Gesa and I managed a quick trip to Boulder Lake this afternoon, our first visit to those trails since last November. I was especially pleased with Red's trailer loading today - he hasn't been in a trailer since last November, either, and has a history of being a reluctant loader. The key is to allow him a minute or two to look things over, then he will usually hop on. Occasionally he requires a little look-see of a lunge whip behind him to "remind" him to go forward. Today, he stood looking at the trailer with Gesa while I loaded up my tack into the dressing room area, then just hopped right on. Good boy!
Boulder Lake (http://www.blma.org/) is a system of ski trails around one of the local lakes, which is actually a reservoir. The power company which generates electricity with the dam, developed & maintains these trails (and an associated environmental learning center) as cross-country ski trails in the winter and multi-use trails during the rest of the year. It's only about a 15 - 20 minute drive from the barn, so it is one of our favorite spots when we don't have much time. It does, however, have a tendency to be VERY buggy in the summer and we use it mostly in the spring & fall for that reason.
Case in point, as soon as we had unloaded the horses, swarms of small flies mobbed us. They were all around our heads, and the horses' heads. They didn't seem to bite, but flew into our eyes, ears, noses, and mouths (we got more spitting practice today than we have in a long time!) - generally making a very large nuisance of themselves. We tacked as quickly as we could, and mounted up using the conveniently placed large boulders, which are intended to keep motor vehicles off the trails I believe. I had forgotten (or, rather, misplaced - haven't discovered its location yet) Kelso's blaze orange collar with attached bell, which I particularly like for riding in the woods as the horses can hear him and do not tend to spook if he bursts out of the woods suddenly. I also like it because I can keep tabs on his whereabouts without having to look for him. So, Kelso was our silent stalker today, gliding along behind us - and causing Red to spend some time traveling in a funny arc to keep an eye on him.
I soon discovered that I had chosen entirely the wrong sports bra for today's ride. Ouch! It was the only one clean this morning, and I didn't think about Red's choppier gait when I just threw it on. I hope I won't make that mistake again! The better choice would have been a dirty/smelly but more supportive model.
We soon left the swarms of flies behind (not strong fliers, apparently) and happily traversed the trails named Nine Pine, Blue Ox, and Bear Paw. We skip Lonesome Grouse because it is pretty swampy. In a normal spring, there would be very mucky areas on all these trails requiring care to cross and in some cases keeping us off the trails altogether. We are about 2 1/2 inches below normal precipitation for 2010 already, and these trails show it. We had excellent footing about 98% of the time and only one significant section of wetter stuff.
We like to take a quick detour down the snowmobile trail which bisects the trail loops, so did that today as well. This is a short bit down to the shore of the lake. Kelso's tongue was lolling at this point, so I hopped off Red to walk out across the mucky, log-strewn shoreline to get to water. Kelso is so afraid of being left behind that he won't drink unless we stop to wait for him, and are close enough to him for him to both drink and look at me while he does it.
Gesa, April, & Red waiting for us while I went to the water with Kelso so he could drink.
The water is way, way down in the lake and the exposed lake bottom which is now "shore" is pretty nasty, thick, stinky mud. My mostly white dog was a bit of a mess when we got back to firm ground, but he did drink. Luckily all the logs/trees scattered about gave me something to stand on, because Kelso was sinking in nearly to his belly in the muck.
We did just shy of 7 miles in about an hour and 20 minutes - not a blazing pace by any means, but an average right about 5 mph, which is actually Red's fastest overall average pace for a ride so far this spring. I keep a training log for each horse, and use my GPS to note time, distance, and average speed. Red has done almost all slow rides this spring, for whatever reason I'm not sure!
Red was content the whole loop to allow April to lead, and was not his usual forward self. He was also mincing his steps down hills, so I was pretty sure we had a problem. Sure enough, when I lunged him after returning to the trailer, he appears to be off on his left hind on circles to the left. He looks ok on circles to the right and straight-line trotting. Last summer I had to inject his right hock for the first time - it now seems that it's time to do his left hock as well. Bugger!
Rhio is continuing to enjoy his week of rest before our first competition of the year. We plan to ride the 25 mile limited distance coming up this Saturday, May 1, at the MnDRA 1 ride held at Sand Dunes State Forest. We did some hand-walking and a little light lunging in the round pen tonight, in an attempt to elicit a fecal sample for our spring parasite exam. We were unsuccessful in our quest, but Rhio is looking fit, sound, and sassy, so I am planning on a great ride on Saturday!