Saturday, June 20, 2009

We did it!

I achieved my goal, and finished in less time than last ride! I placed 9th... out of nine... but only 2 minutes after the 8th place finisher!

Summer is finally heating up here. And last weekend's ride was on the first real warm day we've had. So even though I groaned when I realized I would have to wake up at 6am, I was happy we were scheduled to start an hour earlier than normal.

It was a nice relaxing morning for me. I got to the barn by 7 and was on the road by 7:30. I actually arrived on time for once - no rushing! I got signed up, tacked up and was actually waiting around for the ride to start. Unheard of!

It was overcast and breezy, but you could feel the heat coming, so we were all anxious to get started. I stood around with all the experienced endurance horses at the start line. They were all anxious to get going... Willow was more anxious to get as much grass in her stomach as possible.

The time keeper finally said it was a go and we were all off quickly. Willow and I stretched out in a nice trot, but we were quickly outdistanced by the others. That was OK, I had one person behind me; he had a young horse and wanted to teach her to not gallop like a mad thing at the start. Willow was too sensible to do something like that... that would be too much like work!

We maintained a good trot for about a mile and a half before we were passed by the rider behind us. But that didn't last long as I called him back from the wrong trail. We continued on.

All of a sudden, a pack came up from behind us. I was confused! These people had long outdistanced me! They had taken the wrong trail.

Willow and I had a BFO (blinding flash of the obvious)... this meant we were in the lead! We'd NEVER been in the lead before! Now she got excited! I asked if they (six of them) wanted to pass. But they said Willow was setting a good pace. This surprised me as Willow was 2-3 hands shorter than all of them. And she wasn't even doing her power trot!

Willow was determined to stay in the lead, even though I could feel that she wanted to slow to a walk. She realized that they would then pass her. So she started playing her passive-aggressive/ psychological games. She would suddenly swerve, with no warning to me or the horse behind her, from one side of the trail to the other; like a car in movie chase scene. She would spook at nothing, as if to say "ahhh! It's gonna eat us! Turn around and run away! I'll distract it while you escape! (hehe)". And turning to give the evil eye while dancing around and casting a voodoo hex. OK, so the last was an exaggeration! BUT SHE WOULD IF SHE COULD!!!

Finally, after a mile, I pulled her back and let them pass. I didn't want her to blow her wad, all at the beginning. I got off and walked for a bit, let her cool down. Then I got back on and we began motoring again.

Around mile 6, the rider with the young horse came up behind us. Luckily it was a mare, so Willow wasn't tempted to kick her head of. The ONLY gelding she tolerates seems to be her son. Interesting.

My riding partner had done lots of endurance rides in the past, competing at the Nationals last year, so I took the opportunity to learn. He set the pace, but very soon his young mare refused to pass Willow. She was quite happy being second. And that's how Will liked it!

It started to heat up. We got off and walked a mile or so, trying to get them to drink at the many puddles. I was just hoping Will wouldn't get down and roll like she had last year here. I brought extra shoes this year.

We got back on and tried to finish the loop quicker to give us more time for the second one. We ended up pulsing down in the same time as last ride - 2h 53m. But this time we had already done 15+ miles. I was satisfied.

I ran Willow through her vet check - well actually she ran me! I practically had to sprint to keep up with her. The vet said she looked great. She had actually improved on a few of her scores and her slight limp from vet-in had gone away.

We wandered over to the trailer to get some food into Will. I had made up a bowl of soaked alfalfa cubes before I left. I added some ground flax and another 1/2 litre of water and pushed it in front of her. She slurped it up double time and then went over to her hay. I mixed her up a second bowl; 3/4 lbs Grow N' Win pellets, 1+ litre of water and a dose of electrolytes (safe to give her now that I got some water into her). This too disappeared in short order. I scarfed down a sandwich, then started brushing her off.

We were ready ahead of time at the end of our hold, so I let her have some more grass. She needed the water and electrolytes in it for the second loop - it was heating up. I set out with my riding companion of the first loop.

Neither horse was feeling really excited to be leaving camp. By five miles into the second loop, my legs were killing me from constantly urging her on. My companion had given up even any pretense of trying to pass me and set a quicker pace. The young, inexperienced mare wasn't prepared for this type of work and wasn't really feeling like moving very fast.

If I had been alone I could have probably completed faster, as Willow wouldn't have been constantly waiting for the mare behind her. We could have cantered more and made things interesting for her.

While I did cross the finish line before him, I had problems with my HRM and so we pulsed down 2 minutes after the young mare. Oh, well. I had still obtained my goal for the day and was very satisfied with Willow's performance.

Willow once again raced me up and down for the trot-out and got great marks for the day. Actually prompting the vet and the scribe to say that this was the best they've ever seen her at a finish, even though she did complete it faster. Awesome!

My goal for the next ride is to keep her in shape over summer and at the August Spruce Woods ride, to complete it another 15 minutes faster. ... now I just need to get hubby to stay home and watch the other animals for the weekend!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

First ride of the Season! Bird's Hills Park

June 1st

Wheww!!! Tiring but AWESOME!

The trails in Bird's Hills were perfect. The trees were finally greening up, the sun was out and there was a nice breeze. It was warm enough to please me and with the cool breeze and sun dappled trails Willow was pretty pleased too. I spent the whole day in the trees, listening to bird song and smelling the cherry blossoms. It was the perfect day for a ride.

Hmm, that might have been part of my problem... too much time stopping to smell the flowers!

Willow was the fittest I had ever seen her. She has gone from ~850 lbs this winter to a fit 720lbs. She has so much more energy. The past two weeks I've been riding her around home.

She is pretty herd bound so I tried a new program with her. I took her out alone, so the others didn't have to try and keep up with us. We WALK down the road to the highway, dance over to the dike, and trot the full length (1 mile). Slowing only to cross the road and turning onto the other dike. We canter a half mile down there, cross back onto the road beside us and I try to contain her in a power trot down the road - paved or gravel; she ain't slowing! Then we make another turn into a wide grassy ditch and canter again (slow down; I said CANTER!) another half mile, walk a hundred feet or so back up to the road and trot the rest of the mile. Then in the turn to home, she has expended enough energy I can now walk. Whew!

At the barn I quickly switch to a halter and lunge her like crazy - no breaks and no treats! My GPS says this is another mile. Then I snap on the reins to my sidepull and remount and off we go to the highway, the whole time convincing her, yes, we really DO have to leave the yard! At the highway, as close as she will let me get to the whizzing by cars and trucks; I hop off, loosen the cinch and let her eat. Five minutes of that and then we walk home.

Every time, it gets easier to leave the yard. But man, it is taking more and more to tire her out! Remind me again why conditioning is a good thing?!

On Saturday, May 30 we did the full 25 miles and in the time allowed so we got our completion, but not a placing. We were considerably behind the leaders.

The first loop went well. Mostly trotting and the occasional canter and walk. We did 13.4 miles in 2 hours 53 minutes. She vetted in very well with only a few B's - a bit of dehydration. We wandered over to get lunch. Mark had joined me and helped us both get fed. I gave Will lots of soaked concentrated feed and a shot of electrolytes. I gave her a few bowl fulls to be sure she got enough to eat for the second loop. The second loop felt a lot faster. It wasn't much shorter at 11.3 miles but we did it in 2 hours.

About 3 miles into the second loop Will was getting very bored with all the trotting, and didn't want to go anymore. We were walking about 1.5mph, with her head turned back in the direction of camp. So finally I thumped her into a canter. She perked up a bit, so I urged her on, and on; soon we were tearing down the trails at 20mph. She had woken up. But then I though; no way we were going to finish in this amount of time! But I wasn't going to repeat my mistake of last year, so we went for it! I really pushed her. And we got back before max time. Whoot!

She pulsed down real quick and vetted pretty good. A little thirsty and STARVING, but that's it.

As I stood there letting her eat I chatted with the vet. I was getting to know this vet better, and realizing what a wealth of information he could be. He asked me what my goals were with Willow and the sport. He had been the Canadian team's assistant vet when they went to Malaysia last year, and was at the Nationals in Alberta last year - he knows his stuff!

I replied, in order of priority; I want to have fun, I want Willow and I to do it healthy, and I want to improve every time out! I know we will never be competitive with the others, she has to take twice as many steps, but it won't stop me from riding!

He said it is all achievable; he thought Willow still had lots of gas in the tank at the end of this ride. So now I have a better game plan and next time I will push her harder!

My goal for the Mars Hills ride in 2 weeks is to finish 15 minutes quicker.