Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Despite the swarms

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!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Trust Your Partner

We attended Mary Hamilton's Riders Elite Despooking Clinic at Featherbrook Farm in Corcoran, MN yesterday.  Gesa & I trailered Paco & Rhio down Friday afternoon, stopping at Sand Dunes State Forest, where our first endurance ride of the season will be held next weekend, to meet up with Lynne & Donna from Fargo, ND with their horses Niso & CrackerJack to do a quick training ride.  It was great to ride with Lynne & Donna again, as I haven't seen them since I went to Fargo to participate in a Judged Trail Ride last October.  Lynne & I are planning to ride the 25 mile Limited Distance ride next weekend together - I am working to move Rhio up to 50 mile Endurance rides this season, but we aren't ready quite yet for various reasons, mostly hoof boot & tack related!  Also, this spring has been so incredibly dry that the fine "beach" sand of the trails at the park is very loose and very deep.  We have nothing like that here at home to train in, so I worry a lot about the extra stress on the soft tissues of the legs to go compete in that footing. So, Lynne & I are planning to go very slow and treat it as 25 miles of conditioning.  Donna's horse is young (3) and doesn't have a lot of experience riding in groups, so it was great to see him gaiting along with us calmly and really handling himself very well in a group of 4 strange horses.  Go CrackerJack!
Donna & CrackerJack (rocky mtn horse)

Lynne & Niso (quarab)

Gesa & Paco (arab)

It was pretty late in the afternoon by the time we all arrived & tacked up to ride, and we still had about an hour's drive to Featherbrook Farm where the horses had stalls for the night, so we did a short ride of about 6 miles.  The horses were working pretty hard in that deep sand and all came home sweaty.  I sponged Rhio thoroughly to try to make my white horse somewhat presentable for a public appearance at the clinic the next day!  

Niso hanging out post-ride

CrackerJack waiting patiently after the ride (& drying off under his polarfleece)

Rhio in his natural state post-ride - couldn't show up at a dressage barn for a clinic looking like this! 

The day's boot testing turned out exactly as expected - the boots were completely full of sand.  It was a short ride so he didn't develop any rubs from the sand under the gaiters, but it did prove that I won't be able to use boots at the ride next weekend.  There is a section of road riding on the first loop, so hopefully it isn't too gravelly and he will tolerate that ok.  

After our ride, we loaded up (Rhio has gotten extremely resistant to trailer loading since last year - I can't figure out why) and headed down to Featherbrook.  We missed a couple of turns in the oncoming darkness, but eventually found it and got the horses unloaded into stalls before the rain started.  Rhio was not very happy to be there, and in fact by the next morning when we arrived to feed, he had only drunk about 1 1/2 gallons of water and eaten about 1/2 his hay.  He also had some very loose manure.  He was happy to go outside & hand graze the plentiful grass, however!  

Wow!  It's really spring down here - about 180 miles south of us.  Crab apple & dogwood trees in full bloom, tulips & daffodils abound, and the grass is lush.  

Rhio's stall at Featherbrook - he did lay down to sleep because there were shavings in his tail, but he looked sort of "pinched" in the face & eyes and was clearly stressed.  

We rode for about 2 hours in the morning, working on "obedience" in our horses.  Mary Hamilton, the instructor, is a mounted police officer and does a lot of police & mounted posse training.  She had us ride 2 X 2 in "calvary" formation, and do patterns & serpentines, as well as other group exercises to get our horses listening to us, their riders, and not to the "herd."  Rhio had no trouble with this work, which I found somewhat surprising as he has a tendency to get bored quickly in the arena and also to be somewhat nervous in close quarters with other horses.  

In the afternoon, Mary had set up obstacles and we worked on conquering many scary things.  Rhio had a lot of trouble crossing the wooden bridge and also the water hazard, but we accomplished it and by the end he would willingly cross both hazards.  We also crossed a tarp, walked over foam pool noodles that were stuck in a frame vertically so they brushed the horses' legs, pushed through pool noodles that were on jump standards to form a "car wash," and followed a HUGE ball around - it was so big that Rhio had to lift his head to see over it.  There were other things set up as well, but we didn't have time to do them all.  It was interesting to watch other horses & riders working through their issues at various obstacles, and to see the trust building between the pairs.  I think the most impressive pair were Donna & CrackerJack.  He is a young & inexperienced horse, but he didn't refuse a single obstacle on the first try. He was scared of some of them, quivering from head to toe, but he trusted Donna enough that he went forward and crossed them despite his fear.  What a team those two are going to make on the endurance trail in a few years!  

I really enjoyed the clinic and Mary's "vibe" in the arena was very positive.  It gave me some great ideas of stuff to do at home, and also was great for Rhio & I to get out of our regular routine and try some new things.  

A look at the arena full of obstacles

We are approaching the water hazard (dry) for the first time.

Investigating the obstacle

Crossing it the first time - see Rhio's posture - he's not so sure this is a good idea but he's doing it!

Crossing it later, this time with water, you can see he's more relaxed & willing.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Boot Trial: Rhio #3 and Hill Intervals

Kristi & I decided to do some hill intervals today, so tacked up in the 70+ degree afternoon sunshine and headed off.  I put Rhio in 4 boots, but switched to the Gloves on the fronts and the Bares on the hinds, to see what (if any) difference that may make in his gait.  April 20 and we were both in tank tops!  The boys were feeling the effects of the warmth, too - both were very lazy and we barely managed a 6 mph trot on the 2 mile route to the "sheep hill." 

Our plan was to do 6 sets up & down the hill, for a total of 1 1/2 miles of hill work.  We walked up, walked down, trotted up, walked down, cantered up, walked down, then repeated in reverse so the canter sets were back-to-back.  Both horses had heart rate monitors on and were working well and recovering well.  It actually seemed to be less work for them than I had anticipated.

The last trip up Kristi & I decided we'd jog, too.  It may not have been all that much work for the horses, but just 1 trip up the hill was plenty for me! 

We trotted home the 2 miles, and Rhio had recovered to 58 bpm by the time we walked down the driveway.  I was pleased that he seemed to move better with this arrangement of boots - I wasn't aware of much forging, although I did note a pretty big interference mark on the inside of his left hind fetlock and there are noticeable scuffs on the back of the Glove gaiters, especially the left front - so he was clearly still having some issues.  

Kristi & I were freezing at the end of our ride!  The wind switched to come off the lake and it was definitely an April wind.  I started the ride pleased that I'd remembered to put on sunscreen, since my shoulders were bare for the first time this year, and ended it covered in goosebumps and wishing I'd brought a jacket to the barn!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Boot Trial: Rhio #2

So to ascertain if there are differences in Rhio's way of going wearing different boots, I rode him yesterday in the Easyboot Gloves on his front feet (yes, 1 pair of boots fits 6 of my horses' 8 hooves!) and completely barefoot on his hind feet.  I was able to do this because I rode the trails around home only.  I could definitely still hear him forging, but his gait seemed better.  I'm probably not quite as able to assess because I was riding him in the bareback pad - so everything feels a little different anyway.  I did discover that he came home with a fair amount of debris in the boots, which tells me they're not fitting "like a glove" as they should.

Leah came along riding Red, so I had fun showing her my home training loops and we were lucky enough to see the bald eagles as well as the sandhill cranes.

That is one of the cranes in the open area between cow pastures at Dave & Carol's.

You can see how the boot doesn't actually fit the shape of Rhio's front feet all that well.

Boot Trial: Red #1 (or, "All we need now is a clown on fire riding a unicycle!")

Christine & Tomas on Church Road

Thursday dawned clear & brisk and looked like it would develop into a gorgeous day for a training ride.  I made plans for Christine & Tomas to do a road ride with us, and despite the change in the weather for the worse, we mounted up & headed out.  The winds had picked up to about 15 - 20 mph sustained with gusts to 30 mph.

I outfitted Red in boots all around.  Historically, he has done very well in boots.  Today he wore an Easyboot Bare on his left front but an Easyboot Epic on his right front.  His right front has markedly widened over the winter (I don't know why!) and the Epic is the only boot I have right now that fits it.  And, I only have 1 Epic left, so I had to use a dissimilar pair for the left front.  This probably isn't an ideal situation - the sole on the Bare is a bit thicker than the sole of the Epic, and they have a different tread. Also, I suspect they may be a different weight.  He wore the Easyboot Gloves on his hinds.
Right front Epic and left front Bare

Glove on a hind - I don't think they actually fit him all that well but I didn't have any problem with them.

We set off down Pioneer Road, happily trotting along with both horses relaxed.  The wind made conversing difficult, as we could barely hear each other even shouting.  The horses seemed a little extra spooky, but nothing too terrible.  We made the turn at the "sheep hill," and from then on both horses were a handful.  We continued down the minimum maintenance part of Church, seeing a small painted turtle but thankfully no ducks bursting out of the bog.
One of several bogs along Church Road.

Red looking for the bogey man in the woods.

The prettiest part of Church Road.

Christine & Tomas nearing the turn-around spot.

I heard lots of laughter behind me as Chris watched me & Red careening back & forth down the road and shying repeatedly with big lurches to the side.  She was having pretty much the same ride, but I think got a split-second warning by seeing me & Red do it first.  I'm sure it was quite amusing.  

We stopped for a little grazing & so I could check boots at the 3 1/2 mile mark, our turnaround at the busy road.  All the boots seemed to be performing just fine, with no rubs from the gaiters.  I did have to tighten the gaiters which were new & not broken-in yet, but the old Epic with the broken-in gaiter didn't need any adjustment.  Red enjoyed a few nibbles, but Tomas was too excited to eat.  This is a perfect example of the difference between an experienced trail/endurance horse (eat at every opportunity) and an inexperienced one.

Red chowing down.

The return trip was even more "exciting" than the outward trip, and we did not win all the arguments with our horses!  There were a few moments of unplanned galloping (WHEE!), which didn't result in any mishaps and so are now thought of as very fun.  I'm not sure they were quite so fun at the time (although being on Red, my only concern was when I would be able to stop him and if he would spook at a full gallop, I would come off for sure - he is not a bucker).  Tomas has bucked on a semi-regular basis, so Christine was thrilled that he didn't.  

We made it home, although walked more of it than we intended due to the extreme spookiness of both horses.  A tree came down in the woods just behind us and we nearly had a second unplanned galloping incident, but were able to get things under control.  Given the challenging wind conditions, both horses did very well.  My favorite comment of the day was Christine's, when a plastic bag billowed up out of the ditch and went flying down the road, bringing both horses to a quivering stand-still - "All we need now is a clown on fire riding a unicycle."

 I was relatively pleased with the boot performance, but I am doubtful about those Gloves staying on Red's hinds in any sort of deeper footing.  The road isn't much of a testing ground for boots, but it does give me an idea about rubbing and gait changes, etc.  I am going to look into getting a boot accessory called a "power strap" for the Gloves, which tightens up the boot in the front just a little.  They also come in pretty colors, so I can both match my tack and hopefully be able to find them if they come off! 

I have not been able to find my reins with the rein stops & rings permanently placed, to use with my running martingale, and so have been riding without the martingale this spring.  It's been ok so far, but really wished I'd had it on for this ride!  (After searching all my horse stuff in both barns, I finally found those reins at the bottom of a bag in my bedroom!)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Boot Trial: Rhio #1

Rhio ready to ride with Easyboot Bares on fronts and Easyboot Gloves on hinds

Rhio had a farrier visit today to refresh his special trim on his right front as we wait for the hoof wall defect to grow out.  Before & after pictures are below.  Since the new Easyboot Gloves just came in the mail, my goal for today was to do a decent trial of the boots in good footing.  We'll worry about other footing after we determine where we're at with the whole concept of boots for Rhio.  I've been unsuccessful in the past with boots for him - they seem to change his way of going significantly enough that he interferes.  I was encouraged by our few outings this spring in the Easyboot Epics on his fronts - no interference marks and he seemed to move out normally.

Before trim

After trim (3 weeks of growth only!)

The new gaiters on all four boots were quite stiff and didn't sit nicely on his pasterns, so I worried a little about getting rubs from them.  I stopped to check at our halfway point, and while they were all in need of tightening, there were no rubs at that point.  We set off into a little light rain, but it didn't amount to much and only served to perfume to air with spring, really.  He was definitely moving differently with the boots - heavier all around, and forging (hitting the bottom of the front hoof with the toe of the hind hoof on the same side).  He forges when shod as well, but I do know that the Easyboot Bares don't have a marked breakover, so it's possible his front feet were hanging too long before he lifted them, accounting for the forging. He does not seem to forge when he is completely barefoot, although the sound is so much quieter then, it's possible that he does and I'm not aware of it.  

We scared up some deer, a few ducks, and a red squirrel on our route down the minimum maintenance part of Church Road, turning for home when we intersected with Normanna Road.  We met a guy out walking at this point, and while I was readjusting the gaiters, he got about 1/4 mile ahead of us.  Rhio was flying to catch him when I turned him for home, and at that faster trot he seemed completely normal and with minimal forging.  So maybe the difference in his way of going is more noticeable when he's being lazy?  

No rubs when we got back, and I free lunged him a little in the arena with the Gloves on the fronts and nothing on his hinds, just to see.  He was still forging, but it seemed that he was moving better in the Gloves than the Bares on his fronts.  Next ride I'll probably try the Gloves on the fronts and the Bares on the hinds and see what happens. 

I also took a rasp to the toes of the Bares, and made a nice breakover.  Tomorrow Red will try the same arrangement of boots (assuming they fit ok) and we'll see how he goes.  Historically he has gone very well in boots, possibly even better than he goes barefoot or shod.  

Bare with rasped-in breakover

I didn't take a before pic, but you can see the bevel at the toe

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Happy Birthday Red!

Wishing my boy Red a very happy 15th birthday today!  He got a bunch of carrots (his favorite treat) to celebrate :)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Note to self: remember your sandals

Post-ride cool off in the lake

April 11 in northern Minnesota and it was in the 70s!  Gesa & I borrowed Christine's trailer and headed about an hour south of Duluth to a day use area called Dago Lake in the General Andrews State Forest.  It's an area of designated ATV/off-road vehicle trails.  The trails are all sandy, so we hoped this would be a good conditioning ride for the first endurance ride of the season, coming up May 1 & 2 at Sand Dunes State Forest in Zimmerman, MN.  Sand Dunes is, not surprisingly, extremely sandy.  It is exceedingly dry this spring, and the reports from Sand Dunes are that the sand is loose & deep.  All our footing at home is either firm (roads) or mushy (clay mud & boggy) - so our horses' tendons & ligaments don't get loaded in the same way they will in that deep sand.  The Dago Lake trails are sandy, but not deep like Sand Dunes.  We found a few deep spots at intersections and on the beach, but mostly the footing was really, really nice.  

We pulled in to find lots of ATVers & dirt bikers, most of whom were very courteous.  Our horses weren't too bothered by them, anyway.  We tacked up with heart rate monitors, which turned out to be a very fun addition to our ride.  Gesa's horse Paco has never done any distance events, and she's conditioning him for his first novice ride of 12 miles on May 2.  

Tacking up.  I especially like the expression on Rhio's face.

We set off at a nice 8 - 9 mph pace and maintained that for much of the first loop that we did.  Both horses coughed a fair amount to start off - it was so dry & dusty that we think it was mostly a dust issue.  The horses ran with heart rates within a few beats of each other.  The horses paced very well together, with Rhio mostly leading (he much prefers to lead) and neither horse spooking very much (Paco can be pretty spooky). The first trail passed several seasonal cabins with "interesting" things that the horses had to look at more than once, including a wooden crow and a flag fluttering in the breeze.  The telling difference in fitness between the horses was their heart rate recoveries - their working heart rates were very similar, around 120's at a 8mph trot.  When we dropped to a walk, Rhio would drop below 80 in less than 30 seconds and it typically took Paco about 2 minutes of walking to get below 80.  Rhio dropped to 60 (the criteria we have to hit at the end of 25 mile limited distance ride) pretty much as soon as we halted.  

Gesa & Paco

The trails are scenic with planted pines, open cut-over areas full of baby trees, and wide sandy trails.  Our trail turned and ran along an old fence, which was the only thing separating us from 70mph traffic on the interstate.  Neither horse was at all bothered by the whizzing vehicles.  

We appreciated the relief from the sun under the pines.

We found a few narrower, twisty trails that cut across the cut-over areas, and did those a few times just for the fun of it.  My GPS batteries crapped out at about 8 miles, but we estimate we did about 11 miles on our first "loop."  We then took a short break at the trailer to let the horses drink, have a little hay, and have a snack ourselves.  Paco was not drinking at this point, despite Rhio setting a very good example by diving right into the water bucket.  

Sweaty boys resting at the trailer - we still have quite a lot of winter coat in place and it was over 70 - so the horses were quite warm.

Poor Kelso spent all day eating dust, literally.  The clouds of dust & sand billowing up from our hooves were quite impressive, and Kelso runs along behind, basically right in the dust cloud.  He came home red & tan instead of red & white.  He also inhaled altogether too much crud and spent a lot of time hacking.  Poor puppy!

Kelso showing his fine trotting form (with Rhio's tail just on the right of the pic)

Kelso cooling off in the shade under the truck

We set off around Dago Lake for our "second loop," a trail about 2 miles in length.  We waded into the lake, where Paco finally drank a little.  Rhio thoroughly enjoyed playing in the water - his technique includes using his tongue & lower lip to flip water up & out. 

Yay! Paco is drinking!

Rhio was pretty hyped on this loop, cantering a lot.  We trotted about 1/4 mile in the deep beach sand, where the horses' heart rates were in the 140's.  Once we got back to the trailer, we stripped their tack & took them down to the beach to cool off in the water & roll in the sand.  The water was still very cold, but it was nice to cool the horses' legs a bit.  Rhio continued to play with the water and Paco drank a bit again. 

Paco is drinking again!

Barefoot in the lake - in April!  I had to put my riding boots on wet, sandy feet after - I should always remember to bring my sandals to Dago Lake!  Note Kelso's tail sticking up in the foreground of this pic.

Both boys took a nice roll in the sand, then we packed up & headed home, getting home & unloaded before dark.  What a great day!