No Sore Back!

I was very pleased to get Diego through Sunday’s 25 mile ride with no back soreness. The vet found nothing through any of the checks, and I found nothing when I checked Diego before trailering home. I checked him yesterday morning and he was fine too.

Today I did a very thorough check of Diego’s back, from withers right back to hips, and well down over the top of his ribs. I feathered it, and massaged it, and applied some very deep pressure. And got absolutely NO reaction whatsoever. Not even a skin flicker. He didn’t flinch, step away, flick an ear, lift his head, swish his tail, or in any way react to what I was doing.

The saddle is an older model Barefoot London treeless dressage saddle. It does not have the VPS panels which were added to later models, so it tends to have pressure points under the stirrup hangers. I find it is a bit frustrating because the stirrup leathers catch against the seam of the knee pad at the lower edge of the flap, so don’t swing forward freely if I need them to. Which means that occasionally my feet end up a little bit farther behind my center of balance than I’d like.

There’s also a problem with the back of my thighs. I do not know why it happens, but it only happens in the Barefoot, not any other saddle. At the end of a ride, sometimes I end up with stripes worn through my skin where the seam of my full seat tights sits. Raw, bleeding stripes. And yep, it happened at Summer’s End. It’s still pretty darned uncomfortable. I am not sure why, but I suspect it might be that the saddle is a bit “pillowy” and sort of bulges up behind my thigh, allowing the seam to rub. Either that or it’s the edge of the seat section that is pushing against the seam of the full seat? I’m not quite sure. It may be that if I got the sheepskin replacement seat, the rubbing would stop.

None of which is to give the Barefoot a bad rep. The newer VPS model is supposed to be much improved, and likely addresses some or all of those issues. But I don’t actually HAVE the newer model. So I have to work with this one.

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The leather is looking rather worn. But it has done quite a lot of miles. I rode both King and Dressy in it. King was very happy with it. Dressy got some swelling from pressure points (she did a lot more miles and went a lot faster than King).

The pad is my good Christ treeless endurance pad, which I love. It’s full sheepskin against the horse, and has pockets for inserts.
christpad

I split a 3/4 inch Cashel cushion pad lengthwise and added it to the poron inserts I already had in the Christ pad. So it’s got an inch of foam padding on either side. That creates really good spine clearance for the treeless saddle, and should also protect Diego somewhat from the pressure of the stirrup hangers.

cushionpad

I am still looking for a saddle to fit both Diego and I correctly long term. But I think this is a reasonable interim solution to our problems.

Summer’s End Ride

On Friday, we loaded up Diego and Ella to go Summer’s End. Ella (Spanish Lady) is technically my horse. She’s another of my Standardbred re-homing projects. She was given to me by a trainer who wanted her to go to someone nice. Veronica has been leasing her since last winter, and they’ve gradually been getting fitter together. I suspect that I will have to officially hand over the ownership very soon, since Veronica is getting quite attached.

We took the horses over to Chrystal’s place, which is just a few minutes from the ridecamp, so we could visit a little bit. Nancy and Charlotte were visiting too, so we put the horses out in the back paddock and they chowed down happily.

Diego and Ella in the early morning mist at Chrystal's place.
Diego and Ella in the early morning mist at Chrystal’s place.

On Saturday, I was teaching at the distance riding clinic, but it didn’t start until noon, so Diego and I went out for a ride with Nancy and Luba. But first we had to get tacked up and out of the yard. Diego was very worried about being taken away from Ella (he’s still very herd-bound). And Luba didn’t really want to leave her new boyfriend, Seneca, in the next paddock. I had just gotten on Diego, when Luba managed to untie herself from the trailer and go trotting back to Seneca. Which pretty much sent Diego into his crazy head space. We went around in a whole lot of circles for a while, until Nancy and Luba were ready to go. Walking out was a bit more exciting than I might have wished. It doesn’t help that I am never very happy riding around open fields, since they used to set off King’s opportunistic yahoo moments, and thus tend to be a little tenser than normal. But once we got across the hay field and on the trail, Diego subsided back into his usual mild-mannered self.

Luba floated along in a very mellow trot, and Diego jogged along on a loose rein. It turned into a lovely ride. I taught Nancy my riding song. “Riding on a Donkey”, which I learned from my mother back when I was about three years old. (It’s not the same lyrics as the Great Big Sea song.) It’s in 3/4 time, which works really well with both trot and canter, so I’ve always used it when I want to settle my horse (horses don’t mind off-key singing NEARLY as much as humans!).

We had to leave for the clinic as soon as we got back from our little ride, so we rushed out to Chrystal’s van, got Nancy’s daughter Charlotte loaded into the van and headed out. Just down the road, my cell phone rang. Oh. “Umm… Hi Veronica. Guess I forgot you hmmm?” Had to turn around and go back for her. Not one of my finer moments obviously. Oh well. Veronica will get plenty of mileage out of that one I’m sure…

The clinic went pretty well. It can be hard to keep it all on track and focused, but I think we managed to get most of the basic information presented. My talk was really just a step by step walkthough of a 12 mile set speed ride for a complete beginner. There were lots of questions, and everyone seemed quite enthusiastic. Phyllis, the ride manager, is very organized, so not much ever goes wrong at her events.

We stayed at Chrystal’s on Saturday night too. I didn’t sleep well though, because I spent half the night worrying about how to make sure Diego and Ella didn’t see each other during the ride, since I was doing the 25 and Veronica was doing 12.

Prophetic as it turns out. Both horses were calm and well behaved trailering over and going through vetting (Ella paced instead of trotted… every step of every trot out all day. To the great amusement of the vets) until I tacked up Diego and tried to ride away from Ella. Then they both started yelling at each other… “Don’t LEAVE me!!!” Luckily for me, I was the one going out. Once Diego was on trail, he was perfectly fine. Ella, who is normally a placid slug of a horse, was circling Veronica and having a bit of a hissy fit. It sounds like Veronica was pretty stressed trying to deal with it all. But she did manage, with a bit of help from Sandy’s pit crew (I have forgotten her name… but she was wonderful! Helped me a lot too.). They went out an hour after me, and luckily they went out with Emily and her wonderful little Quarter Horse, Duke. He is just about the steadiest little horse ever. He trots along like a metronome. Up hills, down hills, around corners. In perfect rhythm. No spook, no fuss.

I was riding with Sandy and Benson. Last ride, Benson was very spooky for some reason. But this time, he was back to his usual perfect self. Diego was very good through the first loop. We made good time. The trail was lovely. It’s the Ganaraska Forest, and the footing is sandy. There were lots of water stops. One section was an out-and-back that had a deck of playing cards at the end. We had to bring back a card to prove that we’d done the full distance. Although there was no announced prize of any sort, I thought it might be a good idea to take cards that seemed likely to be part of a good hand. Benson wouldn’t step quite close enough to the post, so I grabbed the deck and looked through it. Picked out an ace of spades for me, and an ace of hearts for Sandy.

For much of that first loop, Diego followed Benson. But over the last few miles he definitely started picking up speed. He seemed to know the loop was nearly over and I suspect he was going back to find Ella.

At the mid-check, Diego had one minus on gut sounds (out of four quadrants), which was mostly just because he needed to eat. I took him over to Sandy’s trailer and he scarfed down a lot of his feed tub. Sandy was very impressed by Diego’s feed tub actually. I had put a selection of things in it for him in different piles. Carrots, roughage chunks, trimax, and beet pulp. With perform n win electrolytes sprinkled all over it. He at the carrots first, then the roughage chunks then beet pulp and trimax. And a flake of hay too. Very hungry boy.

In the meantime Veronica and Ella came in, so I ran over to make sure all was well. Veronica was trying to bribe the judge into pulling Ella. But it didn’t work. Ella was fine 🙂

I wasted quite a bit of my hold doing that though, and Diego had realized that Ella was somewhere around, so it took a bit of extra time to get him standing to be tacked up and mounted. Dave, bless him, came to my rescue and held him for me. We were about 9 minutes late going out. Which is bad, because the clock runs whether you’re on trail or not.

The first part of the loop went well. Diego settled right back down to work. When we got to the playing cards, Benson was more willing to step up to the post. Sandy handed me an eight of spades. I made a face at that, so she sorted through and found two queens instead. The queen of hearts and a queen of spades. Yep. Much better 🙂

The 12 and 25 mile trails converged and diverged at different points. So we did occasionally run across 12 mile riders. And eventually, Duke and Ella turned up behind us. GAH! I quickly turned Diego face first into a bush so he couldn’t see Ella. They rushed on by, trying to get out of sight. I don’t think Ella knew it was Diego. But Diego must have caught a glimpse of Ella, despite the face full of leaves. At first he just seemed a little confused. But then he decided to go after whatever horse that was, just in CASE is really was Ella. So we spent the next mile or two prancing and dancing. Circling back behind Benson. Galloping sideways. Tossing head. Circling behind Benson. Bouncing. Circling behind Benson. We lost a ton of time to this foolishness. Once the 12 and 25 mile trails separated again, I was able to let him move out a little bit behind a couple of horses that passed us. That seemed to help him blow off a bit of steam. Then we hit some single track trail and we put Benson in front to block. After that Diego settled down and behaved.

We used up a lot of time on that second loop unfortunately. Between going out late, and bouncing sideways down the trail for a couple of miles, we dropped down to just under 6 mph. But Diego’s heart rate was good at the end, and it was a hot day so there were lots of higher heart rates. We ended up 11th out of 19.

Veronica and Ella had come in just a little before us. So I heard the war whoop Veronica gave when they told her that Ella had passed her final check in good shape. I think she might have scared the vet a little bit, since the riders are usually too tired to make that much noise. Veronica probably IS too tired to make much noise today. She looked nearly catatonic by the time she’d eaten her dinner and gotten her award.

There were no pulls at all this ride. One final heart rate that was slightly high, so the horse got a mileage completion. But everyone finished despite the warm weather.

It had occurred to me that maybe Sandy and I ought to swap playing cards so we each had a pair. I had no idea what sort of scheme might be in place for those cards. But knowing Phyllis, I figured there had to be something. Luckily I never got around to swapping with Sandy. The award was for 21. We each had a queen and an ace. Sandy and I tied for that award. We got hats. A very nice black cap with the ride name embroidered on the front.

And the best news of the day for me… Diego’s back was perfectly fine at the end!!! I did surgery on my good Christ pad. I split a 3/4 inch Cashel foam pad lengthwise and used it along with the regular inserts to build up the Christ pad so there was a good spine channel for the Barefoot London, which is a treeless dressage saddle. I asked the ride vet to check twice to make absolutely sure his back was fine at the end. And then I checked him again myself before I loaded him up to go home. And I checked him again this morning. All good 🙂

Overall, it was a pretty successful ride. Veronica and Ella finished their first competition. Diego’s herd-bound issues are nothing new. It is the biggest remaining issue that we have to work on. But he wasn’t all that terrible. He didn’t buck or attempt to drop me in the nearest shrubbery (though Sandy thinks she saw a tiny little levade in all that silliness). Just fussed himself into a lather. It was very irritating and frustrating for me, but it didn’t feel dangerous. The saddle fit thing seems to be solved for the moment anyway. Which should allow us to at least do 25-30 mile rides. Progress!

Wise Affair: Fat and Sassy

We think Weezy (Wise Affair) is totally and completely back to blooming good health at this point. So I figured it was maybe time for an update.

Here is Wise Affair as a racehorse, a few years ago:

 Weezy in her glory days.
Weezy in her glory days.

Canter On Equine rescue located her (along with a couple of other mares in the same condition) this past April, and my boss, who bred her and owned her as a racehorse, was contacted. He sent Linda and I to pick her up at the farm where she had been starved. The man had the nerve to tell Linda how to feed the mare properly and to criticize the leather halter we brought. He thought it was too small for her. Neither of us said a word, since there was still a mare yet to be surrendered. We just loaded our girl up and drove away. This is what she looked like a few days later:

Shortly after her arrival, in appalling condition, all her hair fell out.
Shortly after her arrival, in appalling condition, all her hair fell out.
At this point, she'd actually put on a few pounds already
At this point, she’d actually put on a few pounds already

We took pictures of her this morning. She was rather badly behaved, to be honest. She did not have time for stupid posing. Breakfast was finished… she had a full social calendar, and tons of grass to be eaten. Linda had to put the chain over her nose just to get her to stand still long enough.

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Weezy has things to do and places to go. That's her sister Esmerelda up at the top, and her little yearling buddy, Diva (the chestnut).
Weezy has things to do and places to go. That’s her sister Esmerelda up at the top, and her little yearling buddy, Diva (the chestnut).

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Coates Creek

I’ve really been struggling with the saddle fitting thing. The australian saddle does not fit Diego. I knew that from the start. It’s too wide and has to be padded to keep it off his withers. But my confidence was a bit shaky when we started out in the spring (my elbow is still only about half useful), and that saddle is very very secure for the human passenger. Diego though, is proving to be a very reliable guy. He’s never come close to lawn darting me out of my seat (as Dressy was always prone to do, bless her terrified little pea-brain…). Diego’s biggest reaction is either to slither sideways with big eyes past scary objects, or to drift to a halt and stare before tip-toeing past. Neither of which unseats me at all. So I’ve built up a lot of confidence, and feel myself riding much more tension-free as we go along.

Last weekend, I took him to Coates Creek ride. I had switched over to a therapeutic saddle pad to address the back soreness issues. It’s a Grandeur pad that I used with my Barefoot London (treeless) saddle. It is a nice pad, with a lot of support. And it really seemed to set the saddle up nicely.

We were entered in the 16 mile set speed on Saturday, and then again on Sunday. Saturday morning, I rode out with Sandy and Marion. We went out at a walk. Marion’s horse, Jet, is an off-track Arab and can get a bit competitive, so it was a big change for her to be able to go out slow and calm like that. Jet settled down nicely and eventually she was able to trot with us for a while and then go off on her own.

Sandy’s little chestnut Arab, Benson, has been a recurring character here on the blog. He’s possibly the cutest, and best-behaved little Arab I’ve ever met. But Saturday, he seemed to think there were monsters hiding behind every log and rock on the trail. On that first loop, Sandy was mostly out in front. But sometimes she was hanging off Benson’s side from one heel. She sat some tremendous spooks. I was boggled that she stayed with a couple of them. I’d have been splatted on the ground. But Sandy was determined to stick them. I think part of the problem was her saddle pad which was a very thick western pad. The saddle kept going sideways, so that couldn’t have helped.

Diego was really not at his best through that first loop. Anytime we cantered, he was dropping his head right down. Not bucking. But cantering on a horse with a head between their knees is an unsettling feeling. His trot didn’t feel quite right either. And he seemed a bit grumpy. So when we got to the mid-check I pulled the saddle with trepidation… expecting problems. Sure enough, he had a couple of bumps on his spine, right along the centerline. But he wasn’t obviously sore, and passed the vet check.

During the check, I opened up the Grandeur pad and pulled out the inserts. I put those inserts into my Christ sheepskin pad and put that on him instead. They didn’t fit the pocket exactly right, but were not too bad. And at least the Christ pad doesn’t cause those bumps. Marg suggested to me later that maybe Diego is reacting to synthetics, and it kind of makes sense, because the bumps are not from pressure. They can’t be, because they are nowhere near any spot that takes weight from the saddle. Nor have I ever seen them when I was using the aussie saddle with the Christ pad. Only with the Grandeur pad (synthetic fleece and sympanova), or with the Reactor Panel with synthetic fleece booties. I also checked with Misha, and she was using her synthetic fleece booties for the last year that she rode him in her RP (and he was getting those bumps sometimes then too).

Anyway, we went off with the hacked saddle pad for the second loop, and my good boy was back. He was perfect again. Sandy and Benson led for the first mile or so. Then Benson took a HUGE leap to the left and dropped Sandy hard. It was one of those awful Arab teleports that are pretty much against the laws of physics. Luckily, she was wearing a crash vest, and of course her helmet. So although it took her quite a while to get back up, she was okay. And she managed to hang onto Benson’s reins, so he didn’t get loose. We walked for quite a while to make sure she was okay. But it was just bruises, and we eventually carried on. But this time with Diego in front.

Diego trotted out in front for most of that loop. He was very steady and trotted along with the occasional short canter on a loose rein with his head at a normal level. No more head-down cantering. He even crossed the scary bridge first on both loops. And it really was quite a scary bridge. Solid enough, but built from a couple of logs with boards nailed across… so it bounced noticeably. I don’t think he liked it, but he only hesitated momentarily before steeling himself and marching across.

The weather was lovely, and despite Lesley’s paranoia about the mud on her trails from all the rain we’ve had, the footing was really quite good. There was only one very short section after the scary bridge that had some deep mud going up a little grade. It was only maybe 8-10 steps to get through.

Because I forgot to turn my gps watch off at the start of our hold, I lost track of my average speed. I wasn’t really thinking much about it anyway, since I’m only riding for completions this season. Diego always has good heart rates. Not super low, but he drops to baseline incredibly fast (Dressy’s baseline was much lower – usually in the 30s – but it took a dedicated team to get her cooled and pulsed down in time). His final heart rate was 43. I figured we might get a grade 3 or thereabouts, since we were not hurrying at all, and spent quite a while walking after Benson’s attempt on Sandy’s life. But at the awards, Diego and Benson both got a grade 1 (the top grade). We were moving faster than I thought and ended up with 6.1 mph. [Set speed is scored using a combination of average speed and final pulse at 30 minutes from finish.]

We vetted through at the finish with all A’s. I had the vet double check his back, and with a bit of hunting around, she found a very slight flinch on his left side in the loin area. But the next morning when I checked, he was really sore. So we went over to the vet and pulled him from Sunday’s set speed ride. I volunteered to do the set speed scoring for the day instead. Diego spent the day working his way through half of a twenty kg bag of carrots. I told him he was going to turn orange. But he just kept munching.

The weather for both days was fabulous, and all of the horses were moving fast. There were some very good times in all distances (ranging from 16 to 75 miles). Only two pulls, neither serious. And lots of happy faces on horses and riders at the end!

Yesterday, I pulled out the Barefoot London and dusted it off. I’ve really gotten to the point now that I do not need extra security to ride Diego. So we are going to try riding in that for a while and see if it works any better than the Aussie. Lynda is going to try to find me a second-hand endurance-model Reactor Panel. Diego needs a 12.75 inch, and I need a narrow twist. So that may take a while to track down. In the meantime, I hope that the Barefoot will work. I can’t use the Grandeur pad with it though, so I have to get the Christ pad working with it. It needs a good spine channel, so I may have to order in some inserts from Christ.

Yesterday’s session was good. We’ve set up some cavaletti, a little jump, and some tires in patterns in the riding ring as a play area. Diego seemed quite relaxed and cheerful in the Barefoot, and we even jumped a little bit (it’s TINY jump). He was not at all tense, and was bending nicely for me. No soreness afterwards, though it was only an hour. It’s a good first step anyway. We’ll see how that goes.