On Sunday, there was a training ride up near Owen Sound. That’s an absolutely beautiful area, and although it’s only a short 12 mile ride, it’s still challenging, with plenty of steep, rocky, technical trails.
Veronica has been working hard with the Standardbred mare she’s been leasing from me. Ella will be five years old next week. She’s a smallish, friendly, placid (errr… lazy) mare with no spook, and even less competitive spirit. For Veronica, who is coming back to riding horses after many years away, she seems to be working out quite nicely. They’ve had a few little hiccups, but Veronica worked through them and Ella is turning into a rock-solid reliable trail horse. She has a resting pulse of around 28-30, so she may have a bit of potential as a competitive trail horse.
Since they’ve been working so hard, and Veronica has volunteered to be my pit crew this year, I thought it would be nice for them to go up and ride at the training ride. The ride manager, Doug, gives out ribbons even if you only finish one six mile loop. Which was really all they were ready for. So we went up there just planning to do the one loop. Just walking it if need be.
Veronica went up first thing in the morning so she could listen to the talks. Her husband Bryan had himself ‘volunteered’ as a timer again. (If he’s not careful, he’s going to make himself indispensable!)
I went in to work to feed at 6 am and was back home by 8 so I could load the horses and head out. Ella loaded up pretty well. I had to glare at her once and then she decided it was best to just load right up. Diego though… well. He was a star. I walked him out, stopped. Asked him to back with me. Asked him to walk forward. He walked directly up, turned around and stopped to look at me. “What would you like me to do???” I asked him to step back off slowly. He did. We turned and walked back on. He again asked what he should do. I backed him into his stall, and he stood calmly while I did up the chest bar. That was pretty much the best he’s ever loaded. He’s been doing it well lately but there’s still been signs of stress. This time, he was calm, cool, and relaxed.
So off I went, blithely expecting a reasonably nice day. Weather report said a chance of showers in the afternoon, but nothing remarkable. I drove across highway 9 to Orangeville and turned north. A few spatters of rain on the windshield. Hmmm… well. No big deal. Then it rained a bit heavier. Darn. Then just before Shelburne the rain started to seem a bit more solid. Sleet. Yuck. Temperature must have been dropping. Just past Shelburne, the wind really picked up, blowing the truck and trailer around a bit, and the snow picked up. Soon it was near white-out conditions. REALLY??? What the heck was I doing? Did I really want to ride in this? Did Veronica? REALLY? But, it was still a long way to Chatsworth, so I kept going. Weather is fickle stuff after all.
I pulled into the field next to Doug’s lovely white fabric arena. It’s a great location for a clinic. The arena is actually used for dog agility training most of the time. But it’s very handy for the talks and for vetting horses. Even from the truck I could hear the wind slamming the building around though. The fabric cover was flapping heavily, clanging the metal struts. The wind was blowing snow straight across horizontally. Lovely.
I elected to leave the horses on the trailer. In the past that would have been an issue for Diego. I opened the top door above the ramp, and watched him for a moment. He was quite content to stay right where he was and eat hay while I went into the arena. When I checked on him half an hour later, the poor guy was shaking with cold and I had to put a blanket on him.
After the talks were over, Veronica and I got the two horses and brought them into the arena. It was loud, with lots of startling noises. Diego is a fairly reactive guy, and this was Ella’s first ride. So I was a bit concerned about bringing them in. Ella tromped in and looked around with mild interest. Diego slithered in after her. “Ella!! Don’t leave me Ella!” I parked him beside her and gave him a minute to settle down. He actually handled it pretty well. No tantrums or fussing. He did have one spooky moment when he trotted in hand down to the far end and the door flapped loudly. He tried to circle me a couple of times and barged into my space. I stopped him, got him steady, asked him to back up, and when he recovered his focus we trotted back politely. Luckily, at training rides, the judges have time and are quite willing to wait through horse training opportunities.
Ella was remarkably calm throughout the vetting. She stood nicely. Trotted (ummm… paced actually) out well for the judge, and ambled back out like she’d been competing for years. Once she was tacked up and Veronica was on her, there was a sudden moment when the light went on… “Oh!! It’s a race or something??? Who are all these other horses??!!” Veronica got a bit worried, but I had her ride the mare over to the other side of the trailers with Diego and Duke (Emily’s grand little Quarter Horse who rode out with us). Ella calmed right back down. I think it’s just too much work for her to stay excited, because that was the sum total of Ella’s stress for the day. About 30 seconds of walking fast with her head up.
We let the other horses start first and then went out at a walk. The awesomely reliable Duke out in front. He walked along, snorting at every step. Emily says he does that whenever he goes somewhere new. He was a perfect gentleman in every other way. Diego was quite calm and steady behind Duke, and Ella brought up the rear, which seems to be where she always travels. Except when she can deke out in front and slow everyone down to her preferred speed. She’s all about seeing the scenery and not breaking a sweat, is Ella.
We went fairly slowly, but for Veronica and Ella it was a challenge. They have just been riding around the farm at home, mostly at a walk, since early winter. Neither of them had done any sustained trotting before. Veronica did not whine even once. She did ask if we could walk a few times but was ready to go again as soon as she caught her breath. I was prepared to walk in the rest of the way once they’d reached their limit. But they never did. Ella was perfect out there. She went up and down hills, around rocks, over logs, through mud puddles, and over a concrete bridge. All without flinching or even appearing to be anything more than moderately interested.
Diego was a bit more than moderately interested in a few of the rocks when he had to go out in front. He thought some of them were small horse-eating monsters. But all-in-all, he was still very good. Mostly when he’s afraid, he just slows down and drifts off course. And when another horse is out front to be eaten by the horse-eating rocks, he is cool as a cucumber.
About halfway through the six mile loop, it started to snow with rather more ferocity. The wind was whipping the snow into our faces, and Diego dropped his head, turned sideways and cowered behind Duke’s conveniently large Quarter Horse butt. Diego is NOT fond of rain, snow, or cold. He says he’s a desert horse and should not be expected to perform in blizzards. I had put a wool quarter sheet on him to try to keep him warm, but I think all it really did was make the saddle slip back on a steep uphill (it sits between the pad and his back). Using Dressy’s old breast collar on him didn’t help the slippage problem either. Even on the tightest setting it’s still a little big on him.
At the end of the six mile loop I briefly considered going out to do the second loop. The brim of my helmet was dripping ice water on my nose. And my fleece jacket was soaked through. My gloves had wet snow caked all over them. And I thought to myself “I do this for fun right?” So I wimped out and quit for the day.
Diego and Ella both loaded up on the trailer lickety-split and dove into their hay nets.
Are you getting me a carrot?
Never mind, I’ll just eat my hay
Meanwhile I had to get out of the field that now had snow accumulating. Towing a steel 4-horse head-to-head with a two wheel drive truck. Up a grade. Sigh. Yeah… that really wasn’t going to work Doug had to get his tractor and tow me out. I got mud all over my knees from crawling under to try to hook up the chains. Added to my already soaked clothes, I was in quite a bedraggled state. I turned on the heater full blast and steamed myself for the entire two and half hour drive home.
Despite the miserable weather conditions though, it was all a big success. Veronica was thrilled with her accomplishment and with Ella’s stellar behaviour throughout. They got a ribbon and a certificate. And the photographer (Wendy Webb) took a whole lot of good photos of Ella, Diego, and Duke.