September 13, 2015

Scotsgrove HP: A Lesson in Flexibility

Ever have one of those days where everything just goes wrong? Where you find yourself working on plan F already and you have just begun? Yeah, that was Saturday.

Dusty had to work, but my mom offered to watch Wyatt for me so I wouldn't have to use my Wildcard so early in the season. Dusty dropped him off at 7:30 am as I headed to the barn working off of plan A: take Pete, start at 9 am sharp and be back home by 12 pm to spend the rest of the day with the family.

And this, my friends, is where it all started to go wrong.

After 20+ minutes of chasing Pete around his pasture, I said screw it and went to get Gem. Pete is notoriously difficult to catch, but will typically run away for 5-10 minutes and then be done. This time he got in with a nasty paint gelding who would pin his ears and turn his butt to me every time I got near. He would have easily kicked me if I had gotten within reach and it made the situation even worse.

Ok...change of plans. Plan B: take Gemmie instead. Stop off at home and grab her Rennies, do a quick trim job on her fronts and hope something fits enough. Walk most of it and hope to be home by 1 pm.

Gem came right up to me and her hoof was still looking great, so I loaded her up. We are still in the process of organizing the trailer, but have yet to get to the saddle pads and blankets. To avoid them all shifting and falling on the floor in transit, I placed them in the truck along with my food, water and dry riding shoes.

I texted Dusty "No need to worry about Pete loading. It took 30 seconds" and sent this picture. 

A quick stop at home to grab the Renegades and we were off. I was thrilled that the drive was only 30 minutes and we made it there right on schedule.

Now the truck isn't that big, but it is still a reach over the wide console for me to get anything in the passenger side and I had a lot to get. Not having pockets in my tights, I threw my truck key into my purse which was on the passenger side along with my phone and got out to walk over to that side and grab my purse, phone, keys, dry shoes, Gem's boots, and saddle pad. Except as I was closing the door I leaned on the button and locked the truck. Crap :(

I walked around and looked forlornly at my purse safely housing my truck key on the passenger seat and debated what on earth to do. I used to carry a spare in the trailer, but that had long since been used and not put back. At this point I was frustrated with my morning, was very aware that my mood was sub optimal and was worried about riding Gem without her boots for protection. Had I been able to, I would have just left and called it a day.

But I couldn't, so instead I went and checked in figuring that I might as well ride since Dusty worked until 12 and there wasn't anything I could do until then. When I returned, someone had parked next to me and I asked to borrow their phone. Dusty was less than enthusiastic about my plea for help, but said he would come after work with the spare key.

So I was now on plan C: Ride Gem without her boots. Take it slow and easy and really watch the footing. Wait until Dusty arrived with spare key and hope to make it home by 2 pm.

Of course, that was right when I realized that all of Gem's saddle pads were in the truck. She has historically hated all products by Toklat, both woodback and coolback, but all I had available was Pete's new Toklat trail pad, so she was tacked up in his hunter green pad with all her red and black gear. She looked like a tacky Christmas tree.

We headed to the start in my dew soaked shoes and wet socks, with the worry of my locked truck and her bare feet on my mind and a sinking feeling that this day was spiraling down hill uncontrollably. All I needed was for Gem to come up dead lame and it would finish it off.

The ride was held at a local cross country training facility. I apologize for having no pictures, but again my phone was locked up. We started in the outdoor arena and then headed off.

Gem was up. She was ready to go and the footing was fantastic: mostly grassy tracks and fields. I decided to allow her to trot the first 1/10th of each mile as a nice way to re introduce trotting to our work. It didn't take any coaxing to get her to move out or to come back down to the walk a short while later. We passed many jumps that were just calling my name. This course was just teeming with beginner friendly, welcoming jumps. Most were logs or small coops and if Gem was 100% we would have attempted many of them.

She did stop a lot in the first mile to complain about the pad. She would stop, look back and grab at the pad and only move forward when forced to. Its the way she acted in both the coolback and woolback that I had tried previously. There is just something she doesn't like about the products they put out. I apologized, told her we were not going that far and that she would live and we moved on to walk the rest of the first mile before trotting again at the start of mile 2.

We were walking along some gorgeous galloping tracks when we finally got caught around mile 2.5. A couple came galloping up behind us and announced their presence. Gem hates horses coming up behind her at speed. She gets very nervous and ramped up. I pulled over to let them pass and as they went charging off at warp speed she lost her marbles. I suddenly had a stiff, giraffe necked, hollow backed and barely ratable mare under me. It is the exact way she acts the first 10 miles of an endurance ride. It isn't fun.

So instead of a leisurely trot 1/10th of a mile, walk the rest I switched to plan D: school the crap out of her on how to not give a piss about those around her and to listen to me.

I asked her to walk. She jigged. I asked her to walk again. She jigged and tried to blow through me. I spun her bay butt around to face the opposite direction and made her halt. Once she stood quietly, we turned back around and I asked her to halt again. Once still I asked her to walk off. She tried to bolt and settled for a jig. I repeated the above.

It didn't help that the trail switchbacked through a field with a strand of tress screening each section from its neighbors. This meant that we could clearly hear the pounding hooves of the horses both in front and behind us, but not see them. Since it was so early in the ride and the footing was great, most participants were cantering or galloping these sections. I don't blame them one bit. If I had allowed her to trot in that state, she would have remained hollow and tense and eventually took off until she caught up with whoever she could. I've been there and done that and returned the shirt.

Finally, at mile 3.75 I had my calm and listening mare back. She was walking along with her head relaxed and I decided to allow her to trot again at the 4 mile mark.  We came up to a T intersection and out of nowhere a lady on a buckskin came charging from the left where the trail didn't even go. Her horse was absolutely out of control and spooked, leaping into the air when he saw us at the intersection. All my schooling on Gem went out the window. I started again.

I think it was around mile 4.25 that she calmed down again and thankfully, although she continued to ask to trot continuously, she remained that way for the rest of the ride.

I continued along with my pattern of walking and trotting and the trail wound through fields, into the woods and alongside a pond covered in flowering water lilies. I wished time and again that I had my phone to capture it all.

We reached the half way point shortly after she calmed down and I made note that the ride would be roughly 8 miles. We rested for the 3 minute hold while I drank some water and we chatted about the wonderfully cool weather and overcast sky to keep the horses cool. I knew at this point that the times for this ride would be fast and that we would be exceedingly slow.

After the half way point, we hit a field with some long, gently sweeping up hills. I asked Gem to trot just as a couple came flying behind us and she bolted on me a bit. She took off cantering with a slight buck of joy and I let her go. She was just so obviously happy to be able to move out again, the footing was super and she was listening. It was freeing to cover the trail and she felt so good. I only let it go a quarter of a mile before I reined her back in and I was glad to feel her slow back for me without a fight.

The second half of the trail went by pretty easily after that. When at a walk, she would stop to let me know she still hated the pad and kept trying to trot every 100ft which got pretty annoying, but it was a good chance to school her on letting me pick the pace. It was nice to have her asking to move out for a change rather than sucking back and piddling along.

We crossed the finish line at 2 hrs 14 minutes. I would guess the actual time to be more like 1 hour 15 minutes or so. It rode fast and smooth.

After untacking her, I took a good look at that front right and there was no swelling, no heat, the wounds stayed closed and the hoof stayed hard as concrete. A success!! She was pretty sweaty and actually tired, but this had also been the hardest work she had done in months.

The wonderfully nice lady next to me finished before me and offered up her phone again. It was 11:45am and I asked if I could wait until after I knew he would be done with work. She honestly was one of the sweetest people I have ever met. She offered to call US Rider or AAA for me, but I declined knowing Dusty would be on his way shortly. She had had a great ride on her 26 year old gelding and finished just over 1 hr 30 minutes.

I wandered up and grabbed lunch which I took back and ate at the truck. Gem was tucked into a bag of hay and then settled in for a nap.  At 12:45 pm I called Dusty who was on his way and I settled in to wait on his arrival and my freedom.

Unfortunately, he arrived to inform me that he could not find the spare key. Plan E: attempt to use a coat hanger to push the unlock button.

A solid 45 minutes later of him cussing and fussing about the new style of bodies and doors that aren't so easy to break into, he consented to me calling a lock smith. Thus began plan F: Get a lock smith out. Hope to return home before night fall.

I called one company who was extremely rude to me and so I found another. They were working on another job and estimated arrival in 45 minutes. They said they would call when they headed our way. Except an hour went by and still no call. I was off playing with Wyatt in the now completely empty field as the stragglers in the ride started to cross the finish line one by one. We were now officially the last ones standing.

They did eventually show up and freed us from ourselves in all of 30 seconds and with a $45 bill. Less than I anticipated on a Saturday late afternoon emergency call although I would suppose they pretty much only ever get emergency calls in their line of business. I loaded Gem up as quickly as possible and we headed out at 4:30 pm. Five hours after I completed.

Even with the hassle of having to alter my plans numerous times throughout the day, the ride was great. If Gem had been in tip top form we could have slaughtered that course and I hope it is a similar set of trails in January when we return. Of the 5 venues I have been to thus far, these trails were my favorite although there wasn't the sweeping views that some of the others can boast. The ladies next to me stayed until Dusty arrived and offered many times to call for help. They were extremely nice and really helpful through it all. I was more than a little surprised, and to be honest disappointed, that the ride management never once came to check on us. They had come over to check on the lady's gelding and loan some banamine when he started to show some signs of potential colic and knew of my plight. They also knew we were the absolute last people there when all others had left at least an hour before and yet nobody ever came over to ask if we needed anything, not even a glass of water. I know that management is busy, but part of management is making sure all who attend are accounted  for and safe. Oh well.

I was very proud of Gem and I daresay I have my girl back. I won't be introducing cantering for a month yet, but she is ready to add more trotting back in and I may even be able to take her to the Equathon next month if she continues to progress like she is.


  1. I'm do so so happy to hear how well she is doing!! The trails sound so awesome too. Things are reallyping along well for you two despite the truck it seems! :-)

    I'm notorious for locking my keys in my car so I now have spare keys I zip tie to a not obvious place underneath the car. I can twist the key and break the zip tie when i need to rescue myself. It's a really cheap and easy trick and has helped me numerous times.

    1. You seriously need to come down and ride with me at one of these. They are always a great time. Biltmore is next Sunday the 27th :)