March 17, 2016

The Changes in Gem Amaze Me

Two years ago, I began to get re interested in endurance. We had just moved to SC and I thought that it might be possible given my improved work schedule to try another LD. Wyatt was 7 months old and we were blessed with a kid who went to bed at 6:30 pm every night without a single fuss. Yes he got up at 5:30 am but I had been getting up that early, or earlier, the last 3 years in residency and that was after being up all night with pages or not even getting home until 2 am from an emergency surgery. I worked close to 90 hours every week for three years, so being cut down to 45 hours with no call and no emergencies was like working part time.

I gave her the summer off with only light arena riding to adjust to the new hot and humid climate. The poor mare would be covered in sweat just standing in the pasture and I had no need to rush her into anything. That January (2014) I went to Clemson and rode her solo exploring the trails.

We literally went a max of 3 mph and that was with us trotting a good portion of it.

Who me? Go slow?? Never!
By the time spring rolled around I was convinced we would never make it in endurance. Gem barely got above 3 mph at any point in our conditioning and I was doing my all to push her forward (except use the confidence stick which I didn't even own at the time). I then hooked up with some local riding friends and Gem was much better when tagging along with others.

We completed the Biltmore LD that summer and I entered our first 50 that October. All through our conditioning leading up to that we barely broke 4 mph. The one 20 mile conditioning ride I did solo took us over 5 hours to do. When I heard that the first two loops on the 50 were each 20 miles long, I figured we were in for it. At our current pace we would take 10 hours to do the first two loops without taking the hold into consideration. It was the main stressor I had going into the ride.

Wine and Shine 50 
Fast forward a bit through that 50 and the next in February where we rode mostly by ourselves. Last spring saw pretty much no conditioning and then she got hurt and was out of the entire summer. Come late summer/early fall I decided to enter the hunter pace series competitively with Gem.

That has turned out to be the best decision I have ever made with Gem. At the start of the pace season, I had barely ridden Gem much at all since the 50 the preceding February and was still fighting a slow and unsure Gem when out alone. The first few paces were off a bit due to me trying to maintain some level of easing back into exercise for her, but once she was fully cleared for work it was game on.
Her opinion of conditioning
From the 3rd one on, she was forward, willing and strong. We have finished all the remaining paces with an average of around 6 mph with the stop in the middle and my own fiddling around. While this is not scorching by any means, it is enough to place us in the top 5 consistently unless I second guess myself and decide to do the trail twice for no real reason. Ahem.

During the paces we are riding alone. I go early to beat the rush and get back for Wyatt, so while we do get passed and pass others we are always on our own. And she is putting down 8 mph miles at times. 8 mph when solo on unfamiliar trails. 

That is amazing. I can't even come up with enough words to describe how amazing it is that my mare, who would barely break 3 mph when out alone, is now offering up perfectly beautiful and sustainable 8 mph trots out alone.

At first I was worried it wouldn't hold true for boring conditioning rides. Gem knows when it is a race and when we are out to lay down the miles and she isn't the biggest fan of the latter. She loves the competition though and locks on to the job readily. Except it is carrying over. The last few conditioning rides, she has been on fire. Not in a bad , hot mess, over fed carbs kind of way. In a great, ready to move, lets get this done and have some fun kind of way.

The way I prefer her mane for rides

She is still annoyingly spooky about the wood thing. She still zig zags down the trail and acts like monsters are everywhere, but the thing is that now she is doing that at 6 mph instead of 3 mph. It is a huge difference!

She has also learned a few of my idiosyncrasies out on trail. The biggest one that I noticed last Friday was that she has learned my voice command "be careful". Gem has always been good at voice commands and I worked on those early on when she was extremely sensitive to any pressure on her sides. Instead of stressing her out, I just taught her walk, trot and canter by the words and slowly added some leg and eventually dropped the voice to get her moving off my leg better, so it isn't surprising that she listens to my voice.

I hate micromanaging my horse on trail. She has one job: move down the trail at the pace I request. She is responsible for her footing choices and I don't move her around stumps or rocks. She does that herself and I have gotten compliments from those riding behind us (once they learn to keep back a ways because my mare weaves like a drunken sailor) about how careful she is about where she goes. I do watch out for big things like holes or very tricky sections.

When we come up to a spot that looks tricky, a bunch of close together roots or rocks or a steep dip in the trail, I have the habit of collecting her up and saying "be careful Gemmie". Well, on the last ride, I hadn't collected her up at all yet and saw a tricky spot so I said "be careful Gemmie" and she slowed down and collected herself all on her own until she picked her way through the obstacle and then went back to her extended all day trot on her own. The next spot, I made sure to use the voice command alone and she repeated the same thing.

It was really cool to feel.

So there it is...without me trying to do it, beating it into her brain with repetition or even focusing on it, Gem has changed dramatically this fall and winter with her work out on the trails. I am just itching to see how this translates out at an endurance with regards to her abilities. Going into our last two rides, I put the miles on her legs, but it was slow...very very slow... This year the miles will be about the same but they will be at a much faster pace.

I still plan to ride uber conservatively and not push her, but I am so excited to start it!!!!


  1. Oh wow. I didn't realize you'd only been doing distance riding for 2 years! Crazy.

    1. I did two 25 mile LDs in the MW in fall 2011 and a Ride and Tie in spring 2012, but then residency got way too busy for conditioning and I couldn't take off any time to get to a ride. I still rode, but it was just for fun and a lot of arena work until we moved down here in 2013. First LD back was Biltmore July 2014. If gem wasn't 18 I wouldn't attempt a 100 on her this early on, but she isn't getting any younger and I 100% believe in her.

  2. Haha at the drunken sailor comment! It's so neat to see all the ways that Gem has really figured out her job, can't wait to see how conditioning and prep for the 100 goes. Quest and I are rooting for you two :)

    1. Thanks!!! We need the support :)