In which we explore what's different about preparing for longer rides

I've signed up for the 75-miler at our first ride of our regional season.

Fiddle and I were ready to kick up from 50-milers to 75's and 100's in early 2013 when I got suddenly sidelined by extreme pain in my arthritic left hip.

To my astonishment, we went from easily completing 50-milers in late Spring to barely able to leave the parking lot in early Summer.  Recovery hasn't been easy, although it has perhaps seemed quick to those who haven't had to live through it.

Now, it's nearly Spring again.  I'm a tiny bit smarter, and two years older (with the exception of my left hip, which is 50 years younger than the rest of me).  My horse will be 13 years old in April.

It's time.

Blessed by an unusually warmish, dryish winter here in the Swamp, we've spent a lot of time on the trails since the end of the ride season last fall.

We've kept up a steady schedule all winter:  one or two days of trails per week,
usually 8-12 miles for each session--no change from legging up for 50-milers.

I've blogged a lot about our training rides over the years, and I usually log the speed and distance using an app like ViewRanger .

The app shows that we are consistent: we trot most of each session, and walk when we must--either because of terrain or because of equine knuckle-headedness.  Our speed is pretty steady at 5.5 to 6 mph when Fiddle and I go out with the Usual Suspects.

So, what am I doing differently to prepare for the longer distance?
Surprisingly, not much.

I might (or might not) spend an extra day on trails each week this spring.

That depends more on weather and my work schedule, more than anything else.  When we do take an extra day, it's usually a solo ride so Fiddle and I can practice going faster (between 6.5 and 7mph when we are solo). or going longer (14-20 miles, or 4 hours, whichever happens first).  

Riding lessons are more critical right now.
Consistent arena time has built up flexibility...and communication skills

When I was broken and while I was healing, Fee had to change her listening skills to ignore the random "cues" my seat and legs would deliver as a result of not functioning very well.

In-saddle stretching:  she still has to ignore me when I do this.
These days, we are re-refining my cues and her responses.

Of course, there's still our Cantering Problem, which is vastly improved but not completely fixed yet.

In addition to the basic "dressage curriculum," is our "fire eradication efforts" with the Dragon.

Notice in the video (above) that she is cantering in an arena full of horses, and when she finally throws a bit of a wobbly, she waits to get past everybody before starting her tantrum.  That's a big change.

Here's another:
Auntie Patty gives COOKIE! 
We couldn't have done this last year
Fiddle now accepts other horses in closer proximity.  This is enormous for her.

We still warn people with unfamiliar horses to keep a safe distance, and I will never completely trust her not to kick, but we have spent a lot of time getting the Dragon comfortable with other horses in the arena and on the trail, and we continually practice passing and being passed by other horses without fussing.

Also on the trail:

Rider fitness:  we hop off the last half-mile of each ride
and jog back to the trailer.  This is still kind of painful
for me, but important.
What about prep for the actual ride?

Well, I've made farrier appointments through the end of October to accommodate the ride schedule.

I've said it before:  there are some aspects of care that allow corner-cutting in endurance, but hoof care is not one of them.

I had to pull her right rear shoe last week because the
nail heads were completely worn off and she was likely to
trot right out of it!
I have a new(ish) farrier this year, and she is a vast improvement over the fellow I had doing the Dragon's feet last year.

Kelsey puts a lot of thought and research into the hardware she uses on Fiddle, experiments with different sole packing substances, and even tries to ensure that she is using the best possible horseshoe nails for the job.

Attention to detail:  Kelsey has it.
This photo almost doesn't show that the toe of her shoe is paper-thin,
and the remainder of the shoe is also very worn down.
 I've examined my tack, and repaired and replaced bits that are showing wear.

We have actually started to wear out a piece of biothane (!!amazing!!) on her breastcollar (after 10 years of using that particular item on several horses), so I ordered a new breastcollar from American Trail Gear.

ATG makes a "Night Rider" breastcollar with loops to
hold glowsticks securely in place.
Fiddle's will be purple, of course.
I've started ordering supplies, like a fresh bucket of electrolyte powder

I use this stuff

and a bunch of this stuff.

I have used this sporadically in my electrolyte mixes for 50-milers;
I think it's much more important for longer distances where she
will be receiving a LOT more electrolyte doses.
I've also (after listening to Doctor Garlinghouse speak on the topic) increased the amount of hay Fee gets daily.  She now has pretty much free-choice hay in a Porta-Grazer  during the day

The commercial Porta-Grazer is weather proof, so I can throw it out in the pasture
when the grass is dormant.  In summer, she will get hay at night in her stall,
and graze the pasture grass during the day.

or slow-feeding net in her stall at night.

And really, that's about it:  Food.  Tack.  Training.



  1. Very exciting!!! Onward to more great accomplishments you two!


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