Middle School

Friday, December 30, 2016

Winter has come. Now I’m getting ready for Khaleesi’s second (full) season. I am not completely new to endurance, but I’m far from an experienced rider. I suppose figuratively I’m moving into the awkward middle school years.  

This winter I am taking a horse with 5 LD rides and 3 successful 50s under her hooves and trying to balance some R&R with the physical training for another season starting early with a new ride in March. 

That means getting her ready for an early in the season 50 during the worst 2 months for weather in the year… adding complication: she is in that off season (and off grass) muscling and body shape and fa-la-la-la-laaaa it’s hoof boot season. 


I’m always up for a challenge. 

First the body shape. Due to the fact that we aren’t a causal trail riding pair I am hyper aware of her body shape and it’s amazing how much her back muscling can change through the course of a year. This means her saddle fit isn’t perfect. It’s not far off but it’s bridging just enough to be annoying. 

She looks good overall but her back muscling is less than in her peak

Yes. I know some people swear by treeeless but as of now I don’t believe that is the option for us. I’ve ridden in a Freeform for weeks at a time with a good pad to help distribute the weight but I was never as comfortable, and I’m not lightweight enough to avoid creating pressure points. Her back did not improve in the treeless. 

Last spring, however, after moving to the wide tree her back was 100% all season. Every white hair gone, not a sensitive spot in training and all 50 mile rides. The trainer we spent a few days with in the summer concurred that Khaleesi loves the saddle. Keep it. 

Until this late fall winter and she went into more down time and the grass sugars turned over. Now I’m getting a mixture of some dry spots, some rough hairs, and very few white hairs on the right side. 


There is an answer to this cycle that I believe she’ll go through a little every year. But being in middle school means I’m still working that out. 

Jamie at Phoenix Risin [PR] sent me a ‘have a heart’ pad that helps with slight bridging. I have 4 shims on each side that I can put in and take out to give it just the amount I need. 

There is also the possibility that the dry areas are actually due to the Supracore webbing design doing its job- the test is soreness and sensitivity. Until this week I haven’t seen evidence of soreness. 

This means trial and error… saddle time… and paying attention. The tricky thing has been most rides haven’t been long or hard enough recently to create sweat at all so her whole back and body are dry! None of these rides (2 hours… less than 10 miles) are going to cause real painful spots. 

So it’s a struggle to sort out how many inserts are best and should they be the same on both sides? She only has a few white hairs on the right… does that mean I need an extra shim on the right? Or does that mean I need it on the left? And what does it say about my riding? I have noticed recently that I’m still lighter in my left foot (on a trot that foot is more likely to float a little in the stirrup). 

I have a gift certificate from Christmas and am considering a second pad, one that might be a better fill in during these body cycles- either with shim ability or  an overall corrective pad with more foam and give. On a whim I tried an experiment and added a baby therapeutic thin line pad instead of the have a heart shim yesterday and took my first serious ride in a while. 

Upon reflection that wasn’t the best idea. (Everyone has those days in middle school...) I should have ridden with the heart pad on its first serious trial in the past few weeks- but the thin line pad was a new brainstorm and thus I ran with it. Literally. We took a nice day with good footing and did about 15 miles at a good pace. 


No dry spots. (It isn’t obvious with the coloring in the picture but to the touch all was wet) In fact the thinline created heat and the sweat came up through the cool back pad and the thinline had a layer of sweat.  Her hair was wavy behind the withers and she was slightly sensitive in her loin area upon testing after the ride. The thinline covered too much area under the saddle in my opinion and didn’t work to only shim the lower spots. 

Solution matrix: get her doing more serious hill work to help build up that muscling more again, and use the heart pad like I was supposed to. Try to keep better notes on what works better. 

Second variable I have some control over (unlike the weather) are hoof boots

Lost boot bottom!

I’ve invested a decent amount time and money in hoof boots even hoping early on to keep her barefoot… though she has hard durable hoofs and spent her first 5 years barefoot on various surfaces. It’s not due to years of metal shoes as mostnin the peanut gallery have suggested, but she is sensitive, and barefoot just isn’t a reasonable solution for her. 

Nonetheless I do believe in at least a cycle each winter to take off the metal shoes and right now that means riding in boots. 

I am curious about the Megasus Horserunners but they aren’t in production yet. If they stay on they could be a winter option for us to try… but every new breakthrough sounds good in concept. I don’t want to have chemical glue on her hooves for lengths of time as it slowly weakens the hoof wall, but from what I’ve seen and heard the Velcro tape that adheres to the hoof can be removed without too much trouble, and though I don’t know that I would want that on her hoof all year long, switching it up for a winter spell might work out. 


Staying on. 

That is the challenge. 

After pulling shoes I directly put on our set of renegade hoof boots and went for a ride with Susan. 

Lost a boot bottom. 


As I pulled out my hair in thick strands I had lost my mind enough to consult the peanut gallery on the Facebook ‘hoof boot exchange’ site. What I asked was advice on what kind of boot fits a narrow long hoof. Of course the answer I got was that horse hooves aren’t supposed to be long and narrow and my farrier should have fixed them. 

Jeez, nothing like encouraging a farrier’s God complex like assuming it their job to recreate the shape your horses hooves came in. 

So I read the comments, and called my farrier (whom I trust more than any other part of my equine team at the moment) and while waiting for a callback during Christmas week, started rasping away little by little at the fronts of her hooves. 

When he called a few days later, I recounted the commentary and asked him what his thoughts are, he assured me: my general rule is to take off equal hoof wall all around the hoof. That leaves you with the same shape she started with. It’s a shame no one makes boots to fit narrow hooves. Someone could make a fortune with that. But sure- you can rasp off the toes. You aren’t going to hurt anything. Just stop if you see blood… but it’s 3 feet from her heart so it ain’t gonna kill her even then… I think they’re right that your boots will stay on better – see you in a few weeks. 

So I went in earnest to round out her hooves a little at a time. 

Shot of her back hooves after I rasped back her toes

Is it working?

Maybe

After the reshaping, I took about 4 rides with 100% boot success. Mostly waking, but one of them in serious boot sucking mud. 


Then the true test- that solo 15 miler at speed. 

They passed, but not with flying colors. I did about 60% of the ride with 100% success, then I lost a boot bottom and though I’d been vigilant to watch for them, I couldn’t find the boot when I retraced back to the point I was certain I had seen all 4. 

The first boot bottom of the season I lost was a hind. This time it was a front. 

I brought along a spare tire and did some adjusting- I only had size 0 for a spare and had been using a size 1 on her fronts. 

The return home, including much trotting and some cantering had no boot trouble at all. This leads me to wonder if I will need to reconsider boot sizes all around now that I’ve been filing. The right fit seems the secret to success when it comes to.. well everything I guess. 


Middle school. What are the right shoes?What is the right fit? Does my saddle make me look fat?

More tweaking and experimenting. So far there is obvious improvement with the reshaping plan. I’m hoping for more success this winter with serious training in the renegades without breaking the bank losing them! They aren’t cheap to replace. 

Overall the renegades are still my favorite though I’ve seen some very cool options for twice the cost that I’m just not willing to do right now. 

My biggest complaints with easycare though I know people love them- is they are a bitch to put on-take off, and I don’t like their materials: when I used them regularly on Faygo we wore right through the shells in one season (haven’t even come close to wearing out the renegade shells… even the few originals from 2 years ago that I haven’t lost!!) and the Velcro was useless if it got mud or snow packed in which in winter here happened often. If I lost a boot it wasn’t going back on if it had Velcro. Thankfully Faygo basically can go barefoot in a pinch. Khaleesi doesn’t move well barefoot- she slows way down over time as her feet start to hurt in our rocky terrain. 

So the renegades get (yet) another chance as none of the easycare products fit Ks original long hoof either. 

On some positive notes: I pulled out the heart rate monitor again and she’s still got fantastic recovery. I cantered her up a long hill around mile 12 and got her heart rate up to 189bpm at the top where we stop for the pipe gate (I was aiming for 200) by the time I pulled out my phone and got camera mode up she was down to 172 then in about 20 seconds down in the 70s. 

By the time we were within a mile of the barn she was still offering to canter and the 15 miles wasn’t a stretch (thank goodness or I’d  be in real trouble for March!). 


Also our mental work has been paying off. We are well connected and even offering to canter close to home isn’t barn sour attitude anymore and she is just as happy to walk with me if I ask. 

We had a funny moment last week while taking Wild Heart for a pony ride. As we were crossing the Jackson River still in sight of the barn I let the mares relax in the water a moment as they drank.  A few more steps and we were in the deepest section when Khaleesi stopped, pawed and looked hard at the moving water before she dropped to her knees. With Heart on the lead next to me and my boots now in the river I began yelling and kicking and grabbing for my lead rope (which I drive her forward with if she gets too lazy). After I got her out of the river (without taking me for a complete swim) and celebrated a moment in not losing the lead rope in the process, and congratulating Heart on not freaking out at all in the commotion… I laughed with Susan for a good 10 minutes. What a comedy! 


I am enjoying that mare as much as I ever have. The down time mixed in with trail training, bareback pad riding for balance and feel, and time spent without a clock or a gizmo to put me on a timeline or goals for speed and distance have helped in this relationship area even if neither of us feel quite ready to tackle a 50 today. 

But I believe wholeheartedly that if one can line up the mental, the physical is the easy part.


2 thoughts on “Middle School

  1. Hey Jamie, have you heard of Scoot Boots? I’ve seen them around a lot lately, and it sounds like they stay on reaaalllyyy well (only one piece). I don’t know how the price compares to Renegades though!

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