It’s hard to believe I’ve had Justice almost two years now. It seems like just yesterday I was anxiously awaiting his arrival from PA. Then we went to Uwharrie for the first time, and my inexperience resulted in his tying up (although I didn’t technically do anything wrong, it was a wake-up call, and made me realize that each horse is an individual and needs to be carefully managed according to their specific needs). I spent that summer getting to know Justice, hoping to get my feet wet in the endurance world that fall. Of course, it was at that point that life threw a curve ball. I was unable to make it to Old Dominion when my F150 broke down (permanently this time). Shortly thereafter I took J to a hunter pace, where we observed him really struggling with his breathing. It was something I’d noticed previously in the hotter months of the summer, but the day of the hunter pace was relatively cool and low humidity. I began to wonder if it was IAD. I gave him the winter off, with the intent of taking him to the vet and having him assessed when warmer temperatures returned in the spring.

At the Hunter Pace last fall.

Of course, things never happen the way you plan. This spring we bought not only our first horse trailer, but acquired an F250 diesel to pull it. The possibilities were endless! Then I found out I was pregnant, and Justice flipped out when I tried to load him. Oh, and Pokey went lame. It was a chain of events that ultimately led to the addition of Pearl to our family.

I rode Pearl all summer, trailering her all over the local area and also to southwestern VA. Although she was my main mount, I did attempt to include Pokey and Justice as well. I took Justice to two rides when we had access to Paula’s trailer – Uwharrie with Ashley in August, and Grayson Highlands with my sister (she rode J while I rode Pearl). I also attempted to take Pokey to Uwharrie in June (when we had our trailer accident), and rode him successfully at the Biltmore in September.

On our Uwharrie trip in particular, I was quite pleased with Justice’s performance. He was out of shape and the weather was horrid—the heat and humidity were off the chain! I gave J a syringe of electrolytes (applesauce with crushed tums, lite salt, and enduramax) the morning of Day 1, and he drank like a champ the rest of the trip. He still panted a bit, but overall was much improved from the year before. I also noticed something peculiar. Stopping to rest and allowing him to “catch his breath” really didn’t seem to work at all. He seemed to cool off much better if we kept moving.

Me & J this past summer at Uwharrie.

Despite enjoying my other horses, I have felt incredibly guilty for not giving Justice more attention. The fact of the matter is I got him to be my endurance horse, yet I have done hardly anything with him! To mention that we have been paying to board him at CS (while I work off the board for Pokey & Pearl at SStables). But as long as J remained dangerous to trailer, we definitely weren’t going anywhere. Fast forward to last week and my previous post. Justice is now loading quietly and reliably on our trailer, and without fuss. I can’t help but begin to hope that we might be able to make an appearance in the endurance world after all. However doing so successfully is going to require a bit of strategic planning.

When Justice’s old owner gave him to me, she also gave me a folder of old vet cards, ride photos and his registration papers. M is a well known ECTRA and AERC rider. In fact, she is something of a legend in the NE region and has been competing in this sport for over 30 years! She had Justice for 3 years before passing him on to me. She now has a new Morgan who has been cleaning up ECTRA rides (and has a few AERC miles to his name as well).  Case in point, M knows what she is doing and has the experience to back it up. It stands to reason that there is pretty much nothing I could do to improve upon his performance. Or is there?

For some reason M unfriended me on Facebook a couple months after I got J. I still don’t know why. However I have seen her posts in FB groups, and she has alluded to Justice a couple times as the “crazy” horse that “tried to kill her”. I personally have a much a different view of him. To my mind, there is NOTHING wrong with J. He likes a quiet rider and a light touch, and he seems to bond with his rider (for the first year he was emotionally aloof but this has since changed). I have always felt like something of an outcast in my own family, and so I can relate to him being a bit of a castaway. A part of me would secretly love to be able to take J and prove that he can still do this, and do it well. That we can be successful doing it together.

It’s hard to leave when your horse stands at the gate staring at you like this!

However, this is not going to be easy. We’ve already established that J is a somewhat clumsy horse, that he is weak behind, that he is not always a good drinker, and he is a panter. Therefore, I have come up with a list of ideas to best set him up for success. Keep in mind that I am NOT an endurance rider yet, please, and I am just going off of years of trail riding, as well as reading about endurance and absorbing as much distance riding info as I can.

  • Easyboots
    • When I got Justice he was shod. However I personally have not had much luck keeping shoes on him. First of all he often oversteps and pulls them right off. Secondly he tends to stomp heavily along and often “stubs” his toe, causing him to trip. On his AERC record he has a full pulls for lameness and I can’t help but wonder if this was part of the problem. At any rate, I tried Easyboot Epics on him and haven’t looked back. I often feel boots can be clunky, but in this case it has caused him to pick up his feet slightly more and worked to prevent his tripping.0
  • Equine Breathing Therapy
    • A few months ago I stumbled across something called “equine breathing” – a therapy if you will that teaches one’s horse to breathe more effectively. (More info here) I admit, I’m a little skeptical, but if it helps it helps. At any rate, it can’t hurt.
  • Body Clip
    • In most of Justice’s ride photos I noticed that he is not clipped. Personally I am a fan of body clipping as I feel it is one of the quickest and easiest ways to help your working horse to stay cool. Being as warm as it is here, I will definitely be clipping Justice before any events!
  • Cut mane?
    • I’ve flip flopped back and forth on this one. I roached Justice’s mane during his first summer with us and really liked it. Not only did I feel he looked better, I think it would definitely help with keeping him cool. Yes, I know you can braid the mane, but having a thick head of hair myself I can personally attest to the fact that the less you have, the cooler you will be. Period.
  • Hackamore
    • M rode Justice in a Kimberwick and I have ridden him in a short shanked western snaffle (similar to a Tom Thumb) since acquiring him (I removed the chain to make it milder). I have also ridden him in a halter however, and most recently have started working him in a mechanical hackamore. I feel as if most horses can eat and drink better without a bit and so I’d like to make a hackamore work for us if possible. Depending on how wild he gets at the start of rides, I may need to put him in a bit for the first loop but I haven’t had any issues riding him in a hackamore at home (not even the other day when a neighbor horse went nuts and attempted to race us up and down the fenceline).
  • Rubbing alcohol
    • Saiph from “Waiting For the Jump” pointed out a while back that mixing rubbing alcohol with water can be instrumental in cooling down a horse and I in fact used this method with Siesta this past summer when she stopped sweating. I am of the mind that something as simple as carrying a spray bottle and spritzing one’s horse every so often on the trail could be a big help!
  • Weight loss
    • Despite what we as humans would like to believe, I do feel that rider weight makes a huge difference and affects our horse’s stamina more than we are often willing to admit. Justice is a big horse at nearly 16 hands, and M was/is a heavyweight rider. I currently weigh probably 65 or so lbs less than she, and rider fitness is something that I’d like to continue exploring as I am able in the coming months. In fact just this morning I was listening to an old Endurance Day podcast from Horses in the Morning, and one of their special guests was discussing riding fitness as it affects our mounts. She pointed out that any balance or physical (rider) issues might not affect a horse during a 20 minute arena ride but is much more likely to affect an endurance horse’s soundness over many miles. Currently I myself am teetering between the lightweight and middleweight divisions, but I am going to go out on a limb and register as a lightweight for our March LD and trust that I have the self-control to ensure that I WILL weigh in as a lightweight by that time (tack included!)

Again, I find myself feeling the need to apologize and offer up an explanation because I have never actually competed in this sport. But ultimately, I’m not trying to come across as an expert in endurance. My goal, simply put, is to be my horse’s representative. I want to know him like the back of my hand, and help him be the best he can be. If I am doing that, I am winning.