Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Foo: Endurance Horse in Training

I have been working with Foo since April of this year. I am actually one of the people responsible for Paula purchasing her as her next endurance prospect, along with her daughter Kathleen. Foo is not actually her registered name, but as we were leaving after looking at her, none of us could remember her name. And she had a lot of foofy hair. It was shorter then and all over the place, so Paula dubed her the Foo.

She was already well ahead of the game from Quick. She had just returned to her breeder and had been in show reining training for a short period of time. She was safe and had three gaits. Did I ever mention that Quick could not canter? It was more of two drunks in a horse suit, legs everywhere.

Foo had some setbacks, probably a couple bouts of ulcers. She would also get angry, and seemly stuck in this angry state. She also started losing her mind, she was just reacting. All the while she was still really safe, no spook none of the issues that Quick had that made him dangerous. Everything was coming to a head with Foo, it seemed as if this downward spiral was out of control. But I always had the feeling that this was the right horse, I just questioned if I could pull her out of where she was.

At first Foo was really good, we had a couple good rides then out of the blue it went south and I couldn't do anything with her. So much discussing with Paula about her, and lots of thinking on my part. In the end there were two options, she pulls through it and becomes Paula's next endurance mount, or she finds a new home. I took on the challenge. I still had this feeling that Foo was the right horse, she needed a lot of work though. One of the things I pushed was the fact she needed work with a trainer. With Quick, Paula had taken him to our friend Trish couple times a week for ground driving, lessons with me riding him, lessons with Paula riding him etc. There was a lot of time and energy put into him. Well Trish had moved to the coast and life happens. I was pretty sure Foo needed this consistency to get her from where she was to where we wanted her to be. So she came for full training. Journey went to live at Paula's house for the time being.

There was a lot going on with her. She wanted to rush everything, no rhythm, lots of boinging and she would not use herself. She also would not take contact, she would come behind the bit, gape her mouth and never really relax. I tried some different bits and then a sidepull. She was quieter in the side pull, so side pull it was! This helped a lot, yet there was still non of the relaxation and stretching I look for. Many of the horses I work with the foremost thing I work on it allowing them to relax. Think about it, if you are tight and tense you are going to be distracted and anxious. You are not going to focus, we've all been there and know what it is like. But if you can relax, calm yourself down it allows you to focus and learn. The same is true with horses. It took a while to get the full relaxation out of her.

We did a couple things to her diet that helped. We noticed that her bad days coincided with her cycles. So I spoke with Spirit Brooks who makes her own herbal blends for horses. I already had Journey on her, what she called 'psycho' mare blend. Come on, when you have the quintessential chestnut thoroughbred mare that is what you need. Foo's blend is slightly different, because of AERC legal ingredients. We also switched all the horses over to a different form of magnesium, which also made a huge difference.

 Foo went to her first dressage show of the year, and well it could have been worse. We only did the walk trot intro tests because cantering caused more boinging and we were not ready for that. It was the OSU Beaver Piaffe Schooling Show held at Inavale Farms. Warm up was in the indoor and there was just too much going on in there for her. So we got very little warm up. The first test had a rider error, mixed up the 4 tests I had memorized.... but wasn't extremely horrible.  The second test however, went downhill quickly. Our circle at A became a boing, and up and up and boinging. At this point, I knew the movement was shot, I didn't care, and I was doing everything I could to bring her to a trot. Nothing. It was screw the rest of the test or... I yelled at her "Knock it off!" It was enough of a release of tension that we finished the test nicely. Hey it could have been worse. Not everyone has a dressage test that says "Very bad".

We cliniced with Jessica Wisdom and did another little schooling dressage show. This one went much better. I kind of felt bad because both the horses I pretty much swept the dressage classes we were in. I was out for the experience, but doing well it a nice bonus!

Things were going well, Foo was doing much better. I am lucky enough to have Deborah Davies work on my horses. I met her through two friends who used her and highly recommended her. She doesn't live locally so she is only out a few times per year. It is worth it. I asked Paula to have her work on Foo. I really felt that Foo had some issues that needed to be addressed. Not soundness issues mind you, other physical issues. She worked on Foo, and found a lot of cranial and TMJ issues going on. It isn't surprising since Foo was still having difficulties with bits and contact. I think there was something else but I don't remember. I had Journey and Quick worked on at the same time!

After her bodywork, Foo made huge leaps and bounds. She was stretching, she was no longer diving behind the bit, still avoiding it somewhat but nothing as bad as it was. Paula was doing arena rides on her. Everything was looking much better.

We had another dressage show, this time I rode 3 horses and was a scheduling nightmare for the organizers. But they did a wonderful job! This was to be Foo's first canter test. Intro C, a nice easy test. She did one on Saturday and then two tests on Sunday with Sunday being the canter one. She nailed it. Nice and quiet. Rider error caused a wrong lead on the last circle, but the judge had us do it over with the correct lead. The test was beautiful. The only issue was coming down the long side towards our halt and salute there was a deer jumping on the other side of the fence. Foo was very manageable but spooked into a canter. I was glad the deer didn't jump into the arena like it did for Spirit! Overall it was a great test and I was very pleased with how she did.

Right before we were to leave for Tevis there was a schooling hunter jumper show at a local barn. Trish was going to be the judge. We were going to take Foo and do some walk trot canter flat classes. We started off in the walk trot classes and Foo was good. We were competing against a couple kids as well, and we were asked if Foo would be alright. She had this. Now for the canter classes. I know Trish is an old time thoroughbred lover, and she would be looking for a horse that was moving forward as the old time hunters did. The first class was equitation and I kept her in a more collected gait, not sure as to how she would act with 4 other horses cantering around. She was perfect. So, here was the test. Hunter under saddle. I gave her a loose rein and asked for everything. A bigger trot, forward, ground covering. When the call came for an extended trot we were coming out of a corner and she nailed it. And her canter? Loose rein, forward, relaxed. And a second place for the little Arab.

Photos by Charles

We began talking about taking her to a 25 mile ride. There were two candidates, Oregon 100 or Foothills of the Cascades. They are two vastly different rides. OR 100 is a flat desert ride, in which I had had enough of the sagebrush doing the 100 last year. Foothills on the other hand is perhaps one of the toughest rides in the area. It is logging roads, similar to what we train on. And nothing about it is easy. Quick, coming off of the 100 last year, won the 50 there. We lost a shoe coming off of Rag's Mile Hill and were lucky enough to be given an Easyboot and we still beat everyone by 45 minutes. And our time for the 50? 7 hours and 15 minutes. And we won. It gives you a perspective on how tough it is. THere is also a huge chance of torrential downpours, cold, snow and all matter of unhappy weather. Our only problem is the woods were still closed due to fire danger. I really didn't want to put her through seeing horses miles away on the flats at OR 100, even just for 25 miles. It was easy to talk Paula out of it, she loves the sagebrush about as much as I do.

Foo rocked her first couple conditioning rides at Mt. Pisgah. Paula had already done a long slow distance base on her the previous two years. After that first ride I remember Paula looking at Foo and saying, "I want to ride that one. She is the easy horse!" Her grey mare Roz is 19-20 and very set in her ways. The next ride I rode Roz, and Paula rode Foo. Let me tell you, Foo is easier for sure. It was an awesome ride, I think all of us were grinning from ear to ear. The woods opened up not to much later and my schedule changed. So I was taking Foo on solo rides in the mornings and we would ride together on the weekends. In total we did 78.5 miles since the beginning of September. The big test was to take her on the 17 mile loop. It has over 2,300 feet of elevation change. We did it in 3 hours and 30 minutes. Which, considering we walked in the last 3 miles because of young horse not going to go fast going home. She tackled the hills just fine. So the Foo was ready.

It was supposed to be an awful day. I was asked if we were really going to go and I said of course! There was a bit of issue last year at Foothills with some riders being behind others, and not passing these people and finishing way ahead of people. There is an out and back loop that was quite frankly, very confusing last year. You go up a nice hill and come back down a really pretty tunnel of trees (look for Quick's shoe while you are there). Since there was no way to prove whether or not these riders actually did the loop, a few people were determined to make sure all riders did the loop this year.

It was supposed to rain. I mean storm and be all sorts of nasty. I was game. Everyone was trying to weenie out on me. The weather was starting to look better, rain later in the day. And off we went. 

Foo camped well. It was really warm the night before the ride. A deck of cards had been put out in a bucket strung between two water barrels with a deck of cards. You were to bring a card back if you were to complete. 

The 50s left only 15 minutes before us. We wanted to leave at the tail end of the group. Not too far behind because we wouldn't make time, but let majority of the riders get ahead of us. 

My goal with Foo, walk out of camp on a loose rein. Everything else didn't matter. And we did. Everything was going great, we went down a little hill, and then were caught by two gaited horses. I don't know if Foo has seen gaited horses before, and they were shuffling quickly down the hill. I had to stop her and get her to just stand, not as quietly as I would have liked, but enough to let them pass. After we got moving again Foo was jigging. We were going at a slight downhill. Where was a nice long uphill when you needed it? Foo was not happy, and finally I told her to knock it off and she quit for the most part.

Photos by Cassidy Rae

Once we got moving she was great. She settled down to do her job, and was happy about it. We were both convinced that she would make an endurance horse. We were going at a good pace. This is NOT an easy ride, it is not one where you can go slow. We were passing horses with no problems and getting passed with no issues. She was doing more downhill trotting than she had ever done. Everyone question I asked was met with a yes.

We finished the first loop back in camp. Roz will not pee unless tied or in a corral so we walked the horses over, let Roz have her potty break and came back for our pulse. Both girls pulsed down and vetted through. We returned to our camp to let them rest.

Off we went again for the final 15 mile loop. I was able to get my GPS app working so I could see just how tough that hill was! (I was curious after last year) We had some rough trail in the woods. Then onto a logging road. Foo was starting to get a little tired, she would ask to walk down the big downhills. We came across a guy leading his horse. The horse had pulled a shoe. I had been there the year before, cursing my luck that I didn't have a boot. I looked at the horse's hoof, it was tiny, long and very upright. I handed him the boot I had and he was able to get it on. I had to help adjust the cables because it was one I had replaced and the cable is stuck between the wall of the boot and the o ring inside. (I have been meaning to fix it, but, as it is still that way obviously I haven't) It fit and was good to go. We went on ahead. I have obviously learned from last year to ALWAYS carry a boot with me... or two...

Foo hair everywhere!

The trail to the out and back was slightly different this year, they were logging along the beginning of it. Foo had no problem going past a big smelly water truck. We could see the clouds flying by up above, the storm was coming in. The wind had picked up. We came upon a Ride and Tie-er. He was running down the hill. He asked if we had seen his horse and we hadn't. (I had picked up a boot along the way before but it wasn't his horse's) Down we went towards the big climb. We trotted a good deal of the hill. I kid you not, this guy was catching us! He was a BEAST. He just kept chugging along up the hill. We came up on a rider leading his horse, he tried to hop on and have us drag him along but we were moving too fast. 
At the top of the hill the runner was catching us again! 
He caught us for the last time at the water barrels where our 'poker' cards were. I picked out two, one for Paula and one for myself. We found out later that his horse could not catch him going up the hill! No wonder! He was running almost as fast as the horses!

We went down the pretty wooded trail, where Quick lost his shoe last year. By this point Foo was tired, but still game. We continued on, racing the storm in. I vaguely remembered some of the trail, a lot of it last year was spent making sure the boot I had borrowed didn't fly off. Foo led across the stream, no problems with water crossings apparently!

We came to almost the end of the trail before crossing the road, it had been pretty fresh last year, and bad footing. We crossing from the logged area into a grassy area and suddenly Foo went straight up on all four feet. It took me a moment to realize what had happened, bees! (or more likely one of their devilish cousins, wasps, hornets, or yellow jackets) Foo was getting stung, she was listening to me as I was saying wait. I yelled for Paula to go, the footing was awful, deep muddy and rocks. Not footing you could really move in! Foo was being so good, I could tell she was getting stung multiple times. I got stung twice myself. We picked our way through and were soon out of harm's way!
We passed Mary going out to see about the bee problem. Time was ticking and off we went. Foo kept shaking her head as if something was still bothering her. So we made time, trotting off. It wasn't until we were coming into Ride Camp that the wind blew her mane away and we saw IT. A nasty bee like thing had crawled under her mane and was there biting and stinging her. Poor girl! Paula reached over and got it off. Foo was quite relieved.

I was a little worried about both horse's heart rates coming down with getting stung by the bees. That has happened to Roz before. But since everyone had gotten to the bees before us, maybe they lacked super strong venom. Both mares pulsed down nicely and we vetted through. Celena came in on her handsome TB gelding Thunder, in the lead of the 50.

We rugged up the girls just in time for the sky to open up. Usually we wait for a while for the horses to rest, but they were miserable. So we quickly put everything in the trailer and loaded the horses in. Celena rode out into the rain on her last 10 mile loop. I was glad that last year it didn't rain on Quick and I!

So Foo completed her first LD! She is going to be an endurance horse!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, she sounds like an outstanding mare! Congrats on the completion, especially considering the drama at the end.