Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Hill

Our house is at the top of a long, sloping hill. The hill is about three-quarters of a kilometre long, and while it doesn't seem that steep when you're driving, it certainly gets your muscles burning and lungs chugging if you're walking. I could use that hill to get myself in shape. Instead, I've made it a part of Murray and Maggie's workout routine. Every time I ride, I walk them down the hill and get them to trot back up. It's amazing how different two rides on the same hill can be.

Maggie's approach to the hill is much the same as her approach to every other energy consuming task in life--leisurely.

On the walk down, she plods along the the side of the road, weaving like a drunken sailor, snatching at wayward branches in hopes of pulling off a few leaves.

When we reach the bottom, we turn back toward home and I urge her into a trot. She reluctantly shuffles into a slow, short-strided jog. With much prompting, she maintains this energy-conserving pace until we're in line with our neighbour's mailbox (about halfway up the hill). Then, we take a short walk break. Once we pass the neighbour's driveway, I cluck and squeeze, and manage to get the same reluctant up-hill jog once again. She huffs and puffs, but I'm usually able to keep her trotting until we reach the crest of the hill. Then I let her slow to her meandering walk once again.

Murray has more of a "hurry up and get this over with" approach.
On our way down, he marches purposefully, head up, ears pricked and eyes focused on the traffic travelling the pothole filled Indian Rd. a kilometre or so away. Often, he's paying so much attention to his surroundings, and so little attention to what he's doing that he trips over his own hooves.

When we get to the bottom of the hill, he jigs a bit, in anticipation of the inevitable turn back toward home. I wait him out as long as I can, then, when I'm ready, I point his nose back up the hill. I make him walk for a few more steps, then I simply think "ok, lets go". His pent-up energy explodes, propelling him up the hill at a gallop. I squeeze the reins and slow him back down to a brisk trot.

Murray's ground-covering up-the-hill trot is nothing like Maggie's shuffling jog. He's so full of exuberance that he practically floats above the surface of the road, reaching, stretching, covering more ground that many horses could even at a canter. He flicks his toes and rotates his shoulders so that his legs are extended to their fullest reach, and for a moment in each stride he's suspended in mid-air, with all four feet off the ground.

It's a great feeling. The problem is, it's a pace that simply can't be maintained over a long, steep incline. A quarter of the way up, and his enthusiasm starts to wane. His nostrils expand and contract, pulling in as much oxygen as possible. His steps shorten, his rhythm slows. By the time we reach the half-way point (the neighbour's mailbox), the bounce has gone out of his step and his whole body heaves with the effort of each breath.

We take a break. When his breathing settles, he willingly moves back into a trot, only this time it's much more subdued. Unlike Maggie though, Murray can't make it over the crest of the hill. He has to come back to a walk several metres before the point where overweight, energy conserving Maggie does.

I thought that after a few times, Murray might catch on, and might try to use his energy more efficiently, but alas, he always starts off with the same burst of vigorous enthusiasm, and it always fades before we reach the top. I guess I understand now how slow-and-steady really can win the race. Perhaps that's why Murray was so unsuccessful in his earlier career on the track.

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