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.)