I should have done this yesterday, but like most Mondays I am just too busy to write about all the things that happen over the weekend.
Saturday I headed up to Dufferin forest with Adriana who was riding, and Lily and my sister Heather who were volunteering. Since we were running ahead of schedule, we took the scenic route, and stopped by the Trail Side Cafe in Caledon East which is one of my favorite spots to visit. Apparently its also the girls favourites! And we all got some enormous and tasty muffins.
We got to the ride site right at 11:00 as planned, and found Sue who introduced us to Foxy and Easy. The two got a ton of attention while we waited for vetting to start and seemed to be smiling as we brushed them over. Marg came with Desmil for Adriana, and our attention turned to that before vetting. We both vetted clear, and Adriana found a sponsor…. then found out she didn’t actually need one. We are still learning these new junior rules!
We hit the trail at about 1:10 for the 12 mile set speed. There were so many people riding in it! I guess now that set speed is included for year end overall points, it gives more incentive to do the shorter distances too. And why not?
The trail was 2 laps of a 6 mile loop. Our first loop we took very slowly, almost walked the whole way. Carol was trying to get Star settled (as he can be a pain in the butt when he decides he wants to race!) and we all were happy to just walk along too and enjoy the sun shining through the trees. It was pretty cool, but since we were moving, it wasn’t miserable. My favourite part of the trail is right near the end of that loop, where the footing turns to soft fallen pine needles and everything is quiet and feels magical.
Foxy and I got along just fine, riding an off the track standardbred is quite a bit different than other horses. First, they lean on the bit to balance them and go faster, so if I wanted to get her moving, I had to remember to not just kick, but give her something to work with. Since it was so relaxed, I spent most of the ride on a loose rein however. Next, she is still figuring out her balance. So as long as we were keeping up with the other horses and she was comfortable, I just let her pick her gait. My hands off approach seemed to work just fine with her. Twice, she did choose to pace (instead of canter) and we just flew! What an interesting sensation. I have felt it many times before, but never that fast and smooth.
Our second loop, we kind of clicked into the idea of “oh maybe we should get moving so we can actually be ON the set speed chart” So we trotted most of the way. This seemed to please Foxy greatly. Towards the end of our first loop, she was getting impatient and tossing her head, trotting is clearly what she does best and she was happy to show her skills. We vetted in at the end with all A’s and a heart rate of 45, not bad for a non-Arab and it was BETTER than when we came off our slow first loop.
Adriana finished up a bit later, they had held the new riders back at the start so there wouldn’t be bunching up on the trail. That happened anyway to us, Foxy almost planted a good 2 hoof kick on a horse that came up behind us and between her and Easy. Either way, we were all in by 4 and all had a blast. I ended up with a grade 3, Adriana grade 4 (her pace was a bit slower than ours).
Set speed is new to OCTRA last year, and we are all still figuring out the finer points of it, but the basics are this:
Grades are based on a chart where heart rates are listed in the rows, and speed in the columns. At the end of the ride, you must reach parameters (56bpm or as designated by ride manager) within 20 minutes of crossing the finish line in order to “complete”. At 30 minutes after the finish line, you receive a 60 second count of your heart rate and that is what rate is used for scoring in the chart. Your speed is calculated without the holds and starts from the moment the trail opens to the moment you cross the finish line. The cell that your column/row meet at is your grade. Grade 1 being the best. Divisions are bronze, silver and gold and the difference is the speed on the chart (must go faster while maintaining your heart rate)
It is especially interesting to see it now as everyone figures out their strategies. Since it isn’t the first to cross the finish line that necessarily wins, people are trying all sorts of techniques. There is the slow and steady approach. Some will take a fast first loop, and slow second loop in hopes to bring the heart rate lower on the second loop. Some will go fast both times and take an extra long break in the middle. It means lots of passing on the trail. Bottom line is, you need to know your horse, because the best pace for your horse’s condition will always give you the best result.