010.

Saddle fitting Conundrum

In January, I was on the hunt for an endurance saddle that could get me through my first season. It needed to be lightweight, with lots of options to tie/attach items, and budget friendly. I ended up settling on the Abetta Endurance saddle. This was a big switch from my bulky (and heavy!) western. My western fit Nakai, but it was just too heavy and a bit too long to work for longer rides.

I’ve been riding in the Abetta with success. Nakai moves freely in it, and he hasn’t been back sore. I thought I had a winner… up until a couple days ago.


See these? The roaning spots just showed up…as in, they weren’t there last week, and now they’re front and center.

(This is a closer view)

 I immediately jumped to poor saddle fit. Nakai has gained quite a bit a weight in the past two weeks. Convinced I was having pressure issue, my barn owner and I played around with my saddle and Nakai’s back. The roaning spots are low, and we both took turn placing our hands on the spots while exerting pressure on the saddle. There wasn’t any pinching or pressure that would suggest an issue. Next, we did the same thing with my built-up pad underneath. There was a very mild change in pressure, but again no pinching, poking, or anything else to suggest it’s from my saddle.

What is most confusing is that Nakai is working the best he ever has. He’s definitely not back sore, the spot themselves elicit no reaction from him when poked, squeezed, or prodded, and he is a genuinely happy horse. The spots also sweat. He moves out willingly, extends his trot for miles at a time, does his lead changes, rollbacks, and other movements without an issue. He’s not compensating anywhere that I can tell, and he receives glowing reports back from his massages… I’m a bit at a loss as to what to do.

The other bizarre aspect is Nakai’s coat pattern (I will never pretend to understand the LP and PATN2 gene of appaloosa color). Over the years, Nakai gets new spots. His coat color changes frequently depending on the time of year, and I’ve discovered spots within spots as well as spots on top of spots when I clip.

After this most recent body clip, I discovered his entire body dotted with white hair that was not previously there before. There are a couple new roaning spots as well, but they are significantly smaller than those pictured above. There is a spot (or two) on the roaning on his right side.

(A small example of new white hair growth – his chestnut used to be solid)

So.

At this point it could be saddle fit or his appy coat. The logical side of me says saddle fit. Because of his recent weight gain, I’m worried that his built-up pad is too thick (potential cause?). I’m immediately switching pads, but otherwise am not sure what course of action to take. If he isn’t sore or showing any other signs of issues, should I worry? I’m also reading conflicting information online about how long it takes white hair from saddle fit to show up. Some report as shortly as 8 hours while others claim it’s from the previous season.

There is also further assertions from a well-known saddle fitter about roaning forming due to there being a history of fluid under the skin:

3) White HAIR OR ROANING OF WHITE IS A PRESSURE PROBLEM?  White roaning is a history of fluid under the skin. Solid white hair is where it was slipped in more serious galling and pressure. Roaning of white is not a pressure problem, 1st it is one of movement, 2nd it is mild pressure. Enough heat from friction and said pressure causes fluid under the skin. That is where you see roaning. This roaning can disappear with  a coat change if you make necessary changes in saddling. Stirrup strap swing can cause white hair if the saddle isn’t constructed properly to protect from friction to the horse in the upper strap area. Narrow straps also add to this problem as do riders that stand the stirrups or swing their legs.  – Len Brown

The only issue I take with this is that Nakai’s never had noticeable swelling in the area where the roaning is. I ride frequently (4 days a week) and spend non-riding days stopping by as well. Neither myself nor my barn owner have noticed fluid..but if it’s minute amounts contributing, that might be a possibility.

009.

Disclaimer: my horse is always good.

Of course, the definition of “good” occasionally varies… but he’s a handy little horse. He’s extremely well broke, bombproof, and has a fantastic sense of humor. He is quick to forgive (but never forgets) and willingly tries anything I ask of him. He trusts me explicitly.

Occasionally, we have days where my 25 year old thinks he’s 2 again.


Riding Nakai is not easy. It’s a constant ebb and flow of discussion. You need to cue him correctly and stay out of his way – micromanage and he throws a tanty. Half of the trouble is his anticipation. Simply put, Nakai is impatient. He forever thinks two steps ahead of me, trying to figure out what I want before I even ask. It’s taken years to feel “it” before it starts and set him up for success. I have to vary our schooling constantly (and it’s part of the reason we’ve dabbled in so many disciplines), but it’s paid off monumentally. He never blinks at a new task, and he makes the perfect babysitter for other horses. We’re the go-to team for obstacle challenges at fun shows. The more complicated and fast a task is, the happier he is to do it.


He also has his own ideas about how some things should go.

Although Nakai knows we never gallop across the church field, as soon as we hit the base he tries. With tail flagged and head dropped behind the vertical, he’ll scoot forward a couple strides, asking “yes..?” If I ask to walk, he will do so politely, sighing and trying to sneak a trot stride in here and there. When we’re out with friends and come to a fork, he’ll choose the top trail instead of their chosen bottom (or vice versa). When out on technical footing, I let him decide the best way to navigate. I know a few acquaintances who disagree with this ( i.e, “he’ll just think he can do what he wants!”) but allowing Nakai the freedom of opinion has created a well rounded partner who knows that not only can he trust me, but that I will also trust his decisions. He’s saved my ass more than a few times over the years, and he spooks only at real danger. If Nakai doesn’t want to go down a trail or past something completely ordinary, we don’t. There’s a reason, and I refuse to ruin years of trust over something small.


Every ride post-Foxcatcher has been incredible.He is so balanced and responsive to the most minute of cues. There are times I’ve barely thought of the next movement and he’s already read my mind. In some ways, he’s almost been too good. He spends his days on 24/7 turnout and when I bring him in for a ride he’s refreshed and ready for whatever I decide to that day.  I don’t think he’s ever seemed so happy. He’s on a huge pasture with free choice hay and grass, and my barn owner works diligently to provide the type of grain, beet pulp, oil, and other goodies Nakai and the other horses receive based on their individual needs. It is a stark contrast from the dirt lot, two flakes of hay, and one size fits all feeding program from previous barns.


I think I’ve finally found what he loves to do.

We’re tentatively planning on Muckleratz in July and then Hector in September. Muckleratz is a 25 CTR and Hector is a 35 LD endurance ride. The goal until then is to work on bettering our hydration methods and figure out what works best for him with electrolytes. I also need to work up to trotting at least 10 miles at a time. I need to lose more fluff.

008.

Confession: I am a book drunkard.

I have an insatiable appetite for books. From Historical Fiction to Sci-Fi and everything in between – if it’s printed, I’ll read it. Before smart phones made the bathroom experience significantly less boring, I was reading air freshener cans and the warning labels off a tube of Crest.

The first book I remember was my mother giving me a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Not the cute, a la Disney style version, either. You know, the one where Cinderella’s step sisters hack off their toes in order to squeeze into the slipper. That always seemed her style – why gently introduce violent, uncomfortable items when she could shove you in head first? Whether intending to give my nightmares or warn of the dangers that befall princesses when associating with men, all she succeeded in doing was opening the floodgates of my imagination.

(My most recent spoils)

The most distressing part of moving in with Ben was consolidating my library. Books were crammed in every accessible area – from bookshelves, totes underneath my bed, the closet, and tubs stacked in a tall entertainment chest. They were in the bathroom, the mudroom, hiding in end tables and on window ledges. Split decisions were made, as pausing for a second longer would have had me in a hoarder-esque meltdown when confronted about having to part with some of my babies.

This is the result:

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They’re homeless until more bookshelves can be built. The shelving in our home is already occupied with a mixture of hardbound encyclopedias, medical books, and a smattering of machining and engineering books. As much as I want to covet such prime real estate, it can wait. I am simply thankful to have someone who wants to build me bookshelves.

007.

One of the (many) faces of Nakai. He is pretty low in the herd hierarchy but once in a while breaks out the stinky face. He and his buddy Beamer boarded together at our previous barn. They spend their days bickering at each other like the children they are.

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After two weeks off after Foxcatcher, Nakai went back to work yesterday. We warmed up in the ring and hit the trails for a quick loop. We had a brief discussion about softening his face and moving his hips. Nakai’s right side is his stiffer side, although I wouldn’t necessarily call it stiffness. His right eye is blind, and he’s a little more reluctant to give and bend right away. He can bend all the way around to his hip, so I don’t buy the “Oh I caaaaan’t do this! It’s hard!” routine he occasionally tries.

The farmer was out tilling, so our loop was kept to the two immediate fields and scooting our way through the woods. I absolutely love how different the trails look with the changing seasons. They feel different, too.

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006.

 It’s been a crazy week.

Still sick and pathetically fatigued, I dragged myself through the rest of the week without seriously maiming anyone out of frustration and spent the weekend in recovery mode. For anyone interested, I highly recommend a diet of 4 gallons of water, various terrible take-out food, cuddle comas with a cat, and an obscene amount of Gilmore Girls (You’re a lifesaver, Netflix…)

On Saturday, I pulled myself together long enough to meet Maria at the barn so she could massage Nakai. Kai just loves Maria and her magic hands. She found two small knots on either side of his back, but otherwise reported he was in fantastic condition! For the past week I’ve had his ERU medication on standby, fearing that the stress of travel and the ride might induce a flare up. His eye is still flare-free (violently knocking on wood here..) and he only lost a small amount of weight.

Monday morning rolls around and Ben and I are without water. We’d been experiencing some odd pressure issues despite the well pump being less than two years old. I begin stressing over the possibilities while Ben plays plumber. By Wednesday, we had a new pump and another virus – Ben finally caught what I had.

Despite being his turn to feel like death, he ventured to the farm with me last night to walk the pup and the horse. Honey’s not exactly horse broke (we are getting there!), and every time she careens around or bounces in front of his face I silently thank Nakai for his patience and sense of humor. Speaking of his funny bone: upon arriving at the barn, Nakai’s up at the top of the field, picking at the round bale. It takes me two minutes to get his halter and by that time he has disappeared. Vanished. I take a peek in the two sheds and wander the field, calling his name and becoming increasingly worried that he’s learned how to Houdini for real this time.

Then he nickers.

And nickers… and nickers.

Through the small crack in the side of the other shed, I see an eyeball.

I march down the field and in the shed, at the farthest corner, is my horse. He nickers again and walks toward me, looking at me like “who… me?”

But really. How can I stay mad at this old man face?

Yep.

Can’t.

 

005.

It’s 8:52.

I’m on the couch.

Sick.

Normally, I’d be sifting through the work emails and beginning the day . Instead, I’ve made myself into a blanket burrito and alternate between sweating bullets and freezing. It’s a dreary morning; rain has moved back in and the house is dark. My fever adds a nice touch. The flashbacks to last April where I ruined a camping trip due to a similar illness are appropriate, it seems.

Before I started feeling crummy, I was able to run Kai through his paces last night. He only lost a small amount of weight, and his legs are tight. He showed no signs of back soreness, and he tried to run me over on the lunge line before moving out sound.  He’ll have the next two weeks off from work, and in the meanwhile friends have graciously offered their horses so I can keep riding.

For today, however, the only thing I’ll be doing is going back to sleep.

 

Foxcatcher

Our First Endurance Ride.

Foxcatcher is my maiden voyage into the world of endurance riding. Nakai and I spent the last year and a half tagging along on conditioning rides while gleaning as much information as possible from M, J, and T. Each of them had unique experiences and tips. Their wealth of knowledge helped to prepare, but nothing teaches you quite like experience.

M and I packed the trailer with room to spare and loaded up the ponies Friday morning. The drive down was windy but uneventful (still thanking the traffic Gods that the turnpike and I-95 behaved themselves!). We arrived ahead of schedule and set up camp. Vetting was a breeze and Nakai vetted in with all A’s, as did Rose. Nakai was his quiet self, checking out his new digs for the weekend with mild curiosity (I had no idea how much this would change!).

It hit me suddenly that this was really happening and anxiety set in. Not sure if I was going to puke or laugh, we set  about tacking up for a warm up ride. T showed up as we were saddling, and she joined us into the tunnel and out onto the expansive cross country field.

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Warm-up was a short 5 miles and Nakai felt fantastic. He and Rose are lovely together (albeit a little… competitive). They do feed off each other’s energy, and I was wondering how Kai was going to handle the start and riding in a pack.

With the wind blowing violently, we headed back to camp and put together a plan for the morning.  I had made a blanket nest in the Ford to sleep. On the plus side, I was so warm! Downside, I made it too warm – my top blanket was wet from condensation, and the entire truck was fogged!

Morning comes and I am feeling sick from nerves. What have I done? Can we do this? Is it fair to make him do this?? The wind had calmed, but the forecast was still the same – up to an inch of snow possibly along with rain and periods of freezing mix. Mother nature did not disappoint! The rain followed the start. As the trail opened and riders cantered off in a pack, Nakai picked up a quiet trot and followed Rose. He was excellent on trail! Although interested in the rest of the horses, he kept his own pace and let me “ride my own ride”. I rode conservatively, not sure how the extra stress would sit with him (or myself). This seemed to be an unnecessary worry, however. Sometime from July 2015 to February, Nakai went completely blind in his right eye (this is his ERU eye). Despite this handicap he handled the deteriorating trail conditions perfectly. He navigated the rolling hills and wooded switchbacks beautifully! He trotted, cantered, and hand galloped on a loose rein.

Rose was convinced that she could easily top 10 this ride, and challenged M the entire 15 miles of the first loop. M decided she needed to hand walk Rose, so we came into the hold alone and totally unsure of what to do. I made the mistake of asking “what first?” and in return had 5 people telling me five different things. Nakai came into the hold with a pulse of 60, but it rose to 68 – he nickered and whinnied at everyone, including the pulse taker! I needed to keep him with Rose during vetting to keep his pulse down. I had trouble controlling my own emotions when he wouldn’t stay quiet, and T took him from me and gave me a moment to pull myself together.

I was soaked through, and both M and I changed during the hold. It was really coming down now!

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The second loop was considerably more snowy, and the footing was quickly changing from sloppy to dangerous. The hills were covered in a snow/icy combination, and the wooded trails were muddy and slick.

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(This was the beginning of loop two)

Despite the conditions, I was having a blast! As long as we kept moving I did not notice the cold or wet, and M was smiling again. The last 10 miles flew by, and before I was ready we came into the finish! Both horses vetted in great – Rose had all A’s, and Nakai has all A’s except for B+ on mucus membranes, cap & jug refill. He improved those (they were originally B’s at the hold) and he went from a B on skin tenting to an A! We completed!! He took longer to pulse down (still chattering to Rose and anyone who would listen), but he did not take long to do so.

Soaked to the bone again, we changed and set the horses up in their pen. I crashed in the truck only to be awoken to T telling me that Nakai was kicking Rose! He was cranky after the ride and taking it out on her. I felt terrible; this was totally out of character for my horse (he is low man in a herd setting). Needless to say, I was embarrassed and mortified! We separated them and I apologized repeatedly to M. Poor Rose! I now know better, and the next ride I will set up a separate pen so we don’t have this issue again.

All three of us ran into town for dinner, and I reflected on my accomplishment. What a day! It was an emotional (and weather-related) roller coaster! We woke up this morning to two sound horses. Nakai was a little stiff, but after a good roll and some walking around he worked out of it. The drive home was uneventful, and I have never been so happy to get a shower. This ride also jump-started my metabolism; I am 5 pounds down since Friday and am hungry every couple of hours!