I’m fortunate to live in an equestrian saturated area. Within a 30 minute drive we have multiple parks available, including the canal and the Perk trail. They’re not my favorite (as it’s the same scenery over and over) but they are the best option we have for putting in flat miles and working on average speed. The downside is that the trail is often congested with hoards of slow moving walkers or bicyclists – some of which have no problem whizzing past without warning. Our horses are super broke, but all it takes is one sidestep into the path of someone behind us (who we do not yet know are there) for an accident to happen. We try our best to be courteous.
PSA – In case anyone is unaware, both pedestrians and bicyclists are to yield to horses on multi-use trails.
We loaded up the horses early in the morning, dismayed at the heat and humidity. We are so fortunate that our horses get along well. I sometimes take for granted how well Kai loads and travels. He’ll self load/unload on a straight, and handles the stock trailer perfectly. Mechele recently added a trailer cam, so now I witnessed first hand how he manages to dump half his hay bag on every ride.
We tacked up and started out. Nakai was feeling fresh and ready to work; he wanted to skip over warming up and jump straight into his ground-eating extended trot. I could ride his trot for days; it feels as though I’m floating over the ground. The past year has been a struggle at times to teach him to conserve his energy, especially at the beginning of rides. As a competitive, opinionated horse who is convinced he has places to be and things to do, Nakai used to argue with me over little things and use up unnecessary energy. He’s learning to “pick his battles”, so to speak, and I’m happy to report he is growing more and more consistent with each training ride.
Nakai had extra beet pulp, mash, and his new electrolyte supplement added to his morning feed for additional water intake. All of the horses are back on beet pulp; it’s been so dry here that they’re off the summer pastures until the grass has a chance to catch up. Despite having free choice hay at all time, the horses are convinced they’re being starved and stare wistfully at the back gate, nickering at anyone who walks by in case someone with thumbs can open it. Despite the heat and humidity, Kai drank at every opportunity and kept his hydration level excellent. I’m feeling very thankful he is such an easy horse to manage (and laughing at myself for my anxiety making this into a bigger issue than it is).
We mostly trotted the 15 miles down with stops for snacks and water. Kai was working great! We led the majority of the way, but he was content when Rose and Boy took turns leading. He worked respectfully behind and when they spooked at something suspicious he took the opportunity to scoot past, ignoring the boogeyman and reclaiming the lead position. He felt incredible! The trail is mainly cinders, but there’s areas where it is paved. As we headed down past Graterford, the trail was predominantly paved and sections did not have a grassy area to get off. A mile or two in on the pavement I noticed a bit of head bobbing. It was slight, every couple strides or so. It was confusing because physically he felt great – he didn’t feel off and wanted to keep moving. I pulled up, dismounted, and did a trot out up and back so Mechele and Shelly could check him out. They echoed what I felt: stride looked normal, cadence was fine; they couldn’t see an issue. Mechele commented that he looked due for a reset, and that was true – Kai’s feet tend to flair rather than get long, and during the summer months I usually have him on a 6 week schedule to counter that. He’s right at 6 weeks, so it made sense. They offered that since he has steel shoes (as opposed to Rose who has glue-ons and Boy who wear Renegades) that perhaps the reverberation of the steel on the pavement was starting to bother him. He looked perfect on grass and cinders, so the for the rest of the ride I took it easy on the pavement and moved off when available.
In a pinch, a sponge leash works as a great lead rope (guess who still needs a hold halter…)
When we stopped for lunch, I brought out my stethoscope and we checked everyone’s heart rate and recovery time. We walked the last half mile, so they were all down by the time we stopped. Nakai does not have the recovery time that the Arabians do, so I try to plan accordingly: walk a quarter mile or so if I know a water source is going to be coming up, and walk a half mile (preferably a mile) into the lunch break or hold. It’s giving me plenty of practice with my stethoscope, though, and I was able to practice listening with a noisy background.
The pace was somewhat leisurely on the way down; this was Shelly’s first time doing thirty miles and we wanted to make sure she and her horse were fairing well. They were doing excellent, and on the way home everyone turned their motors on. Rose no longer felt the need to dashboard or snort suspiciously at puddles, so she lead the majority of the way. Nakai was miffed at having to stay behind her, but I was able to get about 12 miles of rating work in! This is easily the hardest aspect for him. Normally, I’ll get a couple miles of quiet canter and then he’ll stick his head up and shake his head, trying to evade the bit and go faster. If that doesn’t work, he’ll tuck behind the vertical, ears back, and scoot forward. He’s always met with a “no, easy”, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. This was no different, but he settled into a great little lope and rated for a couple miles with Boy by his side. He’s also getting the hang of switching leads on his own – and I’m super impressed he’s picking that up. I haven’t consciously worked on it, but after a mile or so on one lead he was dropping down to a trot and immediately switching to the other. Hopefully I can work on keeping him relaxed and ask for flying changes in the next couple months. He does them reliably while schooling, but aside from switching when the trail changes direction we haven’t practice them outside the ring.
The proudest moment was Nakai wanting to continue to walk for a bit despite Rose and Boy trotting off. We had just squeezed our way through a congested point on the trail and were walking for a bit. Rose and Boy decided they were ready to move out again and trotted off down the trail. Nakai kept his relaxed walk, even stopping when I asked him to “grab a bite” of the grass. It doesn’t seem like much (and probably doesn’t make sense to some), but Nakai is taking the bits of what he has learned from each ride and starting to piece it together himself. Just like I am, he is learning to “ride our own ride” and to do what is best for himself rather than what the group is doing. This is especially exciting for me considering his competitive nature.The rest of the miles back to the trailer was uneventful and otherwise perfect. All of the horses looked super, and Shelly and Boy did it! The horses received more mash, and to my delight he continued to drink. At home, after a cold hosing I palped his back pretty hard and noticed the new pad had him slightly back sore. He’s never a fan of liniment, but this time he got a heaping amount on his back to help with his soreness. He immediately started fidgeting in an agitated manner, and I trotted him over to the grass. He practically threw himself down on the lawn (of course partially on the concrete walkway!) and rolled a bunch. Afterward, he laid there stretched out on his side, sighing dramatically and refusing to get him. It scared Mechele (who I don’t think has seen his temper tantrums) and after a minute he sat upright and started grazing from his position on the ground completely ignoring my existence. He’s done this before out in the field (Nakai: “go away, I’m trying to nap, bugger off woman!”) so I just laugh… and honestly, I feel the same way about liniment, so I can’t blame him.
Kai has an appointment with the farrier and a week off. I’m tossing the new pad and trying to schedule a massage in too for him. He’ll get some pampering on his mini-vacation and I’m have the opportunity to ride some babies this week. Mechele says he’s ready for a slow 50, but I’m not sure I am (yet).