People have been asking me how the Set Speed went on Sunday, and my best response is “weird”.
Sable and Bentley were horses of stories – Bentley was Jekyll and Hyde, and Sable (+Linda) were Jack and Jill. Let me preface our stories by saying that nobody was seriously hurt!
The 31 mile set speed was broken up into 3 loops. First was the white loop at 6.5 miles, then check in at camp but no hold before going out on green loop. Then a 30 min hold, and back onto green loop.
Bentley and I went out on our own as usual, Sable and Linda were out 2 minutes ahead of us. Through the first field, Bentley could still see Sable way off in the distance and trotting turned into rushing and cantering. So I made him walk until she was out of sight and he had kinda sorta calmed down (i couldn’t wait too long as the other horses were behind us and he might get equally riled up if they passed).
The colours were beautiful and we tried to enjoy ourselves, but he was still being rushy and pushy and the brakes weren’t having much effect. I would try to walk him through the muddy parts, but by the time he actually walked (vs when I started asking for the walk) he would already be through the mud and get all antsy as if to say “its good ground, what the bleep is this walking bleep about?” I would make him walk, but it was still a jig joggy business that was making me mad. There was actually one huge roadside ditch that he decided to jump instead of walk down in and walk back out (probably a good 8 feet wide and 5 feet deep). It was torture.
It got to the point where I couldn’t even point him in the direction of the trail without him trying to rush off at a canter… asking 5 or 6 times for a downward transition, him ignoring it, before I would have to pull his head right to my knee. I could see the look in his eye… there was no brain to be found. Yeah, as if I was really going to let him go any faster with that look. Uhh no! So we walked/halted (and spun)for a good half mile of nice canter footing to try and dicipline. He was not impressed with this rule and I was not impressed with his attitude. At one point we saw a hunter perched up in a tree… I was a little embarrassed that he saw our gigantic fights.
After we finished the white loop, I considered not going out again – it just wasn’t any fun for us and this was supposed to be a fun celebration ride after all the hard work getting to the 50. I also realized, if I stopped now, he would learn that bad behavior would allow him to stop work, so I toughed it out and went back on trail. The first bit of trail is a relatively steep downhill through deep sand, to a muddy base with one good size hole (marked, but it was a tight squeeze around it). So since he was being a right out jerk with no brakes trying to trot and canter down muddy hills, I got off and walked. It wasn’t worth him blowing out his legs, or slipping and falling and crushing me or whatever millions of bad things could happen. He walked, but was still visibly riled up.
Looking back, I shouldn’t have chosen to mount up again while he still had the no brain look in his eye. I should have continued walking down the trail. But instead, I positioned him facing backward on the trail, threw the reins over his head and… Whump! He shoved me with his head, turning around, and trotted off down the trail alone. I jogged after him a little while, expecting him to stop when it was clear and there was grass to eat. Nope, he knew there was another horse ahead of him (they had left about 2 mins before us) and continued to where he knew the trail was. I walked, hoping that by not chasing him, he would stop. Nope, he looked back at me, and just trotted through the guide camp and was back on trail. Finally doing the pace HE wanted to do. WHAT A JERK!
I ended up walking, I knew at some point he would either stop to eat or catch up with Chrystal. Of course, everyone was passing me thinking the worst. But only my feelings were hurt. I made it to where the trail opens up into a field and makes a hard left back into the forest (goes through the forest and pops out at the other side of the field). Knowing this route, I just cut across the field and kept walking the trail there. I knew he would have done the same if he were chasing after Chrystal.
Eventually, I heard someone say “There they are!” and Chrystal was on the other side of the brush (me being on the trail, she in the field) She said that Bentley had been gallivanting around the fields, not really sure what to do. I guess he couldn’t figure out how to get back on the trail after he was in the field, and was panicking a bit.
I thanked her as much as I could, explained what happened and grumbled something about how he’s going to the meat truck. Distasteful yes, but I was mad and that seems to be the standard horse insult! I was still furious.
I pointed him back in the direction where we had skipped the trail, intending on just going back to camp… but whats this? A perfect horse beneath me? The lightest touch of the reins and he comes right to a stop? A canter so quiet you could take a nap up there? And an easy trot after the canter? What? Is this the same horse? Where did this morning’s monster go?
He continued at a consistent 8mph trot, 12mph canter with easy brakes and collection throughout the entire rest of the ride (including the 2 or 3 miles where I just sobbed uncontrollably up top of him… the relief of the anger, the hurt that he purposely ran away from me, and the sorrow knowing that I was letting his bad behavior build up the stress inside of me until I must have been unbearable to be with)! Perhaps the best he has ever behaved on trail to date! It was a complete 180. I don’t know what went on to cause this change but we have all sorts of theories.
1) Probably the most likely. We were both very sorry and very humbled by our fight and our time apart. Perhaps he had a horsey epiphany and realized he cant do the trail on his own as he doesn’t know where he is going. Or maybe it just wasn’t fun to do alone. Perhaps the fight allowed us to be broken down and once again be soft with each other.
2) This one comes with an outside story. My friend Laura always explains that her horse “loses his brain” somewhere on trail. Sometimes he finds it 20 minutes later, sometimes hours. Is it possible, Bentley lost his brain 4 weeks ago when we did our 50 here, and just ran off to find it? Probably not, but its a funny thought. Though it would explain why hes been so naughty these last 4 weeks!
3) He heard me talking about how I have give up ride time on him to ride naughty ponies in preparation for the Derby. Hes a very jealous horse – I’m not allowed to ride other horses. Maybe he was doing this to prove that he can be all the naughty training I need. And the running part will help me if I have to chase after a pony I have parted ways with. He’s just keeping me fit and well trained!
Whatever the reason, we still had our best ride ever after the incident. So I don’t know how to really describe the ride… both the worst and best ever. Funny how that happens! We ended up getting 2nd place overall which I wasn’t expecting, and we had a lot of fun on a lovely day. We had caught up to Sue and Jess in the forest and rode a lot of the second green loop with them. It was a lot of fun despite some snarly horse faces.
I must have bumped my camera on the tree when I went to get Bentley back from Chrystal because although I had my camera off for the “incident” itself, I did manage to get the handoff and our lovely canter back to the trail.
Now to Linda’s Jack and Jill story. I wasn’t there when this happened but I will try and recreate it as best as I can.
From what I understand, they were having a great ride. Went nicely though the white loop and most of the green loop. They were coming down a small hill when the footing caused Sable to slip and fall to her knees. Due to the fact they were on a hill, Sable literally somersaulted hooves over head. I think this is every rider’s worst fear!
Linda managed to tuck and roll over to the side and by nothing short of a miracle, Sable did not land or hit her in any way. They were both covered from head to toe in muddy sand but appeared to be ok. We have no doubt that Sable purposely sacrificed herself so that she wouldn’t roll on Linda. They managed to get back to camp, but the adrenaline wore off and Sable was visibly lame.
When I came in on my hold, they had already been pulled. The vet was so kind as to come over and do a full assessment on Sable too. They determined nothing damaged in the lower leg – its likely a pulled muscle in one of the larger muscles. By the time I was done riding, she was already looking a bit better and starting to put more weight on it (with some TLC and Arnica a la Linda!)
We are so thankful that neither of them were hurt. It was a weird day overall. Despite great footing and weather there were lots of falls too. Nobody was hurt (from what I heard) but overall just weird. I think everyone still had a lot of fun. Now the season is over, so no need to dwell… we all will tend to our horses and have a much deserved break (and maybe some bubbly?)