So, my first tentative plan was to ride Brisa in a 25 mile LD next spring, followed by another in the fall with a couple 10-15 mile organized but non-sanctioned trail rides in between. I figured I would put the long rides on her and let Taryn ride the shorter trails for practice, maybe while I rode Ranger for exposure.
I knew, when I first outlined the sketch of the plan, that Brisa wasn't really fit. She's not exactly a pasture puff - I mean, she spends 24/7 on 8-12 acres of slightly rolling pasture, and we've gone rambling around the farm - but she hasn't been in anything even resembling regular work for years. She's... shall we call her plump? - and lazy, to be honest. I intended to begin with brief "arena"* work 2x a week to smooth her transitions and focus on quality of movement, with a 3 mile easy ride 1x a week. Then we would transition to "arena" work 2x a week and add another easy trail ride, giving her 4 rides a week. Eventually I would drop one of the arena rides and slowly add distance, until we were covering 5 miles 3x a week. I intended to sustain this for a couple of weeks, just to get her legged back up and in the mood, and then I would slowly add distance over the fall and winter until she peaked in time for the spring ride.
The problem - or one of the problems, anyway - is that I can't reliably ride all winter long. Though we've had mild winters before, the last three have been icy, snowy, or both. I love riding in snow! But when it covers 6" of slick ice, I won't risk it. And when the windchill is much below 0 I just can't handle it, so depending on the winter season to condition Brisa in time for a spring ride is just too much of a gamble, I think. (Oh, how I wish wish wish I had access to an indoor arena!!!)
Also, my ankle is proving a bigger problem than I'd expected. I can manage short rides (15-20 minutes) if I keep it wrapped and remember to swallow my ibuprofen, but even a 5 mile ride at an easy pace is too much.
(And the last thing I want to do is push Brisa as hard as I pushed myself and wreck her legs the way I wrecked mine. Considering she's already suffered a fetlock injury**, I think I need to be careful.)
So. New plan:
Ride Brisa 3x a week. Something like 5 min walk, 10 min walk/trot transitions, 5 min trot, 5-10 min walk?
Continue until my ankle is strong enough to handle longer rides, then swap one arena workout for a 2-3 mile trail ride.
Increase intensity of arena work - focus on trot/canter and walk/canter transitions, as well as rhythm and straightness.
Gradually increase distance ride to 5 miles.
Swap another arena workout for a 3 mile ride, and build distance.
Work up to 5 miles 3x a week.
Begin adding distance to one ride, sustain for 2 weeks, then add speed to one of the shorter rides.
And so on.
Hopefully, we'll be ready to enter the 25 LD in fall, using the 10-15 mile trail rides over the summer as both practice and conditioning. This gives me more than a year to build up her strength and stamina (as well as my own), so... I think it's reasonable??
In the meantime, Ranger is surprising the hell out of me by becoming bolder than I've ever seen him, and far more eager to work with me. I haven't taken him out on the trail yet this year, but he's like a different horse. I keep waiting for the spook! to show up, but so far, he's so focused and earnest and honest and... I'm afraid to put any pressure on him, or to let myself voice any real goals, yet, but he's impressing me. A lot.
* I don't actually have an arena. What I have is a fenced pen, 100x200 feet. The footing is soft dirt (or sometimes mud), but it's all I have to work with, so we call it the arena and make do.
**The vet says she's sound for work. She has a scar on her pastern and a small lump near the fetlock joint where the bone chip fused, but that's a far better result than a loose chip migrating through soft tissue. It's definitely a blemish meriting full disclosure at a ride check-in, but he doesn't think it will cause any issues. Still, I want to be careful not to ask too much of her. And this is also why she'll only be a LD horse - I think she has a great temperament to enjoy it, and she should - if all goes well - be a good horse to practice on and gain confidence with for both me and my daughter, but she isn't really a serious endurance prospect for me.