Friday, September 9, 2016

Back on Track with G-Unit during the Dog Days of Summer

My friend's grandson treats Shiloh to a carrot as Ginger looks on
After Sarah Buckley & Siena's outstanding performances at the Biltmore and Coates Creek FEI rides, Princess SiSi got the rest of the summer off competition to focus on "ring work" (3-4 times weekly attempts at dressage-type riding and side-passing using side reins as a crutch). Hoping her carriage and back strength will benefit to help Sarah successfully compete her at the Nov. 12 Broxton Young Riders Team Challenge, which is also a demo event for the FEI Young Riders World Championship in Verona, Italy next year.

As the heat of July bore down without pause, it was time to learn if $750 in stifle injections solved Gryphon's hind-end lameness issues following his pulls at Foxcatcher and Biltmore. Hoping a trip 700 miles north would mean a cooler if not less mosquito-filled ride, I talked my husband Shan into taking off work for the haul north of Ottawa to Chrystal and Rob Woodhouse's new Pioneer Ride in the Madawaska Highlands.

We swung by Dessia Miller's in Stormont to pick up her young rider Marissa, the niece of my friend Kim Wooley, and to meet Chrome, the 2 year old offspring of her 100-miler finishing stallion Cognac Amberfyre "Farley" and Lynda Townsend's nicely bred mare Vondelehrs Black Bart. When I got talked out of breeding Siena to Farley for the time being, Dessia offered me a fantastic deal on one of his offspring, without the stress of foaling and accident-prone babyhood. We were hauling Marissa's mare to and from the ride and would pick up Chrome on the trip home.

We enjoyed talking with Marissa about school, hockey and other aspects of life in the Great White North. She saved the day by having Canadian cell service to helping guide us through some confusing turns on the way to the back of beyond.Arriving at the remote ridecamp by early afternoon, we decided that Gryphon got along so well with Marissa's mare they could stay in the same pen.

While Marissa hung out with friends and family, Shan, me and our collie mix Ginger unhooked to explore the area, stopping at the crossroads of a tiny town with the only diesel for miles to soak up local atmosphere and share a yummy poutine (French fries with cheese curds and gravy) from the roadside food truck. On the way back, Shan got some advice from the nearby campground owner on the best trails to ride his dirtbike while I headed to the ride briefing for the 2nd of the 3-day ride.

As Chrystal read out results from the first day's ride, I saw Earle Baxter and Maribel who'd been with me at the New Mexico ride in April, along with my old friend Libby Llop, who'd gotten pulled at the finish but brought two other horses and was planning to go out the next day.

Temperatures dropped nicely overnight, with gray skies on the second day that helped keep temperatures from climbing too high. We trotted steadily for 12 miles to a 15-minute hold, then continued on to the 25-mile vet check before turning around and returning the way we came, with a 2nd vet check at the same place we'd had the morning hold. Despite the difference in size (Libby's Andalusian cross mare was 16'2" to Gryphon's 14'2"), the two horses paced well together and we shared food and helped each other at each stop. I'd come up with the idea of soaking some dried out baby wipes with fly spray, pulling a couple out of a ziplock bag every so often to refresh the ones tucked on each side of our horses' browbands. The long day of riding gave me plenty of time to soak up the harsh but serene beauty of the landscape, which included numerous ponds and marshes. At one point we rode past a lonely cabin labeled "Gary's Weatherstation" accessed by a bumpy road, with a sign along one boulder-filled hilly section labeled "Marge's Tilt a Wheel."

As the never-ending ups and downs started taking their toll, I dismounted several times to jog beside Gryphon and hand-feed him bits of roadside grass. Just before 4 p.m., we reached the finish line and Gryphon completed with solid vet scores. Head vet Stan Alkemede encouraged me to come back in an hour to stand for best condition, and I was thrilled with his post-ride CRI of 14-12 (heartrate of 56 beats per minute before the trotout and only 48 afterward, obviously the heat conditioning he'd suffered through back home contributed!) He earned the second Best Condition of his career and I celebrated with a glass of wine. Shan and I decided one day of riding those tough trails was enough and we packed up (plus I helped Libby's husband Quentin get their truck to a high point of land to negotiate some over-the-phone stock trades) while waiting for Marissa to finish her set-speed ride on the 3rd and final day.

Dessia helped us make an early-evening appointment with the vet at the border crossing before giving Chrome's feet a quick trim. The Canadian vet, who was stuck there late to inspect a load of still-alive Peking Duck, couldn't have been nicer and reality returned as I turned my phone off airplane mode to receive 3 days of missed emails, texts and voicemails. Chrome unloaded and reloaded twice on the long trip home and was greeted by loud whinneys from Shiloh and Siena as we pulled in the drive just before sunrise that Sunday morning.

Gryphon is already grinning as we start the Iron Mountain Jubilee
As the heat continued through August, I patiently exposed Chrome to the pleasures of fly spray and cold hosing. He quickly acclimated to the herd, with Shiloh showing particular affection for the little "pomey" with his inquisitive, sweet face, crooked blaze and the dog-bone shaped white spot on his muzzle. I'd been thinking of entering Gryphon in a 100-miler at the end of the month, but with work duties limiting the time I could be out of the office and Shiloh having taken a young rider through 30 miles of West Virginia's Ride Between the Rivers in early August, I opted for a much shorter trip and offered my Teresa a chance to ride with me at the Iron Mountain Jubilee in southwest Virginia.

Siena seems to enjoy her role as Chrome's big sister
Teresa's new friend Lilias, who grew up in not far from the IMJ basecamp, was a welcome addition to our road trip. Arriving by late morning, we three soaked in the New River before setting up our crew area at the away vet check and checking in Gryphon and Shiloh. Lilias bought ice to help us cool Shiloh on ride day. Even through we were going slow and steady, it took nearly 20 minutes to pulse him down at the last hold and nearly the full 30 minutes allowed at the finish. I was too hot and tired myself to consider that he'd have gotten stiff during that timeframe, and he ended up being slightly off to get pulled at the finish. We all hit the New River one more time (except Gryphon who didn't need ANY cooling at the holds and is water phobic!). Watching Shiloh enjoy his hippolike roll of contentment, I felt a bit better about putting his 24-year-old body through all those hills and rocks in the heat. We got to my place just before midnight and enjoy DVRed Olympic jumping competition the next morning over waffles and omelets. Teresa's Kagen water leg wraps worked wonders and Shiloh had virtually no filling in his legs and was trotting sound when we checked him the morning after.

It's nearly mid-September now and the hot weather still hasn't let up. While Shiloh and Gryphon rest up, I've enjoying taking Chrome and Siena on trailer rides over to my friend Maury's, where I pony Chrome off Siena while she legs up her two hunt horses. Cooler weather can't get here soon enough!


  1. Mary you have a TYPE with it comes to horses! Lol! All of them look the same.

    Impressed y'all went to Iron Mtn. I saw the weather (and the muggy ride photos) and was amazed at how many went and found success! I melt in that kind of heat.

    Excited to see how your adventures with your new guy go!

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