I can safely say I've never passed a colder night in my life. Even with a cold weather sleeping bag and several horse blankets, I was legitimately convinced I was getting hypothermia! Sarah let me come snuggle in her sleeping bag, but it was only marginally warmer. Eventually the torture was ended by the alarm clock ringing 6am.
At the final vet check, Vienna vetted through with all As. Starlet was next, with a low heart rate... but she was very reluctant to do her trot-out, which was highly abnormal. The vet took a look, and in a shocking twist, it turned out that Starlet was very slightly sore in both shoulders and both sides of her lower back. This was baffling to all of us, as Starlet was her normal energetic and willing self on the trail; however, she is also a very stoic horse and never complains, so her performance in the second loop was a testament to her wonderful disposition and great attitude.
Based on pressure points, the vet pointed to Starlet's saddle as the culprit. This was news to us, since Starlet had completed 40 miles of hills at Calabogie and 25 miles at Tay Valley this year (and all her rides in previous years) in the same saddle and finished with all As. The difference? Starlet had four weeks off between Tay Valley and Lopin' Larose, with the same grain rations as during conditioning. This was done intentionally, as Starlet loses weight extremely quickly and we wanted some extra pounds on her going into the winter. However, this also changed her physiological characteristics - meaning that she was a different size/shape than usual, which affected her usual saddle fit. A bonehead lesson learned - one I'm still kicking myself over!
Starlet has always been very slim and it's hard to keep weight on her. She is almost 20 years old, and we specifically wanted her going into winter with as much weight as possible. Since I wouldn't have traded her weight/condition for anything, that means an extra saddle check the week prior to a competition. Her saddle has an adjustable gullet, and if we had increased the width one size we likely wouldn't have run into the same issues.
Every rider knows that life, unfortunately, can sometimes get in the way of riding goals. Due to injuries and schedules, all three Wildfire riders hadn't ridden in four weeks. Sasha's slight tweak was a very good reminder that riders have to be cognizant of, and actively correct, any small changes to form that may have crept in during time off. We ride in a team, which means we can lean on each other to point out any oddities, which is a great help!
Both horses got home and immediately ran around in their paddocks. They were happy and healthy, and we had a complete blast - so the weekend was a success in our books! Sarah goes back to university, so Starlet will have a nice relaxing winter, packing around guests. Rider injuries have been healed and personal schedules have been stabilized after the back-to-school chaos, so we'll be getting out a lot more over the fall and winter. Also over the winter, the three mares will be showing Prince Nari the trails, and the riders will start planning for Summer Fling 2019. Busy - and fun - as always!