This blog will chronicle the life and training of Heavymetal Thunder (aka Saxon), a 2009 chestnut Standardbred gelding who didn't have the makings of a racehorse and so will be retrained as a show and pleasure horse. Stay tuned, as we're sure to have lots of great adventures together!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Horse Show From Hell

This was from last month, but I put off publishing it until now.

Saxon and I have been going to some little local shows here and there.  Some days he's just as pleasant and professional as you could want and other days he totally loses his marbles and it's all I can do to deal with him.  The horse he is at home is nearly always quiet, willing and relaxed.  Lazy even.  I keep reminding myself that he's just 3 and someday he'll be like that everywhere, but it can be hard to remember when he teases me with stellar behavior at home, and then has a meltdown in public.  I've learned a few tricks to helping him relax away from home, like arriving really early and taking him on long walks and lots of lunging all around the arena and showgrounds to let him investigate.  It's not a foolproof system (especially since people tend to set up their tents, chairs, and umbrellas next to the arena after the show has already started), but it seems to help.

I was looking forward to the OC show on Saturday.  Our previous show there had been our most successful to date, with Saxon on his best big boy behavior.  He had even made me confident enough to try the trail class with him that day, his first time doing trail in public, and he ambled through the obstacles like an old hand.  He'd had a few days off earlier in the week while I was out of town, but he was obedient and calm during our pre-show ride.  We got there and did our usual walking and lunging routine.  He was decent through the in hand classes, though I could tell he was feeling a little feisty when he pinned his ears and tried to race me at the trot in the Hunter in Hand Class.

When we tacked up for the under saddle classes it started to rain.  Apparently Saxon's brain is water soluble, as I could practically watch it melt out of his ears the harder it rained.  It was a steady rain and Saxon showed his displeasure about facing it head-on by humping his back and trying to buck when it hit his face and ran down his legs.  We made it through the class with no major incidents, and before our next class, the steady rain turned to a downpour.  Our next class was a large class, but it usually seems to help him stay calm to be around other horses.  One horse propped and reared a little in front of us, but I dodged it and continued on.  Around the next corner, we came face to face with a little mare who had heard something behind her and whirled the other way.  I don't know if it was playfulness, alarm, or an outright temper tantrum about the rain, but Saxon had a meltdown.  When Saxon has a meltdown, he doesn't hedge or mince around, he goes full Chernobyl.  He humped his back hard and tried to buck.  When I checked him up, he reared several times, higher and higher.  He finally got his forefeet back on the ground and the judge encouraged me to walk him around to get him together.  He walked calmly for about 30 feet and then started rearing again.  I have never had to dismount in the middle of a class before, but I guess there's a first time for everything.  He even went up again while I was leading him around the ring.  I checked him for signs of irritation - a bug bite, pinched girth, bunched saddle pad, ouchy wound, but couldn't find anything.  Remounting in the warm-up area to ride him through it got me nowhere, I had to bail again, ripping a hole in my favorite hunt coat in the process.  My clothes were soaking, my tack was drenched, and my temperamental toddler was making his feelings about it all none to subtle.  After a lunging session we made one more trip into the ring for the equitation pattern for the sake of quitting on a better note.  It wasn't pretty; he was looky at the people on the bleachers and slow with his transitions, but we kept our feet on the ground which was a definite improvement.

In hind sight, if that had been the worst of it - the torn hunt coat, the soaked tack, and the temperamental pony, it wouldn't have been so bad.  It was still raining hard when we left the show.  We were on the interstate about a mile from our first exit.  Because of the rain, I was going about 55 (it was a 70), and came around a curve to find both lanes of traffic stopped in front of me.  $^*#@$%!  I broke hard, but the brakes locked up and I could tell immediately that I wouldn't be able to stop in time.  I steered towards the shoulder and continued to pump the brakes, hoping to just ease past the row of cars and come to a stop farther up the shoulder.  We were hydroplaning, and the trailer started to sway.  One of its wheels hit the muddy grass and pulled the truck into an oversteer.  I countersteered, but with some 6,000 pounds of trailer dragging you off the road and into a culvert, there isn't a whole lot you can do.  I was cussing as we slid off the road and praying that we didn't roll, but thanks to my years of autocross experience intentionally driving cars on the edge of control, I wasn't panicked.  Yet.  Thunk.  We came to a stop.  The truck had made a complete 180 straddling a culvert, and the trailer was jackknifed, angled about 45 degrees relative to the road.  I got out, expecting the worst.  Upon quick inspection, the trailer looked pretty good, but there was no way to tow it out of there with the truck facing the way it was, nor was I sure about the truck's drivability at that point.  Shaking, I opened the back door of the trailer to find Saxon standing in his compartment, seemingly no worse for the wear.  No blood, no bumps, no scrapes that I could find.  "Thank god."  "I have to get Saxon home.  How am I going to get him out of here?  Who can I call?  How do I fix this?"  Now I was panicked.  I called J.  He suggested I call one of my friends in the area, B.  She picked up.  "Thank god."  She had her truck and trailer handy.  She attempted to come get us, but the original wreck that caused the pile-up in the first place made it impossible for her to get to us.  I waited, alternating between assessing the damage, and standing in the half open doorway of the trailer, soothing Saxon who was drenched in sweat and steaming from the mugginess.  Wouldn't you know it, very uncharacteristically I had forgotten to wrap his legs for the show when I left in the morning.  I never do that.  I was furious with myself for forgetting.  Thankfully, he didn't have a mark or scrape on him.  Other than a tail full of shavings and the edge of his rubber mat being turned up, you wouldn't know he had gone through any sort of ordeal.  Two trailers crept up through the traffic.  Both were coming back from the same show, and both had empty slots on them.  Both offered to help me out and take me where I needed to go.  After consulting with my friend B, we decided to get Saxon to her farm where J was now waiting, and use her rig to get him home (it was much too far to drag anyone out of their way).  Another guy, whose truck indicated he was from a hunter-jumper farm, had stopped to help, too.  The three of us unloaded Saxon on the edge of the interstate, and loaded him onto the other trailer.  He would load his front end fine, but was concerned that his hindquarters wouldn't fit in the back stall of the slant trailer, but we got all of him on after a little more coaxing.

We crept through traffic to B's farm. I thanked the lady profusely, and tried to pay her, but she wouldn't even take money for gas.  Saxon must not have been too traumatized by the time we got to the new farm, as he was far more interested in grazing on their lawn than anything else.  J and I got him home thanks to the use of B's rig.  I fed him, looked him over, and turned him out to roll in the mud and rejoin Legs.  He didn't have a mark on him.   Not so much as a scratch or a ruffled hair.  This from the horse who gets mystery scrapes on the inside of his thighs during turnout.  We returned the borrowed rig (Which, we found out later, had the hitch receiver fall off due to frame rust the following Monday while en route to a show.  It happened at a red light and thankfully there was no damage or injuries.)

Getting the truck and trailer out of the ditch went smoother than I had imagined.  I was sure we'd have to call a truck to drag the trailer out backwards, as the culvert angled sharply on both sides.  Somebody kindly stopped to help, though we probably could have managed on our own just the same.  We dumped 2 cans of Fix a Flat and added air to the hissing tire that had gravel and weeds jammed into the bead from sliding through the mud.  We chocked the trailer wheels securely and attempted to unhitch.  A pry bar helped free the ball from where it was bound against the receiver.  We drove the truck out of the ditch and turned it around.  After some maneuvering, we were able to rehitch the trailer at a better angle, tow it across the culvert, and back again to the side of the road.  To say I am happy with the quality of my trailer is an understatement.  To go through that sort of thing and protect the cargo within so well...

Thankfully, Good Samaritans still exist.  From the folks who stopped to ask if we were ok, and offer trailer rides and assistance, to the friend of a friend two weeks earlier who loaned us his car, his spare bedroom, and his garage full of tools when we were stranded by the side of the road in the middle of Virginia with a broken differential in the Miata...  there are still good genuinely nice, helpful people left in the world willing to help out a friend or even a stranger.  My only hope is that I'll get a chance to be one of them the next time around, rather than being on the receiving end of the catastrophe.