My original plan for the year involved skipping Quicksilver. It’s full sun and a lot of visibility, neither of which cater to our strengths. The best laid plans, however.. and so it was that after a year of really half-assed conditioning, one concussion (rider), hock arthritis and starting Pentosan, several weeks of coughing in spring and then again in fall (pony), and selling my Eurolight, I found myself packing for Quicksilver and planning on the 50. No sense doing the LD again; we’ve done that five years now and come through strong every year. Better to try the 50 and pull if things don’t go well.
The Loma Fire started the week before the ride. It got rescheduled. I aborted my time off work and rescheduled the pony’s trailer-ride and re-informed work the days I’d be gone. I rolled my ankle pretty badly while walking in a flat parking lot, started riding in an ankle brace, flared up the tendonitis in my wrist, went back to riding in a wrist brace, and then really did pack for the ride.
What went well:
- My farrier came and trimmed the Tuesday before the ride. Closer than I’d normally do it, but.. the boots stayed on all ride. Which is good: I’d actually planned to have the ride-farrier glue boots, but then the ride-farrier ended up not showing up at all.
- I gave her Ulcergard (since it’s now AERC-legal in preventive doses) for a few days before the ride, and for the first time in several years I had a pony that did not stress and that ate and drank appropriately at ridecamp.
- My ever-tolerant boyfriend helped me mount up and walked a minute or two with me and Fetti both the day before and the morning of the ride. She did not feel explosive and I was able to let that worry go.
- I rode with Olivia’s husband all day. That took a lot of the stress off me of ‘will she worry about other horses leaving’ – no, Fetti was exceptionally polite. We found a bubble early on and kept it pretty well.
- When I pointed her at the side of a trail over a tree with one hand loosely on the reins and one hand holding the phone up to report the downed tree, I had a perfect trail pony who hopped up and down the bank with zero direction from me. I had total trust that we’d be fine. What a good pony.
- She peed TWICE on the trail. Not a lot, but TWICE.
What did not go so well:
- Our lack of conditioning caught up to us here. I knew that we were treading a fine line and we would probably pull it off based on past rides, but honestly, I did badly with how few long rides we did this year at home. Or at least – I think that was part of the problem? It sure would have helped.
- Right now, she’s fat and fluffy. Again, I knew both of these things. I clipped more than in previous years (I’ll post on that later) but didn’t cut back on her hay and/or increase her workload early enough to drop her weight. This didn’t help.
- I did not eat or drink well. Bad rider. I did some, but not enough.
- I am not only in worse riding shape than usual, I was riding crooked thanks to my ankle. Pony did fine with this, but I have a not-quite-bruise from the stirrup leather on that leg, and not-quite-bruises from posting into the knee rolls on every downhill we trotted.
- Hock(s) & respiration, as detailed below.
Confetti is an honest horse. By at least mile ten, she was breathing pretty hard (“panting”) and I assumed it was the brisk pace and the hills. We slowed it down a bit and watched her recoveries. It was not a case of pushing her: whenever she asked for a break, she got a break. The horses moved out well and happily on the flatter sections, and aside from the pony sounding like a freight train, everything seemed fine. I walked her into the check per usual, she took a few minutes to pulse per usual, and the primary concern was her respiration. She’s hot, was the theory, and I could believe that. This is not my hot-weather pony. But she looked better by our out-time, so we were good to go.
The second bit was much the same. Trot where we can, walk when terrain dictates or when Fetti needs a break. Hit up the water troughs and cool off the ponies. Walk her into the check from the last trough, pull tack, take a few minutes and she’s down. Still panting, but.. she’s hot.. and by now it really was getting sort of warm, so I grabbed my crew from his volunteer station and we sponged her down with ice water. Already I’m a little baffled and concerned. We’ve done this ride before in hotter temperatures, and this is the first time I’ve ever had to be this aggressive with cooling. She’s out of shape, though, and we were moving a little faster, so maybe that’s it? We did vet through, again with an eye on her breathing, but everything else looked good.
Back on out. She thinks I’ve lost my mind. Why are we leaving again? This is dumb. But OK – we have a friend still, I guess we can do this. Trot where we can, walk when she needs a break.. which is more often than it feels like she should, but we’re in this now, and we’ve got the time. Somewhere in this section it clicks that she’s quitting on the uphills and perhaps not engaging her hind end very well. Hocks. Damn. Well, OK, assess: how bad? She’s fine on flats, just unhappy on steeper uphills. That’s workable. We’ve got time. Fetti’s still breathing hard, but there’s ice waiting for us at the check. I walk her in, pull tack, sponge her off.. sponge her off.. come to terms with the fact we might be pulling.. hose her off. Bless the vet check folks who had that offer for us. It cooled her down and got her through the check. She’s hot, yes. She’s puffing still. But we have three and a half hours to go fourteen miles. I tell my boyfriend we’ll need ice at the trailer at the finish, and we head back on out.
Walk anything resembling an uphill. Trot the flats, trot the downhills. My knee is bruised from running into the kneeroll so much as I post going down the hills. Still making excellent time on the flats. Fetti sounds like a freight train, but her heart rate looks OK, and she sounds just as bad as she did twenty miles ago – not any worse. She flat-out quit on an early hill – I am done, hills are dumb, why are we doing this – and I got off to see if it would help. While I am puffing my way up hills, I debate sending our riding buddy on off without us, as I’m wondering if we can actually do this. End result: one tired rider who is not in shape to hike hills, one pony who dutifully followed along but who was not breathing significantly better. Well. OK then. I got back on. Time to push her a little bit and insist on walking up all the hills, no quitting allowed. It didn’t take much, and I didn’t feel terribly guilty for it. I’ve had to ask harder at home.
Steep downhill, trot away – and she suddenly feels like she’s going to fall on her face. Fluke? Not when she does it again the next steep downhill we try trotting. Hock(s) it is, then. I hear you, pony. We’ll walk the steep stuff. I’m watching the clock, and as long as we’ve got flat stuff we’re making excellent time. Could almost walk the last few miles and still make time. Trot the flats, walk the rest, walk once we’re within sight of the finish, and hope that we get through this OK.
She only needed to get to 64. We headed back to the trailer, pulled tack, and my boyfriend and I sponged aggressively while letting her eat and relax in hopes she’d realize she was done and could settle. Her breathing improved, but it still wasn’t great. 15-20 minutes later, it was off to vet. I am ready to be pulled here at the finish. I know she’s tired, I know her hocks aren’t 100%, her breathing is still a point of concern, and I have no idea if she’s actually pulsed down given the first three points.
Pulse: not quite down. Vets assessed, discussed, watched her trot out and commented on how good she looks aside from the breathing issue, and then her pulse was just barely down. They called it good enough and gave us the completion, but with concerns, and I shared them. One very kindly said that this may not be her sport. Looking just at this ride? I see where she’s coming from, and if these issues cannot be resolved, Fetti’s done.
My gut feeling is that while she was hot, overheating was not the primary issue we were dealing with. We’ve done hot rides here before. I’ve never had to use ice on her before, and I’ve never had to hose her off. She has flat-out never had consistent respiration problems like this at a competition before. But – thinking about it – she has done it at home this year, and I wrote it off to it being warm. I’m suspecting that her coughing earlier this year impacted her lungs in some way.
Confetti’s breathing was still not 100% after hauling home that evening, but looked fine the next morning. As of Tuesday, she was still not 100% sound in the round pen.
This is where things get hard, and there’s a lot of self-reflection. Should I have done things differently? Did I miss something somewhere? Honestly, I’m not sure. I felt like I rode to her ability all day. I pushed only the slightest bit towards the end and I’ve pushed more than that before. If Fetti had been clear about ‘my hocks are uncomfortable’ prior to the last section, we would have pulled, no question. If I had connected the dots and thought about her coughing this year at any point before the finish, we probably would have pulled and/or had a serious discussion with the vets, probably both. It never clicked for me.
I’m not sure where that leaves us. I do know that if I can’t get both issues resolved to my satisfaction, we’ll be done with competition, but I’m not quite ready to say we’re there yet.