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 🙂


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



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!!!!



McCool on Trail

A friend and I took Diego and McCool to the Vivian Forest today. McCool has been very good under saddle so far. But this was a little more of a test. Since he came from the stockyards, via a dealer, there’s very little history on him. All I know is that he was occasionally very difficult on trail. So Chrystal came over and we loaded up the two horses.

First though, I had to convince the Ladies to vacate the the horse trailer…

Evicting the Ladies.
Evicting the Ladies.


It suddenly occurred to me on Monday, while planning this outing, that a little trailer loading practice might be in order for McCool, before I tried to take him anywhere (Yep, I’m a genius).  My trailer is an old four horse head-to-head. So the first few loading sessions can be confusing for a horse. They have to walk in, turn, and then back into a stall. With a couple of days of practice, McCool was loading quite nicely. He’s very calm about things, so it’s just a matter of teaching him what to do. And convincing him that it’s a good idea. He doesn’t panic or fuss. Just politely declines if he disagrees. Patience and some clicker training, and he now loads right up.

He stands quietly in the trailer, and although he looked interested in his surroundings when we arrived in the parking lot at the forest, he was not at all alarmed.  We tacked up and headed out. Chrystal on McCool. She started laughing right away. She’s a forward kind of rider. And, zoom! McCool is a forward kind of horse. They trotted out of the parking lot. Trotted down the trail. Cantered down the trail. McCool didn’t spook at a thing. His ears were up, and he was travelling on very steadily. Bold as brass. He’s way faster than Diego. Holy cow.  I had to beg for mercy, since Diego was not at all interested in doing that speed (in fairness, Diego has a fresh cut on a hind leg… I think he was a bit sore).

Partway through the ride though, we ran into McCool’s issue (hopefully there is only one). He started hiking his hind end going down a hill. We slowed down and took stock. He swishes his tail, pins his ears, and hikes on every downhill. Hmmm.  Saddle fit seems likely. He’s fine on the flat and going up hills (in fact, I’d say that he’s a born endurance horse… so he’s better than just fine!). But on the downhills he very consistently gets grumpy and difficult. Chrystal got off and led him down any bigger downhills and got him to walk slowly down the smaller ones and that seemed to work okay. The aussie saddle has long flaps, and on some horses it will pinch a bit behind the shoulder if the saddle slides forward. And it did look like it might be doing that on him.

When we got back to the trailer, we checked him over.  He has a knot on his left side just behind the scapula. And it’s substantial. He’s reactive (flinchy) to hard pressure there, and enjoyed the massage (Chrystal is an equine massage therapist). So my operating theory now is that he had a serious saddle fit issue in his past.

I’ve ridden him at home in the Aussie, but not going down hills. And I’ve ridden him at home in the treeless, and he went down hills fine in that. So maybe just switching saddles will help. But he also acted like this in a Reactor Panel saddle that the dealer was using. So I think he needs body work as well. Massage, stretching, and/or chiropractic.  Chrystal says his shoulders are both tight.

The dentist comes tomorrow to look at all the horses’ teeth. I think he’s got something going on in his mouth, since he’s clunking in one direction when he chews. So if that gets sorted out, it may also help. He seems to be worth putting some time and effort into 🙂

I neglected to take pics on trail, but here they are right after they got home. Sigh.  Grey horses. 

Grey horses. Perennially filthy.
Grey horses + wet clay soil = Yuck.




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!


Coates Creek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flesherton Ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moonlight Madness

I took Diego to the Summer Solstice Competitive Trail Ride this past weekend. I was judging, so although he’s a lot fitter than he was, we still only did the 12 mile Moonlight Madness ride. That’s a mileage ride that started just before dark on Saturday night. I’ve done it before, and I always have a ton of fun.

On the way up to the ride, we picked up Sandy’s horse, Benson. Pretty much the world’s cutest Arab. He is a very mellow little guy, but does not think trailering should be part of his life plan. He’s not afraid, just sort of declines to load up. However, Sandy managed to get him loaded in just a few minutes this time, so he’s improving.

The ride manager, Sue Downing, had a spot picked out for me right behind the vet check so I could keep an eye on Diego. I’m using my electric paddock for him, which is a bit risky. If he gets upset enough about being alone, he’s been known to pull out the posts with his teeth to make a break for it. He knows he’ll get a shock and goes for it anyway… diving at the posts and spitting them out as quick as he can. So, given that history, I was very happy to have him close by so that I could watch him while I was vetting CTR horses.

When I took Diego over to get him vetted, he was a bit off. Not much… grade I lame, which is “inconsistent and difficult to observe”. The vet checked him over and finally decided that he was a bit sore in his back. Saddle fit for sure. I knew that was coming. I’ve been using the same saddle as I used on Dressy and King. It’s a bit wide for him, and I’d been padding it to get it to work. But I gave the shim to Ana to use on Ares (who has a bigger fit issue than Diego) and had taken Diego over to the Vivian Forest for slightly longer rides last week. Marginal saddle fit + more miles is a recipe for a sore back.

The vet thought that since it was only 12 miles, Diego would likely be okay. I put the shim back on him and got the saddle fitting a little better. We went out a few minutes after 8pm with three other horses. Sue S. and her darling Arab mare, Peach, Caroline on Freddy, and Emma on her Morab mare.

Peach was not keen on letting anyone pass her, and was quite excited at the beginning. So we went slow, with Peach bouncing a bit in front. Nothing bad, just jigging and fussing a bit. Diego was perfectly calm and happy to follow Peach. He jogged along behind her with his head down, mostly on a loose rein. Nice, because I was able to ride just with my good arm and neck rein him for the most part. I tried taking Diego out in front once or twice, but he was not too keen on that. He really wanted to follow Peach. She had settled down a lot towards the middle of the loop. It was her first ride of the year, and she’s still pretty green, so it was just a bit of excitement at the beginning.

It was very humid, didn’t cool down at all as it got dark. The horses did get fairly warm. But Diego loves the heat. Veronica and Sandy crewed for us, and with all the help, he pulsed down fast and was at 48 within a minute or two, and was down to 40 by the time we got to the vet. He was perfectly sound to trot out. His back was no longer sore. So the shim probably helped some.

I considered keeping him in the crewing area for the hold, but thought it would be nicer to let him relax in his paddock. That would be the paddock with somewhat sparser grass in one corner and SAND. Great. At the end of the hold, we discovered that he was CAKED with sand. His head, his legs, his neck, back, sides, chest…. EVERYWHERE. He looked smug under his sand-caked forelock. Veronica, Sandy, and I had to bathe him completely before tacking him up. Pretty much by feel, since it was dark by then. So we were a little bit late leaving again.

On the second loop we caught up to the farrier (Amber-Rose) on her big Tennessee Walker and her friend who was riding for the first time (and was afraid of the dark… she managed very well despite that!) The big horse (Shallako) led for the whole loop. He was really great. Very confident guy. He moved right out and we did the loop much faster. Passed some horses.

Shallako moves right along, even when he’s walking. So his easy jog (whatever his gait is) was a good speed and suited Diego very well. We had a couple of wild uphill gallops with Sue whooping behind me. Almost lost Caroline in one of those when she lost her stirrups. But she hung in there.

The moon was really bright, keeping the trail visible in all but the really narrow trails. I gave Amber-Rose my flashlight, which I’d covered in the red plastic sheet that came in my ride package (so the light didn’t interfere with the horses’ vision). It’s one of those cheap, tiny LED flashlights. I think I bought 6 of them for about $8 at Walmart one day. I love them.

The forest was absolutely magical. The moon was bright, so everything was silvery pale, especially Diego and Peach who are both greys. There were fireflies, lots of bird calls, glow sticks, reflective safety vests, and coloured lights on the horses. We made jokes about unicorns and Lord of the Rings and cavalry charges in the dark. Giggling madly… Moon-mad riders 🙂

Diego never stumbled or took any missteps, despite moving right along in the dark and galloping a couple of big hills. That’s been another of his issues. I’ve been working on his feet, trying to get his toes back and a better breakover (he’s actually gone down from a 1.5 EasyBoot to a size 1). So I was really happy with that. I didn’t boot him for this ride though. The footing is pretty good in the Dufferin Forest. Mostly sand, with very few rocks.

The last half mile or so was a bit less relaxed. Diego knew he was almost finished and got a little ramped up. Luckily the two horses in front of us blocked the trail, and all he could do was canter at walk/trot speed, bouncing back and forth across the trail, snorting. He was frustrated, but not particularly difficult to ride. No bucking or rearing.

It was very humid/hot, even at that time of night. The horses all came in steaming and hot at the finish. Took some of them a long time to come down. Diego, who is one of those thin-skinned fleabitten greys who love hot weather, cooled off fast and pulsed down in about 2 minutes. Final CRI… 40/40.

Rose brought me a saddle to try. It’s a Schleese. She had it custom built for herself years ago. Adjustable gullet, cutback, dressage/endurance style. Thigh and knee rolls with a deep seat. I will try it on him this week.

On Sunday, I was judging all day. I started the morning by falling out of my bed in the gooseneck (we were in a slightly uphill parking spot) and crashing into the back wall. Managed to wake both Sandy and Veronica who were sleeping in cots in the horse section of the trailer. I make an excellent alarm clock 🙂

Since we’d vetted most of the horses through on Saturday afternoon there weren’t many to do in the morning. Sandy was going out just after 8, so I pulled Diego out of his electric paddock and took him away so he couldn’t watch Benson leave. We ambled around and he made friends with some of the volunteers. He grazed, nibbled at the stopwatch around me neck, and watched everything quite placidly. All of which is an improvement on past behaviour.

After Benson went out, I took Diego back to his pen. He looked around for Ben but didn’t stress. A little later he actually lay down and took a nap. Better and better! No fussing, no worrying, no deconstruction efforts.

The day just got steadily hotter, and by noon I was starting to lose focus and felt a little nauseated. I had to go and stick my head in the water trough a couple of times. I really do NOT like heat, and although I drank a lot through the day, I am pretty sure I was verging on heatstroke by the end of it. There was a new vet at the ride, just observing. I think he was a bit shocked at my cooling efforts. He commented “you really ARE a country girl aren’t you?” I pointed out that although I certainly am a country girl, what he was seeing was sheer desperation since my brain was cooking.

There were no serious problems with any of the horses. We did have quite a few horses that either did not start or did not finish. But mostly it was minor stuff. Considering the heat, that was a very good result. Riders were taking care of their horses.

The air conditioning in my truck was a huge relief on the way home. I was so tired that Veronica rode in the truck with me to keep me awake and functioning. Pit crew have many duties 🙂

Despite my overheating and exhaustion, I had a wonderful time. I absolutely LOVE that Moonlight ride.

Class and No Class

In racing, there are classy horses…


Yesterday Black Caviar won her 25th straight race in Australia. She did it easily, just galloping away from the competition. It’s a beautiful thing to watch her run.

And then there are the not-so-classy horses….

Also yesterday, Spicer Cub, while leading easily in a claiming race at Pimlico, bolted to the outside. The jockey, Xavier Perez, got him back into the race, but the the horse bolted again. This time going so far out that he went around the outside of the starting gate (which was pulled to the outside of the track). Perez lost his stirrups and, in what I suspect must have been a case of total adrenaline overload (due to sheer terror), got after the horse with the whip and straightened him out again. Spicer Cub very nearly won despite all the zigging and zagging, but managed to maintain his spotless record of 0 wins in 8 starts. It was a remarkably athletic feat on the part of the jock. I’m guessing he may decline to ride the horse again though!

Here and There and Lots of Bright Colours

The last couple of weeks have been kind of busy. I went to both the Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association (OCTRA) AGM and awards banquet in Cobourg this past weekend, and the Endurance Canada annual general meeting in Ottawa the weekend before.

Rose, who makes biothane tack, let me know last week that the bridle and breast collar sets that Anastasija and Veronica had ordered were ready and she’d bring them to the meeting. When Rose arrived, jingling under armloads of tack, the two of them practically expired from excitement and then spent the remainder of the meeting fondling their new horse gear.

The Awards Banquet was lots of fun, as always. There was a great “parade of champions” skit, with the most beautiful little horses “ridden” by some of the juniors. I sure hope someone got pictures of them. Ruth (who is a very accomplished artist) designed and built them. Obviously putting in many hours of work.

Dressy scored another haul of ribbons and trophies. She got her 500 mile plaque, and the top Standardbred trophy (her 4th time!), and a Ride n Tie ribbon. I even scored a bit of loot myself this year…. my 2000 worker credits bar, and a nice polo shirt with the OCTRA logo.

Stephanie cried when her horse won the top Quarter Horse trophy (she loves her little mare!). Sue nearly fainted when she won the Prince Calib trophy (for outstanding volunteer contribution to OCTRA). Hailey won a reserve champion ribbon for Ride n Tie, along with her mom. Rose told me that Hailey had her bag packed to go to the awards a week in advance. I guess she was really looking forward to that ribbon! Solstice must’ve needed the horse trailer to get all her loot home. That kid beat the pants off everyone. And Dianne, who (along with Ruth) organized the entire awards presentation looked a little punch drunk but happy and relieved by the end of it.

Yesterday I think we were all too exhausted to play dress-up with the horses. But today, Veronica arrived with her new tack set. And since Ella is doing just fine after her little episode with the nail in her foot, we thought it was time to get her all tricked out in her fancy new gear. Veronica had been riding in my Australian saddle. But it didn’t fit Ella properly, so we tried out the Barefoot London on her today. Here she is in her new red and yellow colours (the Spanish flag colours for Spanish Lady… her registered name) and the Barefoot saddle. Click on the pics to see it all in colourful glory.

After Ella’s modelling session, we got Ares dressed in his new black and red gear. Ana admired him extravagantly and he preened for her. He does love to be told he’s a wonderful, and exceedingly handsome fellow.





I even rode Diego. We waded through the snow in the round pen for a while and then worked on a bit of sidepassing (he was confused but very cooperative and did manage to give me a couple of steps). But the wind was cold, and I’d been outside for way too long (adjusting all that spiffy new tack). So I wimped out after a few minutes.


Sometimes I just call him "Shaggy"
Sometimes I just call him “Shaggy”

Lest anyone think that Diego was left out and hasn’t gotten any new clothes, here he is in his new purple blanket…

It's really more purple-y in real life
It’s really more purple-y in real life

And one last little photo update. Princess Babycat seems to rarely sleep. But she does eventually collapse. Taz the dog is just as tolerant of her as is Taz the cat.

Princess Babycat and Taz the Dog
Princess Babycat and Taz the Dog

Ares is Going to His First Ride

This weekend, there is a training clinic and ride being held over in the Ganaraska Forest. Ana and Ares are now signed up for it. Saturday is the clinic. There will be a number of speakers (me among them) and demonstrations to teach beginners about the sport. Then Sunday there will be a short ride n tie in the morning, a lunch break, then a 15 mile ride in the afternoon.

Ana will be doing the ride n tie with Emily and Duke. Then will do as much of the 15 mile ride as she is comfortable with on Ares. It’s set up in five mile loops, and riders can stop at the end of any loop they want. Which makes it a good deal less intimidating. Ana isn’t sure she’ll be able to do the whole thing. However, she had no problem with a 9+ mile ride last week, and another today that was over 7 miles and a bit faster too.

This time we went over to the north tract of the Vivian Forest. The parking lot is north of the Vivian Rd on Hwy 48. We picked up Misha and Diego on our way over. Ares was, again, a star. He was calm and steady. He likes to go out in front and is remarkably un-spooky. He did spook once at something, but that was the first spook I’ve ever seen from him, and it was quite mild. Especially when compared to the two highly experienced trail horses with him who both made asses of themselves spooking at logs, rocks, weeds, and stumps. Sigh. It’s sad when the green, ex-racehorse has to be sent out in front to get everyone past a stump.

I think he’s ready for his debut. He seems to have fitted up pretty easily. He certainly hasn’t shown the slightest sign of being tired so far. Just bebops along on trail. The only complaint that Ana has about him is that he does still break to pace sometimes. But she found today that a bit of a half halt sometimes put him back in a trot. We’ll put a red ribbon in his tail too. Just for safety. He doesn’t like horses to pass him (he really does LIKE to be in front). And Ana is going to have to manage him carefully if any horses rush up behind him. Having Dressy with him should help.

Ana has been practicing trotting him out in hand. And we’ve done some practice vet checks with him. So hopefully he won’t be too terrified of the vets. It’s really my biggest concern… he’s often afraid of people he doesn’t know. We are going to keep Dressy beside him right through the vet checks, which I hope will give him confidence.

Training rides are a great place to start green horses. Most of the other horses are going slow, and everyone is willing to take time to deal with any issues that come up.

Ana is, of course, very excited about this ride 🙂