Road Riding

I hate riding on the roads.  Over the years, Toronto has been encroaching, and most of the drivers are now urban sorts who have no idea just how dangerous it is to whip past, inches from my stirrup. Not just dangerous for me, and for my horse, but also for them. Hitting a 1000 lb horse is quite deleterious to the front of a car and generally hard on the driver too.  Our road has now become a secondary route for those who want to avoid traffic on the major highway around the corner. So there is a lot of traffic even though it’s single lane with little to no shoulder, and a lot of hills.

In addition to just plain old common sense, I am also influenced by having had a neighbour’s horse die in the ditch beside my driveway after they were hit by a truck. She was thrown clear and was fine, albeit battered and bruised, but the horse never got up.  It was quite a few years ago now. But it always sort of lurks at the back of my mind.

Our fields and trails on the farm, and on the farms across the road are impassable right now. With heavy clay soil, the horses sink deep into the areas that have melted and are very wet. And if it’s not melted, it’s all still ice from the big ice storm we had in December.  So I have been riding up and down our farm lane since the ice melted off it.

But after riding up and down that lane at least 800 times in the last few weeks, I just wanted to poke my eyes out with a sharp stick. So today, with some beautiful warm weather (finally!) we tacked up Ares and Diego (okay… first I CLEANED Diego, ugh!) and headed out to try our luck on the roads. We headed north and through the rather harrowing tight curve around the ravine. Ana and I both got off and led the horses. Diego was really very good about it all. He’s not afraid of cars, or school buses, or even big trucks.  Ares was a bit more worried about things at the start.  Once around the curve, we headed across a sideroad to the overpass over the 404. That’s a very busy highway. Ares was a bit concerned about it, but again Ana got off and led him. Diego has been over it a few times before, so he was not so concerned.



I thought it would be pretty quiet after that, but it turns out that Friday is garbage day over there.  Apparently it’s also “take your bike out in the sunshine day” too.  And “walk your dog day”.  We were passed by a very large tractor, several school buses, a peloton of bicycles as well as quite a few individual bikes, multiple motorcycles, about 300 cars, and a zillion rattly trucks. A couple of horses in a paddock galloped over to see us, bucking. Ducks flew up out of the ditch. A dog threatened us.  A lady was power walking in an orange track suit. Diego was horrified by her. I’m not sure if it was her fashion sense or the very odd speedwalking gait that bothered him. The ditches were littered with trash. Old real estate signs, broken recycle bins, old clothes, etc. Both horses handled it all pretty well, considering it was their first outing on the road in months.

Consequently, we just walked almost the entire ride. But we were out for 3 1/2 hours and did about 18 km.  I have reset my Garmin watch to kilometers instead of miles. It’s kind of crazy that here in Canada we measure distance riding sports in miles. We do kilometers for everything else. So I figured it was time to bite the bullet and switch.

The warmth and sunshine was lovely. It sure did feel good to finally get out and go somewhere. Even if it was a bit terrifying here and there…

Crisp and Sunny Day For a Ride

Took Dressy out with Diego yesterday. We were out for almost two hours. The ground was semi-frozen with a dusting of snow over it. And it was below freezing. But the sun was shining and there wasn’t much wind. So it was actually a pretty nice day for a ride.

Dressy was still pretty darned snort-brained, and the first hour or so was a rather speedy. She was very high-headed, and as a result, kept breaking to a pace. Even her walk was some sort of gaited thing. Maybe a running walk? I don’t really know. Flat footed, but kind of rolling along. She was clocking a little over 5mph at the walk for one stretch.

Had my helmet cam on for this ride, so I made a little music video for Dressy, since King already has one. The music is Sweet’s “Hell Raiser”. Sadly I must admit to remembering it from my misspent youth. Which dates me dreadfully.



Small Emergency, Big Head

I was mowing the lawn this afternoon on the big riding mower. Cruising around in the sun. Looked over at the horses and thought “Gee, Ares is acting a bit strangely”. Then thought “Gee, why does Ares head look so odd?”. Ares was looking quite distressed actually. So I jumped off the mower and went over to investigate. His head was looking a bit swollen. And as I watched, it seemed to be getting way more swollen. And bumps were coming up all over his body. I suddenly realized he was having quite a severe allergic reaction to something. He was very glad to see me (well… when he turned so he left eye was looking at me anyway… not sure he could see out of his right eye by then), and was extremely happy to be led into the barn and into a nice safe box stall. It appears that he probably ran into a nest of yellowjackets out in the pasture somewhere and got multiple stings. I put Zamaluck in beside him, and then called the vet.

I could see the swelling increasing as I watched, and at one point felt a bit alarmed that possibly his nostrils would swell shut. His muzzle got really enormous and he did start to whistle a bit as he breathed. I had to loosen his halter, as it started looking like it would get too tight with all the swelling. The photo at left was taken after the swelling had come down very considerably.

I tried cold hosing him. But I had forgotten that his previous owner had warned me of his fear of hoses. That was definitely NOT happening. So I got a bucket instead and sponged him with cold water while I waited. I don’t know if it really helped, but it seemed like a safe treatment anyway. And I could tell that he liked it. He’s really a sweetheart. He wanted me to help him, and was actively asking for comfort. Resting his forehead against me and following me around the stall.

The vet called back and had me give banamine (a painkiller), dexamethasone (a steroid), and an antihistamine. I had to run down to the farm where I work to steal the dex and the antihistamine. But gave him banamine before I left. He looked quite a bit more comfortable already by the time I got back. And once I got the dex and the antihistamine into him, it was amazing how quickly the swelling started coming down. He seems to be much more comfortable and looks a good deal more like a horse and less like something out of the black lagoon now.

He’s out with Zamaluck in the round pen for a couple of days so I can keep an eye on him and continue giving him antihistamines. Zam seems quite concerned about his beloved friend’s health and well being.

Zamaluck is 11 years old and has never had a friend before. In his entire life. Ares likes him, and Zamaluck is totally besotted. They go everywhere together. Quite literally. Check out the photos of them grazing together a couple of days ago (before the swollen head).

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Dressy At Summer’s End

Yesterday I took Dressy (and Diego as well) to Summer’s End Training Ride over in Bailieboro, Ontario, which is just on the edge of the Ganaraska Forest. It’s a very pretty area, with lots of hills.

In the morning we had the clinic portion. First Marg Murray and Marion Shearer gave an overview presentation of the different disciplines that OCTRA offers… Endurance, Competitive Trail, Ride n Tie, Set Speed, and Mileage rides. Each has slightly different rules, but the training is essentially the same for the horses. It’s the equivalent of human marathon training.  After Marg and Marion were finished, Dr Kathy Kivi talked about electrolytes and horse health.

Rose Danko gave an explanation of Set Speed rules. It’s a new discipline in OCTRA, and not well understood by most members. But basically it’s between 10 and 50 miles. A speed range is set, depending on competition level. Yesterday’s ride was between 4 and 7 mph. In a graded ride, the competitors are awarded grades depending on the combined score of pulse and speed. A low pulse and a high speed will give you the best grade. Grades are, from highest to lowest, 1, 2, 3, 4, or completion.

After Rose was done, I gave a quick demonstration of how to present your horse to the judges and what the horse health check is all about. I’m a lay judge when I’m not competing myself. Which means that I perform vet checks at competitions (under the supervision of the head veterinarian).

Finally, Julie Green gave a presentation on hoof care and booting. She’s an EasyCare distributor and her husband is a barefoot trimmer. There seemed to be lots of interest in the topic.

The weather was horribly hot. The temperature was 27 C, but humidity was 95%. It was just awful. Heat has always been a problem for Dressy, so that was not a good sign.

Dressy and I sponsored Solstice in the Ride n Tie. Her little mare was quite excited, so I ponied them out the first little bit of the loop until we got into the forest and she could tuck her in behind Dressy to keep her slowed down. She’s a cute little horse, but was a little bit boggled by all the excitement.

The little mare was not the only horse boggled… Diego threw a hissy fit when his boss mare left. I could hear Misha yelling at him as we disappeared into the trees. I heard later that his initial vet check was very out of control. Though I think he improved through the day.

Solstice and her dad won the ride n tie. The other team, Michelle and her daughter Cassandra, were right behind us. Dressy and I won a $10 Tim Horton’s gift certificate for sponsoring the winners, which was nice.

Dressy’s vet checks in the ride n tie were good. No problems. We went back out to do the 15 mile Set Speed ride shortly afterwards. We sponsored Laura, who was riding Sue Downing’s 19 year old Arab mare, Holly. (I just looked it up, and I think that Holly just got her 1000 miles yesterday!)

There were three 5 mile loops, with the option (since it was a training ride) to stop after any loop and take that mileage. Dressy did well on the first loop. Good heart rates. At the first check, she drank well and was absolutely starving. She vetted through fine. I tacked her back up (with some help from Julie – who was a big help to everyone at the checks) and led her over to let her drink and suddenly she started acting like she wanted to drop and roll. Immediately I had a total panic attack, thinking she must be colicky. Ripped the tack back off her and took her back over to the vet (jumping the line in the process). The vet checked her over, but couldn’t find anything wrong. She wasn’t trying to roll, and had gut sounds all around. The vet thought that maybe she’d had a bit of a gas bubble or something. So we tacked back up and went out again for our second 5 mile loop.

For the first couple of miles she seemed fine. Then I thought she seemed a little less forward. I checked her heart rate and found that it wasn’t registering on the watch. The monitor had shifted a bit under the girth and wasn’t reading. I reached down and tinkered with it and started getting some intermittent readings. None of them very good. Mostly up in the 140 to 160 range. They may or may not have been valid readings, but I was a bit worried. So I told Laura we needed to walk for a while. Eventually I got more reliable readings and she seemed to have dropped down to a more reasonable level. By the time we hit the end of that five miles, I thought that she might have stopped sweating, which really worried me. She felt extremely hot to the touch. So I figured we were probably done for the day.

At the check, she had a nice low pulse… 36. The judge noted that she was skipping heart beats, which is something she normally does, so of no concern. But she skipped for a bit longer than usual and several times during the 15 second count (she was trying to nap at the time). And when she trotted out for her CRI (cardiac recovery index), she woke up again. Second count was 14. Which is very very bad. The judge pointed out that it was just because she did not skip any beats on the second count, but Dressy has had enough 9/9 CRIs that I know there is no excuse for a 9/14. Her trot out was a bit wonky for a couple of steps, but the vet watched it on a second trot and decided that it was just a bit of toe-dragging and not a lameness. She got a completion. But probably only because I was not going on for another loop.  She was very hungry at that check too, and gobbled up every bit of food she could find. Drank well all day. Had lots of electrolytes.

I really think she was suffering from heat exhaustion. She has never done well when it was hot. And I think that the heat and humidity wiped her out. She was completely herself again within about half an hour. The vet checked her over once more and found nothing wrong. She had gut sounds all the way around all day. Came off the trailer at home looking good. Looks good today.

And, despite all the worry… she ended up taking a grade 1 in the 10 mile set speed ride. Her final pulse was 36 and average speed was 6mph. So by the numbers, she did really well.

I sent Laura back out for the third loop with Marg, and they did finish the 15 miles. Which gave Holly her long-awaited 1000 miles. Holly has been out of competition for a few years due to a very bad injury that Sue suffered. It was bad enough that she was told never to ride again, and so gave up riding Holly, who can be a bit of a handful (especially if there are cows in the vicinity!). Sue now rides the lovely and very quiet Foxy, who is one of my rehomed Standardbreds. This year, Holly has been ridden by a junior rider and has been creeping up on the 1000 mile mark. She sure was cheerful out on trail. You can tell that Holly just loves going down the trail. She looked like a five year old bouncing along out there.

Diego had an excellent day. He has no problems with heat. In fact he’s one of those crazy Arabs who gets cold if you put too much water on him. He did the 15 miles fast enough that he had to wait a while before the finish line so he didn’t get disqualified for finishing too fast. His final pulse was 40 and average speed was just under 7mph. So he got a grade 1 as well (in the 15 mile Set Speed).

Chrystal’s horse Grace finished her first ride too. She also got a grade 1 (Chrystal and Misha rode together… galloping like a pair of hooligans). Grace came off the Arab racetrack and her brain has been a bit of a problem. But Chrystal said she did well. No meltdowns. Of course that could be just because they went fast enough that brakes weren’t all that necessary 🙂

New Vet

I had a new vet in today to look at King. Doc Watt was going to come this week to test his selenium levels, but of course, that wasn’t possible. I called in a vet that I’ve used in the past, Dr. Potter. He’s very calm and takes his time, which is nice. He had a really good look at King. Checked him over, watched him trot, listened to our tale of woe, etc. King has actually seemed a bit worse over the last couple of weeks, not better. So I’ve been worried. Dr. Potter is going to run a full blood panel, check the selenium, and also do a thyroid test. He has some other ideas for things to check out if the blood work doesn’t show anything. So at least I feel like we are doing something anyway.

I’ve started riding Dressy. I’ll take her to the training ride next week and do the 15 mile set speed ride. Then to Seoul’s Corners and we can do the 25 miles there. I guess I’m going to have to sort out booting issues for her too.

Ares had another session of lunging today. This time with the saddle on. He was very good, but I could see that he was a little weirded out by the feel of the saddle. He was a bit more inverted, and his gait got a little choppy as a result. But after a few minutes he gradually relaxed and dropped his head some. As soon as that head comes down, he smooths right out.

After we were done, I brought him back in the barn and got up on a stool beside him. Flapped around the saddle, rested my arm across him, flopped the stirrups around, pushed and pulled sideways, etc. He was watching me pretty carefully, but he stood like a rock. He really is a nice little soul once he gets over thinking that I’m prepping him for my next meal.


Dressy With the Kids

Dressy is very fond of children. Despite being a big moose sometimes, she becomes very soft and maternal around kids. Shenice, who is Misha’s niece came to watch the competition, and ended up playing with Dressy a lot.

She learned how to do some basic clicker training. Leading the mare around in a circle, then treating her. Dressy was very sweet with her and walked slowly with her head down, leading easily. Far more easily than she ever does when there are no small children or treats involved! And she’s extremely gentle taking treats. Shenice is a very cheerful kid with a very cheerful and rather piercing voice. Didn’t seem to faze Dressy one bit.

Despite being a very bossy mare with other horses, she can also be like this with her herd at home. She is rather merciless with misbehaving subjects, but if any horse is picking on another herd member and goes too far, Dressy steps in and defends the victim. It’s okay if she’s merciless, but not any other horse. I once saw her stop on her way in to dinner to go back and shepherd Chrystal’s youngster, Seneca, through the gate safely when another horse was driving him back. She didn’t even like Seneca particularly, and dinner was waiting (which usually involves Dressy barging through a wildly scattering herd to get to the head of the line). But no one was going to be picking on babies on her watch.

And here she is with Brooke, the junior who is riding her this year. Dressy loves Brooke.

And of course, Brooke loves Dressy. Yesterday she sent me a text wishing Dressy a happy birthday. She saw Dressy’s registration info with her date of birth on it and has memorized it. I imagine Dressy is going to be introduced to carrot cake this weekend.

Tumbling Horse and Way Too Much Exposure

Hauled Dressy and King over to the Ganaraska Forest today. I have to pre-ride (safety check) the trails for Spring Ride. So today we did the 17 mile loop. Here’s the GPS track (though it’s not exact… there are a couple of minor changes to be made):

Chrystal was riding Bob’s horse, Allieena. Bob rode Kitty. And I rode Dressy. The trail is really nice. It was raining, and even wet, the footing is good and not particularly slippery. Dressy is barefoot, and other than a couple of short hills that had some sharp gravel, she was very comfortable.

We did have one very spectacular incident on a downhill. Dressy was in front, trotting. Chrystal was just behind on Allieena. I heard a bit of a shriek from Chrystal and pulled up fast and looked around to see Allieena going ass over teakettle in a complete forward somersault. Chrystal rolled fast to get out of the way, so luckily the mare didn’t flip over on top of her.  We found a hole that they had stepped into. It looked like it had caved in when she’d stepped on it.  I certainly never saw it when we went over it, and I was looking down at the footing along there because we were on a downhill. So we think Allieena actually broke through. Chrystal put a big stick into it to mark it and Bob is going back to fix it. Allieena and Chrystal both seemed to be okay afterwards.

There were a lot of trees down. Quite a few had been cleaned up already. Rob and Rod were out on the ATV with a chainsaw clearing the rest. But we got ahead of them on the horses, and got to a spot where we had to go under quite a large downed tree. There was a big broken branch sticking out. I tried to go under with Dressy and push the branch away. But it was stronger than I expected, and my reins caught in it which brought Dressy to a complete halt. But then I realized that we couldn’t back up either because the branch had snapped down behind my pommel pinning my right leg between branch and saddle. The mare literally couldn’t move an inch (she didn’t panic… such a superstar!). I finally managed to get the reins unhooked. But still couldn’t back up because of the branch wedged behind the pommel. So I had to go forward. The branch wasn’t bending, and it snagged my breeches and nearly torqued me right out of the saddle. Dressy staggered, but managed to stay upright and I stayed on. It also ripped a huge hole in my breeches from just over my right hip bone all the way around across my rear end. Bob, bless him, pointed out that I was quite exposed. Which I’d already figured out. Chrystal said it was good that I’d chosen to wear black underwear since it sort of went with the breeches. I pointed out that I was grateful to be wearing underwear of any colour at all. Then I pulled out my rain poncho and tied it around my waist and draped it down over my butt. Ended up with quite a charley horse in my right calf too. Not sure why exactly… but it hurt for a good five miles. There were some ATV riders who came along behind us with a chainsaw just then, and they proceeded to clear the tree away. So that hazard is gone already.

It’s going to be a fun trail. Probably quite fast. But there are a lot of hills, mostly gradual and long with good footing.

Riding My Horses

Yesterday I rode King for a couple of hours in the afternoon. It was a lovely spring day… sunny and warm. The footing is firming up on the trails, and we were able to move out in some sections. King was very relaxed, and we even cantered on a loose rein, which is something I don’t think I’ve EVER done on him before.

Of course, the relaxed canter likely has something to do with the recent change in bitting. I borrowed a Myler combo bit from Misha. It’s a sort of combination of a bit and a hackamore. The mouthpiece is quite mild, but the hackamore noseband seems to have been a revelation to King. Initially I tried it with the reins snapped to the top ring of the shanks, which gives no leverage on the noseband. But I’ve since dropped it right to the bottom ring. Since then, King is being very circumspect about speed.

I hate to rely on equipment more than training. But really, it’s good to stay alive and aboard. King has speed on the brain and he’s very strong. Once you add the increasing fitness to the attitude, he’s sometimes just more horse than I care to ride. It’s really lovely to be completely under control for a change.

After we got back, Misha arrived to ride her horse. She begged me to ride with her. Since I’d ridden King already, that meant Dressy. I was tired and very hungry, so I told her that she was going to tack up the mare for me while I grabbed something to eat. So when I came back out, my girl was ready to go.

REALLY ready to go as it turned out. She was very snorty when I first got on, and we did some zigging and zagging while she spooked at Misha’s car, a rock, the cell phone tower, and rustling leaves. But she was very willing to go, and trotted right out as soon as I allowed her to. I forget sometimes just how much fun that horse is to ride. With a beginner, she’s quiet and steady. But with me, she’s fast and forward and competitive. Diego, Misha’s horse, is not used to Dressy’s trail trot. No Arab can trot with her when she gets in gear.  And Diego was not at all happy about it. He sulked way behind. To the point that Misha got a bit concerned that something was wrong. But whenever we put Dressy behind, he perked right up. Then of course he’d trot slow, and Dressy would lose patience and we’d cruise past again.

Dressy had a grand time, trotting up a storm. It makes me laugh when she’s like that.

Horse Kisses

Dressy and King are both clicker trained. Which simply means that they are trained using a positive reward system. During the training phase of a new exercise, I will make a click sound to mark the point at which they’ve succeeded, then give them a small treat as a reward. In scientific terms, it’s “operant conditioning”. Dressy has not had nearly so much foundation in clicker as King though. Just the basics. Targeting, learning to stand for mounting, backing.

Brooke is a young girl who started riding Dressy this winter. She’s going to compete on her this season, most likely in Novice and Set Speed rides, which generally range from 12 to 25 miles. Brooke is completely horse mad. The same as I was way back in the mists of time. So when she started coming this winter, she was very happy to be giving the horses treats. It became a bit of a problem, since she didn’t know clicker work, and was just handing them out willy-nilly to all the horses. Some of them became a little grabby and rude (particularly Diego, Misha’s horse). So I had to give Brooke rudimentary instruction in clicker training and made it a rule that no horse got a free treat. They work for their goodies around here. And also that no horse be allowed to grab for food. So Brooke learned to feed for position too.

Last Sunday, Brooke came running into the house and insisted that I come out and see Dressy. She’d taught her a new trick. Kissing. This is one of King’s favourite tricks, and Brooke loves it. But King can be a bit enthusiastic about it. Not that he will hurt anyone, but he does tend to offer it when you assume the position. Which basically means that you stand beside him facing the same direction. He reaches over and rubs his upper lip against your cheek. Startles the visitors a bit when he offers it unsolicited. Dressy’s version though is much nicer than King’s. When Brooke taps her cheek and says “kiss, kiss”, Dressy slowly reaches over and just barely feathers her lip against Brooke’s cheek. It’s very slow and delicate.

If you show an adult clicker training, they fuss and fume, and screw up the timing, and just generally obscure the whole process for themselves and the horse. Show a kid the basics though, and walk away. You’ll come back to a high-school level performance in a couple of days. Quite amazing.

King has taken to clicker training himself these days. I’m not creative enough for him anymore. Not long ago, I was riding him around my newly built trails. Some of the branches are still a bit low, so I asked him to stop and stand while I broke a few off. I clicked/treated him for standing. “Hmmm” says King. “here’s another branch, why don’t you break that one off too?” He started pointing them out with his nose and then positioning himself under it so I could break it off. Eventually, I had to put a stop to the whole thing because I wanted to get on with the ride. But I did allow it to go on much too long in sheer fascination at his entrepreneurial spirit.

Today’s Ride

Sunday today, so Brooke was here to ride Dressy. Misha came, crippled up from a fall in her driveway, but rode with us anyway. It was a pretty good ride. Six miles in around two hours. I used the GPS, but neglected to turn it on until we’d been out for about 20 minutes. The snow was not too deep, but was very wet and heavy. So it was hard slogging. We walked almost all of it. King has been doing this all winter and he’s showing obvious improvement in his strength. He really plows through even big drifts without much effort.

Dressy had the heart rate monitor on, and she’s actually running a bit lower than I expected. Though she definitely started running a bit higher towards the end of the ride. And Diego is looking very good. He’s put on weight through this past winter and is looking much rounder and not so weedy as he did originally. He doesn’t like the heavy snow, but he is still pretty fit considering how little he did through the fall and winter.

GPS Track