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Friday, January 8, 2010

Guest Post: Pacing during rides

Lucy Chaplin Trumbull posted this wonderful e-mail on the yahoo group new 100 milers list. It was in response to the question:

For riders that finish in the middle or toward the back of the middle of the pack, what gait do you use most during a ride? Is it 80% trot and 20% canter or visa versa, or something else.

With her permission, I have reprinted her e-mail in full. I agree wholeheartedly with her approach to pacing and she's comprehensively explained it better than I ever could.

Lucy's response is in regular type, quotations from the original question is in italics, and my snarky interjections are in navy blue:

I'm a classic back-of-the-packer rider (my "spot" is third from last...hey - it takes a lot of careful riding and strategy to get this placing!), so I feel amply qualified to answer this question :)

Many of the courses we have in West Region don't allow for too much fast pacing or continuous trotting - either because of the footing or the hills, so I try to go with the rule "trot where you can, scuttle where you can't". (Amen to this!)

When paying attention, I also employ Becky Hart's suggestion of trotting *wherever* you can, even if it's only for 10' - and make a game of it so it becomes fun. If any of you have ever ridden the first and last parts of NASTR 75 in NV, that's is a classic example -most of the trail is in a river bed, so you really have to pick your way along. (also true at American River ride, Tevis, etc. ) This is my favorite part of the ride, much more fun than some of the wide-open speed-trotting dirt road sections where all I can think about is how much damage my horse is doing, over-stretching his tendons. (Great! Someone else with this paranoia. Farley and I get mentally burned out on rides with long sections of jeep roads. I actually worry about injuries MORE on this type of track than more technical sections)

Whilst I don't tend to canter much at all, I'll occasionally ask for it to switch things up if my horse is getting dull. He'll also canter in short bursts to catch up with faster horses we're riding with (which is practically *every* horse we ride with, since I've worked a little too hard on cultivating the "we can keep this easy trot up all day" gait, resulting in us being quite slow :-) ). When he's getting tired, Roo'll also tend to canter for longer periods to keep up - it's apparently easier for him to canter than to maintain a speedy-work-for-it trot. (For Farley its more effort to canter, so if I ask for canter and don't get it, I know she's getting tired. Most of the time, at a trot, we are passing people. Eventually we end up in a bubble ~10 miles into the ride where we are by ourselves for the rest of the ride and I end up at mid-pack, even if I start 5-10 minutes after everyone else) Since:

a) I rarely condition for cantering, and
b) we're still working on lead changes, and
c) he has an overdeveloped left shoulder, so I know he won't switch his lead on his own,

that kind of behaviour from him is a red flag to me that I probably need to slow things down a bit, or it'll come back and bite me later.

Looking forwards, I've decided that now we've got his easy gait down, our goal for this coming year should be to speed things up a bit. Unfortunately I suffer from permanent paranoia about over-straining my horses' tendons (I've had to rehab three suspensories on two different horses over the years and wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy), so "speed" (relatively speaking) is very worrying for me. But Roo is coming up on 1500 competition miles so I can probably assume he has a "base" on him now ;-) (I have a very similar paranoia having 3 bowed tendons on 2 horses in ~12 months. This is now Farley's 3 season I have just now began integrating regular cantering into our conditioning. I'm not sure I will ever ask for long stretches of cantering at a ride. I'm just too cautious. On the other hand, I like to know that if I ever do have to ask for that kind of speed, we have practiced it - like at Oroville when I ended up needing the speed to beat the cut-off.)

My other problem with this goal is my work schedule has changed, allowing only for weekend riding, *and* I'm also trying to keep two horses 50-miles fit. This means that I'm going to have to rely on Rides for conditioning and to switch things up. Not clear how this will workout, but it'll be interesting to see how it develops. (Most of my conditioning occurs on the weekend, but at least where I board I *can* ride during the week, even if it's only in the arena, or a 2.5 mile section of canal. What I've found is that I have to take rides slower and more cautiously than my counterparts with access to trails and the ability to ride them several times a week. )

What are the opinions of wearing splint boots, the kind like the Pro Choice that add support?

Two schools of thought:
Option 1: If you don't need them, don't use them, since they could cause problems unnecessarily. (I agree) Case in point - Roo rarely interferes but rubs horribly, so for him they are a bad idea. I used them as a precautionary measure at the beginning of Tevis but took them off at Lyon Ridge (20 miles?) and found he didn't need them, even going over Cougar Rock.

Option 2:If you can use them without problems, they are free-n-easy insurance against your horse tripping and whacking a splint bone and getting pulled (a friend had this happen and now always uses splint boots). (I'll use front boots as insurance during certain sections of very rocky rides. For example, I would wear them in the 2nd third of Tevis (where the rock incident happened), but probably not the other sections) But I won't put them on "just because". They rub, hold in heat, and are just one more thing to worry about. She does wear short hind boots because of interference problems. I tried a ride without them, and sure enough, she had a couple of marks, so on they went again.)

For me, the only boots I don't mind using are the lil' ankle booties that just fit around the fetlock joint. They are open enough not to trap heat or dirt and don't seem to rub so seldom cause any problems. I use these on my younger horse who tends to whack his rear fetlocks. (I like Griffins boots - the short ones. They are between the little ones that Lucy mentions here, and the big ones that cover the entire cannon)

Like Jody, I hate the ones with the metal loops - they are fiddly to put on so you're less likely to whip 'em off to check for debris. Better to have the ones that just velcro around. (I was told by an endurance vet I very much respect when I realized I needed hind boots, that the velcro only ones are good because it's impossible to get them too tight.)

With regard to support-type boots, I have heard that they offer very little to a horse - if you think how much torque is put on a leg, a lil' bitof neoprene and velcro isn't going to make much difference. (I agree)

I have also heard that it is better for your horse to not use such things (particularly in training) as it can have a counteractive effect by making the area weaker from not being stressed (which of course directly contradicts the above paragraph that says support boots don't actually do anything). (I've also heard that anything that is supportive enough to provide support, will be hot enough that it will damage the tendon over the time period we endurance riders need the boot to perform.)

My take: decide if your horse needs them and if not, go without.

With the red/blue led headlamps flooding the market is it more acceptable to use these in the dark since they do not interfere with horse or rider night vision? seems these are better than cylum sticks.

If you can do it, better to use no headlight - you'd be surprised how much you can see how there and it's less unsettling. (Yes, PLEASE DO NOT RIDE WITH THE LIGHT ON, no matter what the color. This is the #1 thing you can do to annoy your fellow riders. I will always try to get ahead or drop behind, but if you insist on drafting me, I will be asking you to turn off your headlamp, no matter what the color.)

Having a red headlight is handy just for occasional map/trail marker checking.

You can get battery-powered glo-sticks really cheap (WalMart sells them)and I like them on the breast collar because they are cheerful in the dark and allow you to see the footing without bugging you or your horse. (My plan for my next 100 miler is the tape the glow sticks on the breast collar, but not snap them unless I need them).

Melinda back in again: I hope you enjoyed her thoughts as much as I did. I think this is good information, no matter what distance you are riding at, and even though much of this was advice I had heard before, good advice is always worth a re-listen, and another re-listen, and another....


  1. Mel,

    Actually I did glean some new information out of that. The more we know...the easier things get.

    Really enjoyed your guest blogger.

  2. Have you tried Farley without the shorter hind interference boots since switching from nail-on shoes to the Renegades? Just curious, seems like that could make a difference.

  3. Nicole - I did.....I don't train with the leg boots, just race in them, so at Oroville I left them off (I was using Renegades). Sure enough - I had little marks on the inside of the fetlock. Not very many - she's differently getting better, but they were there. For the next ride I put the boots on her. It was a very sandy ride and I'm glad I used them, because between her interferring and the gritty sand, it actually wore the inside velcro straps off in places! She's built narrow in the back with cowhocks so I'm not sure I'll ever be able to remove them permenantly. Probably if I decided to ride part of the ride completley barefoot without shoes or boots, I would take the hind boots off. The front boots are a different story - she doesn't interfere up there and doesn't need them so she doesn't wear them unless there are mitigating circumstances - like some of the terrain at Tevis.

  4. Ride completley barefoot without shoes or boots, and use English saddles at the time of riding ,it looks very beautiful.


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