Friday, May 31, 2013

Biting the bullet

Thursday afternoon after the pony's massage, it was too windy to ride - and to be honest, I wasn't highly motivated, and I was willing enough to settle for a pleasant bareback ride around the barn. Definitely lifted her back more, but beyond that could not tell much in the way of improvements.

Friday it was dark. Ponies got dinner and I went home.

Saturday.. Saturday morning, I figured I'd head to the barn and get a nice brisk ride in, see how Fetti was feeling and what sort of improvement there was.  Instead, my five-minute drive to the barn was a ten-minute drive with detours and without clear confidence I could make my turn onto the barn road due to the local Memorial Day parade.. which just so happened to be going on at that time.  Sigh.  Back home I went, to check the times & route and see what time I could safely head back over - and what do I find but a reminder that oh yes, the Civil War reenactment is going on Memorial Day weekend!  Complete with cannons!

I mean, I don't know about everyone else's horses, but I'm pretty sure Confetti is Not Okay with cannons going off a half-mile away when we're in the middle of the generally-fairly-normal woods.

Called, found out the approximate cannon/battle times, and postponed my barn time til late afternoon.  Sigh!

It worked out well, though.  We went on a lovely 9-mile hilly ride, and I had a horse that could really walk down hills.  She wasn't quite keeping up, but we were five steps behind at the very end of the downhill, rather than five steps behind every twenty steps.  I wasn't micromanaging and asking her to sit back on her hindquarters. It was a nice, comfortable downhill walk.  It was awesome.  I was thrilled.

Unfortunately, it didn't last. Within five days of the massage, Fetti was back to mincing her way down hills. Tiny step, tiny step, tiny step. Clearly I was not imagining things on Saturday.

Part of our major challenge with speed is how slow all of our downhills are.  Either we're trotting down and she gets no break (and I get no break!) or we're slooooowly walking down.  It's not any better when I'm off and walking her.  If anything, my horse is slower down hills than I am, and I'm pretty slow going down hills.  Switching saddles has not had an effect - same problem in the English saddle, and I would anticipate the same problem bareback.  We are so slow going down every single hill that we pretty much have to power-trot everything else to make up the time.

Confetti is 17 this year.  I am looking seriously at hock injections.  I don't think I'm using them to push her past her ability level; I think I'm using them to attain a baseline of comfort that probably isn't quite there at the moment.  (We completed a 25, albeit barely, last year. I think we can complete with slightly more grace in the future.) The massage therapist said it's likely that the movement limitations in the hind leg are caused by a combination of muscle tension and arthritis.  I'm inclined to agree.

The vet will be out on Monday. I initially thought I'd postpone til after Fireworks when I had more time - but I have a free week and I might as well make the most of it now.  Hopefully, he'll have some insights, suggestions, and we can get something done to make the princess move more comfortably down hills.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Spoiled pony

I will be the first to admit that I'm not always calm, rational, and sane.  I have been blessed with a pony that (knock on wood) has made it to 17 without any major health issues, is sound barefoot on most of our usual trails, trailers nicely, and has excellent ground manners most of the time.

When she started doing an odd muscle-twitching/kicking sort of thing with her hind leg after some rides, my pony-massage gal got a frantic email asking when she'd be able to make it out.. two months earlier than planned.. right in the midst of the show season starting for all her regular clients.

Bless her heart, she found a spot a week or two later to fit us in - and we're way out of her usual client range, a good hour away from her home base - despite the fact that Fetti's kicking doesn't seem to have presented itself much at all since the email.

The verdict:  Lots of poll tension, which is totally normal and not to be concerned about.  Slightly sore right (I think) scapula.  Could stand to gain a few pounds.  Otherwise?  Pony looks good.  In light of the mincing downhill, I asked about range of motion.  Front legs: excellent.  Better than six months ago, actually.  Left hind: not great.  Right hind: pretty good. 

That does explain the tiny downhill steps.  If she can't physically keep up with the left, there's no sense taking big steps with the right.  My wonderful massage therapist gave me some stretches to do before/after rides with Fetti, though I'm not to expect major improvements immediately.

So.. previously, on Tuesday she got the day off due to a delightful windstorm blowing branches down.  I was very proud when she merely flinched at the noise, but not dumb enough to point her out on the trail after that.  Thursday morning was her massage, and in the afternoon we wandered around the barn bareback with a few spurts of trot.  Saturday will be our first Real Work in just about a week.

For extra bonus fun, I locked my keys in my car at lunch today.  I am SO ready for a good trail ride to clear my head and make the world better again.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Heat training

Heat: the pony's major issue this year.  Unfortunately, it may be mine too.

On Saturday we went out in the late afternoon/early evening to Waddell Creek.  We tried a new trail with some substantial elevation gain/climbing and not a lot of breaks; Fetti was willing, albeit not thrilled and not flying up.  Of the other two we were with, one was slightly less fit and needed a few breaks, and the third is a distinctly Downhill Horse who does not like uphills in any great quantity.. of which we had quite a bit.  There was a lot of stopping involved to convince him to keep going, and frankly he was probably too out of shape for the amount of hills we were doing.  We didn't quite make it to the top, but got close enough for a few halfway decent photos, and turned around to head back down the steep trail.

It's trails like that I feel like I should be able to get off and walk her down... but I know that I have a tendency to twist my ankle even in my Terrains.  Steep downhill with not-solid footing and nothing remotely flat?  I would be asking for trouble, and then I'd have to get back ON the horse with a sore ankle.  I'd happily jog her down solid-packed or dirt roads, but anything trail-like, she gets to carry me down.  When there's that much downhill, too, I don't get to complain too much about how she does it as long as it's safe and we stay upright.

8.81 miles.  She was a bit tired at the end - a lot of straight up and straight down without much in the way of breaks - but was plenty willing to go.  3h10 / 2.78mph, so nothing brisk, just.. a lot of hill all at once.

Sunday morning I thought we'd head out for a quick ride to the Deck and back.  Weather forecast said a high of 78.  Tacked up, hopped on,  headed out in the heat of the day.. and found that I had a pony decidedly unwilling to do a brisk trot unless I pushed hard.  I did ask for some work on the way up, and with the heart monitor attached, waited for her pulse to drop to under 70 while walking (I'd love under 60, but acknowledged we were walking up steps/a hill at the time) and waited.. and waited.. and stood in the shade.. and waited.  Pony got tired of standing in the shade eating and started walking ahead; HR still in the mid-80s.  We walked most of the rest of the three miles, and it was STILL really hard to get her heart rate down.

Mid-50s at a walk is excellent for this horse.  I'm not sure I ever really see much lower than that when moving - maybe every once in a while, but certainly not often.  Working trot is anywhere from 80-120.  Canter I'm not coordinated enough to look at the watch while keeping her going and keeping a decent position!

Our recoveries apparently need major work.. so the heart monitor is back on for every solo ride I'm doing.  I'll pull out some squirt-waterbottles to try to cool her off, sponge her in every stream crossing, and cross my fingers we can get enough early speed to not be doing our final pulse-down in the mid-day heat for Fireworks...

Friday, May 17, 2013

Slow, slow steady miles

This has been a Slow Week.

Following Saturday's traumatic ride and Sunday's vaguely redemptive one, I actually did manage to make it out to the barn on Monday.  Even better: it was still light out when I arrived!  It didn't really qualify as an actual ride, but we meandered around the barn (bareback) with occasional spurts of trot when I could convince myself I wouldn't die trying to post the trot.  Lesson learned, my work pants have an inner seam that is awful for my inner thighs with a bareback pad and a bouncy horse.

On Tuesday we dismantled a very well-built trail obstacle that should never have existed in the first place - ARGH! - and proceeded to have a discussion about how yes, indeed, we could go forwards on the trail without another horse.  Other than the handful of mini-rears, attempts to spin, and refusals to get in front of my leg (the last of which were met with 'okay, let's go canter ten strides then!'), we pretty much just walked three miles or so.

Then I went back to the barn, switched horses and tack, and hopped onto Fetti's mother with a nice cushy bareback pad.  Nice, bombproof, predictable pony; one very sore Fig, ninety minutes of mostly trotting later.

Wednesday, another two miles or so in the not-quite-dark.  Medium jog speed for most of the ride.  Life is always better when I can get off work, get to the barn, and get on my pony.

Thursday had big plans for trail exploring and timing and all that, and then morning errands went several hours later than expected, my trail riding partner for the afternoon wasn't able to make it out after all, and I ended up heading out solo.  The goal: intervals.

Five minutes into the ride, with Fetti giving me a lovely medium all-day trot, I promptly revamped that into goal: maintain trot as much as possible.  Mostly, I have a Big Trot or a teeny-tiny walk or a resentful trot when we're out by ourselves.  We can do all sorts of speeds with other horses, just not alone, so to get a nice all-day trot was really, really impressive.

So, we trotted.  We trotted the flats.  We trotted past a few people (they were stopped, anyway), walked past a dog & her person, cantered once or twice for good measure, stopped and stared at the place where the deer had leaped out from earlier in the week.  And then we trotted, and trotted, and trotted some more.  I really wish I'd had the heart monitor on her - I'll have to do that sometime next week.  A few times she said she was kinda tired heading up hills, so I'd push her to the mid-point or the top of the hill, take a walk break for a minute or two, and we'd head back into that nice easy trot.

The other major difference on this ride was that I started asking her to trot down some of the hills.  Fetti has a full-blown pony walk most of the time.  It's not even noticeably better when I get off of her, she just walks reaaaally slowly.  It seems like I need to give her real walk breaks at her speed during rides.  If that's the case, however, we are going to have to make up time somewhere.  Mincing down every hill at a tiny walk is simply not going to do. 

She does have to sit back and do a collected trot going down, though; I'll haul on her face and make her walk/back up/collect/something if she starts plowing down on her forehand, because that just sucks for both of us.  It's still tough for her, and she can't sustain it for every hill, but the pony's trying now!  Whether it's dumb or knowing terrain or what, I'm also asking her/letting her trot down some of the sets of steps.  She's awfully uncomfortable at a walk, it's not any worse at a trot, and the same general concepts apply - plus, at least once she took herself back to a walk after some particularly jarring trotted steps.  Good mare.

6 miles. 1h 22min. 4.34mph - without pushing her forwards into a Big Trot at all, and with a water/sponge break halfway through.  Very, very pleased.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sometimes I feel like I'm breaking my horse.

I think it's a common fear, the worry of doing too much/too little/the wrong thing/etc.  Throw in a dose of anxiety, first-time horse-owner, and atypical endurance breed?  Some weeks are a lot worse than others.

 Friday was a short loop, 2 miles at a slow jog. 3.17mph.  Not much, I figured.

Saturday we headed to Wilder.  I was quite pleased with her for the first half of the ride.  Forwards, rateable, generally willing and polite.  Frankly even til Twin Gates she was good through the gravel.  Then?  Tension under my leg, a reluctance to trot down hills (from the mare that DELIGHTS in trotting down hills, much to my usual dismay), forwards when I pushed a bit and then she'd just plain quit.

I hopped off, walked, and spent the next mile thinking that I had broken my horse. 

My working theory finally became that she must have to pee.  I knew she had peed around noon when I first showed up at the barn.  At this point, it was past six.  I was reasonably certain she had not peed since then.  Normal horses would just stop and pee, but in the past three years, I think Fetti might have peed with me on her once.  Maybe.  99% of the time, she holds it til we're home.

Whenever we'd stop for a minute, she'd just drop her head to graze.  Pony would reluctantly walk.  Engage her hind end? No thank you.  Trot on? Not interested.  She wasn't lame, wasn't short-striding, was definitely heavy on both fronts but that was about it.  That last four miles probably took us an hour and a half, even once I got back on and kicked her forwards.  There was really nothing I could do other than point her at the trailer and hope she figured this out eventually.

Sure enough, pulled tack, loaded up, and when we arrived at the barn, just a bit of pee in the trailer.  Put her in her stall and she peed a TON immediately.  Sigh.  I'm glad that's all it was, but I have no idea how to deal with it.

I read somewhere that if a horse won't pee on the trail, you just haven't taken them on a long enough ride.  If that's true, I'm in trouble.  That was the most miserable two hours on the trail we've ever had to do.

Total stats: 14.1 miles. 3.4 mph average - not bad when you throw in a broken rein clip, a very reluctant forwards, and a TON of walking.  4 hours, 10 minutes.  Conclusion: we can indeed get to Wilder in 4 hours with those two ponies.

I rode again Sunday, partly because I was so frustrated with the second half of Saturday's ride, partly because I wanted to make sure she really did feel okay.  Took a junior and her borrowed horse and we went to check on a previously-blocked trail.  Trail was not blocked!  Through the river we went.  Neither horse was particularly forwards, but we weren't really inclined to ask for an awful lot, and in fairness it was still reasonably warm.  Fetti was probably a bit tired from Saturday, the junior's horse had probably never done that many hills and miles in one ride, at least not in several years.  9.5 miles, 2.84 mph, walking the vast majority of it.  3h 20min.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Modified Intervals

Yesterday's ride was originally going to be a nice long ride at a moderate speed.  I figured I would have plenty of time and daylight.  This was rapidly aborted when I discovered I had maaaybe three hours of proper daylight by the time I arrived at the barn.  Instead, we did intervals per Mel's suggestion, with a few modifications:

Pony is not allowed to trot down (most) hills.  Exceptions are made if she's polite and collected, but presently, not often.  Pony is instead asked to do a collected walk down hills, and speed is thus utterly appalling on any substantial downhill section.
We have approximately a mile of mostly-flat trail, and it is heavily populated by hikers and dogs.  Generally, we walk past hikers; it's good basic trail etiquette, although terrible for our overall speed.  Once there are hills and elevation gains, there are far fewer hikers - but far fewer flat sections of trail.

Yesterday's ride consisted of a fair bit of cantering, a lot of big trot, and interspersed walk breaks primarily on the really long/steep uphills or the downhills.  I was particularly pleased with how willing she was to go, and how willing she was to leave other horses - we passed two familiar geldings as we were heading out, and there was absolutely no hesitation about doing a Big Trot once we were past.  Good mare!  Overall: 5.41 miles, 1h 14min. 4.38mph.  I quit tracking prior to the last half-mile home; at that point we caught back up to the geldings again and settled for walking home with them.  Given that's a nice flat section of trail, I think we likely would have averaged 4.5mph had we kept going alone.

I was not running a heart monitor on her for the ride.  That's on my list to do for this upcoming week!  Mostly, if she was willing to go, we went.  Verbal or tiny leg cue would usually have her launching into a Big Trot or occasional canter.  If it didn't, and I thought it should have, I'd ask with a little more leg.  Wouldn't go still?  We'd walk another 30 seconds.  She's pretty honest about how well recovered she is.

Pace context: for Tuesday's ride, we had our running buddy with us for most of it. 6.71 miles. 3.2mph, 2 hours.  Pretty much the same trail, minus an extra loop and the non-tracked part of Thursday's ride.

If we can get out tonight, the goal will be SLOW pony-jog speed for a short loop.  Sometime this weekend, a longer ride where we aim for a moderate pace (and the pony learns how to do a normal trot for awhile by ourselves). 

Other goal for the weekend: trail and pony photos!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Current plan

Which is, of course, subject to change!

Two months 'til Fireworks.  Taper off real work two weeks prior, and try not to do real rides over 4th of July weekend!

Once weekly: 3-4 hour ride, ask for Big Trot as much as possible. (Ideally, Pogonip) [Probably on my full day off!]
Once weekly: interval training. Ask for speed (canter/Big Trot) 3-4min, recover 1-2min, rinse repeat.  (Initially, hill loop for about an hour round-trip) [One weekend day]

Once weekly-or-so: 5-10 miles at moderate pace with a running friend. 

Interval training is actually pretty similar to what we did once or twice last week, except that I was working on more of a 40/60 split speed/rest and calling it a mental exercise.  Time to shift that!

This leaves my 4th dedicated riding day fairly open; my fifth is hit-and-miss and will inevitably be very low-key by necessity.

Pony's ribs are visible when the sun hits her just right... so she'll get some grass pellets/vitamin E on days I ride, and maybe some I don't.

All of a sudden, July feels really, really soon...

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Onwards and upwards!

Somewhere in the last year, the pony grew a brain.

When we left off last fall, Fetti and I had made it out by ourselves a small handful of times.  Nearly every one involved a decent amount of fighting and not much pony in front of my leg.  Not much fun.  In the past few weeks, she and I have been out by ourselves several times, and we're not yet totally traumatized.

Thursday, April 25th: 4.43miles, 1h 18min. 3.37mph.  Slow ride with a friend's Walker.

Friday, April 26th: Trot poles in the round pen!  Normally, one thinks of trotting raised cavaletti.  Fetti thinks it is much more fun to canter and/or jump them.  I dutifully set four up in a row, sent her out, and watched her prick her ears and canter through.  She then trotted some (SIGH, STUPID HUMANS MAKING ME WORK!), I raised it up slightly.  She cantered partway around.. looked directly at me.. and went to a BIG canter stride two strides out. Canter, canter, JUMP! across the first three trot poles.  Impressive.  Totally not what I was asking, and I am positive she knew that.  We did, eventually, get her brain back into trotting (part of) the poles.

Saturday, April 27th: New boots arrived for Fetti's hinds.  I booted up all four feet and went from the logical decision of doing a few laps in the woods, to the crazy idea of going out by ourselves and seeing how things went.  No one else was around that would be interested in going with, so why not?

Out and across the river we went, with only very minor fussing.  Forwards trot, forwards trot, do you really want to do this?, forwards trot, forwards trot.  Not even a half-mile out, we saw horses walking towards us.  Naturally, five horses and their riders walking home to our barn.. and the final two were two of the other Haflingers, Fetti's herd-mates.  I have described Haflingers as "magnetic" in the past: where one goes, the others generally want to be, too.  Throw in 'heading home' and 'one pony all by herself and not very confident about it' - and I'm pretty sure there were some not-very-polite things said when I figured out what we were getting ourselves into.

I fully expected Fetti to spin and follow when they passed us by.  She tried to turn her nose; I hauled it back around facing forwards.  There is a time and place for finesse, and that sure wasn't it.  We stood for a few minutes.  She wanted to turn, that was very clear, but when I finally asked for forwards, she gave it to me.  We ended up doing 5.7 miles in 1h 39min, not quite 3.5mph, but a brisk enough pace when she was willing to trot.  All things considered, I was exceedingly pleased with my crazy little horse.

..then we went back to the barn, picked up our Walker friend, and headed back out for another 4.58 miles in 1h 25min, 3.2mph.

Sunday, we did approx 2 miles in the morning to show another Haflinger rider the basics of the trails.  Definitely a slow ride, an opinionated ride, and a few attempts at spooking.  Not too bad.

We headed back out in the evening with Mr. Walker and Fetti's mom.  6.51miles, just out to the Deck and back.  2h 6min, 3.1mph. I'm not sure why this ride was so much longer than the Deck ride Fetti and I did in 5.7miles... except that aha, the tracking was started/stopped further out on the trail when I went the first time. 

Monday I unexpectedly had the day off, so Miss Fetti got worked a FOURTH day in a row!  Back out with the pair from Sunday night, we wandered down another trail to the river.  Lots of downhill to deal with, so Fetti was slower on the way out; lots of uphill heading home, so we slowed down for the others to keep up.  I was, however, happy with her forwards marching walk for the last hour heading home.  7.05miles, 2h 37min, 2.68mph.  3mph walk, you say?  I don't think we can pull that off.

Tuesday was mainly arena work riding around with Fetti's sister.  Her rider eventually had to head home, so I figured I'd head out for a short ride.  Out to the ranger station we went: 1.16miles, 13min, 5.28mph.  GOOD PONY!

Slowly but surely, I'm beginning to think we might be able to actually get in proper conditioning this year.   I am so, so pleased with this crazy little horse.