Less than one week to go. Saturday, May 1, Khaleesi will start her first 50 mile endurance ride since June of 2019. The 2019 season began with a 30 mile no frills ride where she placed 8th on Easter weekend. I considered riding her a second day and then decided she had done well and I would take a “win” and go home to prepare for the June Old Dominion 50.
We started that beast of a ride and at the second vet check, on the rocky ground of the trot out she wasn’t quite right. It was one more lameness pull where the cause was hard to pinpoint but something was wrong.
After the heartbreak of a non-completion on Friday I switched gears and focused on helping my dear friend Amy through her successful 100 on Saturday with amazing horse Amillion Frills and isn’t she just that.
I have meant to write this update of sorts for a couple weeks and as I finally sit her at my kitchen counter on a Sunday morning I reflect on two things:
- I just told a friend last night right here in the same kitchen counter in response to a question he had asked me: “I’ve never made the decision to set aside my own agenda in order to help or be there for someone else’s and regretted it later. Never.”
- I’m about to hit the road today to get new composite shoes put on Khaleesi for the ride… and this deep dive into composite shoes that has been a game changer for us wouldn’t have been as likely had I not been sitting at a vet check waiting for Amy looking for someone to chat with – a lameness pull in a history of lameness struggles on my mind- finally desperate enough to need new answers.
Regarding the first point: truth is I’m not some kind of saint who loves to self-sacrifice to help my friends follow their dreams. I was there to help Amy and Frills regardless if I completed the ride or not. I rode Friday so I could crew for her Saturday. With a lameness pull the day before it was more challenging to cheer her onto amazing success still choking on the bitter pill that once again I had failed to complete a ride on the horse I believed in regardless in the face of evidence sane people would accept she just might not be suited for this sport. It would have been easier for me to lick my wounds in the corner and pout. I probably did a little of that over the 24 hour period… yet the bigger truth is I do want my friends to have great success- I just want to be successful with them!
Sometimes it seems like God is particularly mean spirited when he gives the things you wish for to everyone around you while he sits you in a corner for some greater purpose. But in reflection today, I can see time after time that God actually IS incredibly kind to me, even when it is a stretch in the moment to see it. That’s when we are called to have life endurance which parallels the equine sport I’m attracted to. When we gut out the confusion and do the right thing even when it isn’t exactly where our heart is yet we find grace. Even better I think when are (eventually) able to admit it is not a natural bent to be that way- though I am sure other people are way more gifted in this grace than I am.
Had I finished the ride successfully I would not have been desperate for another answer. I had tried everything. Starting barefoot when she was 4 and just under saddle, hoof issues took me to metal shoes… more issues… shoes and pads… more issues… then back to barefoot for about two years and had some good success including completing some tough endurance rides (like the OD Fort Valley) in Scoot Boots (I highly recommend them and they are still my back up of choice).
If I’d had continued success even if it wasn’t flying colors, I would have stuck with them, but I had suspected they weren’t going to take me as far as I want to go and now another pull staring me in the face. Thus the time and place so lined up for me to find myself talking to a long time endurance rider also waiting at the vet check (randomly ?? not likely) who had great experience with the Easycare Flex Composities, and was able to point me to someone who would do a reliable job getting them put on for me within a drive that wasn’t close but it was possible.
There are a handful of things that I’ve changed and improved in this almost 2 years of rebuilding my horse from the ground up. This composite shoe component I believe is the most important piece. If you haven’t seen it, below is the interview with the guy who currently shoes my horses, and his experience with them across many horses since beginning to work with Khaleesi and me about 18 months back.
Aside from hoofwear that has given impact protection on her legs, joints and tendons, I had to learn about the constantly changing padding process in the Balance Saddle System (and I still am working in that though I’ve seen it is worth it!) I’ve also gotten help scientifically dialing in her nutritional profile with forage testing, I’ve changed up how I manage grass vs. hay in spring and summer. I’ve done the deworming protocol for possible parasite aneurism which would contribute to some questionable things I noticed in her hind end and the way she moved and held herself over a year back… This is the third year of using the neuromuscular dentist (Natural Balance)… I’ve spent countless hours learning to ride better, balanced… lighter. I have put a whole lot of energy into the long process of changing her physical balance to power from her hind. I’ve worked on her mental system connecting us for better efficiency of movement because we are increasingly working off the same page. Oh and of course lameness exams and radiographs and in 2019 an injection (standard hyaluronic acid and steroid) into the fetlock where very mild changes in the bone made the idea worth exploring (I have not injected the joint since as she has gotten strong and showed less lameness issues.)
So almost two years of piecing together anything I could to come out of intermittent lameness, build strength and health, and being cautiously optimistic as both she and I healed. I suppose it’s worth a side glance to the fact that winter of 2019 is also when my own life exploded personally and so maybe we both have been climbing back into strength in our own ways.
Each ride expansion (distance, speed, technical challenge) she’s come through in strength to the point where I am confident that it’s time to return to a ride start. After that it’s all up for grabs, anything can happen. She might finish strong and (frankly) shock me with her performance. She might finish solid or even win the turtle (come in last!) yet a finish truly is a win for us at this juncture. She might not have what it takes to move fast enough through the terrain and we can’t pull through the cut offs… but if she comes up lame….. (well I won’t say here in polite company what I’ve thought I might be frustrated enough to do in that case…)
Either way we are both in a new place today. She has matured and strengthened in those years of slowing down and building a better foundation. I have matured through the storms of life I faced. No matter what happens I know I am with her. I still aspire to see this horse through a 100 mile completion God willing and if something doesn’t show me it is detrimental and wrong to push that forward, but I have come to know that it’s the horse, and it’s the horsemanship process that I love more than the “sport”. The big goal is learning to be better, to ride better, to communicate better, for her to be able to trust me with more of her giant spirit because I am faithful in the little things as well as the big things. That is the real goal. That is the big stuff.
Finishing an endurance ride is the little stuff. The icing. The way we get to play around and test the important things we’ve spent and will continue to spend the bulk of our time on.
And the little things do matter too. And so, we return to the start to see what we can learn once again.