I am so, so happy with this horse.
Trailered over Thursday night, socialized (!), and hopped on bareback on Friday to evaluate how much horse I had. Answer: fire-breathing dragon. Once I tacked her up, we headed out with a few Arabs to do something along the lines of 4-6 miles. Fetti was a bit excessively forwards at the beginning. In hindsight, I think she would have been fine with a horse in front of her, but was ready to explode going in front. We did a FAST ride out to the river crossing, and then another gal and I headed home at a sedate walk.
More chatting, more socializing, attached all boots to all four feet, and finally off to vet in. Comments: 'windpuffs (hm, that's a new one), grade 2 lameness RH.' Er... what? "I'd like to bring her back later when things quiet down for you [vets] and have you take a look at her without the boots, just for good measure."
One mild panic later (what the hell happened to my horse?!), I pulled boots, wondered if I was totally nuts to ask a 17 year old horse to start doing LDs, and dutifully killed time for an hour or so. We finally headed back over, boot-less. Comments: 'she looks fine now! Must be something with those back boots.' "If you have another minute, can I zip back, put the front boots on, and have you take one more look?" I know these trails. I know she can do 80% of it barefoot, and I know she will not trot the remaining 20% without boots in front. Ran off, added front boots, still totally fine. I don't get it. Five days later, I still don't get it. (Luckily, they'd changed the rule requiring hoof protection on all four feet to apply only to the 50s.)
One entertaining ride meeting later, fed the pony dinner, told her to quit trying to beat up the mares in paddocks next to hers, and sleep.
..which, of course, meant that I woke up the next morning to Fetti kicking at the pipe corral and other horses. Mares! In hindsight, I should have fed significantly extra dinner, and I'm pretty sure she was in heat.
Tacked up Saturday morning and hopped on, despite the pony not inhaling as much of breakfast as I had hoped. I fully expected a fire-breathing dragon. Instead, I had a fairly polite fire-breathing dragon who appeared perfectly sane and felt like a firecracker. While standing around/walking in circles at the start, I heard someone tell their rider "She rides these trails all the time, ride with her." Mildly baffled that they were referring to me, I figured word had gotten around, who knows.. I told the rider I was aiming for slow and non-eventful.. luckily she was too.
The controlled start was more of a problem for K's mare, who was convinced she was Racing and Should Be In Front!, but Fetti amazingly had a brain and settled for trotting politely as long as we stayed in eyesight of the horses ahead of us. Eventually horses spread out. K and I stuck to the back of the pack to save her mare's sanity - I'm pretty sure Fetti didn't care. This was one of the few parts of the ride where I probably could have asked for more speed, but knowing the uphills that were coming, I intentionally chose to stick with Speed Slow. We actually tucked in behind Julie Suhr for a bit, walking the downhills and trotting up, and generally letting everyone pass. I discovered that the mare's owner (not K) was a local instructor who knows the Haflingers, so she really did know what she was doing putting her rider with me. K kept trying to apologize for slowing us down, and I kept explaining that we were fine with it. It wasn't really that much slower than I wanted to go - just slower than Fetti wanted, and this time, she didn't get to choose. The mares paced well together, anyway, and Fetti's happier with another horse nearby.
The oh-so-terrifying river crossing that people worry about? Total non-issue. Fetti and I have crossed that river numerous times. K's mare followed us in. Good photos, no drama, lots of smiles. It's uphill from there; we trotted most of it, walked either when Fetti asked or her heart rate looked particularly high, trotted again. My goal was to get to the trot-by around 9. I think we made it around 9:15, passed a handful of folks on and off in the process, and generally re-acquired sanity.
The loop in Wilder was very pretty and comparably nice and flat. We trotted a good chunk of that through about 15 miles - at that point, we hit some slightly more significant uphills, Fetti didn't know where we were, and her enthusiasm was waning. We'd walk a minute, I'd push for a trot, we'd trot a bit, repeat. I never had to push particularly hard, but I did have to push. It didn't help that we missed a turn and probably lost 15-20 minutes on this loop, backtracking to figure out where we'd gone wrong, and finally finding the turn.
Both mares ate and drank well at the vet check, 16 miles in. We probably could have cut a few minutes off here if we'd pulsed down right away, but we left promptly and I don't think we lost all that much time. We pulsed in precisely at 11, 15 minutes past what I was hoping.. so aside from our detour, we were pretty much right on target. (I'm guessing we were at the check around 10:50-10:55.)
I knew the final eight miles would be heading home, so Fetti had a bit of a second wind. I'm not sure she would have been quite as thrilled if we were headed in some unknown direction. We trotted the slight downhills, walked the technical stuff or when the pony wanted a break, trotted again. As planned, I hopped off and jogged the one major downhill, hopped back on at the bottom. Front boots had both stayed on so far, so I took K's advice and just left them on. Should be fine, right?
Wrong. One of the hills after the river crossing, I let her canter. I looked at her feet at the top of the hill and saw one hoof, one boot. Frankly, I would have left the boot there and gone back for it later in the week if the riders coming behind us hadn't pointed it out not far back from where we were. Jogged down the hill, attached boot to saddle, pulled other boot off and attached it to saddle. I knew we were a bit closer to time than I had hoped, but I also knew we both had horse left.. so we powered on and trotted all the uphills, walked the steep downhills, and decided it wasn't the end of the world if we came in over time.
We trotted our way in through the final section, coming into the finish at 1:19. I pulled tack, sponged her off, and stood her in the shade; she came down at 1:29. K's mare pulsed down promptly at 1:30.
Slower than I wanted? Sure, slightly. But Fireworks was a more challenging ride for the pony than I anticipated, with all the steep hills. Had I pushed a little more and had we not missed the turn, I think we could have been in at 1 - right on target for what I had hoped. Fetti kept her brain, took care of herself, never quit, and never put a foot wrong. She stayed manageable for the controlled start (a polite fire-breathing dragon indeed), tolerated horses passing, passed horses, and showed nearly no reaction to K's mare cantering sideways behind her for a fair bit of the ride.
Tack issues: my boots rubbed the back of both heels. Trotting a lot of downhills made my already-sore knee even more sore. Other than that, I was actually quite comfortable all the way through. I didn't send anything to the vet check, and that was fine. Carrots don't quite stay in the side of the pommel bag when Fetti shakes, so I need to remember to keep it zipped and/or keep my vet card in another pocket that stays zipped.
Fetti was good and tired afterwards. It actually had a few people concerned. She was happy to eat everyone else's food, but wasn't hugely interested in her own. She kept walking in circles in her stall, and finally dropped to nap. (Apparently she did it again later when I wasn't around, too.) I'm reasonably confident nothing was actually wrong with her, just TIRED and ready for a break.
I hopped on her bareback on Sunday and again yesterday (Tuesday) - she feels GOOD. She'd like to go out and work some more. Time off is not easy. We'll do a brisk loop of some sort on Thursday, just to get both of us out and moving again.
We came in a little closer to time than I would have liked, but she pulsed down in 10 minutes, so.. we'll work on speed. I can live with that.