Thursday, August 30, 2018

Dressage at Twilight Eventing: The Experience

Skeptical Bast is skeptical...
When I initially decided to take Bast to a Twilight Eventing night at Loch Moy, it was with the intention of exposing him to a lot of atmosphere. I wasn't sure how he would handle all the activity, but I wanted to throw him in and see what I had to work with. That in mind, I wasn't actually sure I would even get on him at the show.

I've been very impressed with Bast's maturity level for the last couple of months, but going to a show was going to test him in a lot of new ways. I felt it was very possible he would take several steps back, perhaps even becoming dangerously tuned out again.
"Where the hell are we going?"
My good friend was bringing her young horse, Bast's old bestie from our last farm. I worried he would be so excited to see Ari he lost his brains, but actually he and Ari seem to be over their obsessive love. Bast hopped right in the trailer and happily traveled great to Loch Moy. The two of them were attached at the show, but no more than I would expect Bast to be attached to any horse. Whew!

Once off the trailer, he was even better. While a bit wide eyed, he was more interested in grazing than running away from all the commotion. We walked around the parking area, finding Emma and Brita. At their trailer we practiced standing around for a bit, and Bast neighed a couple of times but otherwise was a very good baby.
"IDK where I am, but thank god there's grass..."
My friend and I walked our babies around the show grounds a bit, and they both continued to be very good. By this time, it was about time for me to tack up if I was going to get on.

I looked at Bast and realized he seemed to be taking things extremely well, and riding him would probably go fine. I headed to tack him up and hop on.
The gang 💖
As I headed to the mounting block, it struck me how lucky I am to have this great group of supportive friends here. Emma and Brita were done showing, only sticking around to help me and cheer Bast and I on. Meanwhile my friend and her young horse tailed us to help give Bast support. How lucky am I to have this amazing group there just to help me! Thank you guys, I couldn't do it without you!
Especially appreciated Brita taking all the photos of me riding, and Emma handling my two fuzzy supporters. This was Asterid's first horse show experience, and she was a total pro!
I positioned Bast by the mounting block. Loch Moy's mounting blocks are usually positioned at one of the most spooky areas in the history of horse shows, a fact that always cracks me up. I worried for a half second about how Bast would react to the flags snapping in the wind, the plastic bags containing scores flapping away from the scoreboard, and the group of people and dogs milling around. Then I decided I didn't care. He was going to be fine, and we were going to get on.

And you know what? He was fine. I got on without incident and headed to the ring. What a good pony!
"Holy cow. Look at all that stuff happening!" -- Bast, probably
Our warm up was tense. The moment we walked to the other end of the ring and Bast saw horses and people on the cross country course, he wound his body into a tight ball of tension. I decided to try trotting him around a bit to see if I could work him out of some of his feelings.
Remember how I said this show would have a lot of atmosphere? This is what I meant. Lots of horses in the warm up ring, lots of horses jumping stadium, just out of this shot, and lots of people and horses wandering around the massive cross country course. All of this visible from the dressage rings. Also pictured, a tense Bast.
Emma remarked that Bast seemed like he was "flipping his toes" in a fancy way. I responded that he was so tense he was forging with every step. It was a very tight and uncomfortable trot, and his head was basically in my lap for much of it.
"Hi, my name is Bast. My ears go in your nose. Kthnxbai."
After what seemed like forever, I felt Bast let go in his back a little bit. We moved to a canter. Er, launched into a gallop. Er, bolted a step or two before becoming more civilized. Whatever. Forward we went.

My little horse was pretty sad he couldn't hang out next to his bestie, too. He ended up screaming for his friend through his entire ride. It's kind of impressive a horse is able to scream so violently while cantering. Like, how do they breathe?
"We are at race, yes? We race? Yes?" -- Bast
A few laps of canter and screaming, and Bast felt like he had a bit of brain back. We walked a bit. Then all hell broke lose. See, Loch Moy does a lot of eventing derbies. This means their lower ring has a water complex. About 5 horses had wandered over to this water complex and began splashing around in it.

For a minute I thought Bast was going to be fine. Then he gathered himself, screamed to the horses in the water complex that there were alligators and they were going to die, then he launched himself away to safety at a full gallop.
OH MY GOD NOPE! BAI!
I had to giggle. I was able to pull him up relatively easily, and talk him through his fear. We did a bit more working, and I practiced putting my legs on and trying to get some of the responses we get at home. While I didn't have the same flexible little horse I'm used to, I found I was able to put both legs on without explosions. Really, what more can you ask from such a horse in such a new experience?
An example of the "toe flinging trot". I'm so not fond of this gait. It's impressive looking, but so downhill and uncomfortable. There's really no suspension. It's awful.
After about 40 minutes of "warm up", it was our turn in the ring. We headed in to the test. Bast managed to get better during the test than in the warm up. There was still a little trumpeting, but honestly he cut them to mostly squeals during the ride. That's a good indication he was starting to think and relax. I was very proud of him.
I think the expression on both our faces indicate what kind of success this was.
I knew as I headed out of the ring that I had learned a ton about my baby horse. I also knew he was ready to start going to more away experiences and shows, and that I need to start being more serious about our training at home. He can handle it, and he's learning so much.

While he was a touch obsessed with his bestie, he was actually pretty damn tuned in to me. He never actually blew me off, and he kept looking for me as we moved around on the ground. I was so happy to see that. I've worked hard on our relationship, and I'm overjoyed to see that work stick in new exciting situations.
"I'm nervous. Hold me?" -- Bast.
In many ways, Bast was calmer and more reasonable than Pig. While the riding had some hairy moments, Bast was very chill at the trailers. He was a pro walking around the facility. He never dropped his brain and totally lost it. There was so much good to see in the entire experience.

In fact, my friend and I loaded the horses back on the trailer for a bit while we finished packing up and collecting my scores. Bast was very relaxed on the trailer, snacking on hay and just hanging out. That's a thing so impossible with Pig, the whole time I was nervous and waiting for Bast to dance and throw a fit about the trailer. He reminded me he's a totally different horse from Pig with totally different problem points. Standing in a trailer like a pro is definitely not one of his issues. Good boy.
Yep, super relaxed and happy. What a new thing for me!
Overall, I couldn't be happier with Bast's experience at Loch Moy. I'm hoping to get back in September for their dressage schooling show. That should have a lot less atmosphere and hopefully be easier to handle. Of course, I think I'll keep bringing him to the events. It's good practice to come to these more crowded and crazy shows just to get used to a lot of activity and things. Dressage shows will seem like a quiet afternoon stroll to him after these things. And that's perfect.
Love this horse.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Race That Wasn't

I have a disappointing story to tell, so I'm hoping all the photos of cuddly dogs will help the medicine go down.
I mean, lookit that thing. How can you not be happy after seeing that? 
See, we left early on Friday morning to head to the race. Dobare was all wrapped up and attempting to drag us around while we loaded up. The weather was a beautiful 55 degrees. Basically everything was looking good.
Don't let this peaceful photo lie to you. This little guy apparently spent all morning running around the pasture evading capture, then dragged me around for awhile searching for the perfect grass.
We headed out for Ivanhoe, VA. The drive took about 6 hours for the trailer, and 5 for me in my car. Both vehicles ended up making a ton of stops while we cared for our various charges. Dobare's owner was concerned the horse wasn't drinking on the drive. My dogs, meanwhile, were concerned I wouldn't let them drink enough.
We are the thirstiest of travel companions, and will squeak copiously until you pull over and give us water!
Arriving early meant I could search out the spot saved for us by a friend and block off enough space for our large crew. Not only would we need space for Dobare and his owner as well as myself and my dogs, but we also needed a spot for my mom and her friend.

Spots saved, I set up my tent and waited for the others. At this time I noticed a horse corralled at my friend's trailer was becoming very aware the electric fence surrounding her was not on.
If only her antics had stayed this innocuous...
In no time at all, the mare managed to tangle three of her legs in the tape, panic, break one of the posts, and run to the trailer. Thankfully she was quite sensible, and I got her untangled and tied to the trailer. 

Remember, kids. Electrify your tape fence, or else it's useless.

Finally Dobare and his owner pulled in, and I set about making sure we got liquid into the horse. I knew we would need to vet in soon, and I wanted to make sure Dobare's hydration and gut sounds were good. I made an alfalfa cube slurry, and Dobare started slurping it up.
Camp was quite scenic, surrounded by the mountains and nestled in next to the New River.
My hard work paid off. When we went to vet in, Dobare had great hydration and gut sounds. He got A+'s all around, with a heart rate of 42. I was elated!

Then it came time for the trot up. As I trotted the horse out, my heart sank. Despite his enthusiastic energy, I could see his head bobbing along next to me. He was very lame. When we finished our jog, the vet shook her head.

"He's at least grade 3 lame on his right front. I can't start you like that. Is there a reason you can think of he'd be so off?"
Basically all of our feelings about this random mystery lameness.
The only thing I could think of was an old injury to the coffin bone that caused Dobare to sometimes come out stiff under saddle. I told the vet as much, and she suggested we warm him up some with a ride or jog to see if he worked out of it. As there was no heat or anything indicating and acute injury, this seemed like a reasonable idea.

Knowing he can take about a 20 minute warm up, I grabbed Asterid and headed out to the nearby trail to go for an in-hand jog.
Warm up the horse, get some exercise, and wear out the husky? Yes please!!
After a slow mile, I didn't notice the head bob any longer. Also, Dobare was starting to rip my arms off trying to chase down other horses on the trails. I figured we should try to vet him again. Unfortunately, though he was improved, once I saw him trot it became apparent he still wasn't 100%.

We decided to take the vet's advice and go for a short ride to see if some more distance would work him out of whatever the issue was. Once I was on, however, it became obvious something was very very wrong.
The trail went along the river, which made it beautiful. I wish I'd been able to enjoy it!
We went over to the vet to ask if we could trot him up again in the morning, hoping he just tweaked something on the trailer and it would resolve by morning. In the meantime, I kept going over Dobare's legs obsessively. I was hoping some sort of heat or swelling would become apparent so I could point some some reason behind this sudden lameness. Nothing showed up.
Here's another sleepy Asterid photo to cheer us up at this point. She was such a good girl in the tent!
The next morning dawned cold, probably about 45 degrees. We'd blanketed Dobare the night before, hoping keeping him warm would help with any stiffness or injury issue. His owner walked him around all morning, hoping to limber him up before we trotted him to see if he was sound.

When the time came, I watched him jog a bit before we took him over for our last opportunity at a vet-in. My heart sank as I watched him go. He was still very off on the right front.

The vet saw the same lameness I did, and was also perplexed at the lack of acute injury markers. He suggested we have the old coffin bone injury checked out when we get home.
This fuzzy monster has always been a great camping dog. She upped her game this weekend by curling up on my feet when the temps dropped. She is the best.
The race management was nice enough to refund part of our entry fee, and as the race kicked off we started packing up instead. It was heartbreaking to watch Dobare get excited about race day, only to get loaded back on the trailer and head home. Despite his limp, he wanted to go out and do the job he's grown to love.
I was really wishing I could see the trails at this location. Everyone who had ridden on Friday raved about them. Saturday was perfect weather, and I was so sad to pack up and leave instead of ride.
As Dobare and his owner pulled out of camp with the truck and trailer, the rest of our group headed down to the river to play a bit. I figured I might as well take advantage of the opportunity to see if the dogs enjoyed the river.
They did not. Haha! Lyra likes wading in, Asterid only comes in because she's afraid I'll drown and leave her forever.
Finally, my mom and her friend were packed up and ready to head out. We drove a bit up the road to hang out at a fun shop, then headed our separate ways home. While it was nice to get home a day early, it was not the way I'd like to get an extra free day.
Old ugly coffin bone injury that's been cold and set as long as I've known the horse. Note the right leg isn't the one that lost the shoe a few weeks ago.
After getting home, Dobare is still off. I've continued to check his legs, and still no heat or swelling is apparent. His owner is working to get him into a local clinic for diagnostics. We're hoping this is something easily resolved, so he can get back to trotting happily down the trails. Fingers crossed for him!

Friday, August 24, 2018

Race Time! (And a Quick Twilight Update)

I'm on the road today, headed to Iron Mountain with Dobare and his owner. This is just a quick post about our recent training to catch you up, and a bonus micro update about Bast and our show on Wednesday. Keep on scrolling for that!
Do we look ready to tackle 30 miles of mountains?
The plan had been to trailer Dobare out to our local mountain (hey Sugarloaf!) two weekends before our race. We wanted to do 20 miles on their trails, maybe looping in some other nearby nature reserve trails. The goal was to practice slower distance on more difficult terrain, and incorporate some longer climbs for a total of two or three 500 ft climbs.
Pictured: The tougher terrain that is Sugarloaf Mountain.
Our day didn't start perfectly. Dobare felt funny to me at first. Not unsound, but just stiff. I did jump off to check his shoes at this point, to make sure nothing was loose or shifting on him. They looked good and his legs were tight and his feet cold. Chalking his stiffness up to possible soreness from our recent 20 mile fast ride on hard ground, I moved him off to some softer footing and he ended up working right out of his starting issue.
That's "the Loaf" ahead of us on the left. It's not a big mountain, but it's definitely a landmark around here.
The stiffness made me resolve to keep our ride conservative. I wanted to push him on the uphills a bit, for his cardio strength. But his legs didn't need to take a huge beating making fast time on the whole ride.
On top of the east ridge line.
This horse is so cool, you guys. Even when I am trying to go slow he makes great time! We ended up doing eight miles in just under an hour and a half. When you consider the first 3 miles were done in a leisurely half an hour, you can really tell we picked up the pace and pushed it on the hills.
Click for detailed ride data.

And were there hills! We ended up climbing 1000 ft over our ride, which is fantastic! That's exactly the kind of climbing we need to be doing to prepare for these mountainous races. If things had gone to plan, we'd probably have climbed about 1600 ft total for 20-22 miles of riding.

Unfortunately, things did not go to plan.
Fun fact. The bloody scrape (which was very minor) was not the issue. Ugh.
Somewhere in our final climbing push, Dobare tripped and violently ripped off his front left shoe. When I say violent, I mean it. He took a large part of his foot off with the shoe, plus his pads and the injected glue. His foot was jagged and ugly. Still, the champion kept climbing the hill without complaint, so I only figured out what he'd done when I hopped off to lead him down the narrow and technical descent.

At that point, I knew our ride was over. I didn't have a boot with me, and his foot was in no condition to be hauling my butt over the rocky trails ahead. I called his owner to pick us up with the trailer and started walking... and walking. We were about 2 miles from the closest intersection with the road. Unfortunately that entire walk was gravel and stones, so we took it slow to try to preserve the bare foot.
We also stopped to ice his foot a bit in the creek...
While I was sad to have to end at halfway, I was mostly worried about Dobare's foot. I wasn't sure a replacement shoe could be put on with his hoof as ripped up as it appeared. When we managed to get home and I took a closer look, I didn't feel much better. I doctored his wound then wrapped his foot with magic cushion, vet wrap, and duct tape-- praying it would stay on overnight. We also buted him in an attempt to keep inflammation down.

The next day the farrier came out and managed to tack a shoe on through the miracles of putty and glue. By Wednesday of this week he'd grown enough foot to nail on a new set of aluminum shoes with pads and injected gel. By some miracle he stayed sound the entire time.
Walking was the only activity allowed with the sketchy shoe attachment of the last week. So we did a LOT of walking.
I called Liz and begged her to send me along a boot just in case we have a shoe malfunction at the race, and she was nice enough to comply. (Thank you lady!) We also picked up a pair of bell boots for Dobare to wear 24/7, and race in. With that crisis averted, we are ready to go!

We hit the road at 7am, and hope to be at the race by mid-afternoon. We'll be on the trail by 8am on Saturday, so wish us luck! I don't know what kind of cell service I'll have out there, but I'll try to keep my Instagram stories updated, if possible.

Can't wait to find out if this horse is ready to conquer the mountains!
"What?! Of course I am!" -- Dobare, probably
Meanwhile... 
Oh yeah! We went to a horse show this week, too!
I owe you all a quick update on Bast. Suffice to say he handled Loch Moy's somewhat chaotic atmosphere amazingly. While he wasn't a perfect picture of relaxation (Spoiler! We definitely had one bolt.), he managed to keep his head and listen to me most of the time. I ended up getting on and we did complete our test.

I'll do a proper recap when I get back from the race, but for now ... I'm super happy with the little guy, and he is definitely NOT for sale.
Definitely think I'll keep him. Even if he does scream... a lot.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Euphemisms

We all know there are certain phrases people use in sale ads to creatively obscure their horse's terrible behavior. If we're lucky, we are able to translate the subtext and steer clear of the trap lingering. If we aren't we might find ourselves with a problem on our hands.

With that in mind, here are some particular euphemistic phrases I might apply to Bast. Do you have any you would apply to your horse?
"Horse has been started slowly."
Translated: Horse had the work ethic and temperament of a rabid raccoon when we started working with him, so we cut our losses and turned him out for what feels like a couple of years. Unfortunately he didn't kill himself, so now we have cautiously begun to look in his direction.
"Opinionated."
Translated: Horse has one, absurdly strong, opinion. That opinion is HELL NO.
"Needs confidence."
Translated: Horse believes rider/handler is actually the devil, and zealously protects his soul by ignoring everything rider/handler asks him to do. Instead horse panics constantly over the existential nightmare in which he finds himself.
"Upper level potential."
Translated: Horse could be compared to a bengal tiger with severe ADHD and a diet solely consisting of gummi bears and coca-cola. Note. Tiger might be slightly lazier and less athletic than said horse. Riders have actually passed out when simply considering riding the animal.
"Needs more miles."
Translated: Horse freaks out over every minor change in his life. This includes the wind blowing, the sun, the rider showing up, and another horse breathing. It is unclear that a million more miles would make a difference, but maybe the horse would be too tired to bolt.
"Needs experienced rider."
Translated: Experienced terrorist negotiators only. This horse is capable of some Jack Bauer level bullshit.
"Forward ride."
Translated: Horse handles all pressure by hurtling forward at supersonic speeds. Rating speed is not possible, as horse has no breaks. Suggest pointing him at something solid and praying to whatever deity seems most generous at the moment.

In other news, Bast and I are headed to our very first show today. Hopefully he keeps his dark side hidden away, and we survive the outing unscathed. But just in case, I already have this part of his sale ad drafted at least.
Just kidding. He's not for sale.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Wordless Wednesday: Catching Up

Team Teal.
I have been a remiss blogger. I feel terrible, knowing I'm keeping all of you from ogling photos of this hunky little bay horse and his supermodel of a chestnut older brother. Plus, I really value having a chronicle of our training. I'm lacking those updates here. Eek!

In an effort to catch up, I offer you this "wordless" Wednesday photo tour of the last couple of months. Prepare yourself, make sure you're on wifi, and enjoy the tour!
When I started Bast back to regular work at his new barn, I made a point to put more time into lunging. I hoped to keep his stress levels down, while still getting him worked and handled on a schedule. As he recovered from his fence injury, lunging also helped us build strength in his hind end and work out the sore parts.
Pig has really come into his own in his herd dynamics. His favorite place to be is 2nd in command, and he finally landed his favorite position after befriending the muzzled mare to his right. He's her best lieutenant, and in exchange no one messes with him and she lets him share the waterer with her. #itslove
Megan came to visit us for a whirlwind moment while she was out looking for Spicy! I forced her to get on Bast and ride him around. They made such a cute pair! I hadn't seen anyone else ride him in almost a year, so this was a real treat for me.
Keeping with the blogger meet up-dates, Emma swung by after we both did a volunteering stint at Loch Moy's dressage show. She got to see the farm and hang out with the ponies while I ran around and tried to get them both fed.
Bast and I had our first lesson in months. It was awesome, but the moment where Bast drank out of this scuzzy mud puddle for about 5 minutes straight (complete with hilarious sucking noises) was the most memorable part. Well, that and the fact that I need to stop pushing him past his rhythm. More on that later...
Bast and Asterid met the first day I brought her home, and it was clear from first sniff that Asterid was going to get along great with the horses.
I took some time off work at the start of July, just so I could spend a few days hanging out with the animals in the fields. #soworthit
All that time off meant both horses got ridden regularly. I enlisted random barn friends to help me get both of them worked on occasion. I put Bast through his paces. Once he was done and needed walked out, I swapped with my friend so I could hop behind my favorite red ears.
At the start of July, Bast's trot work started to really come around. He's starting to figure out how to sit and build more suspension. It's a really cool process, and I'm excited to watch it develop.
Of course, what is time off without injuries? During a random hike, Asterid wandered in front of me and I took a tumble, spraining my middle finger. Over a month later, and it's still healing. The doctor thinks I tore a tendon, which seems highly likely. Sprained fingers make life surprisingly difficult!
The boys, taking a joint bath. I love how much having these two together helps Bast learn appropriate behaviors and build confidence. There are many times I've seen Bast get worried about something, glance at Pig who is dozing, and immediately calm right down.
Riding Pig in a rainstorm. The old man is definitely lame and stiff, but he so enjoys his rides. The days after I ride him, he usually comes running to me in the pasture. It's pretty cute. I don't work him in anything over a first level frame any more, and even that is pretty downhill and relaxed. His strength isn't there, and his neck arthritis is progressing to a point that his soundness is effected.
While Bast was having some really great breakthroughs in the trot, the canter totally fell apart in July. This culminated in him bolting on me in the ring. I decided that night he needed another break. I wasn't sure if the hard hematoma bits were still breaking down in his hind leg, or if he was just feeling overfaced. Either way, time off would solve the problem.
Even with a horse on rest, I still found myself at the barn nearly every day to feet this redhead child, and hike and train the dogs.
Bast's vacation coincided with a set of massive rainstoms that pounded the DC region. He clearly enjoyed himself to the fullest in the flooding.
Pig also was put to work during this time... as a low key dog walker and hacking companion. One of these days I'll need to put the saddle on him and ride through some of his sassy backtalk, but for now he's been allowed to get away with murder while I cling to the bareback pad.
I started riding Dobare in longer training rides. We went out to the local mountain trails, as well as the trails around the barn. We started plotting conditioning strategies.
Bast spent more of his time off learning humans are great because his human wanders into the field and feeds him carrots, chases off the bullies, and then scratches his itchiest bits. And, he has a lot of itchy bits.
Meanwhile, Pig is utterly tortured by flies. I start to think maybe he will actually spend more time eating if he spent less time flinging his head around and biting at flies. I buy him a cheap fly sheet, expecting him to destroy it within minutes of being turned loose.
The fly sheet unexpectedly survives in perfect condition. While he sweats more under it, he seems more comfortable. I also notice he gets less cuts and bites while wearing it. This is not because the sheet protects him, but I believe because he is no longer careening around trying to swat at bugs. Fly sheet is a rousing, though unexpected, success.
Over the summer Bast learned to stand politely when tied, thanks to these massive hitching posts and some creative loops in the lead rope. I learned that he'll fight a tie, but gives up and is very thoughtful about his thrashing. The horse might be missing a few screws, but he has a sense of self preservation in there!
Pig and Asterid enjoying a good long dog walk. There's nothing like taking a dog out alongside a horse to make you feel like multi-tasking. I love exercising two sets of animals at once! Asterid is still learning to turn left and right on voice command, so I only trust her walking with Pig. He's very good with dogs, and very good in tight situations. He also will step on her when she gets in his way, but gently. It's a lesson she needs to learn.
Bast came back to work, and I started lunging him before every ride at first. This was less to "take the edge off" but more to get him picking up both canter leads in a much more low stress fashion. I was hoping this would translate under saddle. We did have one big fight on the lunge line, which seems to have forced him to realize he maybe shouldn't ignore the human.
I've increased Pig's meals over the summer, in an attempt to keep weight on him. This means many nights and mornings are spent hanging out with him and the dogs while he sloooowly eats his pounds of alfalfa, beet pulp, and grain. I'd say it was boring, if it wasn't so damn beautiful out there.
Lyra has been hiding from the heat and storms the last few months, but still adores exploring alongside the horses. She wanders into the rings while I ride, as if to beg us to go wandering around the fields so she can hunt for mice and groundhogs.
This picture almost makes Bast look as tall as Pig. I am not sure how tall Bast is now, but I feel as though he's grown in the last month or so. He's not taller than Pig, though he is built less downhill in front, so appears that way at times!
There's been a lot of goofing off at the barn, and hours spent just enjoying being around my horses and new friends. Can't ask for more.
Stay tuned for more adventures while I put this little horse back to solid work and we start pounding away at dressage work again!