Through the Finish Flags
The 2019 Journal


- Intro to a Last Season

- State of the Nation (Jan 6)
- Ralph's Saddle Saga (Jan 13)
- No Traction in January (Jan 20)
- Best Laid Plans (Jan 30)
- Ralph Tells All! (Feb 9)

Intro to a Last Season

2018 was not the year I had hoped for. I was excited about taking on another OTTB, Eddie, in February, but literally days later lost my Dad - and my biggest supporter. Understandably, riding took a back seat to real life and the adjustments and arrangements that followed his death.

Eventually I was back training Ralph for the upcoming season with the back-of-the-mind idea that we might move up to Training if all went well. Eddie at only 5 years old was adapting to a less stressful life and we wanted to give his tense body and less-than-perfect feet time to improve, so he was hanging out and taking it easy.

Ralph and I began the season in May at a stadium/cross-country competition that started wonderfully - he jumped super and I felt I rode well with the feeling that I had figured something important out. He placed 2nd in his first class and the second one, at a higher level, began equally well. In the last line something went wrong and Ralph missed his distance at an oxer, resulting in him putting one front leg on either side of the back rail, causing him to fall and sending us both to the ground - hard.

While he seemed unhurt, my confidence was seriously shaken and when I had another fall (this time hurting my back badly) from Eddie a short time later the competition season I was so looking forward to was suddenly on the back burner.

Eddie was sent off for training and he returned with some of the basics in place and a more cooperative attitude. He is now being half-leased and enjoying his work; we look forward to next year with him.

While I continued to ride Ralph, his competition efforts were with Claudia and Kathy while I worked on regaining confidence. A lot of thinking was also going on - I didn't want to finish a 40-year 'career' walking out of the ring bleeding after Ralph's fall, but I would be 59 in 2019 and I knew my ability to train and compete successfully would require significant time and effort. I think the older you get, the more important it is to ride regularly (5-6 times a week), be physically fit and mentally focused. The aches and pains are real and the desire to do the work despite them must be strong. I spoke to my husband, and Alison at work, telling them I wanted one more season of Eventing and I would need their support. Paul's concern was that I could be hurt (which, of course could happen, but my most serious injury to date has been a concussion incurred slipping on the walkway outside my house!); Alison, as always, said she would do whatever needed to be done.

I was happy with that and continued riding with renewed energy. At the same time, I decided I would write a blog to follow the progress of my last year - an older adult amateur trying to rebuild confidence has a certain (limited) audience, but I would be doing it with Ralph (who has a much larger one!), a truly special and funny horse with many mental and physical quirks to go along with his honest and genuine nature. I also wanted to document and remember this final season; my memory aint what it used to be!

Before the year could begin, a spanner was thrown in the works - in December Ralph had a couple of 'episodes' where he exhibited stiffness and some incoordination. I've decided the blog will go on; this is horses after all, and anyone in the game for any length of time knows it's not all sunshine and red ribbons (or even the "well, at least I finished" mauve one for 10th place).

State of the Nation

The Christmas and New Year's celebrations are over and we finished counting our inventory at Sandridge Saddlery. I'm relieved to be done with a year which began with the loss of my Dad, continued on with me having two significant falls (one each from Ralph and Eddie) which ultimately put a kibosh on my entire competition season, and finished with Ralph running into a health issue which was quite worrying.

The rest of the gang at Sandridge Farm did not fare much better - Eby had a couple of bad falls and wound up with Alice on stall rest for a few months, and with Peekay being prematurely retired due to developing epilepsy, Kathy was also left without a regular ride. There were several bright spots, of course, and I have learned that it doesn't pay to get too high or too low over the successes and failures that come with horses. Having said all that, here's where we stand at the beginning of a shiny new year...

Eddie is being half-leased by Laurie, who seems to click with him and stays calm and cool when he has an attack of 'young-horse-itis'. Despite our rough start, I'm still committed to getting him well-started and finding him the home and the job that suits him best. Laurie rides him three times a week, including a couple of lessons with Claudia; Claudia schools him once, and I will start working him myself at a pace that I'm comfortable with. I am still a bit anxious about falling and getting hurt, but my more rational side believes that Eddie isn't beyond my skill level and I just need to get on with it! This week's rides (only my second and third on him since my fall in July) consisted of about 15 minutes of walking and trotting and several more of 'hanging out'. I was delighted to ride through one uneventful spook and feel like I'm getting a bit of a handle on steering...

Ralph is tentatively back to work. Kathy and I have each given him a spin and he felt quite perky and relaxed - a welcome change from early December when he didn't seem his usual happy self; acting a bit grumpy and even less interested in his feed than usual. He also had two weird episodes - in the first he seemed very stiff and uncoordinated and was very sore - grunting when he moved. A few days later he was lying down at dinner time and didn't want to get up. Again, he seemed very stiff and didn't want to move. We have treated him with Banamine and Previcox, gave him a few sessions of physical therapy and a few weeks off and he seems back to his normal self...we'll take it slowly and if he exhibits any further strange behaviour I'll get him up to Ste-Hyacinthe for further evaluation.

I need to get fitter and find a way to manage my lower back pain. X-rays and CT scans show where the damage is, but there's no magic bullet to make it better. Not surprisingly, it doesn't bother me while I'm riding, but I will often pay for it later. I plan to find a physiotherapist who can help keep me comfortable, and will add some cardio (probably running in the evening with Toasty) to the exercises I do every morning to keep me (somewhat) flexible and strong. On the psychological side I am lucky to have Claudia as a coach as I tend to dwell on my failings rather than celebrating the successes; she is as positive and supportive as they come.

The basics are in place and I'm ready to see what we can do; let's go 2019 - bring it on!


Ralph's Saddle Saga

When Ralph first came into my life I still had Remy. His saddles were both Amerigos (yes, I know - there are definitely perks to having a tack shop!). Ralph was very fit and on the thin side and really didn't have any sort of topline. I verified the basic fit of the saddles to ensure they weren't going to hurt Ralph, and in fact had to change the model of the jump saddle right away as it wasn't an acceptable fit. I then 'padded up' and got to work.

Ralph has changed a lot over the years, and for a couple of years the dressage saddle fit him really well. Then I noticed it fit him well in the winter, when Ralph was fatter, but I had to use a wither pad during the competition season once he was really fit. The saddle would tip a little with less fat around his withers, and though he never complained and we never found any associated soreness, I could feel a change in the balance.
This worked well for a year or so, but then the wither pad wasn't quite stable enough so Vicky and I decided it was time to modify the tree from a medium-wide to a medium. This again worked really well for another year or so, but once his shape matured and stabilized we determined it was time to find something that would fit Ralph a more consistantly.
He has a high wither and we felt he would likely benefit from the traditional 'thoroughbred'type' panel that provides more support below and beside the withers. Vicky came out and verified that the best tree for him would be the 'Fusion' from Jeremy Rudge, then I got to choose the flap design ('petite, with thigh blocks on velcro), and leather (soft, grippy 'Mellow' in two-tone black and brown).
Shortly after Christmas it arrived, but Ralph was still recovering from his body stiffness/soreness. Vicky again came out to check the fit and made a small adjustment to the wool flocking and we were ready to go. I have had a couple of rides on the saddle at this point and certainly feel it is balanced and comfortable for Ralph. It is still a new saddle though, and requires a couple of conditioning sessions (I use Oakwood Conditioner) and a few more hours of riding time before it feels like home.

Something to keep in mind - just because "it's always been fine" doesn't mean it continues to be. Take an objective look at your saddle fit every 6 months at least!

No Traction in January

After all these years I should know that despite my best intentions it is almost impossible to 'hit the ground running' in January. We are now the third week into a shiny new year and I doubt I've managed to ride two days in a row! If it's not the weather, it's appointments or personal obligations that mess up my schedule.
I have learned that my best time to ride is first thing - soon after I have done my own stretching exercises and before the day gets away from me and I look up to discover I have run out of time.
Riding in the morning also sets me up for the rest of the day; I think I'm a little more patient and less irritable when I have had some exercise and 'equine therapy' first thing.

So, between my mornings not behaving as they should and the icy/cold conditions we've had, I haven't developed a routine yet. Fortunately (or unfortunately!) I've gone through this before and am not panicking just yet - I will wait until the end of February and then begin stressing over how little time there is before a new season starts! The other fly in the ointment has been Ralph's continuing health mystery. After a couple of weeks off after the two episodes he had in December, I started riding him again and all was well - until Andy sensed he wasn't right at lunchtime one day and checked on him later in the afternoon to find him again lying down and in considerable discomfort. Dr. Halle was again called out and treated him with Banamine; followed up with x-rays of his neck the following day. There has been some back and forth about what has been seen on them, so currently I am waiting to hear what a second radiologist thinks. In the meantime, Ralph was put on Previcox for a week and the idea was to see how he felt on that. I managed to get on him twice and Claudia once, and he seemed very comfortable and happy each time. Now the medication will have worn off, we will see if that changes things. It can be so frustrating getting a diagnosis when the patient can't tell us what he's feeling!

Eddie, on the other hand, has been ticking along pretty well. Though he is still somewhat tense physically and worries a bit about the consequences of making a mistake, his flatwork is improving and his jumping is super - he seems to really enjoy it and it comes easily to him. He is starting to experiment with the concept of relaxation, softening his neck and topline for a few strides here and there and discovering nothing bad happens to him. He had his first therapy session with Mychelle this past week and seemed to respond very well - Claudia reported he felt like he was a hand taller when she started his trot work! I am looking forward to doing some more structured groundwork with him to help with his trust and confidence issues, but I think it can wait until the temperature goes above -15!

Best Laid Plans

I was quite determined to get on track with a riding schedule this week, but life continues to get in the way of the best-laid plans...

The week started with an unplanned trip to the hospital with my step-mother, Betty, on Monday, continued into the horrible weather conditions on Tuesday and Wednesday, and hit its low-point with a flood in our basement Thursday. I did manage to ride Ralph on Wednesday and he didn't feel too bad. It is tough to discern whether he is being lazy, is stiff due to irregular activity, or is not feeling good due to whatever has been bothering him!

Although the horses are out almost every day for 4-6 hours, they are not moving around very much because of the icy conditions and we need to be careful to warm up slowly and be patient with what we ask in the 'work' phase. Ralph is so honest and willing that he doesn't resist on a bad day - he just feels stiff and not very motivated. I am still waiting on some results from the vet and in the meantime I'm investigating everything from Lyme disease to selenium deficiency.

I did have my best ride yet on Eddie. Granted, we were only walking and trotting - but he felt more relaxed and straighter, and when he had a little shy or start, my heart wasn't in my mouth! He too needed a change of saddles as we noticed there was a little heat in his back and evidence of pressure points. The last thing we need to do is antagonize him with an ill-fitting saddle. When I lunged him on Sunday and the stirrups slipped down and were flapping around a bit, Eddie displayed his athletic bucking ability - I think any back issues are slight at this stage! Laurie had one particularly good session with him; jumping a little 5-jump grid with no problems at all, and Claudia bundled up as usual and made sure she also gave him a school despite the frigid temperatures.

Ralph Tells All!

I once read a book called, "A Year at the Races", by Jane Smiley. Jane is a small Throughbred racehorse breeder in California and the book chronicled her trials and tribulations, including those dealing with a young horse called "Hornblower" who was performing below expectations. In an effort to figure out why, Jane enlists an animal communicator and I found the resulting conversations with 'Wowie' (what the horse preferred to be called) both interesting and hilarious.

Like any horse owner, I find Ralph to be endlessly facinating and would LOVE to know what he is thinking. His recent mysterious body-soreness-episodes have been particularly frustrating - if only he could tell me what's wrong! - and I thought I'd take the leap of faith and shell out $ 90 on a communicator to 'speak' to Ralph.

The communicator had me on the phone while she had her session with him. She had asked me previously if I wanted to know anything in particular and I said I'd like to know about his physical well-being, and what he liked and didn't like. I figured that was sufficiently vague to avoid leading anywhere, and I really wanted to see what 'he' would come up with. I was totally fine with throwing the money away in the interest of entertainment, and if I learned anything remotely helpful in figuring out what was wrong with him - bonus. I was extremely sceptical about this process, but I was also sceptical about acupuncture until I saw with my own eyes and experienced what a difference it can make. Never say never - right??

Well, I got my money's worth of amusement. Not sure whether there is anything of value in diagnosing his mysterious ailment, but here goes...

The first thing Ralph wanted to tell me was that he loved me. (Excellent start!) Then he wanted us to know that he knows a LOT of swear words. (I'm not making this up) The communicator then coughed and said he was making her cough and I wondered if he might be cribbing? (sceptical/gullible). She said he doesn't want to be a cribber but his stomach felt better when he cribbed. He told her he had been on Omeprazole but that he doesn't have ulcers, but he has a burning like heartburn. He loves his hay, but doesn't eat his grain because he sometimes 'swallows it down his wrong throat'. She then told me she can tell he's an absolute sweetheart and a gentleman and is very chatty. (Surprise!)

He apparently wanted to know what photos she had of him and told her he had three blankets. He likes the therapeutic one and says it helps him. He likes to be cosy. He asked her if he is going to be out 24/7 (yes - I've been thinking about this!) and she asked him if he would like that. He said he would, that he could breath better, but he wouldn't like it if it was icy. He doesn't want to fall on the ice and 'walks carefully, carefully, carefully' so he doesn't. He mentioned that he has a problem coming into the barn because he has to watch his feet so he doesn't slip.

He then went on to say he wanted to talk about his high withers. (Umm, okay) He wanted to know if he still has a topline. He said he was happy about his saddle fitting better because it went for repair (well, no, Ralphie - I spent $ 3,000 on a NEW one!) and he likes the girth I'm using now. (Yes, I did change it). Communicator then interrupted and said,"He's so smart, and a bit of a rascal. He's very brave and he behaves himself. He's also a bit of a ham". She also said I should be careful what I tell him. (In hindsight, I guess I should have asked what she meant...)

She then told me he wanted me to know he likes girls (not sure if equine or human or both), he likes Eventing and he 'knows how to do his stuff". He wanted her to know he's not a 'schoolie'. He continued that he would never try to hurt me. Then he said he knows everything (is this a male thing???). He then said he missed me (I wasn't at the barn today - wish my husband missed me that much!) and he likes all the treats I give him - now THAT'S shocking. He thinks I haven't been riding him because of the cold, and wants me to know he doesn't want to be retired. He said he doesn't know how to open his door, and that the horse two doors down poops in his feed and/or water bucket. (That's being a tattletale, Ralph. Peekay used to do that until we moved her bucket a couple of years ago. I guess time might be different for horses)

When I asked about his physical issues, he said his left hind leg sometimes feels like it is cramping and he doesn't want to move when it does that. Then he mentioned a sharp tooth he has that bothers him. (He just had his teeth done a couple of months ago - I'll have to check). She told me he breaths shallowly and may have an oxygen problem. He said he's not lazy but he hasn't got a lot of energy 'because of the moon" (Wow, thanks Ralph - that helps). His right front foot is a little sore (he does have some bruising at the toe of that foot). There wasn't any mention of his neck issues or why he trips - I've got to say I was so amused by what I was hearing, I forgot to ask some of my more important questions.

I asked if he likes Eddie, and he said he does, but he doesn't know why Eddie makes ugly faces at him. He also said Eddie is famous(!).

Then he told her that he's 'not afraid of dangerous animals'. Apparently they have been in the field with him and "they looked at me, and I looked at them, and I wasn't afraid and I didn't run away". (Deer? Turkeys? Coyotes? You 'da man, Ralph!)

So, yes, Ralph apparently has a lot to say, and I'd better start listening more carefully. And, of course, being more mindful about what I tell him!