Saturday, April 21, 2018
Friday morning was cold and windy and I had to put a fair amount of effort into keeping Khaleesi’s attention. I was not completely successful even as we walked my speed onto the open for competition trail past the starting line following 10 minutes of asking for a walk and getting a rough trot with some head tossing – she tried to make sure I understood all the action was heading toward the start and it was so wrong for us to be walking around ride camp in the wrong direction.
She kept asking to trot up the first road and for some of it I allowed as long as it was a controlled easy trot.
The first miles of the ride were mostly great footing or dirt roads and she settled into a nice trot and eagerly lead the small group we settled into as much as I’d allow.
April: if you are reading this I so enjoyed a few miles of trail with you and Brave ❤️ Khaleesi sends her greetings and I have some pictures for you. I need an email though…
Once we hit the first climb with embedded rocks she slowed down but at least kept walking and trotted when she was able. We fell back here but that was ok with me. At the top of the ridge is where things began to go wrong.
I couldn’t tell which way to go. I saw the pie plate that said “NO” but the way it was positioned on the tree I wasn’t completely certain which way it was prohibiting. I also saw a sign that was for the 30 mile ride.
I didn’t see any red/white ribbons. Then in looking around I did. And I headed that way. Khaleesi was slower than usual- it was rocky. But after about 10 minutes where I was mostly focused on navigating the footing it bothered me that the ribbons seemed to be on the left. I know the ride meeting said they attempted to keep the ribbons on the right.
I stopped pulled up the map from my phone. Khaleesi was attempting to turn me around and I wasn’t certain if that was good or bad…. once I had a good look at the map I realized indeed I had gone the wrong way on the ridge and was heading on the 30 mile trail back to ride camp. 😬
I allowed Khaleesi to turn around and we immediately picked up some forward motion.
Back at the intersection I looked more closely for the right trail and found it though I can see how I’d missed it the first time and Khaleesi picked up more momentum.
This I write in such detail because later it gave me a clue to a question I wrested with.
Onward we went. I knew I’d lost at least 20 valuable minutes and in these rough terrain rides I also know that was a big price to pay for me and this particular horse.
She seemed to have some good momentum again and the footing was not so bad. I had been watching her boots and was pleased to say they were all working so far.
It wasn’t very long before she started slowing down maneuvering the embedded rocks. And then progress became even slower. She began to eat the grass on the pretty ridge trail and it was hard to keep her moving.
I couldn’t sort out exactly why this was happening. Because I couldn’t see a physical reason for the reluctance I began to question it she was communicating to me as plainly as she could:
I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to ride all these miles. I’d rather just eat grass. We can stay up here all day as far as I’m concerned.
A question that had crossed my mind but hadn’t surfaced seriously came nagging to mind.
Is this the wrong sport?
I did not ask is the the wrong horse. Of that I have no question. This horse is my partner- the sport or activity may have to change but as much as I like to ride endurance and all the challenges with it- this horse comes first
Does she hate this and I keep pushing it on her? Am I ruining the relationship I’ve built by doing this sport? How much say do I give a horse in choosing what work she does? What if she just wants to eat grass all day (?) that’s not a job.
It seems unlikely with the time lost on the detour combined with this lollygagging on the ridge that I will make the time I need to finish the day. And quite honestly I do not want to ride the grueling middle 25 mile loop at a snail pace wondering if I’d be faster walking it myself and left the horse in camp! No matter what, I believed we were done at the first loop.
I heard the inner voices start.
Failure… Selfish…. Stubborn…
Then the drag riders showed up behind me.
They were friends of mine (Roberta and Jennifer) and I was grateful for the company. I explained why I was here poking along and we rode a little together.
Jennifer noticed the bottom of my boot seemed wrong though all of us thought the top part looked fine- I got off immediately and checked. The entire front right boot was gone but it was hard to tell because the glue pattern left and the black boot same as black hoof looked like it was still there from a distance.
(You can see it’s a little hard to tell what you’re looking at on trail- especially in motion)
This explained a lot – and I have absolutely no idea how long she’d gone barefoot on that hoof. I had been certain even until she asked that the boot was there.
I strapped on the replacement boot and we were on our way. However this was the worst of the rocky trail and it was still slow going. I wasn’t sure if any damage had been done in the time with no boot so I allowed her to pick her way through. I never pushed her to go a speed beyond what she offered. Which was a moderate walk.
[photo credit Becky Pearman]
She did better but not moving as fast as I’d need in order to continue. As we got onto the gravel road into the vet check she would volunteer to pick up a trot and I’d feel she wasn’t quite even and she’d drop back to walk. Because it was only a mile or less I hopped off and walked in with her.
We had taken over 4 hours to go the 20 miles (detour included) which truly wasn’t devastating but I knew already she was compromised.
The vets checked her over. Heart rate 40 (good), great hydration and good gut sounds. All healthy- except the trot out. I knew it from the first steps – she was off.
Sometimes vets will give you a chance to sort out a problem if it’s minor. She could have been uneven due to different boots on the front feet for instance- but it didn’t matter I wasn’t planning to go on and they knew it so we made it simple and they went ahead and pulled her as lame.
We all assumed a minor bruise from unprotected foot.
All in all the rough 20 miles wasn’t a bad training ride- also the camp excitement was good testing for our continuing connection. It was good to catch up with friends… and I let her know with complete certainty that SHE was a winner! She’d carried me through the loop, done her best, and I was only pleased.
[heading in good spirits to the ambulance trailer: photo credit Becky Pearman]
But deep down the questions still linger: will her feet always be a problem? Is this not working? What else can I do? Does it need a better answer or do I let it go and not push her to do something she’ll never genetically be able to do well?
This is when the detour came back to mind.
I don’t believe anything is wasted in this life if you’re paying attention. I believe things have reasons even if we don’t always understand them at the time. Sometimes we do get answers in the here and now.
It is in part because of the way she chose to move out onto the trail instead of back to ridecamp (she’s ridden the 30 trail twice and would know that trail – plus the general direction – I will give that to her as an intelligent equine. At that spot where the trails join, ride camp would have been significantly closer than vet check) brought me to believe at least for now, she does not hate endurance riding, I do however believe she hates the rough rocky trails that some of the OD rides are famous for.
So why are her feet such a problem?
The X-rays last year didn’t show a thin sole issue. I’ve put a year into rebuilding them without shoes and nails- so better blood flow. She’s doing well nutritionally and looks fantastic otherwise better than before with skin and coat and mane health.
Enter treatment vet Dr. Bob.
As is customary the treatment vet takes a look over all pulled horses – I am grateful to the endurance community for this detail among other strengths endurance has as a sport… and he brought out the hoof testers to see if we could find a sore spot or bruise.
He cranked on the hoof best he could yet no reaction from her. Then he said to me-
your mare has really nice feet. They are hard and look great. The feet seem fine. Let’s try the legs.
Nice feet? Hard, no sensitivity?
In palpating the legs he found a slight reaction around a tendon higher up around the middle of the leg. He could feel no heat and no swelling, and a very small reaction but enough to think there was something bothering her.
Likely how she was moving on trail to protect her feet angled her hoof and pulled something just enough to make it uncomfortable.
We put an ice boot on and gave butte for anti inflammatory preventative to keep any swelling at bay and he said he thought she would be just fine in a few days at the most.
One more thing I’m grateful for is this mare is not stoic- she communicates especially if she knows you’re listening. It does make it harder sometimes because you can’t get by with much- but in times like this I’m glad she communicated instead of stoically allowing me to continue and cause worse damage. Some horse do this… they’ll do what you ask of them regardless until they are too hurt to go on and often long term sometimes irreversible damage is done. Not this mare. She will let me know if anything is not at full capacity. Occasionally I think maybe too much communication!
So… I thought some more. Maybe I’m mis-hearing her communication about the rocks.
Maybe it’s not as much hoof sensitivity as I’d assumed. Maybe it’s combined with how much she hates the unbalance and stumbling over those jagged rocks and maybe it’s also her tendons and muscles in her legs.
One of my goals this year has been to walk her barefoot on paved surfaces. I’ve begun to but not done the miles and miles I’d like to work up to. Maybe the hard surface work will continue to harden her tendons and ligaments. Maybe her feet are improving- but not ready for the OD trails… maybe she’ll never want to ride those courses just because … well … for a horse that many miles of brutal rocky trails frankly sucks.
A look at the left boot skin I removed in camp. It was on pretty good and I had to loosen it with a screwdriver. I may try them again. I like the concept and like the closer hoof fit, but I’d considered trying to paint them red so they were more visible and I’d take that more seriously the next time. I had a plan B but hadn’t anticipated seriously that I would know when it was time to put it into effect. 😫
Maybe if I stick with this sport (which at the moment I am inclined to do) I will need to adjust the rides I choose – which is a little sad because I love my OD family – but maybe not best for her. And the horse has to come first. I decided that years ago.
I may try to aim for rides like Biltmore, Big South Fork and Foxcatcher and see how she does on those. They are all farther away from home, but fewer more carefully selected rides at least may help me see if she does better and seems to thrive there or not at all.
Admittedly the ride home and the late night dark voices at least until a desperately needed shower spoke to me of my failings… failing my horse, failing myself, not being good enough- me or my horse… something is wrong with me… look at all the other people who sail through these rides… but at least after the shower I was able to decide that… No. I don’t give up that easily. My journey is unique and it’s my own. If it’s not right for her I am ok with leaving endurance but it’s not time to decide that now. I will remember that I’m a work in progress – so is my horse, and things will look different in the morning.
They do indeed.
Today in reflection I remember the lesson of what success means and it is not a ride completion.
My horse cares not about mileage records or placings. And I remember it’s how my horse sees me that matters more than looking like a failure with a lameness pull to human eyes (myself included).
True Success means:
- I honored my horse and put her needs first.
- I saw what good strides we have made in connection – how well she went through vetting in, how she works with me so much better than she ever has before.
- The rear Scoot Boots (strap on not glued) for through the 20 miles perfectly and no rubbing! The spare I strapped on finished the loop with no issues as well.
- She got good vet scores and is strong and healthy.
- I made it through the trip without injury to her or me.
- I learned things (about glue on boots, about my horse, that I may need to reconsider which rides she’ll enjoy more)
- I got to work on my personal “Love Is” project: Patience when waiting for a ride back and volunteering to wait longer so another horse/rider could go first… in kindness I spent a few minutes early in the ride helping a stranger on the trail knowing that I don’t have much time to spare. And this week has been love does not envy which I don’t normally struggle so much with. I got to see some of that emerge as honestly I did envy some of the riders and horses who had an easier day.
Coming home with a happy horse and sitting in the grass writing this blog with her munching lazily around me, it’s nice to remember what success really looks like.
Sometimes it looks like coming home with more miles on our record, someday it may even be with a top ten finish, maybe someday it might mean changing our activity to something that suits our team better but building us into a team with a solid relationship that can only be truly tested when things are at stake is what matters most to me and that success I can be proud of no matter what the outcomes look like to humans.