Friday, October 16, 2015

Old Dominion Open LD

The Kenai sugery saga left my competition season pretty high and dry this year. I fit in one 50 in August at my local ride and figured that would be it. Financially, I couldn't afford to do much else. Getting pulled at the finish at Fort Valley last year made it so Q would have to complete two 50s during 2015 to qualify for the National Championship (NC) 50, an event that was held nearby in Virginia on the Old Dominion (OD) course this year. While I could have squeaked by financially with the RBTR 50 and the NC  50, I certainly couldn't afford two qualifying 50s plus the NC 50.

Dan, one of my Canaan buddies, wanted to try his hand at an out of state ride though. He and his Morgan X Standardbred gelding, Dakota, did fantastic at RBTR in August. I've been coaching them along and they've improved incredibly this year. The goal is for Dakota to try some "easy" 50s next year. (Whereby easy = non-mountainous rocky terrain like what we train on all the time.)

The OD staff decided to hold an open LD between the NC 50 and the NC 100. Dan told me if I could manage my entry fee, he'd cover the other expenses for the weekend if I'd ride with him in the LD. I crunched numbers in my head briefly, and then agreed. An LD sounded like a lot of fun after a few years of only 50s! I figured it would be a fantastic conditioning ride for Q, too.


With my trailer and my boyfriends borrowed truck, Dan and I set out from Canaan mid-afternoon last Thursday. The trek was a short 2 hours for us.

We arrived at camp, found a parking spot, set the horses up quickly, and headed straight to registration. We hadn't done any paperwork preceding the ride. With rider cards in hand, we went straight from registration to vet in. Q and Dakota both vetted in with pulses @ 40 and all A's on their cards.

With the horses taken care of, Dan and I set to getting the human side of things setup at camp...but not before I noticed we'd parked two rigs down from Gail - whom I had to greet. Hi, Gail!

With a ride start of 9:30a the next day (LUXURY DISTANCE!), Dan and I were in no great hurry to do much of anything that evening. We attended the ride meeting, mosied back to camp, chatted with friends, imbibed ourselves with alcohol, and then slept when we felt like it. SO RELAXING.

I awoke in the morning a little before 7 to feed the horses. I roused a sleeping Dan and met Gail to go get coffee (essential for zombie-Dan).

With breakfast and caffeine in our systems, our trio headed back to camp where Dan and I gathered Gail's crewing stuff with ours to run it over to the away check. I was pleased to discover that the away check was a short, easy drive from ride camp. This allowed us to get things setup in record time and still have nearly an hour to ready the horses for the start. With lightning bolts on their hindquarters, hawk feathers in their tails, and smudging with sweet grass (horses and humans alike), we were ready.

Dan and I trotted around camp a bit to warm up and then headed to the start to give our numbers at the check-in and await the opening of the trail. Our ride plan for the day was to 1.) have fun and 2.) go fast. We knew both horses could more than handle the trail as we train them on very similar terrain at home.

I was really excited to be able to go fast and only ride 25 miles! Q was really at ease with things, too, evidenced by her behavior as we awaited the start: she waltzed herself up right to the starting line and then stopped, cocked a hind leg, and took a small nap for a minute or two despite all the hustle and bustle around us. I couldn't help but laugh at her. I don't think she really knew what we were getting into - that or she took me at my word that it was going to be a short, quick day!

The first loop

The trail opened promptly at 9:30a. Dan and I set off at the very front with Daryl Downs.

Dan and Daryl got acquainted as we trotted with speed down the road to the point where we'd veer into the woods. By the time we reached the first single track section, Daryl was in the front followed by myself, Gayle, and Dan.

I chatted with Daryl while Dan chatted with Gayle as we sped along at a fast trot with occasional cantering through the woods. What a thrill!

About 4.5-5 miles into the trail, we came upon some fellows on dirtbikes who had stopped and turned off their bikes out of courtesy. We thanked them greatly and continued...except we missed our first turn! It was right where the dirtbikes had been and we'd been distracted. Daryl quickly knew something was amiss and we re-righted ourselves to head off in the proper direction...except in that process one of Q's hind boots had a blow out.

I stopped to remove it and quickly slap on a replacement. Dan was courteous enough to wait for me. The two of us tackled the rest of the loop together at a slightly slower pace than Daryl and Gayle.

This climb? NBD

The steep climb wasn't so bad seeming after the training I've done since I last tackled the trail in 2014. The single track along the ridge was also much easier than I remembered from 2014; areas where I thought I could only walk before we trotted. In fact, about the only area we walked all day with exception of very short tricky areas was that steep climb! It's amazing what time and miles will do for how one views terrain.

After a short stop at the water tanks where the horses drank deeply, we set off down the gravel road descent into Bird Haven. This was another section I remembered disliking from 2014...and it was yet another section we tackled with ease, fast trotting and cantering it this time around. All the downhill training I've done this year has helped immensely!!

Before the part where we made a wrong turn

In no time, we were at Bird Haven. Dakota took a little bit to pulse down, but nothing crazy. Both horses vetted through well, though the vet (my vet from home as luck would have it) noted Q was a little off in the hind end, "She's not quite even in the hind end. I think it's her RH. She's waddling more than she usually does." We received a B on gait and had a note of "grade 1" on our card. We agreed it was likely due to my mismatched hind boots (one Rennie and one easyboot). I told her I'd put two Rennies on and asked if she'd double-check us before I headed back out? Certainly.

The rest of the check went smoothly. Both horses ate and drank - and Q peed! - and were generally in good spirits. Q's gait was without flaw at our recheck and I felt confident about heading back out on trail. It seemed we had a very nice pocket to ride back to camp in, all we needed to do was complete!

The second loop

The last few miles flew by. Dan and Dakota led the way. We trotted nearly all of the trail and enjoyed the beautiful day. We had no mishaps to speak of beyond Dakota's RH shoe coming off about a mile from camp. Not a big deal that close to the end.

At the finish, two of Dan's friends set to sponging Dakota with Dan. I cleaned the mud and dust off Q's legs and took her straight to the P&R area as I knew she was  already at pulse criteria. The ladies  called time at 1:16p and informed me that we had finished 4th (provided we passed the final vetting). They asked if we'd like to show for Best Condition (BC), but I was undecided, worried Daryl had finished so far ahead (26 minutes) that it wouldn't matter. They told me I could change my mind if I wanted, and if I did to return in an hour to present.

Q passed her final vetting easily, and a volunteer even trotted her for me! I discussed the BC showing with Dr. Art King and it was decided I should present just for the learning experience. I agreed that was a great idea. I weighed in for BC (167#) and set back to camp to clean Q up and give her something to eat.

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Coming into Bird Haven (vet check)

On my way back to camp, I ran into Dr.  Bob. He informed me that there was a thumper at the finish and he was on his way to get some calcium to try to correct the issue. "Magic?" I queried, wondering if his gelding was having yet another issue knowing Dom has dealt with several finish line pulls as a result of the big red horse thumping this year. "No," Bob replied, "it's your friend's gelding!" Oh shit! Knowing I couldn't do anything, I made sure Q was taken care of, deciding to go find Dan in a little bit to check in if he hadn't returned.

Dan and Dakota walked into camp right as I was about to strike off to find them. Dakota's thumping had ceased 5 minutes too late and they'd been pulled! BUMMER. But he was happy and healthy and checked out by the treatment vet, so all was well. If Bob had been parked a little closer, things may have resulted in a completion. C'est la vie.

Q and I reported back for our BC vetting an hour after our completion. We ultimately weren't awarded BC (out of the 5 horses that showed for BC) which didn't surprise me a bit. Take aways: need to either wash girth prior to rides, tighten girth more, or find a new girth/girth rigging system because Q was a bit swollen and tender in her girth area (we use a 22" dressage Woolback with elastic on both sides; need to work on our trot outs. The former was a small surprise, the latter I was aware of.

Take-aways to improve upon

I'm sure the trot out improvement will be a relatively easy problem to fix - we just need to practice a bit at home. I can do that! I need to focus on getting her to trot at my shoulder vs. following me to improve her presentation during trot outs. Regardless, her movement is her movement. She's got a lot of action behind that can alarm folks who aren't accustomed to it. At my vet's recommendation, I had her hocks checked a year back and they were fine, beautiful even, so it isn't her hocks that are an issue. Nicole has a fabulous eye for irregularities in a horse's gait and has ridden with Q and I quite a bit - through two 50s, in fact! She notes that while Q has a lot of action behind, she absolutely isn't "off" or lame in her movements. She's just different from other horses.

My vet always has Q in mind when she's at conferences where horse movement is discussed; we've had many conversations about Q's way of going. I'm so grateful that luck gave me my home vet at the check at this ride due to her familiarity with this horse's movement. She describes it as a hip waddle and has also noted how Q always bobbles her head around; she's very loose with her movement. (Perhaps due to her flexibility? My BO has told me that she's never seen a horse stretch in the field as much as Q does (she can watch them from her kitchen window). She says Q bows, arches her back like a cat, and stretches her hind legs straight out behind her rather regularly. She's quite the little "yogini" as my BO puts it. She also stretches her back out more under saddle than other horses I've ridden, especially if we are stuck on flat terrain for long periods of time.)  Dr. Nick Kohut notices how loose Q is and has mocked her multiple times during trot outs (including the BC trot out at this ride) saying in a sing-song voice, "Hum dee dum, hum dee dum." It's really quite spot-on.

Leaving Bird Haven (away check)

Q's head/neck bobble absolutely is not a lameness thing, though I do understand why people worry that it is. I've experienced Q's lameness head/neck bobble and it is very distinct and different from her normal "hum dee dum" plod along head/neck movement. However, I know this because of the length of time I have spent with this horse, others don't have that history to think back on. They're seeing her during a brief moment in time; she's one horse among many in their day and she isn't like the others so it can cause alarms to go off.

The girthing issue will take a bit of trial and error though... I definitely hadn't recently washed her girth, so I did that immediately upon my return home. I am confident I can tighten the girth a hole more at least, though it is hard to say if this will completely resolve our issues. Daryl showed me how his girlfriend (also named Liz) had sent her non-centerfire rigged saddle to a saddle specialist to have centerfire rigging installed. This can often resolve girths that slip forward, though I don't know that it is an option for my treeless Ansur dressage saddle. And before anyone makes the suggestion, I have zero desire to go saddle shopping and deal with the saddle fit saga. I have not the money, the time, nor desire to go through that right now. And besides, Q's saddle has done amazingly well for her during her endurance career!

I may need to look into a contoured girth past attempts to use a mohair girth on Q, the black material where the buckles are chafed her wildly after a short conditioning ride. I've since ruled those out...but maybe a girth cover would prevent that? Though if I'm going to put a cover on a girth, I may as well just buy a basic contoured girth instead of a costly mohair girth... Thoughts on potential ways to resolve/test the issue?

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I had an absolutely blast dropping back down to an LD for a ride. It helped me remember how insanely fun this sport is; that's the reason I got into it from the beginning! I look forward to next season and my hopeful plans to tackle some new rides and new trails.

Right before we showed for BC - she looked pretty fabulous.

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