Mr Good Boy has been promoted to Mr Chou Chou d'Amour after his first endurance ride yesterday. He was such an unbelievable superstar!
After spending an hour the night before practicing loading into the new, narrower trailer in the dark with just the interior light on, I went to collect him from the field at 6am, still dark. I thought he might be a bit sticky about going in but he walked straight up the ramp and then stood there like a good, good lad while Herve put the back bar and the ramp up. He then travelled beautifully, with only a small amount of complaining at the peage when we had to stop to collect a toll ticket.
When we arrived at the venue, he was really well behaved and chilled out, though he wanted to walk around rather than stand by his haynet. Can understand that after having been in the trailer for over two hours. His excellent behaviour was even more impressive given that there was a strong breeze blowing, lots of new horses to see and hear and lots of trailer and cars coming and going.
I went to get him vetted and he was a bit poky about the vet's scanner machine but the vet was superb and went all quiet and soft with Rubi, gently approaching him and giving him a stroke, letting him have a sniff of the machine and a look at the stethoscope. His heart rate was at 40! Fantastic for his first event!
When it came to setting off, he was a bit on his toes and spooked as he caught sight in his rear vision of a bunch of cantering horses arriving at the finish line on the other side of the hedge, but it wasn't a serious spook. Then we came to set off and he slammed on the brakes at the sight of the white chalk start line! Eva took a hilarious photo of him prancing over it, hiking his tail over his back like a real Diva, as we set off!
Initially we were riding by ourselves, down through the woods and he was really forward going. His ears were so pricked I thought they were going to cross in the middle. He was utterly spellbound at the new trail we had to explore, down through the trees and there was only minor 'looking at things' - no spooking at branches, birds, carnivorous butterflies etc etc..
Our first challenge lay at the bottom of that forest track as we had to cross a stream! The ONE thing we'd had no opportunity to practice before we did the ride. Typical! He put in a couple of spectacular cat leaps in his attempts to avoid going towards the stream, until I realised the quickest thing would be to hop off and lead him through. Thank goodness for waterproof boots! Of course, he let me get so far and then, rather than get his toes wet, he made a herculean leap across the stream and landed on the other side. But we'd made it!! I gave him a big hug and kiss and was laughing and said 'we made it Rubi!' and then Mr Good Boy stood like a rock while I got back on him and we set off again.
We were going pretty steadily as already the tracks were full of nasty stones. He had on his hoof boots but the footing was so treacherous that it seemed ludicrous to be moving at speed downhill on loose stones the size of a man's fist. Then we hit a long track along a tarmaced lane and there was hardly any verge so we were only trotting steadily.
Within minutes, two riders from our endurance club turned up on two experienced horses and I took it as an opportunity for Rubi and me to have some company. And so the rest of our ride began.
We trotted most flat bits (though there weren't many) and a lot of long uphills and some downhills. We walked on the worst tracks though. The footing was absolutely miserable, with rocks, stones, sharp gravel.. I think that, by the first crew point, he was feeling the pace a bit and when he was offered water he drank about half a bucket. Cath and Ian were delighted with him drinking as, apparently, that can be one of the hardest things to teach an endurance horse. He then had a sniff of the water bottle before he allowed Cath to slosh some water over his neck. And before we knew it, we were off again.
He felt invigorated by his brief rest though and the next section of the ride we did at a much more consistent trot pace, with only the hardest uphills at walk. By the time we arrived at the second crew point, we were cantering along and he was well up for it.
I think that the hardest part of the ride for him was between the second and third crew points. Realising they were behind their time, our companions set off at a quick canter pace and Rubi was determined to keep up. We had some amazing canters along forest tracks and the side of vineyards and, for the most part, he was bowling along. But after a few kilometres, he was starting to tire and he was sweating so much that he even had foam on his face, under his bridle. Most of that long canter he did on a right lead, although he did swap over for a little while on to his left lead. You could feel that he wasn't completely comfortable on the left lead though. We MUST get the left lead issue sorted before next season is underway!
It was during this part of the ride that I was acutely aware of what an enormous heart this little horse has. He was working like a trooper at that canter, at staying with those experienced horses (for whom 20km was a walk in the park as they'd both completed much longer rides this season!) and when he was tired, he reached his head down and absolutely dug in. By the time we arrived at the third crew point, just 4km from the finish line, I had decided that it was time to take down our speed and let the others go ahead. As they went to move off, I held Rubi back and walked him around until they were out of sight.
I had 22 mins to cover that last 4km, do-able for us - probably - at a steady trot, but it was a long uphill up a metalled road and then a stony track. I thought we would start out and see how it went but I'd decided that if he was still too tired or if the going continued to be hard, then we'd slow down to a walk, take things at a gentler pace and if that meant going over the time, so be it.
As we pulled out at a trot up the hill, I felt that he was unlevel. Damn. We slowed down to walk and he was walking fine. I tried the trot again - unlevel again after a couple of strides. So I dismounted and trotted him without me on him. Nope. Still lame. Agh.
OK, it was an easy decision. The lad had tried his heart out and this was meant to be fun for us all, right? I had a quick look at his feet and legs and couldn't see anything amiss - what I should have done is take at least his front boots off..
But we walked the last 3km towards the finish line, with me remounting just before we emerged from the track through the woods. He was really comfortable at the walk with me riding with no sign of head nodding so I carried on. As we came out on to the last open field, with the finish line in sight, Rubi gave a loud call of arrival to say 'whoop whoop! We made it!'
It was surprisingly emotional coming back home from his first endurance ride, even though by now we were well beyond our maximum finishing time and I knew I would have to retire him because of the lameness. He was still walking happily, carrying me down to the finish line and his ears were pricked, his head up, goggling the spectators (who were probably wondering why these late arrivals were bimbling down to the finish line like they had all the time in the world). He even tried to set up in trot again a couple of times but I made him come back to walk. I leant over his neck and gave him a big hug and told him what a super, special boy he was. I was so incredibly grateful to him, for his big heart and his courage.
As we passed the finish line - with Rubi spooking and prancing nimbly over the horse-eating white chalk line again - our spectators said 'are you sure he's lame?' Yes, a few more steps of trot showed him bobbing his head up with his front left leg. I was worried that his boxy foot had started hurting somehow, that there might have been something wrong that had finally showed up now his body had been put under some pressure.
We took him back to the corral and took off his boots - there was a 1cm diameter sharp little flint that has lodged inside his front left boot and dug out a hole in his sole before moving down to lodge in between his frog and his sole. That alone would have been uncomfortable and may have caused a sole bruise.
On taking off his back boots though, his Easyboot Gloves had rubbed both his heel bulbs raw and there was some blood inside each boot. Not lots, nothing that needed more than a scrape of healing cream over it, but again, enough to be uncomfortable when moving at more than a walk.
Poor lad. My experienced crew were wondering about the vaguaries of hoof boots and I was feeling like a bit of a schmuck.
We went over to retire officially from the ride and then sat down for a picnic lunch after Rubi had been washed off and corraled with a hay net and sweat rug. Although he'd still trotted up slightly lame immediately after taking off his boots, he was walking around his corral with no problems, no short stride on any leg, no heat in his legs so it was looking more and more like he'd become uncomfortable and sore with the little stone and the boot rubs at anything other than a walk.
After travelling home really well, he spent a few minutes in the garden eating some hay and grass and having another drink whilst I set out some hay in the field for the other horses and refilled their water buckets. Again, at a walk he was not short striding and he was landing heel first. I tried to ask him for a little trot up but he was reluctant. OK, that could be a foot soreness thing - but it was even more likely to be a physical tiredness thing so I didn't push it.
I went and turned him out in the field while I made up all their feeds and he took himself off to the bottom of the field to graze. When I arrived with the buckets and called him, he cantered up to the top of the field - on the right lead again (sigh!) - and looked sound. Hard to tell without trotting him up but he now will have at least 4 days off before I am back from my business trip. I will trot him up when I get back and see how he is - but he wasn't showing any sign of the lameness being anything except a transitory thing.
He piled into his dinner that evening with relish as usual and I left him tucked up in a light rug and a pile of hay as the weather was windy with the threat of rain.
In any event, I learned a lot from the ride. Firstly, he needs to be fitter to cope with even the 20km rides. I've been training him quite conservatively, going with the recommendations of doing one day on, one day off and sticking to the quality not quantity rule. I think we will try some of the more energetic plans because he was fine for 15km, but those last 6km were too much. He also needs to be more gymnastic - he will have to see a GOOD osteopath about this stiffness on the left rein and then we need some good gymnastic training to get him using his body efficiently.
His behaviour at the ride was beyond reproach in every single aspect - which is quite amazing considering some of the antics he's gotten up to since we've had him! But somehow, in the last few weeks it all seems to have clicked into place with us. I really try to connect with him and explain things to him and I've realised that once he understands what is required of him and trusts that you will take the time to explain and give him time to process and understand, he will try his heart out.
We still need to sort out the hoof boot situation. I have a few ideas about what I can try and I am going to email Renegades and Karen Chatton about adjustments I might be able to make to the Renegade boots in order to get them fitting well on his hind feet. I don't see how I am going to be able to get the Gloves to fit though, as the basic problem is that his heel bulbs are very low, too low to cut the boots down to fit below the hair line. In order to prevent stones getting into his boots in future, I am going to perhaps try gluing pads inside.
The whole shoeing issue is a red herring, I think. I'm sure we weren't the only horse vetted out or retired with lameness issues at that ride. The going was utterly and totally miserable with those rocks and stones all the way along and I'm sure there were shod horses that got stone bruises or cuts to their heels bulbs or other parts of their feet. I simply could not imagine ripping along one of those roads with just an iron horseshoe to 'protect' his feet.
Finally my most overwhelming learning point is that my horse is a Total Dude! He has a heart as big as a mountain and a spirit as generous as an angel. And he rather enjoyed himself, all things considered.