For the past several weeks, I've been riding Consolation at a walk and trot for distances ranging from 4 to 6 miles, up and down the long, gradual inclines that characterize the landscape around In the Night Farm. This basic, early conditioning for the horse's muscular and cardiovascular systems lays foundational fitness without damaging joints, bones, and connective tissue. More importantly, in Consolation's case, it offers a low-pressure environment in which to advance her training in preparation for her hopeful career as an endurance mount.
The potential for high pressure, of course, comes from me. I'm the one who hopes Consolation is ready for her first Limited Distance ride at the Owyhee Fandango. I'm the one who'd like to do at least a couple 50's on her this year. I'm the one who cares if it takes two hours to cover 4 miles because my horse is balky.
Last I checked, Consolation doesn't wear a watch. Lately, neither do I.
You all know I'm a bit obsessive about my endurance conditioning log, in which I record ride times, distances, speeds, and other data in minute detail. Without a watch, I can't record time. Without time, I can't record speed. That leaves me with distance...and a mind properly focused on taking the time it takes to give my horse what she needs.
What does she need? Time.
Consolation has never been an easy horse to train. Interestingly, she was relatively easy to gentle, in the beginning. Self-confidence will do that for a horse. But the same qualities that made her less fearful than others in the gentling pen make her less compliant on the trail -- which challenges me to improve my game.
These recent weeks have served up a crash course in patience, consistency, persistence, and heels-to-the-pavement, independent-seat riding for me, and a series of hard-earned breakthroughs for Consolation. Ride by ride, despite many setbacks and exceptions, I see her breaking free of balkiness and spookiness, striding out with confidence and even delight, taking tentative steps toward partnership. Very slowly, I can feel the balance tipping from "just started under saddle" to "just needs miles."
Today, we'll do our first long ride. Eight miles is hardly "long" by endurance standards, but it'll be the farthest Consolation and I have ever attempted to travel together. We'll explore some territory that's new to her, trot when we can, walk when we must. Maybe we'll stop for a little grazing break halfway.
I won't wear a watch. Not yet. That moment will come -- all in good time.
Post-ride update: She was fantastic! We had one of those golden rides that tells me I'm doing something right, after all. We all need a flight like that, once in a while. Thanks, Milady.
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