Now, back to the beginning, keeping October 6th in mind! I had already successfully conditioned horses for endurance in a very short time. The day I took Allegria to my home training facility, I knew the ride we wanted to do was only 45 days away and that Allegria had no training for that. She was basically a “pasture potato”, with a wonderful attitude but only one short trail ride with me in the saddle, albeit one that included her first, remarkably nonchalant, river crossing. At her arrival at my barn I noticed that she was not nervous about being in the new place and was curious instead of stressed. We started immediately with our training by going out on the trail. From the beginning of her training we worked every day and were able to finish 32nd out of 82 starters, a pretty good performance considering her limited fitness conditioning and inexperience.
In preparing Allegria for this race, I learned a lot about Marchadors that can be applied to any gaited endurance horse, learned more on how H2H Sensing could truly empower a horse whose willingness to relate met me more than halfway, and got wonderfully reinforced for the priorities I set and the methods I employ as an endurance trainer. One thing I noticed, which I attribute to Allegria’s being a “picada” or laterally gaited horse, is that, while I could not compete with the Arabians for speed over the flat sections, they could not keep up with Allegria on the slopes. Because of the genetics and “picada” mechanics , her gait on slopes is more efficient. Allegria got all A’s at every vet check, despite competing in a field of mainly Arabian horses, which are universally considered better suitable for endurance than the Mangalarga Marchador based on their greater efficiency and speed in covering distance, and their ability to “pulse down”.
During the ride Allegria did not have any problem in those areas. Equally important to me was the fact that, although we mostly rode by ourselves, only occasionally passing or being passed by other riders, Allegria had no problem following my lead and not the other horses. Moreover, at the vet checks, my little ingenue mare took to the attention from volunteers helping with the horses with the aplomb of a veteran, eating, drinking and calmly resting. It was so reassuring to see her drinking, a vital determinant for the health of an endurance horse, and a skill we worked on during her training by setting up buckets with water on the trails.
In taking the challenge of training Allegria I had to consider many different aspects. The facility where I was training had a quarter mile circular galloping track and groomed trails, that allowed us to reach a good fitness level. By working every day, and through the relationship built by working with H2H Sensing, Allegria and I both were confident that we could finish the real endurance course. Most importantly, I had to make sure that the training that she was going to receive was not going to damage her. She underwent a lot of changes in a very short time, beginning with being stabled in a stall instead of the pasture, then to having her diet modified to fulfill the new needs for her activity. Her very balanced mind helped her in coping with her new neighbors and all the changes.
Because she came from the pasture, her muscles, bones and joints were not used to being exercised and this was even more true under the weight of a rider. Fortunately, my degree in Veterinary Medicine assisted me in this task. Just keeping a close eye on her limbs gave me an indication of how she was doing with the training. The response of a horse’s body is something I always respect, and I avoid using aids that would mask the real situation. Instead I use all the available time wisely in activities that are appropriate for each moment of the training. Her joints did swell mildly, as expected. When that happened we just took it easier and worked on fine tuning her responses to my cues. We worked off line on getting in sync with each other and building our horsemanship from the ground up. The aerobic training we did was on the track and on the small hills of the property trails.
I closely monitored her heart rate and recovery, but without using a heart monitor. With a new horse I prefer to just listen closely to her behavior and vital signs, rather than relying on technology, so I also get to know them better. A change in heart monitor signals will not tell me that the horse is uncomfortable as quickly as my own focused observation of his general state. Later, when a horse is trained and I know how he behaves in a race, having a heart monitor can be a big advantage. Allegria’s heart rate rise and recovery speed improved fast, as did her ability to stay in gait for long periods of time. To build endurance I use interval training, which puts less wear and tear on the horse than covering long distances without a break. Then, once every two weeks I take the horse on a long and slow ride, possibly in company of another horse.
Allegria’s previous experience under saddle was very minimal, including her experience under saddle or in paddock with strange horses and new locations. To offset her inexperience, I practiced some dressage. I never expected to take her, spur of the moment, to a dressage clinic given by Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz, an Olympic dressage rider from Spain. (Allegria and I stood in for an injured horse that Allegria’s owner originally planned to present at the clinic). We were not really ready for such an important task, but Allegria acted like it was no big deal. Even the covered arena and the audience did not upset her. This was an important confirmation of her wonderful lead mare personality, which I saw again in her reaction to “camping” with other horses, the night before the race.
The Manzanita ride base camp offered corrals to house the horses, but they were very small and attached. Allegria was between two other horses. In the evening, when the horses were fed, she became very territorial. She chased the others away from her food and water, making them stand on the opposite side of their corrals, until she was done eating, then she became again the sweet mare I knew. At dawn, I saddled her up while the riders of the 50 mile ride were leaving camp. Allegria let me get everything ready and we calmly went to the start where the other 81 horses were lining up. She couldn’t have been more focused or more in tune with me. I felt like we were one entity, able to choose the speed and gait, able to pass or let others pass us. It took us a little more than four hours to cover the distance, including portions of mountain tracks too narrow to turn back and steep uphills intermixed with downhill slopes and easier trail.
Thanks to the horsemanship built through H2H Sensing, Allegria’s performance was very promising and I hope to be able to take her again on other rides.
Having a horse is a choice, not a necessity anymore. Being always open to a better perspective, from healthcare to shoeing, from training to tack, keeps us always on the cutting edge and able to best enjoy our time with horses. …And the Mangalarga Marchador is one that can best accompany people in their life journey!