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