Friday, May 16, 2014

Miles behind us- Miles to go

Many people now recognize me because of the horse I am riding. He is a little appaloosa/arab usually donning blue tack. Last year we had 3 completions, two 50s and one 75 mile ride. We didn't complete the 100 at Sunriver because a screw came loose that held the gullet of the saddle in. This year so far we have 2 completions the 50 at Grizzly Mountain and the 50 at the Still Memorial Ride. Coming off of our 6th place finish at the Still Memorial Ride with a time of 6 hours and 18 minutes I received a reminder of just how far this horse has come in 3 years. Three years seems like a long time, it is, a lot can happen. A lot has happened.
On the trail at the Grizzly 50

The call was about another appaloosa who is rehabbing from an old injury. He had just been seen by the chiropractor and Kathleen was telling me about some of the conversation she had with the chiropractor. She had asked me to come up and give my two cents to see if the horse was in pain or if he was just acting up. (We all believed it was pain related and it sounds like it was!) She was telling the chiropractor about me, how I ride a dangerous horse and have been riding one for 3 years. At first I thought about all the other dangerous horses I usually ride, but that wasn't the horse she was talking it. It surprised me when she said: Quick.
I have never thought of Quick as dangerous. Then again, he has dumped more people more times than just about every horse I know of. I resigned myself a while ago to the fact that in riding Quick I would come off a few times, and I have. Yet I do not think of him as dangerous, to me he is a 'problem' horse. I find that most horses labeled 'problem' or even dangerous have one or two things going on. They have pain issues or human related issues (which can be handling or lack there of, training, abuse, neglect etc) and the human related issues can be directly related to the pain issues when you look at saddle fit or bitting.
Quick had a lot of issues, we ruled pain out as a cause. When I first started riding him he was completely inverted, he carried his head up high in the air, his back hollow and his hind end was just along for the ride, and to show off the spots- it didn't do anything. He was extremely left sided, when you tried to go to the right his head would still be way off to the left. He didn't know how to use himself, the way he was moving would lead to a faster deterioration of his joints, muscles, back and inevitably soundness. The amazing thing was at the age of 8 Quick could not canter. His canter felt like his long legs were going all over the place. He was still so incredibly green under saddle, to top off all of his issues, he also had what we called the 'dirty spook', he has normal spooks too but the dirty spook is what would get riders off. One minute you would be in the saddle and before you knew what happened you would be looking up at him from the ground or hanging off his neck if you were lucky. These would happen, sometimes out of nowhere, sometimes when he would fall asleep/ zone out going down the trail. Usually when you least expect it. It would also happen when you put pressure on him, which would be as simple as leading or being next to the lead horse going down the trail. He would start to rush, his head would go up and once he hit his 'breaking point' he would throw in a spook just to make sure you knew he was stressed!

Mt. Pisgah

There was a good horse in there, we could all see it, but it was often questioned if that good horse had been ruined, if he wouldn't be able to be brought around. At the age of 8 how much had been ingrained into him without the potential to be removed or rewritten? The saddest part is there isn't a mean bone in this horse's body, he is a sweet goofball. Once you get to know him you enjoy his company. What happened to this horse that he ended up being labeled dangerous?
I feel he has been let down by some of the people in his life. Something happened to take this lovable horse and turn him into the one that dumps everyone. His problems are human related, not to mention the fact that he is smart. Once he learns something it is hard to get him to unlearn it. These whiplash spooks get the rider off, the pressure stops. He has gotten some amazing riders off.
Working him out of these spooks has taken a long time, it was slow at the start but last year he started making leaps and bounds. The beginning of last year a couple things happened. Both Paula and I had been working to make this horse her next endurance mount. She saw in him a 100 mile horse, she has said that from the beginning. We were out riding and a grouse spooked both Quick and her horse Roz. Roz went forward and halted, giving Paula the time to watch Quick dump me. I had lost a stirrup and as I went to right myself he dropped his shoulder and off I went. At this point everything we were doing was helping, but he had reached a plateau. I was starting to realize, but would never admit it, that I doubted this horse could turn around and be safe for her to ride so she didn't have to worry about being dumped with every ride.
And then it happened, Paula stopped by the barn to talk to me. She told me that she had made the decision that Quick wasn't going to be the horse for her, she could never feel safe and relax on a horse that could dump anyone whenever he felt like it. He had been given to her, because with all of his issues he would be a hard sale and it was almost like we were his last chance. She made me an offer. I pondered it, and realized I couldn't leave this horse unfinished. I couldn't let him go to an uncertain future to be sold to who knows whom, perhaps be passed around from person to person, his problems only getting worse until he no longer trusts riders on his back, or seriously injures someone and ends up in a kill pen or bound for Canada or Mexico.
Vet check at Sunriver

This horse should have never ended up in this situation. Horses are free for reasons, usually because they have problems, problems that someone created or didn't fix and they let the horse down. We took the pressure we had been putting on Quick off, I no longer had to worry about making him into a safe horse. I had to hope my stickability would keep me in the saddle. So we jumped feet first into endurance. My first two 50s were within two weeks of each other. Our goal was to shoot for Tevis in a year or two. I had conditioned a horse we lovingly refer to as the Dragon for Tevis the year before, and she completed(the only PNER horse to do so!), since then I wanted to do that ride! After the two 50s our next ride was the 100 at Sunriver. I had to take Quick out by himself, the first couple times were a bit nerve racking, I didn't know how much I would end up walking or coming off or.... there was a lot of spooking, a lot of tension in Quick no matter how calm and confident I remained. I would stop to let him eat, it was an indicator of his mental state. Eating=good, not eating = tense. At the 100 at Sunriver Quick did wonderful, I couldn't have been happier even if we had completed. He did 25 miles by himself, at one point he reached his mental limit coming back into camp. I hand walked him in and on going back out waited for the riders behind me to catch up and tagged along behind them. We only got 67 miles into the ride, a screw on the gullet of my saddle had come off and Quick was muscle sore, but otherwise ready to go. He was fine the next morning. And a saddle hunt began.
To finish up the year we did the 75 at Oregon 100 in my new-to-me saddle. We finished 4th with a time of 10 hours and 9 minutes. The new saddle fits him like a glove!
Sunset at the 75 at OR 100

We worked a lot on getting Quick to use himself, really use himself. He has a lot of power in that hind end (just watch him spook to see!) but he never learned how to use it. His default way of going was with a hollow back, head up and dragging himself along with his front legs. We did lots of dressage work, arena work, cavalettis and of course, lots of hills. Paula and I had a discussion about Quick being a sensitive horse. My go to response was no, not really, but she made a valid point. For me, riding Quick is easier (as long as I keep my seat in the saddle) than riding my thoroughbred Journey. Journey is an extremely sensitive horse. She picks up on people's emotions and reacts off of that. Every little thing you need to be aware of, every muscle twitch, breath, thought, and what the people around you are doing. With Quick, you don't need to be that hyperaware, he is sensitive, but not to that extreme.

Most of Quick's issues seem to stem from his lack of confidence and trust. He didn't trust his rider to be able to support him in a situation, and he didn't want to stand on his own four legs either. The longest road has been building his confidence. I am a very confident rider, I tend to trust the horse until the horse breaks that trust, then I am a little more cautious. I work to build a confident, safe riding partner. I am there for the horse when something worries them, and I stay calm about it. This has helped Quick, at first we always went out with a buddy horse Roz, he followed her and she could face all the scary stuff in front. Once we made the jump to riding alone, it took Quick a little less than a year to be confident out on the trails by himself.
We have started what I jokingly call 'boldness training', which is basically jump anything. I check the footing on either side, then we go for it. Off trail, down ditches, up banks and over lots of logs! At first it would catch Quick off guard he would throw in a spook at the jump. (and these are little jumps, if they are a foot high they are lucky!) Now he takes it all in stride. Quick will never be a bold eventer type that attacks obstacles, it is not his nature. He now trusts his rider enough that when I ask for him to go over something he doesn't hesitate.

You wanted me to jump what?

All of the work we have been doing showed through at the Still Memorial Ride. We went out with the front runners. We passed horses, we got passed, we were by ourselves and he went to work. We did what we set out to do, which was top 10 the ride. Quick has emotionally and mentally caught up with his natural physical athleticism. I hope he continues to grow, so that the bad reputation he had is just dust in the wind! We have two goals for this year, the ANCER ride which is the Appaloosa national distance championship is in Santa Cruz in conjunction with the Fireworks ride. Quick is qualified to go race with the other appys! Our second goal is to tackle the full 100 mile distance at OR 100. 

Sozar no more! Viva Quick!!