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.