Sunday, December 13, 2015

Virginia City 100 - 2015 - Part 3 - in which I only cry a little bit

Continued from Virginia City 100 - Part 2 - The Ride

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The Aftermath

After two hours sleep, at 8:30 a.m. I woke up long enough to peer blearily out of the window and see that BC judging was about to start, and be coherent enough to know that—no—I didn't need to watch it. Fell back into oblivion for another hour and half.

Shortly before 10 a.m. I rolled over stiffly in bed again and saw Kaity walking Ani and Fergus on the far side of camp. It was time to fall out of bed.

Kaity delivered Fergus back to his hay and knocked on the door to drag me out for breakfast. I opened the door, looked at Fergus, looked at Kaity and burst into tears. I was racked with guilt that I'd done wrong by my horse and in any case we were going to get banned for "drug-testing positive".

Apparently 3.5 hours' sleep had done little for my rational-thinking skills.

The awards went by with me not feeling a whole lot better and I stood up in front of the assembled masses and told them that Fergus didn't need to be doing this ride any more - that it was too hard on such a big horse and that the pounding on his feet was more than I should ask of him.

Around 11 a.m. pft showed up on his motorcycle to chauffeur us home (we put the m/c in the front stall of the horse trailer and he drives while I sit in the passenger seat and my eyes roll around in my head).

As it was warming up, pft took Fergus' blanket off and asked me what I thought about the rubs on his back.

"What rubs...??"

Being as tall as he is, and being as short as I am, I can't really see Fergus' back all that well. When I'd untacked him at the end of the ride, I'd palpated his back for any muscle soreness and although he was very slightly reactive, it wasn't a lot considering how long the ride had been and how much climbing had been involved. However his back was wet at the time and I completely missed the rubs in the dark.

Looking in the daylight on a dry horse—indeed, to put it mildly—I'd rubbed the crap out of his back.

I felt awful. No wonder he'd been out of sorts and reluctant to trot with me in the saddle (presumably the discomfort was not as bad trotting in hand since he always trotted well for the vets). It explained a whole heap of reasons for his behaviour the previous day and why I continuously felt that he "wasn't quite right" although I couldn't say why and, despite this, he continued to get good vet scores throughout the day.

Apparently the fact that I'd neglected to wash him, coupled with my choice of saddle pad shims had been the worst possible combination for this ride. While I thought the high-tech Jen-X shims were helping with their superior concussion absorption and ability to mold to his back, I'm now wondering if on a horse who's back moves as much as Fergus' does, if there isn't some heat build-up going on in there too, especially since I was just using the thin-cotton-bottomed pad. Either way, complete and utter fail when it came to saddle pad choice. :(

It seems that my worries about foot-soreness and leg fatigue were completely unfounded - he was perfectly fine - provided you didn't mash a saddle + rider on to his back.

The Future

So where are we now?

It took Fergus almost four weeks before any hair began to grow back, during which time I squinted obsessively at his back on a daily basis.

In addition to the strips either side of his spine, he also had some loin rubs which I was less concerned about, since he hasn't had any problems in that area before and I was  aware of sitting further back in the saddle towards the end of the ride to try and alleviate some discomfort in my knees from all the walking. So I'm calling those "one-offs" and not worrying too much about them.

He has been on vacation for three months and won't get any amount of riding until I can find a saddle + pad set-up that is going to properly support and protect his back.

  • Part of the problem was lack of cleanliness - such a simple thing and yet so significant in this case.
  • Part of the problem was bad choice of shims.
  • Part of the problem was his loss of muscle tone along his back and in his rear end - some due to his body being jammed up (which hopefully Tom Mayes mostly cleared) and some due, probably, to saddle fit discomfort. 

I'm hoping that Tom at Skito Pad can help me with shims that will support his back better and have sent him photos and diagrams of what I think is going on.

And I'm looking at alternative saddles. My plan is to line up a selection of shims and (borrowed) saddles and, using a Port Lewis Impression Pad, see if I can't come up with the best weight distribution possible. I'm also wondering about trying a Triple Thick Woolback pad, despite thinking that sheepskin and Fergus were a bad combination. I'm going back to the drawing board and reevaluating everything all over again.

As far as saddles go, I'm still not convinced that my Sensation won't work with the right shims. This weekend I tried on all three Sensation saddles, as well as a treed Albion that I happen to have temporarily in my possession, and frankly, from feeling around under the saddle, in theory, mine fits the best. It just needs tweaking - shim-wise - to get it to work properly. But if that proves not to be the case, then a new saddle will be needed before Fergus does any significant work. I'm already eyeing the two Bob Marshall Sports Saddles in the basement with a view to selling them to raise any money needed for a new saddle. I'm particularly thinking about Freeform saddles, since I think they may have better weight distribution without needing to move away from treeless saddles. My gut says that a treed-saddle probably isn't the answer.

I'm also reassessing Fergus' heritage when evaluating saddles and their fit. Although I've always known he "moves big" and had attributed that to some of our problems, I'm now thinking more about the deep muscle and what's involved in generating that big TWH movement and how that could be affecting saddle fit.

Either way, I hope I can get my Big Horse back to his former glory so that we can continue down the trail.

Moore's Most Excellent Dude6
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Oh - and the drug-testing? Never heard a peep from anyone about it, but this showed up weeks later in Endurance News. Apparently Fergus isn't a secret druggy afterall, regardless of my paranoia.


  1. great write up, and congrats on your finish of such a tough ride. But it's hard, when you know something you did bothered/hurt your horse! I hope you find a good solution to saddle/pad/rider fit, always a conundrum. I've been happy with my shimmable Matrix pad, I'd never found something wool I'd liked before, but horse says he likes it so I'm listening.

    I do have a Freeform, and I love it, but want the more dressage on (this one is an AP). I'm pretty sure you're local to me (Auburn, CA) and you'd be welcome to borrow it when you start riding again if I haven't sold it first. good luck!

  2. Well, congrats on your finish and not doing what you didn't want to do (that sentence did make sense, right?)

    And good luck to the Big Horse further down the trail--we are clapping and cheering for both of you!

  3. Thank you kindly, people.

    Irish - yes, I'm just across the canyon from you in Garden Valley and would *love* to try out your FF saddle (if you haven't sold it first... who knows - if it works - maybe I could be the lucky buyer?). I'm off Christmas-New Year week and headed down to the So CA desert with Fergus and Small Thing, so would love it if you can lend it for ten days so I can really play with it while I'm down there with bags of time to really look at how it fits.

    PM me on FB? Lucy Chaplin Trumbull...

  4. What a great story, and so wonderful the way that you explain some of the complex feelings that come tumbling out afterwards. It's a strange creature, this horse/endurance/life thing... Congratulations on your completion, and good luck with your quest for solutions. Oh, and also <3 Fergus!

    I'm sure you have a billion people giving you a trillion suggestions, none of which take into consideration the vast library of knowledge that is "what You know about your horse", and it gets hard after suggestion #294 to take a deep breath and not want to punch people in the face for suggesting you try thing-you-tried-200-suggestions-ago.... but here's another one, in case it's helpful at all! ;)

    Have you heard about endurance saddles made by an Australian saddle-maker called Alan Mackinder? They're a bit different because they are not treeless or like a 'normal' treed saddle, he calls them flex-tree. You get very good spinal clearance but much more flexibility in the saddle than with a rigid tree (I really like the balance of flexibility with support). The website is: ( but also see: (–-81/).

    The 'standard' fit is usually for a broad-backed Arabian-type horse, so you might need to look at something custom since Fergus does not look to fit that description that well! The saddles are more popular here in Australia (and in the Middle East) but I don't think they're well-known in the US, so don't know what your chances of getting a second-hand custom one would be there?!?! I had one of the standard 'Original' ones, and now have a custom 'Original' as well as another custom one that is more like the 'Poley Close Contact' - see the image on the second link ("Poley" means it has the thigh rolls like an "Aussie"/stock saddle). Thanks to Alan's help with fitting, I've had them fit lots of different (and difficult to fit) horses. Anyway, just a suggestion, in case it helps. I like mine, fwiw! Best wishes for what works for you and your horse! :)