Another good competition result! This time it was Chiara’s turn. Whilst concentrating on Dilmun last month, Chiara’s training was perhaps less than I would have liked.
Although fitness work was complete, there was insufficient time to pay detailed attention to all the other things Chiara needed to perfect. During fitness training I found that it was quite simply impossible to slow Chiara down when cantering using her hanging snaffle. This was whilst working on our own so I dread to think how it would be when cantering in a group. Rather reluctantly I reverted to her Dutch gag with the reins on the middle ring. I truly hate using a severe bit but accept that sometimes it is necessary and when it is respected minimal pressure is needed for the desired result.
OK, so now I have the essential brakes BUT drinking en route is also essential and Chiara was still having some difficulty drinking with a bit in situ. Of course it would, in theory, be possible on a relatively slow ride to periodically jump off, unclip the bit and let her drink but it is far from ideal and when we move onto race riding next year it would be impossible. The issue is not getting her to drink but either giving her the confidence to try with a bit or to provide something so delicious that she will persist in trying to drink until she has cracked it. With that in mind, I have changed the sugar beet I use to the molassed type in her sugar beet tea and this has definitely increased desire if not necessarily perceived ability.
It is also necessary to eat regularly throughout a longer distance ride. Horses are ‘grazers’ and are designed to munch away for many hours a day. We humans disrupt this in endurance by asking them to cover large distances over a long period of time therefore we must ensure that they eat as often as possible. Now Chiara is better at eating with a bit in her mouth than drinking but, unlike most horses I know, she doesn’t automatically try to graze, pick at hedges etc once we have stopped. Again encouragement is needed in the form of particularly tasty morsels to temp her appetite. Yes, this works to a degree but horse cannot live on apples alone and more work needs to be done here!
Another thing that really needed practice was loading and travelling. Unfortunately there was no time to practice this before our next competition so it was on a wing and a prayer that Chiara was loaded to travel to Barbury Castle in Wiltshire for her first 80 km competition. Luckily she took just 5 minutes to load and travelled the 5 hours to Barbary pretty well even taking some water (and apples!) on board when we refuelled.
Barbury Castle was to be Chiara’s first sleepover; actually the first time in an electrified corral. She aced it! She was relaxed and happy alternately grazing and looking around her at all the other horses in their corrals. After she had chilled out a bit I took her for a good walk to look round the vetting area, the hold area and the really scary cross country jumps near the start and the finish.
The following morning after a leisurely start, I took Chiara off to the pre-ride vetting. I was hopeful she would be chilled (after our last experience at the Boconnoc ride) but alas it was not to be. We had arranged to ride together with a friend and her horse who was at the same competitive stage as Chiara so we went to the vetting together; big mistake. Chiara saw ‘Norman’ doing his trot up whilst having her heart rate taken and flipped. As it was a pre-ride vetting the vet kindly allowed us to wait until Chiara’s heart rate went back to normal, then the trot up which felt like flying beside a winged Pegasus!
Within half an hour we were tacked up, mounted, warmed up and ready to start; an exciting start negotiating the dreaded cross country obstacles (and we didn’t even have to jump them!) and attempting to stay cool and calm across the open grassland at the beginning of the course with other horses disappearing ahead into the distance.
Chiara and Norman soon settled down into a good rhythm and speed and the first loop passed fairly uneventfully with Chiara even managing a little sugar beet tea.
On we went to Chiara’s first vet gate. I had decided in advance that this was all about a good experience for Chiara and not about how quickly we could present to the vet. It was a very warm day but we had anticipated this and had plenty of ice with us to cool Chiara down (necessary to get her pulse down to below 65 bpm). She drank a good quantity of water on entering the vet gate after her bit was removed, but was pretty fidgety whilst being cooled so we waited almost 10 minutes to present to the vet. After the experience of the pre-ride vetting, the horses vetted together resulting in Chiara’s heart rate being acceptable. Unfortunately Norman managed to strike into himself during his trot up and was temporarily lame so was not allowed to go out onto the next loop.
After eating rather sparingly we tacked up again and set out on the final 40 km on our own. Chiara was such a little star leaving all the other horses and cantering off past all those scary jumps again. We overtook several riders, opened and closed gates and maintained a steady pace, eventually catching up with 2 other riders in our class and proceeded steadily to the finish line.
The final vetting was similar to the halfway one with Chiara being fidgety and not really settling and the trot up was again rather on the fast side for my 80 km legs. However, she passed the vetting and we had completed her first 80 km competition at a good speed and still with a very keen horse!
Chiara then had a good two weeks’ rest which was followed by some gentle schooling. We now have some access to some large fields close to us now that the crops are off and we can do some canter work. The next competition planned is Chiara’s second 80 km, this time in Wales so hill preparation will be a must.
Meanwhile Wizard has had his shoes restored to him and to say he was delighted would be an understatement; he was ecstatic! Although Wizard is now 21 he loves to work (not too hard) and, although he won’t be fit enough to do another competitive ride this season, he will do some light hacking and a little dressage.
Dilmun is now on holiday with Fantom and will have his shoes off in the next week or so and has access to much more grass where both he and Fantom can develop rather fat tummies. Both boys are lucky to be in the orchard and have access not only to great grass, but also to as many apples as they can steal over the electric fence.