Heading to NAETC

I am heading out tomorrow to go to Ottawa. It’s the first leg of the journey with Team Luba.

We are going to the North American Endurance Team Challenge (NAETC), which is an FEI competition being held at Black Prong Equestrian CenterΒ in Florida. It’s a 160 km (100 mile) endurance ride. December 13th.Β My friend Nancy is riding her flea-bitten grey Arab mare, Serious Moonlight (Luba), and Kara and I are going along to act as pit crew (better known as grooms in FEI-land).Β 

It’s amazing how many of our local riders are heading down to this particular ride. We actually have twelve riders from Canada East going, as well as three from Canada West (and that’s a very LONG way to travel from Western Canada!!). And of course all those riders have grooms as well. So there will be quite a pack of us.Β 

Here are the Canadian riders (and horses where I know them):

Canada East
Wendy Benns – (Flirt With Fyre)
Bob Gielen
Monica Grundmann (Excalibur Legend)
Lee Hutten
Wendy MacCoubrey (Furion)
Stephanie McLeod (Amber Kiera)
Dessia Miller (Cognac Amberfyre)
Yvette Vinton
Michelle Watling (Klien)
Emma Webb (CWM Felen Zillary)
Kim Woolley (Shakka Khan)
Nancy Zukewich (Serious Moonlight)

Canada West
Ariel MacLeod
Tara MacLeod
Jaye Yavis

I hope we can get an internet connection. If so, I’m going to try to post updates and photos throughout the week.

I am looking forward to WARM WEATHER!!!!

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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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

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Massie Autumn Colours Ride

We took Ella and Diego up the the Massie Autumn Colours ride yesterday morning. It’s actually a ride ‘n’ tie, but Doug also puts on a short set speed ride at the same time. Veronica entered Ella in the 14 mile set speed, and I took Diego in the 21 mile. It’s a 7 mile loop repeated. Emily brought the fabulous Duke, so she rode with us, and so did Sandy on Benson (the world’s cutest Arab).

Veronica's helmet cover now matches her tack.
Veronica’s helmet cover now matches her tack.

Duke likes to lead, and he does it incredibly well. He power trots up and down hills, around corners, over logs, it’s all the same to Duke. This trail was very twisty and technical. The hills are steep and rock-strewn. Forest trails are very trappy, with lots of little roller-coastery stuff in between the big hills. Duke just seems to love that sort of terrain. He’s focused, forward, and happy. And you know… he’s not an Arab. He’s a Quarter Horse. Not so many of them in our sport. They tend not to have low enough heart rates. Duke though… he vetted in at 28. Diego was 36 and I was happy with that. 28 is just ridiculously low.

The first loop went well. I think it was the fastest Veronica has ever ridden on trail. Duke was really moving along, and it was a lot of fun. We did 7 miles in 58 minutes. Diego cruised along behind Duke. He likes Duke because Duke is calm and confident. Diego (Mr. Insecurity) feels safe behind him. Benson came next (doing his dressage pony imitation), and Ella stayed at the back (where her ninja hind feet could do no harm). Being a Standardbred though, her turning radius is just a bit wider than optimal. She smashed Veronica’s knee on a cedar tree in one of the tight turns. Veronica barely even squawked. But it was a hard hit.

All four horses vetted through fine. Diego was probably at parameter (56bpm) within a minute or two, but I didn’t rush to get his heart rate taken. So he was 48 at 5 minutes. His CRI (cardiac recovery index) was 44/40. All A’s for gut sounds, hydration, etc.

On the second loop, Duke was still forging ahead in the lead. Diego was very happy to drift along in his wake. I sent him out in front for a short while, but then some enormous scary boulders threatened to eat him. So after pushing him past those for a while, I chose to give my legs a break and take him back behind Duke again. Small victories are nearly as good as large ones right?

Ella managed to smash Veronica’s knee again. We all think it was even the same tree. At that point Veronica started looking rather pained. And Ella was looking a little foamy and frazzled by the middle of the second loop. She’s not used to that many hills and even less used to all that speed (she was an utter failure at just being a racehorse prospect… she never made it as far as actually racing!). So we slowed down a bit. Eventually Veronica elected to let her walk in the rest of the way. I figured Ella would be fine, since she’s such a confident, unspooky mare and we carried on. Though we listened carefully for a while to make sure that there was no chaos behind us. But Ella was not particularly concerned. Relieved to be rid of all the speed demons I suspect. We did that loop slightly slower in 1:05.

Duke’s back was a bit sore at the final vetting, so his pulse was up to 40. Still good enough that he got a Grade 1 (the highest) completion. Sandy and Benson also completed in good shape.

Diego was a bit of a pill, since Ella was not in yet. He careened around (while I apologized profusely to Jean, the volunteer with the stethoscope), and his heart rate was 60 the first time it was taken. Then 56 the second time. But his CRI was 13/12, and all his metabolics were perfect. The vet, who knows him, and knows his history, was quite tolerant of the shenanigans. After his rather animated trot out, I commented that at least I knew he wasn’t tired. She laughed, and said “All the good ones are tough and quirky. They have that wow factor. Take good care of him… he’s a 100 mile horse”. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. He’d only done 14 miles at that point after all, so he certainly should have looked good. But it was nice of her to say that πŸ™‚

Veronica and Ella turned up while we were still in our hold. They also vetted through fine. Ella was cooled down and relaxed after walking in the last couple of miles. So she was in good shape. However, she did make a bit of a rep for herself in the vetting area. She tried to both kick AND bite the vet. And did manage to kick Veronica. Luckily just a glancing blow, but still enough to make Veronica hopping mad.

Ella really was particularly rude with her hind feet. We are sort of wondering if the previous day’s events had something to do with that. My border collie, Jimi, nipped her heel, and she lambasted him (it’s hard to blame her). Jimi went off yelping, obviously stung, though he was fine after a few minutes (she got him in the upper thigh). Veronica’s husband, Brian, suggested that Ella might have been pretty impressed at how effectively she’d routed the dog, and was thus emboldened to use those feet a bit more. Whatever the reason, we are going to have to do a whole lot of dry run vet checks at home in the next little while. And likely a chain shank over the nose at real vet checks for everyone’s safety.

After the 14 miles was done, Diego had to go back out and leave all his friends. He’s still herdbound, so I knew that was going to be a bit tricky. As soon as he realized he was alone, before we even passed the start line, he had a little nervous breakdown. Shook his head, reared a couple of times (slow/low rears, not too scary). He is not a strong-willed horse, so he did go out, albeit reluctantly. Within half a mile, he had decided that if we had to do this, then we should just get it over with. And from that point on, he got down to business and traveled. For the much of the loop, I had him on a loose rein, trotting and cantering the winding trails. Practicing our neck reining, and enjoying the spectacular views. It is a fun trail to ride, and really keeps you interested and looking ahead. Normally I hate repeating a loop even twice, much less three times. But at this ride, it’s too lovely to be bored.

I expected to lose quite a bit of time on that loop, since I thought we might have to walk quite a long way (or maybe crab sideways while not allowing him to gallop back towards camp, bucking…). But after that first half mile of somewhat jittery walking, he committed himself to the task and we moved out at a respectable pace. I was extremely pleased with him and he did a lot of ear flicking listening to me telling him what a grand horse he was. We ended up doing the loop in 1:11. He came into the finish trotting and quite relaxed on a loose rein. Veronica came over with Ella, so he pulsed down quickly. He was at 52 for his parameter check and 44 for his 30 minute vetting.

However… he was a bit lame. I pulled off his boots in case there was a stone in them. He was still off. Marg was standing there watching, and she pointed out one of the boots. The back edge had gotten folded inwards and jammed. Sure enough… when the vet checked that spot, Diego was very flinchy. It had bruised and rubbed the heel bulb. It’s not a serious injury, and we got a completion anyway. He should be fine within a day or two.

Fold is visible along the back edge.
Fold is visible along the back edge.

With that 21 miles, Diego is now at 425 OCTRA miles. I am at 981. I should hit 1000 miles at our next ride (which is Coates Creek, next weekend). And if we go to all the rest of the rides this year, Diego could possibly get his 500 miles as well. As long as we can avoid anymore dumb operator errors like that little boot failure. (Sorry about that, Buddy!!!)

Note the masses of red ribbons in Ella's tail.  Warning to man and beast alike!
Note the masses of red ribbons in Ella’s tail. Warning to man and beast alike!

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No Sore Back!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cushionpad

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

Summer’s End Ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coates Creek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flesherton Ride

I spent all last week waffling about whether I should go to the Flesherton ride or not. Diego and I have been doing short easy rides all season. 12 or 14 mile set speed rides at very slow speeds. He’s been fine of course. He’s done a couple of fifties and has something like 300+ miles in OCTRA. So he fits up quickly. I’m the weak link in this partnership. I didn’t do much from late last summer until this spring when the surgeon cleared me to ride.

The shortest distance available at Flesherton was 36 miles. And it was a silver level set speed ride. So the minimum speed to complete would be 5mph. Manageable on a normal trail. But Flesherton has some remarkably big hills. It’s ski country and the trail crisscrosses the Beaver Valley, going right up to the top of the hills on either side several times. Those hills are killers, and you have to do a lot of walking, which really cuts into your average speed.

There’s also a lot of rocky footing, and some gravel roads. Diego has boots, but only for his front feet. So I was pretty worried about him getting footsore behind.

All that is not even to mention that saddle fit has been lurking over us like a distant dark cloud. He has not been back sore for the most part, but a couple of times I’ve found a bit of a skin flicker in his loin area after longer rides. I’m using the same saddle that I had custom fitted for King, and then later rode Dressy in. Diego is a completely different shape though, and I have been padding like crazy to make it work.

We came down that road on the far side, then back up this side to the top of the Talisman ski hill. And then later back down this side and back up to the top of the other side.
We came down that road on the far side, then back up this side to the top of the Talisman ski hill. And then later back down this side and back up to the top of the other side. Then off to the right (towards that rock bluff) and back down and back up this side again.

But in the end, I decided to go. Knowing I could always quit at the mid vet check if we were falling apart. Saturday morning I loaded Diego up on the trailer and headed out. Veronica came along as my pit crew, and her husband Brian went to be the head timer.

It had stopped raining, and the weather was sunny and warm on Saturday. But by Sunday it was really hot and humid. There was not even the slightest hint of a breeze. Diego’s kind of weather, but not mine. I’ve already proven, time and again, that I’m a heat stroke waiting to happen.

There were not too many starters in the set speed (8). Most of the entries were in the 50. To enter the silver level, both horse and rider must have 250 miles of distance competition. So the field is limited.

I asked Julie if I could start out with her for the first couple of miles. The Flesherton ride starts by going around several big hay fields, which can be a bit more exciting than optimal. Julie is very very experienced (with nearly 10,000 miles to her credit), and her horse is quite steady. So we walked around ride camp until all the other horses had left, then went out walking. Diego was happy to have a buddy, and went out quietly and very politely.

Diego has been a bit insecure and until lately has not liked to be in the lead. But we alternated the two horses on the lead and following, and Diego was willing and cheerful. Roy (Julie’s horse) has quite a lot more confidence and has no issues with leading. They paced well together and both seemed happy. So I tagged along with her all day.

Julie and Roy in the river
Julie and Roy in the river

The first loop was 22 miles. After the hayfields and a bit of road work, the trail goes up a steep, winding, rocky hill. All the way to the top of the valley wall. Then it goes across and back down a gravel road to the bottom of the valley, through a shallow river, and back up the other side to the top of Talisman ski hill.
Heading up Graham's Hill to Talisman
Heading up Graham’s Hill to Talisman

Still going up Graham's Hill to Talisman
Still going up Graham’s Hill to Talisman
And even more of Graham's Hill to Talisman
And even more of Graham’s Hill to Talisman

Veronica, and Julie’s husband, Ron were both there waiting to crew for us. Veronica browbeat me into putting sunscreen on, gave me some gatorade, electrolytes for Diego, and sponged him off. She also gave me a cold, wet cloth which I wrapped around the back of my neck and left there. Instant cooldown.

Finally at the top of Talisman, looking back at the valley we just crossed
Finally at the top of Talisman, looking back at the valley we just crossed

We’d caught up with Erin and her horse Brego at the top of Talisman (I think she was hoping her pit crew would show up), and she rode along with us from then on. And her pit crew found her shortly after we left the check.

There was a new section of trail later in this loop that was just gorgeous. Mowed trail around a small lake. It was just gently rolling and we had a lovely long gallop around it. Then back into the winding forest trails. There’s a lot of variety in the trails. Open fields, huge hills, winding forest trail, gravel roads, and open meadows at the top of the ridges with views for miles. It’s a truly beautiful trail.

There are quite a few water crossings, and although he didn’t drink for the first 10 miles or so, Diego drank at every opportunity thereafter. And wow, did he ever drink a lot. He wasn’t as keen on the water troughs, but he loved all the creeks and rivers. He didn’t get an unusual amount of electrolytes either. Just about his usual one syringe at each water trough and two at the mid check.

When we came into the mid check, Diego pulsed down quickly. He was not nearly as hot as I was. It took minimal sponging to get him to 48, and the vets gave him A’s on everything. He was very well behaved. Veronica trotted him out for me since I was having a bit of trouble figuring out if the water was going to stay down after drinking it. Nancy made me take some Tums, and Marion gave me Rescue Remedy. I drank a couple of bottles of water and a gatorade, and eventually started to feel a bit less queasy and disoriented. Diego ate and drank well through the check, and seemed in good order when we left.

Erin was a few minutes behind us out of the mid check, but I think her little horse was on a mission to catch back up. He was back with us well before the water stop at the top of Talisman. We went back down the hill. And for a few minutes I worried that Diego might have taken a bad step behind, but he seemed to work through whatever it was and felt fine by the time we got to the bottom of the hill. We went through the river, and then up the hill to the top of the other side. Then across and back down into the valley again. I could tell as we started up the ride n tie hill that Diego was getting tired. One log that he had to step over was just too much effort and he sort of tumbled over it ungracefully. But he kept his feet and carried on. Every time Roy picked up a trot ahead of us, I could feel Diego’s disappointment “he’s trotting AGAIN? Can’t we walk? Oh… FINE!” and he’d motor to catch up. But his relief was palpable whenever Roy slowed back to a walk. I think Erin’s horse Brego was having similar thoughts behind us.

Admittedly, at that point, I was probably more anxious to be done than Diego was. I tried to drop my feet out of the stirrups at one point and realized that any stretch at all was going to result in serious cramping in my calf muscles. I was wiping my face, neck and arms with the wet cloths that Veronica was supplying at every stop, and I think I’d just have toppled right off the horse without those. I’ve never been so glad to see a gate as I was when we got to the cow pasture at the very end of the trail. (Fitness counts… lesson of the day!)

At the end, Diego pulsed down well within the 20 minutes. We went into the shade to wait for his 30 minute vetting, and Marion did some of the TTEAM ear work on Diego and let him graze a bit. He was very relaxed and although I know he was tired, he really didn’t look it.

He got all A’s on his final vetting and a pulse of 49. That’s high for Diego, but I figured it was the heat and the hills. However, a couple of hours later, it became apparent that his back was really very sore. I’m not sure if the vet actually checked his back (I was pretty foggy at the time) or if that came up later as he stiffened up. But he definitely needs a better fitting saddle before he does any more serious rides. In hindsight, I think that coming down Graham’s Hill with a sore back on slippery gravel was what made him feel odd behind. And it’s probably why his heart rate was 49 and not a bit lower (though his 49 was better than most of the other horses in the set speed).

I really could not have asked for a more perfect horse through the day. He behaved perfectly in the checks, perfectly for crewing, and perfectly on trail. He led and followed, and he wasn’t spooky. He trotted and cantered, very relaxed, on a loose rein. He has really caught on to the neck reining and was doing tight trail easily. No tripping (well… except for the big log!) or ADHD silliness.

However, I have Julie to thank for getting us in at a good speed. I didn’t have any energy to encourage him, and I think we’d have flagged badly in the last five miles. That of course is my fault though, not Diego’s. He’s had minimal conditioning, and he was just a little superstar out there despite being tired, and having an overheated and even more tired rider.

Diego got a grade 5 set speed finish. Given that I didn’t expect to get all the way around the course, or make the required speed even if I did… that is just spectacular πŸ™‚

Oh and last but not least. My amazing pit crew. Veronica drove all over the place, out in the hot sun and humidity, and make sure that Diego and I were both drinking, eating, and cool enough to carry on. She trotted him out at both vet checks, and had my camp all packed away by the time I got back from awards. It was her first really serious pit crewing session, where she had to travel around meeting me at various points, and I could see her developing a system through the day. She was a total pro by the end of it. I’d never have finished without her either!

Veronica’s husband Brian, who was the head timer, sat out at that ride in the hot sun ALL day. Long after I was finished, waiting for the last of the 50s to come in. He had a touch of heat stroke I think. Nancy (the ride manager) thinks Brian walks on water. And maybe she’s right!

The Next Ride

I’ve entered Dressy in the 50 at Spring Ride for the May long weekend in a couple of weeks. It’s been a couple of years since our ill-fated attempt at 50 miles. That was the day that I discovered that Dressy doesn’t actually always feel like stopping when I ask. And that yes, Dressy is quite capable of running herself into the ground (I pulled her at 37 miles when she stopped eating – blood work later showed a mild tie up). Since then, I’ve gotten her even fitter, improved her electrolyte protocol, bought a bit with stronger options (the Myler combo), and learned to start after the pack if need be. However, it must be admitted that I still am not convinced that she has really good brakes.

There are a lot of quiet, steady-minded Standardbreds around. In fact, I think that most Standardbreds are awesomely reliable horses. Dressy is… well. Kind of Thoroughbred-like. She’s highly competitive, and rather on the hot side, temperamentally. She wants to be good (kind of, anyway!), and is highly responsive and athletic. But as she gets really fit, her brain fries.

So, part of my strategy this time is to sponsor a junior. This is a junior that I’ve ridden with before. She has a nice, quiet, steady little Quarter Horse/Arab cross. He’s not at all hot, and Dressy seems to like him. Or at least she doesn’t hate him (which is sometimes all you can expect from a bossmare). Dressy is not quite so competitive when she is travelling with the same horse all day. So I have my fingers crossed that she will settle down with Merlin along and we can do a nice slow 50 in maybe 7 to 7.5 hours.

And just to make the weekend complete, I think we are going to do a 6 mile Ride ‘n’ Tie the day after the 50. Pretty sure I won’t be setting the trail on fire doing that though… I’m already hurting just thinking about running 3 miles the day after a 50!

King. Again.

The chiropractor looked at King on Friday. He said his SI joint was out a bit on both sides, and all four ankles. But nothing radical. Just the same as it always is. He adjusted him. He figured that King could do the 30 CTR.

I went ahead, figuring that if we got pulled, at least Kathy would be there to take blood samples. I had a look and saw that there was an open time slot with Denise and her pretty little grey mare, Mecca. King loves mares, so I thought that might work out okay. And sure enough, King and Mecca fell in love. Denise was very happy with how her mare went along with King, she was happy to go behind at the start and very relaxed (for her). They paced nicely together. Though of course King wanted to canter a bit more than we should have for a CTR, which makes for a bit of unevenness in the speed. But still, he went beautifully.

It was 34 miles. Two times around the blue 17 mile loop. On that first loop, the two front running 75 milers passed us. Valerie Kanavy (I think on Spectacular Gold?), and John Crandell on Heraldic. Denise and I were joking about it. Now we can say that we’ve had the honour of being passed by Heraldic. Denise tried to explain to Mecca that she was in exalted company. But Mecca just wanted to chase them down (so did King actually).

Coming in on our half mile trot in at the mid check, I felt a tiny bobble from King when we went through a bit of softer footing. I asked Denise if she could see anything but she said he looked fine behind. And he felt fine for the rest of the trot. We got in, and he looked okay at first. We walked over to the vets, keeping the two horses together. I waited while Mecca was vetted, then took King in. I had Brooke trot him while I watched. I could see a faint bobble every couple of strides or so. Looked over at Sue (our judge) and sighed. She asked if I’d seen it. Oh yeah. I said a bad word. We called Kathy over and had her watch. This time, King was easily grade III lame. Obvious and fairly extreme. When Kathy palpated, she found tenderness in the right hind hamstring muscles. But then it shifted to the left side. And after a few minutes he had that leg waving in the air. After an hour or so he stopped favouring it. And in another two hours or so he was basically sound again. Not perfectly, but probably back to grade I.

Kathy took a blood sample within five minutes of being pulled. And then another one about four hours later. She does not believe he has an injury. Says it’s definitely muscle. So it really does look like a metabolic issue of some sort. Not tying up. But some sort of electrolyte or mineral imbalance. We are looking hard at selenium at this point.

I was supposed to stay to sponsor the girls in the ride n tie today, but elected to bring King home instead. I didn’t want him standing around in a pen all day stiffening up. So we got home last night at around 10:30. He looked good coming off the trailer, and is a cheerful mood galloping around the pasture this morning.

Just to top off my day though, it looks like my truck dumped some fluid in the driveway after we pulled in. Not sure if it’s power steering fluid or transmission fluid… or I guess brake fluid is possible too. It starts, and runs, and drives (though I only moved it far enough to get it unhooked from the trailer so it wasn’t much of a test). I will have to check all the levels and see if I can figure it out.

Diego is Now a Real Endurance Horse

Diego is now officially an endurance horse. He finished his first 50 on Saturday. I think Misha is pretty emotional about it. He looked very good afterwards and Misha said that she had lots of horse all day. He looked very good when I saw him an hour or two after the finish.

They went very slowly, even slower than Misha wanted to go, because she elected to ride with two other riders. They started out at the same speed, the other two horses started having trouble with the heat, and Misha stayed back with them as they slowed down. It was a brutal day, due to the high humidity. It was the hottest day so far this year, so no one… horses or people…. were used to it yet. The actual temperature wasn’t nearly as high as mid-summer temps, but a lot of the horses still had some winter coat. Misha had a problem with it herself at one check, and had to have someone else vet Diego. I haven’t seen his vet card yet, but it sounds like he did well through all the checks. He’s a tough little horse.

Diego belonged to friends of mine who bought him at an auction a couple of years ago. The auctioneer swore that he was a Quarter Horse, which is ridiculous. He’s as Arab as can be. He was quite feral initially. My friends had him for about a year. They had some basic training put on him, and fed him up (he was pretty scrawny). Then found they had too many horses and passed him along to me. I gave him to Misha last year and she’s been working very hard with him ever since. He’s come a long way in a couple of years. And he looks like a different horse. He’s developed a topline, become more confident, learned manners (mostly) and has fitted up amazingly well.

I’m very proud of them both. Congratulations!!!!