and I abused it by taking it through innumerable streams and Nimo sweated on it copiously, that the metal failed due to neglect.  Regardless of the reason, I was left snapless.

I should mention that there are a number of tack and feed shops within 30 minutes of where I live, and I'm positive that several or even all of them carry a snap that would have worked as a replacement.  I think I probably even own a spare snap that would have worked, but finding it would have required me to clean the garage, so I opted for an alternative solution - baling twine!

I think that repairing my tack with baling twine puts me in a whole new class of horse people.  Depending on where you are in the continuum, you may see this as a positive or a negative.  However, it really opened up a door for me.  I really want to buy a biothane breast collar, but I've been hemming and hawing about it, partly because I can't commit to a color and partly because I want to make sure I'm happy with the fit.  Nimo is unusual because the saddle sits quite far back, relative to other horses.  That means that the straps that connect the breast collar to the saddle are too short to give me the fit I'd like to see.  I'll try to show you what I mean.  Here's a picture from last October that is cropped to focus on the breast collar area:

You can see that the breast collar doesn't follow the line where the shoulder meets the neck.  The straps connecting the breast collar to the saddle are at their longest, and it is still several inches from where it should be.  I will say that Nimo has never shown any soreness or discomfort, but I know that as we start to go longer distances, things that aren't a big deal can become a big deal.  I'd like the breast collar not to be one of those things.

And I really do need the breast collar.  What with dogs chasing us and crazy mountain climbs, plus Nimo's changing weight that has made the saddle slightly too wide, the breast collar really is essential.  I'm actually convinced that it saved me from being dunked in the water on Saturday.  A friend and I rode out at Manassas Battlefield in what is apparently the step-child section of the park and is therefore lacking maintenance.  While we have had some nasty ice and snow this winter, there were an unusual number of trees blocking sections of the trail and in one case, a tree blocked the only exit from a stream and there were literally no options except to jump the tree (it was probably around 4 feet high) or go up a 90 degree muddy bank that was probably 4-5 feet high.  Because neither my friend nor I were riding advanced-level eventers, these options were not promising.  However, my friend's horse is actually a pretty brave guy and he, in fact, did go up the side of that bank.  Nimo remained unswayed by peer pressure until his buddy started to continue on down the trail.  At that point, he decided the bank was worth a try and we did go up it.  I'm not really sure how - watching my friend's horse do it didn't really improve my comfort level - but there was no slipping or loss of traction.  However, if I hadn't had a breast collar on, I'm positive my saddle would have slid right off my horse's butt.

Anyway, so back to how the baling twine has opened a door.  I realized that I could just replace BOTH straps that connect the breast collar to the saddle with baling twine.  That way, I could adjust the breast collar the way I want it and try it out before I custom order one.  Eureka!  (Or, I could just keep using the twine and save myself $150...)  I'll let you know...