Some of you who read about our adventure in NH last weekend may have noticed we only had 4 horses with us. This is the story of why Amira didn’t make the trip.
In early April, our good friend Vikki Fortier shared a post for a 7yo, 14.2hh, QH/Arab mare that was available for sale. Of course, Anna commented and Vikki and Anna agreed what a great horse this would be for our girls. So you see, this is at least partially Vikki’s fault, after all, she is an enabler. We called and talked to the owner. Gem was very green and in Vermont. We didn’t really need another horse. So we decided to pass.
3 weeks later, Vikki gave us a call that the owner was desperate and needed to rehome Gem right away. So, the next day at 6am I found myself starting a 500 mile round trip to pick up a little mare in VT. When I got there, Gem was in worse condition than expected; I got her loaded and headed home. She attacked the hay in the trailer. Whenever she ran out, she would start kicking and I would know it was time to stop and give her some more. She was underweight at a body condition of about 3, her hooves hadn’t been trimmed in probably 4-5 months, and she had clay/mud caked on her legs and belly.
Gem was even more of a project than we expected. Her behavior was semi-feral in nature. While she clearly didn’t trust people, she also doesn’t fully understand herd dynamics. Anna made the decision to put Gem out with the other mares (how did we end up with 3 mares?) in order to provide her some companionship. She gets nervous when her friends are out of sight. As a result of her already higher stress level from the move, we decided to leave Amira at home with Gem for last weekend.
Gem has been with us for 2.5 weeks. She is gaining weight steadily, her hooves have been trimmed (and will get trimmed every 4 weeks for rehab), and she is getting better about being handled regularly. Tonight, Vicki rode her for the first time. They did some walking and a little trotting. When asked to walk over ground poles, Gem lay down. Throughout the summer, Vicki will be working with Gem to improve her saddle work and introducing her to trails.
By the way, yesterday Vicki had her hair dyed purple.
Daylight until 7:30ish each evening means dinner after 8 at our house because we are probably in the barn.
Last week was spring break for the kids. They rode horses basically every day it didn’t rain (or in between rain showers). They also got in a lesson with Ann Bowie. On Friday, Vicki rode Mojo and Alex rode Teddy as they went out together for a 6.5 mile ride in the forest. Living next to the trails has some significant advantages when you like to do distance riding.
All the rain is causing the grass to turn green and creating plenty of puddles for the peepers to start growing tadpoles.
Easter Sunday was no different. I went for a good 2 hour run in the morning to get ready for the Seven Sisters trail race coming up in 2 weeks. There were some lingering showers, so we delayed the family trail ride until the evening. Anna got a new (to her) Reactor Panel saddle for Amira for her birthday, so we have been making some adjustments to the tack. We didn’t start riding at Arcadia until 5pm. 2 hours of trails put us back home around 8 to do evening chores, eat dinner, and crash for the school week.
This evening, the weather was awesome. I went for a nice run after work and when I got home, Vicki was riding Duchess and Alex was tacking up Teddy. They both worked in the arena with Anna coaching from the side while I was doing some work around the house. Amanda saw that I had been running, so she changed clothes and laced up her sneakers. I saw her resetting Anna’s Garmin watch as she started running laps around the front pasture. It’s a 1/8 mile perimeter and she did her 8 laps to get in a mile. When I asked why she went running, she replied “I want to stay fit and I like running. It’s just something I find fun.”
It’s been a while since we posted, but that doesn’t mean nothing has been going on. This year, we are participating in the Green Bean Endurance Challenge. We are the only team that is a full family (I think) and our team name is “No Child Left Behind”.
Since we have 7 horses and plan to ride a lot of miles this year, we have been working on getting in slow conditioning miles rides. The weather hasn’t been very cooperative, but today was decent, so we saddled up 5 mounts and headed out. We rode for just under 2 hours and only covered about 7.5 miles. The goal wasn’t speed, but rather restoring fitness that has been lost through the winter.
I rode Mojo, Anna rode Dakota, Alex rode Teddy, Vicki rode Duchess, and Amanda rode Huey. Amira and Devil stayed home for this outing. As I mentioned last fall, we are going to be riding in shoes this year. So far, Mojo and Teddy are both shod all the way around and Devil has front shoes. I’ll be honest, I’m really impressed with how much nicer Teddy moves in shoes over boots. I am working on spreading out the herd’s shoeing schedule so all 7 are not due at the same time. The move to shoes from boots (after 12 years riding without shoes) is a big shift for our family and has come due to a number of reasons.
First, is quality of the boots. I have given my honest feedback to the boot companies. I have seen a decline in the quality of a number of boot products and I’m frustrated with the constant wondering what will fail next.
Second is cost. Yes, I am a dealer for multiple boot companies which means I get boots at a discount. However, I also don’t pay labor for the shoeing. Based on the decline in quality, we are wearing out boots faster than in years past. That coupled with the increased cost of the hoof boots means it is now cheaper for our family to ride shod horses over booted horses. This wouldn’t be the case if we were paying for my labor expense associated with shoeing. For perspective, I recently found a receipt for a pair of Epics we purchased in 2006 for $102. Those same boots today, purchased from the same retailer, would cost $199.82! I’m not sure what all is driving the cost of boots up, but it is driving me away from using the product.
The last factor is convenience. Let’s be honest. Booting gets tedious. It’s really nice to pick out a hoof and ride without having to pound boots on all the hooves.
Due to all the rain, we crossed plenty of water. The creek running near the entrance of Pachaug turned into a water-crossing training site. It was between 2.5-3′ deep and everyone went through it (some a few times). Here’s a short video of the kids crossing the creek. Enjoy the pictures from our ride!
This morning the kids were up and hunting eggs at 7. There are no pictures, because like I said, the kids were up. They did follow the “rules for the egg hunt”. Vicki decided to make up rules for the Easter egg hunt and posted them on the fridge yesterday. Here are the rules:
No waking anybody ’till 7:00.
No starting to gather eggs ’till everybody is up and ready.
No opening eggs ’till you are inside (plastic eggs filled with candy).
No stealing eggs from other egg hunters. (Amanda’s rule)
No bikes. (Amanda’s rule to prevent the older siblings from having an advantage)
No candy before breakfast.
Apparently, it was also a competition (because Vicki is quite competitive) and there were pre-determined criteria for the winners.
1st place – Golden egg
2nd place – Silver egg or most eggs
3rd place – Least eggs
It took about 30 minutes for the egg hunt to be completed and judged. I know this, because at 7:30 Amanda showed up in our room crying because she lost. Actually, she got second, which was evident when Alex got upset because a 5-year-old beat him. Vicki collected 70 eggs including the golden egg (can you tell she is competitive). Amanda had 43. Alex had 39. There was no sympathy for the losers. We had a discussion about losing. Not everyone wins in this family.
Earlier in the week, we spent almost 6 hours (4 of which included all the kids) working on cleaning up the tack room in the barn. Saddles and bridles were cleaned. Tack was reorganized. Items were identified to be sold. This morning, we cleaned up the tack room in the horse trailer and then loaded the trailer to haul out for a trail ride.
Today was the first time we ever hauled 5 horses and ponies in our trailer so the whole family could ride off-site. We have a 4 horse slant load trailer, but the rear tack folds flat. Devil and Huey have no problem sharing that space. We left them loose like in a stock trailer and they had plenty of room to move and turn around. We hauled out to Arcadia, which is less than 20 minutes away. Amanda has been on many trail rides with Huey at home, but this was the first time she got to ride him at an away event. Anna still keeps a lead line from Dakota to Huey.
The weather was nice in the mid 50s by the time we were ready to ride and we opted to ride from the Midway parking area, which gives immediate access to nice open fields. The ride wasn’t as peaceful as some, because Amanda kept yelling “Faster!” “Canter Huey, Canter!” We knew her stamina wouldn’t be great with the trotting and cantering (and the temps). Huey was a rock star. He walked, trotted, and cantered at all the right times. Amanda had a blast. She is definitely a speed demon. While she probably isn’t ready for the hunter paces quite yet, she is light years ahead of where Alex and Vicki were at her age as far as trail experience and confidence goes.
Amanda was satisfied after 4.3 miles in 50 minutes (a 5.1 mph average). When we arrived back at the trailer, there was a quick change of Alex off Nike and onto Dakota. Nike and Huey stayed at the trailer with Anna and Amanda while Echo, Dakota, and Devil went back out with Alex, Vicki and I for another 5.7 miles. The second outing was almost all trotting except for short walk breaks and a little cantering at the end. Alex and Vicki have decided they plan to join me for a 25 mile ride in May and it’s time to get kids and ponies ready for the ride.
The second round was a good workout for all involved. Devil is the one we are most concerned about because his legs are so much shorter than Echo’s and Dakota’s. We determined that Devil was able to maintain a nice consistent trot up to almost 8 mph. We were able to average 6.3 mph on our second round, which is well above what we need to average to complete the ride in May. With the kids, faster is actually better because time in the saddle and keeping them fueled with calories will be the biggest challenges. Alex and Vicki tested out wearing their Camelbacks during the ride and that seemed to work. It eliminates them needing any kind of saddle bags and allows them to sip water continuously during the ride. We also bought both of them triathlon shorts to wear under their riding pants to reduce the risk of rubs from 4-5 hours of saddle time as we increase the distances.
By the time we wrapped things up, temps had dropped back into the 40s. Everyone was happy to get home, unload all the gear, do evening chores, and head inside for dinner. We enjoyed some Easter cupcakes for dessert made by Anna, Vicki, and Amanda.
As the endurance training continues, the rides get longer. Today, Anna (on Dakota) and I (on Mistique) knocked out 20 miles in Pachaug. There were no amazing discoveries or insights. No real challenges (other than a couple of new trails we tried that went to nowhere). Because it was the longest ride any of us had ever done, we didn’t push the pace. We planned our route ahead of time and made sure the horses had chances to stop and drink. It was about 56F when we got up this morning, but warmed up to low 80s by the time we finished. We stopped to let the horses drink and munch some grass at 5, 10, and 15 miles.
Our total mileage was 20.75 miles and it took 4:10 for an average speed of 5.0 mph. Once the rests breaks are removed, our average moving speed was 5.3 mph. Anna and I each probably burned about 1400 calories, so overall, a good training day.
If you aren’t interested in the endurance training discussion, go ahead and jump to the end for the pony pictures.
First, through the support from her original breeder and others, we now have a registered Part-Shagya Arabian (and a slight correction to her name spelling). The North American Shagya Association has transferred Mistique Lady’s registration to me!
On Sunday, Anna and I each did our training rides alone. While we plan to ride our first endurance ride together in October, we need to be ready in case something happens and one horse can’t finish.
So, instead of using my Garmin 310XT to monitor Misti’s heart rate on our training ride, I decided to wear my HRM and see how many calories I burned. I keep a separate HRM/transmitter for my running and biking to make it easier to switch between events.
It was in the upper 70s here in CT and we rode 10.8 miles at a 5.8 mph average, which is a normal training pace for us.
I burned an average of 366 calories per hour.
My average heart rate was 112 bpm for 1:52. In comparison, my average running heart rate is usually around 150 for trail running 4-7 miles.
While 366 calories isn’t a big deal, riding for 5 or 6 hours changes things. Suddenly you have burned 1700-2000 hours during a 30 mile LD. While there are many people who can handle that without a problem, you need to know if YOU can. If you can’t handle that much of a calorie deficit, start eating a little snack every hour on your ride to reduce the deficit. It’s just like training for a human only endurance event. The goal isn’t to take in the same amount of calories you burned, but rather to reduce the deficit.
Figure out what works for you during your training rides, even if they are only an hour or so. That Slim Jim may taste good driving down the road, but the greasy chunks might give you an upset stomach trotting along the trail!
Sunday afternoon, Vicki and Devil joined others from Mystic Pony Club for some jumping lessons in preparation for an upcoming rally. Here are a few pictures of Vicki and Devil. She has a bad habit of looking down and right as she goes over the jumps.
When we got home, Anna grabbed a quick cup of coffee and at about 5:45, hit the trails with Dakota for her training ride of the day. She did about 10.2 miles on pace. She also had the added bonus of riding in the dark as she made it home about 30 minutes after sunset. All said, both horses did very well riding solo.
Recently, as I was listening to Vicki get told “Don’t look down when you go over the jumps!” it made me think about trail riding. Where do you look when trail riding. I frequently find myself looking at the ground right in front of the horse as we go along. So, during my ride, I did an experiment. I deliberately spent a long period of time focusing my eyes 15-20 yards down the trail. Then, I would shift my eyes to a point only about a horse length out in front. What I noticed (and expected) was Misti tended to stumble more when I was looking down. Just like a kid looking down causes a horse to be unbalanced over a jump, looking down on the trails interrupts your horse’s balance. So, whether you are jumping or just riding on the trails, keep your eyes up! By the way, it will also reduce the number of missed markers on when you are riding a hunter pace.
In other news, Amanda has been riding Huey a lot more recently. I think the increase in Vicki’s riding and jumping has peaked Amanda’s interest as well. As a result, she is working very hard at keeping Huey trotting on her own, working him over ground poles and small cross rails, and even asking to canter. By next summer, she will be ready to ride at the pony club activities too!
This evening, Amanda saddled up Huey and Vicki got to ride Misti. Vicki has a crush on my mare and is always asking to ride her. Of course, Amanda had to sponge down Huey when she was done. Enjoy the pictures!
This morning the weather was wonderful: mid 70s with a light breeze through the forest. Anna and I took Dakota and Mystique out for some training miles. One of the absolute best things about our farm is the direct access to Pachaug State Forest.
On Friday evening, we did 6.8 miles. It was hotter, humid, and the air quality was awful. Today was amazing in comparison. We rode 15.3 miles at a 5.8 mph average (2:40 total riding time). We have been slowly tweaking our tack for what we plan to use at the 30 miler in October. We recently purchased biothane halter/bridle/rein combos and breast collars for both Dakota and Mystique from The Distance Depot. I am very pleased with the quality and it is so nice to come back from a ride, hose off the tack, and hang it up to dry.
During today’s ride, both horses walked into some water for a drink on 2 occasions. Both horses were calm and level headed. Mystique even had a breakthrough when she was willing to continue trotting and pooping at the same time! It’s the little things that make me happy. The only problem we had was 1 flat tire (boot that came off Dakota) when Anna decided the horses needed to go faster so they could have fun. Dakota consistently over-reaches and strips a boot at about 16 mph (Dakota actually peaked at 18 mph and Mystique at 19.2 mph during that section). Luckily, there was no damage (thanks to a bell boot) and it was a quick fix to resume the ride.
Anna and I both ride with a Garmin 310XT and we have the V-Max heart rate kits that allow us to use the watch to monitor the horses’ heart rates during our training. Just like for people training for marathons or triathlons, the heart rate data is very valuable to evaluate the conditioning of the horses. It has been interesting to watch the changes in their average heart rate over the summer. For example, on June 7th we rode in the WGHA 1st hunter pace for 9.4 miles at a 5.7 mph average. The weather was similar and Mystique had an average heart rate of 119 bpm. Today, she did 15.3 miles at a 5.8 mph average with an average heart rate of 102 bpm. For the same 2 rides, Dakota had an average of 111 bpm in June and 101 bpm today. That’s a significant improvement in fitness. And even better, I have no doubt both could have handled another 15 mile loop. We still have 8 weeks until our first endurance ride, and everything is well on track!
As some of you may have seen Anna’s Facebook post on Friday, we celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary. We didn’t go out to dinner or do anything special. We are saving our celebration for later this year. Anna and I have decided to ride in a Limited Distance (LD) Endurance race in October. The one we have chosen is in Vermont and is only 30 miles long. Others will be doing 50 miles that day, but we want to start out smaller and try it out. Right now, the plan is Anna will ride Dakota and I will ride Mistique. I’m pretty sure Dakota is already in good enough condition to handle the distance.
To support our plan, we are working to have at least 1 longer ride each week (typically on Sundays since that is the only day Anna and I are both available). Since we will be logging a lot more time in the saddle this year, we decided to try out some different trails in Pachaug today. Anna on Dakota, Alex on Nike, Alexis on Ace, and me on Misti. We were planning for about 10 miles, but we took a few new trails. One of the problems is the trails in Pachaug are not really maintained, so we end up riding the gravel road a lot. That’s rough on the horses and not as much fun. Unfortunately, the trails we tried out today are not the ones we will be using for regular training. We hit some trails that were wicked rocky and there was no going faster than a walk. We also went through a lot of areas where we were hugging the necks of our mounts to avoid having our eyes poked out by the pines branches. I actually had to get off and walk with Misti for a while it was so bad.
In the end, we covered 11.8 miles and it took 2:53! It was a significantly slower pace than our hunter pace speed last weekend, but the trail was much more technical.
What we have learned so far in our endurance training:
1. Dakota can destroy some boots! We ride all the horses with Easy Care Gloves on their front hooves. Dakota tends to over-reach with his hind left, step on the neoprene gaiter, and inflict a mortal wound on the boot. So far, he has proven this ability 3 times this season. All 3 times occurred on the same hill as his speed exceeded 15 mph. Something about his canter and over-reaching. We are going to try him in bell boots to see if that fixes the problem.
2. It’s time for some endurance style stirrups. Both Anna and I will be upgrading to wider, padded stirrups to ease the strain on our knees.
3. Triathlon shorts under riding breeches are much more comfortable than cotton underwear during a 3 hour ride.
4. We need to do a shorter loop of 5-6 miles and then drop the kids at the house with the sitter keeping Amanda before going back out. Alex and Alexis did great today, but they were pretty tired by the end. After Alexis got off, I asked how she felt and she said “My legs are shaking.”
5. There are no shortcuts in Pachaug.
6. Both Anna and I need to drop a few pounds and spend some time running/jogging to be in condition to handle the mileage. Anna is headed off to ice her knees as we type. I’m just going to bed.
Here are a few pictures. Amanda was waiting for us when we got back and insisted on helping me wash Mistique.
Now that the weather has improved, we are back in the saddle and riding regularly. The kids are riding 5-6 times a week. Considering last year my rides were measured more in “times per month”, the fact that I have ridden 4 times in the last week is a huge increase.
Last week, I took 2 days of leave. On Thursday, all the kids were at activities, so Anna and I hit the trails with Dakota and Mysti. I was our first longer ride of the season and we went a little over 6 miles in just under 2 hours. We definitely were not pushing the pace too hard, because we were testing out a number of new items along the way.
Anna decided she wanted a Garmin GPS watch for tracking her mileage on the trails. We also decided to buy 2 horse heart rate monitors that interface with our Garmin watches. It isn’t a big concern, but more of a neat thing to have and see how the horses are doing from a conditioning perspective. Since my goal with Mysti is to ride some limited distance endurance with her, it will be a nice accessory for training.
We did get plenty of water and Mysti is fine with it now. The horses both did well, although, I’m not knocked out with the fit of my English saddle on Mysti. I have an Endurance saddle on loan that was used on a 4 mile ride this evening for the first time. While that fit her much better, I’m not sure I like how it fit me.
Overall, we are off to a good start and will be ready for our first hunter pace in early June.