Conditioning Check In

Once again, I’m bouncing back and forth between posting straight to Facebook and here on the space I actually pay for. Folks don’t always follow a link to a blog, but they usually take a few moments to read a full FB post. I value the blog as a much better way to search and save things to refer back to later, the Facebook timeline is garbage for that. In pursuit of this 50 mile ride goal of mine, I’m reformatting a few of my last Facebook posts here, including several conditioning rides and dressage lessons. So much to learn, so much to keep track of, it keeps me busy in the best way. 

Lessons: I’ve started taking dressage lessons from a wonderful local trainer who understands our endurance goals outside the ring (although she did compliment Tarma by saying she’d make a pretty dressage horse). Our aims for lessons are to introduce the concepts of rounding, bending and flexion to help Tarma carry herself (and my weight) in a stronger frame for 50 miles. A fellow boarder has loaned us a Mylar level one bit and it’s really helping me be clearer in what I’m asking. We’re definitely in the “improving in leaps and bounds but they aren’t pretty ones” stage of beginners. Our first lesson was in a squeeze bosal and was a pretty rough, my arms hurt trying to lift her whole head and shoulders, whereas the bit asks her to lift her own dang head. Another struggle is I’ve never had to instill these types of buttons before, I’ve usually ridden trained or mostly finished horses. While I’m not a green rider, I am a green dressage rider, but I’m quite teachable and I only have to be told something once for it to click.

I’m glad I spent my first year with her building our relationship, I know who she is now and how much I can ask of her, because this is hard work for us both. We can eat up mountains together but in the ring Tarma’s barely green broke, and she’s throwing every answer at me when I ask for things. Currently her favorites are going faster (a major portion of our lessons are teaching her that trail walk and trail trot are different speeds than arena walk and trot, which are much slower), overbending her short neck so I end up with no rein contact, and running into walls because she doesn’t want to go that way, stupid human. I’m always quick to ask myself what I’m doing wrong, if I’m not being clear with my hands and seat, but having a trainer coaching us helps me see that it’s not always 100% me, sometimes she just throws bossy young former broodmare attitude at me. She’s used to taking care of herself and being in charge and while I usually say we’re a committee, I have the deciding vote and sometimes we do what I say, when I say, especially when it comes to safety (like not running into walls or off a cliff).

One thing the trainer is helping push me on is cantering in the arena. I’ve pretty much avoided it until now, because we had no bend and were literally bouncing off walls. Hard to trust a horse at speed that won’t turn! We have yet to make a full circuit of the arena at the canter, but we try a bit every lesson. The first tries are usually just a too fast trot, as my internal monologue goes “Ack! Speed! Ack!” and Tarma responds by…not cantering, because she knows I’m not really committed. Once I do set myself and make a plan and commit, she picks up the wrong lead and we careen into an unbalanced turn and fall back into a trot. Last time she got her tongue over the bit and wiggled sideways in surprise but I stuck it and tried again.

I’ve also lost a bit of cantering mojo on the trail, because I know she has serious race brain and will do everything she can to stay in front when cantering with another horse, and her fastest not quite a bolt canter I can totally see myself hitting dirt at. We’ve been doing conditioning rides with a new friend and her already proven 50 mileage mare, and we picked a long ass hill to canter up last ride. I felt I was about to loose Tarma to a full bolt and luckily my friend pulled her mare up in time, and when we cantered again Tarma had a lot more brain power…and realized she wasn’t in as good as shape as the other mare. By the end of the long ass hill Tarma had a nice, low headset cantering going on, and she came back to the trot with just a word. She also really let go of her race brain a couple miles later, when she realized we had another big long hill to climb. She let my friend’s mare trot out of sight, with her comfort gelding buddy already behind us and we enjoyed a few solo miles while she recovered for the charge towards home. With the bit she was a lot more ratable, we managed a 10mph trot home instead of almost 16mph the previous week!

I had planned for the start of our endurance season to be, roughly, two to three LD’s (25-30 miles), then a 50 mile ride sometime in June or July. If she keeps being this strong with good recoveries and no issues, I may just introduce her to a the concept of 50 miles first. She’s a smart lady, she’ll figure out her job, even if we come in overtime our first ride because she won’t rate the first loop and learn to push through her bonk. It really depends on the weather though. I’ve attempted this ride, the Grizzly Mountain Ride, three times on three separate horses as a catch rider, and failed three times for different reasons. I’ve learned lessons from all of them but it’s such a bugaboo ride, held so early in the season (mid-April) and it can either be beautiful weather or an actual blizzard, like last year’s riders found. At least I have my trailer set up so I’ll be comfortable, but if it looks really rough I’ll choose a different ride to start with. There’s enduring and then there’s misery.

This photo was taken at my lowest endurance moment. I didn’t get a pre-ride on this horse, so my first time aboard was ride morning, I couldn’t get my stirrups right, we didn’t click at all, there’s the full on energy of ride morning and trying to find pacing and I gave up three miles in and hiked back to ride camp crying and feeling like a total failure. I took so long to hike back I worried all my friends, wondering what had happened to me. And yet…I’m going back for more!

The fun thing I’m tinkering with is my gear carrying situation. I switched out the leather saddle strings for paracord and a toggle lock, as it’s a lot quicker to remove my jacket and skirt from the back of the saddle that way. I have at current count four Horse Bums bags (two full sets, a boot bag and a pommel bag). I don’t like the cantle bags for conditioning, as it’s hard to get things out of them at speed and that’s where my jacket and rain skirt go. I adore the leather bottle holders that came with my saddle, one for a water bottle, one for carrots/treats/electrolytes, so I don’t want a full pommel bag. I think I’m going to get another Horse Bums boot bag (I may have a slight addiction to her bags) and a pommel bag that matches my new colors of wine red and navy (oh, I also can’t wait for my blingy new headstall and breastcollar from Cascadia Custom Tack!!!!) Either way, I need to be able to carry at least one water bottle (two for hotter rides), quick snacks for me, carrots and treats for Tarma, vet wrap, duct tape, a small first aid kit, wet wipes, headlamp, a multitool and a spare hoof boot.

Always something to futz with! One more trim cycle and then I’m putting EasyCare Octo shoes on (I’m getting them from the farrier this weekend so I can tie dye them!) Tarma’s had most of this week off due to the weather, and I think we’ll take it easy this weekend as well. It’s hard to balance conditioning enough with not over working her, so we’ll keep plugging away at our three rides a week plan, one arena, one slower trail and one full conditioning ride.

More of this please!

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After years of borrowing horses, working to ride and catch riding, I finally have my own horse, a spicy chocolate mare...but also a demanding day job (who doesn't?), a nerdy husband, a soccer loving kid who needs to be parented (by me, duh), and the ultimate trail buddy, a chocolate Labradork!

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