Wednesday, July 30, 2014

5 Q's with Mel

While I have several posts in intermediate stages, I reached a point where I didn't really have anything ready to post about this week.  And then Mel saved me:)  She set up a blog hop that I will happily use to fill my blogging void.  So read on to learn more about yours truly...

Name:  Gail Jewel Thuner

Age:  39 (I think - it gets harder and harder to remember how old I am as I get older and older.)

Family Status:  Married, with one almost 2-year-old daughter, 1 German Shepherd Dog, and 1 Friesian horse

1.  How long have you been riding?  Endurance?

I think the first time I was on a pony was when I was 2, and I think I was horse crazy from that point on.  I rode on and off when I could until I was 11 and finally convinced my parents that the "horse phase" was not something I was going to grow out of.  Since then, I've always ridden and always (except for a few months) had at least one horse.  I started out doing 4-H and local open shows, mostly competing in Western events, but later adding hunter hack type English classes.

Then, I took a break from showing during college and grad school, but started back competing in Western pleasure once I entered the working world.  The abuse that many Western pleasure horses endured was something I didn't like being around, though.  And after I rehabilitated one of those abused horses and won a Western pleasure class (at a small, local show, nothing spectacular, but it still felt good), I changed disciplines to dressage and cross-country jumping for fun.  I enjoyed both and had a great time, but my life with my rehabilitated abused horse was not to be.  He first developed navicular disease (or syndrome or disorder or whatever they're calling caudal heal pain accompanied by bone lesions these days) and shortly thereafter shattered his left hock while playing out in the pasture.  The hock was irreparable and the horse that I adored and thought I'd have forever had to be put down.

I was able to keep riding other people's horses while I first grieved and then searched for a new horse.  Nimo ended up being that horse.  I bought him as a yearling and kept riding other horses until he was 3 and I started him under saddle.  I stuck with dressage for quite a few years, but eventually it just wasn't satisfying anymore and last year I decided to try endurance riding.  I haven't done a full-length endurance ride yet, but Nimo and I did complete an Intro ride last fall and I hope we'll do an LD this fall.

2.  What does a normal training week look like for you?

Ha!  I wish I could have a normal week!  My goal is to ride 3-4 times a week with 1-2 dressage sessions and 1-2 trail rides, with one of the trail rides being 10 plus miles.  And I'd like to throw in a lungeing or ground work session too.  In reality, some weeks come pretty close to my goal while other weeks are a complete disaster.  I really struggle with balancing life while raising a young child, finding time to at least speak to my husband periodically, working part-time, and riding.  (And let's not forget the crazy weather!)  Luckily, conditioning for endurance doesn't seem to be as scientific as some would lead you to believe and Nimo has still be able to improve his fitness levels.

3.  Any advice for endurance riding spouses?

I'm really lucky in that my husband is really supportive of my efforts.  That may be, in part, because he's seen the kind of horrible person I become when I don't get regular riding in, but it's also because he recognizes what a sacrifice it can be to have a baby.  We love our daughter dearly, but having a baby dramatically changes the amount of time you have to do anything for yourself or by yourself and because I stay home with my daughter, I can go days without speaking to adults and the most reading I usually get in is Goodnight Moon and Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See?  As our daughter gets older, I will probably get more time for myself, but for now, spending an evening or several hours riding on the weekend is about the only thing that keeps me from having a meltdown.

So, I guess my advice applies before the marriage even begins.  Make sure you marry someone whose whole world doesn't depend on you spending time with him (or her) and make sure that if you have a baby, you've worked out how responsibilities are going to be shared ahead of time.  (And for those control freaks like me, make sure your soon-to-be spouse is trainable, so you can teach him what he needs to know before you leave the baby at home alone with him.)  I know a lot of women who tell me their husbands would never "tolerate" what my husband does (me being gone to ride a lot) and that their husbands wouldn't babysit nearly as much.  My feeling is that if both parents aren't committed to having a baby, it's not something that should be done, and just because I had a baby doesn't mean that I have to give up every single thing that is important to me.  I've given up a lot, but I made it clear from the moment that I met my husband that giving up my horse is never going to happen, not even if I end up with no legs and no arms or blind, or whatever.  Being with horses is such a fundamental part of who I am, I cannot live without them.

4.  Where will this sport be in 10 years?

I have no idea.  I'm so new, I don't even know if I can complete a real ride yet.  Yet far be it from me to limit myself to only having opinions about topics on which I am an expert:)  So here goes...From what I've learned so far, it seems like endurance riders (and endurance rides) are getting more gadgets to track mileage and monitor the horse, so I would expect that in 10 years, it will be rare to see someone riding without digital assistance.  I also suspect there will be fewer one day 100s because of space and resource issues.  And I think that the number of rules regarding what you can and can't do on rides will be twice as many as now.  One thing I love about endurance is the openness of the sport:  Ride any horse in any tack with any rider and as long as you keep your horse in good shape, you can compete.  (I realize I've simplified a bit, but hopefully you get the idea.)  The problem with competitions is that people can't help themselves but ride too hard or too fast or too many miles and somehow create a situation that is bad for themselves, other riders, and their horses.  And regulating bodies can't help themselves but to create more rules to prevent the bad stuff from happening, and in the end, you get something like the United States Equestrian Association or the FEI and hundreds of pages of rules.  I'll save my full opinion about bureaucracies for another post, but I do worry that much of what I love about endurance will be lost with the passage of time.

5.  What was your best race and why (AERC endurance – or if you are primary in another discipline, than your best ride in that sport)?

This is a tough question.  I haven't competed in anything for so long, I have trouble remembering many of the highlights and I have yet to complete my first real endurance ride.  So, I think I'll go with my best training ride so far.  Hands down, it was the one I did at Graves Mountain last month.  That was the ride where I finally realized that we can do an actual endurance ride.  After six hours in the saddle on a mountain, with a major thunderstorm drenching us for the last couple of hours, it became clear to me that both my horse and I have what it takes to do this endurance thing.

Bonus question:  What's your favorite beer?

I despise beer.  I will only drink it if there is nothing else available, and even then, I might skip it.  I much prefer a nice Moscato or Riesling wine, although these days, any alcohol at all usually puts me to sleep faster than I can imagine.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Tale of Three Breeches

About 3 months ago, I realized that my supply of warm-weather riding breeches/tights was shockingly low.  I had an almost ancient pair of Kerrits tights that were a color that is not currently manufactured and probably never should be again (sort of a pucey/eggplant) that were still in good shape, but obviously not fashionable.  Then there was the pair of Riding Sport Jean Breeches that seemed like a good idea when I bought them 2 or 3 years ago when I was just doing mostly dressage work, but now seemed too thick and caused chafing on the inside of my knees when I did longer rides.  Finally, I had a pair of Riding Sport Competitor II breeches that I bought last year.  These breeches looked and felt good in the saddle, but they had a tendency to wander down my legs to the point of indecency if I walked in them very much - possibly due to the compression factor in the fabric, or maybe they were just a size too big.  Nonetheless, it was clear to me that I needed to augment my riding wardrobe for endurance training.

So I headed over to Dover Saddlery in Chantilly, VA, where I knew I'd find more than enough choices to supplement my dwindling wardrobe.  In the past, I've definitely favored breeches over tights because I like the extra thickness of fabric that breeches have and they somehow seemed more "dressagey" because of the civilized snap and zipper.  But, now that I'm putting on a lot more miles and doing it in all kinds of heat and rain, I realized that tights were going to be a better choice.  I had found that the pair of Kerrits tights I had worked the best for me, so I had my eye out for similar products.

I ended up choosing three pairs of tights.  I loved the idea of the Kerrits IceFil Tech Tight.  These tights had neither a full-seat (which I have grown to dislike because it not only feels like I'm wearing a diaper, but because I feel like the extra money for the full-seat doesn't really get me much in terms of security in the saddle) nor knee-patches, which had been causing some chafing issues.  I was worried that the bunching of the knee-patch would always cause chafing on my inner knee with enough riding, and I figured tights without any extra fabric on the knee would be great.  Plus, the tights had this funky silicone carrot pattern where the full-seat and knee-patch would normally be and these tiny silicone carrots were supposed to provide some extra grip in the saddle, without being bulky.  And, as if all that weren't enough, the fabric was actually supposed to keep your skin several degrees cooler than normal, which sounded fantastic for riding in hot, humid weather.

The second tight I choose was the Kerrits Flow-Rise Performance Riding Tight.  I've always loved Kerrits breeches, and I figured this model was similar to the one I already had, but in much cooler colors.  And the knee-patch material seemed pretty thin, so I hoped that would mean no chafing.  I picked up a pair in Peri 2- Tone and imagined that I would look really endurance-like with my colored tights.  Especially if I paired the tights with something of a different, yet bright color:)

Finally, I picked out a pair of Soybu Riding Tights.  I wanted to try a brand other than Kerrits and these tights seemed reasonably priced and very good quality.  Plus, the knee-patches were quite thin and you can never go wrong with basic black tights:)

Over the next couple of months, I tested out the tights in a variety of conditions and ended up finding one that really hit all of my requirements.  In no particular order, I was looking for a tight that:

  • is easy to move in, regardless of whether I am riding or walking;
  • can handle getting completely drenched and still be easy to move in, regardless of whether I am riding or walking;
  • looks reasonably decent when worn by me, who is not a supermodel, or anything close to a supermodel;
  • washes well and doesn't require anything special in terms of soap or drying (in other words, no real leather); and
  • provides a small amount of friction in the saddle, so as to keep me from sliding off in a heap every time my horse spooks a little (I just have a smooth-seat saddle and there's not a lot of grippiness), but not so much friction as to cause anything unpleasant after 20 plus miles.
The first tights I tested were the Kerrits IceFil tights.  What I discovered after I wore them for about 3 seconds is that they have a strange extra thigh seam that runs across the front of the thigh in such a way as to make one's thighs appear to have an extra, bizzare lump.  My husband kept insisting they looked fine, but I suspect that is because he knows better than to say anything else.  I also discovered that the little silicone carrots did not really do anything with regard to grip in the saddle (unless the tights would have normally acted like they were greased with Crisco, in which case, the carrots did help).  And while the temperatures were not crazy-hot like they can get in the middle of summer, at no point when I was riding did I want to exclaim, "Oh, my legs DO feel cooler!"  I think the tights were probably pretty comfortable in the saddle and out, but I was too distracted by the extra lumps on my thighs to notice much.  And, as luck would have it, a seam along the outside of the left knee started to unravel after about 3 rides.  Because Dover has such an amazing return policy (you can return pretty much anything ever, without a receipt, for no reason), I decided to return these tights because they were not living up to my expectations and the defective seam was not something that I thought I could quickly fix.  I did throw them in the wash before returning them, so as not to subject the kind Dover staff to my riding ooginess, and they survived quite well; even the seam that had started to unravel didn't unravel any further.  Based on my experience with Kerrits products, I expect that the seam issue was just a random event and not an indication of the general quality of these tights.

The next tights I tested were the Kerrits Flow-Rise Performance tights.  I had really high hopes for these because I was in love with the thought of being able to wear more color.  These tights fit great and were comfortable in the saddle and out.  In fact, these were the tights I wore on my epic ride a few weeks ago.  They got soaked and stayed that way for probably a couple of hours and at no point did I feel anything different than I did when they were dry and there was no chafing.  The only thing that bothered me about them was that the waist band was too compressive.  So I felt a bit squeezed when I first put them on, although after riding for awhile, I didn't notice the compression as much.  I also found that having my thigh be a giant block of color was not as flattering as I thought it would be.  I almost hesitate to say that because I really think that endurance riding has to be function over form and no matter how ugly something is, if it works, that's what matters.  But, with so many choices for breeches and riding tights, it seems like a person ought to be able to get both form and function.

And that is where the Soybu tight comes in.  This tight is so comfortable, I've been known to keep it on after I get home from the barn and even sleep in it.  The very first time I rode in it, I got caught in a downpour while I was walking on foot with my horse cooling him out and we were a half-mile away from the barn.  I was drenched in a matter of seconds, but the tight never sagged or felt uncomfortable during my walk back to the barn.  And it has performed the same way under saddle when wet.  Plus, it has no weird thigh seams or color blocks, and no compression waist band to make me feel restricted or self-conscious.  It washes up well and it has a little bit of texture to the fabric which provides a small amount of friction, but nothing that has caused any unladylike chafing thus far.

I will say that while the Soybu tight was the winner in my little impromptu competition, the Kerrits Flow-Rise tight was a close second.  And I think if the Kerrits IceFil tight could get rid of the weird thigh seam and make the silicone carrots a bit more grippy, it would be a great choice too.

Note: I paid full price (with my own money) for all three tights that I tested. I don't have any affiliation with Dover Saddlery, Kerrits, Soybu, or any other company. The views I expressed in this post are solely my opinion.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dressage Milestone: Leg-Yield in Canter

I haven't written much about our dressage work in awhile, not because we haven't been doing it, but because we generally do not have the same type of crazy adventures that I've been having recently out on the trails:)  I've been continuing to take 2 lessons a month and because of the way scheduling worked out recently, I've done a lesson every Sunday for the last 3 weeks.  That frequency is actually what I would prefer, but it would just be too difficult for me to maintain that frequency and still get all the conditioning work in on the trails.

Anyway, Nimo has really been progressing steadily and we hit a milestone two lessons ago:  cantering and leg-yielding at the same time.  I had not realized that the leg-yield could even be done in canter.  In fact, had I spent much time thinking about it, I would have come to the conclusion that leg-yield couldn't be done in canter because it would be too confusing to figure out which leg went where (on the horse and on the rider) and the horse would either fall down or just keep going straight while thinking that his rider was an idiot.

As luck (or rather really good planning on the part of my instructor, Allison Spivey) would have it, I didn't know that we were going to attempt leg-yielding in the canter.  (Allison likes to surprise me with stuff that I would have sworn at the beginning of the lesson we absolutely could not do.  She recognized very quickly that both Nimo and I have a tendency to over think things, so she frequently keeps her goals a secret until the "Ta-da!" moment.)  We'd been working on Nimo's canter quite a bit and a couple of weeks ago, I possibly boosted that I'd been working on walk-to-canter transitions outside of my lessons and the transitions had been going well.  Allison decided to check to see if that was true.  At first, it was an unmitigated disaster (likely because we were in a much better frame than during my practice sessions which made the transition harder), but we did get ourselves straightened out and manage to pull off a few good ones.  In my opinion, the walk-to-canter transition is a nice way to improve the use of the horse's hind end, so I've been excited that we've been able to work on it.

We followed up the transition with more cantering and working on maintaining the gait for longer periods of time.  I was just following Allison's instructions ("Turn on the quarter line and canter down the long side") when she said, "And leg-yield him to the wall."  So I did.  And Nimo did.  We did an honest-to-goodness, real leg-yield from the quarter line to the wall on the right lead.  I couldn't tell you what my aids were except to say that I think they were probably pretty similar to what I use for a leg-yield in trot (and don't ask me what those are, either, because I have no idea - I just sort of think "forward and sideways" and move my legs and arms somehow).  My horse did not get confused and think he needed to switch leads, he didn't try to buck me off, nor did he fall down.  It was, in fact, pretty cool.  Maybe not quite as cool as sliding down a mountain in a rain storm, but I am always amazed when I ask my horse to do something that requires coordination and he does it.

What is the purpose of leg-yielding in the canter?  That's a good question.  I just did some research on leg-yielding in the canter (and by research, I mean that I googled it and looked at the first page of results because I was too impatient to dig out my dressage books from storage where they are safe from prying toddler hands) and there appears to be some disagreement about the movement (which is not necessarily uncommon in the dressage world).  However, it seemed to work well for us.  According to Allison, that type of movement helps Nimo get his hind legs more underneath him and working more effectively.

Which brings me to my next point.  Working with an instructor/trainer who actually knows what he/she is doing makes a big difference in the success of the lessons.  Allison often rides 10 plus horses a day and gives 5-6 lessons on top of that for 6 days a week.  She works with all different levels of riders and horses and has her own horse.  She competes and coaches her students at shows.  While being able to do those things doesn't necessarily mean she's a great riding instructor, it does mean she has the opportunity to see a lot of different variations and be actively involved with a lot of different types of horses and learning styles.  Luckily for me, she uses all that experience as a basis to really think about what works for a horse and she's able to communicate effectively.  By that I mean that she understands that not all techniques and exercises have the same effect on every horse and she adjusts her teaching to suit her students' needs.

For example, she understands that Nimo picks up the canter most effectively when he is moving fairly quick behind, so when we do trot-to-canter transitions, we do not use Nimo's most lengthened trot (even though it is probably super fun to watch).  Instead, she often has me bring him back quite a bit in terms of speed, but keep him moving in an animated way.  As he gets stronger in the canter, we do more transitions from a more forward trot.  I have worked with trainers in the past who believed that if I just kept pushing Nimo at the trot, he would eventually have to sort of fall into the canter.  (I've also read about this technique in books.)  That may work very well with a lot of horses who are learning to canter under saddle, but it doesn't work at all with a horse who has been bred for hundreds of years to trot.  Nimo can trot his little heart out forever and not feel the slightest compulsion to break into a canter.  So working with someone who gets the nuances of my horse makes such a big difference.  Plus, as I mentioned above, I have a way of overthinking things, which can get in the way of accomplishing something, so having an instructor who feels comfortable working around that tendency means I get so much more out of the work we do.

And, our canter leg-yield work continued at our lesson this last Sunday and was expanded to include a hint of zig-zag work.  By that I mean that we cantered down the quarter line and Allison asked me to move Nimo away from the wall just a small amount (we're talking a couple of strides where Nimo came sideways just a few inches while holding a slight flexion in the direction of the sideways movement) before asking him to leg-yield to the wall.  I see more advanced lateral work in the canter in our future!:)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Riding with the Midland Outlaws

Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to ride with the Midland Outlaws.  Who are the Midland Outlaws?  Good question.  I really don't know that much about them, except they are a group of riders who hosts an annual trail ride just down the road from where I board my horse in Midland, Virginia.  I first heard about the annual trail ride last year, but wasn't able to work it into my schedule.  This year, I was bound and determined to go, though, because it was a trail riding opportunity so close I wouldn't have to trailer my horse.  Plus, the distance sounded perfect for us.  One of the ride leaders told me she thought the trail was 12-15 miles.  The terrain would be easy because the Midland area is mostly forested and dead flat.  In fact, it would probably be a swamp if our annual rainfall was just a little higher.  Having given Nimo the previous week off after our adventure at Graves Mountain, I figured a longer, easy ride would be just what we needed.

I'd been told that we would be leaving at 11 am, so I got Nimo ready at the barn and rode over.  It was a very exciting .2 miles on the road.  Nimo apparently thought I was asking him to go to his execution and walked as slowly as possible and pretended that any trash in the ditch, fence posts, and tree branches were serious predators.  I had to laugh at this horse who a week ago calmly and competently went through some really rough terrain and who now was incapable of walking along a flat, paved road...Anyway, we did eventually make it to the ride headquarters.

It honestly looked pretty much like an endurance ride camp.  Riders and their families could camp the night before and it looked like that's what most people had done.  There were a lot of rigs with LQ as well as water troughs for the horses and the barbeque was already going for that night's dinner (this ride is a BIG deal for these folks).  After checking in, I found out that the start of the ride had been delayed because the crews working the ride were stuck in traffic (gotta love northern Virginia!).  So I took the opportunity to just let Nimo hang out and watch all the activity.  And I met many of my fellow riders as they assembled.

There would be more than one group of riders and I'd be in the first group.  We would be mostly walking with a little trotting.  Secretly, I'd been hoping to be part of a faster group, but I also didn't want to have to wait around much longer to start because I'd sworn to my husband that I would be home at a reasonable time after spending the last two Saturdays getting home at 3 am and 10 pm, respectively.

We ended up heading out at about 11:45.  There were probably 12-15 of us in the group, which is a pretty big group.  There were mostly experienced trail riders in the group, with a few ladies who felt maybe a little less secure, but their horses seemed fine.  The biggest issue we had at the beginning of the ride was just the pace because there was a combination of gaited and non-gaited horses, and it can be hard to get them going the same speed.  Nimo did get a little frustrated by how slow we were going, though.  He was fresh and ready to go, and so he slowly worked his way to the front of the pack.  I'm not even sure how he did it, but within a couple of miles, we were sharing the lead.  It's kind of unusual for Nimo to want to be in the front, particularly at the beginning of a ride.  He likes to start out ploddingly slow and then as he warms up and figures out what's going on, he becomes willing to be in front for awhile.  But today, he was on fire, and very motivated to get to the front, which is where we stayed until we got to the first "break" point, about 3 miles into the ride.

Just before the break, we walked into a stream and then in the stream for maybe 50-75 feet, and I was convinced Nimo was going to go down.  For whatever reason, the leaders (other than me, who knew what was going on) decided we needed to stop in the stream to wait for stragglers.  Nimo believed this stop meant he could play and roll in the water.  So I spent what seemed like forever arguing with him about whether he could lay down.  I prevailed, but I have no idea why we needed to stop in the water when we were literally stopping for a break 2 feet past getting out of the stream.  Sigh...Also, I don't really know why we needed to stop for a break after walking 3 miles on flat terrain.  Oh, how things have changed in my brain!

Luckily, things picked up a little bit after that and we did some trotting.  However, the group behind us (who was going faster) caught up.  So now there were about 30 of us alternately walking and trotting down the trail.  The horses were all well-behaved, but there was a lot of energy building up underneath me...

After going probably another 3 miles, we got to the halfway point of the ride, where there was a crew with snacks and drinks for the riders and what appeared to be the equivalent of Cougar Rock for this ride.  There was even a photographer.  Remember I said the Midland area might be a swamp with a little more rain?  Well, before we could get to the crew, it looked like we needed to wade through a pond about mid-canon bone depth.  No biggie, I thought.  Until I watched some riders in front of me go.  Well into the pond, there was an abrupt 3-foot drop off, which plunged horse and rider into above belly-deep water.  Almost immediately, the horse had to scramble up an 8-foot vertical and muddy bank.  I nearly had a heart attack.  Nimo is great with pretty much any large body of water, but he's also really picky about where he puts his feet, and I thought a surprise drop that he couldn't see might not be the best way to continue to earn his trust on the trail.

Thankfully, there was an alternate route, which was extremely muddy and full of tree roots, but at least my horse could see what he was getting into.  So I opted for the alternate route and watched as many of the riders attempted the pond/drop-off/bank climb.  All but one horse/rider who attempted it was successful.  The other horse just decided it wasn't for him, and I couldn't blame him one bit.  Most of the horses went down on their knees as they climbed the bank and it was clear many of them were anxious about the obstacle.  As far as I know, none of the horses was injured, though, and only one rider lost his balance to the point where he almost pulled his horse over backwards as he climbed the bank.  It was definitely an extreme obstacle, but I was coming to learn that many of the members of this group liked to ride hard and fast and this was just something fun for entertainment.  Since I spent last weekend traipsing down a mud-slicked mountain during a storm, I'm going to refrain from passing judgment and chalk this up to a different perspective on what's fun on a ride:)

We stopped for a break again and Nimo was beginning to seriously question my piloting skills.  He was behaving himself, but I could tell he was very ready to get back on the trail and couldn't fathom what we were doing standing still.  Finally, we got underway, but this time, there were 70-80 horses on the trail because the mid-way stop had jammed everyone up.  And all the faster-paced riders who had left later had caught up, so with that many horses on the trail and especially because those riders wanted to move out, the energy level was really high.  Nimo was starting to pull and break into a trot all the time, and finally, I let him start to move out.  We kept pace pretty close to the front riders and I noticed more space between riders as people rode at different paces.

We did have a bit of a close call when we crossed a small ditch.  I've been working on my trust skills with Nimo by riding him on the buckle when he's doing ditches. I feel like he can balance a lot better when I'm not pulling on his mouth, but I hate the loss of control  Anyway, somehow after Nimo went through this ditch, I ended up with no reins and no stirrups.  I can't explain it - one second everything was fine and the next my horse was happily cantering down the trail and passing people while I hung on for dear life while screaming obscenities.  I did manage to get everything together within a few seconds, and after calling my horse some unpleasant names, I apologized to the riders near me in case I had cut them off or caused their horses to get upset.  The guys who were near me just laughed and said it was no big deal.  They were all riding gaited horses and moving at a pretty good clip.  Nimo seemed to want to match their pace, so I kept him just behind the group and we trotted along for maybe a mile or so.

But Nimo was still unhappy.  He was eyeballing the four-wheeler who was leading us (we were riding on private property with the permission of the landowners and there were gates that needed to be opened and closed, so the four-wheeler guy was taking care of that) and the lone horse who was cantering just behind it.  And I was really tired of holding him back.  I figured he'd get tired soon because we'd been doing a fair amount of trotting and the temperature was getting hot.  Little did I know...

The gaited guys I was riding with were really moving out now, but I didn't want Nimo cantering.  I just felt like his energy level was too high for that to be in my best interest (see previous ditch incident), so I explained that he could go as fast as he wanted, but he had to keep trotting.  He totally understood and that is when he used a gear I have never felt before.  This horse started pushing with his hind end, came through his back, held firm contact with the bit and powered past those gaited horses like they were standing still.  The guys all cheered me on as we whooshed past them and down the trail.  (My GPS clocked that trot at 14.8 mph!)  I figured as soon as we got a little ahead, Nimo would slow down, but he had no intention of slowing down until he caught up with the four-wheeler.

There was still one horse cantering in front of us, and as we turned down a gravel road lined with trees, Nimo held his crazy-fast trot.  Because he was barefoot, he preferred to ride just off the road on the grass, which would have been awesome if the tree branches had not been gracefully arcing over the road...I'm not sure what kind of trees they were - we were going too fast for me to tell as I weaved and dodged the branches coming at me at warp speed.  Meanwhile, Nimo never varied from his determination to trot fast enough to catch that cantering horse.  I think another mile went by as we slowly got closer and closer.

But alas, both the four-wheeler and rider had to stop for a road crossing, so we'll never know if Nimo could have caught up on his own.  After the road crossing, a few riders went on ahead, and I stayed to chat with the lady who had been cantering.  I guess that satisfied Nimo and he was happy enough to just walk at that point, and we kept each other company for the last 2 miles of the ride while the horses cooled down.

We ended up going 12 miles that afternoon, and what I thought would be a slow, pokey ride, turned into a perfect conditioning ride.  We got quite a few miles of trotting in and I will now never believe Nimo when he tells me he can't give any more impulsion in the arena:)

One of the things that I loved about this ride was that it was essentially put together by one man but supported by his community.  He hosted all the camping and the after-ride dinner and he had personally connected with many of his neighbors to get permission to set up a permanent trail through their properties that would be used once a year for this ride.  My impression of the Midland Outlaws is that the membership was either all or mostly men and that they enjoy riding gaited horses at a pretty good pace on the trails.  But they loved having non-members come to their ride and every single one of them was super friendly to me.  While I don't think organized rides are generally my thing anymore because of my conditioning goals, I will definitely make an effort to go to this one every year...and someday, I might feel confident enough to try that water obstacle:)