Monday, April 22, 2013

Track my Hack: excellent for over-obsessing in times of boredom

In the past few weeks, we've been pretty well stuck for various reasons - not much riding in the park via the road, and the river was still too quicksand-y to get safely across. It's not just boring, it has even led to minor panic about 'how will I get the pony in shape in the next three months?!'

(Which, for the record? Totally irrational.  Fetti has a perfectly good base of fitness to at least complete another slow 25 by July.  Speeding it up much may not happen, but completing ought to be fine.  Three months: exactly how much time folks recommend for a pasture-fit horse to leg up for a slow 25.)

I did what any crazy conditioning rider would do: I headed out to our tiny little back trails, trotted a few loops at a brisk pace, tracked the whole thing on the iPhone, and figured out how many laps would be a mile.  From one entrance to the woods over to the other is approximately 0.2 miles.  It's about half real-singletrack type trail with twists and turns, and half wider, vaguely flat trail.  Throw in a fallen tree to navigate over and the inevitable barn sour pony wanting to trot INTO home and not back away?  Definite challenge.  A reasonable average speed here is probably a bit quicker than absolutely necessary on the trails, and thus excellent training grounds.

Our first time out (April 14th): 0.4 miles, 4 minutes, 4.93mph (one *full* loop, back & forth to starting point).
April 16th: 1.07miles, 14 minutes, 4.35mph (accounts for additional tree-crossings and discussions about not going home just yet)

April 18th, we made it out on a Real Trail Ride!  Two gaited horses, one golden pony.  Total distance 7.91miles, 2h29min, 3.18mph including a break midway through and walking the last two miles home.

April 20th: jump school in the heat (woohoo! nothing like watching a younger rider hop the pony over a few jumps - and yes, I jumped Fetti a bit too), then into the woods for good measure.  1.17miles, 13 minutes, 5.09mph. We worked bits of canter into this mile.

April 22nd: across the river we go, and no sinking ponies!  4.68miles, 1h19min, 3.55mph. Distance and time starts prior to the river.. and includes Fetti going backwards initially, sideways when I asked her to pass, and generally being a brat about going forwards.  (In her defense, I'd pointed her across the river 2-3 times prior to the Real Ride. She thought she got to be done after that.)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A (brief) photographic interlude

September 2010 conformation photos, sort of.  I don't actually have much in the way of real conformation shots, so these will have to do.  It's important to see both sides in these photos - the distinct lack of mane in some areas, and the scraggly look on the other side.

Looking back through the photos from those first few rides, every photo with me riding the pony has a HUGE smile on my face.  I am not good in front of a camera.  I never noticed the camera those visits.  It took all of 10 minutes, if that, for me to be absolutely convinced that I did indeed want to lease her.
I couldn't consistently get her to canter both directions, but she was small, adorable, and incredibly responsive to the aids.  Some of that responsiveness has been lost in the past two years, and I know that's entirely my fault.  I nag with my leg too much, so she quits listening.  That said, I think I'm mostly okay with that.  It's easier for me to handle a slightly-deadsided horse than one who rockets off at every might-have-been leg aid.

I started off with this belief that I'd just get her in shape for someone else to buy.  I'd give her a job in the meantime.  I wasn't going to be able to get a horse anytime soon.
April 2013.  Twice the amount of mane, but beyond that? I have an awful time seeing much in the way of physical changes.  It's not quite an exact pose and angle match to the first photo, but it's close.

By the time I graduated in June 2012, it was pretty well determined that the pony had decided she was mine.  I was lucky enough to get a full-time job straight out of college.  Some folks get cars for graduation; I got a pony a few months after I graduated.  Certainly not swimming in excess money, but the bills get paid and I make do.

We did our first 25-mile ride in September 2012.  It was a case of fitting the sport to the horse.  She needed a serious job, so she got one!  As best I can tell, Fetti loves going new places and thrives zooming along on new trails.  She may never do a 50, and I'm okay with that.  We can do years of 25s instead until she tells me she's done.  If she ever gets comfortable doing conditioning rides solo, who knows - maybe I will manage to get her in shape for a 50!

I thought once that maybe in my 30s I'd be able to afford a horse, probably some low-level hunter or something along those lines.  Now?  I love my pony, I love our trails, and I wouldn't change a thing.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Feeding changes: revised game plan

I spent most of the past week hacking around bareback for one reason or another.  My motivation tanked, my energy was shot, and I couldn't talk myself into trying a solo trail ride complete with walk along the road.  Said week is thus declared my mental break from real riding, and I can proceed on full-speed ahead from this point onwards!

It doesn't happen often, but there are days where I just plain don't feel like riding.  I know I need to ride, at least let her stretch her legs (ah, the joys of paddock-only boarding!), but real work? Meh.  I'm finally learning to just let it go and not stress over it.  A week off from real work at this point in the season won't hurt anyone.

The good news: our river access is once again open.  The not-so-good news: the other side of the river trail is barely passable if that.  The even-worse news: the river sand itself is boggy and deep, with ponies sinking to their hocks at least twice.  We might be able to do it (we aborted partway through an attempt when the lead pony sunk and decided she was quite done with rivers trying to eat her), I've heard that at least one rider and horse have made it to the other edge of the river and then turned around to come home, but I'm not sure I'm comfortable asking that of Fetti.  I'd rather jog on the highway than risk tendon injury in that kind of sand.  This could be rather problematic for our conditioning plans.

Right now, Fetti's getting a flake of forage hay in the morning, and a flake of grass/alfalfa at night.  No grain, no supplements.  She has a salt block that as far as I can tell, she really doesn't touch.  My goal for the next week is to acquire a large back of loose salt and put up some sort of salt-feeder in her stall, hoping that she'll be more inclined to eat it then.

Vitamin E has been highly recommended (thanks Mel of Boots & Saddles for the detailed suggestions!), so if I can find tablets/capsules, I may give that a try for the next few months.  Natural vitamin E, not just the synthetic.  I know I can give her a handful of grain with capsules 4 days a week when I'm at the barn - possibly all 7 if I juggle my schedule and feed it at odd times.  It's a start!

Hopefully, there will be a followup post in a month or two noting if I see any changes of not.  Basic pony-photo coming this weekend to have a good baseline for comparison.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Woo, technology!

One of my goals for this year was to get a heart monitor, and maybe someday pick up a GPS and figure out how far and how fast we actually go.  Check and check!

A heart monitor was one of my Christmas presents to myself.  Confetti is not an Arab, does not ride like an Arab, does not pulse down like an Arab.  Since that was an issue last year, I want to avoid that this time around.  I've learned some things about her 'baseline' reactions and how best to use the HRM right now:

- with our current setup, it doesn't actually kick in until my weight is in the saddle.  Don't stress before then if I think it's in about the right place.
- 140 is about the edge of her comfort zone.  I can push her past that, but left to her own devices, she'll quit trotting at that til she pulses down some.
- Hills are tough.  Steep hills are really genuinely tough, and she's not just making it up to get out of work.
- We can, indeed, get a heart rate of under 50 when walking at pony-speed downhill.  Going anywhere fast?  No.  Relaxed?  Yep.  This is the walk I need to let her have heading in to the vet checks.  If I push her into a trot to keep up when everyone else is walking and pulsing down, she's unlikely to get to drop her pulse much in the process.

I also upgraded to an iPhone.  With said phone, I promptly downloaded the "Track my Hack" app.  GPS tracking, shows your trail, gives you your total mileage and average speed.  Woohoo!  No more convoluted interpretations of trail signs to try to see how far we might have gone.  Now I can definitively know what kind of speeds we're actually working at.

Which, well, was surprising.  That 3mph walk I usually figure I can do?  Pony can't do.

We did a short loop in the not-raining humidity on Saturday.  It was a slow loop, by human choice more than Haflinger choice.  4.18mi, average speed 3.14mph.  Much of the ride was at a quite slow jog.  Slower than we usually go, definitely.  Faster than Fetti's preferred walk, oh yes indeed.  Both ponies were sweaty at the end of it.  The humidity likely had more to do with that than the difficulty of the workout... it wasn't particularly hard.

I'm looking forwards to doing some faster rides and figuring out what a 5mph average really ends up feeling like, or how briskly we can comfortably go (in company willing to go with us at speed).