In early 2017 I was bringing along my new horse, Rockstar. My plan was to take him through a couple of 40km rides before entering him in his first 80km as a novice, so following his successful first effort at the Stirling’s Crossing training weekend in February I was keen to get him out again.
The Cooyar Maxisoy Challenge is one of my favourite rides. It was the scene of my second 80km and Jasmine’s first 80km completion and BC win, so it holds fond memories for me. But Rock was about to give me a little mental scar – thanks Rock…
Being so early in the season and months away from our bigger goal for the year, we didn’t have as many of our horses in full work by the time March rolled around. Sirahh was being legged up for the mini marathon at FAW over Easter, so we had no plan to take him to Cooyar – Mizzy and Rock were in need of the work though, so Bec and I would pilot them, while Adriana had lined up a ride in the 40km on a horse from another team. We wouldn’t ride together, but at least we were all riding!
Rock and Mizzy traveled well on the Friday, we planned to arrive the day before so that they were nice and settled in. Adriana planned to arrive on Saturday morning, so Bec and I set up camp, the yards, fed and walked the horses and in general had a lazy afternoon. I made the irritating discovery that my brother had neglected to put my tent poles back in the bag when he had borrowed it the week earlier for a 4×4 trip – grrr!! Luckily Bec had packed hers, so we bunked in together.
The next morning Adriana arrived, keen to strap if her ride fell through – thankfully it didn’t and she met and trialled her mount for the 40km, a lovely grey mare named Abbeywood Bella. The year was looking good!
Now, I don’t consider Cooyar to be an easy ride – it is excellent for novice horses that are carefully and considerately ridden, but there is a lot of road concussion that riders have to take into account. Once the initial areas of common track in and out of the forestry are navigated, the trails are as lovely as anywhere! I do so love the variety of it, riding through wooded areas, into quiet country roads – the views are spectacular from some of the heights!
We saddled up and got out to the gate. Rock being the antsy pants that he is was having a grand time cantering on the spot – he felt amazing. What was about to come I was not prepared for, however. As we left the showgrounds Rock and Mizzy collectively decided that breaks were not something they were interested in exercising and we were out the gate at a clapping pace – definitely not my intention! They were never dangerous, but very very strong and forward, not something I was expecting so early in the season. In hindsight, I think Rock was peaking early – I had been preparing him through the summer while the other horses rested. Mistake numero uno…
We hit the 10km mark at a pace that I am not proud of on two novice horses. Mizzy was more than capable, but while Rock felt strong I was still having trouble holding him up – once we hit a water point I was determined to force him to walk, whether it meant getting off him or by some other means. As it happened, he hit a wall himself and seemed to realise by the 15km point that he needed to slow.
From then on we enjoyed a peaceful ride – there was still the occasional reminder to stay steady required, but I was happy with the end result of a time of 3h 11m for the 40km. What I was not happy with, in fact what was going to hit me in the face like a ton of bricks, was Rock’s heart rate. He had been sketchy at the Stirling ride the month before, but we had attributed that to the heat of the morning – Cooyar is an evening ride and it was already dark, had I just over ridden him? He had felt fantastic on track, eating and drinking readily – had I misread him?
I was a nervous wreck. Mizzy pulsed down easily, but Rock was just not responding. I was so used to Koda, Mizzy, Sirahh, Vegas, with their immediate stability and fast vetting. I had been warned that it can be hard to transition back to riding novice horses when you’ve become used to seasoned ones – by hell was that true!
Time ticked and ticked and ticked – I never take the full half hour to vet my horse, and yet here I was doing exactly that! In the end I had to take a leap of faith. He was so close – closer than I am ever comfortable with taking a horse to the vet ring – but I had no choice anymore. In we went…
I tried to laugh it off, but inside my stomach was in knots. I’d ruined his ride, he was going to vet out, I was sure of it. I was fighting back tears as I waited for the TPR to count him, staring at my watch, praying for a miracle – and as I prayed someone started up their car with a roar, flicked on their high beams lighting up the vet ring like a rock concert, and took off with their float speeding past the ring as they went – my heart leapt into my throat as I watched Rock’s eyes pop out of his head. So close. So so close…
So close that he made it by one beat. 54bpm. The TPR looked at me and said “If that truck hadn’t gone by it would have been in the 40’s” but I was too relieved by the fact that he’d scraped through to consider it at that moment!
Mizzy breezed through, but he too had popped up a little at the ute flying by. No matter – we had survived! We went back to camp to await Adriana’s return, she’d been riding under instruction so we knew she would be an hour behind us at the least. But as we sat at camp, time ticked by and at our quiet spot near the in gate where all the riders had to pass by – Adriana was not to be seen.
With a time of almost five hours Adriana and her sprightly mare finally trotted in past us. What a long ride! But she’d had a great time if the smile on her face was anything to go by – and she had a story or two as well! Her favourite was the one about her riding partners helmet light frightening the other horse, triggering a four foot leap into the air – I’m familiar with the problem myself, Koda has trained me well!
We went to bed a happy and tired but successful trio. The next day at presentations, Mizzy and Bec were awarded the Best Managed Novice Horse and Rider trophy which was a lovely little cap off to the weekend. I was just happy to have gotten Rock through in the end but I was still proud of the Wizz Kid. But I was more proud of Adriana and her efforts at doing a ride on a horse she wasn’t used to, it was her first time getting on and going with a horse she knew nothing about and she took it in her stride. Onward to FAW and the mini marathon!