I believed that TK was slow. Past behaviour tends to be the best predictor of future behaviour, and he has always been slow. And there was lots of green grass to eat, which seemed to be his primary interest for the day. So I expected to cruise along for about 2 hours. But he was also a racehorse once upon a time…
Here’s my story. It’s a little long, but at least there’s pictures!
After finally realising I wasn’t going to get any more sleep I got up at 4am and got organised. We left home just before 5:30am and arrived at the Mayanup Camdraft grounds, where the endurance ride was to start, got ourselves organised, got registered, vetted in, and all that. I was so excited and nervous and stuff that I had TK saddled nearly 30 minutes earlier than I had to! Oops!
Anyway, we went to the start of this little parade. There were only 6 riders in the 20km ride, which I thought was great, it’d be real social and slow. Before you start there’s all kinds of milling around.
Now, there was this other horse and rider combo, bib 86, and she was out front. And for some reason, TK wanted to take this horse, wanted to race this horse! I tried turning around and joining the rear group and a lovely lady said “I’m just here for fun so ride with me if you like” but very quickly things got wildly out of hand. And not just a little bit!
Suddenly TK was at a flat out gallop, thundering along an unknown track of unknown length with unknown obstacles, fences, holes. And he was past 86 and every other horse and was not slowing down. I tried to pull him up, but his racehorse training had clicked back in and a pull meant faster. I tried to sit back and loosen up the reins and talk calmly to him but a wailing “NO NO NO NO NO NO NO DEAR GOD NO!” was coming out instead of “Woah buddy, that’s aaaallllright, waaaalllking” Funny that. Runaway horse, runaway calm voice… and sitting back on a galloping horse is harder than it sounds. I was so unseated, so unstable… I was freaking out.
I was running through a million thoughts: How long is this track? What’s over this next hill? Is there a turn? Is there a fence? Will I die if I go head over turkey if he trips in this creek bed? If there’s a fence ahead will he stop? Will I fall off sideways as he dodges around these trees? How will I ever hold on? If I survive this, will I get off and walk back to the start? Am I crying or is that just the wind stinging my eyes? When is this damn horse EVER going to stop running!?!?!??!
Up a big hill and it slows him to a fast trot. He’s still moving, still riled up, but more worn out, and it occurs to me that since we didn’t crash and die we should just see what happens next. And we were well ahead of the pack, and if we kept it there, he seemed perfectly content.
19 minutes into the ride and I have my horse back. He’s sweating like a pig, and trotting along happily, slowing to a walk when I ask, trotting when I ask. Easy.
A gentleman riding behind me catches up and we ride together for awhile, his horse and mine are both competitive, and he’s telling me “no, your horse isn’t naughty or doing anything unusual, you should see my other horse” and so apparently this isn’t anything odd. First times always come with a story. TK and his horse take turns leading, trotting hard and fast, but still more manageable than before. He’s in front, he’s happy!
The rest of the group caught up with us just as we got to the 7km checkpoint. There’s water, apples, carrots, molasses, and even treats for the humans. TK ate some of both treats with the whole group, calm as a cucumber, though wouldn’t touch the water. And since there was no hold time, and everyone seemed content to strap (cool off their horses) I decided I would head out early and get a lead on everyone so I don’t have to deal with a silly horse again.
We walked and trotted awhile, and then two kangaroos crossed our path. TK was awesome, just watched them and was completely calm, but then one of them started to crash through the bush off to our left, and as suddenly as before, we were galloping again! He was racing the kangaroo! This time I was a lot calmer about it. He was tired, we were going uphill, I knew I could turn him, I could see the direction of the track. I kept the reins loose and eventually the kangaroo lost interest or TK lost steam and we were trotting again.
We come back in on the track we headed out on, and I had a big plan to ride that galloping track hard, push him into a strong canter so he knows I’m in charge of the speed here, mister. But as we’re returning home 86 catches up and passes us. Damn! Now he’s chomping at the big again, and she’s asking “do you want to pass?” and I said no. Change of strategy: I wasn’t actually trying to go fast, I wasn’t trying to win. He needs to cool down a bit, and I need to keep him behind her, I thought. We are already making good time, there was no rush. And it was a beautiful day. But 86 was ahead of us. And the rest of the group was coming up behind us.
As we turned onto the track where we had our runaway, I was really at a loss of what to do. 86 was ahead of us, but a nice lady was riding next to me (Kelly, I think was her name), and I had him mostly under control. But he was fighting, so I called out to 86 that I was passing, passed at a trot and then put him into a canter. Got him working up the hill until he was stuffed. Down to a trot. Yes, that’s good! Kelly pulls up beside me on her off-track thoroughbred and she was a great riding companion for the last little bit in. She went through so much of the same thing with her horses and offered me lots of good advice.
As the gentleman mentioned, first times always come with a story, and Kelly had a runaway too, her first time, and actually got off and walked back in on her first 20km ride. She only got 5km into it. It turns out I did alright.
We pulled in, in 1:46 and cooled our horses. TK vetted through just fine. Vets were happy with him, and he was content. Especially since it meant that he could now eat without interruption!
There were a lot of things learned today. Maybe some of the smaller lessons on detail and strategy will be shared in a separate post. But here’s the most important thing that happened today:
The fear didn’t stick.
Yeah, he ran away with me. Yup, I was completely unprepared for that. But it ended beautifully. The day was gorgeous (I’d take a photo of my sunburn to prove it, but … anyway), the ride was lovely, the people were nice and TK did well. He’s strong, he’s fit, and he’s fast! I have a few things to work on now. This was meant to be a learning experience and it was. And it was wonderful. Well worth the $35 and and 4am start! Every penny and then some!