The view from our turn-around spot today, about 2 1/2 miles from home. This is the earliest I've ever been able to do a "road ride."
Foe: As previously mentioned, snow falling from height is inordinately frightening for Rhio. I agree that snow & ice cascading from the domed roof of the indoor arena is quite startling. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, is how scary snow falling from trees can be as well. Today, a gorgeous 40 degree Sunday afternoon, Rhio and I put about 5 miles under our hooves doing part of our usual training route. This was possible because the January thaw has achieved some clearing of the gravel roads (yep, that brown stuff you see in the photos is bare ground! In January!) and the footing is quite decent. There was enough breeze to cause accumulated snow to randomly fall from the many coniferous trees along our route – making mysterious noises in the woods and also causing Rhio to attempt to veer to the center of the road (furthest away from potential horse-eating monsters which were clearly hiding in the woods, as evidenced by the strange & scary noises). We ride a very quiet gravel road & most of the locals are used to seeing horse traffic in the area, so I typically allow him to take the middle of the road. Today, though, the middle of the road was often slightly icy, so we practiced lots of leg yields staying far enough to the side to have good footing. A few times, however, he couldn’t help himself and he scooted sideways onto the treacherous areas. Luckily, we only slipped once today and he caught himself easily.
Look at all that clear road - the sun's rays are doing their job!
Friend: We put many training miles in along the gravel roads, which are hard as concrete much of the time and very abrasive. Rhio’s hooves can’t tolerate the miles we do in these conditions without protection and he typically wears steel shoes on all 4 hooves from April through October. But in the winter he is a barefoot horse, giving his feet a “breather” and my pocket book a rest (he gets new shoes every 5 – 6 wks at about $100 per set). Also, maintaining steel shoes in MN in the winter is a struggle – they collect ice balls with a vengeance and require special pads or other devices to combat this. Also, the shoes are very slippery on packed snow & ice, so they often also require traction devices. The melting snow is soft & cushiony along the edges of the road, giving us a nice area to ride without causing excessive wear or tenderness to Rhio’s hooves.
Rhio's hoof print in the soft upper layer of gravel road (we all know the lower layers are still frozen solid & will stay that way for months to come)
Another benefit to the snow on the road is that I can easily see our tracks and analyze his stride. He looked & felt great today and I could see his hind feet were landing slightly in front of where his front hooves had been (this is a good thing)!
So, in all, I think winter riding & snow are a glass half-full kind of thing. I am thrilled to have these warm days to get out & groove down the road. It really lifts our spirits to move out a bit and I appreciate even a short 5 mile jaunt like this so much more than I do in the summer. On the other hand, riding in the deep snow on woodsy trails, as I did later in the afternoon with Red, is also a real joy and equally as satisfying, albeit in a different way.
Red, Kelso, & I on our way back to the barn. We are riding in tractor ruts from Dave driving out to the woods to fetch wood for their outdoor wood boiler. Red was leery of all the random pieces of wood & branches scattered about, but it didn't slow him down at all because he knew supper was waiting back at the barn! We did discover that we've had enough warm days to soften the icy crust on the deep snow and we can negotiate the trails now - so time to start using that snow to our advantage for strength & cardio training.