Story of a Standardbred saddle horse …(by Chris Morrison)
Tuffy was abandoned at a vet clinic after being left for “hock fusion” surgery. The owner never paid the bill, so he ended up in the hands of our friend Susan. We looked at him shortly after, when he was not saddle broke, 5 or six years old, and didn’t buy him. By the following summer he’d had more training and we took another look. On the test ride he shied when Rosalee’s shirt flapped and she came off, but the good impression had already been made. Tuffy turned out to be a sensitive, somewhat reactive horse with a basic wish to please and cooperate.
Rosalee worked with Tuffy for quite a few years as a trail horse, and from time to time competing in Competitive Trail shorter distance classes (25 miles.) He mostly did very well for her, but she was unable to do a lot because of back pain issues on longer rides. This became worse in 2014, and by early summer 2015 she decided not to compete until her back improved.
I had retired my previous horse in 2014 and hadn’t replaced him, so we made the decision that I would compete with Tuffy. I began conditioning him in July 2015, and entered the Wild Timber ride in mid August in the Intermediate class (25 miles at the faster “open” class speed.) We placed first with an almost perfect score. He was also a great pleasure to ride compared to my two previous (Standardbred and Arab) horses: excited at the start of an event but not unruly, and very well behaved at the surprise vet checks on the trail. He has a naturally low pulse rate and the ability to calm himself quickly, so his scores were excellent. He has an excellent smooth gallop to make up time when we needed it (after getting lost, for example…)
On the September long weekend we entered a two day competition in the Battle River valley near Ponoka. This was officially two separate events, and we did Intermediate on both days for a total of 50 miles. He achieved a first and a second in the two events, and was awarded the prize for the best score in both Heavyweight and Lightweight classes for both days combined. I considered this a test as to whether we should move to Open class (50 miles at the faster speed) in the future. The weather was pretty bad for this ride, rainy with lots of muddy sections, which clearly didn’t bother him much!
The final ride for the 2015 season was Writing on Stone, a difficult ride in deep coulees and high prairie near the Montana border. We enjoyed the river crossings, steep climbs and amazing scenery, and came in with another first place, including high points for the event. At the awards ceremony it was suggested that we move to Open in 2016 to give someone else a chance!
With the excellent (from a riding point of view) spring conditions in 2016, we were able to train in later March and April, and entered an Endurance event near Okotoks in April. I considered this a training ride and didn’t push to win, and while the first and second place horses were well ahead of us, we managed a third place by pulsing down quickly at the finish line.
Again with a “training ride” in mind, we entered his first 50 mile event in July, the Grandview Cabin event near Innisfail. The rain had been intense (and was again at times during the ride) so trail conditions were wet and poor, with some very steep and slippery hills. I decided to work for a completion only, so we were among the slowest horses, and he finished the day in excellent condition.
So, back to the Wild Timber ride in July, in Open class this year! 50 miles in 7 hours of actual riding, with lots of hills: 1400 meters (over 4600 feet) of elevation change over the ride, enough to climb Mount Rundle at Banff, for example. He not only won the Open Heavyweight class, but a nearly perfect score of 298 gave him Grand Champion of the day.
Three weeks later on Labour Day Weekend, back to the Battle River Ride, this time to try two 50 mile days for a total of 100 miles. I registered just for the first day to start, with the idea that if he seemed at all down at the end of the first day we could sit out the second, or do a 25 mile ride. Conditions on Saturday were pretty wet, but better than much we’d seen this year. He appeared sound and energetic one hour after arrival (the final vet check) and was given the go-ahead to do it again, so we did! I was up several times during the night to give him food and water, and he rewarded me by consuming plenty of both.
Sunday began with a temperature of 4 degrees and foggy drizzle when we started at 7am, but eventually dried out and warmed a bit. Only a few of us went for the second 50 mile day. Instead of taking the brisk pace of the leader, two of us decided to keep things moderate and steady, and we rode that way together for the whole day. The horses got energy from each other, as did the riders through conversation and tall tales. My riding companion won Open Lightweight, and Grand Champion; I took Open Heavyweight, and reserve champion. Faster riders lost enough points to finish behind us. At the final vet check trot-out I received plenty of comments from onlookers on how energetic Tuffy’s movements still were.
There was one more event to go: Writing on Stone on September 17, the most beautiful and challenging ride of the year. In short, we had a great time, enjoyed the best weather of the year, avoided the rattlesnakes and quicksand, and once more won our class and took Grand Champion for the event!
So, from July 2015 to the present, Tuffy and I started 8 Competitive Trail events, bringing in 7 firsts, 1 second, two Grand Champion awards and one Reserve Champion. Not bad for an old Standardbred sulky horse!