Endurance riders are really onto something. I had SO MUCH FUN yesterday at our little Intro ride! If it is possible, O had even more fun than I did. Maybe we found her true calling!
As with all good days, the beginning always seems to start out crappy.Yesterday morning didn't exactly go as planned, as usual. I had forgotten to take in my spare trailer tire to the store to have it repaired (flat with a nail in it), so I was worried about that and didn't sleep particularly well. My alarm went off at 3AM, and I managed to drag my sorry carcass up and out of bed. Somehow I got myself going despite being exhausted, and managed to get out the door by 3:45AM. I had originally wanted to spend the night at the ride, but there were some problems with that idea. Firstly, I don't have a hi-tie or a portable paddock system to bring to camp, and therefore I would have to tie her to the trailer all night. She ties well, so that is doable, but that really would suck for her and I really didn't want to do it. Second, I didn't have anyone to feed the horses at home, since S is gone. That is a bit non-negotiable - the horses obviously need to be fed - so I opted to just come in the morning. The Intro riders were not going out until 9am, versus everyone else at 7AM, so I had time to get there. Still, it meant I had to be up and out the door by 3:45AM so that I could feed and unblanket everybody, as well as hook up the trailer and make sure all was well. We managed to leave the property by around 5:15AM, and I spent the next two hours trying desperately to find SOMEWHERE that would serve me some hot breakfast. I also had to stop the rig about a thousand times due to the fact that O kept repeatedly opening her escape door. She figured out how to knock against it hard enough to pop it open, and how to pull the level as well. I tried locking it from the outside, but unfortunately she can still open it from the inside. The key to the bolt was lost many moons ago, and I am loathe to bolt it from the inside since I can't open it from the outside - if we were in a wreck, I couldn't get to her. Therefore, we just kept pulling over and pulling over and pulling over to shut the door and shut it again. Someday I will have a second bolt installed... someday.
Oh yeah, and did I mention my running lights have been on the fritz? We thought they were fixed, but apparently they are not.... they randomly sputtered out partway there, and I had no more lights to the trailer. Brakes and signals were working, thankfully, but with no actual lights otherwise... that's no good. I traveled most of the way there with my hazards on (which are also working), just to give some light to the trailer.
By the time I actually got my breakfast, I was pretty ticked off. I just wanted to get there already!
Thankfully, when I got to the ride, all of that crankiness vanished. The folks greeting me at the gate were super helpful and friendly, and gave me directions and pointers for what I needed to be doing for ride prep. I unloaded, got my vet card and number, and took O over to the vet check. She checked out with all A's, and we went back to saddle up and head out. I opted to ride in the barrel saddle, hackamore, and - OH GOD! - JEANS. I had originally decided to ride in the dressage saddle, but I've been having such a hard time with my tall boots and my calf pain that I decided I better not do it after all. I can trot for pretty much forever in the barrel saddle without pain, so I figured that was a better option. Jeans and my roper boots are perfectly comfortable and don't rub or chafe me anywhere, so I stuck with those, as unorthodox as it looked. The Intro riders were told to go on the 9 mile Orange trail loop, and then could add on the 6 mile White loop if we felt so inclined. I spent a few minutes chatting with a couple of Intro riders in front of me who had done a million Intro rides before, but it didn't take long before I wanted to get moving. I said my goodbyes and trotted off, figured that she would be good but probably a bit green, possibly herdbound, and maybe a little spooky.
She was none of those things. She did spook once or twice, sort of, at some funny looking logs (and at the finish line... apparently it was very scary!), but she didn't care that we left the other horses behind. She didn't care when there were horses passing going the other way, or when she saw horses on other trails through the trees. She just got right to it and trotted along on a loopy rein. She was super smart about her footing, and actually put her head down and looked at all footing challenges, always picking the correct answer (go over/go around/slow down) with minimal assistance from me. When the trails opened up, she picked up the pace of her own accord, and when they got rough, she slowed down and found her way through, picking up again when they got better. All I had to do was post and look at all the pretty scenery. I never had to leg her on, slow her down, or do much more than steer and occasionally say, "hey you might want to slow down, there's a log there." She trotted along, ears pricked, very interested in her surroundings and happy to follow the trail on autopilot at speed. I literally did nothing but sit there for 98% of the ride... I didn't have to do any work at all!
Horrible pictures... sorry about that. I was too busy ooing and aahing at everything to stop and take photos! The fall colors are in peak season down here right now, and while they are not New England colors by any means, they are REALLY great this year for Texas. There was one moment where we passed under a huge tree with neon pink leaves - I swear! - and between all the leaves underneath us and the leaves still on the tree, it felt like we were passing through a gleaming neon tunnel. It was really cool.
She rode REALLY well in the hackamore! I'm so glad I tried a second one - she loves it and I have control should I ever need it. I need to punch some holes in the headstall and raise it up a few spots, but it's not bad where it currently is. She ate really well along the ride, happy to stuff her gob whenever we stopped. She did not, however, drink ANYTHING the whole way. She dipped her nose in a few of the tanks, but never really drank seriously. That was frustrating for me, but there was nothing I could do about it except have her eat some grass and just move on. (When she got home, she glugged down a ton of water, so I know she was thirsty when we were there. I have some samples of Equine Aid that SheMovedToTexas sent to me and which I hadn't had a chance to try until now.... you bet I'll be cracking those out soon! A friendly passer-by also shared the idea of Hydration Hay. O can be picky about some things, but for the most part she is an oinker, so I bet if I made soup out of her hay pellets she would slurp that up just fine as well.)
We finished our 9 mile loop on the Orange trail still raring to go, so we headed out for the second 6 mile loop still chugging away. We stopped and dawdled around at each water stop, and I dismounted and let her graze each time. I got turned around a few times on the trails, but was quick to realize my mistakes, and was able to correct them all within short order. The trails were really nice, very sandy and soft, mostly all through the woods with a few wide open pastures to motor on through. She did the ride barefoot, and did just fine - if the trails get worse she will need to be booted for sure, but this one was no problem. She vetted out with all A's and one B for gut sounds (probably due to no drinking). We were grazing when the first vet called us over to check her HR before we went to the trot-out vet - her resting HR was 13bpm. I had to ask the vet twice because I thought I misheard him. 13 is INSANELY LOW. The girl is fit!
It makes me think about just how far she has come in six months... when I first got her, she had probably not been ridden outside of an arena much, and our first few rides were more or less just trying to stay upright on her back. She spooked at everything, had no steering or brakes, and tripped over every little indent in the ground because she hadn't had to worry about her footing before. Without decent steering, she went crashing through uncountable numbers of cactus and brier patches - I couldn't turn her well enough to get around them, and she didn't know what they were, so there were many post-ride cactus thorn removing sessions! I also couldn't ride her alone without her totally melting down. It was a nightmare!
Many, many, many miles of trails later, she is very thoughtful about her footing and is careful to assess situations by herself. She knows how to pick her way around and over things, and can adjust herself to the terrain around her. Water, mud, and other weird obstacles don't bother her. Other horses coming and going don't bother her. Just getting out there and letting her learn how to deal with these things has made her a spectacular trail horse. The fact that she is happiest cruising along at a big fast trot to infinity makes endurance a natural thing for her.
You can bet we'll be doing this again. I am a trail riding junkie to begin with - who doesn't love to be out enjoying the beauty of nature? And to be able to do it fast? Even better!
I'm also happy to report that Tre seems to already be doing better. I didn't give her any Ulcergard yesterday, I just loaded her bags full of hay before I left and hung her bucket of hay pellets out for her to munch on as she saw fit. When I came home, she had finished all of the pellets and was munching hay. I'm under the impression that she ran around for awhile after we left, as she had dried sweatmarks on her neck. For dinner, I gave her more pellets soaked in aloe juice, and she munched them all up happily. Today she gobbled up a larger portion of breakfast (she ate it all, supplements included. It was about 3/4 the size of her normal breakfast). Here's hoping we get things sorted out within short order!
A few of you also asked about her feet and what I feed, so I thought I'd post a few photos and give a description of my feeding program. Here is what Tre is doing/eating:
- 24/7 turnout with a friend
- 24/7 free-choice slow-fed hay in various spots around her paddock, so she moves from bag to bag to eat
- Hay is very good quality timothy and orchard, with a bit of alfalfa - we have to have it trucked in from Washington and Oregon because down here all we get is crappy coastal!
- "Grain" meals are timothy/alfalfa hay pellets and Healthy Glo fat nuggets measured by weight, which varies for each horse - the horses don't eat a commercial grain product. They eat "grain" twice a day, and always have hay in their bellies before they eat it. They also always have hay in them before they go to work!
- Supplements: Equine Challenge Grass Formula Vitamin/Mineral supplement, raspberry leaf, chia, rosehips, tumeric, lecithin, l-glutamine, Equine-Zyme Plus (pre/probiotic), magnesium, Cosequin, spirulina. Top dressed with aloe juice to make it all stick together. It sounds like an awful lot of crap, and it is, but you've seen how muscular and shiny and healthy O is. It's not for nothing that she is rippling with muscle, gleaming with shine, and finishing super long rides with a bounce still in her step and no soundness or health issues at all.
O-nald Shwarzen-mare. No juicing required!
As for Tre's feet, they are really going to be nice when they get fully transitioned. She was shod when I got her up front, and was bare behind. She was due and it was showing. Shoes came off, edges of the fronts were lightly rolled to keep any serious ravel at bay, hinds were trimmed, and off she went, looking better with them off than with them on. It doesn't always go that smoothly - it was really nice to see her go back into her turnout and take off bucking and running, looking like a million bucks.
As with every de-shoeing, the feet go through some really awesome and fantastic changes almost immediately. Here are some solar shots for comparison, the first being in shoes, the second being a few days out of shoes, and the third being this morning:
Remember, this is without being trimmed! She did this all by herself, just with work and with turnout (full of rocks and bushes and things to walk around).
And a side shot, as a 3-week comparison:
Again, that foot was not trimmed! 3 weeks and the nail holes are already gone, and the entire length of the foot has shortened significantly. She has created her own mustang roll - check out the bevel and the concavity in the oblique shot. Over time, the toe will continue to shorten, and the back of the foot will strengthen.
To say I'm pleased with this progress is a total understatement! I can't wait to see where she is a few months from now!