Judging Last Weekend

I was away this weekend judging at a competitive trail ride. I enjoy judging, but just not as much as I enjoy actually riding. So I don’t work as many rides as I used to.

I took my horse trailer up so I could sleep in it. There’s nothing quite like having your own bed to sleep in at a ride. As far as I can tell, the truck didn’t use much more gas to pull that trailer than it would have used without it. Mind you, that’s not an inconsequential amount either way. It has a big 7.3L gas engine (aka a 460cc engine). So it has enough power to pull that trailer straight up a cliff I think.

The other day I was in Rona getting a new hose for the barn, and I spotted some butane campstoves on sale for $19.99. I bought one on impulse. I do have a bigger propane stove, but I can never get the damn thing to work. This little butane stove though… it worked like a charm. It has an igniter, so you just turn it until it clicks and the burner comes on. Quick and easy. So I had hot tea in the morning! I was very smug about that. It’s the one thing that really bothers me at rides… not having my morning tea. It’s easy to get coffee of course. But I despise coffee.

This ride was actually two days of competition in the Sharbot Lake area. It’s absolutely beautiful up there. Very rocky with a lot of small lakes and hilly, winding trails. I’ve ridden the trails before and although they are tough, technical trails, I love them. It keeps me and my horse interested and focused all day. Long, flat easy trail bores me into catatonic grumpiness. Dressy is okay with that sort of trail (it’s all got to be more interesting than going around and around a racetrack for her). But King hates boring trail as much as I do. The ride management works very hard on that ride. They were building additional boardwalk over a section of trail that had gotten muddy the day before the ride. Every year they seem to add or improve the trail. A number of riders commented on how gorgeous it was. Which of course made me wish I was riding instead of judging.

Anyway, the only real complaint I ever have about that ride is the bugs. Mosquitoes, horseflies, and deerflies. Big enough and mean enough to drive the horses insane. Last time I rode Dressy there, she was shaking her head so hard to get rid of the flies that she nearly fell down. Then she ran right off the trail into a shrubby tree in desperation to get them off her face. This year was much the same for the horses from the looks of it. Judging can be quite death-defying when biting flies are all over the horses. There were a couple of horses who were so angry about the flies (and thus willing to kick anything that moved or touched them) that I had to decline to check their legs for fear of having my head kicked off. Which unfortunately meant penalties for failure to stand for judging and/or penalties for trying to kill the judge.

A lot of riders were using the Bounce trick. Tying or braiding Bounce fabric softener sheets into the horses manes and forelocks to ward off flies. It’s supposed to work well. They all smelled nice anyway! I am going to have to test that one out.

Despite getting quite hot, it was a good weekend for the horses. Only one pull, and that seems like it was just a stone bruise. It was a cute little quarter horse, ridden by a junior. And of course, I had to be the one to pull her. I just hate having to pull a kid. This girl is very dedicated to her little horse and very obviously takes the best of care of her (and the horse obviously adores her kid too). She was devastated at being pulled. But was very shortly completely re-focused on how to take care of her horse. I think through the next 24 hours she had the vet check that horse at least six times to see if she was improving. She soaked and resoaked the foot in ice water until the little mare was nearly sound. It’s very nice to see a junior who is such a good horsewoman already.

I also got to see a horse who hasn’t been out for a while. This guy is a great big handsome half arab who has done quite a lot of endurance but had some issues with tying up. He’s been out of competition for a couple of years. He came out to do the 12 mile ride. He’s looking kind of fat and sassy. His owner said that when she brought him in from the field and started braiding his mane, he just about fell over in his excitement. And then loaded himself on the trailer with great enthusiasm. She arrived at the start on a fire-breathing dragon, and elected to go off to the side and hide him in the trees so he wouldn’t get a glimpse of the horses going out.

I watched all the 12 milers go out. Most were beginners, riding nice, quiet trail horses which, although mildly excited, had no real idea of what was going on. Then I saw one of our old war horses go out… an older Morgan who was under a strong hold and trying to trot up a storm. The big grey must have glimpsed the Morgan through the trees. Because the next thing I saw was the grey exploding out of the trees sideways. Head in the air. Galloping sideways with the occasional wild leap rather like a chaotic capriole. He careened across the field diagonally behind the Morgan. Narrowly missed a car. Then zigzagged back across in front of the Morgan. Still galloping sideways. He obviously knew where the trail entrance was, because he then bolted forward through it. The last I saw, he was in a flat run going around a corner with his rider still on him (though it looked a bit precarious) and pulling for all she was worth. I was convinced at that point that she was not going to live long. But five or ten minutes later, she came trotting back out the entrance and says rather serenely (under the circumstances) “I think I’m going to go back and put a strong bit on him”. She went back out a few minutes later with the horse under reasonable control and trotting politely. There was still some snorting and it was quite an animated trot, but she had speed control. I was totally impressed that she stayed on, got him stopped, and had the presence of mind to turn around, come back, and fix the problem before carrying on. He looked better and better behaved through the day. You could tell the horse was thrilled to be out. He didn’t tie up. And his rider was very happy to be back on him in a competition. I think it was something of a victory for them both.

One of the juniors that I’ve sponsored in past rides was there, doing the Novice CTR. She didn’t have a sponsor until the last minute, so that was a bit of a worry. But Dagmar dropped down from the Open CTR to ride with her. And also Mike and Kim. Dagmar is one of the sunniest and most cheerful people I know, and everything makes her laugh. And she was riding with Mike… who is a wise-cracking goof who really never shuts up and has no shame about bad jokes as far as I can tell. I’m amazed that Dagmar didn’t fall off her horse laughing. I asked Laura if there was a lot of giggling on trail and she sparkled at me, “Oh, quite a bit yes”. I asked Dagmar if she spent the day in hysterical laughter and she just started laughing again. Dagmar’s horse Gunner was ridden by Kim on Saturday, and Mike on Sunday. It was his last ride before retirement (I think she said he’s 19 this year), and he hit 3000 miles. He looked good doing it too. Very professional horse.

Oh and Karen Keller also hit her 3000 mile mark at this ride. She did it on a young horse. A completely BAREFOOT young horse. I was very impressed by that. This is a seriously rocky tough ride in the Canadian Shield which means some of the trail doesn’t even have dirt. JUST sharp rock. And that horse did the Open 33 mile CTR. Looked perfectly sound all day. King and Dressy are both barefoot, and they are pretty good even on gravel. But they could not do that ride without boots.

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