Sunday, March 23, 2014

Back to Climbing

Last Sunday, Nimo and I went back to the Shenandoah River State Park (aka Andy Guest) for our first climbing miles in over 4 months.  The weather this winter was so awful that I didn't dare do much in the way of climbing because the places that have that kind of terrain often get more snow, stay colder, and are more remote.  Luckily, some warmer temperatures and less snowfall meant that the trails at Andy Guest were likely in good shape, so a friend and I headed out there for a couple of hours of riding.

The yellow is the route we took for our ride
I wasn't really sure about what to expect from Nimo.  I know horses tend to lose fitness less rapidly than people do, but I thought 4 months might be pushing it.  The other issue was whether to put hoof boots on Nimo.  In the past, I've always booted Nimo's front feet when we rode at Andy Guest because of our very first experience there.  Shortly after that first ride, I wrote about my search for hoof boots in this post.  Among other things, I said, "I admit that I was skeptical about the need for shoes/boots for a 15 mile ride, but after riding 10 miles a couple of weeks ago in the area where the ride will be held, I am convinced my horse does need hoof protection.  If I could train on those trails all the time, I could possibly acclimate my horse's feet...or I could really cause some damage."  I am laughing at myself now because I no longer think that Andy Guest trails (which are the 10 miles of trails I was referring to in the quote) are rocky.  There are a few rocky sections and there is a gravel road, but after doing the OD Intro Ride last October, I realized I had no concept of what rocky meant when I wrote that post.

Anyway, I opted not to boot Nimo for our ride.  Since I started trimming his feet, I've seen some definite changes, which I think are mostly good.  One big thing that I've noticed is that his sole has gone from relatively flat to more cupped.  And, on his front feet, the hoof wall actually grew down instead of out during the last cycle.  So, I wanted to see what that meant in terms of handling rocks and gravel.  The only other time I rode Nimo without boots at Andy Guest was the first time we rode there and he definitely had trouble with the footing.  He was pretty "ouchy" by the end of the ride (although part of the problem may just have been that he was flat out tired - it was kind of a tough ride for him).  Because of that initial response, I've always booted to be safe.  But, I'm pleased to report that Nimo had zero issues without his boots on this ride.  He handled the rocky sections of trail and the gravel with no problems.  We only trotted on the section of trail that had a coarse sand mixture on it, but when we trotted on that same section the first time we rode at Andy Guest, I could tell he was uncomfortable on it and he kept trying to get to the grass to trot.  This time, he was perfectly happy to trot on the trail.

So, I am thrilled that I probably don't need to boot when we ride at this park anymore.  Because I have a confession...I hate hoof boots.  Don't get me wrong, I love that they exist.  I love that there are several choices and that manufacturers have obviously put a lot of research into developing something that will work.  But they are such a pain.  Especially for Nimo and his giant size boots.  I have at least 5 or 6 of the stupid things that I have to keep track of.  At any given time, one or two of them need some kind of repair (usually a new cable), and while I'm more comfortable doing the repairs, I still don't like it.  And then, on the trail, I've got to carry an extra boot, and a special hoof pick for releasing the buckle, and spare parts for the boots, and two different screwdrivers for boot repair.  Plus, somehow despite the fact that I only use them on rocky trails, they are always coated in mud, and I suck at cleaning them.

I do still believe, though, that hoof boots are a better choice for Nimo than shoes, especially if he is going to feel more comfortable on a variety of surfaces.  I'm also positive that boots are a much less expensive choice than shoes.  I've never gotten a quote for how much it would cost to shoe Nimo, but given prices for normal horses and the usual premium charged for draft horse feet, I'm guessing it would run $200-250 every 5-6 weeks, which is really unsustainable.  Not to mention how hard it is to find a good farrier...So I'm still committed to hoof boots, but if I can find a way to minimize their use to just the rockiest of trails, I'm going to be much happier.

I was also happy to discover that Nimo handled the climbing just fine.  We rode maybe 7.5 miles and the only sweat Nimo had was a little under the saddle pad.  He also seemed fresh and still capable of doing more at the end of the ride.  I should mention that the climbing at Andy Guest is not the same as the more rugged climbing that is typical of OD rides.  Andy Guest trails tend to have small, frequent changes in elevation, while OD rides tend to have much longer climbs over much rockier footing.  That said, the climbing at Andy Guest is still quite valuable for conditioning and it was a great way to re-introduce Nimo to climbing.  My next step is to take Nimo out to the Shenandoah National Park within the next few weeks for some real climbing.

And this is probably a good time to mention that my endurance ride plans have changed for the year.  My original intention was to do the LD at the OD No Frills ride the last weekend of April.  But that plan was contingent on me being able to keep conditioning Nimo through the winter.  While we were able to keep riding, we just weren't able to do the climbing work or much speed work because of weather and footing issues.  If the No Frills ride was held over normal terrain, I definitely think we would be ready, but it isn't.  It's the same rugged terrain as the other OD rides, and it would be unfair to Nimo to ask him to do that ride without proper preparation.  Plus, I still don't have my camping equipment or containment system.  While I could always just sleep in the truck and tie Nimo to the trailer, I decided I really need a little more time to get my act together.  There are some non-OD rides and some competitive trail rides in the region that I can do, though, so I have options.  And if all else fails, I'm positive we can be ready to do the OD Fort Valley ride this fall.  So, the current plan is to get Nimo back into climbing and start ramping up our pace until I feel like he can handle about 25-30 miles of either an OD ride or another, easier ride.

1 comment:

  1. Heh, everybody hates hoof boots. They're so much better than shoes, but they're in no way easy or fun. And isn't it funny how our definitions of things change? "Oh it's a little rocky" and "There's only a few big hills" are not phrases you should ever trust coming from my mouth! But when you say "yeah, it was hot" - I'd probably have died. ;)