Riding Goals for 2011

I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly what my goals will be for this coming year.

The most important thing to me at this point is just that we get in a full season. Not necessarily every single OCTRA ride, but most. An injury-free season.

Solving our boot issue is a another big one. We need to have a workable booting protocol before the first ride.

Reliable transportation was a big issue last year. So that’s a goal for this year. Though that one is pretty nearly solved.

I’d like King to be able to do at least three fifties. I’m aiming at Aprilfest on May 1 as our first this year.

And that each of those fifties have a slight time improvement over the previous rides. Not fast… just a little bit faster than the last one. Since our benchmark is 9 hours (which is how long Stormont took us), that should be within reach. I hope to NEVER do another 9 hour fifty 🙂

I’d like to do at least two CTRs. Most likely Summer Solstice and Flesherton. But also maybe Seoul’s Corners.

I feel pretty good about our progress so far. King is showing obvious signs of increased fitness. He’s losing weight and looking visibly more toned.

All the trails that I built last summer have been a huge help getting him fit. The entire loop of trails is 5.5 miles. We can’t do it all in winter… only about 4 miles of it is passable. But that’s a whole lot better than the half mile I had before.

I have a truck and a trailer (just need to install the gooseneck hitch in the truck). And although the truck is older, I really like it a lot. It is low mileage, and was used to go to Florida every winter. So it has no rust and is in excellent mechanical condition. It drives like a new truck. The trailer is a 4-horse head to head with a tack room. So I will be able to store all my tack and supplies in it for the season. And I can sleep over the gooseneck once I get a mattress in there.

The saddle that I got him last year (and that we did the fifty in) seems to be working very well. I’ve made some modifications to the flocking that have improved the fit even more.

And we have new boots on order. Glue Ons from EasyCare. As well as a pair of Gloves with the newer gaiters. So, with luck, that will fix his boot issues.

King’s goals are far simpler than mine. He’d like mints. Or oranges. Or… well food. Of some kind. Right now please? Do you SEE how handsome and downright irresistable I am?

Waiting

The weather is absolutely foul here today. It’s snowing heavily, and the wind is fierce. It’s not all that cold, and this is all supposed to turn to pouring rain this evening and then rain steadily for a couple of days. King and Zamaluck are both in stalls, and Dressy and Diego are keeping to the run in area at the end of the barn. 

It would be nice if it would melt all the snow. But if history is any guide, it’ll just get all the snow soggy, and then freeze to sheet ice. Then there will be no riding for another week or two. I am waiting very impatiently for spring to arrive, so I can get on with conditioning King and I for the ride season. He’s really ready to go out and put some miles on after all the snow wading we’ve been doing this winter.

Meanwhile, at work, we are awaiting the arrival of three new foals this year. The three broodmares are Exclusive, Bernice, and Freckles. They are all looking quite large. But Freckles is just enormous. The poor mare has got to be very uncomfortable. I told her owner that perhaps breeding her to a stallion with “Megas” in his name was not such a good idea. The last baby she had was by a perfectly normal sized stallion and the baby ended up being called “Monster” because he was so big when he was born.

Bernice is pregnant with her second foal (and wasn’t in foal last year), so she’s been off the track for a few years now.  You’d think she’d have gotten fat and lazy. But every morning I take her out to the paddock,  with her snorting and blowing beside me. Then she cavorts around the paddock, doing pirouettes  and other unnameable things in perfect, impossible balance, defying the laws of physics. Looks like her feet aren’t even touching the ground.  I guess I should take some video of her.

I’ve started taking my camera with me to work every day. Soon there will be baby pictures!

Still Evil

It’s been a long, rocky road turning King into a civilized being. Much of it was really just my own damn fault. I wasn’t fit enough to ride a smart, opinionated, extremely energetic young horse back when I was breaking him to saddle. He learned that he could drop me into the closest shrubbery whenever I asked too much of him. But we’ve mostly worked through all that. I’ve developed more sticking power over the years, and considerably more nerve. And he’s developed some manners most of the time.

But today, he reminded me that he’s still got that same personality he always had, bubbling away under the surface. I took him out for a short ride around the farm. It’s about a 3-4 mile loop. The snow is still pretty deep and it’s fairly crummy footing. There is some ice under the snow, and although it’s not actually slippery, it makes the footing quite uneven in addition to being heavy. I asked him to trot along in a few nice level sections that were well packed down. He figured that was an invitation to careen wildly. We had some discussions about what was trot and what was canter (amazing how often he confuses the two). And then we had a discussion about whether bucking was civilized good horse behaviour. Likewise galloping sideways through deep snow. And finally… up a very VERY steep hill bolting flat out. I have to say that I think the devil enjoyed it all thoroughly. His ears were forward and he snorted happily throughout all the antics.

He’s definitely lost some weight with all this winter riding, which is awesome. He’s usually sort of seal-shaped at this time of year. After today’s ride, he got damp with sweat, and it flattened out his winter coat. I could actually see individual muscle definition in his hind end, and the belly is just barely starting to tuck up. Which is not to say that anyone else looking at him would think “thin” mind you. He is still kind of an Arab in a Percheron body. But now he looks like a fit Percheron anyway!

Remembering Chip

Chip was a foster horse from a local rescue that lived here for a few months. He was 22 years old. An old Thoroughbred who had been on the track, then was a school horse, then an A-circuit hunter. Later he was abandoned in a field with a shetland pony for company.

It took a few months to put some weight on him. He had almost no teeth at all. They were worn down almost to the gum line. I don’t know if he just had soft teeth, or if he chewed trees and fences to keep himself from starving during his exile to the field without food. So I put him on Equine Senior, oil, and huge quantities of beet pulp. He really could put away impressive quantities of food when it was soft enough for him to chew. He arrived on September 1, 2001. By February of 2002 he looked a bit rounder. And his coat had developed a lovely gloss.

I rode him a few times after he gained weight. He was soft and responsive, with lovely gaits.

He was adopted out, but he lost weight almost immediately and he was returned to the rescue and adopted out again. Eventually he was put down as none of the adopters were willing to feed the quantities of wet beet pulp that kept weight on him. All of them tried feeding him fancy, expensive supplemental feed. When all he really ever needed was a replacement for his hay that he could actually chew.

The day Chip arrived here
Another of Chip the day he arrived
Chip in January of 2002
Chip the day before he was adopted

Baby King

I’ve had a request (my first request, I’m so proud!) for baby pictures of King. He was an evil little cutie pie. Known in those days as “Baby Demon” or “Wee Wicked”. He was kept alone, without other horses from the time he was weaned until I got him at around a year and a half. So he liked people a lot. Still does. It’s not always a good thing. But it does make his personality rather expansive. Or extroverted. Umm, interesting. Okay, obnoxious.

King's baby face, plotting trouble no doubt
He did a lot of running up and down the hills. Got the border collie all ramped up every time.
Close up of his face while galloping madly up the hill
Careening wildly, headfirst down the big hill. Never failed to make my heart stop to see him do that.
A rare still moment. He was usually either running or trying to taste the camera.

Riding King in the Snow

This was taken right after Christmas when the snow was a really nice consistency and the footing was perfect. The camera is a helmet cam with some anti vibration technology built in. It’s not so great in the flat white light of winter/snow. But I think it’ll be a lot of fun to take it to competitions in the spring.

Icy Footing

Every year at this time, and sometimes for the entire winter, the footing goes all to hell. It poured rain a few days ago. Which saturated the snow, but didn’t melt it completely. Then it got cold again. It’s not as bad as some years (there’ve been times the horses couldn’t get safely out of the barn), but there’s no way to ride safely when it’s like this. 

It always seems to happen when I’m really motivated to ride. So then I fuss and fume, and worry that King is going to gain weight again (putting the miniscule few pounds I managed to work off him right back on again). He is a big horse anyway, especially for an Arab. But he’s also an easy keeper with a voracious appetite. So it makes him just that much bigger. He’s been teased his whole life about being “part Arab, and maybe part Percheron?” he’s not. He’s just a plain old Arab (Polish/Crabbet… he’s an Azraff grandson). It’s just that you’d never know it under that layer of fat.

This year I’m absolutely determined to work it off him. It is not just a cosmetic problem.  Carrying that extra weight slows him down, makes him sensitive to the heat, and tires him out. If I could ever get him down to normal size, I’m sure it would make him a far more competitive horse.

Figuring Out Boots

King has been barefoot for his whole life, with the exception of a couple of months when he was four. He has a groove down the outside wall of his left front hoof. It’s from a nasty wire cut that left a deep scar through his coronet band. Mostly the groove is stable and stays closed. But if he hits a rock hard enough and just the wrong way, it will split open. Once it split so badly that the entire outside heel came loose. i thought perhaps shoes would help that. But shoes didn’t work very well for him. He seemed to torque them off regularly. Sometimes within a few hours. Sideclips helped. But in the end it just seemed way too expensive and way too reliant on having a capable farrier somewhere nearby to make it worth doing. So long as I manage the foot carefully, daylighting the groove and taking off any rough edges or chips nearby, the whole thing seems to stay closed and stable. And ripping shoes off that hoof regularly sure does not help it.

So we started using EasyBoots for particularly difficult footing. But boots haven’t always been a perfect solution either. We’ve had two boot incidents that were a bit disastrous. The first was at a ride years ago, when he was admittedly still a complete hooligan. A couple of horses passed us on trail, and he thought racing after them would be an excellent plan. I disagreed. He tried to bolt. I tried to block all that energy. So he went up and kinda sideways. Quite explosively. Then he abruptly tipped over. I smacked my head on the ground when we went down (yep… another smashed helmet… and concussion #2). He jumped up and ran after the horses that had passed him (he does like to have his way). I saw his boots on the ground. Somehow he’d managed to hook one boot up with the cable on the other boot. Literally got his feet tangled up, and that was why he’d fallen down. Trust King to come up with something that convoluted.

The second incident with regular EasyBoots happened just last fall. I tried Gloves instead of the old style boots for the summer, and they worked well. But then, in a fifty, the gaiters rubbed his pasterns very badly. He developed scratches that were still healing by the time Oktoberfest came around. So I went back to the old boots. The trail had a few minor washouts from rain. He got himself going around one corner too fast (okay, I know… I’m supposed to be the one in control here!) and sort of slithered sideways into a washout. He scrambled and bobbled hard. I slowed him up, but he seemed fine and we carried on trotting after a while. We were just a few miles from the end of the loop, and he was going along very well. Then perhaps a mile from the check, I felt a little bob for a few strides. Then it went away. We got into the check, and he was off at the trot out. It was very mild and looked initially like a hind end lameness. But once he stood around a while it became obvious that it was the front left. Then I had a closer look at his boot. All the screws had been ripped out of the inner wall of the boot. He’d apparently stepped on it during that scramble through the washout. And his ankle was swelling a bit too. He was completely sound and all the swelling gone in 24 hours, so luckily it was nothing serious. But it’s obvious to me that this horse really needs a low profile, form-fitting boot that he can’t catch with his other feet.

So. I’ve done some research and have ordered the newer style gaiter. EasyCare is supposed to have improved the gaiters so they don’t rub. Hopefully that will be the case and I can ride him in those for shorter conditioning rides. I also found some suggestions on Chris Martin’s Goober Glue blog that might help fix the gaiter problem. But for actual rides I think we are going to have to go to the Glue On boots. I just hope I can get that all figured out so that they stay on and work for him.

And of course… it just occurred to me that Brooke is riding Dressy this year. Ack!! I have to figure out her feet too now…

Today’s Ride

Sunday today, so Brooke was here to ride Dressy. Misha came, crippled up from a fall in her driveway, but rode with us anyway. It was a pretty good ride. Six miles in around two hours. I used the GPS, but neglected to turn it on until we’d been out for about 20 minutes. The snow was not too deep, but was very wet and heavy. So it was hard slogging. We walked almost all of it. King has been doing this all winter and he’s showing obvious improvement in his strength. He really plows through even big drifts without much effort.

Dressy had the heart rate monitor on, and she’s actually running a bit lower than I expected. Though she definitely started running a bit higher towards the end of the ride. And Diego is looking very good. He’s put on weight through this past winter and is looking much rounder and not so weedy as he did originally. He doesn’t like the heavy snow, but he is still pretty fit considering how little he did through the fall and winter.

GPS Track

Not Riding

I feel kind of guilty that I haven’t ridden since Monday. I’ve been on a roll up until now. I’ve ridden King an average of three times a week since mid-December. But I’ve been feeling like hell all week. At one point I started thinking it must be food poisoning when the nausea got really bad. Couldn’t eat for three days. On the plus side… I lost about 4 lbs.  And I’m starting to feel a bit better today. Brooke is coming to ride Dressy tomorrow, so I will probably try to ride. Hopefully King won’t be too sprightly. Famous last words.

I’ve been tinkering with his saddle for the last few weeks. It’s an Australian saddle with the wool flocked panels. It’s supposed to adjust to fit him over time. But it’s been dropping down way too much in front. I took an awl to it and shifted the wool forward. It took a couple of sessions of adjusting and then riding on the shifted panels, then adjusting again. But it’s definitely starting to fit him better now. The cantle has dropped down some. It’s sitting more correctly over his shoulder, giving him room to move. And it’s stopped rubbing hair off his loin. I took out the pad completely for this, and have just been riding him with the saddle directly on his back. It’s completely covered in white hairs now of course. But he’s not sweating a whole lot and he’s not particularly grubby since it’s a snowy winter so it shouldn’t do the saddle any harm.