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!