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.

Only Very Small Dogs

I took Dressy over to the Vivian again yesterday. Three hours this time. Almost entirely walking. This time, although the benches were still frightening, we did more ‘snort and slide by’ than ‘spin and bolt’, thank goodness.

Waiting to be tacked up. She's not shedded out completely yet, but she's quite sleek already.

I did think, for one crazy moment, that disaster was looming. Not Dressy’s fault though.  A woman was walking four rather hysterical tiny dogs. She was having some trouble with all the leashes. And two of the frenzied little rats escaped and ran down the trail towards us. Dressy is not at all afraid of dogs. But these two were on a double leash, which was dragging between them. And of course… the dogs were on either side so the leashes were stretched right across the trail with the knot bouncing in the middle. I had visions of them passing on either side of us and wrapping the whole mess around Dressy’s legs. The woman was running full tilt after the dogs, yelling wildly at me all the while that they were just “very small dogs!!!!” and at the last moment she managed to take a great leap and stomp on the handle of the leashes. Both dogs came to a screeching halt under where Dressy’s nose had been… though of course she’d already starting backing rapidly down the trail. Dressy cautiously proceeded forward when the dogs all stopped. The lady just kept repeating that they were only little dogs and wouldn’t hurt a horse. I tried to explain to her that my alarm was about the LEASHES, not the dogs. I’m not sure she ever even understood what disaster had nearly occurred. So I just told her all was well and to have a nice walk. No point in alienating other trail users. Even crazy ones.

Most of the dogs and owners are quite well behaved when we see them in the Forest. Which always surprises me a bit. My own dog, Jimi, is a Border Collie. And I know positively that he would be terrible if I had him off leash on trails with other dogs and horses. Of course I’d never think of taking the obsessive little lunatic to such an environment, so maybe that’s the explanation. It’s the good dogs who get to go to fun places like that. Jimi is not actually a bad dog… but he was an older rescue case. So he has his emotional limitations. And Swamp Dog (my great aunt’s old Cocker Spaniel that I inherited), though not in any way hysterical (unless food is involved), is largely oblivious to non-food items like horses feet, moving vehicles, or people calling her to “come”. So I would never take her anywhere without a leash either.

Log piles are not as bad as benches... but still must be watched carefully.
Is that a bench? It looks very suspicious!

Trotting Hills

Dressy got a really good grooming today. First the currycomb and the brush, then the vacuum, then another brushing. Yesterday when I was riding her, she eventually warmed up just enough to release all her accumulated horse/manure smells that had been ground into her coat all winter. Once it started wafting up, the smell was so strong it was nearly visible in waves in front of my face. Burning out my sinuses. Gah!   No way I was getting back on her today without her being a whole lot cleaner.  She enjoyed all the currying and vacuuming enormously. Quivering upper lip and all. I even put some conditioner in her mane and tail and brushed it all through. Her tail is looking exceptionally long and lovely this year. With all the blanketing she’s had this winter, it’s protected it from rubbing.

It was warm again today, and the frost is mostly out of the ground. With clay soil that means it’s a boggy mess everywhere. The fields are very soft, and the trails still have ice sheets covering them.  I didn’t want to go and ride on the roads alone, since the traffic around here is pretty bad during the week, and the roads have no shoulder. Bad enough even with company. Alone, Dressy would be less reliable. So I just rode back and forth on the driveway today. 4 miles of (mostly) walking down and trotting back up the hills.

I live on top of a moraine. It’s quite high, and on a good clear day, I can see for miles in all directions. My driveway is long and runs straight up from the road at a fairly steady grade to pass my house, whereupon it goes back down a steep hill towards the back of the farm. I think it’s about a quarter mile each way.

Then at the end we had another session of walking lessons. She gets herself worked up sometimes and thinks she has to rush. I don’t mind if she walks fast when I ask for a walk. Really fast even. But not jogging. Today we reversed and went away from home every time she broke out of a walk. She broke out into quite a sweat over the whole issue. But in the end she walked politely all the way up the hill and into the yard without fussing.

I was kind of a wimp though. It was raining, and I was bored. So we only rode for a little under an hour.  And yes, she smelled a LOT better 🙂

Treacherously Icy Footing

All week the footing here has been bad. Patches of glare ice everywhere. Which means, of course, no riding. It snowed yesterday though, and I thought it looked quite a bit better. So I brought Dressy in to tack her up. Because she has been getting some hair rubbed off on her loins (my beloved aussie saddle really just does not fit her), I switched her into the treeless saddle today (Barefoot London).

The weather was lovely. Bright sun and no wind, and starting to warm up just a little. We went around the front field first. Aaaannnnd…. yikes. There was ice under the snow. And neither Dressy nor I had the slightest idea where that ice was. We skidded and skittered down the long side of the field, and had one really bad out of control skid across the short end down by the road. We managed to safely navigate over to the driveway and we came up that instead of the side of the field. It was still a bit slippery, but nowhere near as bad as that cornfield. Wow.

So we went to the back of the farm instead and tried the back hay field. It was a lot better, but still not comfortable for Dressy or me.

At that point I gave up on any ambitions for mileage and took her home to the round pen, where we did some simple schooling at a walk. We practiced some nice round circles, backing, turns on the forehand, sidepassing… All the stuff that I neglect to do most of the time. Dressy is smart, and enjoys that sort of thing. So it ended up being very productive.

It’s supposed to jump up to +7C on Monday, and rain. If it then goes back below freezing, the ice is only going to get worse. Even my round pen will be unusable then 🙁

Got a new camera and took a few pictures today. I ended up hating it by the end of the day and took it back for exchange by evening. but here are a few pictures I took with it at work…

Barn cats live cold and very stressful lives in the winter

Parker, awaiting his turn to go out and play


Parker... still waiting

Winter Conditioning

I’ve been riding pretty steadily this winter. I’ve tried to ride at least every other day (usually Dressy, but sometimes King too),  Most days I finish up the morning chores between noon and 1pm.  Some days a bit earlier if all goes well. Then I have to be back to work around 3 or 3:30 to do afternoon chores. Once I eat some lunch, I can usually get in about an hour of riding.

Until last week I was keeping up well. I managed 16 days of riding in a month. Never too far. Most rides ended up around 4 to 5 miles I think. But at least we are getting out enough to keep Dressy from losing too much fitness anyway.

But life and work got in the way a little this past week. Jen normally does morning feeding, and last week she picked up some sort of virus and was really sick. So I had to get up earlier to feed at home before going in to work. Which also meant I was getting to work a bit later. So a bit less time and energy at midday. The weather has not been cooperating either. The temperatures dropped quite radically for a few days and the soggy footing turned to sheets of ice, since there’s almost no snow at all.  The footing is still quite treacherous.

It’s supposed to rain for the next couple of days, so I figured I had better get out and ride Dressy today. Managed to get in 5.35 miles. Dressy was quite rushy and excited.  It probably doesn’t help that the footing is terrible in the paddock beside the barn. Frozen lumpy mud. She must have had quite a lot of pent up energy. All things considered though, she was pretty good. She got up a bit of a head of steam at one point near the beginning of the ride. But after that, we worked on relaxed walking and trotting and she settled down. We are still just doing laps around the fields. Mostly around the front corn field, but today I managed to work her past all the sheets of ice and get to the back field for one lap towards the end of our ride.

I am hoping that once the racehorses at work go back to the track in February, and I don’t have quite as much work… and when it’s light a bit later in the day as well… that I can start putting in some longer rides. So she should come into the first rides quite fit. I hope!



New Myler Combo Bit

Dressy’s new Myler Combination bit arrived in the mail today.

She likes the Myler comfort snaffle, and is very happy with it. I’ve done a lot of miles with her in that. But she has absolutely no respect for it. I think it’s too similar to her old racing bits and she goes “up in the bridle” with it (pulls hard) when she gets excited. Which is something you like to see in a racehorse, but not so much in a riding horse.  A couple of weeks ago, I got tired of having to use so much muscle when she has a snitty fit, so I put King’s kimberwick bit on her. And wow, she just despises it. She’s fussy and cranky, tosses her head around and pins her ears. It does provide me with a bit more response when I need it, but it’s definitely not the right bit for her.

I rode her in a borrowed Myler Combo bit for much of one season, and that worked really nicely for both of us. I get a good response from her when I need it. But she also likes it and relaxes well with it. I think it’s different enough from a racing bit (due to the nose and poll pressure) that she doesn’t automatically pull against it.

Given how much she hated the kimberwick, and how much I’ve grown to dislike riding her in the comfort snaffle, it seemed best to just break down and pay for the bit that works.

Energy Overload

Dressy is rather full of herself these days. She’s still fit from the season, and the colder temperatures suit her very well. I’ve been riding her quite often, though never very far. I just haven’t really had time to do any longer rides lately. I was hoping that really regular riding would settle her down. Unfortunately, it instead seems to have resulted in a mare who feels just too TOO fabulous. It doesn’t help that I’m always riding alone right now. She can sometimes be a little herd-bound, which, combined with opinionated boss mare-ishness, and too much energy…. well….

Sometimes down at the racetrack you see horses who are very fit and ready to race that are just about out of their own minds with bubbling energy. Hotwalking them around the shedrow can get very exciting, because they will be walking along and suddenly do a crazed, skittery dance. Sort of like a piaffe on crack.

Dressy was attempting some of those moves today while we were out. It’s a very unsettling feeling to be on a horse who has more energy than they can contain within their skin.  Like little lightning bolts are zapping her brain cells. We were only out for about 45 minutes. But it was a memorable 45 minutes. I’ve decided that it’s time to cut her feed back a bit. She’s on a high fat/high fibre feed. But I think maybe a few less calories might be in order.

I am really going to have to figure out an area with safe footing to do some schooling with her. She needs a little more structure in her work.  Circles, gait transitions, all the usual stuff that I should be doing more of with her. The footing has been dreadful in the round pen and the ring with all the slippery mud for the last month. But it’s snowing right now. So I am hoping that the ground might freeze and stay frozen. With no ice.  And the perfect layer of snow (just enough but not too deep). Wouldn’t it be nice to order up perfect weather?

Crisp and Sunny Day For a Ride

Took Dressy out with Diego yesterday. We were out for almost two hours. The ground was semi-frozen with a dusting of snow over it. And it was below freezing. But the sun was shining and there wasn’t much wind. So it was actually a pretty nice day for a ride.

Dressy was still pretty darned snort-brained, and the first hour or so was a rather speedy. She was very high-headed, and as a result, kept breaking to a pace. Even her walk was some sort of gaited thing. Maybe a running walk? I don’t really know. Flat footed, but kind of rolling along. She was clocking a little over 5mph at the walk for one stretch.

Had my helmet cam on for this ride, so I made a little music video for Dressy, since King already has one. The music is Sweet’s “Hell Raiser”. Sadly I must admit to remembering it from my misspent youth. Which dates me dreadfully.


What’s This? Oh Look… A Brain!

So today’s ride on King was considerably less exciting than yesterday’s.  He’s starting to revert back to his usual lazy self. We had a long easy ride today. Mostly walking, just exploring and trying a few trails we haven’t seen before. He likes to see new stuff, and a nice long walk like today seems to settle him into a whole different frame of mind. Well… that, and the Kimberwick bit I switched him to 🙂

Dressy still has some filling in that hind ankle, though it is reduced, and it doesn’t seem like there’s really any heat. I’ve got her on a low dose of bute. Hopefully another day or two and she’ll be okay.

It was nice to have lots of time to amble around. I actually got a day off work today. Harri, who normally works down at the track, offered to come in for me today. It was just wonderful. That’s the first day off that I’ve had (other than days off to go to competitions – which is not so relaxing) since a year ago in November. I normally work seven days a week, though only for half days.  But lately, I’ve also been helping with evening feeds, which makes it a bit closer to full time hours, seven days a week.  So I’ve been dragging my sorry butt a little bit lately. Tennis elbow in both elbows, a twinge in my occasionally bad lower back, and heel spurs giving me grief. Old age, yuck!

Anyway, I definitely felt more like riding today, after getting to sleep in until the dogs just couldn’t stand to wait one more moment (at 6:30… which is better than the usual 5-5:30 that they normally get me up!). And then getting to loll about drinking tea instead of feeding and cleaning up after 23 racehorses.



Today, the vet came and did some dental work on the horses. King, who has a pretty well-aligned mouth, generally doesn’t need a lot of work on his teeth. But as a result, he sometimes gets skipped when I have other horses who have bigger problems. Dressy really needs her teeth done every single year faithfully, so she usually jumps to the front of the queue. As a result, it’s probably been four years since King had anything done. This time though, we went ahead and did King first. Dressy will get done maybe next week sometime. And it was a good thing too, because once the vet got in all the way to the back she found some nasty edges. King was, well, not good exactly. But not too bad anyway.  He doesn’t really like his mouth being messed with. Once he was sedated, he stood politely, snoring through most of the procedure.

Ares had some very sharp edges, a hook, and one sharp point that was digging into the inside of his cheek.  I knew there was a problem with his teeth, since he’s been dribbling food out the side of his mouth at every meal.  I wanted to be sure to get his teeth done before he finds a new home, so he doesn’t start out his new life with problems. Dental issues can masquerade as behavioural issues, and I want him to have at least a good shot at a decent life.

He was a real sweetheart to work on. The vet was pleased with how cooperative he was. So that was nice to discover. He has become so much more confident and friendly that it’s hard to believe he’s the same terror-stricken, shaky-legged horse that arrived just under three months ago.

I also had her look quickly at Nikita, who seems to have a perpetually sore back. I’ve suspected for a long time that she might have problems with her ovaries, since the soreness seems worse during her heat cycles. And when the vet checked, she thought it seemed pretty likely based on the location of the soreness. She’s going to examine her a little more thoroughly on her next visit. Regumate would probably help if that’s the cause, but that’s a VERY expensive option. Anyway, I will just see what we can find out before thinking about how to fix things.