068. Of Fitness & Fawns


Thrilled that Nakai’s transitioned well over to apartment living and satisfied with his weight gain, we are now back to working on our fitness levels. As much as I loathe summer weather, we ride the most during this season.

I wasn’t sure how quickly Nakai would lose muscle and wind with his vacation time. Time off never seems to make a difference to the Arabs, and some of the Quarter Horses seem to revert nearly overnight. Thankfully, there didn’t appear to be much of a difference with Nakai. I rode conservatively for the first couple weeks and am now increasing his speed and miles.


We’ve also continually worked on removing race brain and the ever constant ‘wait’. Nakai’s doing great in both areas. Last Sunday I had an awesome 8 mile loop with Maria on the home trails. I made Maria trail boss (it’s always me!) and laughed at how easily she still gets turned around. Nakai contentedly worked behind Beamer, rating beautifully and kepping his head on our little gallop strip. He hit 34.8 mph! We rode side by side and I held him back a bit, not sure if I could trust Beamer not to spook (I did not want to be side-swiped). In that aspect, Nakai’s too honest – He will never take the shortcut back home or spook at the deer in the wood line while we gallop. He just loves to run.

Wednesday (I think? I’m losing track of days) I made plans to ride with Marina and Mechele was also available. We hit the trails and I was impressed at how nicely Nakai worked behind Jasper and Rose. I believe this is the first time he’s ridden with Rose since winter, and normally they feed off each other and create little monsters.  It was an excellent ride until we slogged through a muddy patch and I watched Rose’s shoe cast fly through the air toward us. She lost her shoe, too, so M cut her ride short and I finished the loop with Marina.

I’m having a bit of an issue with my ankles again. The numbness starts on the outside of my ankles and works it way up my calves. It burns and then goes numb. Both ankles are afflicted, and I’ve narrowed it down to tight ankles and bunching materials. I’m also chalking it up to having spent the last 6 months riding in my western, but I shouldn’t have this much of an issue switching back to my endurance saddle. I love my wide tread endurance stirrups but am wondering if I need to switch back to narrower ones and see if it helps.

I am a conformational train wreck.

Today’s ride had zero ankle issues (go figure). Maria and I planned to ride early, but she woke up sick so I was on my own. Nakai had a nice warm-up in the ring and we hit the trails. We almost finished a loop of Mechele’s fields when a fawn shot out ahead of us. I whoa’ed Kai and we walked. Out pops another one! Twins! They were older, about lab sized, but still had the bright white spots. Mom obviously left them to go feed, and here I was messing up their hiding spot.

Imagine my surprise when one comes circling back through the hay like a little velociraptor and begins calling to Nakai. The fawn would come close before darting off again. At one point the little babe was brave enough to stand so close I could have reached out and touched them. Nakai flicked his tail, scaring both, and they bounced off into the hay again. I rode away only to look back and see them following me!

They followed us into M’s second hay field and through the wood line into the BJ’s field. Seriously worried that they would follow us on the rest of my 5 mile loop and get lost, I turned Nakai back around and we walked back to the first field. I did end up throwing carrots at them to scare them back into the taller section. I zipped away while they bounced, thankfully without fawns following. Dripping with sweat and losing motivation, I headed back to the barn. What was supposed to be an at least 5 mile loop was 3.

Here’s a couple videos of the little babes:

065. Revisiting home trails


Nakai has settled quickly in his new stall routine; Mechele says he seems to enjoy coming in for meals. On the other hand, I keep forgetting he has a stall. I tore my tack trunk apart looking for bell boots and they were on his door. Oops!

The stars aligned and I found myself riding at the same time as Marina, Theone, and Mechele. I’ve been working diligently on Nakai’s patience (he’s  most impatient at home). She wanted to do a slow conditioning loop with Lina so this was the perfect test.

Nakai rocked! It’s the first time I’ve been out on the home trails with friends in months. I’ve either trailered out with Maria or been by myself.

The first hurry up and wait happened 20 feet into the trail. Mechele attempted the rocky crossing with Lina. Nakai watched her eyeballing the rocks and poking them with her hoof. He was standing so patiently that I didn’t care if Lina took all evening.  If Lina never crossed, I would happily end the ride there!


Rocks were no but the mud was OK, so off we went. Marina and Theone zipped into a fast trot and I worked to keep Nakai soft and slow. He has a ground-eating extended trot and wanted so badly to work at that pace, but after a few minutes he softened and rated. He kept his attitude in check but we squirreled all over the trail – a hip popped out here, a shoulder there, or he would drop behind the vertical and try to scoot forward. He settled after about  2 miles, more resigned to his situation that agreeable, but it was a big improvement and I was thrilled.

If I can get the chance to work on rating in a group a few times a week, I think I’ll see a continually improvement in mellowing out his competitive streak.

 

048.

I’m tossing the idea around of dabbling in a new discipline since I won’t be endurance riding this year (with the exception of Muckleratz). I flip flop between wanting to dabble in the local winter gymkhana circuit for some laid back fun or looking to see if anyone in the area offers an introduction to cow work.

While bouncing back and forth I’ve continued to work on two things: softness and patience. Whatever we decide to do, the ultimate goal is to have a super soft, patient partner and to refine all of our cues and become lighter with my aids. Nakai’s working well in both aspects: our seemingly random trail stops have helped to reinforce his patience and expand the duration he’s willing to wait. For a horse that wants to constantly go, this is huge. I’m seeing a marked difference in both relaxation and his competitiveness. It’s also helping to keep me from anticipating a wiggle-fest when I want to stand for more than a minute or two.

A few barn ladies are working on similar goals, so riding out with them during the week is beneficial to everyone. We’ve been able to get at least 5 miles a night at a good average speed while keeping everyone’s brains. It’s also a good opportunity to continue asking him to stay soft, and I’m very pleased with how well he’s working in such a short amount of time. I anticipated asking a few friends to do some drive-bys at speed out on the trail while Nakai walks or stands still, but it hasn’t been necessary.

[ One of our many pointless stops ]

There’s still plenty of work to do, though. We’ve had one moment each ride where I ask for canter and he responds by wanting to gallop off, but with a firm transition to halt followed by backing up, he waits and then will pick up a polite canter. The bareback rides have also helped my core and have bettered my ability to sit his bouncy pony trot for longer periods of time, too.

046. The Waiting Game

On Saturday, 9 of us loaded up the horses for the annual NYE ride at the parkway. While I have walked my dogs many times at the park, this was my first time bringing Nakai – usually the ride is during the week while I’m working. The parkway is about 5 miles long with a cindered and relatively flat path.


Nakai took the lead out of the parking lot with Rose close behind. He listened quite well the first half of the ride while warming up, and then couldn’t keep it together. Our group had varying degrees of fitness level and training, and we walked the majority with a few trot sections thrown in. When Nakai realized I was not going to let him compete with the herd and that he had to stay behind, he started jigging… and jigged… and jigged. Up until this point, I didn’t realize he could jig as slow as Skippy’s walk (which I swear is -2 mph). I couldn’t do the ‘fixing’ I normally would on this particular trail – booting in the opposite direction and working hard (circles, serpentines, leg yields, softening, etc – because of the size of our group and the various pedestrians sharing the trail. So, I decided the best course of action was to wait him out.

As soon as he started jigging and wouldn’t relax into a walk, he got pulled to the back to walk with skip. Slow circles, softening, giving him even more rein to encourage a stretch and hopefully a walk became our mantra. Towards the end he did relax enough for me to get a really nice walk, so at that point I let him cruise to the head of the group and walk out.

I’m chalking this particular experience up to a combination of things: Nakai was fresh, hasn’t been off the property this winter except for Nockamixon, and he’s a worker. He loves his job as an endurance horse and rides like this bore him. This is no excuse; however, he needs to be able to go with the flow and deal with slow rides.


Without being able to keep his brain occupied, I lost it to his competitive nature and desire to go. When we got back to the barn, we went back out for another 3.4 mile patience ride, including rating work. We did the same thing on Sunday, spending an hour out walking, stopping randomly everywhere, and reinforcing ‘wait’.  I had two great rides on him! Here’s hoping I can wrangle a couple girls to go out with me later this week to do zoomy drive-bys with their own horses while out on the trail to continue this waiting game.

044.

I had a couple of great rides on Nakai prior to to the Holiday, and Monday morning I had plans to let Ben’s nieces meet him. I was thinking some grooming and a couple glorified pony rides would work.  I had commented multiple times that while he is extremely broke and bombproof, he is very sensitive, quick ride. He isn’t one of those dead school horses who plod along at 5 mph oblivious to what their rider does. In order for everything to go well, everyone needs to listen to me.

Nakai loves children (I think he views them as perfectly sized cookie dispensers) and politely carried two of the girls without a fuss. I let the eldest, an 18 year old, ride unassisted incorrectly thinking she had more riding experience under her belt than she did. The whole thing lasted less than 10 minutes – whether from fear or just wanting to show off, she refused to listen to me or use her reins.  There I was, standing in the ring, repeatedly voicing “Sit back. Sit BACK. Reins. Reins. REINS”. It was the strangest thing, she wouldn’t pick up his reins and kept her hands on the pommel (normally beginners are quite opposite and too hands-y). Nakai was trying so hard to understand what she wanted. I was walking out toward them, intending to grab Nakai and settle them both when she bumped him into a trot, let him canter, lost her balance and took a nice spill onto the still semi-frozen ground in the ring.

Sigh.

I feel it was completely my fault – I should have collected Nakai from her and said ‘nope’ when I saw she was having a hard time keeping her heels down.

Fortunately (unfortunately?) it was implied that both Ben and his sister believed something like this would happen as she had previous issues with not listening to instruction. I feel badly that she fell, but it was not Nakai’s fault and I wasn’t going to discipline my gelding. A fall is always a humbling experience (especially in front of witnesses) and I know her ego took a good hit. I told Ben’s sister that while the younger girls are more than welcome to see him and take pony rides any time, the eldest would not be allowed more than a leading pony ride in order to keep both she and Nakai safe.


As if to reinforce the fact that he would not be adding ‘school horse’ to his resume any time soon, Nakai was absolutely on fire yesterday at Nockamixon. Originally Mechele and I intended to ride the home trails as Margot scheduled to drop Annie off for her winter vacation sometime during the day. Luck was with us, however, and we were able to madly dash around and haul the horses out for a quick ride.

Rose and Nakai haven’t been out together since Mustang, and I haven’t been able to do much in the way of working miles for various reasons (most of them weather related). They were so happy to be out! I only managed to take one picture as I had my hands full the entire ride.

Convinced he could do 12 miles in 10 minutes if I would just go along with it, Nakai challenged my core strength as he floated over the rocks and technical terrain. Rose was hysterical, trying to egg Nakai on and play games. Mechele and I positively bounced down the trail on our respective knuckleheads, laughing the entire way. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Rose is early twenties and Nakai mid twenties.

The only frustrating moment came when I realized that my GPS tracker had stopped on its own! I have been using Endomundo which up until recently has been the most reliable tracker I’ve found. At a minimum, I need to know my miles, duration, average speed, and top speed. I started the app when I mounted but somehow after 4 seconds it stopped. I have already missed logging many workouts through November and December due to the cold sucking my phone battery dry and randomly shutting off. I need to find a better app, as I can’t have this happening on more serious conditioning rides.

026. Canal Training Ride

I am happily nestled on the couch, fed, and caffeinated (homemade sweet tea is my crutch). Mechele and I drove to the Delaware Canal this morning to get one last training ride in before Mustang Memorial. It was a rough morning; Mechele was still not feeling quite right from her wicked migraine yesterday, and we debated scratching the entire plan. I needed an opportunity to get more miles in – but it is not worth risking one’s health. Eventually we pulled our acts together, loaded up the horses, and set out.

Both Nakai and Rose are terribly bored with our home trails – so much so that both of them were glad to be out on the Canal. The Canal is also repetitive and boring, but lacks the multiple road crossings and pavement the Perkiomen trail offers. There’s also the many low bridges to ride underneath.


Note to my readers: If you have a horse over 15.3 hands, I would advise against riding the canal unless you are prepared to dismount for almost every bridge. They’re just not tall enough to accommodate a large horse and rider.

Both horses warmed up and were ready to rock. Nakai was moving out and happily rated with Rose. The miles flew by in a whirlwind of greenery, and before we knew it we came up on mile 8 and an opportunity to let the horses (read: Nakai) drink. Rose rarely has a desire to drink before mile 18, so I led him down to the water pool. This was a usual drink spot for us and we never had an issue before today. Nakai loves water and determinedly marched into the pool. I barely had a minute to register the situation before it happened.

Almost immediately, he sank up to his barrel. He lurched forward, trying to unstick himself. Again he sank. Again he lurched. Every time he moved, the ground shifted, providing more instability.

I’m trying my best to stay out of his way, give rein, and with another surge forward I pop out of my saddle, land behind it, and the power from Nakai’s hindquarters threw me off to the side. I let myself go with the motion, falling off him. I landed on a portion of dry creek bed and rolled, trying to avoid hooves on my hip. I was in his path and at the time almost underneath him.

Nakai missed my body completely, carefully avoiding me and stepping over and around my body parts. I don’t know how he knew where I was – I was on his blind side! He has done this before when I’ve done something stupid. I don’t know if he can feel my presence or my energy, but he seems to instinctively know where I am when it matters most. [Side note: years ago I was playing with him and he followed me over a 2ft jump. As I jumped it, I clipped one of my feet over the pole and fell face first into the dirt. Nakai twisted himself in the air to avoid me, landing to my right and away from my body.]

By the time I rolled upright, he had made it onto the bank and stepped on his reins. He goes completely still, waiting for someone to help.  I am a firm believer that all horses should be hobble broke and taught to give to pressure. As soon as he felt trapped he stopped, patiently waiting. He never panicked or fought pressure. Mechele got to him first, carefully unclipping my reins and reassuring him.

I was covered in mud and gravel, and set to work cleaning Kai off with my sponge. I cleaned him and myself up as mcuh as possible. He was sound, uncut and otherwise OK. As it turns out, the accident gave Mechele time to rest and evaluate how she was feeling. We decided at this point to turn around and head for home. Nakai was ready to move out before I was, and happily extended his trot and canter without an issue. Apparently outside of a bit of a scare, the sinking episode didn’t hurt him at all. Rose was making up games and doing her best to egg Nakai’s competitive nature on. He amusingly enough refused to take her bait, traveling soft and quietly behind and beside her. He rated without an issue, and on the way home we had a chance to work on some more wind. We did 5 minute miles!

The ride back to the trailer was uneventful except for looking down and realizing my breeches were soaking wet! I pulled my water bottles out to discover pin leaks in the last three bottles. I swear this happens every training ride! I’m not sure what I do to create the pin leaks, but I distinctly remember my breeches at Foxcatcher soaking wet due to the same issue. Ugh.


Overall, Nakai feels amazing and despite our debacle it was a great last ride. We are ready for 50 miles! He has a massage scheduled and gets the next two weeks off to rest before Mustang Memorial.

019. Perk Trail Training Ride

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).