As I said in an earlier post, Dressy is officially retired from competition. She is perfectly sound, and I will likely still ride her at home in the ring at some point. I’d like to do a bit of dressage with her, just to work on my own skills. But nothing on trail. And she is going to get a year or so to get “un-fit” first.
I’ve come to realize that there was a good reason she was considered too difficult to jog back in her racehorse days. In those days, her groom used to “tow” her for exercise. Which is the term they use for ponying or leading from the jog cart. Often, it’s used as a short cut to get two horses worked instead of one when there’s a time crunch. But Dressy was considered too difficult to drive and was even difficult to tow. She was very difficult to rate in races too.
When I first got her, I gave her a few months off and let her relax and be a horse. When I started to ride her, she was soft, easy, and relaxed. I had no problems with her at all. It was a bit of a puzzle to me that she could have ever been considered difficult. All went well for a long time. We ambled around on trails, and though she had the occasional spook, it was nothing remarkable. I had no big plans for her. She was just meant to be my spare horse. To have fun with.
Then I went through that crazy time with King when he went missing for two weeks (and no, no one ever figured out where he was all that time). He was found with swollen legs, a high temperature, and a bad cough. The vet diagnosed a respiratory virus, and he really didn’t come back to good health for about six months. So I rode Dressy instead. I soon realized that she was an amazingly athletic, forward, hard-working mare. Sound as a rock. And that she has great heart rates. So I started competing her.
She did very well that first season. It took longer to fit her up than it did with King. But once fit, she was very competitive. She did start to spook more as she got fit though. I thought that she just needed more trail time.
The second season, she seemed to be ready to do a slow fifty. I was still, in those days, riding her in a gentle snaffle. BIG lesson, starting that fifty! No brakes. And I do mean NO brakes. She went off like a rocket at the start. At first, I was almost having fun in a scary adrenalin-drenched sort of way. But a few miles through the loop I started looking hard at my GPS. Holy cow. We were trotting at around 17mph. I tried to take hold and crank the speed down. Halfway through the loop, there was a trot-by check with a lay judge watching. She was in a gully. The trail went down a steep sandy hill, turned right at the bottom, went along the gully perhaps fifty or a hundred feet, and turned left back up to the top of the other side of the gully. Dressy went down that hill, pacing. I cranked her sideways to try to force her down to a walk. So she paced sideways all the way to the bottom. Sue, the lay judge, asked me how I was doing as we came down sideways. I had only a second to reply “Too DAMNED FAST!” when we hit the bottom of the gully, facing backwards on the trail. Dressy executed a perfect rollback, stepped right into a racing gallop, and was at the uphill turn in about three strides. So much for the “trot by” part of that check. We finished that 12 mile loop in an hour and ten minutes. Which is, if you’re trying to calculate… just under 11 miles per hour. Way WAY too fast for a first fifty.
She did slow down on the next two loops. But the damage was done. We made it to 37 miles. She stopped eating and I told the vet she was done. Once home I had the vet pull blood. Turned out that she had a mild tie up.
She did pretty well in CTR, since the race mindset wasn’t there. When she just goes out with another horse and stays with that horse, she seems to be okay. She had another year off somewhere in there while I rode King. Then Brooke rode her for a season, and they did well together. Going slow and relaxed and always with another horse.
But last year, I did a bunch of Set Speed rides with her. We had fun, and she did very well at the shorter distances. But I think the mass start and the speed triggered race brain (maybe in ME as well as her). Last winter she started getting crazy again. The spooking got worse. And she began bolting. I’d ask for trot and suddenly we’d be in a racing gallop. I could steer (kind of), but not slow her down.
I tried going out and walking. Miles and miles, and many hours of walking. But she has developed a level of fitness over the last year that is far and beyond what it’s ever been. And the walking seemed to maintain that fitness as well as anything else. Normally that would be good, but with her, fitness seems to bring on spookiness. She’s reached a point where she’s spooking violently even walking (which is what happened to my elbow).
This year, she developed Anhidrosis. Which I believe is what triggered the Atrial Fibrillation that sent her to Guelph for treatment. The A-Fib was treated and she has not shown any sign of it since. But the anhidrosis has not changed. I can control it by giving her Guinness and One AC. But as soon as she goes off it, it returns.
I love Dressy (despite what she’s done to me!). And I think it’s become too risky to compete her. To both of us. While I can finesse her through rides, I think there’s probably too much risk of some kind of serious metabolic crash. Whether it’s tying up, thumps, heart arrhythmia, or something else. And given that she gets spookier and less controllable as she gets fitter, I’m going to get myself killed riding her. So for both our sakes, she’s out of competition.