Friday, October 7, 2016

Autumn Fergus/Saddle Update

So much to learn, so little time to write it all down.

(This post is almost all about trials and tribulations with Fergus this year, and as such often fails to mention "other stuff going on". Not that the other stuff wasn't good and interesting, but I had to stop typing at some point rather than just regurgitate the last four and half months of Interesting Topics)


Back in May I was still trying to get the brown 15" Eurolite to work for Fergus and I. We were aiming for Tevis, I'd gone as far as ordering him a spiffy new purple halter and reins, and announced "provided nothing goes wrong, we should be able to pull it off".

< roll eyes > You just couldn't keep quiet, could you?

On a Sunday in late May, we did a nice training ride from Driver's Flat to White Oak Flat and back - lots of good climbing, a couple of interesting snake sightings and I was very happy with how he felt.

King snake taking a shower by the side of the creek below Francisco's.
This was one of two king snakes we saw that day.

By Thursday he was dead-lame. We'd just had some rain, which caused me to freak out that he'd slipped in the mud and pulled something vital, but instead I waited two weeks for an abscess to pop out and it finally did. Rather that immediately giving relief, if anything he was even more lame at that point. Argh.

Finally, two and half weeks into it, I was able to get him in to see Supreme Lameness vet Marty Gardner (now permanently based in Ione, CA) who diagnosed his problem in about 15 seconds (no exaggeration) - an infected corn - had his assistant pare out the problem area with a sharp hoof knife, revealing the black pocket below. "A few weeks and he should be good as new".

But we were out of time - I'd needed that month to really get in some good conditioning and ramp Fergus up to where I needed him to be, fitness-wise. No Tevis for us this year.  :(


It turns out that my method of trimming wasn't paring away enough bar, and the result was an impacted area of hoof - and the likely contributor to much of Fergus' toe-first landing and lameness-niggles over the past couple of years - if not longer (see our post-NASTR 75 story from 2015).

Thankfully, it's a relatively easy fix now that I know what I should be watching for, and although I still struggle with where the rest of the bar should be, at least I know enough to scoop out the heels more aggressively.

Hands up if you can spot the corner of the foot that Fergus was avoiding weighting on landing?
(and subsequent location of the abscess)

The good thing about Renegades is they are foot-specific, so the horse wears the same boot on the same foot giving you a very clear view of how he's landing and what problems may need addressing. From the wear pattern on this boot, I was aware of a problem, but didn't know what it was or how to fix it.

Due to his "disability", I only got 100 miles out of this boot before he wore through the toe. I added another 100 miles to it before abandoning it.

This is the matching boot from his right front, same mileage.

I can still see where he's loading up the outside edge, but no where close to how he was wearing the left foot.

Unfortunately, standing funky for over a month while his foot healed up, meant that Fergus' front feet got totally out of whack with weird additional medial height, necessitating aggressive rebalancing = taking off more foot than I really wanted to.

16" Specialized Eurolite

Right about when he went lame, a 16" Specialized Eurolite popped up for sale just 30 minutes away from me, so I grabbed it. It turned out to be an older tree (pre-2010, the trees were much flatter) which actually suited Fergus' long flat back better. It wasn't nearly as nice a saddle as the brown 15" one, but it was the right size and came with fenders. Someone had added some rather pathetic breast collar D-rings to the front of the saddle that I figured would come off the first time they were put under any strain (they did).

I fiddled around shimming the saddle for me (it didn't need much adjustment to fit Fergus) and was relatively happy with how it felt, even if I couldn't really keep my balance in it very well.

By early July, we were back up and running again. I took Fergus and Roo over to NV and spent a happy afternoon riding 20 miles with Crysta, Pam and Connie - climbing NV-style (aka never-ending) and both pones did great. Even with Roo leaping about on the end of the lead rope, I was able to ride nicely in the new saddle.

Pam, Connie, and Crysta after climbing up to the pipeline trail.
Pam and Crysta went on to finish Tevis a few weeks later.

These two were a handful, happy to be out. Gorgeous views over Washoe Valley

The Monday after Tevis we rode CA Loop with Ash (on Roo) and KT (on Ani), and then at the end of July we spent a few days up at Packer Saddle just north of the Sierra Buttes and I was able to put another 25 miles of slow climbing on his back end.

Letting the horses take a break at Francisco's after doing CA Loop

Headed south from the Pack Saddle campground to access the PCT

On the Deer Lake > Pack Saddle campground trail - they are planning to reroute the PCT onto this trail

And so we headed to Bridgeport in mid-August, not nearly as fit as I wanted, but at least upright and sound.

Bridgeport - Eastern High Sierra Classic (EHSC)

I hadn't ridden the Bridgeport ride in six years and it was definitely time to go back. It was on the schedule last year, but cancelled at the last minute due to a fire near the trail. I love this ride, but in retrospect, it really isn't a good choice for Fergus - lots of very tight twisty places to muscle him around, resulting in a weary rider.

Weary or not, it really is probably one of the loveliest rides in the West Region:

Going for the "high energy" look :)

It was the first time I'd done an e-Ride with him booted on all four feet - a little nervous-making, but the Renegades stayed on - with just one emergency toe-strap replacement when the velcro filled up with crud. He didn't feel totally comfortable over rocky footing yet (remember I'd had to aggressively rebalance his feet, so they hadn't had a chance to grow out properly), but we finished and he looked pretty good at the end, considering.

Following our first distance excursion, the 16" Eurolite was deemed "OK". My calves were sore and my crotch was burning. The first few miles of riding felt like I was a complete beginner, with absolutely no balance or control over my floppety body. I hated riding in a new saddle and hated that feeling of discombobulation. It was "OK", but I wanted that usual feeling of "being at one with my horse" back again.

I'd originally intended to ride both days, but Fergus was a bit tight in the right rear glute towards the end of Day 1, so we opted to go to the hot springs on Sunday instead. It poured with rain - score on two counts - I wasn't riding in it, and all the people cluttering up the pools scuttled back to their cars, leaving deserted, quiet pools for us to soak in.

More Tweaks

I had four weeks to get things straightened out before Virginia City 100.

(three weeks if you consider that the following week Ashley flew in from AZ to ride Roo at the Tahoe Rim Ride - I was along as crew and driver, and volunteer at the out-vet check. The ride went great and we all had fun. And best of all, Roo didn't dump her).

Crewing. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.
Roo in his jammies

On others' recommendation, I tried shortening my stirrups a hole (necessitated punching a hole in the fenders, since they were on the shortest setting). That felt like a jockey, so I punched another "half-hole" in between and that felt reasonable.

I spent an afternoon playing with bits of felt and various other pieces of padding and learned some things about rotating pelvises, thigh angle, and how the two affect how pointy your seat bones feel. The best padding turned out to be bubble wrap, but was deemed insufficiently durable for a 100 miler so I had to abandon that concept. I added padding, I took padding out, I cut padding up, etc. Poor Fergus had to deal with me getting on, riding 30 feet, getting off.... repeat for an entire afternoon. He was a good boy, although the couple of times we set off down the lane, only to return within a minute or so got him very confused and he suggested that maybe the ride ought to be a little longer?

Very cushy, but not very durable. It was worth a try, though.

I finally realised that part of my problem was not having enough security in the front of the saddle to snug myself behind. Although I had the additional "knee block" shims in there (see pic here from May), it wasn't enough. A lightbulb went off and I fetched the knee blocks out of my Sensation saddle.

These are designed to velcro onto the underside of the saddle - and on a saddle with flaps, are completely covered. Unfortunately, the Eurolite only has shortie flaps (which is how come it's "light"), so the velcro-face was sticking out towards me. I'd had this problem with the shims I'd been using and had wrapped them in a couple of pieces of fleece, but I was worried that would wear through during a 100 miler, so instead popped them into a spare pair of Equiflex Sleeves - purple, to boot - to keep me from snagging onto the exposed hook-velcro.

(Ann's question this morning about "d'you have a pair of socks on the front of the saddle?" made me realise that, yes, a pair of socks (if I can find some purple ones) would be a better option, to save the more expensive EquiFlex Sleeves).

And voila! The saddle was ready to ride.

Virginia City 100

I slept the best I have ever slept at a ride the night before VC100. Having just stuffed 4.5 weeks-worth of work-hours into the previous two weeks might have had something to do with it, but it was good to feel that calm.

Fergus has developed a man-crush on KT's horse Ani and insisted that he couldn't be more than 5 feet from him at any time which got a little old (especially as we were milling about at the start and he was very naughty), but it worked out OK.

photo: Bob Hall

The saddle felt great right from the start - I was able to stay in it, despite Fergus trotting his Biggest Ever Trot (separated from Ani, he had to catch up). I got a nasty rub on the inside of one knee, but that was more due to a new pair of tights than the saddle, and liberal application of anti-chafe gel helped the problem (that, and switching to fresh clothing at the 50 mile hold).

He was in massive glue-ons for the ride - feet still not where I wanted them, I was leery to trim any more off. 3.5 glue-ons on the front were probably a little too big, and we lost the left front at about 33 miles just before Bobcat Canyon on our way down towards Washoe Lake.

My boot bags could only accommodate one 2WW Ren and I didn't have any gloves big enough to fit his front feet, but Ren #1 was enough - off we went again in mismatched boots. I was actually glad my "spare" was a Renegade, since I wouldn't have been able to get a glove on there very easily with all the excess glue still on his foot.

Arriving at the Washoe Trot-by with an extra spare.
photo: Diana Hiiesalu

photo: Diana Hiiesalu

At the Washoe Trot-by I borrowed a rasp and scraped off the excess glue on his hoof wall so I could get the boot on there better. I then replaced the "spare" in the boot bag with Renegade #2.

Multi-tasking - KT's mom Carol elytes Fergus, while Renee feeds him mash, and I rasp.
Many thanks to them both for their crewing help.
Photo: Diana Hiiesalu

Removing excess glue, so I could get the spare Renegade to seat nicely
Photo: Diana Hiiesalu

During this short "break" (hah), Fergus was tormented by stinging insects and was flailing around and I was foolish enough to get in his way and got nailed by a flying back leg. That hurt, but luckily it was a sideways blow, not a full-on kick, so although I had a spectacular bruise to show for it, and whiplash of the lower back, at least it wasn't my head.

Photo: Bob Hall

Back at camp at 51 miles, Renee procured a size 3 glove from Tami Rougeau to replace the mismatched Ren.

Leaving camp after this hold, he was nice and loose (I've had horses be stiff at that point, from standing for an hour) and he was very motivated going across American Flat (read "I must be in front, trotting way faster than everyone around me").

At 60 miles, climbing up to Jumbo Grade, I looked down and noticed my pommel bag flapping around. Realised it was because the ring that it - and my breast collar - were attached to was no longer attached to the saddle. The wimpy ring (remember that one at the top of the page?) had given way. I had to work around this wardrobe malfunction by attaching the breast collar lopsidedly. Fergus apparently didn't notice, thankfully.

At 63 miles, just after the Jumbo #2 hay stop, he lost the second front glue-on, and the spare Ren went back on again until the hold back in camp at 76 miles where Renee snagged second size 3 glove from Tami. At least we were in matching boots now.

(thanks goes to ride partners Kerrie Tuley and Cortney Bloomer for noticing the flying footwear, as I might not have). 

We left the 76 mile check and rode the next 16 miles on our own, much to Fergus' sadness. Getting sleepy at midnight was not good - I knew we still had at least another four hours to go. I sang, Fergus trudged, I worried he was going lame (he was weaving back and forth across the trail and travelling crab-wise - I later figured out he was smelling the vegetation by the side of the trail to sniff out the sparse bunch grass), I sang some more. I felt queasy so sang quieter.

At the 92 mile check we caught up with the two riders ahead of us - Carolyn and Alex - and, lo, Fergus was miraculously cured. We went from "definitely going to be pulled for lameness" to "holy crap, could you be any stronger or more obnoxious??". Fergus charged out of there like he'd only gone ten miles and proceeded to barrel back down the trail towards camp. Attempts to slow him down - and get him off the side of the trail when someone in a vehicle needed to pass - were met with distain and pushy behaviour.

Comparing this bargy horse with the sad sore one from the previous year, I was pretty thrilled (not to mention it woke us both up).

We crossed the finish line at 3:48 a.m. (21st out of 44 starters) and were back in camp and off the horse by 4:30 a.m... 24 hours after I'd gotten on the previous morning.

< proud of my big bargy horse >

The vet detected slight loin soreness at the final check, but I don't think it was any more than the result of a horse that wasn't as fit as he could be doing 100 miles and walking a good part of the last loop. By the following morning, any residual soreness was gone. My body was fine too - no pokey aches from treed saddle digging in.

I declare the saddle a success for both of us!

Extra D-rings

You can never not have enough D-rings.

This week I took the 16" Eurolight to the saddle guy in Newcastle and asked him to properly attach those front D-rings again; replace the rather wimpy leather holding four of the others on (it was only a matter of time before they wore through and fell off); as well as adding two custom D-rings on the back of saddle behind my leg.

My task for this coming weekend is to design and sew two new boot bags that will accommodate two sets of 2WW Renegades snugly on the back of either side of the saddle. I love my old sausage bags, but they were designed to fit two of Roo's size 0.5 gloves. I can just get a single 2WW in the bag, but it takes ten minutes to wiggle it in there and ten minutes to wiggle it back out again, and as VC100 showed me, carrying enough spares for each foot really is important.

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