On Sunday Veronica came to ride. We took Diego and Ella out, ambled around our home trails for a couple of hours, and just enjoyed a beautiful day. Considering it was just my cellphone camera, the pics came out better than I expected 🙂
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).
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.
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!!!)
I don’t seem to have had too much to write about lately. But I did have a nice moment with Diego on Sunday. Was riding in the Vivian with friends. One of the horses was green. Really very green. He bounced around on the trail like a pinball, careening from side to side. So we tucked him in behind Diego, and Diego just ambled along the trail on a loose rein. Whenever Indy (the wild child behind us) got too ambitious and tried to careen past us, I asked Diego to step over and block. Which he did with perfect aplomb.
Diego really doesn’t have confidence in the lead. But he also walks really fast. So he slows down until the horse behind passes, then gets impatient and passes again when he discovers that horse is too slow. I ask everyone who rides with me to tell me when they want to pass, so that I can ask Diego to slow up… as opposed to allowing Diego to make his own decisions about it all. On Sunday he only tried it a couple of times and then just marched along out front the rest of the day. So I think his confidence is coming along nicely.
Veronica and Ella spent most of the day riding drag (at the back of the line). It’s safer that way, since Ella has not yet learned the “no kicking other horses” rule (actually, I think she knows it… she just hasn’t accepted it quite yet). But it’s really her only flaw. She is rock steady on trail. Veronica’s confidence has blossomed this summer, riding that mare. They are becoming a very good team.
At one point we let Indy lead for a while to see how he coped. I think that little gelding would’ve gone off alone perfectly happily. One of these days, he’s going to make a terrific little endurance horse. Unfortunately though, going down a very steep downhill, in deep sand, with quite a bit of erosion, there was a tack incident. Stirrup and breast collar somehow tangled, and the resulting chaos sent Indy off trail… cartwheeling downhill. Indy got loose and galloped off, with his buddy, Zoe, following a bit too fast for her rider’s comfort.
Diego and I watched all this in wide-eyed horror. I decided that a cavalry charge down a steep sandy hill was not in anyone’s best interest, and asked Diego to walk. He tucked his behind under him, and carefully walked down. No fussing or rushing. Ella was following safely behind us (Ella never thinks rushing is a good idea). He stopped at the bottom and stood calmly on a loose rein while Indy galloped off in all directions for a few minutes before his brain re-engaged and he elected to return to his rider.
During all this chaos, a large, obnoxious woman on a Percheron bellowed unhelpful instructions to slow down and demanded to know where our trailers were (my friend finally lost her temper and told the woman to mind her own business). It turned out that Zoe’s bridle had come partially undone, so that’s why her brakes stopped working. And both Indy and his rider were fine. In fact I think the rest of us were a lot more shaken up than either of them. The large woman went off in a huff, informing us that we should not call her if we ever needed help. Sigh.
I really do not enjoy that sort of craziness. It’s not good for the horses or the riders’ confidence. But it was a bit of a test, and Diego (and Ella) passed with flying colours. He’s getting steadily more confident, quieter, and much more responsive to leg and rein. It is nice to feel like you are riding the most reliable horse in the crowd 🙂
Venice has been getting steadily friendlier since I have had more control of her head. First with the war bridle, and now with a proper halter. She’s had a short lead rope hanging from the halter for a few days and she’s learned to flip it aside as needed, and to keep it out from under her feet. Jen, who is keeping Twister in the stall next to Venice, was surprised to realize that Venice had quietly sneaked up behind her on the other side of stall wall and was playing with her hair. Of course when Jen actually turned and looked, Venice jumped back in alarm 🙂
She has been learning to move forward when I put pressure on the lead. It’s not smooth and fluid yet, but she understands and she tries. Usually she can only manage one or two steps at a time. Today, I was able to lead her out into the barn aisle, where I fed her a few carrots until she relaxed. Just about that point, Veronica walked in unexpectedly, and poor Venice’s courage evaporated. She leapt about a foot straight up, then stood, quivering in her boots, but she held her ground (sort of). I asked Veronica to go outside for a minute, and managed to get Venice to walk back into her stall without any crashing around. Poor Veronica was horrified that she’d interrupted our little training session. But Venice needs to learn to deal with stuff like that anyway, and she coped. So it was all good.
Twister had a good day today. He finally looked like he could walk without flinching, and Jen was thrilled. He’s been recovering from his episode of laminitis (founder) this winter, but it’s been very very slow. Hopefully the Pergolide is finally kicking in and controlling the Cushings. One difference that’s showing up already is that he’s mostly lost his long winter coat. He’s always grown a tremendously thick coat that was very late to shed in spring (a symptom of Cushings). This is the earliest he’s ever lost it. Jen is setting up a track around the inside edge of the big paddock so Twister will have lots of room to move, but no access to grass once he can be turned out. His management is going to be quite a project for the rest of his life. While it’s not grass that caused this episode, the sugars in grass are very dangerous for him. Rather like sugar for a diabetic.
I’ve been riding Diego pretty regularly over the last two months. Nothing exciting. But lots of short uneventful rides. He’s been exceptionally good so far. Of course he hasn’t been pushed in any way. Mostly just walk/trot with only a few short, easy canters. But my theory is that we are “practicing being good” instead of practicing being frazzled. Trying to overlay some of his old reactive habits with a whole new set of calm habits. He had quite a long time off after the disastrous events of last year. And then all the ground work and driving. I am keeping my fingers crossed that we’ve managed to reset his responses to stress a little bit.
Certainly some of his hot buttons have faded out. He actually likes to trailer load now. We did a lot of practicing before winter set in, but then with the snow and ice, I wasn’t able to get him on the trailer for a couple of months. So last week I figured I’d better test load him a few times to make sure he was still good with it. He didn’t even hesitate. Hopped right on, totally relaxed.
He’s standing like a rock for mounting too. I get on the mounting block, and he lines himself up for me and doesn’t move a muscle until I ask. That’s important, since the older I get, the less graceful I become. And I never was very nimble. I had a friend who could swing gracefully up onto her horse bareback when we were teenagers. I ground my teeth in verdant envy every time I saw her do that. Anyway, Diego needs to stand quietly for me so I can get myself up there one-armed (I never realized that I even USED my left arm when I was mounting a horse until I broke that elbow!)
King is looking good. Some of his tumours have reduced in size a little over this winter. He’s had his feed strictly rationed and is at a much more reasonable weight than usual. I’ve ridden him a few times, and although we did not do much, he didn’t cramp up. So I may try riding him a little more this year. Not in competition. Just for fun 🙂
Dressy just looks smug. She thinks that the Queen of the Universe should not have to work (there are minions for that sort of thing), and thus all is right in her world.
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 🙂
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.
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 has been riding Ares three days a week, very faithfully for almost a month now. In the beginning she was just riding in the round pen, as Ares learned some very basic skills. But we’ve been taking him out for short rides around the farm for the last couple of weeks. And even across the road to other trails. Dressy is a pretty good babysitter, and Ares likes her.
This morning though, on my way to catch Dressy, I passed King standing in the stall next to Twister (being his buddy, since Twister needs to be in during the day for his eye to heal). King neighed at me. His own patented loud bellow. “HEY!!!!! I have no FOOD!!!” I laughed at him and gave him a scratch. Then, diverted, realized that I wanted to ride him, not Dressy. He was quite pleased with that turn of events, and marched out cheerfully after me to the trailer to be tacked up. I had to drop the girth four holes from Dressy’s size of course. I told him he should be mortified, but he didn’t care one bit.
We ambled off to tour the farm. King was very happy to be out, probably more because of the oceans of grass everywhere than anything else. The pastures are dry and grazed down to nothing. So all that tall grass was mouth watering. In an effort to overcome his grass hypnosis, I got him moving along a little faster. We had a nice little trot and then he volunteered his lovely floating canter. I had a rush of joy as we cantered along. He was happy and relaxed, and it was a perfect moment. King, at his best, is the loveliest horse I’ve ever ridden in my life. Powerful, balanced, and smooth. A dancing horse.
We visited one of my short forest trails, which was a first for Ares. He handled it well, even though it’s a bit overgrown and has some downed branches that I need to clean up. Ares is learning to cope with all sorts of different obstacles with aplomb.
We came back out into the big field, and King was again mesmerized by GRASS. Sigh. Eventually I had to flap the reins at him to insist. And then gave King a light slap with the end. It didn’t even register with King, but YIKES. Ares was beside us, and I guess he thought I was going to kill him. He spooked a bit, eyes like dinner plates. Ana, who is very gentle with him, didn’t really take a strong enough hold, and he decided to go home. Not galloping wildly. Just… going home. Jogging. I yelled at her to circle him. But he has a treeless saddle, and I think he’s starting to lose weight and get fitter, so the girth has gotten a bit loose (it’s on the top hole both sides now). Ana slipped a bit sideways. To her very great credit, she righted herself several times as she went out of sight. Ares still jogging along with his head way up.
Oh damn it. King watched this display without alarm. Ares was, after all, not moving very fast. But when they went completely out of sight, he got a bit indignant at being left behind. I did not think it would be the best idea to go thundering madly after them, so we walked (bouncy, sideways, and very light on the front end, but yes, walking).
I fully expected to find Ana off the horse up ahead somewhere. But after a couple of minutes she reappeared riding Ares back towards me. That was a huge relief. I was very worrried that both Ana and Ares would lose confidence with an incident like that. I had her dismount and check the girth. Then bring him over to me so I could reassure him that no, I was NOT planning on killing him where he stood. He was a bit trembly, but settled down as Ana and I rubbed and talked to him. Ana got back on and we carried on.
We took the horses down the farm lane and back to the round pen a few times. Making Ares work hard in the pen, and then walk quietly down the lane again. I didn’t want him thinking too much about how great it would be to go home. So we did that a few times and he was much more relaxed after a few repetitions.
I was very impressed with Ana’s fortitude. She has never had her own horse or even regular access to a horse other than some lessons. Which means no experience outside of an arena. She lost a stirrup and the saddle slipped off center. And she maintained her balance, got control of Ares, and managed to ride him back. All without panicking or clutching up badly. The only mistake she really made was that she was afraid to hurt his mouth, so she didn’t take a strong enough hold and turn him back when he decided to opt out.
So, we have to do something about Ares’ tack. I’ll probably try my old english saddle on him. I suspect it will be a bit wide for him. But you never know. Ana says she has a western saddle at home, so she will bring that to try as well. And I can also just put the Dixie Midnight pad under the treeless to add a bit of bulk so the girth will be tighter. A breast collar for safety too…
Today, I loaded Dressy on the trailer, and picked up Diego on our way to the Vivian Forest to ride. Diego has really started loading on the trailer well in the last little while. It was about 2-3 minutes to load him up this time. I suspect that he’s so happy to see Dressy that he doesn’t think much about resistance.
The weather was beautiful and consequently the forest was very busy. Lots of people, bikes, and dogs. Mostly lots and lots of DOGS. All well-behaved, amiable dogs this time.
There is a big rock along the trail to the dog pond that has a bronze plaque. Dressy has always been sure that big rocks are a really bad thing. Plaques ON rocks are downright evil monsters that stalk and kill horses. But I have finally convinced her that if she could just bring herself to sneak up and touch it, or even pretend to touch it that I will most likely come across with a delicious cookie. So she steels herself and sneaks up on it with quivering legs.
We went to the pond first, where we had our usual splashy bath, then headed out to loop around the trails. Dressy was quite calm and relaxed, and so was Diego. Though of course there were moments of excitement here and there.
Dressy knows that I always carry a few cookies in my pommel pack, so she listens carefully for the sound of the zipper. But she’s also figured out that Misha carries cookies in her pack. And that Misha is very easily seduced into handing over the goodies. So sometimes she just reaches out, rests her nose on the pack, and wiggles her upper lip while looking coyly up at Misha. It always works.
Diego was again a very good boy. He did get himself caught up in a stick at one point and came to a very abrupt halt from a canter. Which smashed Misha’s face against his poll with a rather loud “thwack!” It sounded quite uncomfortable. But it really wasn’t bad behaviour, just clumsiness. And at the end of the ride, he walked directly on the trailer without hesitating for even a split second.