When I really sit down and think about it, two years seems like a long time to be out of the ride saddle. In a way, it’s not — I’ve not been totally removed from the environment, between volunteering for rides and working my job — but enough time to get somewhat out of practice.
Growing up in the saddle served me well — I have a lifetime of muscle memory for the saddle, which is probably what got me through the fact I wasn’t exactly in tip-top ride shape. And while my riding muscles might not be super-tuned, I’m in the best overall shape I’ve ever been. The weight drop I’ve done over the past year and half made an enormous difference, and I felt like I had good stamina to keep trucking down the trail. There were a few moments of burning muscles and the sight of an endless stretch of trail in front of me that made me want to cave to my inner desire to just stop and rest…but I didn’t. This was one of my most successful times in pushing past the discomfort and continuing on without being a hindrance to either my horse or my riding partner.
So, with that in mind, I offer up my bullet points of what worked, what didn’t, and some random lessons and observations along the way.
- Food: If nothing else, this ride just reconfirmed my belief that in reality, rides are just a really good excuse for me to eat. I did well the day before…although I could have done better with hydrating.
- Ride day breakfast: My one and only “sticky” spot when it come to eating. I just flat out don’t like to eat early in the morning, even here at home. That said, I managed quite well. Staying in a warm camper, where I’m shivering around every other bite, was probably a help. I managed: a hard-boiled egg, a banana, yogurt, and coffee.
- Ride day lunch: The only thing that kept me from hoovering more at lunch was the fact it was only a half hour hold. That said, I still managed: a salami-cheese-spicy mustard sandwich, tapioca pudding, Kerns nectar, coconut water, a few chips.
- During the ride: Food fail. I could have done a lot better, since there is apparently a direct correlations between the faster I go, the less I eat. Obviously, multitasking is not a strength, at least when it comes to trotting along, digging through saddle packs to find out what I have to munch. The fact that it was a 30, and that I had a good breakfast and lunch, probably helped. I managed: apple-banana sauce, one pack of energy blocks, a chewy granola bar, Succeed Amino sports drink, water.
- Meds: I only took two Aleve halfway through the first loop. True confessions: While I’d like to chalk all of that up to just feeling that good…fact is, I lost the little pack I use as the “mini medicine cabinet.” I can only conclude that when I stuffed it back into my pack after digging it out the first time, it either didn’t go where I thought it went, or somehow bounced out along the way. Of course, I didn’t discover this until I went hunting for it on the second loop. My saving grace was the fact I had my electrolytes in a separate little baggie, so they were still in my pack. Taking those regularly seemed to help a great deal as well. I took two Aleve before bed that night, and then that was it for pain meds for the rest of the weekend. Lots of getting up, moving around, up and down steps in and out of the camper kept me from getting too tight.
- Stirrup buckles: Well, those were a no-go. The sorest part of me was the thigh area right where the stirrup buckle hits. On my saddle, the stirrup bars aren’t recessed, which means the bars of the saddle don’t curve inward and create pressure points on the horse. The problem is, it creates pressure points for the rider. I switched back to the Wintec Webbers once I got home and covered them in fleece covers…I think that’ll work. The fleece makes them a little more stable.
- Stirrups: I’m still not a happy camper in the stirrup department. I went back to my old EZ-Ride stirrups for this ride…although I popped the cages off of them. They worked…although I still don’t love them…and they make a really annoying squeaking sound if the side of my Terrains rubs against them when trotting or cantering. I wasn’t comfortable using the Flex-Rides, especially riding in my Terrains, since they’re narrow enough to catch my foot if I bounce or let my foot slip too far forward. They’re super-light, but what I’ve learned bout super-light stirrups: they don’t weigh themselves down enough. And I hadn’t ridden enough in the composite irons I’d been testing to be comfortable doing a ride in them. And I suspect I’ll have the same problem with them being too light. Verdict: Stick with what I know mostly works, for now.
- Southern California high desert is different than my desert. It’s much, much drier. To the point where I actually experienced the dried and cracked knuckles effect. (Ouch.) Aquaphor Healing Ointment is a good thing and has since been added to my supply list.
- I have to resign myself to the fact that the minimalist approach and I are never going to get along. Specifically, I’m referring to saddle packs. “Pack mule” is probably the best descriptor. This ride, I had front pommel packs with water bottle holders, plus a rear boot bag. I should have used the second rear boot bag as well. I ended up with too much stuff crammed in my packs, so I had a hard time knowing what I had in terms of food, and had to dig too hard to find stuff. And for a 50, I’ll either need to add rear packs for more water, or carry a Camelbak.
- The buddy system is still the best way to get through a ride, preferably a buddy you really enjoy spending time with, and can giggle like a couple of hysterical loons through the boring or tough parts.
- I got a hands-on lesson in outside-the-box Renegade fit and function. Kody wears his pastern straps even longer than recommended: a good 3-4 fingers under the strap. The standard 2 fingers makes the strap too tight for his long pasterns. A case in point of “YMMV” (Your Mileage May Vary) when it comes to boots, and another tool added to my recommendations arsenal.
- I didn’t end up using my newer Ariats yet. Again, I haven’t put in the kind of conditioning miles with them to know whether they’re work for sure or not, and they’re snug-fitting enough (at least at this point) for me to suspect they’ll be better summer boots and probably too snug with thicker winter socks. So, the old standby Terrains got pressed into service yet again.