Ares Loves Ana

Ana's first ride on her own horse.
Ana’s first ride on her own horse.

This week, I signed Ares over to Anastasija. I’ve resisted actually giving him to her because Anastasija is young. She hasn’t been out of school for long, and that’s a difficult time to get a horse. However, she’s been paying his bills for quite a while now, and the two of them are utterly devoted to each other.

Ares is a Standardbred. He was a difficult horse to break to harness, and eventually was sent to the Mennonites for training. They are very competent, but have no time for neurosis. And Ares is a lily-livered little weeble. So he came out of that with a very well-developed case of learned helplessness. When terrified (which is often), Ares goes into a sort of quivering state of suspended animation. He has never ever bolted or bucked. He does occasionally pop a little half-rear when he is completely overwhelmed. But he would never EVER be deliberately bad. When frightened, he just stands, shaking, awaiting his doom.

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He’s a small, stocky horse, with a disproportionately large head. And sort of oddly placed, large eyes. Despite his less that elegant appearance standing still, Ares can move. Really move. He was a pacer on the track, and will sometimes pace under saddle. But luckily his pace is very smooth, so that’s not as much of a disadvantage as it is with some pacers. His trot is huge and sweeping. It’s unusual for a Standardbred, but he loves to canter, does it very well, and that is his preferred gait under saddle. He also has a multiplicity of other gaits. None of which I can identify (though someone with more experience with gaited horses would likely know).

So. When I first got this guy and started working with him, all I could think was “OMG, who is ever going to want this horse?” I could see some potential in him. But first impressions are important, and Ares doesn’t exactly overwhelm you with his elegance, beauty, or presence. Anastasija is a very athletic and very brave rider. She lacks experience, but she’s still young and unafraid. So I gave her the project of riding Ares in the hope that we could at least turn him into a decent trail horse. Which, surprisingly, he took to very easily. He’s not particularly spooky and enjoys going anywhere that Ana goes.

Ares very quickly became devoted to his beloved Ana. He’s like a cartoon horse. Ana goes out to the paddock and calls “Ares! I’m here!!” And that crazy little horse pops his head up and runs to her with little hearts and flowers circling around his ears. He rests his chin on her shoulder and closes his eyes in a swoon. It’s ridiculously sappy.

Anastasija thinks he is the most beautiful horse in the world. And when he’s with her, he kind of is.

Lining up so Anastasija can mount… yes, from a bucket. I think we all fell off that bucket at least once this winter. The real mounting block is under several feet of snow and ice.

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Checking In On Dressy

My Standardbred mare, Dressy, went over to live with Brooke at the beginning of January. Brooke rode Dressy in competition for one season a couple of years ago, and the two of them got on remarkably well. Dressy likes to be worshipped. And Brooke worships. A match made in heaven.

Getting tacked up. Lots of purple going on there.
Getting tacked up. Lots of purple going on there.

She spent a week or so just working with Dressy on the ground before starting to ride her again. I think there were a few moments of more than optimal excitement in the first few rides. Brooke made the mistake of thinking that Dressy would be calmer in the arena if there were other horses. Then decided to try cantering the mare while all the other horses were cantering. Ex-racehorses are not always so good at calmly proceeding, at speed, in a crowd. However, Brooke managed to deal with her and decided that perhaps riding alone was a better idea after all.  At least for now.

Dressy and Brooke

Yesterday I went over to observe a riding session in the arena. Jen and Anastasija came with me. I took my camera. But of course it was very dark in the barn and in the arena. I took lots of photos and most are so grainy and dark that I couldn’t really rescue much, even with Photoshop.  But I post them here purely as evidence, not art 🙂

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Dressy seemed happy to see me (or the carrot I was feeding her maybe). But I think she was just as pleased to see Brooke when she showed up. Apparently my horse doesn’t need me at all.  She’s looking good. Freshly trimmed feet, glossy coat, and in very good cheer.

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She was good in the arena. A little speedy at first, but Brooke got her dialed down within a few minutes.  She walked her until she stretched her head down and relaxed. Brooke commented that she never had to put any leg on the mare to get her to go. Nope. That’s for sure.  All you do with Dressy is think about trotting, and away she goes in a huge Standardbred power trot.   After some walk/trot work, Brooke finally pulled out the big trick. The thing that had her glowing with pride. Dressy. Cantering. “Good MARE!” I said, out loud, and Dressy’s head whipped around to look at me inquiringly. Jen and Ana both cheered and Dressy looked over at them too, ears perked. “Oh yeah? Yeah! I AM a good mare!” She marched over to me for a scratch and then carried on. She does love an audience. 

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I was impressed. She couldn’t hold the canter, but she stepped into it almost every time Brooke asked. A couple of times she made it right down the long side and around the end before it fell apart.  It’s not a good canter yet. But it’s far better than I expected after this much of a layoff.   I didn’t see her pace even once tonight. Not that she paces under saddle much, but if you ask for canter when she’s feeling tense, it’s a toss-up whether you’ll get pace or canter. So the sheer volume of canter steps tells me that Dressy is feeling calm and confident with Brooke.

She has her going over a very small set of cross-poles too. Dressy doesn’t appear to be at all concerned about the jumping thing. She was always a very confident jumper on trail, going over logs and banks. So I expect that she’ll do fine once she figures out the mechanics. I tried to get decent photos, but it was just way too dark in the spot with the little jump.

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After she was done riding, Brooke hopped off and stripped the tack to do some groundwork. Dressy was very attentive (clicker training will do that) and very cheerfully practiced a few things. Primarily the new trick they are working on… a bow.

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Brooke’s mother asked me if I missed Dressy. She seemed a bit surprised by how emphatically Jen, Anastasija, and I all replied in unison, “YES!”  She’s a mare with a huge and quite endearing personality. Despite how much I love The Queen though, she is having a great time with Brooke, and getting some very valuable schooling.  She cannot be a distance horse anymore due to her metabolic issues with heat. Horses that lack a career are horses at risk. She’s a strong, athletic, intelligent mare with a big engine and a bit of spook. Not to mention that she’s a Standardbred pacer, which turns most riders off before they even see her. That’s not a recipe for a safe backyard trail horse or a school horse for beginners. While I certainly don’t plan on it, if something should happen to me, this could be her ticket to safety.

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But Does She Canter?

Dressy’s new barn offers coaching as well as boarding. So when Brooke told the coach about Dressy, he asked if she was a pacer. Which of course, Dressy was when she raced. Pacing is a natural gait. Standardbreds from the pacing lines are bred for it, just like other gaited breeds (Tennessee Walkers, Rocky Mountain Horses, etc.)  And Dressy never cantered or galloped when turned out in the pasture. She paced faster than the Arabs could gallop.

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Dressy had a reasonably long career on the track (76 races, 12 wins). So she spent quite a lot of time in a bridle with an overcheck. That encourages a very upside-down and hollow outline (nose up, neck straight, back hollowed). In order to perform the pace, a horse has to stiffen their back muscles, so the overcheck just exaggerates that tendency.

I usually rode Dressy in a loosely fitted running martingale so that she would get a mild reminder to drop her head when she went into her upside-down mode.  In the beginning that happened fairly often. And the earliest pictures I have of her under saddle show a long, gawky outline.

I never tried to force Dressy into a frame. I just worked on encouraging relaxation and a low head. She’s a very responsive mare, and just telling her “good girl!” whenever she relaxed and dropped her head made a huge difference. (Do NOT look at my footwear! At least I am wearing a helmet. Sigh.)

Dressy

Dressy was always able to trot. But the canter was elusive for a few years. We sort of backed into it by learning at first to gallop wildly up hills. It was riding with Arabs (who canter easily and often!) that triggered it. The steeper the hill, the harder it was for Dressy to keep up at either trot or pace. The first couple of breaks were just awful. Crazy eggbeater gait with Dressy’s head straight up and eyes full of alarm. She was just amazed when I said “Good GIRL!!!” and hugged her wildly.  “Really? I was SUPPOSED to do that???”

Over time, I was able to get her galloping in a more controlled way with correct leg sequences.  And bit by bit we got it slowed down. It was kind of four-beat (it should be three), and she could not sustain it for long distances. But it was available on cue.  One of the more interesting consequences was that she started cantering and galloping with the other horses in the pasture.  I’d never seen it until a couple of weeks after her first real gallop up a hill under saddle.

Eventually Brooke took over riding Dressy for a season. She did some work in the ring and focused on getting Dressy a little rounder. She used the clicker to really encourage Dressy to frame up a little bit. It still wasn’t collected, or even truly round. But it was a lot rounder than she started out anyway.

 

I rode her for a couple of seasons after that, and her muscling kept changing. She looks like a whole different horse now than when she came out of racing.  One day a friend looked at her, shook her head, and said “You’ve turned that mare into a Thoroughbred!” I suspect, mind you, that Dressy was actually trying to become an Arab… She does the Arab head fling and flipped tail thing with distinctly Arabian panache.

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Brooke turned her out in the arena last night and took a couple of very short video clips of her. The new coach happened to come in while she was careening around. And Brooke was able to say, smugly, “See? She canters!”

 

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Boring is a Very Good Thing

Yesterday the weather was a little less bone-chilling, so I went out for a short ride. The goal at this point is to have lots and lots of short, successful, and completely uneventful rides. And this one turned out to be exactly according to plan.

I’ve been working a bit on getting Diego to stand nicely when asked. So when I brought him out, I asked him to stand while I got on. Then stand while I put my feet in the stirrups and flapped them around a bit. And then stand for a minute more. I am using positive reinforcement (clicker training) to reward him for not moving. The video shows how very calmly he waited for his cue to move.

Anastasija was riding Ares, and she again carried the dressage whip. This time though, she accidentally touched him with it during a moment of disharmony. She handled it perfectly, not panicking when he spooked forward. She dropped the whip and eased him up without clutching and he settled down quickly. So that was very nicely done on her part.

Diego watched the spook with no concern at all. Nor did he react when Taz the cat bolted across in front of us. I was pretty impressed. The only bad thing he did was when we started looping out into the front field. He wanted to go off and explore the entire field and I had to really insist that we keep turning back towards home. But I wanted to make sure that we in no way pushed the envelope. I am trying to guarantee easy, relaxed rides. So he practices being good and develops confidence in himself and in me. It’s what Ares needs too. Ana has been trying to ride him out alone while my elbow has been healing, and he’s really not confident enough for that. So these easy, boring rides are good for both horses.

Today we had freezing rain, so no riding. Probably not for the next few days either. But at least it gave me time to edit so you are now faced with a short boring video instead of a long boring video 🙂

Progress, or the Lack Thereof

I can’t say that I’m accomplishing great things just at the moment. There’s something that’s just not quite right about the elbow. It feels fine until it extends to a certain point, and then it gets a very specific sharp pain right at the inside/rear of the joint. Which is the fracture site. My physiotherapist is quite unhappy about it. And has told me to wait for a CT scan before doing anymore exercises or stretches. I believe she’s worried that I may have a screw loose (no jokes allowed!!!). And of course, the CT scan taking a very long time to schedule. So I’m in a holding pattern.

But I continue to play with with both Venice and Diego as much as I can. Venice is just an incredibly shy mare. She improves incrementally every day. But what that means in practice is that I get perhaps an inch or two closer to her each day that I work with her. We’ve whittled that down from about 20 feet (when she arrived), to about 6 inches. And although I get very frustrated sometimes with the glacial pace, it’s a measurable improvement anyway. I can rub a longe whip or a parelli stick over her back, belly, hindquarters, neck and chest. But not yet her face. Today, using what was probably a nearly invisible system of advance and retreat, I retreated each time she turned her head towards me. Eventually she started taking tiny steps (really tiny!) towards me and I’d retreat slightly each time. That seemed to encourage her and she reached towards me very tentatively with her nose quite a few times. Of course every day we have to start again from scratch, so I will again be 6 feet from her when I go out tomorrow.

Diego got out for a little stroll on trail on Saturday on the lead shank. Anastasija took Ares, and Veronica took Ella. It was a good chance to inspect the trails here on the farm, which I haven’t ridden since late summer. They are a bit overgrown in a couple of places, and a few branches are down. But nothing too extreme. Ella was a little pushy on occasion, but calm. Ares was quite good. Diego and I discussed the issue of nudging. He tends to shove with his head. Very rude. But by the end of the walk, he was much improved.

On Sunday, Anastasija and Veronica went for a bit of a ride together for the first time. Both Ares and Ella were very well behaved. I stood out in a rather bitter wind and watched them circle the front field. Ares walks considerably faster than Ella, so Ana had to circle him a bit to keep from walking away. Ella was totally unconcerned and just ambled along at her own speed. She’s sure a placid little soul.

Ella and Veronica

Last year I placed a Standardbred filly in a riding home. Her name is Spanish Lady. She came back to me this fall, through no fault of her own. She’s been renamed Ella, and has had some trail miles and walk-trot lessons with kids put on her in the meantime. She’s quite pretty, and sound. She never raced. Her ground manners are a bit lacking though. She is so friendly that she’s pushy and prone to move into your space (even onto your foot if you’re not careful!). She is not the least bit sensitive, and it sometimes requires a considerable increase in volume to make her see whatever point you are trying to make. The flip side of that is that she seems to have no spook whatsoever in her soul. Flapping tarps, logs, jump standards, tires… nothing fazes her. She’s placid about trailer loading. Puts up with first aid treatment of cuts. Stands for bandaging or clipping, etc. So she’s quite a nice sort of horse, but still unlikely to find a home before the Spring. Which was a bit of a problem, given that I don’t have enough hay, we are in the midst of a hay shortage (it’s available, but very pricey!), and I can’t work until January. Especially since I also had Diego come back to me unexpectedly shortly before Ella.

Veronica and Ella... working on turns.
Veronica and Ella… working on turns.

I am listed on the OCTRA website as a mentor, so I sometimes get beginners to the sport contacting me. Veronica is one of those. She is really enthusiastic, and has volunteered at a couple of competitions already. She doesn’t have a horse of her own though. So I offered to lease Ella to her (just out of the goodness of my heart… well, that and enlightened self-interest LOL!!).

Veronica is interested primarily in Competitive Trail. Since heart rates are a major part of the scoring, it’s important that horses, particularly the non-Arabians, have good resting heart rates. Some horses have resting heart rates that are so high that even at rest they would incur penalties (anything above 44bpm). Arabs recover faster than other breeds, so if you can start with a low pulse you probably have a better chance of competing against them.

I pulled out my stethoscope. There was Ella on the cross-ties, pawing quite rudely, demanding treats. I rather expected something around the 44 mark. Ares runs around 40-44. King is usually about 36-38. Dressy has been as low as 28, but she skips beats, so it depends on when you start your count. I put the stethoscope on Ella, and listened for a moment. Well damn. Strong, slow, and steady as a metronome. Even excited, she was 30.

Veronica has only ridden Ella a couple of times so far. It’s dark by the time she’s done work during the week, so she can only ride on the weekends. But she’s coming several evenings during the week as well to brush her and work on her ground manners. And there has been some improvement already. Today, Veronica worked on getting Ella to lead quietly without dragging the human hither and yon, and to stand nicely for mounting. The footing in the round pen was frozen mud. So they could only walk, but Ella was very well behaved once Veronica was mounted. They walked circles, practiced halts and turns, and just had a nice relaxed session.

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Dressy – Then and Now

Looking through some old pics, I found this photo of Dressy the day she was retired from racing.

The day Dressy arrived from the racetrack... 2nd of April, 2007

And here she is after five years…

This was taken the last week (so five years later, almost to the day). I think she's improved her topline some over the years.

She looks good doesn’t she?

Coates Creek Set Speed Ride

The weather forecast for yesterday`s ride looked pretty bad most of the week. And Saturday was a really awful day. But when I got up Sunday morning (well… when Misha called me from her car… already stressing about getting Diego on the trailer) the pre-dawn was reasonably bright from the moonlight, and the wind had died.  I would have been happy enough with cold and rain. But there would have been a lot of cranky volunteers for us to deal with. It turned out to be a cool, fresh October day with occasional bouts of sunshine, and absolutely gorgeous trails.

Diego was a little sticky about the trailer, and Misha was losing it a bit when I got out. Not falling apart, but starting to vibrate a little. She handed me the stock whip and I stood on Diego`s near side to prevent him from evading to that side. I don`t generally do much. Just stand there and make him nervous. But eventually, as usual with him, he allowed the unsettling person behind and the encouraging person in front to entice him on.  He`s a good little horse, but he wasn`t broke until he was 11 or thereabouts, and still thinks he should make his own decisions. Trailers have always been a problem for him.

Dressy, of course, loaded up directly. As always. She marches up, turns herself around and backs right in. “Do up that chest bar,  gimme my cookie and my hay bag, and let`s go“.

It’s about an hour and a half to Coates Creek ride site, and at 6am on a Sunday morning, traffic is near non-existent. So it was an easy trip. We arrived just as vetting started. Misha set up her electric paddock and split it down the middle to give Dressy half. It’s one of those Zareba EZEE corrals, and I have to say that although it looks nice, and the theory is good, in practice the damn thing never seems to work the way it should. Yesterday, it went up okay, but the power didn’t work. Turned out not to matter, as they were not  in it for long. But I prefer my homemade electric paddock with the cheap step in posts, a ground rod, a roll of wire, and a Zareba Yellow Jacket portable fencer. Cheap, easy, and it actually works.

There were 20 horses entered in the 31 mile Bronze level ride (which is between 4 and 7 miles per hour), and 6 horses in the Silver level ride (between 5 and 8 mph).  There were three loops, with a gate at the end of the first and a regular full vet check at the end of the second loop. A gate is where you ride in, get your horse down to a 64 heart rate, and trot for the vets to watch (for lameness) as you ride out. The clock continues to run through that type of hold. I haven’t done a gate before at a set speed ride, and I really underestimated how much it would slow us down. Towards the end of the first loop, my GPS was reading around 8.5mph average. By the time I rode out, it had dropped to around 7mph. It gradually climbed back up through that second loop. But we really never made up that time. The full vet check didn’t have as much of an impact, since the clock stopped when we reached parameter (56bpm) and we started our 40 minute hold.

Dressy really moved out on the first loop. It was unfortunate as it turned out, because she bonded to a group of horses that don’t pace well for her purposes. Dressy has a nice big trot, and she can go reasonably fast. But her forte is her steadiness. She goes out and trots fast and steady (12+ mph), and she can maintain that for a long time. But at 14-16mph the trot is much too extended. At 16mph she starts breaking to gallop, and definitely cannot maintain that for a long time. It takes way too much out of her.

I struggled with her quite a bit. I tried taking her back, but she’d decided that the big grey thoroughbred was her friend, and she wanted to catch him. She paced, and fought me, and kept catching up. So after the first ten miles when we went through the gate, I held back so they were long gone. But she power trotted until she caught them. If they’d maintained that 14-16mph speed, we never would have. But they were alternating between galloping fast and trotting slow. So overall she would have actually travelled faster… If I could have separated her from them. But there’s no way I could have passed, since I’m pretty sure those horses would have gone with her. I also find in the first few miles that Dressy can be very spooky in the lead. So I generally want her knowing there are horses ahead that she can focus on catching, instead of focusing on the monsters in the bushes.

At the 20 mile vet check, I held back and waited for Sue T. She’d lost her riding buddy (pulled) and wanted to ride with someone. That suited me, because she is a very experienced rider and rides a steady pace. Which is what Dressy needed to do as well. That loop was much better for Dressy. She was a little tired after all the shenanigans on the first two loops. But she trotted the whole thing without any issues. Chrystal and Grace passed us on that loop and Dressy went with her for quite a distance. But eventually we let her go, since her pace is a bit fast for Sue’s horse.

A look at my GPS track is quite enlightening. The first loop has radical up/down peaks from speeding up and slowing down. The second loop is steady and even through the first half (when we were alone and trotting) and then back to up/down peaks after we caught up again. Then the last loop is back to smooth steady trotting with Sue and her horse Trevor.

We did not make the target speed of 8mph. And in fact just missed the 7mph speed. Although my GPS shows a speed of 7.2mph. I was very pleased with her anyway. She had a good pulse at her final check, and easily reached parameter at the checks. Although we slowed down and let those three horses go ahead, Dressy still got 2nd place. So it paid off to manage her pace a little bit.

Chrystal’s horse, Grace won the Bronze level ride. By far. In fact Grace won the high score of the day… by miles. Her final pulse was 36. Chrystal took an extra long hold. Slowed her down as much as she could, and still finished in 6.99mph. The absolute maximum speed allowed for Bronze. If you watch that horse move, it doesn’t look like she’s working at all, and you can’t imagine that it’s fast. But try and follow on another horse and look at your gps…. Like a little streak of lightning, that mare.

Diego had a good ride. Placed third in the Set Speed, behind Wendy’s young horse Firefly. He looked good all day when I saw him. Although Misha always looked unhappy to see us… Diego had a meltdown every time he laid eyes on his boss mare. Tore up his (non-electrified) paddock at the mid-check when we went out just as he had come in. Had a hissy fit on the trail when we passed him going the other way on two way trail. Not pleasant for Misha that’s for sure.

However, after we loaded him in the trailer, Misha thought that he looked a little off colour. Wouldn’t take a treat from her hand. I loaded Dressy, gave her a cookie, and handed one to Diego. He didn’t take one from me either. We headed out, figuring that it was better just to get him home. The vet at that ride was Kathy, and she was going to stop by my place on her way home to look at King’s face (he still has a hard lump in his cheek where he was kicked). So we would have a vet available a few minutes after arriving at home anyway.

I stopped at Tim Horton’s to get an iced tea (I was desperately thirsty) and Misha checked on him again. By then he was shaking and sweating. She was quite alarmed, and we got right back on the road. She called Kathy, who was just a few minutes behind us. If you’re going to have a horse colic on a trailer, it sure feels better to have a vet right behind you.

We got him home and unloaded him. Stripped off the soaked cooler, and put him in a dry cooler and blanket. There was no manure in the trailer, so obviously he was a bit constipated. Misha walked him for a few minutes until Kathy got there. He had gut sounds but they were definitely reduced and gassy sounding. Kathy arrived, gave him some banamine, and got some mineral oil into him. It took about 45 minutes before he finally passed some manure. It was just a small amount and quite dry. But after that he got steadily better. This morning he’s his usual obnoxious self. Kathy said that there were a couple of other horses at the ride that were of concern too. She figured it was the colder weather bothering them. Diego is definitely a hot weather horse, so that makes sense.

Dressy of course, flourishes in the cold. She was bright-eyed and sassy while she tried to divert everyone’s attention away from Diego and onto her dietary needs. She wanted food, and she wanted as much of it as she could stuff into her greedy face.

Backing Ares

I’ve been very careful with Ares, because when I picked him up from his trainer, he came with a warning to be careful. I was a bit confused about exactly what I was to be careful about, but I got the impression that the trainer had some sort of vision of turning him into a riding horse and had tried to back him in a stall. Nothing wrong with that. If you are actually a rider. Which I doubt a Standardbred trainer actually is. Anyway, it seems that he got on Ares and was alarmed at the feeling, so got right back off again.

As a result, I’ve been dutifully putting Ares through a more rigorous round of ground training than I normally do with the Standardbreds that I retrain. He’s learned to lunge in tack, with side reins. Made sure that his voice commands are solid (they usually are in driving horses anyway). And have tried to make sure that he  is really confident with me and whatever I ask of him.

The whole allergic reaction to the yellowjackets episode really worked in my favour as it happens. Ares has been extremely friendly since that happened. I think he perceived my intervention as a rescue (which it was). And since then he’s always happy to see me and pleased with any attention. I’ve gotten to quite like him. He’s very willing and cooperative. Pays attention to me and has energy.

Today I put the tack on him and took him into a big box stall. Brought in a small plastic step stool. First I tied him to the wall and just got up and down on the stool beside him. That was no big deal as I have done some of that before while grooming him on the cross ties. I flapped my arms over his back and leaned over him, patting him all over the opposite side. Then rewarded him with a cookie and a great deal of praise. He likes cookies but I think he likes praise even more. He visibly relaxes when he knows he’s doing well.

After a bit of that, I unclipped him from the wall. Put weight in the stirrup with my hands. Put my foot in the stirrup. Jumped around. All the usual stuff. Put my foot in the stirrup. Lay across his back. And finally just got up. Throughout the entire process, Ares never moved. The only thing he did was shift his weight once to square up and balance himself under the weight when I finally committed all my weight to his back.

After getting on and off him a few times without any flinches or difficulties, I finally picked up the reins and asked him to move a step. First put a tiny bit of leg on him, then clucked. His first step was a bit of a lurch. But then he figured it out and did a calm circle right around the stall.

That was all I was trying to accomplish for today, so I stopped and got off. Much praise, patting, and even a kiss on the nose (he’s getting to really like sappy stuff like that). He looked very pleased with himself and his world.

 

Dressy Beat the Heat

Got back from the Seoul’s Corners ride late last night. I left before the 75 and 100 mile horses finished. But I hear that Patti Stedman won the 75. Elaine Steele won the 100. Michelle Bignell and Allieena won the 50. Pat St. Jean and Black Bart’s Perfect won Best Condition. Ron Savard won High Vet Score.

Chrystal’s mare, Grace had a little mishap on a slippery bit of rock and fell just after the start of the fifty. Grace was a bit sore at first, then sorted herself out. But by the end of the second loop she was stiffening up a little, so they were pulled. She was well-behaved and reasonably steady and fast. So I think Chrystal was pleased with that at least, despite the bad luck.

Dressy was wonderful. We did the 25 miles. I had hoped that this ride would be cooler and more to Dressy’s taste. But that was not to be. The high was 27C, but the humidity averaged 83%, with a high of 100%. I had sweat running in my eyes even before I got on her for an 8am start. Luckily, the humidity went down a little bit on the second loop. Otherwise it would have been a lot tougher on Dressy.

She put on a bit of a show for the spectators before the start. We were waiting for Savanah (the junior who rode with me) to finish tacking up her arab, Merlin. Dressy was going around and around in circles, so I decided to trot her up towards the start and back. But she thought it would be better to thunder up there at a gallop. Then she thought it’d be great fun to crowhop back down again. All of this in front of spectators with cameras. Of course.  I growled at her and she stopped. She’s not generally bad, but the start is a very exciting time for her. She did settle though and managed to walk out fairly politely once we hooked up with our junior and went out on trail.

Although I was wilting (and by later in the ride… stupid) from the heat, Dressy was forward and alert for the entire first loop. Her first vet check was perfect. All A’s and a 10/10 CRI (cardiac recovery index). She didn’t even seem all that hot at that point. Just hungry and thirsty.

She went along very well for most of the second loop too. (If you look at the video, most of it was taken on the second loop, and you can see her perky ears.) Until I got lost. Though of course I didn’t know I was lost. Dressy sure did. She suddenly went flat and refused to trot. I thought the heat was getting to her. But no… her rider’s idiocy was getting to her. We walked for a while before I realized something was wrong. Then backtracked. And went past the elusive turn the other way. Walked some more (Dressy was NOT going to trot in the wrong direction – she’s no fool). I finally resorted to looking at my GPS and turning on the “Return to Home” function. That worked. Of course. Made the correct turn (the red turn ribbon had wrapped around the tree branch so I couldn’t see it), and Dressy miraculously recovered enough to want to gallop. She was very pleased to get to the water trough. Not nearly so pleased when I made her go back out of camp for the final five mile loop. I had to send Savanah ahead with Merlin. He trotted along, dragging a reluctant and increasingly hot Dressy to another water trough about 3 miles from the finish. I cooled her rather frantically and she did look a lot better after that. Then we turned back for camp and Dressy perked up a little. Still hot, but she was still willing to trot. And in the last mile, she was back to alternating trot and gallop. Good thing too… we crossed the finish line 2 minutes before the cutoff time.

Took the full 30 minutes to get her temperature and heart rate down. Chrystal and a very nice and very helpful boy whose name I cannot remember were a great help sponging Dressy. I was not all that functional by then. I think I drank about three iced teas out of my cooler without stopping. Then stood in a bit of a stupor for a while. Chrys said I looked way worse than my horse.

Her pulse was 16 (in 15 seconds… so 64 bpm which was the parameter she needed to meet) when I took her in. The vet (Stan) said her heart sounded nice and steady. When they are tired, their heart rate speeds up and slows down, so that was a good sign. Cap refill, etc were good. She had to come back for a gut sound check (so did Merlin… and quite a few other horses) as she was down in two quadrants. As soon as she ate though, she was completely fine. Merlin was also fine once he was rechecked.

This was Merlin and Savanah’s first 25 miler. He looked great all the way through. They had a little boot issue in the first mile and elected to go barefoot the rest of the way. It didn’t look to me as though he had any problem at all with the footing. He must have very good feet. Nice little horse. They both looked good at the end. Savanah should be very proud. Especially considering that they probably actually went 30+ miles due to their sponsor getting lost and leading them astray.

It was WAY too hot and humid. Given the conditions, I cannot believe Dressy did so well. She actually looked good at the end. Hot, but still bright-eyed and alert. Still spooking at things. Jumping around
when water went on her. Looking to eat other horses’ dinners. She ate three meals out at the first check (Grace’s, her own, and Harley’s). Ate two meals at the end. Plus a bunch of hay. Some carrots. A bucket
of water. More hay. Treats. The vaccuum that ate the world…

The drive home was fairly awful. It started raining shortly after I pulled onto the highway. It came and went all the way home. Sometimes quite torrential, which made driving difficult between the dark and the water on the road, and the stupid drivers who think nothing of cutting off vehicles with limited stopping power. I got home safely four hours later and unloaded a very bright-eyed and bouncing Dressy. Then did a relieved face plant in my bed.