An Unexpectedly Good Season

This past weekend was the last competition of the season. Saturday morning after I’d packed the trailer I went out to get Diego. And, pretty much as expected, I found that he was caked with dried on mud. Clods of it hung from his forelock and mane. His back was covered. He’d obviously rolled in mud thoroughly and gleefully. At least it was dry. So I scrubbed the worst of it loose with a currycomb and then pulled out the vaccuum cleaner. He quite likes the vaccuum, so I was able to get some of the grime off him. But it was ground in, and I definitely didn’t get it all.

Originally I had planned to do the 31 mile set speed on Sunday. But when I looked at Diego’s record, I saw that he was at 464 OCTRA competition miles. So a 31 mile ride (assuming he finished) would put him at 495 miles. Just a little shy of 500 miles. There was an 8 mile ride n tie on Saturday. So I checked with Doug to see if he wanted to do a ride n tie. He’s not really a runner. But he is a very good sport. I am sure I could have sponsored one of the teams and just ridden along for the mileage. But I kind of like Ride n Tie. And it’s good for Diego (neurotic little coward that he is) to learn to cope with new things.

Doug is pretty relaxed and doesn’t panic about stuff. So I figured he’d be good with Diego. And he was. Diego accepted him easily. For the first loop, we just took turns riding, but stayed together. It’s a poor strategy for making time. But it allowed Diego to settle into the idea of changing riders constantly. With a mile left in the first loop, I sent Doug ahead into camp. He tied Diego, and went out on the second loop.

Once I got Diego vetted through, and caught Doug on the second loop, we started practicing very short range ties. So Doug rode ahead and tied within sight of me. Diego began to get the idea, and coped surprisingly well. The only problem was, on the last change, the saddle (a treeless) turned when I tried to mount. Undoubtedly I was getting tired and put too much weight in the stirrup. But I could not get that saddle to hold steady, even trying to mount from a stump. It had really loosened up. It tends to do that once the heat from his body warms the pad up. It took me a few minutes to get that sorted out and get back on him. So poor Doug ended up doing the last mile without a change. I caught up to him just before the finish.

We ended up 5th out of 6 teams. The 6th being a six year old girl, her dad, and her elderly pony. I guess I don’t have a future as a marathon runner. But it was fun 🙂

It rained off and on all afternoon, and through the night as well. The temperature dropped sharply overnight. Diego wore his winter blanket, and I buried myself in a comforter, a sleeping bag, and three thick fleecy blankets up in the gooseneck of my horse trailer. It was warm enough once I’d been snuggled in for a while. But I sure did NOT want to get up on Sunday morning. The moment I moved though, Diego nickered at me. He was listening for signs of life. “Breakfast time! Hungry horse here!”

Rob brought me a tea and a breakfast sandwich from Timmie’s, and even though both were barely lukewarm, they were wonderful. Then Sandy arrived to crew for me, volunteering even though she didn’t feel well enough to ride (her horse is Benson, the world’s cutest Arab). I spent quite a few years competing with no crew. But lately… having crew… I am totally spoiled. It is vastly easier to have someone to help.

I rode with Amber the farrier and her lovely Tennessee Walker, Shallako. He’s steady and forward on trail. The first loop was 7 miles. We headed out, following Shallako. Diego was being good and obviously liked following a big calm horse (that could be eaten first by any bears or alligators we might encounter).

A couple of miles into the loop, there were some faster horses coming up behind us as we wound around the edge of a field. The riders called out to let us know they were there. But apparently Diego didn’t notice until they came cantering around a curve right behind us. He spun hard to see them. I tilted slightly to the outside. My treeless saddle (yes, the same one that turned during the ride n tie) slowly started to go with me. Yikes. Slowly… slowly… damn. I finally let go when I faced the inevitable inverted dismount. I managed to hold on to the reins as I rolled gracelessly off in front of at least four riders. Lovely. It’s hard to pretend it never happened with that many witnesses. The sand was soft though, and it was much too slow a fall to do me any harm.

Diego was a bit rattled by the incident, and for the next couple of miles he was sort of rushy and difficult. I’m always amazed at how upset horses get when you fall off them. But he did relax after a while and got back into his usual groove. We made good time. Shallako moves right along and likes to lead.

There was no vet check at the end of the first loop. Just a water stop in camp and check in with the timer as we went through. Sandy was waiting with some electrolytes at the water trough, which he was happy to get (he loves his electrolytes!), and then we went right out on the 12 mile loop. Both horses settled in and went very well through most of the loop.

On one corner, I got a raspberry cane (with thorns) caught in my elbow. It stung slightly but was just a couple of tiny scratches. A few minutes later I looked down and was startled to see a stream of blood dripping down my arm. Five minutes later it had covered the forearm completely, was dripping under the watchband of my gps watch, and was streaming down my little finger and dripping on the ground. It didn’t hurt at all. But it looked dramatic.

Going through some pines on that same loop, Amber and Shallako didn’t quite bend enough and Amber’s knee caught. One of those bad ones that lifted her partway out of the saddle. She didn’t complain, but I could see that she was in pain.

Shallako had been going really well, but partway through the loop he lost momentum. Diego would pass and go out front for a while and Shallako would get enthused and pass him. But then he’d slow down again. He looked fine, just not too enthusiastic. Still, we came into the check in pretty good time.

We must have looked quite the disreputable pair… me, covered in blood and Diego, with his fleabitten grey coat covered in streaks of sweaty mud (all the dirt that the vaccuum did NOT remove).

Diego vetted through fine. All A’s. But Shallako had a distinct hike behind. I don’t know if maybe he’d been developing a muscle cramp in his hind end through the latter part of the loop? So he didn’t pass the check.

We really missed them going out on the last loop. There was no one behind us, so we had to do the whole loop alone with no horses in sight. Diego, who is totally herdbound and afraid to be alone, was a good boy. Slow. But good. He’s always a little spookier alone, but he didn’t do anything dramatic. Just some zigzagging. It was exhausting for me though. I had to encourage him for about 10 miles of the loop. I knew that he was just anxious about being alone. But I always have a niggling worry that maybe he’s tired when he gets balky and slow. It was really nice trail though, there was still a lot of autumn colour left, and the weather ended up being just beautiful. So it gave me a chance to enjoy the scenery.

The last bit was on the ride n tie trail of the day before. So as soon as we hit that, he perked up. Started trotting faster. Cantering here and there. Then we hit the Girl Guide camp and we cantered across that. Then the little twisty trail leading into the back of the ride camp. He got up a good head of steam through there. Came up the steep hill at a somewhat controlled gallop. And cantered through the camp to the finish line under wraps. No. Not tired.

His final pulse was 42. Average speed 6.1 mph. Considering we probably walked a third of that last loop… not bad.

Best of all, he passed the final vetting and got his 500 miles.

I started out this year just hoping to finish a few 12 mile rides safely with my rebuilt elbow, unfit body, and a horse with a bad reputation. Diego improved steadily through the season and we have gradually gone faster and farther. He’s learned to go out on trail alone (calmly), and has learned to stand like a gentleman in the vet checks (I’ve had compliments on his behaviour at most of the rides). At the previous ride (Oktoberfest) he did 39 miles in two days which gave me 1000 miles. He finished his first ride n tie. And he ends up in 9th place overall in the Set Speed rankings.

He seems calmer, more confident, and generally happier than he was at the beginning of the year. He’s put on weight, and he eats better than he did.

He’s come a long way. I’m very proud of him 🙂

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Venice’s Papers are Reinstated

So the DNA tests have come back, and Venice has had her registration papers reinstated. She is who she is supposed to be. Sire and dam are both correct. The breeder had sent in hair samples from her full sister instead of Venice. So once I sent in a new sample, it sorted everything out. It also sorted out Venice’s daughter’s registration, since she’d had her registration denied (that’s how this all started… when Savannah’s owner tried to register her). The registry is mailing the papers out.

I haven’t done much with her lately. Last week was too hot, and I was not so energetic after Flesherton. But today I had a short little session with her to get her training back on track. She is a very soft little mare, now that we are past being panic-stricken all the time. Extremely responsive even (which is the silver lining of over-the-top reactive). She is more and more willing to take a carrot from my hand, so I hope to start clicker training with her soon. But so far, the risk of taking food from a human hand is more risk than reward for her.

Here’s a few seconds of video from today. Her dapples are not really visible, but I think the gorgeous metallic gleam of her coat sort of comes through. She’s not very big, but she’s got the trot of a much bigger horse. So with the trot, the brilliant light bay colour, and all the chrome, she’s pretty flashy isn’t she? Just don’t look at her feet too closely since they are dreadfully in need of a trim. They are starting to chip off now that she’s getting more turnout though.

A Few Pictures of Venice

I took some new photos of Venice (Woizero) today. She’s looking good. Her coat is quite metallic, and she has dapples. Her feet are, of course, appallingly overgrown. She is still much too shy and wild to allow me to pick up her feet, much less trim them. They are starting to chip off a little bit now that she’s spending more time outside though.

(Click on any of the thumbnail pics to get a closer look.)

This is What A Hungry Horse Sounds Like

King loves food. Of course all horses love food. But King really REALLY loves food. His enthusiasm for anything edible (and his definition of ‘edible’ is quite broad) is legendary. Last night I recorded his reaction to the arrival of his dinner. Have a listen…

Despite all the noise and excitement, he’s very polite. He stands in a pose with his nose tucked in and curls up one front foot, quivering while I dump it in his feed tub.

All this for a couple of scoops of beet pulp and a bit of vitamin/mineral mix. He’s been on a diet for about ten years, poor guy. I think he and I share the same metabolism.

Learning to Drive

I’m getting a bit antsy with all this enforced idleness. So today I thought I’d teach Diego to ground drive. He lunges reasonably well, so it’s not a particularly big step to move to long reins. He was very happy to see me coming with the halter. Practically piaffing in glee as a matter of fact. Helpfully jammed his nose into the halter before I had it unbuckled. I think perhaps he’s been getting bored too.

After lungeing him for a few minutes, I had Veronica come in and hold him for me while I set up the reins and got him used to them draping around him. Then I had her lead him forward for one lap around the round pen while I walked behind gently moving the lines around his hindquarters a bit. He was totally unconcerned and very happy. So we carried on by ourselves. He was a little unsure at first, and at one point he tried to turn and face me in confusion. But he was easily convinced to move on ahead. After that he marched around like a pro. He was very attentive and kept his attention very focused on me and what I was asking. It was a great first session.

Ummm.... What do you want me to do?
Ummm…. What do you want me to do?
Which way do I go?
Which way do I go?
Really? Are you sure?
Really? Are you sure?
Like this?
Like this?
Oh okay, this is easy!
Oh okay, this is easy!
My gosh, I am a clever a horse!
My gosh, I am a clever a horse! (not to mention handsome!)

Gotta Love a Smart Horse

King felt really good today. We did a short six mile ride around the home trails, and he was strong and forward the whole time. Much more like his old self.

And I have to say, sometimes I really REALLY appreciate my horse. While King can be quite an obnoxious demon when it strikes his fancy, he is unusually reliable in a crisis. Today, I made a major navigation error. Going into an overgrown forest trail from an open field, I had my sunglasses on, and didn’t see that I was going into the wrong spot. There was an old page wire fence falling down, and we walked straight into it. King fell right down on his face, and had both front legs caught up in it. He jumped up, with me yelling “WHOA! Stand!”. And bless his soul…. he stood. I kept repeating myself, and he cocked his head sideways and looked down at the fence while carefully extracting one foot at a time. Then he took one step back from the wire and stood waiting for me to tell him what to do next. We backed up and carefully turned back to the field. I had a quick look and saw a number of very small cuts, but nothing that looked too dangerous. His sweat must have made them all sting though, because he kept stopping all the way home to rub at them with his nose. And he sure enjoyed his bath when we got back. I think it must have felt good to get the salt washed out of the cuts. He looks fine. None of the cuts are punctures. Just shallow cuts that had pretty much stopped bleeding withing a couple of minutes. And I don’t see any swelling coming up so far.

I love a smart horse. And I especially love MY smart horse! Too bad I’m not as smart as he is 🙂

 

 

 

 

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!

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.