Aaruba and I are done conditioning for his first LD, which will take place next Sunday. After his usual Monday and Tuesday off work, we'll go for a few short (4-6 mile) jogs to keep him sane and loose, but I won't make any attempt to whip him into better shape before the race. Doing so would be useless at best and damaging at worst.
As I understand it, equine bodies respond more slowly to conditioning efforts than human bodies do; that is, it takes about a week for the effects of a workout to impact a horse's performance, whereas humans demonstrate physiological change in just a few days. So, any last-ditch attempts at additional conditioning would be pointless and possibly counterproductive.
Thanks to a misunderstanding with Google Earth, my intended 15-mile Sunday ride turned into a 20-miler. My plan was to ride 6 miles to the BLM land access. Then, I'd follow a gravel road into BLM land, around a short loop, and back out for the 6 miles home. It was a nice plan. Too bad it didn't work.
By the time I'd driven a bucket of water out to the BLM land and hidden it behind a clump of sagebrush, tacked up, and decked Aaruba out with four Easyboot Bares, it was 11:00 and temperatures were climbing toward the 90 degree high for the day. Fortunately, Aaruba is mostly shed out for the season, but our average highs at this time of year are around 75 degrees, and this was to be only his third ride in any kind of heat.
All the same, it was apparent by the end of our second mile that Aaruba was in full-on rocketship mode (I've increased his feed lately, still working to get a few more pounds on him) and ready to roll. He trotted out strong and sure in his hoof boots, and it was nice not to have to worry about stray gravel when we crossed pavement.
Our first five miles were pretty flat, but as we approached the BLM land, we hit the hills. Aaruba trotted up happily and would have loved to trot down the other sides as well. He's a fantastic downhill horse, and his smoothness and balance will come in handy for making time at future races, but downhill trotting is too hard on his joints to be allowed in daily conditioning. So, despite his protests, I reined him in.
We stopped at our hidden water bucket half a mile up the BLM road, but Aaruba wasn't interested. Three minutes later, I was back aboard as he powered up a hill that went on...and on...and on. You know the kind of hill -- it makes you think you're nearly at the top, but when you get there, you find only a brief, slight downhill followed by another upgrade. Several times, I demanded that Aaruba walk a short stretch, but whenever I offered to let him trot again, he bounded along like the Energizer bunny.
Covered in dust and sweat, we passed a few hunters, families, and rednecks out for a day's target practice or varmint shooting. Basque shepherds, with their living-quarter trailers and Great Pyranees, stood among vast flocks. A gentleman with a strong, Eastern European accent that I couldn't identify slowed his Jeep to ask whether I'd seen a loose paint horse. The sun, now past its zenith, sizzled overhead.
Half an hour later, we were still climbing The Hill That Never Ends, with no sign of the loop I'd seen on Google Earth. I decided we'd crest one more hill, just to see what we could see. Guess what we found... Another hill!
So, we turned around. I was surprised to find that The Hill That Never Ends is also The Hill That's Uphill Both Ways. Okay, there was a bit more downgrade on the return trip, so I spent some time running at Aaruba's side. Despite the heat and hills, he was still all pricked ears, arched neck, and flagging tail.
Back at our hidden water bucket, he drank a few swallows and consented to crop a few mouthfuls of drying grass while circling impatiently at the end of his lead rope. He was already pulsed down to 60 when I checked him shortly after dismounting, and obviously wasn't keen to hang around, so after a 10-minute break, we carried on toward home. (I took these photos while hoping he'd settle down and drink more.)
Posting along, I tried to estimate our total distance. I knew we'd been trotting out more and faster than usual on a long ride, but those downhill walks and occasional uphill walk-breaks would have slowed us down. Maybe 18 miles?
We trotted most of the last mile toward home, then walked up the steep hill to our driveway and punched a total time of 3:16 including our 15 minutes of rest breaks. Aaruba's heart rate was at 78, so I gave him a big drink, untacked him, and hosed him down while waiting for it to drop. Thirteen minutes after stopping exercise, he'd pulsed down to 60.
Given the unseasonably hot weather and trot/climb toward home, I was satisfied with his recovery. However, the same pulse-down time at an actual LD would have disqualified us, as we'd be require to pulse down within 10 minutes (though not necessarily to 60 bpm). Of course, I'd have come in more slowly at an actual ride, but all the same, this experience of failing to pulse-down in time will serve as a good lesson for me.
Aaruba trotted out sound and passed his CRI at 60/58. However, upon removing his hind hoof boots, I found a miniscule rub at the back of one, hind heel bulb. It's an insignificant wound at this point, but certainly has the potential to become an issue. (I have hope that the rubbing can be eliminated by trimming the heel strap, which Easycare, Inc. declares will not damage the structural integrity of the boot.)
I checked his pulse once more -- still dropping -- then released him in the grassy compound to roll and graze while Travis and I drove out to collect our water bucket. We clocked the total ride distance at 19.75 miles. That makes for an overall average speed 6.1 mph. Take out the rest stops, and we averaged 6.7 mph. Not bad for nearly 20 miles on a hot day, with no real holds.
Unless the terrain is quite flat, we're unlikey to go quite that fast at next weekend's competition. We're just going for the experience, not to race, and I'll be happy with a 5-6 mph pace. I don't think I over-rode Aaruba yesterday, but this early in his conditioning, there's no need for him to go too far, too fast, too often. All the same, it's nice to know he can.
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