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Maverick's Year of 2005

Just What We Do

Was Maverick ever going to be a full four years old? I had been riding him for a year and a half and I knew he was mentally and physically prepared and ready to enter his first LD (Limited Distance) ride. I eagerly awaited the time when he would become of age. Finally, in mid July, 2005, he was 48 months old and ready to go. I chose Cuneo Creek as his first LD ride which took place in early September. The morning of the ride we started about 10 minutes after the main group had departed. We walked about two miles along and through the creek. Everything was going well.

We crossed the road to the trail and began the gradual uphill assent. As we climbed to between 100-200 feet above the old growth redwood forest floor, I had a spectacular bird's eye view, through the trees which I had never seen before.

Unfortunately my heart monitor was not working so I had to use his breathing rate as an indicator of when to walk. We would trot several hundred feet then walk until his breathing returned to normal. The trail was gradual and easy and there were no problems because he was never put into an anaerobic state. Remember about the tank half full?

The only vet check was just past the highest point on the trail. He completed the check without difficulty. The remainder of the ride continued downhill to the creek and from there it was only two miles to camp.

Maverick's second LD, a 30 miler, was at Chamberlin Creek about two weeks later. At that ride I made a tactical error by misjudging the distance into the vet-check. As a result, we were the last horse and rider to finish. We completed the ride 15 minutes before cut-off time and he easily passed all the vetting criteria.

Since Maverick was young and inexperienced, his legs concerned me because I had jogged him steadily downhill for the last couple miles into the finish. I knew he had been conditioned carefully, but there could have been a problem. I do think the extra five miles made him more fatigued than I liked; he was tired but he was not defeated mentally.

Five weeks later Maverick completed his 3rd LD, again a 30 miler, at Dust Devils near Bend, Oregon. This was a desert ride and quite a nice course for a young horse.
In some cases, the beginning of an endurance ride can be a problem for a horse. Maverick had not started a ride at the front so I felt this ride presented a good opportunity for him to experience the excitement of other horses passing and his own adrenaline rush.
Working with Maverick I make a conscience effort to establish leadership anytime I handle him. Up to this point in his preparation he generally understood this. Occasionally he forgets or ignores it but, for the most part, he looks for leadership from the "leader." The new experience came when I began the ride with everyone else while I lead him in hand. There were a few minor problems, but all in all he did well. I always use a rope halter and lead under the bridle which allows me to lead, when necessary, yet stay off his mouth.
After leading about a mile, past the free range pigs, the trail left the road. I mounted and we walked along the trail. He was still quite tight and wanted to push and trot. I worked to keep him off the bit as much as possible. Finally, after 200-300 yards, I was able to get him to take two flat footed steps before lifting his back to try to trot. This lifting was his signal of " I want to trot". All I had to do was feel it and respond accordingly by suppling him in the face.

It was time to change tactics because I did not like constant contact on his mouth, even though the contact was from side to side. Here is what I did: even though his body continued to be tight, he would give me two flat footed steps, so I asked him to trot after only one step. Why did I do this? I had used this technique successfully in August with another horse. I am the leader and the leader asked him to trot. We trotted approximately 30 yards then I asked him to walk. He responded perfectly by dropping into a flat footed, loose rein self-contained walk. Remember a horse is a creature of habit. He is developing the habit of walking relaxed when dropped into the walk; this is the payoff for rider consistency. I think this allowed him to burn some of his building adrenaline and provided him a needed mental release. He never offered to push again for the entire ride. As a matter of fact, we rode the second half of the ride using just the rope halter. He guided and stopped perfectly.

A month before Dust Devils, I began riding Maverick in a Luis Ortega 1" bosal, a breaking hackamore, which I have had for 20 years. I used it specifically as a tool and let it do its own work without my intervention - other than suppling. I did less with the bosal than the shanked snaffle bit I had been using. He made a great deal of change as a result of the bosal, but he still wanted to carry his head too high and not carry his face in the vertical position without suppling. I did like his level neck carriage. He had not been in the hackamore long enough for me to feel comfortable using it on rides so I returned to the shanked snaffle. This way if anything unforeseen were to happened during the ride he would not have the opportunity to push or run through the hackamore. I put him back into the hackamore after the ride. Once a horse learns to run through a hackamore, more often than not, he will not make a hackamore horse. The difference between the bosal and the hackamore is: the bosal does not include the headstall, fiador and mecate while the hackamore includes all four pieces. However, in different geographical areas, the hackamore and bosal can mean the same.

We finished in good time and I was surprised there were 7 or 8 riders behind us. Much of the ride was on an empty dirt road which offered ample room to practice specific skills such as guiding, changing leads and stops. During the ride I had to "peddle" him with my feet to keep him moving, but that was okay. A gradual change in feed will solve Maverick's low energy issue. However, I will continue feeding him as I am currently in order to keep him from feeling too exuberant. This will enable me to develop his mind without any physical interference. Remember I am working on his mental preparation so I need him to be thinking clearly. Therefore, the feed change must be done with caution. If the change is done too quickly or too much, a horse can liven up to an extreme because of a dramatic response to alfalfa hay. Maverick is sensitive to grain and/or alfalfa hay.

Prior to this ride, I had not ridden him as much as I should; therefore he was not leg properly legged up. About an hour after finishing the ride, his ankles began to show some swelling. Much of this had to do with the hard packed road, but more because he was not in condition. I walked him about 10 minutes around camp each hour on the hour. After six times, the swelling did not return. I then knew he was okay and he was fine the next morning.

A young horse such as Maverick must be kept in condition mentally and physically without any lay offs. Young horses will not retain previous conditioning as do older conditioned horses. The difficulty is to know how to keep him from the dread of being ridden. One way is to slow down and ride shorter distances each day so he will look forward to being ridden. One loop I ride, the chair loop, is 3-4 miles long. It is ridden at a walk and trot five out of seven days per week with no back to back days off. It takes about an hour to an hour and a half to complete. The riding time depends upon how much training I do, backing, circling, turning around and so forth. That is about 25 miles per week. I want him to begin thinking, "Hey, this is easy, I can do this, when do we go again?" Remember the tank?

Due to the horse's adrenaline rush at a ride, it is easy for a rider to "misinterpret" the push as a message from the horse that he is physically fit and ready to go. That adrenaline rush can cause the rider to ride the horse harder than the horse is prepared. This is where the rider misinterprets the exuberance as an indication that the horse is mentally and physically ready. When the rider says, "Wow, he is really getting it. Let's go." Stop! What happens in this situation? The horse becomes the leader. The results are: too much stress on the heart and legs and mentally he thinks he is the leader. Consequently the horse feels tired and his legs hurt. Important: it plants the seed in the horse's mind that he is the leader. Wrong!!!!

Maverick is going to be a first-rate endurance horse. It would be easy to ruin him if I did not continue to bring him along slowly or if I did not avoid my push to enter more rides. I always keep in mind, "it is all about the horse" not about me.

I was going to enter him in The Gold Coast ride in November at Fort Ord, California. It did not take much consideration by me to decide not to take him to that ride because he had been ridden less between Dust Devils and Gold Coast than between Chamberlin Creek and Dust Devils. He was not legged up properly.

I will probably enter Maverick in one or two LD rides between March and July, 2006. He will be hauled to other rides for travel experience and to ride him in specific areas, but mostly for him to believe, "It is just what we do." He still needs more mileage and to grow physically and mentally. This will help him become accustomed to thinking, "It is just what we do."

From time to time, we will enter a ride, but it will not be a new thing to him. I will monitor his mental understanding, responses and how he is adjusting. In the future, when he is 7 or 8 years old, every time he is loaded into a trailer he will be entered in the next ride, yet by that time he will be thinking, "It is just ………………"


Maverick's overall vet score for his three rides was A-. Again, he was never stressed in order for a problem to arise. I always make sure he is a winner every time he is ridden. Failure is not an option.

His camp manners continue to be good, he eats and drinks in camp and during the ride. He has not shown any indication that he is going to fret or be nervous.

Maverick's feet are good yet I am will use Epic Easy Boots on most of his rides. I am doing this because it is added protection from rocks thus allowing me to increase his speed with a little less worry that he might encure a stone bruise accidentally. The goal is to ride Multi Days which can be quite rocky.

His gates are good now and will improve as he progresses. Currently he is not pushing to go faster which is exactly where I want his mind. He will be asked for increased speed gradually as a seven year old. I will us the addition of grain and alfalfa hay in moderation until he reaches the best balance for him which will probably take three to four months. In the mean time he will carry good weight for his body type. He will be ridden most all the time for mental and physical preparation and conditioning so becoming fat is not a problem.

His attitude is good because he is naturally respectful. I do everything I can to encourage and re-enforce that specific trait. The combination of trainability and disposition are inseparable. He is really fun to be with because of these two traits.

At no point during any of his rides was there any attempt to hurry. During the 3rd LD the push by me was to arrive at the finish before cut off time. That would not have been a good strategy early in the ride when he was fresh. The end of the ride he was relaxed, so he did not perceive my push as anything other than just what we do. If he would have started to push on his own, I would have begun walking immediately to the finish irregardless of the remaining riding time.

Mental preparation is the key to preparing an endurance horse. Always remember: who ever controls the feet, controls the mind. It is just that simple.


Keep It Simple


Maverick's History - Page 1



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