I have been on a bit of a roll recently with ideas for “how to’s” on this blog, but I need to take a brief break from that to brag about my horse a bit. I have heard a lot of top riders and trainers say that often the best performance horses are the ones who are a bit of (or complete) a jerk. Enter Bentley.
Two weeks in a row now we have gone up to New Lowell to ride at the Danko’s farms – first for a clinic/training ride and then for a competitive ride.
So back on the 14th, with no trailer and a mission to go to the clinic to meet some new and aspiring distance riders, I saddled up, planned a route and rode Bentley to the clinic. Bentley flipped his jerk switch to the on position and despite riding on a trail many meters from the road, gave a giant spook and bolted for the highway as I soared off the side of him. I certainly wasn’t about to let go and managed to kick his side while in air, and circle him away from traffic as I bumped and skidded on my bouncy parts behind him on the concrete. The shenanigans continued and upon a second attempt, he got a roar and a smack in the neck which resulted in me having a sprained hand. He was briefly aware that there was a rider on top of him after that.
After we arrived at the ride site, he totally simmered down… I think seeing the trailers and the vets clued him in and he got into his “zone”. He ended up being a perfect gentleman to mentor the green horse and rider we took out on paced loops. I do wonder if he just does this to make me appear a liar. Needless to say however, we opted to trailer home when our friend offered a ride.
This past weekend, Ashley picked us up and we drove in early Saturday morning. On the agenda was a somewhat aggressive total distance of 75 miles. A 25 mile set speed (gold level) and then a 50 mile endurance ride the following day.
Saturday was beautiful weather and we went out early as we expected to be the faster of most of the riders. The monster was back and he spooked all the way out, galloped all the way back. All cries of “Woah” were completely ignored. I was pissed because I knew there were lots of new riders on the trail that day and I did not want to surprise any of them. We missed the awards that night, but I learned that he won high vet score… I didn’t tell him this because I did not want to condone his behavior. He can be pretty damn cocky sometimes too! Haha.
Sunday called for cold pouring rain. Yuck, we did that already this year at Aprilfest! Mother nature, why do you hate endurance riders so much?!
There was also an out-vet check so Ashley and I split our crew kits and shared through the day. We also woke up extra early based on the hourly forecast so we could pack up our tents before the rain started – a really fantastic plan!
Thankfully, Bentley was in the zone this day and we rode along pleasantly, eventually settling in with Earl and Libby for the close to the entirety of the ride. Not only was he pleasant to ride this day, he was taking the lead and being responsible for others too. He was certainly trying his hardest.
He rocked it through the twisty turny knee bashing forests, the slick muddy paths, some deep puddles and could easily kick up the gear in the beautiful open fields and tree farms. When he is good, he is GOOD!
Throughout the day too, he pretty much walked right into the vet checks at parameters. His recoveries were fantastic.
The plan was not to lead the pack this day, but just get the distance done, so the speed and the recoveries were a bit of a surprise to me, but I thought, hey if its working, just go for it! The three of us remained in the lead right through to the very end when we had to discuss how we wanted to finish. Libby and I felt it was ok to tie, but Earl thought a race-off was in order. Ok, twist my leg!
Bentley has never been in a legitimate race off before and Earl came through the fence first. I yelled “go Bentley! Go Go Go GO!” and he kicked in with his big engine and then kicked in further. We nearly caught Earl, just needed a few extra meters of trail. A very exciting finish for both of us and the onlookers. As we crossed the line we were laughing and smiling and Bentley looked so darn pleased to have had a fun run. What a ride!
We decided to stand for the Best Condition award – something we don’t usually do but are trying to practice more of. Fifteen minutes after our finish, we had to present for the Cardiac Recovery Index portion of the BC award. Bentley had already dropped to 44bpm! We finished the judging and went back to camp to wait for Ashley to finish.
Again, we got caught up in what was going on at our campsite (very wet packing this time) and didn’t hear anyone calling for awards. We did hear some cheering at one point though, so we booted it over there just in time for everyone to be yelling “Run Sarah, you got an award!”
So I ran. I received high vet score again! Then I was surprised to learn I had also earned Best Condition! That’s something that rarely happens to me because I teeter on the edge of lightweight to midweight and the weight can have a major impact on BC scores. I was so proud!
Before I left however, the vets Sarah, Art and Stan surrounded me and tried to explain through my thick rider-brained fog what the paper said exactly… Bentley had earned a perfect vet score!
At first I was like “oh that’s pretty cool”, thinking it was a bit like a set speed grade 1 – a wide range that is totally achievable with hard work and smart riding.
Then they told me, that this was the first time any of them have ever awarded a perfect score! And they are certainly not new to this game!
I am so proud of my horse, but also myself. I have a bit of impostor syndrome when I write here – its hard to give advice when you have that self doubt, in my 6th season, I am still relatively new to this world. Attaining this rare achievement has certainly given me a confidence boost.
As I reflect, I think about how to be successful in this sport – and its to be a manager, not just a rider. You need to take ownership of your successes and failures and constantly be learning about yourself and your horse. You need to be smart and studious – learn from everyone and everywhere. You need to reach out to others, particularly experts, for help. You need to plan everything from feeding programs to recoveries and when things don’t go according to plan, you need to have backup plans. A good rider is not just a jockey, they are everything to their horse – and their horse is everything to them.
I am so proud of my big guy, and I guess I forgive him for nearly killing me on the highway last week! The good ones may be a little bit more difficult, but man… are they ever worth it!