Jefferson Forest

The Jefferson Forest is just down the road from me. Years ago, it was primarily horse trails. But the city has been taking over this area, and there are only a few horse farms left.

I think that we are about the only riders left using the Jefferson anymore. Mostly it’s dog walkers and mountain bikers now.

The forest is quite lovely, with steep hills, big trees, and lots of small ponds. I took some video, but as usual, it gives no real sense of how steep the grades are.

Saddle Fitting

I’ve been looking for a saddle for Diego for a while now. I already knew we had a fit problem before the Flesherton ride. But after we finished (and passed the vet check with no issues), he came up very sore over his loin area. Initially I thought it was regular soreness from pressure. But realized the next day that it was actually a friction burn. The skin was dried out and wrinkled. The back of that saddle tends to waggle a bit (which is a fit problem). And in high heat/humidity that movement during a long ride was apparently enough to burn him.

At any rate, I promised Diego after Flesherton that he would not have to compete in that saddle again. So the saddle search has jumped way up the priority list. I tried a nice old Schleese saddle with an adjustable tree first. But it just didn’t seem to adjust the right way for him despite a great deal of tinkering. I had to take it back.

Now I have a Reactor Panel saddle here to test. It’s a dressage model, so not the model I’d be taking in the end. But it’s allowing me to try out the fitting process and see how it will work. There’s a bit of a learning curve with Reactor Panel saddles, but they are pretty much infinitely adjustable, so long as I can get the right basic tree size.

I managed to get the panel adjustment roughly correct. But I have a feeling I need to put the thin discs in front, instead of the mediums that came with it. Lynda suggested that it was more normal to have thin discs in front and mediums behind, so it would be a reasonable guess.

Diego has been a very good boy through all this saddle tinkering. I’ve been messing with his back every night this week. Putting saddles on, taking them off, taking pictures, measuring. He just stands patiently on the crossties, periodically chewing on a handful of hay when I think he’s been good long enough.

Yesterday, I tacked him up and went out to test ride the saddle. It felt sort of okay initially. It puts my legs in a good position and feels quite secure. But at 17.5 inches, it’s just a shade too tight for me. I prefer an 18 inch. Not only is my behind somewhat cushier than it used to be, I actually have fairly long thighs. So my knees end up a little close to the front edge of the knee flap.

I realized after riding in it for a while and looking down at the panels that I had gotten them just a little bit out of alignment. Eventually I noticed that the saddle was shifting to the left. Part of that could be me, since I suspect I ride a little bit crooked now that I’m mostly riding with one hand. But Lynda tells me that if a panel is too high it will cause that. So likely that’s the problem.

After a few miles, Diego started turning around and trying to chew on the billet straps on his right side. Definitely something bothering him there. I suspect that it might be because I used the rear billet strap instead of the third one. You are supposed to use the two billets in the middle normally. The front and rear billets are for correcting fit problems.

After about eight miles in the saddle, I started to get really uncomfortable. The twist was too wide for me. Not sure if I can describe this, but the seat feels like a table. Flat across and then suddenly dropping away under my seatbones. Lynda says she normally gets saddles with a narrow twist and this one has a normal (wide) twist. So I won’t need to worry about that since whatever saddle she finds for me will have a narrow twist. I’ve ridden RP saddles before and really liked the seat. But obviously they were RPs with a narrow twist.

Ana (on Ares) and Veronica (on Ella) came along on today’s ride. It was a gorgeous summer day. 24C, so absolutely perfect weather. I took them down to the Jefferson Forest. It’s about two miles down the road. It’s a paved road with narrow shoulders, which is why I don’t often go down there. Sundays there is usually a little less traffic. But every year there’s more which is a bit unnerving. Diego is very good in traffic though. He is not fussed by motorcycles, or bicycles, or schoolbuses, or Porsches with inadequate mufflers. Ares was reasonably good, but does have an unreasoning fear of guardrails. Ella had an “Ella spook” at a culvert (she looked sideways at it). But overall the road part went well. The drivers were all respectful and took their time passing us.

Ana leading Ares past the scary guard rails around Haynes Lake
Ana leading Ares past the scary guard rails around Haynes Lake

Once down at the Jefferson Forest though, it was like entering a deep, dark, primordial forest. The trees are huge, and the trails are narrow and winding along the top of ridges, and up and down ravines. It really is a gloriously beautiful little treasure of a spot. I tried to take pictures, but none turned out (low light, so the little camera ends up blurring shots from a moving horse). Ana was quite boggled by it and was already planning more rides… both on horseback and by bike. There are probably 20 miles of trail or so if you do them all and also go over to Bond Lake as well. However, neither Ella nor Ares was ready for that distance. So we just did a short loop through the trails and then rode over to the farm where I work. On the way over, Diego nearly stepped on a pheasant in the tall grass. He leapt sideways, the bird ran around in a circle then bolted, and I managed to hang on to my seat, albeit with little grace. It was a righteous spook, so he got no blame for that one.

In the front paddocks, the boys all went kind of crazy at the sight of strange horses just swanning blithely into their territory. Reno and Al had a little head-on collision. Parker’s eyes got huge and he floated around, whistle-snorting in excitement. Jasper, being a fragile little guy (17.2hh) ran away. Max (aka the “flying yearling“) goes where Jasper goes, so he ran away too. Vegas bucked once and went back to eating. The boss was there and he came out to with some water bottles that were greatly appreciated.

The water stop gave Veronica a chance to get off Ella for a few minutes. Her knees are still getting used to all these miles of riding, so she needs to take the occasional break. But she managed her longest ride yet, at just under 10 miles. She got off and led Ella for about the last quarter mile to give her knees a break, so they fell behind a little. We waited on the driveway for her, and I guess Diego must have forgotten she was behind us. Because when I moved him out onto the road to see if they were coming, he saw Ella and Veronica and darned near fell down in a mad scramble. Okay… so that one was NOT a righteous spook. More like a dumbass spook 🙂

What a beautiful day for a ride.

Riding in the Vivian Forest

I’ve gone over to the Vivian Forest to ride a couple of times this week. It is a beautiful place to ride. The footing is mostly sandy, and there’s a pond for the horses to drink from (though it’s often full of wet, gleeful Labrador Retrievers, sticks, and tennis balls)

Veronica had her first ride on these trails and was quite impressed by the beauty of the forest. Ella was, in a very Ella sort of way, alarmed by all the raucous dogs at the pond party, not to mention the guitar player. Ella’s alarm is manifested as a slight widening of her eyes and a momentary hesitation. Veronica thinks that it would take a serious predator (a grizzly perhaps?) to bestir Ella into actual flight. One would have to think that this may have contributed to Ella’s total failure as a (Standardbred) racehorse. Actually Ella didn’t even earn the title of racehorse. She was a failure at being a racehorse prospect long before she could go to an actual racetrack to qualify 🙂 However, she seems to be making a terrific start at being a bombproof trail horse prospect.

This is What A Hungry Horse Sounds Like

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

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

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

Ares’ Excellent Trail Ride

Today was a big day for Ares and Anastasia. We loaded Dressy and Ares into the trailer and took them over to the Vivian Forest for a real grownup trail ride. This was Ares’ first ride away from home. And he was a star!

He loaded up on the trailer without hesitation, and rode quietly. Which I pretty much expected, given that he’s a Standardbred off the track. They get a lot of trailering experience. He ate almost all the hay in his hay bag on the way over. Which is impressive. It’s only a 15 minute drive. But as a racehorse, he’d never have been given hay on a trailer before. And it obviously surprised and delighted him.

He stood quietly while Ana tacked him up, eating what was left of Dressy’s hay bag. And he stood like a rock while Ana mounted. He is amazingly good about that. I’ve been watching him over the last week, and haven’t seen him even shift a foot while she gets on. She even got off him a couple of times out on trail today to adjust tack and he stood perfectly while she hopped back on.

First we headed down to the dog pond. Dressy normally marches directly into the water. But there was a guy with a guitar, singing loudly, by the shore. Neither horse approved. Dressy kept staring at him with her laser beam mare glare and it took her a long time to commit to going into the water. She loves water. But I think she was afraid it would slow her down if she had to bolt off madly to safety. Ares was just sort of hiding behind Dressy. He did eventually follow her partway into the water. Though I don’t think he really drank much.

The trails had a lot of washouts from the heavy rain we had yesterday. But the sand was wet and packed, so it was mostly good footing. We did a lot of walking, just to give Ares time to look around and get confident. But he seemed quite happy to be out there. He went in front, went behind, and travelled beside Dressy. When he was out in front, he showed considerable interest in any little singletrack side trails. So he’s showing signs of being an explorer.

At one of the worst washouts, he wasn’t too sure how to negotiate the holes, and opted to turn around and go behind Dressy. But otherwise he was good out in front. We did a bit of trotting here and there. And towards the end of the ride, I let Dressy gallop up a couple of hills and Ares followed just a bit more sedately at a canter.

All in all it was a most uneventful ride. Just exactly what you’d want for, and from, a green horse. Ana had a big smile on her face at the end. A little over 9 miles in 2.5 hours, and she wasn’t even very sore.