Shifting Focus

Before every big trip or event, I try to carve out some quiet space to tinker with something and visualize the path ahead. Usually this is done around packing, though last week I hauled out my saddle and futzed with my saddle bags after noticing how jangly they were at speed. I set the Wintec on a stand and pulled everything out of my saddle bags onto a table loaded with every type of tie and rope available (scissor snaps, Velcro loops, S biners, heavy duty twist ties and zip ties).

As I’m trying different attachment methods and ways to keep them off her neck and determining what needs to be in the bags for an actual endurance ride versus what can get tossed, I was thinking through the trip, the vetting in, the ride itself and the after care. I remember the tired joy of passing the final vet check, trotting up for my completion award at the rider meeting, shoving food in my face while my sweaty horse rolls and the mild anxiety of tracking their bowel movements and appetite and drinking, the concentration of fussing over them and making sure they’re comfortable after their big effort.

Tying my Fuzzy Butts seat cover back on (it’s been off most of the summer as it’s been too hot for it to be comfortable), I turned to working through what could go wrong. Twice now Tarma has totally blown through the bridle when Cody’s been in front of us and she’s cantered up and shoved past him on trail, only to come to a halt when she chooses to a few feet in front of him. It’s not quite a true bolt, which I consider to have a measure of fear or panic driving it, but she’s definitely not stopping when I ask when the comfort gelding dares to get in front of her (it’s not every time, just when she’s feeling particularly spicy as far as I can tell). I know it’s reveling some training hole and I’m considering a bit for occasional use. At the actual ride, this is 100% where we went off the rails. Tarma locked on to a group ahead of us, and went full steam ahead. I almost had her pulled back and the reins slipped and she cantered off down a tiny, tiny incline, and off I went into some damn blackberry bushes. That I was able to hold onto the reins so she had to stick with me and I was able to climb back on and enjoy a smooth ride from there doesn’t discount the training hole.

Now that we’ve been home for three days and Tarma’s more or less recovered, I can shift my focus to planning out the winter ahead. Finance, time and weather wise this was probably our last trip of the year, and boy do we have a lot to work on over the home season. Chief among them, and most urgent, is gathering funds for a new saddle. My stopgap measures of flocking, gym workouts and a Thinline pad on top of my fleece Mattes pad aren’t quite holding up to the rigors of fast and long. Tarma clearly has white hairs four spots on her back, and she’s starting to show mild signs of unease under saddle, mainly a swishing tail. Thanks to a local saddle fitter, I know what type of Western tree she needs, and it’s a custom build (a Steele tree in XB size, with a 16 inch seat but shortened bars of only 21 inches, for the saddle nerds out there, I see you). I’ve somewhat narrowed down my decision between Kuda Saddlery, Allegheny Saddlery, and DP Saddlery, though I have yet to sit in a Kuda or DP, the main thing I don’t know is what kind of twist I prefer, so if anyone local as one I can sit in, I’ll be at your place this weekend!

In the meantime we’ll be starting dressage lessons again with my trainer, with an eye to building up her back, lowering her neck and getting her to lift a bit more deliberately. With less trips planned we can take a breather on the harder conditioning rides, which will hopefully get us through until a new saddle arrives, along with trying to shim my current setup to account for the dip on her right shoulder. I’m proud we were able to complete an endurance ride together, but I can also acknowledge the work still to be done to be better set up for the next one in the spring.

I have a few other things to learn as well. I did this first ride fairly “hands off”, as I wanted a baseline to mark Tarma’s progress against. I didn’t electrolyte her, I didn’t do standing wraps, or really anything other than what I do after every ride, mainly liniment for her back. She did have some filling in her legs on Sunday, but with movement and some cold hosing she’s back to normal. This means I’ll have to have clay and saran wrap, standing wraps (and practice, I’ve never done them) and teach her to stand in a bucket of water. She loved the Purina ReplinishMash on training rides, and barely touched it at the endurance ride, but she hovered up the weed free hay and alfalfa like always, so I’ll just keep having a variety for her to pick at. Always something to futz with for this sport!

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After years of borrowing horses, working to ride and catch riding, I finally have my own horse, a spicy chocolate mare...but also a demanding day job (who doesn't?), a nerdy husband, a soccer loving kid who needs to be parented (by me, duh), and the ultimate trail buddy, a chocolate Labradork!

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