Yesterday, Aaruba and I completed our first 25-mile ride.
It wasn't a sanctioned ride, but rather a conditioning effort recommended by the Southeast Endurance Rider's Association. The SERA conditioning article, which you can also find via a link from the AERC website, suggests doing at least one 25-mile ride in the third month of conditioning, before participating in an LD. As the Owyhee Fandango is coming up on May 25, the time had come for me and Aaruba to give it a try.
I used Google Earth to plot our course. Our first lap took us 13.5 miles, up and down some long, moderate hills, and past a feedlot. Though the feedlot residents were not carniverous cows from Planet Horseflesh (those are black), Aaruba still suspected their troughs were full of blood and tail hair. So, I jogged him that quarter mile in hand.
I miscalculated as we circled back toward home for a 45-minute hold, cantering a little too near the end. As a result, I had to wait 3 minutes for Aaruba's heart rate to drop to 60 bpm so we could "time in." I tied him to the trailer with water and hay, untacked him, then headed inside for a much-needed potty break and a handful of peanuts. Aaruba drank a little, but not nearly as much as I would have liked. So, I hand-grazed him on fresh, young grass to get some moisture and forage into him.
Before tacking back up, we did a CRI, which Aaruba passed easily. I was glad to have done it, too, because he was so pokey for the first few miles of our second loop that I would have worried, had I not double-checked his recovery. I had to really work to keep him trotting for the first few miles. (I don't think this will be a problem at real rides, when we're in a new and exciting place, but we'll see.) He sped up after about 4 miles, though I could tell he was getting a little weary and let him snatch bites of grass as we rode.
By mile 20, water had become a real need. Aaruba, who normally trots unless I ask him to walk, now needed me to actually request a trot. We were surrounded by water...in the form of irrigation canals and ditches, which could be contaminated with agricultural chemicals. (What's the expression? Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink?) Finally, we came to a ditch full of what I judged to be the cleanest water around. Aaruba tanked up so much that I could feel his ribcage expand between my knees. Ten minutes later, his energy was back in full measure and we timed in immeditely, right on 60 bpm.
We finished in 5 hours, 10 minutes including our 45 minute hold, and I calculated our average speed over the ride (which actually totaled 25.4 miles) at 5.7 mph. This was fast enough to earn us a completion at a real LD, for which the maximum time limit is 6 hours, but slow enough to make me worry that we wouldn't complete if rough terrain slowed us down much more.
We certainly didn't hurry on this ride -- I was being conservative since we're only in Aaruba's third month of conditioning -- but I don't think he could have gone faster on the second lap without more opportunity to drink. In the future, I'll set out buckets at strategic locations on our route; at real rides, this will be done for us.
After a final trot out, during which Aaruba demonstrated that he had plenty of bounce to spare, and a positive CRI, I released Aaruba in his paddock to roll, eat, and nap. A couple times since then, I've seen him rest his near forehoof on its toe for a moment before moving off, but he shows no sign of lameness at the walk or trot. Perhaps he's just muscle sore; I'll keep an eye on it over the next few days, which he'll have off work.
Next weekend, our long ride will drop back down to 15 miles, and workouts later that week will taper off in anticipation of our first real ride. I can't decide whether I'm more nervous or excited!
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