Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Miles, Mountains, and Moonshine: Ride Between The Rivers Part 2

(In case you missed it, here's Part 1 of my introduction to the world of endurance.)
Photo by Becky Pearman, used with permission.
Ride Between the Rivers race day dawned cool and overcast. The forecast was calling for warm temperatures and sticky humidity. I had come to the West Virginia mountains from the oppressive summer heat of DC for this race and thought this "warm weather" was rather cool; however, the horses and Liz clearly did not agree.

Liz began talking hydration and electrolyte strategy, emphasizing to me how important it would be to ensure the horses drank enough on the trail. She had mixed up her electrolytes for all the horses in our group the night before, and she set about ensuring everyone was all set for the day. Afterwards, we wandered over to the race start to watch the 50 mile race kick off.
The 50 mile race started with much more action than ours! Cameo by Dom, who's ride recap can be found here.
Photo by Dom's Mike, via Facebook.
Liz made sure to tell those of us watching the 50 kick off that our start would be much less exciting. She stressed that we were going to try to walk out of camp, avoiding exciting the new horses and riders too much. With that information under our belts, we wandered off to get dressed and tacked up for the start of our 30 mile race.
All dressed up with places to go!
Photo by Nicole.
I'd stressed over what to wear for this ride for a month, finally deciding on a pair of old full seat Kerrits and my half chaps and paddock boots with a Kastel Denmark shirt. Unfortunately, my full seats were still soaked and sandy from my unceremonious dismount the day before. Liz came to the rescue with a pair of ridiculous orange and blue tights. To my inner dressage queen's delight, they perfectly matched Q's tack and my lavender Kastel shirt. While annoyed at the lack of belt, I jumped at the chance to look like a real endurance rider in my crazy tights.
Pretty mare in her bright orange!
Photo by me.
Q was decked out in her Ansur treeless saddle, that Liz had graciously covered with sheepskin for my non-endurance hardened backside, and bright orange synthetic tack. She wears a crupper. Putting that on gave me flashbacks to my early childhood, where the fat ponies would often go in a crupper to keep the saddle in the right place.

Once everyone was ready, our group of eight gathered together and headed toward the start...
Left to right: Lauren on Shiloh, Me on Q, Liz on Griffin, Charlie on Dakota, Dan on Butch, Jess on Lilly, Carlos on Gracie, and Orion on Nell.
Photo by Nicole.
We were going to be riding this 30 mile race as a large group. This isn't the normal way endurance riders will ride a race. Because we had several combinations of veterans with newbies (Shiloh and Q being extremely experienced veteran horses with newbie riders, and the rest being a combo of experience levels), we were going to try to keep together as long as possible to ensure as many riders had a chance to finish as possible.

As Liz had requested, we kept the departure from camp quite low key. The whole group chatted and laughed as we strolled out onto the trail at a leisurely walk.
Jess and Carlos leading the way out of camp on our first loop.
Photo by Dom's Mike, via Facebook.
Our 30 miler was made up of two loops. Our first loop was 15 miles, with one big steady climb, a steep downhill, and four river crossings. After this loop, we returned to camp for our first vet check and 45 minute hold. Following the hold, we headed out on the second loop a much more difficult 17 mile trail. Much of the second loop was very rocky, narrow, and steep, where we climbed to the top of the mountain. We only crossed the river twice at the very end. This made it harder to keep the horses cool and hydrated.
Continuing out of camp on our way to the start of the first loop.
Photo by Dom's Mike, via Facebook.
The start of our first loop was pretty easy going. We did a little trotting and a little walking. I spent the first half of the loop getting to know Q a little better. She's an amazing horse with a massive trot stride and incredibly smooth gaits. While she is a very agile little horse, she lacks the maneuverability of my dressage horse. I fiddled with her a little, playing with bend and balance changes. With so many miles left to go, I didn't want to wear her out or change her way of going. Instead, I settled for giving Liz a running commentary of the things I was trying on Q. Giving Liz this feedback started her thinking about some chronic weaknesses Q has demonstrated in the past. I love how dressage work helps us pinpoint issues with horses!
The group looking fresh on the main road section of the first loop.
Photo by Liz.
We quickly came to our first river crossing, where the professional photographer was waiting for us. Liz suggested trying to canter through the water, but Q was having none of that suggestion. Instead, we ended up trotting through while I giggled uncontrollably. It was so much fun!
Note the giggling like an idiot.
Photo by Becky Pearman, used with permission
The group traded off leaders, with Dan holding up the back of the group. This camaraderie of endurance riders was a really neat aspect of the race for me. Instead of being every man for himself, riders were happy to attach themselves to groups and be carried along at a similar pace. For some it was about giving confidence to their horses, for others it was about companionship. For our unique group, it was about instructing the new riders and horses and maintaining a positive experience. Most other riders will ride with many different riders throughout a race, as they are all riding an individual pace and strategy. Our group was trying to maintain a group strategy, which made things more complicated.

Still, it was fun to tag along with other riders as our journeys matched up for a time!

Liz did a great job keeping us all together and on task. She was very good about letting riders take control and experience new things, letting both Lauren and I lead at several points on the trail. She and Dan acted as voices of reason, helping us all to regulate our pace so our horses stayed in good shape.
Liz and I embracing our silly sides on the trail.
Photo by Liz.
When we came to the long gradual climb on the first loop, Carlos and Jess were in the lead. The trail was a wide gravel road, so they let their horses out a bit. Q was happy to follow along behind them at a ground-eating canter. I am amazed at the mare's ability to canter on such rough gravel footing without taking a single funny step. She seemed to float over the ground, barely touching a foot to the road. It was truly a unique feeling!

Of course, cantering uphill isn't a smart thing to do when you're trying to conserve your endurance horse's energy. Liz started yelling up to us to slow down on the hill, and I ended up having to urge Q a bit faster to pull up Carlos and Jess who had surged ahead. After pulling everyone to a walk to finish the climb, Liz let me know Q probably could have continued cantering the incline and been fine. However, the less confirmed horses would be too worn out to finish the race if they had been allowed to motor up the mountain at such a pace. As it was, a few of the other horses were quite winded from the exertion.

To ensure all the horses recovered from the climb, Liz had us dismount at the spotter station at top and let the horses have a bit of breather. We encouraged them to graze a bit on the available foliage, and walked them until they cooled a bit. When I first dismounted, Q was breathing a bit hard. Within minutes she had stopped breathing hard, and was looking around bright eyed and full of energy.
A bright eyed Q looks over the other horses, as they rest a bit at the top of the climb on loop one.
Photo by me.
Having a horse completely drenched in sweat, but still full of energy was a new feeling. My thoroughbred doesn't ever really run out of energy, but I can tell when he's reaching the end of his conditioning. Q's condition was harder for me to judge. She would breathe so hard, but then recover so quickly. That ability to breathe super hard for a long time reminds me of my own breathing when I run distance. I started to apply distance runner conditioning thinking to Q instead of dressage horse conditioning thinking. This made it easier to get a feel for when she needed a rest. (Never. She never needed a rest. I'm pretty sure Q could give the energizer bunny a run for his money.)

On the second half of the loop, we crossed the river two more times. Each time we crossed we made sure to slow down and let the horses drink if they wanted. Q only drank at the final water crossing, and even then it wasn't much. She didn't seem dehydrated, so I wasn't too worried.

Another reason we slowed at the river crossings was to sponge down the horses. Each rider had a large sponge tied to the saddle by a long string. The riders would drunk their sponge in the water, and use it to rinse the horse's necks, shoulders and haunches to help cool them.
Our group entering one of the final water crossings. Note Liz's red sponge, ready to dunk in the water and rinse off Griffin.
Photo by Carlos.
Liz wanted to be sure all of us passed the first vet easily, so after our final water crossing we all walked the last bit into camp. At the edge of the field outside camp, we dismounted and walked our horses in. By the time we arrived, all the horses appeared to be in good form. No one was breathing hard and everyone looked pretty fresh.

Vetting in was an interesting process. As we crossed the "finish line" of the loop, our numbers were recorded and our times were reported to us. Following our arrival, we had 30 minutes to strip the tack from our horses and prepare them to vet in. We rode over to our sponging station, manned by the outstanding Nicole (who's write up of her horses and Carlos' trip is here).

Q and Shiloh were ready to vet immediately, so we stripped their tack quickly and sponged off their sweat marks. Then we headed over where the vets took an initial pulse (Q and Shiloh both at came in at 48), then looked over each horse for any issues (specifically: hydration, lameness, and metabolics) and listened to their gut sounds. We then trotted the horses out to allow the vets to evaluate lameness, and pulsed them out. (Q pulsed out at 48 again, 24 year old Shiloh pulsed at an amazing 40) All this information was recorded on each horse's race card.

Vets rank horses on a letter scale (A, B, C, D, F). The goal is to achieve all As on your vet card. Any horse below a C will be pulled from a race. The vets take their job very seriously.
Carlos and Jess waiting to vet in Gracie and Lily.
Photo courtesy of Nicole.
Griffin was panicking a bit about being slightly separated from Q, which kept his pulse slightly elevated. He stayed below the threshold and vetted out alright, but Liz was worried about him. Once we reunited him with Q, he calmed down and looked no worse for wear.

Upon vetting through, we presented our ride cards to have our times recorded. This let us know when our time would start back up, and we could head back out on the trail. We had 45 minutes to care for the horses and relax a bit a camp.

Having a fit horse like Q or Shiloh is incredibly helpful when vetting, as you don't waste as much time trying to get the horse vetted in. As Lauren and I realized, our horses were practically ready to vet the moment we got off.

We fed and electrolyted the horses, then fed and electrolyted ourselves. Being used to much hotter weather, I was feeling pretty great. I drank a fair amount of water, as I wasn't carrying any with me. And I ate a whole pint of strawberries, which I credit carrying me through the final grueling loop. As I am used to hacking my horse out up to 10 miles and riding multiples regularly, the riding wasn't feeling exhausting. I did notice my calves were a bit worn out from the posting trot.

Quickly, it was time to tack back up and head out on the second loop. We gathered everyone together again, and took note of Nicole's request to watch Lily for dehydration issues. The horses seemed reluctant to leave camp this second time, so it took some urging to get them to climb the steep hill out of camp where the photographer was waiting (see photo at the top of the post).
Trying to capture the group headed down the road at a fast clip.
Photo by me.
The second loop started with a fairly flat section on the wide main road. Quickly, however, it devolved into a rocky and narrow bit of climbing. The trail was quite twisty and full of trappy water holes that held us up. With such a big group, we easily became stuck behind other groups on the trail. We would follow them until they either sped up or pulled aside to let us pass.
A section of slightly washed out rocky trail. Many sections were much narrower than this.
Photo by me.
This section of trail was a bit frustrating. The easy pace we held for the first loop wasn't to be found. Carlos often led, sometimes going a bit too fast than the rest of the group should have been going. Liz led for a bit on Griffin, but he quickly let her know he was not comfortable in front.

Finally I jumped into the lead with Q, and we navigated around most of the large mud puddles and twisty turns. Some of the puddles we stopped for, as Q adores drinking from the nastiest muddiest water she can find. I had a ton of fun leading on this part of the trail. It was fun to trot along and try to scout out the best path through the more technical bits. Q was a huge help, often telling me exactly where to pilot her.
Quintessential West Virginia mountains, right here.
Photo by me.
With the trail being quite a bit of heavy climbing, we took multiple breaks to let the horses rest. Q was much more interested in grazing on the second loop, as well as taking a few good drinks of scuzzy brown mud water. The other horses were starting to look a bit more tired. Especially once we passed the first spotter and finished the climb to the top of the mountain.
Partaking of some moonshine at the Rattlesnake Drop spotter station, before continuing our climb. It wouldn't be a real WV ride without moonshine, would it?
Photo by Liz.
Once we reached the top of the mountain, we dismounted and let the horses rest again. The trail was about to make a turn and start on a long downhill section. It had started to rain a bit at this point, misting our already wet horses. Q was doing alright, but the others looked like they would benefit quite a bit from a long walk. The humidity was high, keeping the sweat from drying properly and making all of us soggy messes.
A sweaty Q and I waiting for the rest of the group to catch up with us on the pipline section of the trail.
Photo by me.
We meandered for awhile, letting the horses forage a bit and lamenting the lack of water holes for them to drink. At this point Liz started checking pulses to see how everyone was recovering. Q, Shiloh, and Dakota were fine, but everyone else was struggling to drop enough. We mounted up. At this point, Liz formed a new ride strategy: walk all the steep bits (inclines and drops) and trot the flatter bits.

Soon after moving off, Jess asked me if I thought Lily looked off. When I took a closer look, she did look pretty off when trotting on the rough trail. Jess agreed, and decided to walk her. Carlos stayed with her, hoping Lily had simply stepped on a rock and would be recovered after she had walked for a bit.
Liz and I posing before taking pulses on all the hot and sweaty horses.
Photo from Liz.
Around this time, Liz shared that she was a little worried about how Griffin was handling the rocks. He seemed to be very worried about the footing, and was trying to drag her to the softer footing at the sides of the trail. So far she wasn't super worried, but it was clearly weighing on her mind.

While all of this was happening, the trail started making a substantial downhill turn. Still extremely rocky, Liz decided to hop off Griffin and run alongside him down the descent. Q and I followed her, as did Lauren and Shiloh. We quickly left behind Jess and Carlos, though the others stayed behind with them.
Liz having a bit of a "Forest Gump" moment with Griffin. She just kept jogging and jogging and jogging.
Photo by me.
The trail was extremely rough through this section. Griffin actually handled it beautifully with Liz on the ground. Q and Shiloh did just fine, as well. Though we walked quite a bit behind Liz and Griffin. After the crowd of eight riders, it was quiet and lovely with just the three of us. However, the weight of the time cut off for the race and the distance we still had to travel was weighing on us.
Eventually we hit a slight incline and Liz mounted back up. We waited a bit for the others, where Dan, Orion, and Charlie joined us. They let us know that Lily was still struggling. Liz decided we had best separate so we all had a chance to finish. Our group of eight had come to a point where we were splitting to protect the chances of finishing for the largest group of us.

Our smaller group of six headed off down the trail, finding it finally leveling off onto the main road. All of our horses seemed to be doing alright, so we kept the pace fairly peppy. Finally hitting the finally spotter station, where we found out we were going to be the last riders on the trail. We let the spotters know about Jess and Carlos behind us, tanked up on some moonshine, and headed across the river towards camp.
Letting a hot Q enjoy her time in the cool river.
Photo by Liz.
After the river, we had a quick section of trail through the woods. Liz encouraged me to take the lead with Q, and go for it. This was the most fun part of the trail. Q trotted and cantered along with her ears pricked boldly forward the whole way, and I settled into her rhythm with a smile on my face. By this time I had a feel for her spooks, and just needed to close my legs for her to continue going forward.

At one point, we cantered along through a narrow S-curve between trees. I called back to Liz that Q needs lead changes to make sections like that much more fun! She laughed and told me she's going to have to learn a lot more about dressage before that point.

When we got to the final bit of trail, Liz told Lauren, Charlie, and I to keep trotting on into the finish. She and the others were going to walk in. She wanted to ensure Griffin pulsed down enough and Dan's horse was lame from stepping on a rock. Liz wasn't worried about our horses' pulsing down in the slightest.

We headed off, having a blast trotting up to the finish.
Old Shiloh and a happy Q carrying us to the 30 mile finish.
Photo by Dom's Mike, via Facebook.
Once across the line, we hopped off and began stripping tack and sponging the horses. By the time Liz got to us, she declared both horses fit to vet in. Both passed with pulses in the 40s, As in all quadrants of the gut, and sound trot ups! Griffin passed with pulses in the 50s, and lots less screaming. All three of us completed, with Liz and I tying for last place. (See Liz's full write up here.)

The rest of the group was a more mixed bag. Charlie and Dakota finished without a problem. Butch's stone bruise was really causing problems, and he was spun out of the vet. Orion's Nell was also failed by the vets in the trot up. Neither Dan or Orion completed, but both horses trotted out fine the next morning.

Jess had ended up pulling up out of the race when she and Carlos reached the last spotter. A horse ambulance picked them up and brought them back to camp. Lily had lost a shoe, and was definitely off. Thankfully some farrier magic helped her feel better quickly. Once she ate and drank, she was fine. Carlos and Gracie did finish, but were far over time and so they did not complete.
Q enjoying some much deserved watermelon post race.
Photo by Liz
Once the horses  and camp affairs were settled, Liz and I grabbed some beers and headed down to the swimming hole to wash off the ride and celebrate healthy horses for everyone.
Nicole looks lovely, while in the background I, apparently, am hatching evil plots.
Photo by Carlos.
The ride festivities continued into the evening with a big dinner and awards ceremony. Finishers received a beer mug and access to the keg. In addition to our completion prize, Liz and I shared the stuffed turtle marking our prestigious last place tie.
Don't lie. You'd totally trust us to ride your horse 30 miles over some of the toughest terrain in the US.
Photo from Liz.
Silliness aside, Ride Between the Rivers was an amazing experience. I might have left West Virginia little addicted to the sport of endurance, and with even more respect for the crazy things our horses do for us. I want to extend a HUGE thanks to Liz for all her mentor-ship, and for giving me the chance to experience such a wild adventure.
Photo by Liz.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Riding Lately

#barebackturnoutstandards
It's been hard to write recently for a couple of reasons: lack of time and lack of excitement.
Happy horse. Happy rider.
This isn't to say things have been bad. No, no. Quite the contrary.
#horsecuddles
Nope, instead my days have been full of spending time with my happy horse.
#girlplease
And enjoying the slow process of incremental progress.
#dawningoffourthlevel #shhh
Each day we work on relaxation and throughness.
#nightrides
Then we work on maintaining a good rhythm in half halts, and developing more collection.
#gallopfaces
Then I'll look into lateral work, and test obedience to lateral aids.
#postridewrapslobbers
Most days, that's where we end. My time during the week is limited, so a 30-40 minute ride is all I have time for.
#morningrides
Most days I don't even put a saddle on either. It's all about maximizing my time.
#hackdays
Once a week we'll go for a hack. Sometimes it's a quick mental break around the property. And sometimes it's a long drawn out trot/gallop session for fitness.
#happypony
And once a week when I've actually put a saddle on my creature, we'll put the pressure on that lead change work. The work on relaxation has really gone a long way to making our changes better. The idea of multiples required for fourth no longer seems completely out of reach. This floors me.
#cozybarn
But overall, the progress is very slow, yet steady. I know we're knocking down barriers to a move up, but there's no huge achievement or milestone to celebrate. Only the quiet enjoyment of a team enjoying their daily work.
#lovelydays
And really? Can you ask for anything more?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Crossing Disciplines... and Rivers: Ride Between the Rivers Part 1

The whole adventure started innocently enough. "Would you be interested in riding Q in an endurance ride in August?" Liz asked.
"That sounds like fun, but..." I replied.
"Great! I'll get you all set up, don't worry!"
... and so I had agreed. Though, I honestly wasn't sure to what.
This, apparently. In all of its utter glory.
Photo by Becky Pearman, used with permission
A month before the event, Liz started sending me prep info: an email from the ride organizer detailing the trail conditions (read: tough), suggestions of what to pack for 3 nights of moderately primitive camping (note: food, also blankets), things she needed me to bring (mainly: stirrups), and idea of what to wear for the ride itself (suggestion: crocs?! That's a thing?!).

It was at this point that I began to panic. The last time I went camping was in the Boundary Waters, which is full on primitive camping. I had some sort of idea in my head that we'd show up and be camping BWACA style, then riding forever. In my horror, I left all my packing until 9:30pm the night before I left. I'm honestly surprised I remembered to pack pants. (Aside, thank god I remembered pants.)

Imagine my joy when I rolled into camp and spotted campers, with generators, and porta-potties. Though a far cry from the luxury of your average dressage show, maybe we wouldn't totally die.
Look at those porta potties in all of their glory. They even had toilet paper most of the long weekend. Also, that horse on the right is tied with a collar. My inner pony clubber started screaming immediately. I shut her up with tequila.
Photo by me.
Guys, endurance is a whole new world. Let me explain in handy type-a-kid bullet points:
  • Bright colors are the norm. I wore a neon red shirt that normally makes me stick out at the barn, but here I was hardly even a blip on the color radar.
  • No one wears breeches. Knee patch tights? Okay. Bright colored normal-people tights? Yeah. That's where it's at. Full seat breeches? What. A. Weirdo.
  • Tall boots? Hahahaha. You're lucky if people wear boots at all. Crocs were pretty common riding wear. So were running shoes and hiking boots. Pretty sure I saw a barefoot kid trot past.
  • Tack is plastic. It's probably also some kind of neon color. I assume this is to locate you or your horse, lest you wander too far off trail.
  • Leg protection? What's that? The majority of horses sported very little or no leg protection, despite being on fairly rocky and difficult trails. And here we dressage people bandage legs for a foray into a perfectly groomed soft arena...
  • Stalls are for losers. Most people traveled with portable corrals for their horses, or simply tied them to the trailers. With collars.
  • All these fit and hot horses barely contained in rope corrals and ties never blinked an eye at the shenanigans of the camps many drunken yahoos (Um. Hai.). I was legitimately impressed. I saw two horses lose their brains over something, and each time the issue was fully and easily resolved. I'd like to see your average fit dressage or event horse try that.
  • The horsemanship was stellar. While people weren't handling horses up to pony club standards, they were totally involved with all aspects of their horse's care. Heart rates, respiration, quality of feet, shoeing, conditioning, training... everything. To some degree, that's more impressive than your typical sport horse rider.
  • Horses are skinnier here. As with any endurance sport, the horses are definitely on the lean side. That said, some were maybe skinnier than I'd be comfortable with. I guess I can say that about some marathon runners, though. 
  • All breeds, colors, types were welcome. Just a small section of horses I saw included, Arabians (obviously), a Belgian draft, thoroughbreds, a welsh pony, gaited horses, and every mixed breed under the sun. Horses were generally smaller than I'm used to (15 hands seemed about average at this ride), but there were definitely plenty of outliers. Endurance is seriously an anything-goes type of sport.
This motley crew definitely shows the wide variety of horse breeds and sizes!
Photo by Dom's Mike, via Facebook.
Liz settled me in immediately, and we enjoyed my dressage queen gift of prosecco and wine glasses (silicone ones! super handy!). After dinner (and quite a few more drinks) I got acquainted with my ride partner, Q (On Cue). Bareback. With a few drinks under my belt. Because... safety third.
This is Q. She's a Morgan/Arab mare of dubious background that Liz has turned into one hell of an endurance horse. Liz and Q finished the Old Dominion 100 in June, something I'm still pretty much in awe of. On top of being a BA endurance mare, Q is one hell of a good looking little horse!
Photo shamelessly stolen from Liz
Actually, Q is a total sweetheart and put up with our shenanigans with grace. We eventually put the horses away and headed towards bed... three huskies in tow.
Sonka, Kenai, and Lyra. We had a very recognizable camp of pointy-eared howling things.
Photo by me.
The next morning, we saddled up before the heat struck and headed out to get acquainted with the trail. I decided to let Lyra tag along on the trail, as we were planning to go only 6 miles or so. Both horses have been ridden around Kenai plenty, so I assumed this would be fine.

And it sort of was...
Look at Lyra go!
Photo by me.
Liz has talked a lot about Q's violent spooking, but I think she's maybe under-represented the action. Q doesn't so much spook as teleport. One minute we were standing just in front of a puddle, and the next Q is four feet to the right, standing on my ankle. Meanwhile, I'm fully submerged in a deep caramel-colored mud puddle, dress boots, breeches, belt, helmet and all. We think she spooked at Lyra, but I'm still not entirely sure what happened. Thankfully I didn't hit my head!

Luckily, the mud was very soft. Once I beat Q off my leg, I quickly realized that:
1. The leg was not really hurt, just really deeply bruised.
2. I had mud IN MY EYE.
3. I would need to wash off before getting in the saddle.
Bath necessary. Mud coverage = extreme
Photo by Liz.
So,we turned around on the trail and walked until we found a spot where I could walk down to the river. I dove in head first, complete with boots and helmet to wash the mudd from everything. I managed to climb back in the saddle, and we were on our way, with no more spooks.

On the way back to camp, Lyra even learned to cross the river!


That afternoon we did vet checks with all the horses set to compete out of our camp, and set them all up with their numbers. The vetting process was fascinating. While vetting Shiloh, the oldest horse of our group at 24, I learned that endurance is a zero tolerance sport. Whereas dressage, and many of the other USEF sanctioned events allow small amounts of NSAIDS and antibiotics to show in drug tests, the AERC doesn't allow anything to show. Even topical antibiotic creams are outlawed, and horses are watched like hawks to ensure they eat nothing illegal. Having worked shows with USEF testing, and showed under USEF drug rules for years, I was amazed at how stringent AERC rules were.
Painting a number on Shiloh. Trying desperately to fit in by wearing florescent orange.
Photo by Liz.
After dinner, we settled back to camp to await the next day... and the race.
Photo by me.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Cross Training the Dressage Horse: Jumping with Friends

Some of you may have known that Guinness was trained as a hunter before I acquired him. I joke that he's basically the George Morris of horses. Jumping is easy for him, and he knows all the rules. I'm pretty sure he counts down his strides. He's embarrassed by poor turnout. And, he demands good hands and a solid release from the rider.
"Woman! You best wrap those polos evenly! And your lack of proper footwear is embarassing!"
If his rider is wrong, he rolls his eyes and not-so-gently reminds you to sit up and ride like less of a sloppy mess by bucking after the line. If the rider is out of his way enough, he'll turn himself inside out to nail the line, and canter away in perfect balance.

Honestly, it's really just absurd how much he enjoys the job.

Though his fetlocks make jumping regularly a bad idea, I do like to throw in a jump or two every few months or so just to let his brain have some fun. It's good dressage cross training (bulk up that butt!), and helps give him a break from my constant micromanaging (note to self, less of that mkay?).

So, when my friend Lauren (Who just started a blog! Check it out!) asked if I would mind being the safety-second and support person while she did worked her Training horse through some uphill grid work in the back field ... I leapt at the chance.
Go, Eddie! Eat that grid for breakfast dinner! 
Lauren had set the grid along a relatively steep grade on our back hill. The distances were set short, since we'd be jumping it from a slow canter/trot and heading uphill. She'd tossed the wooden liverpool few strides from the end of the grid, "just for fun."

Of course, the horses didn't realize we'd left these landmines for them. The moment we topped the hill they were convinced we'd laid a trap for them. Thank god for dressage training, though. I was able to keep Guinness very straight and moving forward, so the liverpool was never really an issue. And despite knocking everything down the first time through, he quickly remembered how to jump like the pro he is...


The jumps stayed super low, which was a blessing. It turns out jumping in a dressage saddle with long stirrups is maybe not the most secure of positions. I tried my best, but felt very behind the motion for the whole exercise. Thank god my horse is a total saint!

Maybe when the ground gets softer, we'll do this again...

Have any of your done any great cross training lately? Does doing something different help your horse feel more confident or happy in his work? Do you ever forget to hike up your dressage length stirrups before jumping?