Let’s Discuss: Justified?

Despite my own personal mixed feelings regarding horse racing, I do inevitably get excited when the Triple Crown rolls around. Why? Because for just a few minutes every year, the rest of the nation becomes as fascinated by horses as equestrians are on the daily. No matter whether or not you ever rode a horse, the thrill of seeing American Pharoah break an almost 40 year drought and take the Triple Crown- that was something that just set the heart on fire.

But there to douse the flames are some of the horrors that inevitably come with mixing horses and money- it invites greed to look past some of the basic principles of horsemanship, and take advantage of a creature bound to do our will. And I won’t pretend that racing is the only victim to this side of human nature. Every horse discipline, every industry has seen its fair share of a turned eye, or pushing just that bit too far, and no one can claim total innocence.

And yet there, on the morning after the Derby, questions arose. Charismatic trainer Bob Baffert led the stunning Justify out to meet an adoring press, and horsepeople looked on in dismay. That horse was not sound. Not at all.

Baffert clearly says in the video that he came out of the Derby “really well”, and yet, the horse won’t comfortably put weight on his left hind. Later in a press conference, Baffert said that the horse had Scratches, a skin infection that was irritated by the gravel. Then it was circulated that the horse had a bruised foot.

In the end, Justify was cleared for the Preakness, and made himself even more valuable by winning the second leg of the Triple Crown. At my particular viewing party, we all watched him walk before and after with eagle eyes, and couldn’t come to a unified consensus on whether he looked 100% or not. And yet, he won, and surely we’ll see him again in the Belmont at the end of the summer.

For my part, I hope he does well, and I hope that all the curfuffle really is just an ill timed stone bruise, or a skin infection. Justify is one of the strongest, well boned TB’s to win the Derby since Big Brown 10 years ago. His lack of a 2 yr old season may set an excellent precedent for later-started, but successful horses that have more longevity in their careers, both on the track and in potential sporthorse disciplines.

Things I do wonder about, and I hope there are informed individuals out there who can fill us in…
What kind of vetting is required, if any, before these big races? How is transparency viewed in the racing industry? What medications are allowed to be used (NSAIDs, etc) on the track? Do you think Justify has a shot at the Belmont? Is there a horse out there that you prefer? Where do you think the racing industry should go, or practices they should adopt?

Show Recap: May WHES Novice HT

This past weekend is admittedly a bit of a blur. I finally started feeling better late Saturday evening. Our XC school that day had gone pretty well, but Jack was definitely being a bit of a spook- not unusual for him after not jumping for a couple weeks. I was struggling with the sudden ~90* temperatures, particularly after being already dehydrated from several days with a stomach flu.

But the show goes on, and we found ourselves doing a short warmup and heading into the dressage.

All in all I’m happy with our effort. A pair of volunteers that decided my entering the ring was the perfect time to move things behind the judge’s truck are to blame for the distraction down centerline (but what can you do, we’re thankful for volunteers no matter what). He tripped in the transition from trot to medium walk. And our right lead canter transition- well that’s still a work in progress. A score of 28.1 put us in 3rd out of 16 after the dressage, and Jack earned himself a snooze before getting ready for the jumping phases.

The Novice SJ course

After walking the SJ course, and visiting the XC course one more time, it was ready to showjump. And quite frankly, I don’t know what to say about SJ. I know that I panicked. I know that my brain was melting out of my ears, and my horse felt tired. I know that I jumped all the jumps in the correct order. And I know that I got 3 poles down. I couldn’t even tell you where. Totally my fault.

Basically a showjumping lollipop

After coming out of my SJ stupor, I realized I probably couldn’t/shouldn’t ride XC like that. So I gathered up the remnants of my brain, stuffed it back in my head, and went out determined to give him a great ride around a fair course with a lot of terrain questions.

And I remembered my GoPro!

The course was so fun. Jack is feeling like a confident Novice horse, and hunting the jumps. Sure, he’s not point and shoot, but he probably never will be. And yet- those ears tell the whole tale.

In the end, my bowling for rails in SJ denied us a top-2 finish… by a long shot. But he’s getting so much more relaxed in all 3 phases, and didn’t lose his marbles when friends left the stable- huge wins for a horse that was a nervous nelly at the same venue less than a year ago. And really, with all the shite that we had to deal with the last couple weeks, getting out and having a positive experience was the biggest win of all.

On the Mend and Under the Weather

Jack and I finally got to have a dressage lesson together on Tuesday, and once he loosened up he felt beautiful, washing away all my worries about the cluster that was the previous week. We are playing around with the “dial” of a gait – taking a boring, dinky trot to something with more impulsion and even pushing into lengthening territory, but keeping the focus on him staying relaxed and swinging through his back. This has been a major challenge for us, since Jack is not an incredibly relaxed horse by nature and can get tense rather quickly.

Jack this Jan

I tend to think of Jack as a micromanaging kind of ride, and when we discussed my trainer corrected me- when you’re on him it’s not about being busy as a rider, but staying mentally focused through every step, watching his frame and his mental energy through every stride. He’s simply not a “get on and coast” sort of dude. And while that can be a little challenging, it also means that he’s good for the rider, in that it requires correct riding in order to produce good results with him.

Unlike Foster, who could get away with (and sometimes needed) a little bit of uglier riding

Unlike Jack, who seems to be feeling significantly better the last couple days, I myself am feeling rather shitty. Fully body aches, shooting pain in my R hip, and feeling sick after every meal- not my personal best really. But still, there’s riding to be done, and a show to get to this weekend. But man, what I would do for a 12 hour nap right now!

High Maintenance

Well it’s official. Jack is absolutely the most high maintenance horse I’ve ever owned. And yet, as we close in on our one-year anniversary of being a team, I don’t regret choosing this big yellow dude at all.

As it turns out, whatever it is that caused the hives last week is apparently still around and still causing us problems. After being officially weaned off of Dex on May 4th, by the morning of May 6th the hives were already returning, and the golden boy looked a little long in the face.

*sigh*

We also had a bit of an accident that resulted in some very high emotions in me and some scrapes on Jack. Luckily with icing and bute that seems to be resolved. Just another thing in the list of all the fucking things that could have not happened last week. But whatever.

Days off make for good photo days

We are meant to go show this weekend, which will be our second go at Novice. Considering the clusterfuck that has been the last several days, luckily it’s just a schooling show. And we get to school the XC the day before. So if the golden boy isn’t feeling up to the whole shebang, we can school xc and just do dressage the next day. Or school, dressage and SJ. Or you know, if he’s feeling good do the whole HT.

Either way it should be a weekend to look forward to- new team mates, old friends, and our first time showing with pretty much all of the people I love. Thank goodness- something to look forward to!

Not Our Week

Guys, I hate to be cryptic. But Jack and I need some jingles. This is not our week.

We will hopefully be back to our usual reporting next week as we get ready for our second Novice. I hope everyone has a safe weekend and fun Derby plans!

Hives Update

So Dex must be some kind of miracle drug, because by 5 yesterday, Jack was looking so much better. And while still a little groggy, he was a little perkier- certainly better than the obviously miserable state he was in that morning.

Yesterday at 5pm L side

Yesterday at 5 pm R side

Y’all, I have never seen hives like that on any creature. Seeing a breakout of that magnitude on my own horse was equal parts amazement, stress, and shock. I’m so lucky that my vet was able to come out and ease my fears and give him the IV injection he needed to make everything better.

This morning, things are looking even more improved.

A LH that actually resembles a leg

No more hives!

The plan is to keep him on decreasing doses of oral Dex for the next couple days, and probably keep him off of his normal pasture since we still don’t know what it was that set off the reaction in the first place. This evening I’ll head out to check on the golden boy, ice his leg and stuff him full of carrots.

These horses, guys, they’re going to be the death of me.

Hives

So, because nothing is ever dull with horses, I spent the morning with my vet. Again.

Yesterday, I pulled Jack out of the field and noticed this:

Saturday afternoon

A bath in case it was skin related, icing around the legs where there was a little filling, and a dose of antihistamine and I stuck him in his stall and bade him goodnight.

When I checked in with the barn manager this morning, we found this:

This morning

Halp! My horse is mutating!

pool noodle legs and rather doughy sheath

Based on the distribution, we’re going with the assumption that he ate something he is obviously allergic to. He got an IV shot of dex and I’ve wrapped him all around to try and get the leg swelling down- right now he’s so swollen he doesn’t care to walk around.

I’m lucky to have a team of people keeping on eye on him, but it still makes a horse-mom worry. Has anyone else ever dealt with hives like this? Do you know what caused them, and what did you do to treat them?

Show Recap: Longleaf Horse Trials SJ

Having won the tie for third place in the XC phase, I was fairly nervous that I was going to screw things up in the showjumping. Jack came out and warmed up beautifully, and somehow the gears in my head were still working enough to tell me to stay quiet and keep my shoulders back, despite my inner voice screaming “lean at it! Go go go!”.

Our tie-partner went into the ring before us, and I watched them put in a beautiful double clear round. Alright, so the pressure was really on now.

Then Jack and I got on course. We circled an oxer towards the middle of the arena, and after a few steps of his typical “holy sh*t, where am I?!” nonsense, he actually settled and started listening to me.

Fence 1 felt great, but as I got him straight into the approach to an oxer-to-oxer line he started snowballing into the first fence. A hard half halt to remind him that we don’t do that sort of thing and he came back enough for the third fence on course.

Fence 3

Fences 4 and 5 came up fine, and though we were booking we somehow made the rollback turn back to 6. This is where I went wrong- I let the canter get too strung out, and as a result he took out the top rail with his knees. I can tell you, there were a number of four letter words rolling through my head at that point, and after watching the video I’m glad that I didn’t actually say them out loud.

Fence 7B out of the 2 stride combo

The rest of the course rode beautifully, but our unfortunate rail cost us 2 places. Still, as seemed the trend for the rest of the show up to that point, I was just thrilled that Jack felt more relaxed and rideable than he had before. And Novice didn’t feel so big as it seemed back in February at the schooling day.

Fence 8 and a happy poneh

I’m also starting to learn to think and ride in showjumping, which is a big win for me- normally I’m so focused on the order of the fences there’s little room for anything else. We may have wrapped up the weekend a little lower in the standings that I had hoped (my yellow ribbon collection was coming along so nicely), but all in all it was a super debut at a new level for Jack, and he came back a little wiser and a little more confident as a result. For that I’m incredibly thankful.

Show Recap: Longleaf Horse Trials XC

As far as a move up course, this one couldn’t have been better. In many ways it was simply a larger version of the BN course, but with a couple interesting lines/combos thrown in for good measure. It included a drop at 7, then an interesting terrain combination at 9AB, and a 2 stride combination at 15AB.

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Despite my cross country nerves (which I think will never go away), I felt fairly confident that as long as I rode every fence that this would be a good course for Jack. We did get deep spots in a couple places, and he definitely bobbled going into the 9AB combo (lots to look at, including the training ditch right next to our question). BUT overall this was the most locked-on and confident he has felt on XC. How do I know?? The Golden Boy actually started hunting down a skinny Prelim brush coming out of the first water. As you’ll hear me say on camera, “Are you crazy?”

I also got good practice looking at my watch (something I definitely didn’t do last time), since I was tied going into XC and wanted to be close-ish to the optimum time. I still came in 20 seconds under, but was able to make decisions about trotting in a couple places and collecting him to the last fences to try and let the clock run up a bit. Who knew it was possible to think and ride at the same time?!

Maybe you wouldn’t have to jump like that Jack if you opened your eyes?

Seriously though, it was awesome to come off the course feeling like Jack had grown in confidence and experience over the last 5 minutes. And that’s how he officially became a Novice horse!

 

 

Show Recap: Longleaf Horse Trials Dressage

So, the recap of our Novice debut begins!

We arrived at the Carolina Horse Park much later than I originally had hoped for Friday evening after a day of utter chaos, but I was able to eek in our ride, which was 20 minutes free walk-medium walk transitions plus a little trot and canter, before the light ran out.

Saturday morning because of the timing I opted to do Jack’s pre-ride instead of hand walking, because it seems to settle his brain much more to have a job. So we meandered along the track of the warm up ring for a solid 10 minutes, followed by 5 min of free walk – medium walk transitions, then trot-walk transitions and a canter circle in each direction before going back in.

The pre-ride seems key for Jack, and when we went back out to the warmup ring before the actual test he felt much more relaxed. We repeated much of the routine from earlier in the day, with a focus on energy and straightness, and with him feeling ace we headed into the dressage ring.

Overall I’m thrilled with the test. He felt so relaxed that I was finally able to ask for more energy in the trot. This in itself has been a big goal, as we’ve been keeping his trot small and relaxed in the show ring to be a little risk-aversive. If we had pushed for a bigger trot before he was really relaxed, we always had moments of tension, hollowing, or breaking to the canter. This time I could put my leg on and not get an anxious tail swish or hollowing. Eventually I think I can ask for an even more forward trot, but this was a solid milestone for us.

We scored a 31 for our efforts, though I had very much been hoping to break into the 20’s again. But a 31 put us tied for 3rd out of the pack of 14, and so I really shouldn’t complain. Jack was a really good boy and his confidence is just gaining and gaining with every show- and that means so much to me! Besides- we had his first Novice course to consider! Details of that to come tomorrow 🙂