Sunday, February 28, 2010

Quick and Dirty

Four days of rest and good hay. Brisk temperatures. Gusty wind. Rain.

As I pulled on my insulated breeches and headed outside with my Stonewall on one hip and helmet strapped firmly to my head, I knew I was in for an adventure. Sure enough, Consolation greeted me with a rare game of Ha-ha You Can't Catch Me, followed by a round of Dance at the End of the Rope while I excavated her from a layer of mud and tacked up.

She shied and blew as we headed out the gate, leaving the other horses whirling about their pens like kernels of corn in an air popper. The wind rushed in my ears, loudly enough that I twisted repeatedly in the saddle to check for oncoming cars. Meanwhile, Consolation walked in short, mincing steps that guaranteed her hindquarters would be well under her should her high head and pricked ears detect an excuse to run.

Unfortunately for me, excuses lurked behind every fencepost. Windblown trash, clattering tin on the roof of an old barn, dogs approaching unheard over the gusts, tumbleweeds and laundry flying ghostlike on the line. I might as well have been riding a stick of dynamite.

And (of course) it started to rain.

This didn't seem like a good day for the brisk, 8-mile trot I had planned. Consolation had plenty of energy for a ride twice that long, but I wasn't sure I wanted to spend many miles astride a beast whose mind was so tossed by emotion. Still, I was determined to log good workout. We've penciled in the 50 at Owyhee Spring on May 1 for our first race of the year, and that date ain't changin' because of a little February storm.

So, I decided to take advantage of a tool I have at my disposal for only a few weeks out of the year: dirt. Lots of it.

As soon as Consolation was warmed up by a few minutes' trotting, I guided her off the solid shoulder and into the freshly plowed (but not planted) edge of a field. Ahh, perfect. Deep and soft, but loamy instead of slick. Excellent footing to prepare for the sandy canyonlands trails -- and a safe outlet for Consolation's abundant energy.

The fields around In the Night Farm go on for miles. We took them at a smooth jog, Consolation's agitation gradually sinking into effort as her hooves plunged into the soil and her nostrils widened to pull in the energizing wind. Ever conscious of her precious tendons and ligaments, we took breaks to walk again on solid ground, returning to the fields when the storm-driven demons clustered again around her brain.

Four miles of that work was plenty. The last field, a gentle uphill along the tilled edge of a nursery bristling with ornamental trees, painted her neck and shoulders with sweat. When it ended, I dismounted to walk the final half-mile, stroking the dampened curlicues of her coat, satisfied by the short period in which her respiration eased.

Interval training has unquestionable benefits, and I was pleased with the day's work as I returned Consolation to her pen. Nevertheless, we're still due for a stretch of long, slow distance work -- 14 miles later today, according to my Conditioning Log. Let's hope the weather cooperates.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Another Round

It's official. Consolation and I are back on the conditioning trail.

I confess that I was slightly nervous. As many miles as I post, as many hours as I spend safe in the saddle, I can never quite forget that with riding -- particularly on green horses after winter layoffs -- comes a set of significant, undeniable perils. It doesn't help that I can't escape my temperamental hamstring, a constant reminder of the risk inherent in our sport.

Well. There's nothing to do but do it anyway. Visualize the best result (which is thereby made more likely), quash the fear, focus on passion, trust your skill. Every ride, it's easier. As a good friend of mine noted, the worst parts are takeoffs and landings.

Yes, I more senses than one! But I needn't have worried.

Swinging astride felt like exploring my garden in early March. Here, the ghosts of perennials awaiting spring. There, some windblown clutter for sweeping out. Everywhere, the earth sweet and solid and familiar, pliant in my hands, rich with promise.

All the miles Consolation and I have covered together came rushing back, tumbling one over the other in their haste, chattering in our small, secret language hammered out on the anvil of experience. The occasional, impatient dip of her head. The respondent press of my calves against her ribs. A word, a breath, a hint of give. The sorting out of which job belongs to whom, reminders that all belong to both.

We spent half a mile on static, more or less, as together we remembered. And then? The ancient, centaur magic! The reins turned to blood that flowed between us. We talked like old girlfriends clutching hands across the table at an empty bar, grinning, pulled toward one another by conspiratorial murmur.

"Remember the old days?"

"The wild days, you mean? Hell, yeah."

"Those are the ones. We should do that again."

"Damn straight."

And we waved for another round. _________________________________________________________

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