Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Ride Must Go On: Endurance Conditioning

"You did notice the storm, right?" Travis asked.

"Sure did. But we're going anyway."

Yesterday's conditioning ride, already delayed once due to inclement weather, couldn't stand to wait another day. My Training Tracker said six miles, and six miles we would go. As quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, "as quickly as possible" isn't all that fast, considering Aaruba is only in his second week of conditioning. A five year old Arabian gelding, Aaruba would be in better starting condition if we hadn't nearly lost him to a serious, large bowel impaction last October. He spent several days in expert hands at Idaho Equine Hospital, being pumped full of IV fluids and amazing the vets with an unlikely recovery. They saved his life, but he walked out of the hospital weighing a scant 720 pounds. A winter of good feed has bulked him up some, but it'll take plenty of hill work and calories to layer on the fat and muscle he needs for endurance racing.

Since we're aiming for his first, slow Limited Distance ride of 25 miles at the Owyhee Fandango International on May 25, there's no time to lose -- storm or no.

We were on our fourth mile when the hail hit. This wasn't the kind of hail that tumbles out of the clouds to bounce like a bunch of miniature ping pong balls on the pavement. No, this was wind-driven ice that slashed our skins like a cat of nine tails.

I don't blame Aaruba for balling up his back as though to buck in protest, any more than I blame myself for choosing not to risk staying aboard -- or rather, failing to do so. I dismounted to run alongside him, shielding his face with my body and my own cheek with a gloved hand. Goodness knows what the neighbors thought as we schlepped along with streams of melted hail pouring off Aaruba's saddle and the brim of my helmet.

Half a mile later, the storm eased up and we finished our ride in peace, if not in comfort. Alas, wet jeans do not make for comfortable riding attire. I was sufficiently warm, however, thanks to the miracle of Patagonia medium-weight longjohns and my windproof fleece from REI. (Oh, look! REI sells windproof fleece gloves. That'll cost me.)

Back at the farm, I took the photos that accompany this post, in which dear Aaruba looks bedraggled but good-natured as ever.

After dark, I sat on the sofa savoring a glass of merlot and the memory of a good ride. What, other than a comprimised mental state, could make a person feel good about spending an hour in stinging hail, blustery wind, and soaked Wranglers?

There's much to be valued in having done what I said I would do, progressed one more step along the road to our first race. But more than that, one of life's greatest pleasures is being partners with a horse, facing the elements together, finishing as friends.

Note: See the sidebar on the right for updates on Aaruba's conditioning rides.

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