Ride Report - Kings Forest 40km

If you read my previous blog you’ll know that I took both Chip and Spice to Kings Forest to compete. It is with some sadness therefore that Spice’s accolades didn’t really get the full appreciation at the time that they deserved!

In a weird way, I think I actually quite liked the fact that I was competing Chip the day before and had so much else to think/worry about other than Spice’s 40km. It was definitely some tactical distractionary behaviour on my behalf – even if I didn’t totally believe it at the time!

Spice and I have had quite the journey in the two years of ownership thus far. We made it to one pleasure ride in 2021, two weeks before our accident. After the accident my confidence plummeted and we began an extensive and lengthy vet investigation trying to find a cause for the behaviour. By January I was ready to start some work with him and after initially starting off well we struggled again with some antisocial and dangerous behaviour in February. If you want to know all the details I’d read this previous blog also 😊

In February, I was advised by no less than seven people to have Spice euthanized on the grounds of this behaviour. Obviously, I didn’t take their advice and hoped sincerely that I was capable of turning it around.

With quite a lot of willpower and many moments of completely losing my nerve we did get through it. I’m not really sure how, there were definitely days when giving up would have been the path of least resistance. Nonetheless, Spice has made me a better horsewoman – I have started entirely new training techniques (reward-based training) and our partnership has blossomed and progressed well beyond where we have ever been before.

We had our second ever canter together in April (our first and only other canter was at the pleasure ride in 2021) so it was a MASSIVE deal. I took him to the gallops to do it as I hate training on hard ground and I feel that an arena is too small a space to teach babies to canter. I remember we did about 3mins canter that day and I was the proudest I’d ever been.

The aim had always been to start Spice’s endurance career at the later part of 2021 but obviously we didn’t get to do that and then start of this year we were simply not ready (behaviour and confidence). Following the canter at the gallops and quite a few lessons I felt that an aim for his first graded ride in June would be a sensible one.

I strongly believe any horse even paddock fit can complete a 30km ride if done slowly so a horse in regular work (3-4times a week) is capable of a 40km too as long as it’s completed steadily and thoughtfully. I feel that novice horses and perhaps open level are the most over-trained horse category in endurance.

The way I like to think of it is in a proportionate way. You wouldn’t do an 80km 7 days before riding a 160km (50% of the distance) but I bet a lot of people do 20km the week before a 40km without a thought – it’s the same difference. Also pace, I never expect novice qualifiers to be done any faster than 13kmph and I have no issue at all with doing them at less than 10kmph. At this level it is so much about establishing the distance and teaching them the ‘job’ not about the speed.

With this in mind, I very purposefully didn’t put a lot of training into Spice at all. We just worked on our relationship and in so doing he worked every other day. Max distance in training of 15km at ‘race pace’ (10kmph) but mostly 1-2hr rides, plenty of walk work, lots of pole days and long-lining.

Initially, our entry went in for the 32km at Foremark Reservoir two weeks prior to Kings but I got Covid and so we couldn’t go. I wasn’t sure therefore whether taking him to Kings for his first ride was going to be a good idea. It’s a big venue with lots going on – marquee, flowers, busy…

But with the crazy fuel costs at the moment it almost seemed silly to not take two! My sister Pheobe also wanted to ride her horse Roo at Kings so we made a fairly last minute plan to go for the 40km on the Sunday. 40km instead of 32km based on the fact that Kings is so flat and the going is generally so good.

It was Spice and Roo’s first time staying away as they had to travel up on Friday as we wouldn’t have time after Chip’s 160km to go back home to get them. We paid for them to stay at Wideham Farm (10 mins from the venue) so they were in secure post and rail paddocks and also away from the venue.

I didn’t want Spice and Chip to be calling for each other and also if they were in the coralls I think we would have been worrying about them during the day on Saturday so it was easier all round to have them off site but still close by.

Both Spice and Roo were very chilled in their paddock and I think being together was a real bonus. Even though my sister and I have our own yards they do a lot together and Roo actually lived at my yard last summer whilst I was in hospital. This was so that Pheobe could look after all 6 (at the time) of our horses in one location, so they have been turned out together before.

The weekend management involved Pheobe taking responsibility for Roo and Spice whilst I focused on Chip. Until Saturday night of course then we were all back at Wideham together and so Spice and Chip were reunited.

Our vet time on Sunday morning was a leisurely 9.30am and since we were so close it was lovely to not have to get up too early. It meant we had time to get all the camping stuff packed away in the morning so that we could head home Sunday evening after the ride.

The venue was much quieter than I expected it to be on Sunday, especially compared to Saturday! Both Spice and Roo grazed by the trailer quietly with our crew Shez and Cameron whilst Pheobe and I checked in. Always special filling in that very first line on a new mastercard!

I was really pleased with how relaxed both horses were at the venue. Roo is older but still this was only his second 40km so he’s still an inexperienced endurance horse.

Pre-ride vetting I got myself really worried, so much so that I had such a dry mouth I could hardly swallow! One of my greatest challenges with Spice is his attitude towards strangers. He is very suspicious and has a very high defense mechanism. My main concern for the whole event was actually just getting him through pre-ride vetting and without anyone getting hurt. I've been practicing all the motions of a vetting, taking his HR, standing still, trotting up etc. but he's always unconcerned by me - it's the different person that he can take offence to.

The vet panel was a line up of experienced endurance vets so Spice was given a great first introduction to vetting. The famous Tom Eaton-Evans was our vet for the start (and the finish as it turned out) and was so patient and quiet with Spice that unbelievably he started on a HR41! I took my bumbag of treats to bribe him into standing nice and still. He went through his first vetting really well and it was a huge relief that we were all okay and we got to start.

Funnily I wasn’t worried about the actual riding part. Which with the leg accident a lot of people would perhaps assume that the ride bit would be a mental challenge too but I have really progressed from that point now. I was actually quite confident in him and given how quiet the ride seemed to be on Sunday I felt that we were going to be just fine.

We had to the ride the same 2x 20km loops to make up the 40km on the Sunday as I had done the previous day with Chip. However, we did it in a different order so after just 5km we were back at the venue on the green loop and then crossing the road to go and do 15km on the west side of the course.

We had to go back through the venue three times on the duration of the 40km and asking young horses to go to the venue and away again so many times is a really big ask so I was incredibly proud of him (and Roo) for so maturely leaving the venue each time without hesitation. It’s a great set up for the future when we will eventually ask them to do vet gates.

We took a lot of time at each crew point so Spice had the chance to appreciate the break and opportunity to be cooled and have a drink. He’s never been sloshed before and I wasn’t sure how he would take it so Shez and I had made a plan for how we were going to build it up. At the first crew point he hadn’t even started to sweat so we just practiced raising the slosh bottles up by his sides but not actually pouring it on – no reaction so a good start. By the next crew point Shez trickled the water onto him from the ground, really slowly and as it was a nice warm day he tolerated it really well and I think actually enjoyed it.

There were lots of crew points on the 40km so by the last crew point Shez was passing me the sloshes and I was pouring them on myself from onboard – so we can tick that one off our list as a done deal :D

Spice didn’t want to drink at all out on course, not even tasty flavoured water! However, we were travelling very, very slowly and it wasn't very hot! Chip also didn’t learn to eat or drink at endurance rides until his first 80km so I wasn’t too concerned!

With the ground being so hard at this time of year I also hadn’t done much canter work with Spice at home so it meant I couldn’t expect him to do too much canter on the ride either as he doesn’t have the muscle memory or form to maintain it. Poor Pheobe and Roo I think were losing the will to live. Our average speed was 9.8kmph – it’s possibly a new all time slowest record for me haha

But I really didn’t care at all what our speed was, the goal (and this is honestly in order of priority) was simply:

1. pass pre-ride vetting uninjured

2. complete the ride

3. pass the final vetting.

Spice was a very good boy taking it in turns to go in front and also behind. We had a few horses pass us and he was also not worried about this. I do think this is where being with another horse really helps.

Over the finish line Spice was a good level of tired – not exhausted but respectful of the distance and what had been asked of him. I’ve never been one to care about grades because the long-term goal is sub 2min presentation times so I just want less than 64bpm ASAP and a sound horse – that’s all I’m worried about.

We took 10 mins to wash them off and give them an opportunity to have a drink and some sloppy feeds if they wanted it – Spice took up the offer on both and then we headed to vetting.

The final vetting Spice was actually more impatient than at the start and didn’t stand still half as well but a pulse of 51bpm was fine by me – what I cared about was the A for action :D Pheobe passed too on a HR48 so we were both really pleased with the boys.

We gave them some time to chill and Spice wore Chip’s hated Back on Track rug without drama. Both boys ate and drank well and we all did the same!

Since Saturday had been such a very long and emotionally draining day we were all flagging a bit by Sunday afternoon so decided to go back to Wideham for a break before driving home. Of course, I had to go back for Chip anyway but we unloaded the chestnuts and let them go back in the paddock for an hour or so.

Spice being the suspicious boy he is didn’t really want me to fuss him too much after the event so he didn’t even wear ice boots or have any Leovet ColdPack+ on his legs! But he mooched around the paddock with Chip which is still beneficial to keep moving. He looked fab, he’d not lost any condition and though tired was bright eyed.

After some rallying we packed up the last bits and got ourselves on the road and headed home for an 8pm arrival back at our respective yards.

The next day Spice was looking good, no major filling or heat so I was really pleased. However as the week progressed his heels started to crack out terribly! I’ve never had a horse with a propensity to do this before and he doesn’t get mud fever so I was really surprised. He also got a rub in his armpit – but well clear of the girth – literally the folds of skin right under where his limb attaches – difficult to even see from the side.

I suppose it was the sand and lots of water – but the armpit rub is a bit of a mystery as it’s so far clear of his girth. Now that the rules stipulate you can’t use barrier cream on the ride I’d be keen to know what other people’s advice is for horses that get cracked heels?

Spice had the week off and then physio on Monday. To my horror he was 1/10 lame front right! Emma got to work on him and found a lot of tension and soreness in his neck and shoulders but nothing going on behind which was really nice to hear as I have been working really hard on strengthening his hind end. However, devastating that he was lame! And why so sore?!

On the ride he was 100% sound, there wasn’t one stride that I thought to myself didn’t feel right. However, he was reluctant to canter on his right lead. Now as I mentioned, we actually haven’t cantered that much yet and I put it down to baby imbalance and actually the lack of understanding of the aids – it’s still a working progress! But the fact that he was lame on the front right sent me into a spiraling panic.

The vet was called immediately and we were booked for a lameness work up on Wednesday for which I took a half-day out of work to travel him the 1hr down to the road to Whitchurch nr Aylesbury.

We went to see our vet Ed who has been working really hard on Spice – you can read all the investigations we’ve had here. In typical horse fashion, Spice was sound! Completely and utterly sound on the hard, soft, straight and circle. To the naked eye and on the lameness locator. Computer-level 100% sound!

Ed feels that the cracked heels could be the contributing factor to the lameness seen on Monday as skin can really be very sore and Spice is definitely a sensitive horse. He felt that if there was anything serious going on it would have shown up on the endurance ride itself.

However it didn’t explain the reluctance for right lead canter on the ride as he wouldn’t have had cracked heels at the time. But perhaps he had the muscle tightness on the ride which Emma now cleared on Monday and hence the soundness on Wednesday? It’s also possible that the armpit rub was holding him back during the ride as this would have been developing… As ever, I think Spice is going to continue test and challenge my horsemanship skills for life.

We already have clean x-rays of his front feet and fetlocks so when he was lame in front I was really surprised. The plan for now is to sort out the cracked heels and armpit rub and then get back to work. If he goes lame we will try to get him to the vet on the same day so that we actually have something to investigate! Hopefully though, he won’t go lame and we can get back to work seamlessly.

We have another physio session booked in for two weeks’ time so I will see how about trialling yet another girth on him, sudacreme those heels excessively and see how we get on.

The plan was/is to take him to Well Vale as his next event, giving us 8 weeks to work on clarity of aids, his strength and his canter stamina. I would really like to get a couple of schooling lessons booked in before the next ride too. But for now we will just focus on the next two weeks and see how he is at his next physio session.

Horses are just never simple are they!

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