Going with a Friend
As I did on the Foxcatcher ride last year, I rode with a friend (two actually!). Having fellow blogger, Saiph, and her husband, Charles, with us helped keep me calmer and Saiph's horse, Lily, was such a great leader. I can tell Nimo is feeling a little more confident and he's doing better at not pulling for so long at the beginning of a ride, but having company is still better than not. Plus, having someone to talk to and/or share the misery makes the miles go by fast. The first loop was almost over before I knew it, and I credit that feeling to being able to ride with such fun and skilled riders:)
Just like last year, I was convinced that I hadn't done a good enough job conditioning Nimo for this ride. In fact, I think somehow I might have done a worse job than I did last year. I barely eeked out an average of 1-2 rides a week during January and February, although I did finally get myself together through most of March and started riding several times a week. But I really needed more miles at a faster pace (in my internal analysis, anyway). The one thing I was pretty consistent about was getting in one good conditioning ride of 10-ish miles almost every weekend, and I'm pretty sure that along with a commitment to dressage lessons every other weekend was what really helped. Another thing we did was more mountain climbing than last year. My actual goal was the OD's No Frills ride, so I added climbing miles to our conditioning work in preparation for that ride. My intent was to ramp up our miles on sort of a linear schedule each weekend, so that Foxcatcher would become a stepping stone to No Frills. As you know, that part of the plan ended up not working out, but it was a good plan, and I think it would have worked if we hadn't had the snow at Foxcatcher. Nimo's time was great on the first loop of Foxcatcher (15 miles in 2 hours and 15 minutes) with a very nice recovery to 48 bpm at the vet check in less than 10 minutes, and I have confidence that he could have at least eeked out a 5 mph pace for the last 10 if we'd tried.
In terms of how we'll proceed going forward, I am currently sort of keeping it together for working with Nimo 5-6 times a week. I know that amount of work is anathema to many endurance riders, who wouldn't dream of riding more than 2-3 times per week to allow for sufficient recovery between rides. I am absolutely not dismissing that wisdom, but Nimo needs a little different schedule, partly because he still needs to improve his fitness and partly because he needs that kind of mental engagement. I first wrote about my ideal conditioning program in this post. If you haven't read it, or maybe you read it before all the comments popped up, it's worth checking out, because Hannah, Funder, and Liz all weighed in with great comments and we had a very thoughtful discussion.
I have definitely struggled to get anywhere near my ideal conditioning schedule, and I'm not really in the ideal location to do the kind of work I'd like to do. That said, I can get close, and here's what my current weekly schedule looks like (with the knowledge that sometimes I swap days to accommodate vaccinations or deworming or weather or footing or hair appointments):
- Monday: 5-10 minutes in-hand work with the intent of increasing over time to about 30 minutes
- Tuesday: Dressage schooling (ride time 1:15, but that includes 10-15 minutes of warm-up and 10-15 minutes of cool-down, so only 45 minutes is really "work")
- Wednesday: Light hack of about 4 miles over flat terrain at a 4 mph pace (walk, trot, tiny bit of canter)
- Thursday: Dressage schooling (ride time 1:15)
- Friday: Off
- Saturday: 10-15 mile conditioning ride over hills/mountains
- Sunday: Dressage lesson/schooling (ride time 1:15)
The miles accumulated with my schedule are not insignificant. I typically count a dressage schooling session or lesson as 5 miles. I did do a little work with my GPS to try to assess the mileage, but it was hard for it to track things like 10 meter circles, so I'm really guessing, and there is probably some variation depending on how much trot and canter work I do. Assuming I stick to my schedule, Nimo is logging in about 30+ miles each week. That feels right for now and if I'm able to stick to a heavier competition schedule this year, he will be getting longer rest periods after each completed ride and I'm sure he'll get lots of downtime over the winter, so I'm comfortable that I'm not asking too much at this point. That said, if I see something that makes me think differently, I will absolutely change his work schedule.
Like last year, I had planned to body clip Nimo for the ride. However, as ride day approached, I could see that snow and cold would mean a full body clip would not be the best choice. I wrestled with the decision of exactly what to clip and what not to clip until the day before I left for the ride. I finally opted to modify the trace clip that he already had into a blanket clip, with a little more taken off the haunches and on the inside of his thighs. So basically, I was clipping all the areas that he tends to sweat on (neck, shoulders, lower haunches, inside upper hind legs) as well as the belly which has two main arteries (or veins, I forget which) that significantly aid cooling. But I was leaving his back, ribs, upper haunches, legs, and head covered for some protection from the elements. I used the medium blade for the Lister Star clippers, which is 2.5 mm.
|The finished product!|
I didn't braid Nimo's mane for this ride. I did fully wash it (the first time in 18 months!), condition it, braid it, unbraid it, and brush it before our initial vet check, though. I had originally planned to ride with it braided, but with the weather taking a turn for the worse, I decided to leave it down to give Nimo some protection from the cold and wet. I think that was the right choice, but I will be braiding it for future, warmer rides this year.
I still don't use a commercial electrolyte product for Nimo. I do add more Daily Red (now called Redmond Rock Crushed Salt) to his feed, though. For this ride, because of the cold weather, I didn't do anything too aggressive. I added an extra tablespoon to Nimo's dinner the night before the ride, an extra tablespoon to his breakfast the day of the ride, an extra tablespoon to his mash during the hold, and an extra tablespoon to his dinner that night. My rationale for this was that even on warmer rides, I haven't had trouble getting him to pulse down and he has done a pretty good job of drinking during the ride, at the hold, and after the ride. With the cold and his clip job, I wasn't expecting him to generate a lot of sweat. Even though he did not drink as I had hoped, I have no way of knowing whether electrolyting him more would have helped. A lot of riders (who did electrolyte) still reported that their horses didn't drink much or at all during the ride, and as you know, continuing to electrolyte when the horse is not drinking is not a good idea. I'm standing by the protocol I used because Nimo did get an A on hydration at the vet check at the hold and the only thing I'm going to experiment with is the possibility of having something like Gatorade or another beverage on hand to see if Nimo will drink that over water in the event that I feel like he needs to drink but isn't. Although, I'm pretty sure this ride was a special case, and hydration on cold, wet rides is probably not my biggest priority for the rest of this ride season.
Camping for Nimo
Corral - I used six 10' long by 5' high Economy Corral Panels to make a small pen for Nimo next to the trailer. I've used these panels for four rides now, and while they can be a bit heavy and cumbersome, they don't take long to set up and they provide a very secure place for Nimo to stay. I may look into lighter weight panels at some point in the future as I get older and more feeble, but for now, these are doing the job well.
|Picture from last year's OD ride because I spaced taking a picture at Foxcatcher|
Camping for Me
Kodiak Canvas Short-Bed Full-Size Truck Tent - I've used this tent for three rides and a camping trip now, and it works well. It is kind of annoying to set up, but if I had something fancier, that would probably be annoying to maintain, so I'd rather have a bit of set-up time at the ride and then be able to basically wad the tent up in a pile to pull out in weeks or months later with no harm done. The tent provides enough space for a cot for me plus a cooler, heater, and still more space for bags, boots, and even a chair if I wanted one. I also like that it gets me off the ground and I can set it up so that I can see Nimo out of one of the windows. The one drawback is that after it is set up, it prevents me from taking my truck to do things like get water (important at Foxcatcher where there is only one water location and it is always far away from my camp site) or dropping off crewing supplies at an away hold (important at the OD where the hold is not in camp). What I did at Foxcatcher was get the water before I set up the tent (bonus points to me for procrastinating about setting up the tent so long that I realized I needed to get water for Nimo and connected the dots on not setting up the tent until I'd used the truck). At the OD, I think the ride management will take my crew bag to the away check for me, or I can probably beg a ride from a friend in return for brownies or something:)
|Picture is from when I tested the tent at my house because once again I spaced taking a picture at Foxcatcher|
|My daughter testing out the cot|
Mr. Heater F232000 MH9BX Buddy 4,000-9,000 BTU Indoor-Safe Portable Radiant Heater - This heater is a life saver. It heats up my tent within minutes even on the low setting, and I've yet to be anything other than too warm. My only complaint is that the one-pound propane tanks will run out in 6 hours or less, which means getting up in the middle of the night to change the tank. There is a way to adapt it to allow the use of a larger 20-pound tank, and I am thinking about looking into that option for my fall rides this year. I probably won't need it until then, though. The other things to be aware of if you use this type of heater are venting your tent just a little (I leave the bottom of the door unzipped a few inches and then upzip one of my windows a few inches too) and making sure nothing can get too close to the front of the heater, which is ridiculously hot because you know, it's basically on fire from the propane. I generally place the heater in a corner of the bed of the truck and put my cooler on the other side to prevent blankets that might fall off or shift to the floor in the night from getting close to the heater.
Coleman Twin LED Lantern - I upgraded from a small LED lantern I'd been using in part because the thing sucks batteries like you wouldn't believe for the meager amount of light it gives off and also because my daughter appropriated it for her play house. I ended up going with this lantern because it reminds me of the lantern we used when my family would go camping when I was growing up. That lantern was gas-powered while this one needs a whopping 8 D batteries. That makes it kind of heavy, but I do like the ambience:) And it has a much brighter light. So for now, it will stay as part of my gear unless or until I find something that I think will work better.
KMASHI 10000mAh MP816 Dual USB Portable External Extended Battery Pack Power Bank Backup Charger - This handy device provides multiple charges to my cell phone, which is great for rides like Foxcatcher where I actually have cell phone service. It does take several hours to fully charge a phone, but it has worked well for me on a couple of rides now, and it gives me some piece of mind that I won't be out of contact with the real world because I drained my phone batteries.
Saddle - I've been using a Specialized Eurolight for I think about 18-20 months now. I loved it when I got it and I still love it. It is comfortable for me, seems to be working for Nimo, is fantastically adjustable, and it provides incredible stability over rough terrain.
Saddle pad - Last year, I started using a Supracor saddle pad. I originally hated it when I bought it and didn't bother using it for awhile because it seemed so stiff and unlike saddle pads that I was used to using. Over time, though, I started to use it more and more because I wasn't happy with the basic fleece pad I'd been using and I wasn't ready to spend even more money on yet another saddle pad. Eventually, the pad started to grow on me and now you would have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands to take it away from me. I've realized two things: first that the pad gets more flexible after it warms up with the horse's body heat and second that it really can alleviate pressure points because of the way the material is structured. If you had a really small, sharp pressure point, I don't think it would help with that, but if you have a minor fit issue, I do think the pad would resolve it to some degree or at least prevent a pressure sore from developing. The structure of the pad definitely took some getting used to, but now I wouldn't ride with anything else.
Bridle - I use a Classic Jubilee Halter Bridle custom made for Nimo by Taylored Tack. The color is royal blue beta (#522) and I had a couple of ear pieces made with the Fire Dance overlay to add some bling. The reins have the same overlay plus the rubber grip material and all the hardware is stainless steel with the buckles being Horse Shoe brand with the black enamel (what can I say, I grew up showing western!). I love the halter/bridle combination, although the fit with the halter noseband and the hackamore noseband can be a little tight. It is wonderful to be able to unsnap the hackamore and still have the halter on - it makes bridling a horse who is a little excited about a ride so much easier! I'm also thrilled that I don't have to care for this bridle like I would leather. Hosing it off cleans it right up and I would never switch back to a leather bridle at this point.
|Note that this picture was taken over a year ago and I have adjusted the halter portion of the headstall so that the noseband sits a little higher|
Girth - I'm still using the County Logic Dressage Girth that I got when Nimo was probably 4 years old. It really needs to be replaced because the leather is really suffering. I did try a mohair girth last fall, but it was a no go. Because of where Nimo's girth line is in relation to the billet straps on the saddle, a straight girth just will not work. I've been eyeballing the StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth and the Mattes Athletico SlimLine Short Girth as possible replacements. I finally decided to order the Mattes girth in spite of the jaw-dropping price because I like the idea of having something washable. I suck at taking good care of severely abused leather tack and I think I'm more likely to throw something in the wash than scrub it clean. Also, I got the Mattes girth from Dover Saddlery, which means if it doesn't work as advertised, I can return it. (Dover does carry the regular Shoulder Relief Girth, but not the StretchTec version.) I'm not sure if I'll have enough time to test the Mattes girth before our next ride, but I will try to let you know how it works out within a month or two.
|You can see how the billets are much farther back than Nimo's girth line - the angle of the County Logic girth is a good match for that differential|
Boots - I rode in my Dublin Pinnacle Boots. I had recently gotten a new pair of Ariat MaxTrak UL Endurance Boots because my old Ariat Terrains were, well, old, and they have several holes in them now. But, the MaxTraks are not well suited to riding in rain - I'll try to do a more thorough review later, but essentially the top of the boot over the toe area is mesh, so water literally goes through it like a sieve. Whereas, my Dublins are heavy duty and waterproof. Or they used to be. I'm pretty sure the waterproofing needs a refresher, but they still were the best choice for the conditions.
Socks - I don't think I've ever commented about my socks before. I have viewed socks as simply socks. I have disdained all forms of non-cotton, inexpensive socks for my whole life. Why on earth would I spend more than $5 for multiple pairs of socks? As it happened, I was at Dover Saddlery a couple of weeks before the ride, picking up some last minute supplies. I was with my daughter, which is a huge mistake. It's hard enough for me to get out of the tack store with just the things I went there to get, and when I go with her, there is all the kid stuff that looks so cute...Anyway, she was desperate for a pair of horse socks (purple to be exact) and while we were looking at them, it occurred to me that I maybe should reconsider my previous position on socks. There are a lot of Smartwool socks at Dover and they look fantastic, but my skin is not particularly found of wool and they all felt just a bit scratchy to me. I did manage to find these Goodhew Jasmin socks that only had 30% wool and they didn't feel scratchy when I touched them. So I bit the bullet and paid $17 for a single pair of socks (highway robbery!). I figured they would not work out, but I rode in them a few times anyway, and they actually seemed OK. Not too thin, not too thick. A shorter length because I don't need a sock that goes over by whole lower leg and adds bulk. A fun pattern. And a foot-saver at the ride. Because apparently wool doesn't feel cold even when it gets wet. And wet my socks did get. But my feet never got cold. Hallelujah! I am now completely committed to these socks, at least for cold/wet weather riding.
Breeches - I ended up riding in my Irideon Polartec Power Stretch Knee-Patch Breeches. I normally would have ridden in my lighter weight tights, but with the cold, I opted for something heavier. I was concerned about chafing inside my knee, which is a problem I've had with more than one pair of breeches/tights over the years and I'd never tested my winter breeches on longer, faster rides. But they were warm, so I decided to risk it. And I was very glad I did. They probably were a little too much for the first part of the first loop. But as temperatures dropped, I'm really glad I had them. They didn't rub and they kept my legs warm even when they got damp (probably from me sweating during the first few miles).
Raincoat - I definitely got some funny looks from people in my Muddy Creek Long Raincoat. I bought it after a particularly unpleasant conditioning ride in rain, sleet, and snow, and I'm so glad I did. I admit that the fit on the coat is a bit strange. I ordered the small size, and it was still big enough for me to fit a second person in the coat with me. Yet, the sleeves were just barely long enough. But, it stayed put when I rode and covered my whole saddle, which meant my seat was dry. It even covered a little bit of Nimo's back/hindquarters behind the saddle, which was also a plus. And, the hood is big enough that it will fit over a helmet. I ended up not doing that because I just like my head to be really mobile, but in a real downpour, having that hood would be awesome. Getting on Nimo in a long coat is kind of a challenge, because I had to try to keep all that fabric from getting in the way, but it was doable and worth it to be dry. Also, there was some leaking at the neckline and the ends of the sleeves where my shirt peeked out. I think both problems could be resolved with some tweaking, but even having the protection that I did have was huge. I will never be without that coat again!
|It may look like a tent, but it works!|
Gloves - I've been riding in the Roeckl Chester Gloves for at least a year, maybe more. They are synthetic and I'm not super happy with the way the palms have worn (the fabric has cracked, although it still maintains its structure) because it doesn't look very good. However, they cost a lot for gloves, so I'll use them until they get holes:) I will say that despite getting completely soaked very quickly, my hands never felt cold as long as I was riding or at least moving. Once I stopped to sit down, I felt the cold quickly, but overall, I think they performed about as well as could be expected for thin performance gloves. I'm not sure there is a better solution for that particular situation aside from having spare dry gloves, which I did have, but never felt compelled to use.
Foxcatcher's hold is at base camp, so last year, I really didn't do a lot of preparation at the crewing area, thinking that I could just vet Nimo through and let him hang out at the trailer. I did have a bucket of water for him, but that was about it. This year, thinking I would be going to No Frills next, which has an away vet check and no access for riders to bring their stuff to the crewing area (the ride management brings everyone's stuff and provides horse water, hay, grain, sandwiches, and people water), I wanted to try out a crew set up that could work for No Frills.
The first thing I did was buy the EasyCare Stowaway Deluxe Hay and Crew Gear Bag. Snug Pax also has a couple of gear bags to choose from, but I opted to go with a less expensive option that could be shipped for $5 in two days:) However, at rides where the mid-ride vet check is not in camp, it could definitely be useful to have one bag at the hold and another at the crewing area in camp, so it's possible I'll try a different bag for that and compare the models. I had the bag monogrammed with a "G" and added a name tag to help keep it identifiable as mine. Then I filled it with a sweat scraper, small feed pan, collapsible water bucket (in case I wanted to sponge, hahaha!), two quart-sized plastic bags full of feed (one for the hold and one for after the ride), a bottle of blackstrap molasses (has potassium for a safer way to dose a horse with a hanging heart rate), a cooler, and a flake of hay. There was still plenty of room to add another flake of hay (especially useful if the hold area will be used more than once), a couple of hoof boots, and a few other small miscellaneous things like extra beverages and snacks for the rider. I like that that the bag has two big compartments (one for hay and one for cooler/blanket and feed), one long, thin compartment (for things like sweat scrapers and tools), plus three small compartments for smaller items that need to be kept separate. Because of the rain, I put the gear bag inside a large garbage bag to keep everything dry.
In terms of water, I upgraded from a small 5 gallon bucket to a larger-sized 10-ish gallon bucket. I also kept a five gallon bucket full of water that if emptied could be used to run water from the main tank back to the crew area.
If the day had been hot, I think I would have had the perfect set-up. As it was, Nimo didn't want to drink (and neither did Lily or Gracie), so that was a lot of extra hauling of water for nothing. But, the crew bag items worked well. I was able to get a cooler over Nimo quickly after getting in to the hold and I was able to dump his feed into a small container to hold for him while we walked back to the vetting area. He continued to eat that feed up until the moment we got to the vet, which was perfect. I can see that having a small bucket with a handle would be more convenient than a feed pan for carrying, but the feed pan fits better in the bag. So I'll probably keep using the feed pan and maybe see about figuring out how to put a handle on it. My only issue was that I didn't think about how I would keep using the cooler to walk Nimo back to the trailer, so I had to run a new, dry cooler back to the crew bag (which then of course I didn't use because I didn't go back out which meant carrying the whole thing back). Next time, I will put two coolers in the bag, and then I think we'll be in good shape!
Food and Drinks for Me
I packed a huge assortment of food and beverages: bananas, apples, oranges, yogurt, hummus and pita chips, Utz Salt & Vinegar chips, hard-boiled eggs, sandwich meat, cheese slices, crackers, snack bars, chocolate, soda, milk, Gatorade, plain water, and wine. While I didn't eat or drink even a quarter of the stuff I packed, I had lots of good choices. I did eat yogurt for breakfast before the ride and I had a snack bar at the hold. But honestly, I didn't feel much like eating or drinking, probably because of the cold and wet. However, I felt surprisingly good. Part of that had to do with not getting overheated and the other part was probably that aside from some pulling for the first few miles, Nimo was a remarkably easy ride. I spent a lot of time in half-seat at the trot, which is really not that much work. (My calves paid the price the next day, but any pain that is delayed until after the ride is over doesn't count.) I should have had a little more to drink during the ride, but that's going to be a common theme for me, I think.
So there you have it. Pretty much everything is working now except starting the second damn loop:) There are still some improvements to be made, but I'm getting pretty comfortable with how things are working, which means I'm not quite so stressed before the ride and it also means that I can focus more on taking care of Nimo and me because I know I have what we need. Here's to hoping that we'll be able to put all the good things to good use during our next ride and get a completion!