I decided to take both horses to Lions Tail to compete each day. I entered Chip in the 33km class on the Saturday and Nahdia in the 80km on Sunday.
Why would I bother to take Chip to a 30km when he obviously doesn’t ‘need’ to do it???... I’m very aware that I don’t want him to think that every time we go to a ride it’s going to be really long or really far. He absolutely loves his job and I know that he really enjoyed his 120km at Euston but equally I thought that taking him to a small venue and doing a short distance would be good for his brain. However, He seemed to be a bit miffed by the ride, he’s got quite used to continuous canter work, his full crew team and his vet gate buffet and the route at Lions Tail wasn’t as good as I remembered so I had to slow him down quite a lot. We overtook everyone quite near the beginning and rode pretty much the whole way alone which is never his favourite thing. We got back to the venue to find we were the only ones back and were there for 15 mins before anyone else returned!
I am still aiming to take him to the 2* at Royalties on the 6th October but am worrying that it is only seven weeks after Euston. He had three weeks completely off and then has spent the past week doing some gentle work followed by the 30km at Lions Tail on Saturday. He will have just one further ‘hard’ session before the race which works out timing-wise perfectly – 10 days after Lions Tail and 10 days before Royalties. He has been totally sound and well since Euston, bar one week of looking a bit slim after his 120km. With the help of my sponsors I have come up with a plan as I feel I underestimated the increased protein requirement post-race. Chip has a really solid topline and is quite a hunk of a horse so on a day-to-day you wouldn’t really question his protein intakes but clearly he needs a lot more for racing. At least I know this now, it won’t happen again! I’m quietly confident that he will be fine but I will wait until the last big canter before I put my entry in (just in case) it is Chip after all!
Now for Sunday and Nahdia. It’s been quite a while since I did a two-day turnaround travelling two consecutive days to compete separate horses. I forgot how tiring the travelling element is! We were loaded and on the road for a 6am – autumn is here – we were getting ready in the dark for the first time in a while! I had planned and entered Nahdia to run her first race at Boyton Hall on the 2nd September. I really put the work in and she was looking 100% and I’m sure would have given me a really exciting race. Sadly it was not to be as she came in from the field on the Tuesday with lots of scrapes and cuts, and a slight swelling on the outside of her right hind along the cannon where there were the most significant scrapes. She was sound but I was not going to be the person turning up with a horse covered in cuts and I would not compromise her by taking a risk. Back to the drawing board it looked like there wasn’t going to be an opportunity to take her to a CER and an 80km GER would have to suffice. She needs the second 80km to be able to do FEI next year so I was keen to get it done before the end of the season.
Reviewing the calendar, it seemed that my only options were Lions Tail and Royalties. Obviously, all my attention will be on Chip for Royalties and I would rather not deal with the stress of separation anxiety from each of them at the venue and the associated stress of worrying about which ever one is in the stable for the day. This left Lions Tail as the only option. In my memory it was a really nice ride but Saturday proved that the going was hard, lots of roadwork and a significant amount of hard stony tracks. Given the context I didn’t feel I totally had an option to not go but I did seriously consider it as I don’t like running qualifiers on tough courses. Controversial maybe, but I just don’t think it’s entirely necessary when we have so many nice rides to chose from. Anyway, given the context I decided to go and take it steady.
Disappointingly, she was quite stressed at the venue and whilst not by any means as bad as when I first had her, I did feel we’d taken a step back from her previous two competitions when she’d been super calm. Nonetheless, we did still vet without a bridle so that is a bonus. Tacking up proved to be exciting and she managed to whack me across my temple when I was getting on. A temporary moment of thinking I might immediately fall back off I managed to not do that, regained which way was up again and off we made our way to the start. (I’m now forming a black eye!!). In usual Nahdia fashion she tried to go off like a rocket at the start and was super keen to get going. From Saturday’s ride I knew that the first part was where time could be made up so I was happy to let her canter on a bit. It was frustrating though that all the work I have been doing at home to improve her way of going and to get her off the forehand went out the window completely for the first half of the ride. We unfortunately got caught up with another ex-racehorse and I really struggled to hold her. Another disappointment as she has been going so well her in her sweet iron bevel I loathe having to try to find something else! By the time we made it to the first crew point she was white and frothy which is really embarrassing! Thankfully once she’d had a slosh and we got away from the other horse she settled much more and after perhaps 10km or so I had her back to listening to me and working in a correct frame – yes!
One of the biggest issues I find riding Nahdia is that she is not as straight, balanced or strong as Chip. Whenever I get on her compared to Chip I feel like I have got on an octopus. She’s not a trippy horse and is very sure footed but Chip just has so much self-carriage that she feels really odd in comparison. I find I have to ‘ride’ every km with her to keep her within herself and not getting strung out and sloppy. The improvement from when her first got her is immense but there is still so much to do. I think riding the same course the very day after riding it on Chip was the most noticeable difference I have felt between the two horses. I kept thinking, I cannot wait for the winter of strengthening and schooling because she will come into the spring a different horse I guarantee.
At the third crew point I was starting to feel uncertain as to her soundness, so intermittent and so slight I wasn’t sure. I trotted on the road to my crew, standing up in my stirrups so they could see. Deemed sound by them I carried on. By the fourth crew point we’d done nearly 12km of hard stone tracks and once the seed of doubt has been planted it’s hard to budge. I took it very steadily keeping her in a very balanced and controlled trot between crew point three and four. As we were on the road (again) to the forth crew point, I got off and ran toward my crew so they could judge her without a rider on her back. She did three intermittent short strides of the perhaps thirty strides that she did. I thought she was sound and my crew said so, and you can hear it on the road. Only 4km back from the venue, we all agreed to ride back in. I’d made up my mind that I would retire at the VG whatever the outcome as there was something going on but we weren’t sure what!
Into the venue and it took 4 mins to pulse down. This is not normal for Nahdia who’s recoveries are excellent and I was now even more sure there was something up. A pulse of 60 after 4mins on an average speed of 14.5kmph is not good at all. Unsurprisingly, from the first step off down the trot up I knew she was lame. Granted only a half-tenth lame but lame nonetheless. The vet said it was so mild that she suspected it would only a be a stone bruise and that she’d be fine in a few days.
However, I think it is too easy to blame the lameness on a stone and I personally get annoyed when I see other people saying ‘oh, and unlucky stone’ and of course it is possible that it was just an unlucky stone but I don’t like coincidences either. The swelling on her RH was only two weeks ago, and whilst she never went lame, I’m sure that was a factor here. In all her TENS treatments this week I was finding mild tightness in her RH glute, it released after every treatment and I wasn’t concerned but looking back I wonder whether there was some compensatory actions going on which overloaded that NF? There’s also the overreach on her NF which is 6 weeks old. Again, there was no lameness, not even a swelling on that one, but at the back of my mind I’m thinking, is there something just niggling there?
Added to which, she always dominates her left lead canter. Of course I have been working hard in training to correct this and as much as her preferring her left lead it is also the fact that she hadn’t ever learned the commands of which lead to take. I’m almost fanatical about training on even leads but it is much more difficult to enforce on a ride and can waste a lot of energy asking for endless transitions. Should I have been stricter? Should I have enforced a perfect 50/50 split in the canter? There’s a part of me that knows that the horse will work on its strengths and to let them go how they feel but there’s a bigger part of me that knows I am responsible for the way she is travelling. The rider has the responsibility of how the horse is going, I know that if she works harder on one lead it will have consequences, she doesn’t. Equally, I knew that the tracks were hard having ridden there on Saturday, I knew there were going to be stones. Had I known how stony the tracks were I would have padded up, but I didn’t have that option only knowing this last minute, so I could have pulled out? It was my choice to go. Perhaps she wasn’t warmed up enough at the early part of the ride? Perhaps the problem is higher up in the RH over-exerting herself at the start? There are so many reasons playing on my mind, and it could just be that unlucky stone, but I’m not content with that theory. I have to take comfort that she is only so very slightly lame and that I feel I did ride to the conditions. I am frustrated with myself and upset that Nahdia is lame. It’s easy to forget that lameness does actually equal pain and I hate the thought that I did that to her.
I feel particularly frustrated that this was Nahdia’s last ride of the season. She has had a flawless year, completing 2x 40kms, 1x 64km and 1x 80km and has sailed through them all. I feel I have let her down with her first lameness ever and an elimination on her card to finish the season. It’s also shaken me a bit that I missed it, and it’s put even more doubt on Royalties for Chip – is that 7 weeks too soon? Nahdia and Chip are totally unrelated separate entities, he’s given me absolutely no causes for concern, but the mind is a funny thing and I think our own state of mind is totally downplayed in endurance. It’s Monday, I know it’s still raw, given a few days I’ll probably be thinking about it more rationally but my overall feeling today is disappointment and shame.
I hate to finish my blog on a negative note but I think it’s important to talk about the lows as well as the highs. It’s too easy to talk openly when everything is going right and forget to mention when anything is going wrong. That’s how we learn, I hope that others can learn from my experiences and will also think more analytically when something goes wrong.