Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Glenmore Fall Hunter Pace 2015

I'm a little behind on my posts, but about a week and a half ago, I picked up a friend and we headed south to Staunton (pronounced like Stanton for those who are unfamiliar with the area).  Each fall for the past three years, I have entered the Glenmore Hunt's Fall Hunter Pace.  I have always enjoyed it so much and I was excited to have the chance to go again this year. 

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, hunter paces are long cross-country courses (typically 6-10 miles).  There are natural jumps out on the trail like coops and big logs and there may be gates to open or other obstacles to get through.  Competitors ride with a partner and the goal is to get through the course in the "optimum" time.  How the optimum time is determined can vary by event, but at the Glenmore Hunter Pace, it is determined by averaging the ride times of everyone competing in a particular division on the day of the event.  So the optimum time is unknown to everyone prior to the ride and it varies from year to year, depending on the weather, the footing, and the composition of rider/horse teams in the division.

Typically, English hunt attire is required, but many hunt clubs host "fun" hunter paces in the fall that don't require that level of formality.  For the Glenmore event, you don't even have to ride in English tack.  There is actually a division specifically for western riders and I have entered both that division as well as one of the English divisions and ridden in my endurance saddle (and bright blue beta biothane bridle) for both without even the slightest raised eyebrow.

This year, because my partner was riding a horse who is literally the perfect horse for a leisurely hunter pace, we entered the Hilltopper division, which is for riders with English tack, but for whom jumping is completely optional.  I didn't think we were ready for the Hunter Optimum division which is for teams who plan to jump most of the jumps and move out at something close to a hunt pace.  The terrain in Staunton is essentially mountainous, which means that I like to go at a slightly slower pace than say crazy hunt people on supremely fit horses.

After checking in, we got our horses ready and headed out to the start line.  To mix things up, the course would be run backwards from what I was used to, so that added some interest.  We walked the horses for the first 10 minutes to help warm them up, but then Nimo caught sight of a large group of horses, and he clicked into endurance ride mode.  I hadn't been expecting that because, in the past, we rarely have seen other horses on the trail, and it is usually just an occasional passing of a team or being passed.  Somehow, though, quite a few teams got jammed up. 

Over the next mile, we all worked on sorting ourselves out and adding some space between us.  We did end up leap-frogging with two other teams for pretty much the whole ride, but that was OK, because I'm pretty sure hunt riders are about the same as endurance riders in terms of friendliness.  One thing I was worried about was Nimo's ability to let the horses in front of us trot off into the distance and out of sight while not acting like a complete idiot.  He is normally pretty good on trails when we're on our own or with small groups, but race brain sets in when he thinks we are at an endurance ride and he can feel quite strong and difficult to hold back.

And, he did fuss a little when we slowed down to let the group in front of us go, but I turned him in a circle and made sure he knew he still had a buddy, and he actually settled pretty quickly.  Yay!  My friend was not used to doing a lot of conditioning work in the mountains, so she requested that we keep the pace to a dull roar and do a fair amount of walking, which we did.  But we also got in some good trotting and even several strong canters up hills.  Nimo did a simply beautiful job of moving out up hill and still remaining very controllable.  We also did do a few of the shorter jumps.  There are always plenty of logs that Nimo feels comfortable at least stepping over and he even trotted a couple of them in addition to leading almost the whole course.  There is one coop that I didn't feel comfortable attempting at this ride, but I think we'll be ready for it next year!

Nimo was so alert because two teams were passing us.  He desperately wanted to follow, but tried hard to be good!
I am a little embarrassed to say that I didn't even ride with a watch.  Despite winning our division last year, I really don't enter this event for a ribbon.  Because of the way the optimum time is calculated, I think it is blind luck to place.  Plus, because we had entered what I thought would be a faster division than what we entered last year, I figured we would probably be too slow.  However, I estimate that we did the 6-mile course in about an hour and a half.  When I ride with my western partner, we usually do the ride in about an hour and 45 minutes, and I knew we'd definitely gone faster this time.

Ahem.  So, as it turns out, we didn't place in our division, but we may very well have placed if we'd entered the faster Hunter Optimum division that I didn't think we would be a good fit for.  The optimum time for the Hilltopper division ended up being an hour, 59 minutes, and 42 seconds while the optimum time for the Hunter Optimum division was an hour, 29 minutes, and 42 seconds.  I think it is possible that I now have a different sense of what slow is:)  And that might explain why my partner asked us to slow down more than once,even though her horse is pretty fit for a non-endurance horse...And it's possible that my horse may now be much fitter than he was last year.  But here's the thing - I thought we took it easy on the course.  We definitely could have gone much faster, which is kind of cool.

I found the course a bit intimidating the first time we did it and even last year, I thought it was still fairly challenging.  This year, it was literally no big deal (including the 10 foot drop-off that normally Nimo would have balked at, but that he didn't even blink at this year).  Yes, there are several pretty steep climbs that Nimo typically walks, but other than that, the course is well-suited to trotting and cantering.  And Nimo had so much energy left at the end.  The only time he didn't lead was the last half mile or so to the finish line because I could tell he still wanted to go, so I put him behind our partner, whose horse was tired, and let him set our pace.

While I love our accomplishments out on the endurance trails, I think I love our progress in other areas even more.  After each endurance ride that we do, I notice an increased confidence in Nimo (and me too!).  I know that many riders prefer to settle on one discipline and focus on improving in that area, but I have to be honest when I say that level of focus isn't for me.  I grew up riding a horse who could literally do anything (except stand still), so I learned how to do halter classes, western pleasure, western riding, reining, barrel racing, pole bending, jumping, and trail riding to the extreme.  Except for a multi-year commitment to dressage that ended up hindering us more than helping us, I've always wanted to do lots of different things with my horse, even if that means we never excel at any one thing.  There was definitely a period of time when I thought I'd be stuck in a dressage arena forever and the idea made me very unhappy.  So I'm beyond thrilled whenever I can do something different with Nimo - especially if it is totally breed inappropriate (team penning is now on my bucket list if I can only get Nimo over his absolute terror of being near cows).

When I first started on our endurance journey, I thought that we were doing what we were doing out on the trails so we could participate in endurance rides.  But it turns out that what we were doing was getting more confidence so that we can do both endurance rides AND other stuff!

11 comments:

  1. Great stuff! Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Agreed. I like to do/want to do a multitude of different things with Ruby. A hunter pace (or several) is definitely on the list - they sound like so much fun!

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    1. I hope you get the chance to do a hunter pace, Melissa:) I think you'll really like it!

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  3. You'd love this then: https://www.facebook.com/groups/477448832312521/

    Interesting.....from looking at the schedules and the photos, I don't think they do 2 day rides with camping. The camping part was something I enjoyed.

    CMO is the most fun I've ever had on horseback.

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    1. I do know someone who does mounted orienteering with her horse and she loves it. Regrettably, neither Nimo nor I has much of a sense of direction, but maybe we could learn!:)

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    2. There should be someone who will take a beginner out for her first time or two, and a sense of direction is not as important as determination and willingness to stay on trail for up to 6 hours. You don't need to do it alone until you choose to, and even then you can choose to do a short course. After 8 years of CMO I never felt I had a good sense for the map reading, especially in comparison to when I took my husband to his first CMO and he had no trouble at all with the map. But if you've ridden a particular area more than once, you have a great advantage. After a couple of rides in an area you know, you are filled with this wonderful, grounded sensation and then you can start helping new people. There is an element of sneakiness in this sport that I have not experienced in any other, but the deviousness is so much fun. Ask your friend about the devious aspect.

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    3. Hmmmm...now I'm definitely intrigued:)

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  4. Hi Gail, as usual super awesome stuff and (as usual) very envious. Plus jumping! WOW It's about 2 above zero right now and we're snowed in so no riding, just dreaming about future rides. I really enjoy vicarious adventuring through your blog. As always, love the pics of your area. It's like you're riding in the footsteps of Jeb Stuart out there. Also really enjoy your observations about your work on trails was to help out with endurance but it helped out with all kinds of other stuff. I kind of took the opposite approach with trying out all kinds of different horsey activities to help me and my horse out on trails-and we ended up being better at all kinds of things. Like I want to learn jumping in the arena so I can take it out to jumping over downed trees on the trail instead of slowing from a trot/canter to a walk and stepping over...or going around. I guess the more things we do with our horses, the better and more rounded everyone gets. The best stuff though is when your horse is so tied into you as a leader that they can stand and-even if they don't like it- stay with you mentally and physically when all the other horses head off in another direction. You and Nimo are doing fantastic! My current winter daydream: get a better truck and drive out to Virginia and do some of those rides! WOW P.S. Happy Thanksgivng to all of you from all of us out here in the Northern Rockies! :-)

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    1. I think the benefits of cross-training definitely go from arena to the trail and vice versa! My next post will touch on how work we've done in the arena helped us in other ways. And I still don't miss those winters! I hope you stay warm and I'd love to see you at a ride out here!

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    2. And Happy Thanksgiving to you too!:)

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