Friday, August 29, 2014

Endurance Saddles - The Short List

Because I can't just go out and buy a ton of saddles simply because I love saddles (I wish I could have a whole room full of them!), I really tried to narrow down the attributes that were most important to me to see if I could figure out which saddles from my last post would make my short list and get further investigation.  In the end, I decided that adjustability in the tree is most important to me, followed by adjustability in the stirrup bars.  And I really am not crazy about spending what is a lot of money on something that is custom-made for my horse at the moment I order it, but then doesn't fit him three months down the road (I know more than one person to whom that has happened).  I also am not super excited about having to buy a saddle that I can't try first.  No matter how much some random rider/horse loves a particular saddle, I have no way of knowing whether my horse or I will love it as much until we try it.  So, for those reasons, the saddles that made my short list have some degree of adjustability in the tree, adjustable stirrup bars, and a good saddle demo policy.

That leaves me with three saddles from my original list:  the Specialized Eurolight, the Wintec Pro Endurance, and the Reactor Panel Heraldic.  I decided to order a test ride for the Wintec from Smartpak to start with because the Wintec was the lowest cost saddle on my list, coming in at around $1,000 and because I figured it would be super easy.  No measuring ahead of time like with the Reactor Panel and no trying to figure out options like with the Specialized.  Well, despite Smartpak's consistent excellent service in the probably 10 plus years that I have been ordering from them, it turns out that the saddle trial isn't quite as fantastic as I had hoped.  The biggest problem was that I ordered a test ride saddle in mid-June and they told me the soonest they thought they could get one to me was August 18 - that's two months!  And, I could only get the saddle in a 17-inch size, when I really felt like an 18-inch would be a better fit for me.  When I inquired about just ordering a brand new saddle to see if I could get something in my size and sooner, I was told that even the slightest mark on the saddle billets would mean I couldn't return it and get a full refund.  Plus, even the new saddles were drop-shipped from the manufacturer in Australia, so it would still be about 3 weeks to get a new one.

That was when I realized that the saddle trial policy that is offered by companies like Smartpak and Dover comes with a price.  I don't mean to criticize having the saddle trial policy, because it is an awesome option, but it used to be that you could order a new saddle, girth it up and ride in it once or twice for short periods, as long as you either rode without stirrups or ran the stirrup leathers under the flap instead of over it to avoid leaving marks.  I know this because the current saddle I have for Nimo is probably his fourth saddle and I've tried more than I can even remember to get those four saddles.  (Nimo used to get a new saddle about once a year due to changes in condition and shape.  This is also why tree adjustability is so important to me - I'm really sick of saddle shopping!)

Anyway, I went ahead and placed an order to try the 17-inch Wintec saddle, but I also decided that while I was waiting I could just as well look more closely at the Specialized demo.  That experience worked out much better.  While you can call the company to order a demo saddle, you can also order one on the website without talking to a person.  I realize that most of you will be horrified to find out that I didn't want to talk to anyone to order the saddle, but at the time, I was doing 2 hour daily conference calls for work on a project that was particularly unpleasant and had been going on for almost a month.  I hated being on the phone so much, and the phone call to Smartpak was it for me.  The Specialized website allowed you to select from several models, including the Eurolight, and you could choose the seat size as well.  Plus, you enter a few details about yourself as well as any special notes that might be important for saddle fit.  And that's it.  Perfect!  Except that I got an e-mail that said I'd have to wait between 2 and 4 weeks to get the demo saddle.  Still, that was a better time frame than what I got through Smartpak for the Wintec, so I settled in to wait.

I have to say that I am the kind of person who tends to take awhile to make a decision (much to my husband's dismay when he's somehow ended up on a shopping excursion with me despite his best efforts), but once I do, then I'm ready to move full-steam ahead.  So, the two to four week waiting period was just about torture for me.  But, eventually, the Specialized demo saddle arrived.  I'll write about how the trial went in my next post...

Friday, August 22, 2014

Shopping for an endurance saddle

I had originally planned to buy an endurance saddle after our first endurance ride, so I had some level of assurance that my investment would be warranted.  However, my first ride was supposed to be in April, but because of weather-related conditioning problems, I opted to volunteer instead of to ride.  It wasn't long after the OD No Frills ride that I decided I really needed to upgrade my saddle.  The Thornhill Germania Klasse dressage saddle that I've been riding in has been working OK, but I feel really insecure on steep downhill grades.  Plus, Nimo's new level of fitness means that the saddle doesn't fit him as well as it used to.

I know there are a lot of different saddles that people use for endurance riding, including even dressage and jumping saddles, but I really wanted to get something that was a fairly typical "endurance" model.  I wanted to make sure that the saddle offered more security for me and would fit Nimo well.  Here are the saddles that made my long list, in no particular order:

Tucker Endurance Saddle - I've talked to a lot of trail riders who love their Tucker saddles and claim they are the most comfortable they've ever ridden in.  I sat in one that I found in a local tack store and found it to be uncomfortable as all hell, but it was a western model, and I thought maybe the endurance model would be better.  The base price on this saddle is $1550, which put it at the lower end of the spectrum.  Tucker also offers a few other models, but based on my research, the newer (Gen II) models don't have as much rock (or arch) in them, so because Nimo's back tends to have more arch than is typical, I wanted to focus on the older style.  The weight of the saddle concerns me a bit, because it comes in at 23 pounds, which is not as much as some western saddles, but probably close to twice as much as my current saddle.  This is a fixed tree saddle (although there are several options to choose from) and as far as I can tell, there is no adjustability for the stirrup position.  Also, I couldn't find a specific saddle trial policy - my guess is that it is the policy of whatever dealer you buy the saddle from, which is most likely going to be that you can return the saddle within a week, but it must be in brand new condition.

Specialized Eurolight - This brand is one I've heard mentioned pretty frequently in endurance circles.  I really like all the options for customization (leather color, stirrup leather type, tooling, hardware, seat leather and color) and the base price of $1595 keeps it in the more affordable range.  The saddle comes in a standard tree width and a wide tree width and you use shims and different width panels to customize the fit to your horse's back.  The shims and panels can be re-adjusted at will if your horse's back changes.  There are three stirrup positions.  The weight on the saddle is 13 pounds, which is pretty comparable to my current saddle.  But the best thing about this saddle is the policy of paying $1250 for a full 10-day, ride-in-it-like-you-really-ride trial.  The downside is that if you end up liking the saddle, you have to wait several weeks to get your new saddle, although it is possible to buy the trial saddle.

Synergist Endurance Saddle - What I really like about this saddle is the EQUImeasure Kit idea.  You basically make a cast out of your horse's back that can then be used to custom fit or custom make a saddle tree for your horse.  This feature definitely bumps up the price of the saddle, though.  The base price for the saddle is $2595.  The weight of the saddle is about 19 pounds and there are quite a few options, including pommel type, cantle height, seat material, skirt type, fender type, and rigging type.  I couldn't tell if there was an option for adjustable stirrup position, but my guess is no because it is a western-type tree.  There obviously isn't a test ride program, because each saddle is custom-made.

Wintec Pro Endurance Saddle - I've had positive experiences with Wintec saddles in the past, so when I discovered that there was an endurance saddle available, I was pretty interested, especially with a price of just over $1000.  I like the adjustable gullet system and the option for wool-flocked or CAIR panels (basically air-filled sacks that either seem to inspire great love or great hatred).  I also really like the non-leather fabric the saddle is made of.  It seems like it would add extra grippiness and handle getting rained on much better than leather.  (It seems like I end up riding in a downpour 2-3 times a month during the summer.)  The saddle has an adjustable girth system as well as 3 different stirrup positions.  While I couldn't find a specific weight for the saddle, my expectation is that it is pretty light because of the synthetic material it is made of.  And, I found that SmartPak offers a test ride program for this saddle.  I couldn't find the length of time you get to ride in the saddle, but it is a true saddle trial where you can actually ride in the saddle and the saddle ships free and has free return shipping as well.

Boz Saddle - I've met a couple of endurance riders who use this saddle.  They seemed to like it with the exception that the stirrups were placed a little too far forward.  If you have the time, you can read through some of the material on the website that explains why the stirrups are placed that far forward (basically it has to do with the fact that Mr. Boz believes the rider should ride as close to the horse's shoulders as possible for maximum efficiency - much like how saddle bronc riders ride).  The saddle has a flexible tree, but it was hard for me to find information about how this tree is supposed to fit my wide horse, except that it flexes. Also, the price was difficult to pin down.  It looks like it ranges up to $3000 plus for some models, but there is a kit option that starts at $1195 where you can assemble the saddle yourself for a discount.  The problem with the kit is that the website reports an 8-12 week wait, although I'm assuming there would be a similar wait for an actual saddle too.  And there doesn't appear to be a saddle trial policy or a return policy if the saddle doesn't fit.

Stonewall Endurance Saddle - I came across the website for these saddles long ago and for some reason, they appealed to me.  The price isn't too bad - about $1630 - although it can go up for custom options.  The tree is custom fit to your horse based on measurements that you send in, but it isn't necessarily easily adjustable from that point on.  The saddle is light, weighing in at about 13 pounds.  The big advantage to this saddle appears to be the ability to adjust the rigging.  But it doesn't look like there is an option for adjustable stirrup positions, and a demo program isn't always available, although the website says there might be something available.  There aren't really any details about how it would work, though.

Reactor Panel Heraldic Lightweight Endurance Saddle - I've been coveting a Reactor Panel saddle for many, many years, but the price always drove me away.  However, I discovered that they have an endurance model that starts at $2500, which is not exactly cheap unless it is compared to the dressage saddles, which can cost over $4000.  The saddle has a ton of customization options, including adjustable stirrup bars, leather type and color, seat leather, hardware, pinstriping, and even beta stirrup leathers.  Plus, the saddle is light at 12 pounds.  The big attraction to this saddle is that the tree is selected based on your horse's measurements, but there is additional adjustability with panels that float below the saddle and are connected with round disks.  The disks are available in different heights and widths and maybe even shapes and allow fitting a horse with asymmetry.  What I most love is the saddle trial policy.  You literally cannot buy a saddle without trying it first.  You basically tell the company exactly what you want, and they ship it to you, often the same day, and YOU DON'T PAY ANYTHING EXCEPT SHIPPING.  That's right, you can order a $4000 brand new saddle to try for free and you get two whole weeks to ride in it.  If you don't like it, you send it back and get a different one or move on to your next saddle brand.  And, in the event funds are limited or you just need the saddle for a short time, there is a lease program for $50/wk or $200/month where the money goes to the purchase of the saddle if you later decide to keep it.

So there you have it.  My list of possible endurance saddle options.  To find out which ones made my short list and which one I actually bought, stay tuned...

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Sometimes when things go wrong, they actually go right...

For the last couple of weekends, I've been trying to ramp up our pace a little over more difficult terrain.  Nimo is pretty good at trotting on flat land, but he really needs to be able to trot up and down more moderate hills as well.  I admit that I've been procrastinating about this part of our conditioning.  Nimo isn't really an "up" horse like an Arab, so it can be a lot of work to inspire him to trot, especially when we're on our own.  Being with other horses seems to motivate Nimo a lot, but just hanging out with me in the saddle does not:)

With the OD Fort Valley ride looming in our future, I figured we'd better get down to business.  Last week, we rode out at Andy Guest State Park and while we did get some trotting in on more difficult terrain, we definitely still have work to do.  (Part of my plans to trot over rolling hills were sabotaged by the fact that they were haying the fields next to the trail.  And Nimo was convinced the hay machines were going to eat him...even though I think the workers were on a lunch break, so the machines weren't even ON.)  So my plan this past Sunday was to take Nimo out to the Phelps Wildlife Management Area.  I had ridden there the previous Sunday with a couple of ladies and I had forgotten how versatile the terrain is there.  Last week's ride convinced me that Phelps might be just what we need.  The terrain varies from level to steep rolling hills, with both forest and road trails.  It's also super close to Nimo's barn (about 25 minutes).  The biggest problem is that none of the trails are marked, so it's a sort of sink or swim deal to learn your way around.  And a friend and I definitely sunk over the winter when we rode there and got totally lost.  Luckily my friend's horse has some kind of super GPS in his brain, and actually found his way back to the trailers (albeit a different way then we had come).  The more I ride there, though, the more I'm getting the hang of the trails, so I figured we'd try for 12-ish miles on Sunday.

Here's the thing, I absolutely had a perfectly good route already figured out.  I knew the mileage and I knew the trail.  My plan was to do that route (about 6 miles) and then add on another section that I'm less familiar with, but with the caveat to Pay Attention to where I was going.  But at our ride there last weekend, I overheard someone saying he usually took the trail through the woods instead of the road that leaves from the parking lot we were at.  I found myself irresistibly drawn to the trail in the woods.  I hadn't even known it was there until last weekend.  I was desperate to know where it went.  And the woods seemed like more fun that the more out-in-the-open ride I had planned.  The temperature was in the low- to mid- 80s and the humidity was hovering in the mid- to upper-50 percent, making the day a treasured gift for August.  (Also, it's probably fair to warn any readers who aren't in Virginia and don't already know.  We've been having remarkably, perhaps even miraculously, cool weather for weeks.  I can only assume this is a sign of the impending Apocalypse.  Consider yourselves warned...)

So, I sent Nimo down the trail in the woods.  It was fairly easy to keep my bearings, but the trail was pretty dense in some places and full of Things To Be Scared Of.  Like boulders, and logs, and An Electrical Box Out In The Middle Of Nowhere.  I watched my plan to ride at a faster pace dwindling before my eyes as Nimo sucked back at the novelty of everything and at his fastest, managed to eeek out a 7 mph trot.  Because I know he can do 10 mph without that much difficulty and I have witnessed it many times on more challenging trails, I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated by his overly cautious behavior.

And then there were the Tiniest Water Crossings Ever.  Nimo is great at crossing large streams and once led the way through a 3-4 foot deep, extremely fast flowing Rock Creek in Rock Creek Park in DC, but God help us if we encounter a small, steep ditch with 1-2 inches of water at the bottom.  Nimo views these "water crossings" just as if they were the gates to Hell itself.  I have had to rely on a buddy horse or have had to get off and lead him through these crossings so many times that it is truly embarrassing.  And I feel like his reluctance has been getting worse, which does not make me happy.  So, when I ended up having to get off at our second water crossing because the approach was just too steep and there were too many rocks and trees to make a continued argument with Nimo safe, I realized that it was time for me to do something about this problem.

As luck would have it, the perfect training location made itself available in short order.  I'm sorry that I don't have a picture of it (you'll understand why in a minute), but trust me when I say that the descent was 6-8 inches, that there was less than 2 inches of water at the bottom, and that the footing was slightly muddy, but nothing boggy or treacherous.  For what seemed like forever, I alternately cajoled and beat Nimo with a whip to get him to go through.  I have vowed to be a more patient rider with him because getting worked up absolutely never does any good, but I admit that I lost it at this point.  There was nothing unreasonable about my request (and I tried very hard to see it from Nimo's point of view).  So I got pretty angry with Nimo.  There was some swearing, some excessive use of the whip, and most definitely some name calling and yelling.  Nimo got pretty freaked out and I think both of us realized things got out of control when he ran us into a tree, nearly ripping my leg off, and then stumbled and slid backwards down a muddy bank.

After the backwards slide and scramble to recovery, Nimo and I both stopped for a moment to catch our breath, reflect on how lucky we were to be alive, and calm down.  After a minute, I asked Nimo to cross the little stream again.  This time, he slowly and carefully stepped down into the water, paused for a few seconds and then slowly made his way to the other side and climbed out.  No drama.  I praised him and we continued on.

It wasn't long before we got to another small stream.  Nimo crossed it well, but I hoped we wouldn't have to come back through because if we did, Nimo would have to jump down a 12-15 inch drop to get in the water and I knew that wouldn't happen.  Unfortunately, a fallen tree completely blocked the trail not that long after, and we we had to turn around.  As we approached the water, I contemplated the options that wouldn't involve me getting off, but it didn't look good.  And while I was busy trying to figure out how to get Nimo across the water, he just hopped down into the stream and out again, with zero issues.  And he did it again, and again, and again as we made our way back.

I really can't explain why me blowing up at Nimo would have had the effect it did.  But I can say the results seem to be lasting.  We rode on a little trail at our barn last night that has a ditch with water in it that has caused us endless problems for months.  Nimo refuses to cross it in one direction and has extreme difficulty in the other.  There are also a couple of boggy, water-logged sections that he really struggles with.  Last night, zero problems with any of them.  He moved carefully, but with forward motion, leaving me with no complaints.

I had been feeling pretty awful about losing my temper with Nimo, but now I'm not so sure.  I've always wanted to channel Mark Rashid.  I've done a couple of clinics with him over the years and I always find him to be a lovely person and gifted when it comes to helping horses and riders work through problems.  I'm pretty sure beating and yelling at my horse is not really a good "Mark Rashid" technique.

But I'm reminded of a clinic that I did with him when Nimo was a yearling.  I'd only had him for two weeks and he had recently been gelded because I didn't have the resources to develop and campaign a Friesian stallion, finding boarding places for stallions is really difficult, and he was a real pistol who I worried would need some "tough love" to become more civilized.  At the time, he'd managed to convince the older ladies at the barn I boarded at to give him a treat for every step he took as he was being turned out.  (Please don't ask me how he did that, but it didn't take him long.)  Anyway, he was a nightmare to lead and I took him to the clinic to see if we could get the situation turned around.  Mark's recommendation was that I should just walk forward and expect him to follow; if he didn't, or he stopped, I should immediately turn around and get "Big" and start flapping my arms and yelling and basically acting like a crazy person while coming back at him.  It took a few tries for me to get the timing right, but once I did, it was less than 5 minutes to a new and improved horse.  Mark's theory was that Nimo believed he was in charge during the leading process, so if I acted like a crazy person when he stopped, Nimo would correlate my unwanted craziness with him stopping.  Because he didn't want me to be crazy, he would just not stop.  Problem solved.  I had to do a few refresher sessions with him over the following months, but once he figured out the behavior, it really hasn't been that big of a deal since.

I'm going to give one more example of Nimo's past behavior, mostly because I'm mentally trying to work through exactly what happened out on the trail on Sunday.  Nimo has always loaded well.  He likes to take a minute to assess the trailer and then he generally walks right on.  Well, about 3 years ago, he all of a sudden just stopped getting on the trailer.  No food, no pleading, and no beating had any effect unless it was done by a second person standing behind him and even then, I had to be pretty alert to handle any surprise darts to the side of the trailer.  Because I generally do not have a helper to load my horse, nor do I want to feel like I have to have one, I had some problem-solving to do.

I came up with the idea of running my lunge line through the tie ring at the front of the trailer and having one end attached to Nimo and the other in my hand.  (Note:  Nimo's problem was not that he wouldn't walk up to the trailer, just that he wouldn't load.  He'd calmly stand in front of the trailer all day, which is why I felt like I didn't have a fear issue to deal with.  Instead, I thought it might be similar to the leading problem he'd had as a yearling.)  Anyway, I stood off the trailer and to the side and slightly behind Nimo with a lunge whip in my hand.  I would ask him to load into the trailer and as long as there was forward motion, I just made sure I took up the slack on the lunge line.  As soon as he stopped, I would start firmly tapping him with the whip and I hung on to the lunge line for dear life.  Because Nimo would pull back and try to set his body against going forward, any leniency in the line on my part would give him the opportunity to dart around the side of the trailer.  Luckily, he's pretty responsive to whip cues and as soon as he realized pulling back wasn't getting him anywhere, he would walk right on the trailer.  I had to load him that way pretty steadily for awhile, and it got so that I never needed the whip.  Just me putting the lunge line on was good enough.  And these days, if he hesitates, I try to quickly move toward his back end while swinging my lead rope and that is currently all the reminder he needs.  Although, he really has gone back to his normal habit of just walking on the trailer.

Anyway, my reaction at the water crossing on Sunday was not controlled like the other two examples I mentioned, but something about it must have made an impact on him.  Or maybe it was his own out-of-control response that made something click.  Or maybe the damn horse is just messing with me...:)

Because of all the time spent on water crossings and Nimo's sucked back trot that required more effort from me to maintain than the shoulder-in to haunches-in to shoulder-in transitions I had to do in a lesson a few weeks ago, I gave up on a quick-paced ride and decided to incorporate some climbing instead.  There is a gas pipeline running through the park (because a wildlife preserve seems like a perfect place for a giant pipeline, right?), and there are these crazy hills that are super steep.

Gas pipeline easement
During wetter weather, the bottoms of the hills are too boggy to cross safely, but now that things have dried out, we were able to get through a good mile before we had to turn around.  Unfortunately, I ended up getting off Nimo because we were at the half-way point of our ride and I wanted him to eat a little.  Airplanes were buzzing overhead and it was just enough of a distraction that I had to hand-feed the grass.  Then when I tried to get on, I could not find a stump or fallen log to save my life.  I mean, there was dense forest on either side of us, but nothing.  And so I ended up hiking up one of the steepest hills and I nearly passed out and died.  So we headed into the forest because I decided I was not climbing any more hills.  I did eventually find a good log for mounting, and we were back on the trail.  I made Nimo trot up one of the pipeline hills and he cried a little before threatening to lay down and not get back up.

And then we rode another 7 miles...

What had seemed like a beautiful day now felt oppressively hot, so we headed back into the woods for awhile to cool down.  The trails were mostly kind of overgrown 4-wheeler roads for hunting or maintenance, so they looked like this:

Nimo was still acting like there were horse-eating dwarves living in the forest that would leap out and get him, though, so we were back to the shuffle trot, which was annoying me.  And the inside of my thighs were sore (stupid wide horse) and the skin on my little toes was being rubbed off my my stirrup (I'll explain why I'm riding with toe-rubbing stirrups in an upcoming post), and I had accidentally worn the breeches that chafe the inside of my knees.  And by accidentally, I mean that I deliberately choose them out of a selection of 4 clean pairs of breeches, two of which do not cause any chafing.  I think somewhere in the back of my head, a little voice was saying, "chafing, chafing, chafing..." but I ignored it because I'm an idiot sometimes.  Also, I was pretty sure that a wayward tree branch had scratched my left eyeball and that I would need some kind of eye amputation.

We entered what I will call the Death Slog phase of the ride.  I was really tired of trying to get more movement out of Nimo, and I think he was probably really tired of me trying to encourage him, so we settled into a fairly decent walk and made it to the trail I originally intended to ride on.  We passed trails that would lead back to the trailer three times, and each time, Nimo would stop and probably think, "Dude, it's THIS way back!"  These beautiful wild sunflowers were at one of the stops and I did feel slightly uplifted and I was really tempted to turn back.  But I really wanted to get the mileage in even if I couldn't get the pace.

So we kept on, and finally, I figured we reached the point where we could turn around.  Nimo was so thrilled, he didn't buck me off when I asked him to trot for a mile.  Then we trudged about another mile and half back to the trailer, for a total of 13 miles.

And when we got back, I was exhausted, hungry, thirsty, sore, missing skin, soon to be missing an eyeball, picking ticks off myself by the dozens and in general, pretty cranky - so pretty much like how I'd be after an actual endurance ride:)

I got Nimo taken care of (eating a mash and sponged off) and obsessed about how absolutely crappy my ride was.  (Because I had not yet reflected on how miraculous the whole water crossing thing was.)  When I got home, my husband asked me how my ride went and I said, "It was awful.  Why, oh why, am I doing this to myself?"  He could have said "You know, you don't have to do this to yourself.  You could just go back to being a normal horse owner and do occasional, enjoyable trail rides."  But then I'd have yelled at him for not being supportive.  Or he could have said, "You can do it, honey.  I'm sure it wasn't that bad and whatever didn't work well will be better next time."  And then I'd have yelled at him for not understanding how awful my ride was because he wasn't there.  So, because he has been married to me for many years now, he just said, "Huh.  Gemma did the cutest thing at the park today..."  And soon I started to feel better.  And I got a shower and had steak and potatoes for dinner, and took some ibuprofen, and drank some water.  And the skin started to grow back on my toes and chafed knees.  Plus, my eyeball is fine now.  And several days later, I realized that my ride hadn't been so crappy after all.

The breakthrough on the water crossings (assuming we can keep doing them well) is totally worth all the other stuff and I'm already planning my ride for Saturday at Phelps, so we can tackle the pacing issue again...

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Muck-Itch for Rain Rot

First, let me assure you that I am still actively riding. However, my rides have taken on a more utilitarian personality. Rather than having adventures on the side of a mountain, we are just frequenting some of our usual haunts like Andy Guest State Park, the Manassas Battlefield, Phelps Wildlife Management Area, and the Shenandoah National Park for conditioning rides as well as continuing our dressage work. I'll write a little bit more about how the rides are going in a subsequent post, but first I wanted to write about The Worst Skin Affliction Ever.

Last August, Nimo got what I thought was a case of rain rot on his back. I assumed that it was caused by all the wet saddle pads and longer rides plus the typical humidity of Virginia in August. I always sponged or hosed sweat off of him after our rides, but apparently that wasn't enough. Anyway, I remember that the rain rot took awhile to heal and was worse than anything I'd seen on Nimo (he has never had much trouble with rain rot in the past). There was some skin damage on one side of his back as a result, and a very small spot of white hair grew in.

After that incident, I vowed to be extra careful this year and be aggressive in treating any sign of something similar. Well, by the end of May this year, I caught the first signs of the rain rot reappearing, first on the left side and then the right side of Nimo's back. I immediately started washing it with Zephyr's Calm and Clean Shampoo, which has a nice assortment of anti-bacterial/anti-fungal ingredients like lavender and tea tree.  I also started using some of the random sprays/ointments that I had on hand that said they were anti-bacterial and anti-fungal because I honestly wasn't sure if the skin issue was a bacteria or a fungus, so I figured I would cover my bases.

Anyway, weeks went by and none of the products I tried were really helping.  By early July, I was pretty sure Nimo was going to lose all the skin on his back.  While I had continued to ride, I had tried to space rides out a little more to give a few days between them so healing could take place.  But, I could tell that the affected area was now quite sensitive to the touch and I felt uncomfortable continuing to ride.  I was feeling pretty upset about the whole thing because I was worried I wouldn't have time to get the conditioning work in yet again and I'd have to forego my plans to do an endurance ride in October.  Also, I felt like I had to get the vet out to do a skin scraping to figure out exactly what kind of infection I was dealing with and prescribe specific drugs for the problem.  I expected to see several hundred dollars go out the window for that process, and I was not super happy about that either because I had plans for that several hundred dollars.

I happened to mention my intent to call the vet to the barn owner and she said, "Well, before you call your vet and spend a whole bunch of money, why don't you try something that my vet recommends for rain rot.  I've had a lot of success with it."  I sort of internally signed.  You know how it is if you have a problem - everyone has a suggestion about what you should do to fix it.  Whether it's a special bit for a training issue or a special shoe for a lameness issue, there's always another product or method to try.  I'm absolutely not trying to belittle the recommendations that I've gotten from people in the past or for this problem, it's just frustrating to have a quagmire of products available and to know that time is of the essence for solving the problem.

As it happened, it was July 3 (the Thursday before the three-day holiday weekend), so I knew that it would probably not be until July 7 before I could get the vet out anyway, unless I wanted to add an emergency call fee to my bill.  I figured it wouldn't hurt to give it a try for a couple of days, and if I didn't see any effect, I'd call my vet on Saturday.

The product my barn owner recommended was Muck-Itch.  I read the directions, shook the bottle, and sprayed onto the affected areas.  And basically assumed that it wasn't going to work.

When I came out the next day, the rain rot definitely didn't look any worse, so I sprayed the Muck-Itch on again.  And the next day, things looked markedly improved.  So improved, in fact, that I felt compelled to take a picture.  I wish I would have taken a good quality picture of the yuckiness on my horse's back before I started using this product, but I didn't really have any faith that it would actually work.  However, let me assure you that it was a disgusting mass of crusty, peeling, grossness that was painful.

Here is a picture of what the worst of it looked like after 2 days:

It's hard to tell from the picture (dear Apple, for such an expensive phone, the iphone's camera sucks), but the area that looks white is actually pinkish/white skin (normally Nimo's skin is black).  Also hard to see is that there is an area that was in the process of losing hair surrounding the white area.

I kept using the Muck-Itch every day and within a couple of weeks, the hair had completely regrown on the right side of Nimo's back.  There were a handful of white hairs, but otherwise, things were as good as new.  In the picture below, the darker hair represents the area that was affected with the rain rot.

Right side after rain rot is healed

The left side took a little longer to heal because it was in significantly worse shape than the right side, but the skin did clear up and hair regrew.  Unfortunately, I think the degree of the skin infection was such that it permanently damaged part of the area, so Nimo is left with a white patch.  Again, the darker hairs are the regrowth, so you can see that a substantial area of Nimo's back was affected.

Left side after rain rot is healed
I'm thrilled that Nimo's back is healed and that the damage wasn't worse.  I am sad about the white spot, although it does provide a nice identifying feature.  Because all Friesians are solid black, it can be hard to tell them apart!  I imagine that I will now be explaining, "No, it wasn't a saddle fit issue - it was a bad case of rain rot" to everyone, but at least I have a functional horse again.

I ended up giving Nimo nine days off after I started the Muck-Itch treatment to make sure that the saddle didn't aggravate the healing process, so that was a big hit to my conditioning plans, but we are back on track.

And, if you have a stubborn case of rain rot, my recommendation is Muck-Itch:)