Yesterday I went down to Woodbine to watch one of my kids race. Jasper. The big grey goofy guy. He is Monster’s older brother and just like that entire family, he’s got a ton of personality.
He had a tough go of it as a youngster. Broke his shoulder at 7 days old and was on stall rest until he was nearly a year old. So when he first starting going outside, he had to learn how to trot and canter. He had never had a chance to get that all figured out. He was underweight, with no muscle, and a huge, ungainly head. Gawky doesn’t begin to describe him.
He’s raced a few times already, but he’s coming back from a year and a half layoff (he had an injury, but it was not quite as bad as that – part of the layoff was just due to a shortage of available stalls and bad timing). That’s a long time to be away from racing, so you kind of expect them to need a race to get sharp again.
However, Jasper adores his job. He is very happy at the track – much happier than he is at home on the farm. He has a whole bunch of little routines, and he LOVES his routines. He knows everyone’s schedule and watches for his favorite people. Only Harri is allowed to groom him. No one else understands the rules. You must always do everything in the same order. Once something is in the routine – it must stay in the routine. He has to look out certain windows when he’s being walked in the barn. He has to go back in the barn as soon as you put the scraper down after his bath. Sooooo many rules Jasper has. And at 17+ hands, it’s kind of hard to argue with the big guy.
He came swanning into the paddock before the race with his ears up, cheerful as can be. He knew what he was there for and he was ready. Not stressed at all, just marching around. READY.
The pony that took him out on post parade was probably an average sized Quarter Horse. But he looked like a 13hh pony with Jasper towering over him. Jasper was good as gold going out. Ears up, looking for the starting gate. He loaded into the gate perfectly. And for a first race back… you couldn’t ask for a better race. He tried his heart out and was a very good second at the finish.
I had a rather stressful week worrying about horses.
At the last ride Diego wasn’t right and while out on the second loop I turned around and walked him back to camp. He was lame behind when I trotted him out, and the vet found a hard knot in the muscle of his left thigh. I thought that he’d probably pulled a muscle in there somewhere (I was thinking groin, which can take quite a while to heal fully) and didn’t worry more than normal for a day or two. But then started obsessing because he’d had that weird dogtracking issue at the previous ride (which was attributed to a small but nasty cut on the hock). He looked sound in the pasture, but finally I decided to get the vet in just in case there was something more that I was missing.
In the meantime, I was also worrying about Monster. When I brought him home from the track he was very uncharacteristically thin. He’s always been on the fat and lazy side, so I was rather shocked to see his ribs (never having seen evidence of their existence since the day he was born….). Other niggling things started to bother me about him too. He clicks, pops, snaps when he walks. It all comes from his hind end. At first I thought he was forging (hitting a hind toe against the bottom of a front hoof while walking). But I had Ana lead him around and tried to locate the source of the click. It seemed to be coming from either his stifles or his hocks. Definitely no lower than that. He seemed uncomfortable and awkward in his hind end. His hind toes started wearing off at the front. He stood with his hind end under himself and would alternate resting hind feet a bit more often than you would expect a relaxed horse to do. The scariest thing was that he didn’t seem to have much appetite. He ate, but slowly. He didn’t always finish meals. Monster has always been an enormous eater with vast enthusiasm for food. He’s been fat most of his life, even while in training at the track. Warning bells were going off all over the place.
So I called the vet to come and look at both Monster and Diego on Friday. Also Dressy who had a swollen leg. I cleaned her leg and found a little scab which I pulled off. Then scrubbed it with Prepodyne (tamed iodine) scrub. It oozed a bit and dried up. So by the time the vet got there and had a look, her leg was much better. He wasn’t too worried about her.
When he looked at Monster’s hocks, he thought he could see some unusual thickness in the joint towards the lower section. He had me trot out both Monster and Diego and did flexion tests on both of them. In a flex test, the vet picks up a hind foot, flexes the hock tightly and holds it for a minute. Then the horse is trotted out as soon as he drops the foot.
Monster was somewhat lame for the first few steps, but it was moderate. He did step right around and across with every step of the left hind at a trot. It was quite odd looking. There were no neurological symptoms apparent. I had thought that maybe it was a stifle problem, but the vet was pretty sure he was looking at a hock issue, and suggested x-rays.
Then Diego. Ana trotted him for me, so that I could watch. And I was floored. He was really lame. Not just for a few strides. But lame all the way down and back. And he was nearly as lame on the other hind after flexing it too. The vet looked really concerned. I have never had a horse flex that lame, and I didn’t know what to think. The vet suggested x-rays for him too.
I had to leave shortly after the vet visit to go to an endurance clinic for the weekend. The clinic was very good (really VERY good). But I was a complete mess and wasn’t focused on any of it. I was way too obsessed about Diego and the flex tests. I had myself totally convinced that I’d never be able to ride him again. I love riding him, and I’ve worked hard and brought him along really carefully to overcome his anxiety issues. It’s a lot of emotional investment. I should really have just stayed home and done some reading on flex tests and hock problems – I’d have been less worried if I’d known more.
So I booked the x-ray session for Wednesday of this week. Because I was completely paranoid after a weekend obsessing about hocks, I had the vet do a quick check of McCool to see if he looks like he is in good order to go to work. He had a look at his teeth and confirmed that McCool is no more than 8-9 years old. He likes his conformation (I knew that already, since he commented very favorably on McCool the last time he was here). He checked all his joints, and had me trot him out. In the end he said (at 5pm after a long day) “Soundest horse I’ve seen all day”. It surprised me just how relieved I was to hear that.
Monster was next, and he was the most amazingly angelic horse through the session. The vet and his assistant crawled around under him with the x-ray plates and the camera thingy with lots of cords snaking around his feet. Monster just rested his big head against my shoulder and napped. Once in a while he chewed thoughtfully on the end of the lead rope. He was not sedated. Just really couldn’t care less what the humans were doing. He didn’t move his feet at all. Didn’t even flick his tail at them.
Diego was not nearly so good of course. He wasn’t bad. Just moved his foot at a few inconvenient moments and shifted when he wasn’t supposed to. It would be hard for any horse to live up to Monster’s absolutely stellar behaviour anyway.
The x-ray results were completely opposite to what I expected. Diego’s were clean. At an estimated 17 years old, you’d expect to see a bit of wear and tear. But really… no. The vet gave him a shot of Polyglycan (like Adequan) anyway, just to be sure. I still think he may have a bit of a groin pull which will take time (and maybe that would explain the rather extreme flex test results). But the vet thinks he’s fundamentally sound. He told me to give him a few days off and then start back slowly with lots of walking.
Monster’s results were not nearly so happy, and kind of startling in a five year old horse that never actually raced. He has spavin in both hocks. That’s a degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis). It’s in the lower two joints, which is at least a little bit positive for his prognosis. The lower joints do not really move like the upper joints do. They are starting to fuse, and if they fuse completely and solidly, then he is likely going to become sound again. It may take a tiny bit of the spring out of his hocks, but he should be quite capable of most activity… just not racing or maybe high-level jumping.
The vet is predicting that it might take anywhere from six months to several years for them to fuse completely. Or they might not fuse at all. If they do not fuse, he will not be sound. There are some more aggressive methods of getting them to fuse which could possibly be tried as well. So Monster’s future is very uncertain at the moment.
His appetite has returned for the most part, and he’s started putting some weight on. The dapples are even coming back.
Linda, who bred and owned him, is going to take him back to the farm and keep him there through his rehab. She doesn’t want me to have to pay for everything without knowing if he’ll ever be sound and comfortable. He may come back to me at the end of it. But for now, he may as well be there where there is lots of flat pasture for him (my hills are steep), and funds for NSAIDS and x-rays, and whatever else he needs.
Monster is a big, classy looking horse. 16.2hh. Big boned and correct with a long, easy stride. Horse people are always very impressed when he strolls by. The vet said that if he came sound, he knew of a place that would love to have him. When Linda spoke to the vet office today, the receptionist also mentioned that she might like to take him. At the track, many people offered to take him when he was finished racing. Of course, I spoke up for him the day he was born, so I always had first dibs. Linda says that she’s never owned a horse that so many people wanted.
His name is Charming Devil. Apparently he really is 🙂
So… Helen, the beautiful chestnut yearling filly out of Loula, has developed a very nasty club foot. The vet did surgery on her today to cut the inferior check ligament. This is meant to release some of the tension at the back of her lower leg and allow the heel to drop into a more normal position.
Helen was really quite well behaved both before and after the surgery. She was pretty interested in the x-ray machine. We brought Wise Affair (Weezy) in to keep her company at first. But that bad old horse had about ten minutes of patience in her and then she started screaming bloody murder… “I am TRAPPED in here! I must go out!!! Must go out NOOOOOOWWWWWW!!! Dammit!!!!” Yeesh. Just like her mama, Exclusive.
We turned Helen around so she wouldn’t notice the mare leaving, and I jogged back down to the gate with Weezy (who was snorting and dragging me the whole way, highly indignant that I’d interrupted her busy and very important schedule). Luckily Helen really didn’t seem concerned about losing her friend.
She stood really nicely for the vet to take x-rays of the foot to make sure there were no problems other than the clubbing. She does have a bit of bone loss in the coffin bone. But no breaks or other issues.
While I did not have my good camera with me, I did manage to get some fairly clear photos with my cellphone. This is Dr. Martyn Potter performing the surgery.
After the surgery, Dr. Potter warned us that she’d probably wake up groggy and flail around the stall alarmingly when she first got up. But she was very sensible. She staggered up and immediately had a big pee (it looked like it took a LOT of concentration to stay upright and pee at the same time, but she managed it). She didn’t flail around at all. Just drifted sideways a bit, then around in a circle until she could get her head over the stall door to look around.
The leg is all bandaged up. She will be able to go out in the pasture tomorrow. It’s best if she moves around on it as soon as possible to begin the process of stretching everything back to normal.
I still make plenty of mistakes with my camera. But I’m starting to feel like I know what I’m going to get in the end when I press the shutter. I know better how I want the camera set up for specific situations.
The other morning I got a couple of nice photos of the mares and foals just as the sun was coming up. I knew when I took them that I’d have to do a bit of editing to fix up the exposure. The first couple of photos below were taken before it was light. And they were handheld. So they were underexposed and very dark. But I took them in RAW format and was able to bring them up when I processed them.
All three broodmares with their three foals, moving out into the pasture. That’s Bernice, Dora, and Loula. The foals are Ruby, Sammy, and Gabriella.
Ruby is a very exhuberant filly. So it’s easy to get shots of her in motion. Her mama, Bernice is quite often in motion herself (though not in this photo), so Ruby takes after her. When there is this little light though, it’s very difficult to prevent motion blur (or blur from camera shake). So I was very happy that this one turned out as sharp as it did.
Ruby and Bernice again. The sun was above the horizon here, so I didn’t have to do much to fix the exposure.
Dora’s foal, Gabriella. The very perfect filly.
Gabriella, with Dora in the background.
Bernice and Ruby
Bernice’s filly, Ruby
Sammy, introducing himself, rather rudely, to Diva. Diva is Dora’s foal from two years ago.
I took the truck and trailer down to Woodbine Racetrack this morning and picked up my Monster. And… as of today, he really is MY Monster. I need another horse like I need a hole in the head. But it’s Monster.
I met Monster an hour or so after he was born. He was the most gorgeous foal I’ve ever seen. Perfect, chiseled head. Small, shapely ears, full of darling little curls. His mane and tail were all fluffy waves and ringlets. He was correct and balanced from birth, and stayed that way through all the normally awkward stages. He is 16.2hh, with big, solid bone and strong, healthy feet. The very image of a classy Thoroughbred. He has been my favorite of all the horses at work from the moment we met.
He went down to the track last year for the first time as a four-year old. He caught a very nasty virus and was really sick for a long time. He lost a lot of training time to the virus, and also to sore shins. Ana (who was his groom last year) thinks his stifles might have been sore too, and that seems likely, given his size. So he never ended up racing. This year, he’s been looking very good. He was showing that he had some talent. But unfortunately, also showing that he didn’t really want to be a racehorse.
A few days ago, he made a complete ass of himself at the starting gate, and sent the boss to hospital with a dislocated shoulder. Apparently he was jumping all over the pony who was dragging him, against his will, over to the gate (for gate practice). The gate guys got hold of him and shoved him bodily into the gate and, from the sounds of it, they hit him as all this was going on. When the gate was sprung, Monster came out and turned hard left. Then right. Then left again. There may have been a buck or two involved. The boss made it through one or two zigs, but missed a zag and came off hard. Witnesses said it was very bad. Monster was focused, determined, and angry.
Monster does not take being hit very well (and never has reacted well to it… since he was a wee little guy). He’s ejected a few exercise riders, and it was always some variation on Monster refusing to do something he was asked to do, the rider hitting him, and Monster dropping them in the nearby shrubbery. He’s efficient and quick, and very very powerful.
I’ve worked with Monster a lot, and honestly, I have NO clue how this behaviour developed. I never had much trouble with him (other than the standard hormonal rudeness that all the colts have before they are gelded). He’s a big, calm galoot of a horse. He is not afraid of anything. Not at all spooky. He’s kind of slow-moving, but he never ever refused to do anything I asked him to do. Of course I never actually rode him. Just did groundwork, trailer loading practice, lungeing, etc. But I did work with him every day for years. I really never expected anything like this from him.
Linda (who owned him), promised me from the beginning that when he was done racing I could have him. Everyone at the track is just done with him. The boss won’t get on him again and neither will the other riders he’s dropped. Everyone is pretty mad at him, but despite that, Linda doesn’t want him going off to strangers who might try to get after him with a whip and get hurt. There was no shortage of people who wanted him. Both last year and this year, various people mentioned that they’d be interested in him when he retired. The boss doesn’t actually want ME to get hurt and is quite opposed to me having him. But – not his decision. And I’ve gotten a lot more cautious in my old age. I have no intention of jumping blithely on him without doing a TON of basic training. I don’t have the skills that the riders at the track have, so I have to work out the difficulties before I get on him. Maybe it won’t work out and he really won’t be safely rideable. But I do love that horse, and I have to try to figure out what’s wrong.
Monster loaded up perfectly (though he’d been tranq’d, so he was very slow to amble up the ramp). The trailer is really much too small for a horse the size of Monster. But he generally carries his head low, and he didn’t fuss at all. We had taken out the back divider and converted the two standing stalls to a box stall for him, and he wedged himself in at an angle.
Once we got home, he was still perfectly calm. But he really didn’t want to get off the trailer. I think with the tranquilizer, he didn’t feel competent to step down the ramp. So he just stood there for a long time. Maybe 15 minutes or so. No fighting or dancing around. Just not moving. Since that is pretty much his default resistance, I didn’t want to get into a confrontation before he even got off the trailer at his new home. So we waited until he was ready. Eventually he decided to come down. He was very slightly unsteady, and the ramp is very steep, but he managed it without taking a header.
He’s in the little side paddock for now. He’s being really good. Calmly eating his hay and wandering around in between mouthfuls to investigate. After he settles in a bit, he will go out on the pasture with the rest of the herd for a month or two to just be a horse. Then I guess we will start groundwork. And of course… when (and if) I get around to riding him, I won’t be hitting him… that seems like a no-brainer.
Ana is pretty excited to have Monster here as well. She can’t afford another horse. But Monster was also her favorite last year when she worked down at the track. She has dreams of learning to jump, and riding Monster in schooling shows. We’ll have to see how he progresses of course, but if he gets over his issues, that would be good for him. He’s not likely, given his size, to make an endurance horse. But perhaps he’ll enjoy jumping.
I wasn’t planning on going to Cayuse Canter Endurance Ride, since I have been sick with some nasty respiratory virus, and my bank account has been suffering from it’s own flu (due to the necessity for an extra couple of loads of hay this month to get us through until the grass gets going.) But Anastasija has been bubbling over with excitement and ambition to compete with her horse, so she campaigned all week until I agreed to go.
Diego managed to find something really disgusting to lie down in on Saturday morning before we left. He looked awful, stained with green, brown, and yellow, legs and belly encrusted in mud and manure, and he smelled even worse. It was too cold for a bath, so I just held my nose and loaded him up.
Ares was clean of course, because Ana is much wiser than I am. She put a rainsheet on him the night before and left him in the (less muddy) back paddock overnight. Even then, Ares rainsheet looked a bit disgraceful. He definitely tried to get himself as filthy as Diego.
Ana was entered in the 12 mile Set Speed ride on Saturday. I was in the 12 on Saturday and the 25 on Sunday. The trails were modified a little bit though, and they turned out to be 14 and 27 miles. And the 50 became a 55. There were lots of entries in both of the Set Speed rides, but not too many in the 55. It’s been such a difficult spring for conditioning that many of the horses are not as fit as usual.
I had to spend a lot of time scrubbing the mud off Diego. Rubber currycomb, shedding blade, wet towel, sponge, bucket of water. It still only got the surface muck off. I had to really scrub at his hocks, and at one point, with the rubber curry I didn’t realize I was scrubbing a big scab and ripped it off. Quite a bit of blood oozed out, and he was not too happy, poor guy.
At the initial vetting, Ares got all A’s and really behaved himself well. He’s much less anxious that he has been at previous rides, and so is Ana. Diego was also good, but when he trotted out, the vet noticed he was dogtracking and had one hip a bit higher. That’s something Diego does do, as he’s a fairly crooked horse. But it’s not something the vets usually comment on. Then I remembered the scab that I’d ripped off, and the vet checked that. He figured it was tender enough that probably it was affecting him a little bit. Diego was not lame, and the vet thought he was fine, so we were allowed to start.
I’ve been a little bit frustrated with the treeless saddle I’ve been riding Diego in. I have a nice Christ sheepskin pad that I use with it. Last fall I put some really thick inserts into it, which created a very distinct spine channel. That was great for him, and it solved all of his sore back problems. But unfortunately, it’s not so good for me. The padding is so thick that it’s made the saddle quite unstable. A few weeks ago, in a fit of frustration after falling off him at a walk when he spooked at a rock, I pulled the inserts out of the pad. I was immediately much more comfortable and secure. I knew that would not be sufficient for longer rides, but it worked fine for short rides around the farm, which is all I’ve really been doing. I was planning on putting more moderate inserts into the pad, and tossed them in the trailer to take with me. But of course, somehow I ended up with a mismatched set and the really thick ones that I now despise. I opted to protect myself instead of Diego’s back and left the inserts out of the pad.
Andrea and her lovely big Belgian/QH mare Skye went out with Ana and I. There were some politics to work out initially, since Ares is rather awful about strange horses. It actually occurred to him that attacking her might be a good plan. Anastasija made short work of that idea though, and he settled down. I put Diego in the middle, and Ares went out in front. He’s a very brave little horse on trail. Surprising, since he’s so neurotic about most things. But he trucks along at a good clip. I only saw one spook all day, and that was just a half stop and he immediately carried on forward. He showed off his lovely canter going around an open field and Andrea commented on how nice it looked. He loves to canter.
Skye went out in front periodically and we’d send Ares to the back to prevent any rudeness from him. He’s not so happy following though. He definitely prefers to be in front. Skye likes being in front too, but she was getting a bit excited that first day (she hasn’t been to a ride for quite a while) so she had to go to the back of the line whenever she starting charging forward (big strong girl… she’d make an amazing jousting horse!)
Diego was pretty happy to be in the middle. He figures that lions will pick off Ares and Skye and that will give him time to scamper off with his life 🙂 He does actually go in front sometimes, and once he settles into it, he’s fine. He seems to prefer to lead when we are crossing open fields. On single track trail he’s happier to have a leader in front of him.
The trails were just beautiful. The trilliums were out, as well as a few other wildflowers. The footing at Cayuse is mostly pretty nice. Lots of sandy loam. Very little roadwork (really just a short section of gravel road to access the forest from the ride site). It’s all rolling hills with the occasional gorgeous view.
At the mid-check, Diego was no longer tracking oddly behind, and the vet figured he was fine. He felt good all through that first loop (it was only 7 miles of course). He walked in at parameter, so despite my hopes of getting him a bit cleaner after sponging him off to cool him, I could only take a damp sponge and wipe off the worst of the rivers of sweaty muck dripping down his sides and legs. The wind was cold, so he’d have been a shivering mess if I’d really used any water on him.
We went out on our second loop after a 45 minute hold. Ares was still trucking along with tons of energy. The cold weather really helped him to stay cool. He led for most of the second loop as well. I am really impressed at how steady he’s become. Skye was more settled on the second loop as well. She was able to lead a bit more without charging off like a racehorse. She’s a lovely mare, and has an absolutely amazing trot. You would not look at her and expect to see that kind of speed.
Partway through that loop, I start to feel suspicious about Diego. I changed diagonals and he’d immediately flip into a canter. I tested it about three times. Yup. Sore back. The insert decision was coming back to haunt me. I did my best to stay off his back for the mile or two we had left. But he was starting to feel wrong. We walked into the finish.
When I pulled the saddle off, I could see ruffled hair right in the middle of his back, and swelling over the spine. That’s a spot that will always swell on him if there’s the least bit of pressure there. It goes away within a half hour or so. But it’s a big warning sign.
His heart rate was already at 48 when we came in. So he had no issue meeting parameter. When I took him to his 30 minute vet check, he had to wait for a couple of minutes in line, and was half asleep. His final pulse was 39. That’s the best he’s ever had. So that was great. But when he trotted out, the wonky dogtracking was back. He still wasn’t lame. Just not travelling straight. I told the vet that I was pretty sure his back was sore, and sure enough, he was sensitive when the vet checked it. We decided that he should not go out on Sunday, although he did pass the check.
Ares passed the vetting just fine. His final pulse was 43, which is far lower than he managed at his first two rides. Anastasija was thrilled with that. Skye had a final pulse of 40, and also passed with flying colours.
At the awards Saturday night, Ares got a Grade 2, and Diego and Skye got Grade 1 (range is 1-best to 5-lowest). Anastasija was beaming. So was Andrea 🙂 The two of them decided to go out together on Sunday to do the 14 mile mileage ride.
I checked Diego’s back before bed, and it was completely back to normal. No swelling, no flinching. Nothing. So no permanent damage done. He was the same the next morning too. He was a little worked up when Ares went out on trail. But he did settle down eventually. And I took advantage of all that snortiness to get some nice photos of him.
Once he settled down I took him over to the vet check, and had the vet look at him again. They were in a lull between loops, so I got two vets for the price of one. His back was perfect, but he actually looked a bit lame, not just wonky when he trotted out. On examination, it looked like his hock was starting to get just a touch of filling around the cut. The second vet was pretty sure it was actually the cut bothering him the most, and not his back. Which made sense. He suggested that I sweat it.
Ares was pulled at the mid check on Sunday. Bad luck. He had bruised his frog on a rock. It wasn’t bad, but Ana could feel it out on trail every now and then and knew he wasn’t quite right. Skye and Andrea carried on and finished the last loop alone. She said that by then Skye was really good. They just had a bit of a moment when some faster riders went by and Skye was SURE she could catch them. So there was some sideways cantering. Given the size and power of that mare, I imagine it’s quite something to be on top of her when she’s doing that!
This morning, I could still see a bit of swelling in Diego’s hock. So currently he’s in a stall with it all wrapped up in furacin sweat, plastic wrap, and a bandage. It doesn’t look too bad so far. But he is flinchy enough about it that I do think that was the cause of the wonky movement, and not the sore back (since that was better within a couple of hours).
I took a ton of pictures, both on trail and in camp. So here’s a gallery with a whole lot more (you can click on any of the thumbnails to see a full sized version of the photo.)
Esmerelda is Exclusive’s daughter. She was born on the day of the Triple Header (in 2011, which makes her a three year old). Three foals in ten hours. What actually happened that day was that we were still dealing with Freckles and her new colt, and neglected to check on Exclusive for a couple of hours in her paddock. When I went out to have a look, there was Exclusive, lying down in the shelter with a newborn filly walking around her. Esmerelda was up before her mom, bright, cheerful, athletic, and smart from the moment she was born.
I ran for the barn to get Linda. I think Linda nearly passed out from shock when I charged in and banged on the wall to get her down from upstairs where she was watching the foal cam. We ran back out with Linda panicking totally about how we would get this newborn in through the snowdrifts and muck and ice. “No problem!” I told her. She hadn’t seen that sprightly little filly yet. Exclusive was up by then and Esmerelda was trying to figure out the nursing thing. Linda led Exclusive and I wrapped my arms around Esmerelda and guided her in the right direction. She trotted along like she was on a mission. “Come ON! Let’s get in that barn so I can get back to that milk bar!!”
Esmerelda is still cheerful and smart. She’s been no trouble to start, and both the Boss and Anastasija have been riding her in the arena with no fuss. She does have opinions, and a strong sense of her own importance. But she’s not the least bit exciteable. Although the two boys, Reno and Al, were sent off to a training centre to get a bit of legging up and schooling before going to the track, Esmerelda really isn’t that complicated.
Monday morning I went in to work with my truck and trailer, and we brought Esmerelda out. She’s never seen a horse trailer before. But I did do some ground work with her, teaching her to walk on plywood, through poles, over obstacles etc. Basically Esmerelda will do anything I ask. So long as I have food to offer in return.
She inspected the trailer ramp. Tapped it with her toe. I gave her a cookie. Okay. She slapped her foot on the ramp and looked at me expectantly. I gave her another cookie. She put her other front foot on. And yep… another cookie. “Good deal!” she told me, and walked on. No fuss at all.
Off we went to a training centre, to pick up Silent Flourish. That’s a new filly that Linda bought a couple of weeks ago. By Silent Name, one of the Adena stallions. He’s been producing some decent runners lately, and the filly seems like a nice sort. She also loaded well, and we carried on down to Woodbine. Esmerelda had been a bit restless before we picked up the second filly. But with company she settled down and rode quietly the rest of the way.
The two fillies unloaded cautiously but politely and other than a few snorts walked directly into their new living quarters. Word is that they are both doing very well and have settled into the routine easily.
Since I was there anyway, I was able to take some pictures of my kids….
On Sunday morning, Anastasija went in to work at 5am so she could get the mares and foals turned out at work and get back home by 6. By the time she got back, I had fed the horses and packed up the last few items. Ana was bouncing with excitement. She and Ares have done a couple of rides in the past, but last year she just didn’t have time to compete, so it’s been a while.
I went into Diego’s stall and put a halter on him, which immediately set him off. Change in routine… EEEKKK! “She’s gonna put me on the trailer!!!! Oh no, oh no, oh NO!!!!!” I left him to do wild-eyed laps around his stall for a few minutes.
Meanwhile Ana put some of Dressy’s old Easyboot Gloves on Ares. After rasping off a bit of flare, the boots fit him perfectly. Diego calmed down considerably as he watched Ares being booted and groomed and fussed over. He is both claustrophobic and herdbound, so travelling on a trailer alone is a double whammy. Knowing that Ares would be going settled him right down. Ares loaded like an old pro (which of course, as an off-track Standardbred, he is). Diego still hesitated for a minute or two, but it was really only a matter of form. He loaded up and backed into his stall across from Ares and started eating his hay calmly. After the last trip (which I never got around to writing about), where he seemed to revert completely back to his bad trailering days, I was very happy and offered gushing compliments on his intelligence, good manners, and wonderfully handsome self. Also cookies. All of which he accepted graciously while I attached the chest bar.
We were on the road by about 6:40am. The drive to Owen Sound is a bit more than 2 hours. On a Sunday morning, very early, it’s mostly an easy, traffic-free run. Much easier on the horses that way too.
The weather was beautiful, which was a big change from last year’s event which involved a mini-blizzard. Quite a few more riders showed up as a result. It was a nice mix of beginners and experienced riders. There were talks in the morning to explain all the rules, how the vetting works, how to read the trail markings, etc.
There was, as always, a really nice lunch. I was the only vegetarian there, and Doug (the ride manager) was kind enough to provide veggie dogs instead of the chili, which Sue Two-Names roasted ESPECIALLY for me, over the barbecue, on tree branches that she chose, cut, and peeled by hand. So I felt quite spoiled 🙂
After lunch was the ride talk. I got Ana over to listen to it, but I could see that she was starting to vibrate with excitement and probably wasn’t concentrating too well. It really didn’t matter too much. The trail was well marked and other than riding past one perfectly obvious turn arrow on BOTH loops, we had no problems.
Ares was much calmer than he was the first year that Ana brought him out. They’ve become much more of a team, and Ares trusts her implicitly. He’s a silly worrywart of a horse, but he’d walk through fire for her (shaking in his boots the whole time mind you!). He coped much better with the vetting and was not so anxious at the start.
Diego was pretty good too. He wasn’t upset or stressed. But he’s not really all that good at standing still for any length of time. So I did have to remind him to stand for the vet.
Emily and her Quarter Horse, Duke went out with us at the start. Ares led the way initially. He was a little rushy, but not crazy anxious. Diego was fine. Not even excited really. Ares in front, Duke behind… all was right in Diego’s little world. Eventually we put Emily and Duke in front, because Duke is just a rock. He trots along, steady, forward, and never spooks. Well… okay. He spooked. Big spook. Emily didn’t even flinch though. I waited to see if she’d say anything and a few strides later, Emily commented “You know… when I started this, I’d have been completely undone by that spook!” I laughed, because that was exactly what I’d been thinking. Emily has gained such an amazing degree of confidence in both her own ability and in Duke’s reliability since I first met them a couple of years ago.
The trails were very steep and winding, so Ares (who is still wearing at least half of his winter coat) did get quite hot and sweaty. He huffed and puffed at the top of all the hills. Ana was pretty alarmed and had visions of Ares failing to pass the parameter check (heart rate of 56 in 20 minutes). Even Diego was sweating, and he has lost all of his winter coat and generally loves hot weather.
When we got in off the first loop, Ana got a bit frazzled at how long it was taking Ares’ heart rate to drop. Diego was down within a couple of minutes, but I had to wash him off completely because all the dirt that he’d been saving up all winter (and that I thought I’d brushed out of him) had percolated up to the surface and black sludge was oozing down his sides and legs like toxic waste. Once he was marginally cleaner, I got the heart rate monitor wand and started tracking Ares’ recovery. He was fine, just still not quite cool. It took him about 12-14 minutes to get to 56. Considering that Ana herself was not at all calm, and that probably contributed, I wasn’t too worried about it. In the end, he vetted through just fine.
On the second loop, we walked more on the hills and took slightly longer. Ana worked on getting Ares to moderate his speed. He has a rocket propelled trot which Diego has to gallop to keep up with. It can be a bit uneven too, since he tends to surge forward and abruptly slow again. So Ana worked on an easy slow jog. Of course, to any horse but a Standardbred, that amounts to a strong, forward trot. Perfect.
Partway through, I tried to get Diego to take the lead and move out. He was fine taking the lead. But his idea about that is to go out front and show everyone how to enjoy the scenery at a leisurely pace. I asked him what sort of endurance horse he thought he was. “Endurance horse????” he said, “who told you I was an endurance horse? That sounds like something only a crazy horse would do!!” So I tried enthusiasm. “Fun, Diego!!! We are having FUN!! Woo Hoo!!!” I tried flapping my arms, cheering, laughing (okay that might not have been me… might have been Ana and Emily laughing at my antics… whatever!). All he did was go from a western pleasure jog to an ambling trot. I think I did get a couple of canter strides up one hill. Mind you, when Earl and Ace went zooshing ahead, Diego suddenly became all business. He took hold and tried to go after them. I didn’t let him go, but it was at least a faint glimmer of hope that one day he might actually want to go a little faster.
At the finish, I had Ana get off and walk with Ares for the final few hundred feet to give him a head start on his recovery. He wasn’t quite as hot as a result. Ana was better organized and much calmer for the second check too, and so Ares came down to parameter faster. Diego, being his usual self, was down to 48 the minute I pulled the tack. He’s really the perfect horse for a lazy rider. Though he did manage to ooze out another layer of sludge that I had to sponge off prior to vetting. He’s not nicknamed Pigpen for nothing.
I also forgot Diego’s face towel. That’s always a bit of a disaster. His face gets awfully itchy when he’s working. He stops every couple of miles to rub his face on his leg, and by the time he gets into the check, he’s trying to crawl out of his own skin. He literally can’t stand the itch. He knows he’s not supposed to rub his head on humans, but he gets a little crazed with the itch and dances around trying to find something anything to rub his face on. It can make it difficult to get him to stand for the vetting. Must remember that damn towel next time!
Ares, Duke, and Diego all passed the vetting fine and got completions. It was a training ride, so no placings or awards. Just mileage. But we all had fun, and Ana learned quite a bit about managing Ares and how to cool him. Ana’s riding has also visibly improved since she started with Ares (probably partly due to all the ponying at the track last year). She’s more balanced, her hands are better, and her lower leg is much steadier. Ares looks more balanced carrying her, and is much calmer on trail. They’ve both improved tremendously over the last two years.
Once we were all done, we loaded the horses. And Diego walked straight on the trailer with no fuss at all. Marched up the ramp, turned around, backed into his stall and started eating hay happily. Perfect end to the day 🙂
[Oh… and thanks to Veronica for all the photos!!!]
I took more pictures of Sammy (Loula’s colt) while he was scampering around in the small paddock. I wouldn’t blame Loula one bit if she were already tired of him. He’s a bundle of energy and not all of it polite energy either. Sure is lucky that foals are cute or we’d never tolerate the little demons.
Click on any of the photos for a closer (and thus cuter) view:
William is, of course, still on stall rest. And he continues to be a well-behaved, calm gentleman about it all. I am amazed at just how easily he is handling it.
Ana brushes him every day, and gives him rather a lot of kisses. He looks pampered and smug. I suspect he’s not even really missing turnout very much. The attention seems to be an acceptable replacement.
Even with the pins, the leg is still fragile enough that if he were fussy and upset about his imprisonment, he could easily do irreparable damage. So we are all very grateful for his amiable acceptance of the situation.