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Discipline: LD/Endurance, CMO, Trail Rider, Cartoonist, Writer, Co-Director/ Green Bean Endurance

September 15, 2010

Getting to know you

Phebes and I have pushed our conditioning sessions much, much, longer. The benefits have been two-fold, or maybe three or four-fold! I'm getting to know my horse, we are rating at the speed I've always wanted, pulse numbers have stabilized or gone way down, and we are developing a partnership vs. "It's me or you horse!"


Cruising along at a happy 5 mph place for 17-20 miles you begin to learn things about your horse that weren't evident at 10 miles. You notice when there is tension in her body, because you've discovered what it is to have a relaxed and focused horse. I've found this particularly helpful with avoiding spin backs. If Phebes is "bothered" she will get a catch in her rhythm, and her neck will stiffen. I know now to ease up, slow down, and if necessary stop a moment to let her digest what she is perceiving as danger. Then walk past the thing, paying attention to other cues to avoid the spin back ever happening. Phebes body language tells me that she likes the confines of single track trail, and winding in and around the trees. Likewise, my mare's stiffness makes evident that she is uncomfortable in very open areas, and one particular leg of the trail we are currently using. I've found that Phebes really likes to hear gentle praise. She also knows where trail "A" starts, and where the parking area is at the park. Last weekend we did trail "A" once, and then instead of going back to the trailer I just picked up trail "A" again for a second lap. You could almost see the thought bubble over Phebe's head, so evident that I actually laughed out loud. She looked at the turn off for the parking area like "WHAT THE HECK"?


Phebes is pretty "sprongy" when you first start riding her. She feels like a coiled spring without any shock absorbers. Boing! Boing! Boing! down the trail you go. This used to be the MO for the entire trail session. Very much wasted energy on her part, and extremely tiring for the rider to maintain both balance and control. Going longer these days I find that she is a coiled up spring for a much shorter period of time, then the tension flows out of her body, and soon she is gliding along in a very low rising efficient trot that is much easier to ride. The longer we go, the more quiet and controlled the trot is becoming, and all with less effort on my part.


Now that I know what a relaxed horse feels like it has become fairly easy to pick up on her actually not so subtle signals that she believes she will be jumped on and devoured at any given moment. This epiphany will not save me from the sudden unexpected raptor flapping out of the brush, but I am being spared from the horse eating stick, random pile of chopped wood, and venomous rock formations. This should cut down on unplanned dismounts by at least 50%.


Her working pulse has gone down with the longer sustained distance. She is trotting along at 80-120 bpm depending on the slope of the trail. That number has dipped to the 70's at times which amazes me. I've found that after a hill climb when she will get a short spike to 160, that if we trot as soon as the trail levels out that her pulse will drop quicker than if she walks. Her post ride pulse is dropping to criteria much more quickly as well. She used to need at least 10 minutes to settle down and pulse to come down. She is becoming more efficient at dropping her pulse. It isn't perfect...but much improved. She was at pulse criteria immediately after our 13 mile trail section, and then after the second leg it took her about 2 minutes to pulse down (that time I didn't dismount but rode her all the way to the trailer). So I learned something there as well. It really pays to dismount, loosen the girth slightly, and walk on in. An added bonus to the longer, slower miles is that her muscle tone has been wonderfully, beautifully soft and loosey goosey :)


With the longer trail sessions lasting 4 hours or more my mare is acting much more connected, less nasty-mare-like, has a softer eye, and a much overall nicer demeanor. We are taking extra time at water holes after the 12 mile mark, and spending time investigating little grassy patches where we can find them. Both of these important areas are going to require more work. Gut sounds have been an issue with her at each LD we've attempted. If she can perfect the snatch and grab on grassy areas it should help. The slower speeds should likewise help.


The Spook Run is quickly closing in on us. I expect that Phebes will fall into her learned (but hopefully not fixed in stone) behavior on ride day. My goal for the day is make it another training ride. To treat it as I would the rides we are currently taking. To stop and let the trail clear out, and proceed as though it is just me, my horse, and the trail. Correct behavior as it may occur, and if we need to stop for her to settle down, trot around a tree, or ride the opposite direction, then so be it. We will work until the pent up dynamite of a horse can relax. Even if it makes for a very long day.


  1. Your strategies sound good to me, EG.

    Taking the extra time early in a horse's career can save you endless headaches (and voyages to the dirt) later! Best of luck!

  2. I'm so pleased with how Phebes is going right now. I know it isn't perfect, but our training rides are getting so astonishingly well. It was like something clicked on the 24 mile ride, that had never clicked before. I've always wanted the slower pace, and honestly couldn't get it, trying work in the arena, following a slow horse, working on the trail, and all of a sudden it just fell into place. I'm not sure if it is the comfort of knowing the trail, or that she's realized that more miles lay ahead, but whatever it is I'm loving it. Praying to the endurance powers above that I can keep this momentum going...~E.G.

  3. Sounds to me like you are on the right track! Kudos to you both and best of luck.....