In the Night Farm…Your Ride is Here.

Little Horse, Big Adventure: Fandango 2012, Day 1

So.  I decided to ride Acey on Day 1.  Gotta get it overwith sometime, right?  Besides, out vet checks and two holds looked like the way to go for a first-timer with a buddy in camp.  Laurel and Buffy offered to let us join them, along with Linda and Ted, for a slow ride at the back of the pack.  Perfect.

The night before split itself between wind and rain.  I slept little enough to observe the passing storms, a victim of new-horse nerves, though I must say I wasn’t nearly as restless as I used to get.  I was confident that Acey was mentally ready for the trail itself, and that she’d eat and drink well throughout the ride.  But how would her fiery, emotional side affect her at the start?  What would happen when we reached the creek, only a mile out?  Acey is a heart-on-her-sleeve kind of horse, and she doesn’t always react calmly to new and intense experiences.

Near morning, the rain stopped.  I let myself hope for a dry start.  Alas, before my alarm went off at 5:30, the rat-a-tat tapping on the camper roof started up again.  And increased in volume.  And so, we tacked up in the rain.

I applied several wraps of duct tape to Acey’s Back Country boot gaiters, cursing the dampness that already threatened the likelihood of them staying on through mud and miles.   Acey alternately shivered and danced in place, but at least she continued grabbing mouthfuls of hay.  The chill and nerves were getting to her, and I was glad when the starters sent the bulk of the horses on down the trail.

Acey seemed fairly calm there by the trailer, so I mounted up…and quickly got off again as a glimpse of the departing herd sent her emotions skyward.  Right.  We’d start out in hand.

Along with Laurel and Linda, we headed down the road, Acey dancing and fretting at my side.  She didn’t resist leaving camp, but she was a nervous wreck and spooked dramatically when a couple other, late starters crested a small hill behind us.  We walked on and the moment she was reasonably settled, I stepped aboard and asked her immediately to trot.  All that energy needed to go somewhere, and a rational, forward pace made the most sense.

We reached the creek still jumping with nerves, but comfortably under control.  I moved Acey close behind her new friends Buffy and Ted, and (glory hallelujah!) she walked right through the knee-deep stream without batting an eyelash.  Soaked from above by falling rain, soaked from below by our saturated seat covers, but triumphant to have survived the toughest part of the ride — the start — we climbed out of the canyon and struck up a merry trot along the ridge.

Acey travelled with her ears up and eyes bright.  She managed the early climbs and descents handily, and my only worry was the frequent clopping of her boots against one another.  She doesn’t forge badly barefoot, but the too-large boots affect her breakover and I feared she would lose them, particularly in the muddy conditions.

Sure enough, we weren’t 5 miles out before we had to backtrack in search of a boot — the left front.  Or maybe it was the right front.  Either way, it constituted an inauspicious beginning — and belive you me, it was only the beginning.

We now had one boot with no tape.  I tried re-taping with a roll of duct tape from my saddle bag, but Acey was in no frame of mind to stand still.  The gaiter was hopelessly damp and sandy anyway.  I strapped it on, sans tape, and crossed my fingers.  [Note: finger-crossing is no guarantee of success.]  Somewhere around mile 7, I gave up on keeping that errant boot on Acey’s foot.  Having no room in my saddle bags because I’d filled them with water bottles, I managed to tied it to the back of my Stonewall, which wasn’t easy because BCs don’t really offer anything to tie to.  It rode there for a while until the footing got rockier and I tried putting it on again.

A few minutes later, I found myself carrying the boot.  It simply refused to stay put.  I wasn’t thrilled about sharing my hands between hoof boots and reins, but the vet check wasn’t too much farther and the footing was soft.  We’d make it.  [Ha!  Cue ominous music.]

Somewhere along the line, Linda’s horse lost one of his Gloves.

And then, as we trotted briskly across another flat stretch, the real adventure began.  Acey’s head went up and her ears went back.  Her hindquarters came up beneath me and I just had time to say “Guys, something’s really bothering her” before she bolted.  Zoom!  Up the trail we flew!  I chucked the hoof boot I was carrying and tried to rein her in.  Not a good move, apparently.  All that energy went up instead of out.  I’m told we made a rodeo spectacular as we bucked through the sagebrush, circling back toward our companions.  I stayed on…stayed on…stayed on…and came off.

I was on my feet again before I registered that I’d hit the ground.  Acey waited nearby, watching wide-eyed and bare on yet another foot.  I concluded that the boot had come off but the ring of duct tape had clung to her fetlock, causing her to spook in the first place.

We searched briefly for the missing boot, but gave up before long.  The loop was taking forever and we had a good 40 miles to go!  Now Laurel and I each carried a boot, Acey wore one, and the fourth was never to be seen again.

As we trotted on, I pondered the fact that I seemed to have landed right on the top of my head.  Neck stiffness would surely ensue.  Chiropractor, anyone?  But first, we had to get through today.  And tomorrow.  And maybe the next day as well.  All this assuming that I wasn’t forced to pull due to equipment problems.

You guessed it.  Acey lost her last boot before we reached the check.  Linda carried it for us.  At least it had stopped raining.

And, we were having fun.  Really.  Because we’re crazy like that.

Acey blew through the vetting with all A’s.  I strapped two of her surviving boots onto her front feet and got the vet’s approval to continue with bare hinds.  (Thankfully, he has a mustang mare very similar to Acey and understood that despite the rocky trail ahead, we had a good chance of being fine.)

Sure enough, the second, 25-mile loop went off without a hitch.  Halfway around, black clouds rolled over to drench us with rain and pelt us with hail, but the storm passed on a rush of wind and we arrived at the next hold with reasonably dry clothes and happy horses.  Acey again vetted with all A’s except a B for gut sounds, which I knew would rekindle as soon as she had a chance to dig into some much-desired feed.  Indeed, she ate and drank well and continued to look content and eager to move on.

Only 12.5 miles to go.  Home free, right?

Sure…until we mounted up and started walking out of the vet check, and someone lifted a big water tub directly behind Acey.  It wasn’t too close behind her — the person didn’t do anything stupid — but Acey’s ranch-raised brain isn’t used to all that human activity.  A replay ensued.  Bolt, attempt to pull up, buck.  Stay on…stay on…stay on…come off.

This time, I landed on my back.  Again, I hopped up and back astride before Acey seemed to realize what had happened.  She was still shaking and water tubs were still being loaded, though, so I got back off and led her a short way down the trail before mounting up again.

Yeeeeesh.

I’m pleased to report that the rest of the last loop went fine.  No more lost boots, no more spooks, no more unscheduled dismounts.  Linda kindly kept Ted an extra distance back, since Acey was a bit shaken, and we’d picked up a junior at the hold because her sponsor was pulled.  As we rode, I had time to ponder the connections between Acey’s spooks — always something from behind, always a bolt followed by major bucks when reined in.  I formed my theory about the bucking be a panic reaction to being constrained.  I began planning to teach her a single-rein stop, and decided that if she bolted again, I would let her run a bit if possible and pull her up with pulsing instead of firm reins.

We all returned to camp in good spirits.  Acey’s energy remained high and she earned all A’s again, though I could tell by a hint of unevenness in her gait that she was finally getting tired.  I couldn’t blame her!  It was after 6:00 and she’d never travelled anywhere near that far before.  All things considered, I was downright proud her.  All day long, she was nothing if not game.  She covered almost the entire ride, including the rocky 2nd loop, barefoot in back, and never took a bad step.

Best of all, she had fun.

So we have a couple issues to work through — hoof protection, behavior when spooked, excessive nervous energy in camp — but, all things considered, my hopes for the wee little firecracker are higher than ever.

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19 responses

  1. She had fun, but did you? LOL? I suspect you did. This is what “endurance” is all about, isn’t it? I would have baled at that first sound of rainfall. 😉 Anxious to hear about the rest of the weekend.

    June 2, 2012 at 7:39 am

    • Yep, I surely did! It was a beautiful ride, on a lovely horse, in very pleasant company. 🙂

      June 2, 2012 at 7:41 am

  2. Carol & Griffin

    I give YOU all A’s for persisting through, what sounded like a bit of a hair-raising ride!

    ….and why do hoof boots have to be such a pain…Grrr

    I agree with you on the pulling up theroy as it doesn’t sound like she was trying to be naughty. If she comes through with flying colors when she’s already expended this much energy on bucking and being scared, imagine what she’ll be capable of with more experience under her belt. I think maybe she is going to make an awesome endurance horse!
    …maybe a 75 or 100 miler in your future? 😉

    June 2, 2012 at 7:42 am

    • Maybe so, Carol…we shall see! I do think that Acey’s being so energetic and game bodes well for her future.

      As for the boots, I’ve had excellent success with Gloves, but it looks like the Back Countries just can’t handle endurance. Too bad Gloves don’t come small enough for Acey. I may have to resort to shoes. 😦

      June 2, 2012 at 8:41 am

  3. Rosanne

    Kudos to you for sticking it out! I would have bailed because of the weather. 🙂 It seems like your day would have gone much better if you hadn’t had so many boot issues. Have you ever tried Renegades? Also, since you think you fell on your head(ouch) have you considered replacing your helmet? I happen to know you rode again because I saw Merri had photos of you on Consolation. You are what endurance riding is all about!
    I sure hope you figure out the boot issues. Acey sounds like she is going to be even more fun to ride once she gains a little more experience.

    June 2, 2012 at 11:23 am

    • I have’t tried Renegades — last I checked, I thought they didn’t come small enough. I’ll have another look, though. 🙂

      June 2, 2012 at 12:35 pm

  4. Ooof, all that falling doesn’t sound like much fun! Grats on getting Acey through her first ride 🙂

    June 2, 2012 at 1:36 pm

  5. Way to go Acey! I hope you have a picture of her…sweet girl.

    June 2, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    • Our official ride photos were lousy, but I do have one over-the-shoulder shot from another rider. I’ve asked permission to post it.

      June 3, 2012 at 5:37 am

  6. Whhowee, I’d like to see her in person sometime, maybe at least some video would be fun.
    Congratulations on a successful first ride.

    Another idea for you to ponder while you are considering hoof protection is whether or not her natural hoof provides all the protection she needs, She just did 50 miles without boots on the rear, why would her fronts have a substantially different outcome? As you ponder your path, you should at least consider bare, and going bare would have prevented one get-off.

    Shoes would get a no vote from me because of the loss of shock absorbtion, loss of traction, vibration, reduced blood flow in lower limb and hoof, and change of natural load path thru the hoof. The benefits of shoeing would need to outweigh those losses for it to make sense and I think thats a pretty tall hurdle to overcome.

    June 2, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    • Hi Jackie. Video is a great idea. I agree about the shoes — I really don’t like the idea for all the reasons you’ve cited. 😦 Around here, many rides won’t let you start without hoof protection of some kind. At this point, I know Acey gets a bit sore in front if ridden bare too much on gravel, so I wouldn’t attempt a 50 (most places; we do have a couple good barefoot rides) without any protection. It’s possible she could toughen up to it, but obviously not while wearing shoes, but it looks like I can’t get enough miles on her without boots/shoes…bit of a catch 22, eh?

      June 3, 2012 at 5:36 am

  7. Hi five sister! Congrats on Acey’s first ☺ Get you some plastic “junk” to kick around and drag around behind her in the round pen. It really helps. I tie it to a rope and lead the horse dragging all manner of junk behind. I also kick bleach bottles, drink bottles, buckets and such ahead until no reaction. That natural “clutch” reaction in a crisis is hard to break…because you want to break the momentum, but breaking the momentum means they are hitting a wall when they are wanting to flee. Take heart! She’ll get better. Glad you came through the unplanned dismounts okay.
    ~E.G.

    June 3, 2012 at 3:52 am

    • Right you are, EG! I always do that kind of work with my horses, as well as the ropes-around-legs stuff, but obviously Acey needed something more.

      June 3, 2012 at 5:32 am

  8. the classic bolt and buck reaction of things coming up behind them.. ah yes, all too familiar of Painter barbs.. well, atleast he bred something consistent in there! The disengagment of the hind quarters is the best trick (one rein stop)to keep that from happening as you know. I did alot of tarp dragging, and various noise desensitization with JB on that issue although I would be wary of tying things onto her and letting her “figure it out on her own” as she races around the round pen loose. That is something I often see done and it just creates more for the horse to fear and generally creates a bigger issue. There is a difference between a horse who will stop to avoid the noise and a horse who has been allowed to learn that they don’t need to runaway from the noise. It’s always my goal to achieve the latter. Did you ever figure out what spooked her the first time? Glad you didn’t get hurt in your tumbles.. it pays to ride a small horse!! Great job on your first 50 with her. It certainly wasn’t a ride for the faint of heart. Just out of curiosity, what was the longest condition ride you had completed on Acey before doing the 50?

    June 3, 2012 at 8:06 am

    • You are so right, Jonna. I always want the horse to learn to *think* about her reaction to something frightening. It’s about remaining in control despite something being scary, not merely desentitizing so that fewer things are scary. I don’t do the turn-em-loose-and-let-em-figure-it-out either.

      Interesting that you’ve experienced the same thing with these horses. Glad it’s not just me. They just have a stronger prey instinct. I was talking with one of the ride vets about that reactiveness, and he said his BLM mustang is the same way.

      As for conditioning, we did one ride of about 28 miles one week (I would have preferred 2 weeks) before the 50. Prior to that, she had a year of work being ridden approx 3-4x per week, including maybe 12 miles once per week on fairly flat ground, a speed ride of 6-8 miles on flat ground, and a hill ride of 11 miles. The other ride, if done, was arena work or an easy hack.

      I’ve gotten advice from several, experienced people who say that 25-30 miles per week is plenty of conditioning, whether it be all at once or spread out over several rides. I’m finding that to be true.

      June 3, 2012 at 8:20 am

    • Forgot to add — I’m pretty sure it was the duct tape left clinging to her fetlock when the hind boot came off that scared her the first time. We’ve done a lot of work with ropes around legs and such, but I suspect the emotional situation early in the ride, plus the new “sticky/crackly” feel of the tape, was enough that she reacted anyway.

      June 3, 2012 at 8:22 am

  9. K.C.

    Wow I finally got a chance to read of your Fandango adventure. WOW! The day we were out at your place working on feet and I watched Acey race and buck around the round pen, the word ‘firecracker’ is definitely apt. The spook / run/ buck thing is definitely an inexperienced horse reaction that I’m sure you’ll have worked out in no time. Good job sticking it out and powering through even after you got bucked off twice! I bow to you. *waves hands bowing*

    June 3, 2012 at 8:40 am

    • LOL Wish I could claim I didn’t come off at all, but nooooooo. 😉

      June 3, 2012 at 8:49 am

  10. Congratulations!! Sounds like Acey’s first ride was pretty eventful, but that she did very well! I figured she would, she sounds like a firecracker 🙂 Glad you weren’t injured when she had her moments! Here’s to many more great rides with her!

    June 3, 2012 at 1:45 pm

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