A Few New Photos of the Mares and Foals

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.

Broodmares and Foals at Dawn
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 and Bernice at Dawn
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
Ruby and Bernice again. The sun was above the horizon here, so I didn’t have to do much to fix the exposure.

Gabriella
Dora’s foal, Gabriella. The very perfect filly.

Gabriella and Dora
Gabriella, with Dora in the background.

Bernice and Ruby
Bernice and Ruby

Ruby
Bernice’s filly, Ruby

Diva and Sammy
Sammy, introducing himself, rather rudely, to Diva. Diva is Dora’s foal from two years ago.

Dora and Gabriella
Dora and Gabriella

Cayuse Canter

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.

Ares and Anastasija ready to start
Ares and Anastasija ready to start

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.

Diego
Diego

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 Skye
Andrea and Skye

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.

Ares and Anastasija
Ares and Anastasija

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!)

Skye wanted to go... fast!
Skye wanted to go… fast!

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.

Ares and Anastasija
Ares and Anastasija

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.

One of the views along the Cayuse Canter trails
One of the views along the Cayuse Canter trails
Alison and Dianne  on trail
Alison and Dianne on trail
Alison and Dianne crossing the railway bridge
Alison and Dianne crossing the railway bridge
View of the trail from the railway bridge. Jolanda Slik and her Saddlebred, Ace's Night Hawk are just heading to the water trough.
View of the trail from the railway bridge. Jolanda Slik and her Saddlebred, Ace’s Night Hawk are just heading to the water trough.

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.

Andrea and Skye lead the way into the vet check
Andrea and Skye lead the way into the vet check

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.

Do you have a cookie? Because I like cookies...
Do you have a cookie in your pocket Andrea? Because I like cookies…

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.

Ares and Anastasija
Ares and Anastasija

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.)

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Queen’s Bush Training Ride

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.

The morning training sessions
The morning training sessions

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.

Emily and Duke trotting out at the finish
Emily and Duke trotting out at the finish

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.

Anastasija and Ares - final trot out for the vets
Anastasija and Ares – final trot out for the vets

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.

Ares on the left, Diego on the right. Hopefully I was just trying to find my stirrup or something and I don't actually ride like that!
Ares on the left, Diego on the right. Hopefully I was just trying to find my stirrup or something and I don’t actually ride like that!

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, Diego, and Duke at the vetting
Ares, Diego, and Duke at the vetting

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 🙂

Diego
Diego

[Oh… and thanks to Veronica for all the photos!!!]

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Conflict Behaviour Checklist

I spoke at a fundraiser for a local equine rescue today. It was a discussion about horses that ‘misbehave’, and how to methodically eliminate triggers. I put together a handout with a number of possible causes for conflict behaviours. It’s not comprehensive, and I don’t think any checklist ever could be. But it at least gives a number of common triggers to check a horse for when there are problems. I thought I’d post it here on the blog in case anyone else is interested. I’d welcome additions to the list as well, so feel free to comment.

Horses do not like conflict. They don’t like it with other horses and they like it even less with predatory species like humans. Conflict behaviours during handling or riding (rearing, bucking, bolting, propping, balking, biting, striking, kicking, etc.) indicate that the horse is unable to cope with the training situation. When assessing a horse with a chronic behaviour problem, try to eliminate the following possible causes before assuming that the horse is just being bad:

1. Pain

  • Teeth (direct pain, or imbalance can affect TMJ which cascades to back)
  • TMJ, atlas, or hyoid (pulling back, etc)
  • Feet (long toe, low heel, abcessing, low grade laminitis, bruised soles, lateral imbalances)
  • Lameness (low grade/intermittent lameness can be hard to identify, especially in the hind end)
  • Sore back (saddle fit, kissing spines, muscle damage, SI joint)
  • Ulcers (far more common in ALL equine sports than previously recognized)
  • Neurological deficits (EPM, Wobbler’s Syndrome, brain damage, tumours)
  • Body pain (generalized sore muscles can be a result of any of the above)
  • Poorly fitting tack (saddle, girth, breast collar, bit, etc.)

Identification Techniques
Do a pen test along topline (see below for a video)
Palpate back
Palpate legs
Do yoga stretches
Watch chewing at meal times
Analyze movement on a lunge line, in hand, loose, under saddle.

Outside Help (Get recommendations for the best you can get)
Veterinarian (Equine vet or equine vet with a specialty such as lameness or chiropractic, etc.)
Equine Dentist (Vet with a dental specialty)
Farrier (barefoot or traditional, but make sure the trim is balanced)
Massage Therapist
Chiropractor

2. Physical Inability

  • Immaturity (mental or physical)
  • Lack of fitness
  • Conformation flaws

Many young horses buck during trot to canter transitions. It’s primarily a balance issue, not behavioural.

3.  Fear – Horse

  • Fear
  • Excitement

When a horse acts afraid, they are either truly frightened or have far too much energy. They are not “pretending”. Either trigger is real and should be managed as a valid emotional state. Punishment is not appropriate in either case.

4.  Fear – Human

  • Expecting bad behaviour will tend to create it
  • Rider tension causes rider imbalance and resulting body pain in the horse (and the rider!)
  • Rider fear triggers horse fear

5. Training

  • Poor Training (creates fear, confusion, learned helplessness)
  • No Training (never expect a horse to know anything that has not been specifically trained)

6. Riding

  • Unbalanced rider
  • insecure seat
  • hanging on reins for balance

7. Temperament/Personality

  •  When all other possibilities have been eliminated.

 

There are many videos on YouTube that illustrate the above points, and you can search for them individually. Here are just a few examples:

 

[Here is a video of the pen test]

 

[Back palpation]

 

[This video shows a test using acupuncture points to indicate possible ulcers]

 

 

[Checking Teeth]

 

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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 Center in Florida. It’s a 160 km (100 mile) endurance ride. December 13th. 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). 

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. 

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 🙂

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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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 🙂

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.

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.

A Little Training Ride Turns Into a Weather Event

On Sunday, there was a training ride up near Owen Sound. That’s an absolutely beautiful area, and although it’s only a short 12 mile ride, it’s still challenging, with plenty of steep, rocky, technical trails.

Veronica has been working hard with the Standardbred mare she’s been leasing from me. Ella will be five years old next week. She’s a smallish, friendly, placid (errr… lazy) mare with no spook, and even less competitive spirit. For Veronica, who is coming back to riding horses after many years away, she seems to be working out quite nicely. They’ve had a few little hiccups, but Veronica worked through them and Ella is turning into a rock-solid reliable trail horse. She has a resting pulse of around 28-30, so she may have a bit of potential as a competitive trail horse.

Since they’ve been working so hard, and Veronica has volunteered to be my pit crew this year, I thought it would be nice for them to go up and ride at the training ride. The ride manager, Doug, gives out ribbons even if you only finish one six mile loop. Which was really all they were ready for. So we went up there just planning to do the one loop. Just walking it if need be.

Veronica went up first thing in the morning so she could listen to the talks. Her husband Bryan had himself ‘volunteered’ as a timer again. (If he’s not careful, he’s going to make himself indispensable!)

I went in to work to feed at 6 am and was back home by 8 so I could load the horses and head out. Ella loaded up pretty well. I had to glare at her once and then she decided it was best to just load right up. Diego though… well. He was a star. I walked him out, stopped. Asked him to back with me. Asked him to walk forward. He walked directly up, turned around and stopped to look at me. “What would you like me to do???” I asked him to step back off slowly. He did. We turned and walked back on. He again asked what he should do. I backed him into his stall, and he stood calmly while I did up the chest bar. That was pretty much the best he’s ever loaded. He’s been doing it well lately but there’s still been signs of stress. This time, he was calm, cool, and relaxed.

So off I went, blithely expecting a reasonably nice day. Weather report said a chance of showers in the afternoon, but nothing remarkable. I drove across highway 9 to Orangeville and turned north. A few spatters of rain on the windshield. Hmmm… well. No big deal. Then it rained a bit heavier. Darn. Then just before Shelburne the rain started to seem a bit more solid. Sleet. Yuck. Temperature must have been dropping. Just past Shelburne, the wind really picked up, blowing the truck and trailer around a bit, and the snow picked up. Soon it was near white-out conditions. REALLY??? What the heck was I doing? Did I really want to ride in this? Did Veronica? REALLY? But, it was still a long way to Chatsworth, so I kept going. Weather is fickle stuff after all.

I pulled into the field next to Doug’s lovely white fabric arena. It’s a great location for a clinic. The arena is actually used for dog agility training most of the time. But it’s very handy for the talks and for vetting horses. Even from the truck I could hear the wind slamming the building around though. The fabric cover was flapping heavily, clanging the metal struts. The wind was blowing snow straight across horizontally. Lovely.

I elected to leave the horses on the trailer. In the past that would have been an issue for Diego. I opened the top door above the ramp, and watched him for a moment. He was quite content to stay right where he was and eat hay while I went into the arena. When I checked on him half an hour later, the poor guy was shaking with cold and I had to put a blanket on him.

After the talks were over, Veronica and I got the two horses and brought them into the arena. It was loud, with lots of startling noises. Diego is a fairly reactive guy, and this was Ella’s first ride. So I was a bit concerned about bringing them in. Ella tromped in and looked around with mild interest. Diego slithered in after her. “Ella!! Don’t leave me Ella!” I parked him beside her and gave him a minute to settle down. He actually handled it pretty well. No tantrums or fussing. He did have one spooky moment when he trotted in hand down to the far end and the door flapped loudly. He tried to circle me a couple of times and barged into my space. I stopped him, got him steady, asked him to back up, and when he recovered his focus we trotted back politely. Luckily, at training rides, the judges have time and are quite willing to wait through horse training opportunities.

Ella was remarkably calm throughout the vetting. She stood nicely. Trotted (ummm… paced actually) out well for the judge, and ambled back out like she’d been competing for years. Once she was tacked up and Veronica was on her, there was a sudden moment when the light went on… “Oh!! It’s a race or something??? Who are all these other horses??!!” Veronica got a bit worried, but I had her ride the mare over to the other side of the trailers with Diego and Duke (Emily’s grand little Quarter Horse who rode out with us). Ella calmed right back down. I think it’s just too much work for her to stay excited, because that was the sum total of Ella’s stress for the day. About 30 seconds of walking fast with her head up.

We let the other horses start first and then went out at a walk. The awesomely reliable Duke out in front. He walked along, snorting at every step. Emily says he does that whenever he goes somewhere new. He was a perfect gentleman in every other way. Diego was quite calm and steady behind Duke, and Ella brought up the rear, which seems to be where she always travels. Except when she can deke out in front and slow everyone down to her preferred speed. She’s all about seeing the scenery and not breaking a sweat, is Ella.

We went fairly slowly, but for Veronica and Ella it was a challenge. They have just been riding around the farm at home, mostly at a walk, since early winter. Neither of them had done any sustained trotting before. Veronica did not whine even once. She did ask if we could walk a few times but was ready to go again as soon as she caught her breath. I was prepared to walk in the rest of the way once they’d reached their limit. But they never did. Ella was perfect out there. She went up and down hills, around rocks, over logs, through mud puddles, and over a concrete bridge. All without flinching or even appearing to be anything more than moderately interested.

Diego was a bit more than moderately interested in a few of the rocks when he had to go out in front. He thought some of them were small horse-eating monsters. But all-in-all, he was still very good. Mostly when he’s afraid, he just slows down and drifts off course. And when another horse is out front to be eaten by the horse-eating rocks, he is cool as a cucumber.

About halfway through the six mile loop, it started to snow with rather more ferocity. The wind was whipping the snow into our faces, and Diego dropped his head, turned sideways and cowered behind Duke’s conveniently large Quarter Horse butt. Diego is NOT fond of rain, snow, or cold. He says he’s a desert horse and should not be expected to perform in blizzards. I had put a wool quarter sheet on him to try to keep him warm, but I think all it really did was make the saddle slip back on a steep uphill (it sits between the pad and his back). Using Dressy’s old breast collar on him didn’t help the slippage problem either. Even on the tightest setting it’s still a little big on him.

At the end of the six mile loop I briefly considered going out to do the second loop. The brim of my helmet was dripping ice water on my nose. And my fleece jacket was soaked through. My gloves had wet snow caked all over them. And I thought to myself “I do this for fun right?” So I wimped out and quit for the day.

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Diego and Ella both loaded up on the trailer lickety-split and dove into their hay nets.

Are you getting me a carrot?
Are you getting me a carrot?
Never mind, I'll just eat my hay
Never mind, I’ll just eat my hay

Meanwhile I had to get out of the field that now had snow accumulating. Towing a steel 4-horse head-to-head with a two wheel drive truck. Up a grade. Sigh. Yeah… that really wasn’t going to work 🙁 Doug had to get his tractor and tow me out. I got mud all over my knees from crawling under to try to hook up the chains. Added to my already soaked clothes, I was in quite a bedraggled state. I turned on the heater full blast and steamed myself for the entire two and half hour drive home.

Despite the miserable weather conditions though, it was all a big success. Veronica was thrilled with her accomplishment and with Ella’s stellar behaviour throughout. They got a ribbon and a certificate. And the photographer (Wendy Webb) took a whole lot of good photos of Ella, Diego, and Duke.