|So many little white pony ear shots…the only thing that
changes is the scenery. Always bold and always perky.
In reading Funder’s blog post about her Nevada Derby 50 ride, she had a section where she talked about sled dog racing, lead dogs, and the similarities to that and endurance. She put into words pretty much exacty what I was thinking, so with her permission, I copy it here:
I spent a lot of time thinking about lead dogs.
This year I fell off into watching the Iditarod pretty closely, and I read two books about long-distance sled racing. It’s fascinating, really, the similarities and differences between endurance riding one horse and endurance racing 8-16 dogs. One of the main things sled racers worry about is their lead dogs. Not every dog has it in her to lead the pack, and only the best of the best can lead for a thousand miles straight. Most teams — even winning teams — rotate between several lead dogs. If your lead dog quits on you, he’s probably nottired, he’s just mentally tired from being in front, and he needs to just run with the pack in the middle for a couple (hundred) miles.
So that was perking along in the back of my mind all day. It’s hard to be the lead dog.When Dixie and I were leading, I noticed that I had to concentrate much harder to make damn sure I was on the right trail. Can I see a ribbon ahead? When’s the last time I saw one? How’s the footing ahead, should I slow us down, don’t forget to signal when you slow down! What do I remember about this section? Can we walk for a quarter mile and get to better trail, or is this a section where you trot ten feet and walk ten feet and trot again?
The horses are the same way. And they’re herbivores, not brave predators. The lead horse has to watch for rocks and pick her footing; the horses behind the lead horse just step exactly where the lead horse stepped. (You’ve seen this — you know that if the horse in front of you stumbles over a rock, there’s a 90% chance your horse is going to stumble over the same damn rock.) It’s hard to be the lead dog for a horse too!
And I kept that in mind all afternoon as we swapped out our lead dogs. They’d all recovered fine, they weren’t lame, and Dixie and Kody are both hundred-mile horses. They weren’t tired; they were tired of leading. I didn’t get mad at Dixie, and I didn’t fall into my usual “she’s just not cut out for this sport we should give up” pit of despair. She did really well and she was really honest!
This past year, riding so many different horses showed me that this is kind of bold leadership is not par for the course. While it happened to varying degrees with a number of the horses I rode, I’m thinking specifically about Liberty.
|Less bold at this ride and much more
“wibbley-wobbley” young horse.
And riding horses who don’t have it quite “all together” yet has been more mentally taxing on me as a rider, including a couple of times at rides last year of missing ribbons/getting off course. Apparently I don’t multi-task as well as I thought…
I also touched on this a bit when musing about heart rate monitors — that “mental wall” is part of why I do like to ride with one, especially on horses I don’t know as well. It helps tell me whether they truly are tired and it’s reflecting in their pulse, or if they’re just mentally tired.
|In front, and braver…but it took a lot of support on my part
to keep her there.
I’m sure some of this is my “growing pains” of adapting to riding other horses. Like I said, the pony has me spoiled, and the faster I get used to the fact that not every horse is going to be another Mimi, the easier it’ll be on me. And fortunately, I’ve still got her to fall back on, when I need a confidence booster or don’t want the pressure of having to be so “on” as a rider the entire time. (Not to say I let my guard down with her…the times I have, it’s usually ended up in a parting of the ways…that pony moves fast.)