"But wait wait wait!" (My Dear Reader says) - "what unpleasant decision?????"
Fear not, it has nothing to do with Farley. You see, we are experiencing a weather event here in the central valley of California that occurs about every 10 years - it might snow.
Do I ride???? In bitterly cold, potentially ice and wet conditions? - I'm thinking.....no. I'm less than a week out from that 35 mile ride and so there's no good reason to risk poor enviornmental conditions and get a ride in. Some turn out and fuzzy pony lovin' is all I need to do for the next couple of days.
But my running is a different story. I really wanted to get in a HIIT run, and a 2 hour longer/slower run in over the next 3 days. I was obssessively checking the hourly report on my phone as I drove to school this morning, trying to find a magic window of time where the following conditions were met:
1. Not in school in a class
2. Over 40 degrees (F)
3. NOT 25 mph cold north wind
4. Not raining or snowing
And......the consensus is...that I'm screwed.
So, let's move onto happier topics. Today I have a really interesting concept from human running studies, that may be applicable to our endurance horses in a very interesting way.
Here's your assigned reading - http://www.scienceofrunning.com/2013/11/deception-lies-and-performance_22.html It's perfectly ok to skim!
Did you click the link? I didn't think so....CLICK THE LINK!!!!!!!!
OK. What did you think?
Here's some of the more interesting sections (emphasis is mine as well as anything in parenthesis).
Our body continually monitors and essentially predicts what pace we can run to the finish line without damaging ourselves and we adjust the pace accordingly. As a quick example, if we know it is very hot outside, we will adjust our pace from the very start of the race. We won’t wait until our core temperature gets near critical levels. (the point being that we don't do this conciously, our BRAIN says "you are able to put in this much effort" and adjusts the "wall" or "preceived fatigue" accordingly). Instead, we have anticipation and our brain essentially runs a calculation based on available data.
The point is that performance is the result of how closely matched our expected effort and our actual effort is matched. We have all of the prior experience and expectations that guide how we expect to feel. And then our actual sense of effort is formed based on the internal and external feedback we are receiving during the race.
As a runner, what this author says, and the research he summariazes absolutely rings true to me. In addition to the specific studies he mentions and summarizes, there are some other interesting studies about how our brain has a "governor" that decides how much fatigue we should feel and how much effort it's going to allow us to put forth - I believe this subject was covered by Radiolab if you are into podcasts :). Rinsing your mouth out with a fluid that contains nutrients (carbs etc) rather than water...even if you don't swallow, will actually stimulate the governor to loosen the reins and allow you to put forth more effort.
Much like weight control and health hinges both on nutrition and exercise, athletic performance depends on both physical AND mental factors.
What about our endurance horses? If anticipation of distance or time plays such a big role in human perception of fatigue or effort..... could this relate to our horses tooo????????
Now, it's always dangerous to apply human sport physiology studies to horses. It's also a bit sketchy to apply human emotions or thoughts to our animals, including horses.
I can't even imagine the fallacy of applying a PSYCHOLOGICAL HUMAN EXERCISE study to horses.
But hey, it's my blog and I can go off the deep end if I want right?
Here's what I know about my 15 year old horse who has been doing this endurance thing for 7 seasons.
- She pees when I walk up to her pen. Every single time. It's like she knows we are going out for a ride and is preparing herself physically
- When she sees the number takers coming into a vet check up ahead, she goes to the side of the trail and pees.
- At the 40 min point in a 1 hour vet check, she stops eating and takes a nap.
- At the 55 min point, she won't stand still and is pulling towards the out timer.
- If her last race was an LD - she is a raving maniac and I will fight her for 25 miles.
- If her last race was a 50, she pulls a bit but isn't naughty.
- If her last race was a 100, we will start on a loose rein, and she doesn't waste any energy arguing with me.
- If her last race was a 100, she will also self stop more often before a steep up or down and ask me to get off. If you last race was an LD, she will blow off ups and downs and get frusterated with me when I get off.
- If it's a trail she's done before (like Tevis) she can pace herself to the end and will usually finish a repeat trail faster than she did the first time because she did it more efficiently.
With the above scenarios, it's hard for me to argue that my horse DOESN'T anticipate distance or the time we will be on the trail, like what is described in the human studies. Unless it's a repeat ride that she knows as a 100, I don't think I'm communicating well what distance we are doing that day, and she uses whatever our last distance was to decide what we are doing that day.
I've done some LD multi days and some 50 multi days on Farley. I think the reason she gets "stronger and stronger" as the days go by is because the anticipation of exact distance and time gets more and more cemented in her brain as the days go by, until the third of fourth day she's so sure the exact distance and time, that she's working much closer to her potential for that distance.
What's the value of considering whether this concept might apply to our endurance horses?
- Realize that horses may anticipate distance - which might be an issue if you want to do 100's and you are doing a ton of LD's or 50's in a row.
- it might be worth trying to communicate to a horse what distance you are doing that day - perhaps a different set up for LDs, 50's, or 100's.
- Realize that the mental game may be a huge component of endurance riding for the horse - not just the physical - and develop strategies during a ride to support the horse mentally as well as physically.
- Allow horses to establish routines at rides, and if you see them develop it's not a bad thing. Sure, you don't want a horse that is calling *all* the shots, but allowing the horse to develop consistency and patterns could allow the horse to mentally anticipate that day's "events" and thus tap a little deeper into it's physical reserves.
What do you guys think??????????