Monday, November 2, 2009

Another small step

Yesterday a group of us did the Palomino Valley ride again. I took a bunch of pictures, but if you don't love the desert (hi Mel!) they will probably look boring to you. I walked Dixie down the far side of the mountain, where the road was really rocky, and my calves hurt SO BAD today.

Dixie did just fine and led the group most of the way. S asked us to lead, because Dixie moves out faster than the QHs, and we make better time when she's in the lead. I don't mind leading, because it's good for Dixie - she has to be brave, but it's not as hard for her as being totally alone is.

Mainly I was impressed with Cersei! My dog is pretty awesome. Very early on, maybe a quarter mile from S's place, three loose dogs went running across our path baying at the top of their lungs. Cersei quivered like maybe she ought to chase them, and I yelled "No!" and she stayed with me like glue. We encountered a couple more dogs, and each time I told her to stay with me and she did. The trip's about 9.5 miles, so it tired her out but didn't exhaust her.

I took some video too yesterday! This is when we were almost back home, just cruising down the trail at a TWH's medium walk. My friend on her paint was falling farther and farther behind, and the other three horses were waaaay back there.

Walking down the trail from Funder on Vimeo.

Today I left Cersei snoozing on the couch and went out alone with Dixie. And we did it! I kept her busy weaving very precise tight serpentines around the sagebrushes and before she even realized it we were 1/3 of the way down the shortest loop trail. After that she got a little nervous - we had to stop and stare at every bird and jackrabbit, no matter how far away it was - but she didn't lose her cool and freak out on me. We racked down the sandy straight section of trail headed home, and it was just wonderful. She has the BEST gaits.

She can only rack at a decent clip for about a quarter mile, then she either slows down to a fast walk or breaks into a trot. A very dressagey trot. A trot like she's a cross between a Saddlebred and a kangaroo. It is not remotely a jog. I'm not sure how much I should be asking of her, so I usually just ask her to slow back to a walk. I guess I should ask the endurance mailing lists?

I know that horses can rack for longer periods than that, but I'm not sure if it's good for them to rack that long - it's a naturally inverted gait. Should I (gasp) let my gaited horse trot, just so she works some different muscles? Or should I just keep pushing the walk? Her walk is getting faster, and I don't want to confuse her or ruin her muscle memory. Any ideas?


  1. I know nothing about gaited horses, so can't help there. Loved the video - it looks so smooth!

  2. From what I hear, so don't quote me, it is good to have them switch gaits for endurance. It helps to keep the muscles from getting too tired. I know of a friend of a friend that was using her foxtrotter and now a gaited arab for endurance. She would let them gait and let them hard trot and they didn't tire as easily. The reality is, does it matter to you in the long run if she's the perfect gaited trail horse or the perfect trail horse that gaits. I have three fox trotters and all three are different. One has the perfect fox trot and is perfect on trail (the exception), one that is great on trails and run walks or hard trots and very rarely hits a fox trot. The other one would rather pace and is perfect for my kids because she knows where her feet are at at all times. I can make the last two fox trot, but what I want is a horse that is great on the trail. I had my show horse, the first one, but if he breaks up his gait now, I don't care. I don't show anymore and he's getting old. So with a two year old injury to his hip, I say he can do what he wants as long as he's happy to hit the trails with me. You could work on cuing her to change gaits. When you feel her getting tired, maybe ask her to trot.Change it up a little for her.

  3. The desert is beautiful, isn't it?

    And I'm impressed with your trail dog, as well--Cersei took perfect "point" position in your video, and kept checking on you. A good trail dog is a wonderful thing.

    As for keeping your horse in gait, the endurance community is quite diverse in the opinions about that. My friend Paul (with whom I rode the Mt Adams 100-miler a few years ago) keeps his horse in a gait for any forward motion that isn't walking. Other folks mix it up, with an emphasis on gaiting quickly especially downhill.

    My preference is to mix it up even when I *don't* ride a gaited horse. I will trot mostly, but also ask for canter and walk. I also ask for different speeds of each gait and different amounts of collection, just to keep all the muscle groups stretchy and useful. If the horse is gaited, that just give me a few extra gears to work with, and I use them all.

    I've never ridden a "strongly gaited" horse, though--most of my mounts were dressage-trained, and so they are stronger in the rounded frame.

    That's mho, and ymmv, of course! I'm just so envious of those beautiful dry trails....

  4. Since you're still working with Dixie on building and developing her gaits, the best thing to do is to let her just gait and walk at this point. All these long walking rides are great for her because they will build the same muscles that she needs when gaiting. When you start doing endurance rides with her, then mixing in a bit of trot and canter will be fine, but for now, while she's still getting "set" in her gaits - it's best to not give her those options very much.

    Can you get a slow running walk out of her? Most running walks are only in the 5 mph range or so, much faster and the horse switches over to racking or possibly a stepping pace. Just work on that long fast walk, and gently keep asking for more. Let her rack, then when she breaks gait, bring her down, take a break, and then go again. She'll get the hang of it.

  5. Very interesting thoughts - thanks, yall!

    Foxtrotter, Dixie does a walk, hard trot, rack, canter, and rarely a RW or a stepping pace. I don't mind trotting - it's nice to stand up and post sometimes - but I don't want her to trot so much she forgets how to gait.

    AaraneX - gaiting downhill is still the hardest possible thing for us. She tends to fall into a trot on a downhill slope, so I keep her slowed down just enough to stay out of a trot. I think if she falls out of gait into a trot, she'll keep falling into a canter, and the last thing I want is a lurching canter on the forehand down a slope. So we usually walk slowly downhill, then gait a bit faster uphill.

    C- the running walk is still really hard for her. Everybody seems to agree that the best way to get a RW is to walk, walk, walk, and push for different speeds of walk. But right now, if she's gaiting 5 mph, it's a slow rack. Every now and then in deep sand she'll RW.

    So, endless slow walking miles are good for her body as well as her brain? When I start reading endurance articles I start seriously overthinking things, and none of the advice really fits because she's not an Arab, and aaaargh. I am just going to keep walking, faster and longer, and maybe work on trotting on cue.

    We are going moonlight riding tonight! :)


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