7 minutes reading time (1375 words)

2022: The story of Asphodele Larzac

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What a year. What a horse!

A total of 8 rides ( 9 ride days) and 460 km (the most she's ever done), nearly 9000m (!!) elevation including the Golden Horseshoe 80 km and Red Dragon 80 km!

In 2022 I have solely focused on competing Asphodele Larzac, my small (but huge ) amber champagne part bred Arab mare. So why is she both small and huge? Here size is only 14.2 (In cm 148 cm) so not a big mare at all. But she's huge in the way she is a survivor. She's such an amazing feisty horse, combined with a gentle and loving nature. She had to overcome a bad illness when she was only 2 years old, and just sheer stubbornness to live kept her going. This has left her with some issues which have been a puzzle for me to sort out.  Let me tell you a bit more about it all.

Why Asphodele is so darn special

The simplest reason Asphodele is so darn special is that she should be dead…

But she isn't! Any other horse would have succumbed to being life threateningly ill as she was 10 years ago. But this little golden mare is a survivor, and she shows it time and time again! Asphodele was living in France and got seriously ill when she was 2 (so around this time 10 years ago). Vet's were out, bloods were taken but no-one found what was wrong with her. Severe colitis brought her literally on the floor for weeks, but she refused to give up, she kept eating and drinking whilst on the ground, all the food going straight through her… She was on meds, penicillin and other AB for months and slowly she recovered, still leaving everyone questioning what had been the cause of her illness.

I went to visit her when she was strong enough to go back in the herd and it was such a shock to see the state of her. She looked like a Brooke hospital horse, or one of those cases of severe neglect, completely emaciated, with healing nasty sores from lying on the ground for so long. But slowly she got back to a semi-normal body score and grew into a lovely mare. She stayed smaller than she should have been, her topline never got really good and all the teeth that developed around the time of her illness were very badly compromised. As a 6-year-old she had the mouth of a 20-year-old, and as a 12-year-old it is the mouth of a 30-year-old… A dentists dream or nightmare, I don't know. They are certainly fascinated, I'm just worried about how long we can maintain the status quo and keep her with me as long as possible.I'll never know how much of her athletic capacities have been affected by her illness, I can only assume her lungs have not benefitted from being on the ground for so long, and how much are her muscles affected? Her intestines have always stayed on the weak side, and of course with her bad teeth, she needs extra feeding and care. How much of that is actually getting into to system well enough to be nourishing and replenishing I don't know. It's certainly not always easy to keep the weight on her, and I hope enough nutrients get through to help her recover after training. All and all not the ideal profile for a high level endurance horse, but that hasn't stopped her from doing pretty ok. She has done a 2*FEI 120km and now the 80 km at Golden Horseshoe and the 80 Red Dragon. 

She found endurance in her novice year easy, we always go nice and steady and slow with the babies, and she, Watt and Nib did their first season together. I did notice then that she struggled a bit more with slightly faster rides, taking a lot longer recovering than she would normally do. Her first FEI 1* went well, nice and steady. The 2* after that included a trip to the other side of the North Sea and the combination of stress and a twisted shoe into the white line put a stop to us going any further than the 1st loop. 2nd try at 2* was again at Euston Park and it was clear that this is not her kind of ride, both for her mind and her body. Being used to horses which can canter for ages, it was clear that Asphodele is not that type of endurance talent, besides that she finds all the hubbub of big venues way too much. But we kept trying for that 2* and 3rd time lucky, a cold rainy day at Royalties with endless trotting gave us that coveted 2* 120 km. Steady is her thing.

Competing again.

Asphodele had not competed since Red Dragon 2019, Covid and a foal had her on a 2 year's break in the field. We started getting back to work a year ago when her foal was weaned and the plan was to do some lovely challenging 2-day rides if at all possible. We managed the challenging part, not the multiple day so much as I really did not feel she was ready or able. We ended up with 2 big rides: Golden Horseshoe and Red Dragon. Both 1 day 80 km rides, both equally challenging in their own right and 2 different approaches due to the keyword: hard. The work to Golden Horsehoe was "organic". Using suitable rides with increasing distance (and hard ground!) to mimic the type of intensity I hoped we needed for Golden Horseshoe. It being my first time there, I did not know if that was enough but we managed to finish and I was super proud. To get to Red Dragon was 4 months later and what would we do in between? The Inter-Regional Championships were a fun "ticking over" and with a great team result, but after that we were struggling for fittening rides, funds, and motivation to go out and train. With the hard ground that we had been working on since March the preservation of legs was crucial, the heat was another factor, and of course we were on our own a lot. I was struggling with my weight, my fitness and my motivation/mental health as well, and I did not feel it was fair on Asphodele to "lug" me around for long training in the heat and hard ground either.

For Red Dragon, knowing she had her basic fitness, I decided to take a different approach to train Asphodele, stepping out of my comfort zone and trying to really focus on training smarter by zooming in on the challenges: Avoiding hard ground and targeting high-intensity work, and gait efficiency. This meant shorter and extremely targeted sessions, good for both our lack of motivation as we could focus and not drain ourselves, but I was really worried if it would be enough for conquering "the Dragon". It turned out it did!

I have trained many horses and a few to 160. I have studied (and coached) equine sports physiology for years now, but Asphodele has taught me more than any of my "more talented" horses. Zooming in on her as I did has cleared up a lot of questions and niggles I had in the past. I know now that she can do an easy 120 or a tough 80 km ride, but that is really it. I treat every horse as a potential 160 horse (as most of mine have been physiologically able for it, we had to focus more on other issues like quality work, tacking ulcers and management). But this was the first horse I have had that has a physiological ceiling. Realising this (the heartrate monitor was crucial!) and preparing her for tough rides like Golden Horse Shoe and Red Dragon has made me delve deep into my knowledge to optimise her fitness. 

Thank you Asphodele, for a truly amazing year.

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