Finally! Trails…

It feels like I’ve been waiting months for my trails to be rideable again. Finally, they are mostly dry enough to move out and trot/canter on reasonably long sections. Today was a beautiful day for a ride. I rode King down the road three miles to the Jefferson Forest.

Years ago, the Jefferson was surrounded by horse farms, and the trails were used by horses regularly. I grew up on the prairies, but when I was a teenager (far back in the mists of time), I used to take lessons at one of them (Sundance Farms) during visits to my horse-loving grandmother in the summer. She was very concerned that I would turn into some kind of cowgirl hooligan if she didn’t civilize me with proper english riding lessons. She tried to instill reverence for dressage into me. Something tells me that she would be quite horrified that I ride endurance on a hooligan Arab. Galloping around the trails in the shadow of those long-dead attempts to subdue my rowdy tendencies.

Those farms are mostly gone. Developed into subdivisions. But the trails are still there, being used by hikers and cyclists mostly. The forest is really beautiful. Very hilly and rather sandy, though the trails are generally damp enough under the forest canopy that the sand is solidly packed footing. There are some open big meadows with deep sand that seem to have been taken over by dirt bikers, so I mostly avoid those. King is not really afraid of dirt bikes, but they do startle him. And then, if given the opportunity to greet the biker politely, he tries to bite the bike. Not so good for the paint job. Or for goodwill between trail-users.

We did a little over 14 miles in around 3 hours today. King was actually tired when we were done. Not exhausted, since he was still spooking and snorting coming up the driveway at the end. But tired enough that he took a long nap after he had a snack. I used the heart rate monitor on him for the first time in a long time. His recoveries were good all day, but I could see that they had slowed just a bit by the time we were done. So at least we finally managed to make him work a bit.

Ice, Mud, and Spring Run Off

I’ve been feeling very guilty for not riding much over the last couple of weeks. The footing looked kind of yucky, and I just didn’t feel too motivated. So today I yanked up my bootstraps and took King across the road, figuring that we could just go slow and be careful in any slippery or soggy spots.

Well, yuck. Ugh. And double yuck. The footing is horrible. It alternates between sheets of wet, slippery ice, and bogs of wet, sucking muck. With the additional treat of some pretty deep run-off water washing across the trail in a few spots.

I guess my procrastination was valid. No riding for a few more days. I am really itching to get going with King. He was coming along so well after working through all the snow this winter. I could feel how much stronger he was getting. Now we’re at a total standstill.

I probably ought to get a load of sand put in my round pen, so I could at least do some schooling in there during mud season. Even the footing in there is impossible. The soil around here is heavy clay.

Riding Goals for 2011

I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly what my goals will be for this coming year.

The most important thing to me at this point is just that we get in a full season. Not necessarily every single OCTRA ride, but most. An injury-free season.

Solving our boot issue is a another big one. We need to have a workable booting protocol before the first ride.

Reliable transportation was a big issue last year. So that’s a goal for this year. Though that one is pretty nearly solved.

I’d like King to be able to do at least three fifties. I’m aiming at Aprilfest on May 1 as our first this year.

And that each of those fifties have a slight time improvement over the previous rides. Not fast… just a little bit faster than the last one. Since our benchmark is 9 hours (which is how long Stormont took us), that should be within reach. I hope to NEVER do another 9 hour fifty 🙂

I’d like to do at least two CTRs. Most likely Summer Solstice and Flesherton. But also maybe Seoul’s Corners.

I feel pretty good about our progress so far. King is showing obvious signs of increased fitness. He’s losing weight and looking visibly more toned.

All the trails that I built last summer have been a huge help getting him fit. The entire loop of trails is 5.5 miles. We can’t do it all in winter… only about 4 miles of it is passable. But that’s a whole lot better than the half mile I had before.

I have a truck and a trailer (just need to install the gooseneck hitch in the truck). And although the truck is older, I really like it a lot. It is low mileage, and was used to go to Florida every winter. So it has no rust and is in excellent mechanical condition. It drives like a new truck. The trailer is a 4-horse head to head with a tack room. So I will be able to store all my tack and supplies in it for the season. And I can sleep over the gooseneck once I get a mattress in there.

The saddle that I got him last year (and that we did the fifty in) seems to be working very well. I’ve made some modifications to the flocking that have improved the fit even more.

And we have new boots on order. Glue Ons from EasyCare. As well as a pair of Gloves with the newer gaiters. So, with luck, that will fix his boot issues.

King’s goals are far simpler than mine. He’d like mints. Or oranges. Or… well food. Of some kind. Right now please? Do you SEE how handsome and downright irresistable I am?

Still Evil

It’s been a long, rocky road turning King into a civilized being. Much of it was really just my own damn fault. I wasn’t fit enough to ride a smart, opinionated, extremely energetic young horse back when I was breaking him to saddle. He learned that he could drop me into the closest shrubbery whenever I asked too much of him. But we’ve mostly worked through all that. I’ve developed more sticking power over the years, and considerably more nerve. And he’s developed some manners most of the time.

But today, he reminded me that he’s still got that same personality he always had, bubbling away under the surface. I took him out for a short ride around the farm. It’s about a 3-4 mile loop. The snow is still pretty deep and it’s fairly crummy footing. There is some ice under the snow, and although it’s not actually slippery, it makes the footing quite uneven in addition to being heavy. I asked him to trot along in a few nice level sections that were well packed down. He figured that was an invitation to careen wildly. We had some discussions about what was trot and what was canter (amazing how often he confuses the two). And then we had a discussion about whether bucking was civilized good horse behaviour. Likewise galloping sideways through deep snow. And finally… up a very VERY steep hill bolting flat out. I have to say that I think the devil enjoyed it all thoroughly. His ears were forward and he snorted happily throughout all the antics.

He’s definitely lost some weight with all this winter riding, which is awesome. He’s usually sort of seal-shaped at this time of year. After today’s ride, he got damp with sweat, and it flattened out his winter coat. I could actually see individual muscle definition in his hind end, and the belly is just barely starting to tuck up. Which is not to say that anyone else looking at him would think “thin” mind you. He is still kind of an Arab in a Percheron body. But now he looks like a fit Percheron anyway!

Today’s Ride

Sunday today, so Brooke was here to ride Dressy. Misha came, crippled up from a fall in her driveway, but rode with us anyway. It was a pretty good ride. Six miles in around two hours. I used the GPS, but neglected to turn it on until we’d been out for about 20 minutes. The snow was not too deep, but was very wet and heavy. So it was hard slogging. We walked almost all of it. King has been doing this all winter and he’s showing obvious improvement in his strength. He really plows through even big drifts without much effort.

Dressy had the heart rate monitor on, and she’s actually running a bit lower than I expected. Though she definitely started running a bit higher towards the end of the ride. And Diego is looking very good. He’s put on weight through this past winter and is looking much rounder and not so weedy as he did originally. He doesn’t like the heavy snow, but he is still pretty fit considering how little he did through the fall and winter.

GPS Track