Sunday, March 22, 2015

Foxcatcher 25: T-minus 3 weeks

As I wrote in my last post, yesterday's ride was going to mark the time of my decision on whether Nimo and I would go to the Foxcatcher Endurance Ride this year.  I was planning to haul over to the Manassas Battlefield for a ride with USTR.  There are several members who are endurance riders, and I would be riding in their group so I could get a good pace and distance for conditioning purposes.

The ride didn't start until 11, which was nice, because it meant I didn't have to get up until a little after 7.  And I was able to stop by the grocery store and associated Starbucks for coffee on the way out to the barn.  (Every USTR ride includes a potluck lunch afterwards, which is so nice.  I, however, never seem to have enough time to make extra food, so chips and salsa were my contribution).

Everything worked like clockwork.  I got the trailer hooked up and tack loaded.  Luckily, I'd thought to make adjustments to my saddle the night before, so I didn't need to mess around with anything.  I've been experimenting with different pads and I was planning on giving my Supracor saddle pad another chance.  I have spent months despising that pad because it cost so much money and feels like a plywood board.  Plus, it is thick - maybe 3/4" - and it messes with my saddle fit.  For some reason, I have recently come to think more fondly of it, probably because it doesn't require washing in the washing machine like my other endurance pad, and laundry is a very dirty word in my house right now:)  Anyway, I made some adjustments to the shims in my Specialized endurance saddle and I wanted to test the fit on the ride.

My horse looked like a mud explosion, but it was too cold to really fix it, so I just put him in the trailer and planned to apologize to anyone who could see him and might possibly be offended by his muddy self.  He was wearing a blanket because I recently clipped him, so I figured his top half would be decent (although I later discovered he did manage to get quite a bit of mud under the blanket).

We got to the Battlefield earlier than I expected because traffic was light, so I had a chance to chat with a couple of people I knew.  (It's so cool that I know people now - I used to be terrified to go to these rides because I didn't know anyone, but now that I'm getting to know people, they are almost fun!)  And I scrubbed the mud that had dried on Nimo, but there was nothing I could do below his knees - the mud was thick and wet.  Plus, I figured within 10 minutes on the trail, all the horse's legs would look like Nimo's anyway:)  The ride organizer had assured everyone that the trails were not muddy.  Because I live near the park, I knew that was highly unlikely given the massive amounts of precipitation we've gotten during the past month as well as the rain/snow/sleet/and then rain again we got on Friday.  However, I needed the ride and there are sections of the trails in the park that are pretty firm, no matter what the moisture level, so I knew we'd be able to trot/canter at least some of the time.

I got Nimo saddled up and we were underway at 11:01.  I was riding with the "fast"group, which included just 4 of us.  The other three ladies were endurance riders of varying seriousness, so I was hopeful we'd be able to do a good pace.  The original plan was to do the 10-mile main bridle trail, along with a 4-mile side loop, but as we got on the trail and discovered how muddy it was, the other three ladies were of the belief that we should skip the 4-mile loop because it was likely to be the muddiest part of the ride.  Part of me understood - riding in mud is not fun for riders or horses and there is always the risk of slipping or a soft-tissue injury.  However, Nimo handles mud pretty well because he spends at least 22 hours a day in it and the mud was rarely deep enough to be truly difficult to get through (although one horse in a different group lost a Cavallo hoof boot - they were brand new and I suspect probably not fitted correctly), so I just wasn't that worried about it.

We trotted anywhere that there wasn't mud, and we managed to average out to a 5 mph pace, which Nimo handled quite easily.  In fact, after the first several miles, he even led a few times and did a pretty good job maintaining his pace.  And we did throw in an extra half-mile loop with a nice canter hill.  And Nimo actually cantered.  And it felt really good.  He was balanced and in control, even though 3 other horses were running with him.  As he took the lead (slowly and only by a few feet), one of the other horses started throwing a fit at being passed, and one of his reins snapped off.  His rider called out that she was in trouble, and I was able to easily slow Nimo down and have him immediately stand still while the other rider fixed her rein.

At this point, I'm going to give a little advice:  Don't use scissor snaps on the ends of your reins to attach them to your bit/hackamore.  I used to use them, and I've had the snaps come undone twice during sort of critical moments on a conditioning ride.  I now have one rein attached directly to the hackamore and another with a different type of snap that doesn't have the scissor mechanism.  I don't have a picture of it, though, and it's not a common type of snap.  I think I picked it up for a different purpose and ended up swapping it with a scissor snap after a couple of near-catastrophes out on the trail.  I'm actually thinking about taking the snap off completely and just directly connecting the rein to the hackamore, though.  The reason I put the snaps on in the first place is because I imagined that I would be getting off my horse all the time and leading him/tailing him over difficult terrain.  That really hasn't happened much and my reins can be unbuckled easily enough that it isn't that big of a deal.  I'd rather not lose a rein when my horse is cantering down the trail.  Anyway, the rider whose rein came off had scissor snaps on, and that same rein actually came loose a second time during the ride.

After the rein was reattached, we got back underway, with Nimo in the lead for awhile.  Then, we alternated the positions of the horses quite a bit for the second half of the ride, which was a great training exercise.  And we did another short canter.  This time, a different horse acted up and almost went out of control.  It may have had to do with hearing Nimo cantering behind him and approaching (or it could just have been the excitement of cantering).  We never got very close because I'm a big believer in having LOTS of space when horses are cantering just because it takes some time to slow down and I was trying very hard not to have a repeat of the previous canter incident, but Nimo's thundering hooves probably do sound scary.  I feel a little bad that Nimo's canter may have caused a couple of problems for other riders, but I was surprised that experienced endurance horses would have trouble with cantering with other horses.  I just sort of assumed that they would be OK with it because I've been passed by so many of them in the past:)

I'm not really sure what I could have done differently in either case, though.  The first time, Nimo happened to be just behind and to the side of the lead horse when we started cantering.  His canter stride is pretty big, and over time, he just gradually drew even to the lead horse (we were still well to the side, though, with a good amount of space between the horses).  If I had tried to slow him, I think he would have broken into a trot because he doesn't really have a super slow, more collected canter like what you'll often see with Arabs.  And I really wanted to be able to do a forward, sustained canter for the whole hill (which wasn't very long).  If we had been trotting and came even with or slightly ahead of another horse, I wouldn't have given it another thought (and in fact, that happened several times during the ride before and after the cantering without a problem), and so I guess I didn't think about it at the canter either because this particular horse has been doing endurance for awhile and has a very experienced rider and Nimo's approach was just so gradual.  In the second case, the horse had been acting up a lot during the ride, which is why we stayed well back (like 50 feet back).  Still, Nimo did gradually start to catch up despite my best efforts to keep him cantering as slowly as possible, and I'm wondering if the horse got upset at hearing Nimo's impending approach.  Anyway, it all worked out OK, and neither of the riders seemed upset with me about the incidents, but I think I'm going back to just trotting Nimo in the back for group rides.  I don't want to be the cause of an accident, even if it is indirectly.

Because of the unpredictability of our pace, I didn't get much of a chance to take pictures, but I did take this one as we walked the last mile or so back to the trailers.  And yes, Nimo was leading.  In fact, I think he led much of the rest of the ride.  Before you think I should be proud of him, though, you should know that he was quite alarmed by the fence.  He was convinced that horse-eating monsters were lurking amongst the branches, so there was a lot of snorting and weaving as he tried to come up with a plan that would get him back to the trailer without being eaten.

All-in-all, the ride was awesome.  I enjoyed chatting with other endurance riders, and I gathered as much intelligence on the footing at the Foxcatcher ride as I could.  Nimo handled the pace really well, and could have gone faster and farther.  There was only one stop to pee near the end of the ride, which is quite typical, so whatever was bothering him during our last conditioning ride is apparently OK now.

All of that means that I'll be sending in our entry for the Foxcatcher ride tomorrow, and I'll be frantically cleaning out the truck, which still has a lot of stuff in it from our ride at Fort Valley last October.  (On second thought, maybe I can just leave everything in there...)


  1. Love your blog as ever, and your bravery.

    Thought of you today:

    1. Thanks, Lytha:) And wow on the video! Galloping with only a cordeo! Must add that to my wish list!

  2. Hell to the yeah! Great ride.

    ...and yeah. Just rearrange the trailer, no need to actually do something crazy and clean it :-P

  3. If you can do 10 miles at about 5mph you'll be fine for Foxcatcher and as far as cleaning out the trailer - Meh, straighten it up a bit and you're good to go - it's going to look like a bomb went off by the end of Saturday no matter what :-)

    1. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Sherry:)

  4. Good luck at Foxcatcher! I'm sure you'll do great!