It was finally decided that the best thing for Sydney would be to just take the lead. I wasn't too sure that would work and worried that without an equine butt in his face, Sydney would start looking for the front stretch. But since nothing else was working, I let him get out in front.
It wasn't a complete fix, but it did seem to help him. I still had to saw away on his mouth and circle back quite a few times, but at least his feet were on the ground. The next 30 minutes were the least fun of the whole day. My arms were beginning to ache from keeping my freight train from being a runaway. After what seemed like forever, Sydney's frenetic hurry (defined as fast and energetic in a wild and uncontrolled way) started to ebb away and was replaced by a less feverish pace.
The truth is, I was beginning to worry about his metabolic parameters. For the non endurance riders out there, you've probably never, or rarely, pushed your horse to the edge of that danger zone. If you have ridden your horse in that zone a few times, you probably know how close you are (or aren't) to the edge. I had never ridden Sydney for that long, nor at that speed. He's pretty fit, but still, I had no idea where his edge was.
He was dripping wet, he has a full winter coat, and had been doing so for more than two hours. His respiration was good though, and he was interested in grazing whenever we stopped to open a gate or catch our breath at the top of a climb. I was watchful, but not worried enough to demand a full-on stop. Fortunately, we came to a deep water trough that was full and clean. With no hesitation, Sydney dove in and drank deeply.
One "funny" aside here: I've done a lot of endurance rides over every distance possible over a lot of years. Not only have I done a lot of rides, but I've done them over and over on the same horse(s). Almost any decent rider can finish a 25 or 50 miler. What's difficult is to do it on the same horse(s), year after year. I know what I am doing.
As Sydney went in for that deep drink of water, one of the riders cautioned me about not letting him have too much. I thanked him politely (at least I hope it was) and said that I was from a different school of thought. Unless the water is ice cold, or the horse is blowing really hard (like he might already be in distress), I let my horses drink their fill. The rider seemed a bit miffed at my response, but we both let the issue drop.
When Louisiana turned to follow the departing riders, I asked her to remain a few moments longer as both my horses were still interested in the water. The rest of the group had barely paused at the trough. I was somewhat disappointed to see that as my experience tells me that if given a little more time, many horses will continue to wet their mouths or at least slurp a bit longer. When asking your horse to work this hard, every ounce of water can be precious.
The deep drink did relieve some of my concerns, but I still hoped we'd get back soon without any further drama. While Sydney didn't get soft and light, he did get more relaxed. And then finally, he took another deep breath and dropped this head. By this time we were more than 100 yards in front of the group, and he simply power charged down the road in an impressive walk. He was being so good that I felt confident enough to hop off and open the next gate for the group.
Everyone filed through and then waited while I closed and re-latched the gate. I re-mounted, which is a bit of a trick when your horse is 16 solid hands high and you're only 5 foot 3. I managed to find a small rock to give me a bit more height; Sydney stood rock solid while I swung into the saddle. Good boy!
We did trot more back to the trailers, but the worst of the anxiousness had gone. When we arrived back to the trailer, I filled the water buckets and mixed a beet pulp and rice bran lunch. My earlier worries returned however as I pulled tack.
Neither horse was thirsty, but they had drunk just 25 minutes before so I wasn't too worried about that. They both started to eat ravenously, but then Sydney seemed to lose interest in his lunch. He started stomping one hind foot after the other. This is something you'll see with a horse who is thinking about colicking or cramping in his hind end. I listened to his gut, which was producing appropriate gut sounds, and then took his pulse. He started out at about 60, but when I re-took it a minute later, it had dropped to a much more sensible 48.
I took Sydney by the lead rope and asked him to walk around within easy sight of Speedy G. As soon as he was away from the trailer, he relaxed. Even though it was bright and sunny, there was a slight breeze so I tossed a fleece cooler over his rump; he was still pretty damp from the ride. I tied him back at the trailer, but noticed his flanks pulsing in what appeared to be a classic thumps rhythm.
Here's a brief explanation of thumps:
Thumps – known technically amongst the veterinary fraternity as “synchronous diaphramatic flutter” - is the veterinary term given to a horse that is having irregular spasms of the diaphragm. In layman’s terms, as the horse’s heart beats it simultaneously appears as though the heart has moved and is beating at the flanks of the horse - and they thus look to beat in unison. The animal may also shake all over, as heavy, laboured breathing takes over the horse’s respiratory system. The phrenic nerve, which passes over the heart on its way to the diaphragm, becomes fired up through being sensitised and that is the reason that the diaphragm goes into spasm.
Tejon Hounds had provided a lovely lunch with plenty to drink. We enjoyed the hospitality of the group and left with full stomaches and very happy hearts.
The next day, I took Sydney to his regular Monday night lesson. More on that tomorrow. For now, I am eagerly scanning my calendar for a free Saturday to do another hunt!