500 Miles (and Sweat!)

On Friday, with a great deal of trepidation, I loaded Dressy up and took her to the Cayuse Canter ride. All week the weather report predicted higher and higher temperatures for the weekend. I just kept reminding myself that I could just not start if it was too hot, or pull after six miles if need be. She has not been sweating properly since Aprilfest (though I was initially focused on her heart arrythmia, I later realized that the lack of sweating likely caused the A-Fib).

Set speed rides have a speed range of 4 to 7 mph. You are disqualified for too fast or too slow. You get a score at the end which is roughly weighted halfway between average speed and final heart rate. So faster speeds and lower heart rates are the target. I planned on doing between 4 and 5 mph, which is a conservative pace for Dressy, and I was hoping that she would get through without overheating. But I was perfectly prepared to get off and walk her in she showed the slightest sign of distress.

I took along a case of Guinness (for Dressy, not me!), and also the newly arrived jar of “One AC”, the supplement that I ordered from the US. It was actually in my mailbox as I drove out the driveway with the rig. So that was serendipitous. She got her first dose of it on Friday night along with her Guinness.

Saturday morning, I went out with Emily and her little QH, Duke. Duke is new to all this, but he’s a trooper. He has a slower trot than Dressy, so I had Emily go out in front. It kept Dressy from rocketing off down the trail. We went out around the first big hay field, and down into some trees. Perhaps a half mile in, I reached down to rub Dressy’s neck, and my hand came away slippery with sweat. SWEAT!!! I was so excited I almost fell right off her. “It’s sweat!” I yelled at Emily. “Dressy is SWEATING!!!”

Duke trotted along at a perfectly even pace. I was beyond impressed with him. He trots up hills, down hills, around corners… never slows down, never speeds up. He’ll occasionally break to a canter, but still doesn’t really speed up. Just a nice easy canter on some uphills. As Quarter Horses go, he’s not big, and not heavily built. So although he certainly suffers more in the heat than an Arab, and takes a little longer to cool down, it’s not as much of a problem for him as it is for many of the bigger horses. His resting heart rate is 28, so even when he’s a bit hot, his heart rates are very respectable. Once he’s fitter, he’s going to be very competitive.

Donna and her young grey Arab, Sky, caught up with us a couple of miles into the loop and she rode with us the rest of the day. Sky was very well behaved and just followed along nicely. Donna was very happy with him. He liked the pace and seemed quite happy with Dressy and Duke.

Dressy continued to sweat. Donna could see a bit of foam between her hind legs too. Coming into the mid-check, I had a look at the heart rate monitor (I’ve been a bit obsessive about monitoring her heart rate). We were walking by then, and Dressy was already down to 58. I pulled her tack, sponged her off and checked with the stethoscope. She was 48 already, so well below parameter of 56 and we were able to walk right in to present for pulse (which meant that the clock stopped and our 40 minute hold started). She got all A’s in her exam. The vet listened to her heart for quite a while to make sure she sounded fine. But told me that other than her 2nd degree AV block (which she’s always had), she was in perfect rhythm.

Sky met parameter at the same time as Dressy, and Duke was just a few minutes later. Which meant that our out times were all pretty close. Donna waited the few extra minutes with me for Emily and Duke, and we went out together again. At the start of this loop, my gps was reading 7 miles. Since I’d forgotten to turn it on until we were out around the hayfield on the first loop and we were doing the “six” mile loop twice, that seemed a bit long. Even accounting for an extra few minutes of walking around to get to the vets.

Duke again went out in front. His ears were up, and he looked very happy to be leading. Although he looked at a few logs and rocks suspiciously, he never spooked, and maintained a remarkably even pace. Sky was very politely holding well back from Dressy. I told Donna and Emily that I was perfectly happy to have Dressy in between Duke and Sky, since it minimized the spooking. Donna found it hard to imagine Dressy being spooky, and Emily just laughed, since she’s seen Dressy zigging and zagging down the trail ahead of her. Eventually, I took Dressy out in front for a while and let her trot out a bit. We had a couple of fairly spectacular sideways leaps (which I’m happy to say I stuck with). I could hear loud giggles behind me all the while.

We didn’t stay in front for too long, since Dressy was quite excited, and I realized that maybe a Standardbred trot was an inappropriate speed for the two green horses behind us. Not to mention inappropriate for Dressy who I was trying to be careful with after all. And you know… I get kind of excited myself when Dressy trots out. It’s just remarkably fun to ride a fast horse. Tamping down my enthusiasm, I sent Emily ahead again. So Duke led for most of the day, with Sky taking a few turns. Sky was really good too, though he did startle at a few things along the way and stopped hard once or twice.

As it got towards noon, it really started getting hotter. The day eventually hit 30C and moderately humid. I heard that there were several cases of thumps (caused by an electrolyte imbalance), which we don’t often see in Ontario. So the weather was a challenge. Dressy never showed the least sign that she was in any sort of distress, or difficulty. The heart rate monitor showed a nice steady low rate all day (mostly around 110-120).

It took a few minutes longer to get her cooled down and to reach parameter at the final check. But it was still perfectly normal for her. We were quite comfortably inside our allowed 20 minutes. Her final 30 minute heart rate was 43. Very respectable.

After a perfectly wonderful lunch provided by my neighbour, Sue (I DO bring food, but hers was just so much better than mine!), I went over to do the scoring. I use a spreadsheet for that, so I just have to enter start time, finish time, and final pulse. Everything else is calculated automatically.

Everyone’s speeds were quite slow in both the 12 mile and the 26 mile rides. But later on, ride management adjusted the distances to 13 miles and 28 miles (many riders wear a gps, and everyone’s was reading quite a bit further than 12 and 26… mine said 14), so I adjusted the spreadsheet and that made the speeds a bit more normal. Dressy ended up with a grade 3 (5.1 mph + 43 HR). I was very pleased.

While I was sitting in the secretary’s trailer doing the scoring, I heard a bit of commotion. Ron Savard came riding into the vet check to ask for emergency services for a rider down on trail. It turned out to be Michelle. She was riding Allieena and the mare had fallen on her. Allieena fell at Aprilfest, and Michelle ended up in hospital then too. She returned later with her broken wrist in a cast. Ron went back out on trail and finished the fifty, albeit quite a bit later than he would otherwise have done. So he was the hero for the day. Well… no. Not the only hero… Quentin Llop who is both blind and paraplegic also finished the fifty along with his wife, Libby. For the rest of the weekend, every time I heard someone start to complain, they stopped and commented that they had no business complaining about anything at all after seeing Quentin ride. He was quite an inspiration to everyone.

Right after Ron Savard came in to report Michelle’s injury, an ambulance pulled into camp. I thought it was for Michelle, but it turned out to be for Ruth, whose horse was unusually spooky on trail. She came off twice. Both times she got back on and continued. She finished the 50. Got her horse vetted and THEN had an ambulance come for her. She returned to camp later, battered and bruised, but okay.

Sue, the neighbour with the wonderful lunch, was thrown from her young horse at Summer Solstice two weeks ago. It turned out that she’d fractured her pelvis in that fall. She said that her doctor was quite displeased that she was planning to ride. She rode both days on Peach in the 13 mile rides. And was still smiling at the end.

Helen was at this ride too. She’s a very long-time distance rider who has had some challenges in the last few years. She did the 28 mile set speed ride on Saturday and reached 4000 miles of competition in OCTRA on her young appy, Majik. Helen’s daughter adopted one of my ex-racehorse orphans. A failed young broodmare by Glitter Bee who they call BeeBee. So I got a lovely report on how much Dawn loves that mare and how successful she’s been in her conversion to a good trail horse.

After Saturday’s results, I was much more confident in Dressy’s safety. So I chose to go out again on Sunday. Emily and Duke had gone home. But Donna was so pleased with how Sky went along with Dressy and Duke that she elected to ride with me again. This time, Dressy led for much of the day. We moved out a bit more and ended up with an average of 6.14 mph. Her final heart rate was 39. Which is her lowest ever in a set speed ride. She got a grade 1 (which is the top grade).

Sky had a final heart rate of 34. Which was one of the lowest heart rates of the day. And they ended up with a grade 1 and the high score in the 13 mile. I had to leave before the awards, so I didn’t get to congratulate Donna. But I’m sure she was very happy with Sky.

Dressy did 26 miles between the two days. Which is not at all exceptional under normal circumstances of course. But after all our trials and tribulations over the last two months I was just thrilled with her. She was back to sweating completely normally. And to top it all off, she hit her 500 OCTRA miles level on Sunday. So she will get her mileage plaque this year.

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