Moonlight Madness

I took Diego to the Summer Solstice Competitive Trail Ride this past weekend. I was judging, so although he’s a lot fitter than he was, we still only did the 12 mile Moonlight Madness ride. That’s a mileage ride that started just before dark on Saturday night. I’ve done it before, and I always have a ton of fun.

On the way up to the ride, we picked up Sandy’s horse, Benson. Pretty much the world’s cutest Arab. He is a very mellow little guy, but does not think trailering should be part of his life plan. He’s not afraid, just sort of declines to load up. However, Sandy managed to get him loaded in just a few minutes this time, so he’s improving.

The ride manager, Sue Downing, had a spot picked out for me right behind the vet check so I could keep an eye on Diego. I’m using my electric paddock for him, which is a bit risky. If he gets upset enough about being alone, he’s been known to pull out the posts with his teeth to make a break for it. He knows he’ll get a shock and goes for it anyway… diving at the posts and spitting them out as quick as he can. So, given that history, I was very happy to have him close by so that I could watch him while I was vetting CTR horses.

When I took Diego over to get him vetted, he was a bit off. Not much… grade I lame, which is “inconsistent and difficult to observe”. The vet checked him over and finally decided that he was a bit sore in his back. Saddle fit for sure. I knew that was coming. I’ve been using the same saddle as I used on Dressy and King. It’s a bit wide for him, and I’d been padding it to get it to work. But I gave the shim to Ana to use on Ares (who has a bigger fit issue than Diego) and had taken Diego over to the Vivian Forest for slightly longer rides last week. Marginal saddle fit + more miles is a recipe for a sore back.

The vet thought that since it was only 12 miles, Diego would likely be okay. I put the shim back on him and got the saddle fitting a little better. We went out a few minutes after 8pm with three other horses. Sue S. and her darling Arab mare, Peach, Caroline on Freddy, and Emma on her Morab mare.

Peach was not keen on letting anyone pass her, and was quite excited at the beginning. So we went slow, with Peach bouncing a bit in front. Nothing bad, just jigging and fussing a bit. Diego was perfectly calm and happy to follow Peach. He jogged along behind her with his head down, mostly on a loose rein. Nice, because I was able to ride just with my good arm and neck rein him for the most part. I tried taking Diego out in front once or twice, but he was not too keen on that. He really wanted to follow Peach. She had settled down a lot towards the middle of the loop. It was her first ride of the year, and she’s still pretty green, so it was just a bit of excitement at the beginning.

It was very humid, didn’t cool down at all as it got dark. The horses did get fairly warm. But Diego loves the heat. Veronica and Sandy crewed for us, and with all the help, he pulsed down fast and was at 48 within a minute or two, and was down to 40 by the time we got to the vet. He was perfectly sound to trot out. His back was no longer sore. So the shim probably helped some.

I considered keeping him in the crewing area for the hold, but thought it would be nicer to let him relax in his paddock. That would be the paddock with somewhat sparser grass in one corner and SAND. Great. At the end of the hold, we discovered that he was CAKED with sand. His head, his legs, his neck, back, sides, chest…. EVERYWHERE. He looked smug under his sand-caked forelock. Veronica, Sandy, and I had to bathe him completely before tacking him up. Pretty much by feel, since it was dark by then. So we were a little bit late leaving again.

On the second loop we caught up to the farrier (Amber-Rose) on her big Tennessee Walker and her friend who was riding for the first time (and was afraid of the dark… she managed very well despite that!) The big horse (Shallako) led for the whole loop. He was really great. Very confident guy. He moved right out and we did the loop much faster. Passed some horses.

Shallako moves right along, even when he’s walking. So his easy jog (whatever his gait is) was a good speed and suited Diego very well. We had a couple of wild uphill gallops with Sue whooping behind me. Almost lost Caroline in one of those when she lost her stirrups. But she hung in there.

The moon was really bright, keeping the trail visible in all but the really narrow trails. I gave Amber-Rose my flashlight, which I’d covered in the red plastic sheet that came in my ride package (so the light didn’t interfere with the horses’ vision). It’s one of those cheap, tiny LED flashlights. I think I bought 6 of them for about $8 at Walmart one day. I love them.

The forest was absolutely magical. The moon was bright, so everything was silvery pale, especially Diego and Peach who are both greys. There were fireflies, lots of bird calls, glow sticks, reflective safety vests, and coloured lights on the horses. We made jokes about unicorns and Lord of the Rings and cavalry charges in the dark. Giggling madly… Moon-mad riders 🙂

Diego never stumbled or took any missteps, despite moving right along in the dark and galloping a couple of big hills. That’s been another of his issues. I’ve been working on his feet, trying to get his toes back and a better breakover (he’s actually gone down from a 1.5 EasyBoot to a size 1). So I was really happy with that. I didn’t boot him for this ride though. The footing is pretty good in the Dufferin Forest. Mostly sand, with very few rocks.

The last half mile or so was a bit less relaxed. Diego knew he was almost finished and got a little ramped up. Luckily the two horses in front of us blocked the trail, and all he could do was canter at walk/trot speed, bouncing back and forth across the trail, snorting. He was frustrated, but not particularly difficult to ride. No bucking or rearing.

It was very humid/hot, even at that time of night. The horses all came in steaming and hot at the finish. Took some of them a long time to come down. Diego, who is one of those thin-skinned fleabitten greys who love hot weather, cooled off fast and pulsed down in about 2 minutes. Final CRI… 40/40.

Rose brought me a saddle to try. It’s a Schleese. She had it custom built for herself years ago. Adjustable gullet, cutback, dressage/endurance style. Thigh and knee rolls with a deep seat. I will try it on him this week.

On Sunday, I was judging all day. I started the morning by falling out of my bed in the gooseneck (we were in a slightly uphill parking spot) and crashing into the back wall. Managed to wake both Sandy and Veronica who were sleeping in cots in the horse section of the trailer. I make an excellent alarm clock 🙂

Since we’d vetted most of the horses through on Saturday afternoon there weren’t many to do in the morning. Sandy was going out just after 8, so I pulled Diego out of his electric paddock and took him away so he couldn’t watch Benson leave. We ambled around and he made friends with some of the volunteers. He grazed, nibbled at the stopwatch around me neck, and watched everything quite placidly. All of which is an improvement on past behaviour.

After Benson went out, I took Diego back to his pen. He looked around for Ben but didn’t stress. A little later he actually lay down and took a nap. Better and better! No fussing, no worrying, no deconstruction efforts.

The day just got steadily hotter, and by noon I was starting to lose focus and felt a little nauseated. I had to go and stick my head in the water trough a couple of times. I really do NOT like heat, and although I drank a lot through the day, I am pretty sure I was verging on heatstroke by the end of it. There was a new vet at the ride, just observing. I think he was a bit shocked at my cooling efforts. He commented “you really ARE a country girl aren’t you?” I pointed out that although I certainly am a country girl, what he was seeing was sheer desperation since my brain was cooking.

There were no serious problems with any of the horses. We did have quite a few horses that either did not start or did not finish. But mostly it was minor stuff. Considering the heat, that was a very good result. Riders were taking care of their horses.

The air conditioning in my truck was a huge relief on the way home. I was so tired that Veronica rode in the truck with me to keep me awake and functioning. Pit crew have many duties 🙂

Despite my overheating and exhaustion, I had a wonderful time. I absolutely LOVE that Moonlight ride.

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