I mentioned in my camp/weekend recap yesterday that on Saturday afternoon we did a pace exercise. Camelot is so wonderfully set up that they grade and keep maintained a 1300m (a hair over 3/4 mile) gallop track. This track isn’t perfectly flat, but it is a loop over gently undulating hills, and during events they sometimes will use it for part of the cross country course. They mark the start and end, and have measured 100 meter markers all the way around so it’s perfect for a timed gallop or a free one!
The goal of pace was to get a feel of the gallop you need to compete at your level in cross country, and how you can speed up and slow down as needed to make time and set yourself up for fences. So we split up into groups by the level we’re competing and headed out a few at a time. First we walked around the track to get the horses used to it (which was a super good call because some clever drivers on the road think it’s a super good choice to honk at riders as they pass them), and get a feel for the turns and shape of the track.
Then it was time to gallop. I got to go first because I love going first and Alana wanted to talk to some of the other riders in my group about their plan. She sent me out with the goal of going Novice speed — 350-400 meters per minute (mpm). I turned Murray towards the start, and when I kissed at him he started cantering immediately, and he didn’t need any encouragement to kick it up into a gallop. I’m not sure how often you all gallop your horses, but there is nothing like it. Murray can really get moving in the outdoor arena during our jump lessons, but he never breaks into a real gallop. There’s this moment when you’re moving that you feel the rhythm go from three beats to four, and… it just makes you feel free.
I had to hold Murray back a little to make the pace, and ended up coming in a little under time, so was closer to 410 mpm. In the first 400 meters, I’d wondered if grabbing a chunk of mane might help me steady myself so I didn’t hit Murray’s mouth if I got fatigued in my two-point, but the second my hand touched his neck Murray kicked up the speed, so I kept my hands low and just half halted with my seat if I needed to. We passed the lowest portion of the course — a little swail through some trees — and as we moved uphill I felt Murray surge and really start eating up the ground. I asked him to come back and was rewarded with a couple of bucks and leaps, lost my stirrup, and galloped the next 400 meters with just the one. I managed to get my stirrup back when Murray and I slowed passing some riders walking on a nearby trail, and was back up in my jockey position for the last part of the track.
It was so fun. Seriously, so fun.
Murray promptly went into hungry hungry hippo mode upon finishing and munched on grass while the other three horses in our group did their gallops. We had the option to do two more, but since we were essentially on pace for our first one we just opted for one more so I could let him go a bit.
As soon as I pointed him toward the start, Murray knew exactly what we were doing — he was galloping again right away (he LOVES his job). This time he was even less inclined to be held back, and I tried a little but wasn’t too worried about it. His gallop felt effortless, flowing, and uphill; I was totally balanced on his back. So we galloped and with a little holding passed the 400 meter marker around 50 seconds (about 480 mpm). As we went down towards the trees again Murray kicked it into fifth gear and would not be convinced otherwise. Coming out of the trees was where Murray really surprised me, and hit a pace I seriously didn’t even know he had. His legs moved further and faster, he reached forward with his neck, and I worried for a fraction of a second until I realised that he was still listening to me. Then I just leaned into it and enjoyed it. We did the second part of that pace at 600 mpm and I seriously think Murray could have done more.
All of the track trainers and riders who blog have seriously been holding out on us — that shit is fun and I want to do it all the time. No wonder racing is a sport, passion, and profession — it is an absolute rush. When you are totally there, totally listening, and it’s just you and your horse going 22 miles and hour, and there is nothing like it.
I fucking love my racehorse.