2016 was a grand year for us as a team, but 2017 was set to be so much more. I don’t really believe in the fortune cookie thing, but I got one before the first ride of the season that read “This year will be fruitful” and by golly was it ever. There were lows, but the highs were high.
We started out the year at the Stirling’s Crossing Education and Training weekend in February. We had been working hard over the summer training my big bay gelding Aston, he had paired up beautifully with my sister who was looking forward to attempting her second 40km ride and Aston’s first since his injury in 2014. We were focusing on getting Adriana and Sirahh ready for their attempt at the mini-marathon over Easter, I was legging up a new horse for his first ever ride and Bec was starting her second season aboard Mizzy.
I’d purchased Rock late in 2016 and he had been more than a little bit of a handful. I actually turned him out for about six weeks just to get the crap out of his system – he was hyped up on an inordinate amount of feed while not getting any ridden work so he was up to his eyeballs in protein that was sending around the twist! I hadn’t even been able to get a saddle on him the day we bought him, he was a complete lunatic, bucking and carrying on as if he hadn’t been broken in – he had been, I’d spoken to his breaker and seen footage of him under saddle for the first time. But the horse in my paddock was nothing like the calm horse in that video – he was identical in appearance, but the Rock in front of me was a nervous wreck.
It took time and a lot of work, but within three months we had turned him around. I was riding him in training, and apart from the occasional pigroot he was fantastic. He had a long way to go as far as balance and cadence went, but he was at least able to be saddled and mounted safely – I was not sure how he’d go at his first ride, he was still reactive and sensitive and terrified of the float, so it was going to be an interesting ride for me at least.
Aston and Chintz were going well in their training, but Aston is quite a hot horse and I was concerned that the heat of the weekend might affect him so since it was early in the year we resolved to take it easy, aiming for a slow and steady ride.
The weekend approached and it was indeed a warm one, as expected. We loaded up the horses and headed to the ride with a thankfully uneventful trip – until we arrived at ride base and Rock decided he’d had enough of being on the float. It was only his third time on board one since I’d purchased him and he had traveled much better than I’d expected, but we had apparently waited too long to unload him and he was done waiting! Just as we were preparing to untie him and Aston before dropping the tailgate of the float – all hell broke loose as Rock threw himself around. Aston is not a good traveler by any means, but Rock made him look like an angel! But as suddenly as he started, Rock stopped with a thud as he hit his forehead on the roof of the float and, I think, shocked himself enough to realise how stupid he was being.
We then managed to quietly unload all four of the horses and a quick inspection of Rock’s head revealed skin off but thankfully no blood and he was sorry enough for himself to behave himself as we set about setting up camp. With the horses soon vetted in and fed, we all headed to the pub for dinner. It is one of our little pre-ride traditions to have a pub meal together the night before a morning ride and one we very much enjoy!
The following morning I prepared to die – Rock was still very much a question mark for me, I had no idea what to expect and he hadn’t exactly made me easy after his little float hissy fit and cantering in his trot out. He’d also thrown a tantrum about the bridge crossing when we went out to pre-ride – not building my confidence there…! As ride start approached I distracted myself helping to saddle up Aston and getting my sister on board, she was feeling sick but she was getting on anyway. Adriana was just happy to be back at a ride and Rahh and Mizzy were both looking fantastic. The two bay boys would be our focus for this ride.
Just before start, I bit the bullet and mounted – zero fireworks. There were more than five dozen horses milling around in the warm-up area, if there was going to be a crazy moment, it would be now.
Nothing. There was nothing. Aston jibbed his head, Sirahh was pulling for the gate, Mizzy was perking up but beyond his eyes popping out of his head a little, Rock was absolutely fine. I was pleasantly surprised, but I wasn’t ready to count my chickens yet! As all of the riders headed out toward the gate, we hung back a little to give our horses some space before getting on our way. Barely five kilometres in and I was already feeling burning thigh muscles as I realised just how unfit I was! 35km to go…
About 20km in, daylight was well upon us. It was not an “easy” track, but it was nice, with some good climbs but we were protected from the early sun of the day by the pine forests. It was the heat I was worrying about as I looked over to Aston and heard him panting loudly. The heat was getting to him, so we decided to slow down. The old boy was struggling with is first ride in two years, my main concern was to get him through soundly on the old tendon injury.
We plugged along to finish in a little over 4 hours in total. There was a struggle to cool Aston down and Rock’s heart rate was less than desirable as he became a little flustered by the strapping process, but after 20 minutes we vetted in with entire team making it through – what more could we ask for?
Chintzia was qualified for Novice, Aston had finally got an entry in his 2 year old logbook, Rock survived his first ride (and I survived his first ride…!) Miz and Bec were on their way and Adriana and Sirahh were on the road to the mini marathon.
We were off to Cooyar next to prep Rock and Mizzy for their first 80’s of the season over the easter weekend – bring on 2017!