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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Moonlight Rides

Please enjoy! This is the first in a series of old ride stories that I will be posting until the rain lets up and I get some riding in!

First posted: Monday, July 14, 2008 at 11:37am

The photos I have added to this blog are from my aunts house where this post takes place. The photos were taken in January, hence all the green grass. (Definately was not there in July!)

Moonlight Rides

If I want to do a 100 mile race, some of those miles will be in the dark. Some people experience vertigo at night that makes it impossible for them to ride during the night, even with a full moon. Since I have not done any substantial riding at night, I needed to rule out that I was not one of those unfortunates. That was the goal of this weekend.

Friday night:
I decided to take Farley out with my aunt Sharlene and cousin Eleanor. I had figured we would get started around 9pm, so of course we didn’t start down the trail until after 10. I was very familiar with the trails we were taking, but Farley wasn’t. This ride would also include cows (in the dark). Great...Now Farley is not a fan of cows. In fact, cows are the reason she had a 6 month lay-up (injured a tendon running away from cows…). So now we are going to do cows in the dark. The plan: we decided to go up the mine road, past the mine cave in, down the back side, and circle around near the road. Altogether the ride was ~8 miles. We walked the ENTIRE way and the ride would end up taking us ~2 ½ hours (lots of climbing, steep hills). Here were the concerns at the beginning of the ride:

1. We would see a cow and Farley would die of a heart attack

2. Climbing up past the mine cave in, Farley would take a misstep and we would fall, plunging into the hole to a very painful and horrible death.

3. I would be one of those people that is incapable of riding during the night due to vertigo and I would spend the entire time dry heaving.

4. I would spontaneously pass out – I had given blood that day and they didn’t do their usual wonderful job. I ended up in pain, bruised, and slightly nauseous afterwards.

Let’s address the concerns one by one shall we?
Concern 1. Cows in the dark are not as scary as cows in the day. In fact, most of the time we played the ol’ favorite game “animal, vegetable, or mineral?” or in our case: “cow, rock, or tree?” It went so well I thought that I should introduce all my horses to cows in the dark.

Concern 2. Once we got to the mine-cave in Sharlene was going to dismount and walk. I elected to stay on. I have ridden past the mine several times. It is extremely steep and I would rather be able to help the horse up from it’s back, then perhaps interfere on the ground and end up under the feet of the horse, or tripping and falling into the bottomless pit. My cousin voted to stay on as well. Sharlene decided that by following two horses in front of her, that it would be OK to ride up as well. So up we went. Falling off the side? HAHAHAHA. The biggest concern was me sliding off the back of the horse! I was riding in the saddle that fits Farley best (but not well. Update note: This was before the Duett, I was riding in a 1980’s close contact that was really only suited for falling out of, which I did frequently). Unfortunately, this particular saddle doesn’t have much of a cantle so I was in a decent 2-point position, holding onto mane, trying not to disturb her as she leaped up the trail, past the pit, avoiding rocks and overhanging branches.

Concern 3. Vertigo was not a problem at all! The night is beautiful in the moonlight. My biggest problem was yawning. I was not used to being up past midnight and I find walking for any length of time on horse back very tiring (trotting is much better).

Concern 4. Didn’t notice my arm at all! Even though it had been very sore most of the day, like most personal problems, it went away the minute I got on the horse.

Here are the real concerns of riding at night:
A. You can’t see the branches until you are right in front of them. It takes a pair of clear safety glasses and quick reflexes to avoid eye injury.

B. Perception is very bad at night, including how steep a down hill is.

C. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO SEE THE WIRE GATES!!! This was a huge problem. Every time we came to a spot where there was a wire gate we could not see whether it was open or not. A couple of times I urged my horse forward, figuring that she would stop if she could see a wire. Some times she would stop anyways because she could feel that I didn’t know whether I wanted to go forward. If the gate was open, the concern became where the fence was on the ground. After riding the trail the next day in the daylight I got to see how close we got to the post and wire gate that was laying on the ground. *SHUDDER*

Saturday afternoon/night:
Eleanor and I (on Minx) did the loop that from now on will be referred to as the “Shoot me now” loop. This was the mine loop combined with the upper-shelf loop for a total of ~13 miles. There is A LOT of uphill and down hill (STEEP). It’s a loop that is equally hard on the rider and horse. Both of us had done the loops before, but not together (ie – there should have been no illusions about what we were in for).

The view is incredible from this trail and you can see everything because you are the tallest thing around. As dusk began to fall the horses perked up. It had been very hot in the sun and both horses had been dragging a bit. By this time we had started the descent off of the upper-shelf, back to the main road. We both dismounted. The horses were NOT inclined to trot in hand down hill so we made slower time than I thought we would (although we made up that time later....).

I found out that I cannot see well at dusk (no problems in the day or night, it’s that “between” time) and mentally I was apprehensive. It was the only time (except, later, when I had to pass under nice mature trees that I was sure a cougar would find appealing) I worried about wild animals, such as bears and mountain lions. This was also the only time I seriously doubted my sanity in doing a ride like this. It definitely let me know that I needed to prepare mentally for this part of a 100 mile ride. FINALLY we made it to the bottom (and it finally became dark enough I could *see* again!). We mounted up and started the wild race home, and thus making up time! Very important since I had told my aunt I would be back in 3 hours....didn't want to be late and have them send out a search party in the dark!

I hadn’t been able to do any speed work at the ride the night before so now was the real test. For the next hour Eleanor and I tore through the countryside like you have never seen. I was in front screaming every time I saw branches, and constantly riding in a 2 point position (no easy feat in a dressage saddle) as to be ready to duck branches, jump debris in the trail, and accommodate that ever wonderful racing trot/gallop transition. We made it home in one piece and exhausted. We both elected NOT to go out and do a second loop like the original plan. I was about 7-10 miles short of the mileage I wanted, but the miles we did do we so tough, I figured I still got some good conditioning. I was also having problems with this saddle popping over Minx’s shoulder onto her neck on the really steep down hills and needed to fit a crupper – a task better suited to the daylight hours.

Eleanor, Sharlene and I went out again on Sunday. I took Minx again (this time with crupper – tied on by bailing twine!!! The crupper I have doesn’t quite reach the billets on the dressage saddle, which is why I hadn’t been using it. Next time I need to find black bailing twine, it will look less tacky than the blue…). We did some trotting but not a lot. Minx was dragging a little. I think she was a little sore from the previous night. We explored some new trails (ie: got lost and turned around!) but got to see some new country which was nice.
Did have a little incident which I hope does not bite me later (Update: *sigh* it did...). We found some water and Minx really needed a drink. She had been panting all day and was border-line over-heating, even though we were taking it easier than the night before :( . I asked her to cross a log, onto some very flat (slick) rocks so that she could have access to the water. She did it, and started slipping BADLY on the rocks. She managed to get stable and I took her to the other side where she got to take a nice long drink. Looking around I saw that there was actually a perfectly safe access point to where I was to go around the rocks, but that I hadn’t seen it :(. That’s the way we took back……She wasn’t lame on Sunday and seemed OK, but I’m going to watch her legs really closely this week to make sure she didn’t pull something slipping on those rocks! I’m really concerned. I really wasn’t thinking when I asked her to cross there. I should have taken a couple minutes to sit back and see if there was a better route. (Update – a few days later I discovered she had popped a splint on her left front leg. I gave her two months off and she is fine now).

So that was my weekend. Got to ride both horses twice. Spent ~10 hours in the saddle. Learned that even though my new management practices (convincing my boarding stable to change her 100% alfalfa ration to ½ grass/ ½ alfalfa, feeding platinum performance etc.) with Minx have improved her performance, she will still need to take it easy on hot, hilly rides. It was also VERY humid this weekend, which is unusual and hard to train in until you are used to it. My gut feeling is that she is not a hot/humid weather horse or a hill horse and once Farley is good to go I will probably avoid those kinds of rides on her (even though I’ll continue to condition in those conditions). Minx struggled on both Saturday and Sunday with the hills and heat. Additionally, I think my last 2 rides have been too fast on Minx and I need to back it off a little. I’m going to look for a nice, slow 50 on Minx at Fireworks in August.

(Update: after discovering Minx’s popped splint, I did not do Fireworks. I have yet to take Minx to another ride since Diablo, which was 4 weeks prior to the events in this post. We’ve done conditioning rides and I think she’s enjoying the time off. She will probably do her first 50 this season in March or April).

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