Sunday, January 1, 2012

Scary Moments in Horse Training

1,200 pound prey animals are inherently dangerous. Even if you've got the most well-trained horse EVER, stuff happens. When you're dealing with a young horse, well, watch out. Case in point: today's trailering fiasco.

If you've never seen a horse in this position, you've never watched a very large, fat horse try to turn around in a rather narrow trailer. Sorry about the bad art; even if I had had a camera at the time, I wouldn't exactly have wanted to stop and take a picture.

Annie and I were having a good training session. We took a little walk and brushed up our leading-nicely skills, longed, and she was good for everything. Since she was calm and well-behaved, I figured this would be a good time to work on our trailering. Annie has trailered before, but she doesn't like it, and it takes a while to convince her to hop in. Closing the door and getting her to come out are stressful for her. If we're going to any parks/events this spring, we have to do better.

Eventually I got her in the trailer without too much fuss; just a lot of patient bribing and waiting. She has no problem stepping up into the trailer (there's no ramp) and indeed, she practices it daily on the tack room steps, much to my chagrin. It's getting herself all the way inside that scares her. It's kind of dark and echoey in there, and she can't see what monsters might be waiting outside. This time, however, she was pretty calm. The bucket of sweetfeed certainly helped. I let her eat a while and petted her, and tried to make being inside this dark scary tin can a positive experience. Then it was time to back out.

Annie has no problem backing up, at least on the ground. In the trailer, it's way more scary for her. Again, she can't see out, so she doesn't know what she's backing her butt into (it's the totally familiar yard she's always been in, but it COULD have transformed into a lava pit while she was in the trailer). There's also a "big" step downward for her, which she can't see. Plus, and here's where my own idiocy didn't help matters, the back end of the trailer was a bit wet/slippery. Well, she backed up, hit the slippery spot, slithered around a bit, and came forward again all spooked and jittery now. Damn, I should have put sand down!

We tried a couple more times, and she just wasn't having any of it. She pooped nervous-green-diarreha stuff and made the floor more slippery. She got so upset that she started to try to turn around in the trailer with me in it. I stopped her, jamming my finger pretty good in the process, and got her eating again, but I knew this project was going bad fast.

That's when I abandoned ship. "Sorry kid, but I can't have you squishing me to death." I unclipped the leadrope, slipped past her and went out the back (having foolishly neglected to unlatch the escape door). Whew! I rushed to grab a broom, and attacked the mess at the end of the trailer. Annie didn't move, just stared back at me with a pathetic expression. I felt terrible.

She was still pretty calm, and I for a moment I thought she'd back out on her own, but suddenly she bent sideways and threw herself forward at the same time.

This is pretty much my trailer, except mine is green and the windows were boarded over during the winter of Annie's injury, so that she'd be warmer on the hour-long trip to and from surgery. As you can see, it's not a small trailer. You can technically fit four horses in it, if you can get them to stand closely side by side. However, it's not a wide trailer. I'd guess five or six feet wide. Annie is probably nine feet long. You can see how the math doesn't work out here.

She got stuck, then went down on her knees, practically staring at her rear toes. I was totally terrified, but at least I didn't start yelling or yanking. Annie seemed unhappy, but not panicked; she stayed in this position for a minute or so, and then heaved herself around with a heroic effort, scurried out of the trailer and stopped. I caught her immediately and gave her lots of sympathy treats and petting. She was uninjured, except for a bit of a scape on her side.

I can just imagine how well our next trailering sessions is going to go!

My hubby suggested backing her into the trailer in the first place. I'm not sure I can back her into anything I can hardly get her to go into front-ways, but at least it would save us the terrifying conundrum of backing out. *sigh* Poor Annie. I HAVE to do better next time.

New Year's Resolutions for My Horse and I

It's the new year! Time to start a new chapter in our lives. About two months ago, I promised I would publish my endurance/fitness training plan and schedule "soon." Well, here it is! Finally. I just hope that I'm more dedicated in my execution of these plans than in my planning of these plans.

As a reminder, my goal is this: The Tevis. 100 miles in 24 hours, in the roughest, most mountainous terrain imaginable, at high altitude. To get there, Annie and I need to be FIT. I would like to lose at least 40 pounds. 60 would be ideal. Annie and I both need to be able to run/walk some serious mileage too.

First, I've already entirely remodeled my food supply. I went through my 'fridge and cupboards with a giant trash bag. I stocked up on a few sweetish snacks to satisfy cravings (dried fruit, yogurt, jello, popsicles, orange juice). I don't want to deny myself all "real" junk food, because that's a quick route to failure, but I do want to make some permanent healthy changes in what I eat to satisfy cravings. I also went through a couple of diet books and picked out foods that were healthy, but not A) disgusting B) expensive or C) hard to prepare. This was tougher than I thought. Who the hell has access to organic kumquats? Does anyone really own Hawaiian sea salt? I think all diet books are written by people living in L.A. or New York, next to some fancy whole-foods-diet-store. Me, I've got Piggly Wiggly.

Around here, we call it "The Pig," as in, "hey, there's a special on ground beef at The Pig!" I love the Midwest.

My diet plans are probably boring you to death, but here's the deal: you can't expect your horse to perform well if you aren't performing well. I know for sure Annie is going to be happier, more sound and have more endurance if I can see to it that she isn't carrying around an extra fifty pounds of my un-athletic lard. That principle would apply to our riding no matter what sport or past-time I set my sights on. We have to remember that horses aren't "meant" to be ridden. They didn't evolve with a  sticker on their backs saying, "place human butt here." They can, with enough conditioning and training, carry us-- but we also have a responsibility to make that extra burden as light as possible. We can be fat if we want to-- hey it's your own life-- but when our fat affects others, it's time to re-think.

I'm sure this lady loves her horse. I'm equally sure 100lbs less would make him feel even more loved.

Annie gets a fitness plan too. Her diet will remain pretty much the same, with the addition of some supplements-- but she's going to have to do more work. To help her out, I'm going to be reading and re-reading the excellent book, "Centered Riding," which has already helped me maintain better balance and posture while riding-- something Annie appreciates. I should mention, at this point, that I'm not counting on Annie going to the Tevis for sure. I love her, and would never sell her, but I do need to be realistic about her abilities. She's a big-ass cowhorse, built like a tank, not a runner. Already I can tell she's going to have problems keeping up the necessary speed, and there's still the lingering question of how her old injury will affect her performance. However, I am still determined to do it; I just might need to buy an extra horse in 2-3 years. (Yay for horse shopping!) In the meantime, we'll do our best.

Below, I've posted our fitness schedules. Mine come first; "W" stands for Walk or Workout (as in, walking, running, walking with a weighted backpack, etc). Riding comes next, with an "R," except for the first couple rides where I anticipate having to walk Annie down some of the trails as she adjusts to new/scary surroundings; that's a Walk/Ride.

For both of us, I'm concentrating on mileage here, instead of minutes. That's an endurance thing; it's also a mental thing. It means that I'm pretty dedicated to going the distance, no matter how long it takes. If I have to run it to get it done in one night, fine. But if I ain't got the gumption to run, I'm still going the distance.

My own training program peaks at thirty miles in one day; at my usual walking pace, that's about nine hours of walking. That goal dovetails nicely with my expectations for Annie-- I'll only be asking her to carry me as far as I'm willing to carry myself. (Annie won't be eligible for longer than 30-mile rides until she's five years old.) This is also a training program roughly based on the suggested training program for the Vierdaagse, the famous four-day march through the Netherlands, where participants walk 30-50km each day for four days. It's one of my dreams to go there and do it. You can check it out here.

Wk 1 5 mi W / 2 mi W/R
Wk 2 5 mi W / 2 mi W/R
Wk 3 6 mi W / 2 mi R
Wk 4 5 mi W / 2 mi R

Wk 1 8 mi W / 5mi R
Wk 2 8 mi W / 2 mi R
Wk 3 10 mi W / 5 mi R
Wk 4 12 mi W / 3 mi R
March/Wk 5 15 mi W / 5 mi R

Feb./Wk 1 20 mi W / 5 mi R
Wk 2 15 mi W / 7 mi R
Wk 3 25 mi W / 10 mi R
Wk 4 12 mi W / 5 mi R  -- Trip to the local horse trails park
Wk 5 20 mi W / 10 mi R

Wk 1 20 mi W / 10 mi R
Wk 2 12 mi W / 15 mi R  -- Trip to the local horse trails park
Wk 3 25 mi W / 10 mi R
Wk 4 12 mi W / 15 mi R  -- Trip to the local horse trails park

Wk 1 20 mi W / 10 mi R
Wk 2 12 mi W / 15 mi R  -- Horse camping trip (weather permitting)
Wk 3 20 mi W / 10 mi R
Wk 4 30mi W / 20 mi R
Wk 5 10 mi W / 5 mi R  -- Trip to the local horse trails park

June 3rd: 12 mile novice endurance ride in Palmyra, WI