Friday, January 23, 2014
In my early research about going the distance on a horse, one thing that seems pretty obvious is that hoof care and protection is not only of vital importance, but also might pose new issues that I haven’t seen in my past trail riding habits. Our riding circle here is pretty dedicated; “in season” (when the weather is nice enough to be out more than a few hours) we often put in mulitple long rides each week in some rough terrain and we all stay on a regular farrier schedule. [equine-speak translation: a farrier is a specialist in equine hoof care that combines some blacksmith and veterinary skills to properly care for horses feet]. I like my farrier (let’s call him BW) and trust his experience and ask him for advice on just about everything “horse” related. There is no way we can succeed without help and advice from my farrier.
Flashback: Early August, 2014
BW first met Khlaleesi when I’d had her just over a week. He was doing a trim and shoe appointment for Faygo and I asked him to come see the new girl. Not to work on her (I could hardly groom at tie her at the time) but just to meet her and give me advice on what he would like me to be doing with her to prepare her to be safe for him to work on in the future. I went to collect her from the field and of course instead of coming over to me she ran away, and when I did bring her around, she reared up on the lead rope, shied away from him, and acted like a complete nutcase. I was completely embarrassed. Like a professional, BW walked around calmly, did a couple minutes of groundwork with her and handed her lead back to me. He couldn’t touch her- or even come close. He shook his head and asked me what was her breeding again? (The Quarter Horse guy is not a big fan of those buggy-eyed wild Saddlebreds). When I ticked off her heritage (Racking Horse, Saddlebred, TN Walker, Arabian) I will never forget what he said to me. “She’s probably going to be a handful. If you’re lucky the TN Walker will help add some calm to her personality. The Arabian will be tough at first, but once she become your horse, she’ll be the most loyal horse you ever had. She will do anything for you….” and then he continued on to suggest some things to help get her used to having her feet worked on and wished me luck.
His next visit later in the fall I had worked hard on picking up her feet, cleaning and filing them myself and all her basic manners. I crossed my fingers that she wouldn’t be such a monster and was delighted when he not only could pick up her feet, but he did a “baby” trim on them – not a full work up, but more than I’d hoped for. When he finished I beamed when he asked me “are you sure this is the same horse?”
Present Day Again
On this, Khaleesi’s third farrier visit she had a complete trim and only once did we have to “school” her for trying to pull her hoof away. Of course it is the left rear- we found that one to be the resistant one the time before as well. She stood quietly while we talked as well.
I said “I know you’ll call me crazy, but I’ve made a goal to do a 100 mile endurance ride with this horse… I’d like some input on how that might change how we trim and shoe her going forward, probably not right away, but eventually.” Not surprising, but I was glad to find that BW not only did have some insight, but shoes for a serious competitor in long distance endurance rides- a vet with what he considered “An amazing Arabian”.
He had worked a 100 mile race and of course found “those people” to be slightly crazy, “you should see them come in to the checkpoints with people dumping water on them and the horse to cool it off before vet check, some of them demanding new shoes in the next 5 minutes and i look at the horse’s feet and want to say ‘you’d be better off walking the rest of the way yourself than ride THAT’… sometimes they DQ (pull/disqualify) even if the horse is in good shape because the people aren’t fit to finish… it’s hard… i’ve seen them take a fall (horse and rider) flying over some bad footing, roll off, get the horse up and hop back on in motion and keep on cantering down the trail… crazy these people… i tell you what….but- it’s good to have goals Jaime, it’s what keeps us off the couch eating bon-bons. Good for you.”
We talked about the issue of training and wearing through shoes faster, of lightweight shoes, carrying hoof boots for back up, of the angle of the hoof that helps the rear end “power through” more easily for better speed. In the end we’ll have to see what her gaits are like to know what she needs, but for now the pressing question was: how are her feet doing with the small amount of winter riding with no protection? Do I need to get boots on her now, or is she doing ok. So far he said her feet look good: they are hard feet and are holding up well.
Before he left, he gave me a phone number; told me that this woman in Northern VA would be the one to bring me in as a volunteer in the OD (Old Dominion) race (tell her I gave you her number)- they always need volunteers, and there’s no better way to learn about that event than to be at one and see it for yourself.
After the trimmings were all cleaned up we saddled up Faygo and hit the trail before the bad weather came in. It was snowing when we headed out, but a pretty snow and I knew once again it wouldn’t be a long ride and we could deal with a little chill.
We took the same exact 4.5 mile track as the last ride. My hope was to shave some time off not by moving faster, but by dilly-dallying less. We did about the same exact ride in the same exact time so not any improvement, but we got out there, and considering the weather and my schedule has us only riding a few hours a week right now- just going out and doing it is what counts the most.
We just might have done a little better had I not lost her for a few minutes. Occasionally she decides to stop and Faygo doesn’t get the memo until it’s JUST too late and I loose the rope. I have been experimenting with girth tension with Faygo recently- ever since her issue with Lymes disease last year her top line has seemed to widen a bit, and feel like I’ve found a good tension that I don’t have to pull so tight she pins her ears and fights me, yet the saddle doesn’t slip along the ride. The only issue is if I don’t have some height getting on and off, the saddle pulls off center and it’ just a pain; if I don’t absolutely have to get off I try not to. Thus I try grabbing the lead rope without getting off balance in the saddle which is a little tricky if she is being evasive. Faygo is amazing and I can put her exactly where I want her to be- but still it’s hard to get my hands on that rope if Khaleesi won’t bring her head up. At one point I tried to just move along to see if she would trot on up to go with us. You can see in the picture to the right how well that worked out for us… She stood rummaging through the dead leaves for something interesting to munch on and we ended up having to go back for her. I didn’t have to get off in the end and was able to grab the rope at just the right moment when she came up and we moved on along.
I try to remind myself that she has never been asked to walk steady on for over an hour and just doing it is the important part. Faygo has years of doing this and is ready to power walk through and get there and back so she can chill by the hay bale again. Each pony walk is a struggle between “fast Faygo” and our anchor “Khaleesi” who seems to be wondering where on earth are we going when this place right here seems really nice. Why don’t we stop and graze, hang out, relax more often? Sometimes Khaleesi DOES get a little burst and she trots up and we get a nice pace going for a spell. With the cold weather, the strange “wound” on her face last week (which looks all healed and good now) and shortage of time I haven’t been doing much work on her back recently. I think getting her to understand drive from being on her will help her to start to move out more on our walks as time goes on. She has a beautiful trot and I’ve seen her run across the field when she wants to. Her walk isn’t as big as Faygo’s, but it’s not slow either. As a training partner- Faygo is a powerhouse and going to really challenge her, and it’s a challenge for me to keep Faygo from dragging her through the woods at too fast a pace. I don’t want to discourage Khaleesi or make her hate going out on our walks early on.
You may be wondering at this point: why am I not training Faygo, my trusted powerhouse trail companion, to do this 100 mile race?
It’s a valid question, and the answer has been changing even as I write.
The first answer is that she is older (16 this year) and though that is a prime year for a horse in good health who has been ridden regularly, she has a few drawbacks: she has Heaves (kind of like COPD in people, it’s a breathing issue that would make it very hard for her to do well and pass vet checkpoints. Her recovery time would likely be an issue) and she also had a battle with Lymes disease last year that was hard on her and though with chiropractic work and a fantastic holistic vet she is doing great now, I believe that her joints will deteriorate faster than other healthy `horses and that the residual effects of that will make it harder to do longer and longer miles as she ages.
Because she’s such a smart horse, I’ve begun doing ACTHA (American Competitive Trail Horse Association) events and last fall at her first event we won second place in our (beginner) class. She seemed to really shine at that event and enjoy the challenge, at the moment my plan is to enjoy challenging her mind with obstacles in ACTHA and work on Khaleesi as my distance horse.
However. Faygo is entirely capable of doing a LD (Limited Distance) ride of 25 miles or less and the more I’ve been thinking about this very topic, the more I’ve begun to consider registering as an AERC (American Endurance Ride Conference) member and doing some early LD rides on Faygo to begin to get the hang of it and get some experience on a horse as solid as Faygo is.
So my next job is to join AERC and register Faygo as my horse for now and find a goal ride that’s 25 miles or less to enter with Faygo. I have already placed a call to my farrier’s contact to talk about volunteering at the OD ride in June. Small goals are how you get to the big goals- and the journey along the way is the reward!