Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Sunday, May 30, 2010

They had to drag me into the saddle...

but we had a very fun ride!  Yesterday it was hot & humid (for Duluth, in May, anyway!!) and I was tired, hot, & out of sorts after spending all morning weeding, planting, & watering in the veggie garden.  I was about as close as I ever come to not wanting to ride.  But Christine & Becca were ready to go with smiles on, and poor Rhio was looking pretty forlorn being the sole horse left in his pasture, so off I went to fetch my pony.  We set off down the road, with a destination of the gravel pits in mind.
What a cute pair!  Becca on Kaos & Christine on Tomas heading down the road

Once my butt hit the saddle, I felt great and was happy to be riding, as usual.  The sun beat down upon us, but we were able to catch a nice breeze and we hardly noticed the heat.  We meandered around the gravel pit, went up & down the hill a few times, enjoyed the scenery, and ended up cooling our heels in the pond.  

Lupine in bloom

All the horses seemed to enjoy the water - even scared-y Tomas! 

Becca & Kaos looking happy & relaxed

Upon our return to the farm, we rinsed the sweat off our threesome of greys (so they could go roll in the dirt and get properly grubby again) and enjoyed some ice cold adult beverages.  Ahhh!  Thanks, guys, for dragging me into the saddle for this ride :)  

Friday, May 28, 2010

Moose Mountain

Rhio looking ahead to trail he's never seen before

Disclaimer:  In case you are excited to read about our encounter with a moose, I want to dash your hopes right now.  This ride has absolutely nothing to do with a moose encounter.  I have not yet had the "pleasure" of encountering a moose while horseback.  

Thursday morning I had the great good fortune to be able to borrow Christine's truck and trailer, and take Rhio to Gesa's house to do some hill work.  We have about 1.5 miles of road riding to get to Moose Mountain, a grassy two-track trail going up to the power line through the Moose Mountain Scientific & Natural Area (state land).  The road to get there is particularly unpleasant, with narrow shoulders and many uneducated/inconsiderate drivers plus a small bridge to cross (no shoulder here at all) that has a hill on both sides (so it's hard to see traffic before you cross).  But the half mile of hill up to the power line is golden!  What a great training hill!  I'm sure there is a way to figure out the slope with my GPS, but I don't know what it is.  I do know the hill starts gradual, gets very steep, and levels out at the top.  We did it a total of 4 times, 3 at a trot all the way and 1 cantering most of it.  Both Paco & Rhio had heart rate monitors on, though we had some technical difficulties with Paco's.  Rhio's heart rate went to about 175 when trotting up the hill and just topped 200 at a canter.  

Our first trip up the hill

We also did a little exploring to augment our hill work, meandering along the power line to get a nice panoramic view.  

Me & Rhio posing by the power line - the view is much more magnificent in real life than this photo can show!

Gesa & Paco enjoying the view as well

And to cool down, we explored a 4 wheeler trail which lead, via some deep sticky mud, to a deer stand and then out into somebody's field.  The mud got the best of the Renegade boots, sucking them off Rhio's front hooves, but luckily I happened to glance down & spot them so was able to retrieve them.  I attached them to his breastcollar for the rest of the ride, which made for a funny view from the saddle and made my white horse absolutely filthy where the mud & sweat mingled & slid down his shoulders!

4-wheeler trail

View from the saddle - just above the lime green saddle pack you can see the Renegades hanging off either side of Rhio above his shoulders.  Unfortunately they are dark green, so they kind of blend into the grass background. 

We made it home without incident, after a very enjoyable two hours and about 8 miles total (it wasn't a fast ride, that's for sure!).  I loved doing this hill work, as I felt my horse got a good strength & cardio workout without it being too stressing on his legs.  The footing is good (I wouldn't have needed the boots at all) and there was plenty of green grass to munch & puddles to drink out of.  I think the horses enjoyed it, too.  

our happy companions

Rhio post-ride and pre-hosing, hanging in Gesa's barn (and I forgot to take the "after" pic to show how pretty he looks actually clean!)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


10:30 pm tacking up (yes, the lights were on in the barn, but it's still too dark for good photos so it looks like we were tacking up in the dark)

It was a gorgeous night.  My roommate Kristi and I decided we just HAD to go for a ride.  So we fetched our boys from their evening grazing and tacked them up at 10:30 pm by the light of an almost-full moon.  I think the horses were a little confused, but they didn't complain.  Off we went down the road, listening to how loud our horses' hooves seemed on the gravel road and to the symphony of frogs serenading us.  

Both horses & humans wore some reflective gear and our road is extremely quiet, so we met no vehicles. This was the first night ride for Kristi & Cody, and for Rhio.  It was great - the horses were quiet & willing and we didn't feel much need for conversation, just drinking in the beauty of it all.   

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sunday Morning Fun

Beth & Rhio negotiating the old gravel pit trail

I took Beth for a short ride to explore my local training trails Sunday morning before she had to head back home.  The morning was overcast and threatening rain, but we had a lovely time exploring.  We took both boys out barefoot, and took the road down to the gravel pit, working our way around the old pit then working our way through the county pit to a short trail through the woods which ends at a sheet metal "bridge" which is unsafe to cross with the horses.  There were a lot of branches & small trees to dodge and/or clear on this trail, but I think we both managed to ride without getting slapped in the face.  We then found a new, less rocky and slightly longer training hill in the gravel pit and worked our way around one of the ponds.  Both horses did very well traveling carefully over the uneven ground.  

We stopped at a pond with good footing to let the horses, and Kelso, drink.  Red surprised me by walking right in.  He's not generally very willing to walk into water.  

I showed Beth the trails next to the pit, which I like to do at a fast trot or canter as the footing is good.  It is an out-and-back setup, so the horses know we're headed home when we make that turn.  That makes the return trip a little more energetic!  I was happy the bugs were not too bad, and we stopped by Red's farm on the way to the trails out back, and completing our loop.  We took the little trails with hills and turns in a figure-8 pattern, first at a walk and then at a fast trot - Beth was impressed with Rhio's cornering ability.  We headed home happy with our morning's adventure, and thrilled to have had 2 great rides together in 2 days.  It's been too long since we've gotten to ride together!

Beth & Rhio in the gravel pit

Me & Red in the gravel pit

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dragonfly Delight

Boy do I love a long, fast ride on my boy Red.

Beth is here to visit for the weekend, so we got up this morning after a lovely evening spent catching up & enjoying great burgers and awesome microbrews at Fitger's Brewhouse (http://www.brewhouse.net/2005/), and headed out to saddle up.  I had ridden Red over to Meadowbrook last night and he hung out in the round pen overnight.  He also managed to rearrange some of the round pen panels overnight...silly boy.  Thankfully no injuries from that little episode! We tried Beth's saddle on both horses to decide who she would ride - it fit Rhio better, so she rode him.  I was happy to ride Red, as I don't ride him as much as I do Rhio, since Red is not being conditioned for competition this year.  I booted Red's fronts (1 Epic & 1 Bare, as that's what I have) and Rhio all the way around (Renegades in front, Gloves behind plus fetlock boots because he interferes behind when in hoof boots).  

Red hanging in the round pen Friday night (and worried about the alpacas all the way across the farm!).

We set off down the road to Jodi's house and ran into a lot of traffic on Emerson Rd, which is a paved road with a very narrow shoulder and one of my least favorite places to ride.  It's the easiest/shortest route from my house to Jodi's, however, so we endured it.  The horses were behaving well and Beth was getting to know Rhio a little bit.  Jodi & Rhonda tacked up quickly when we got there, and all four of us set off for a fast loop through the gravel pits, ski trail, & snowmobile trail near where Jodi's in-laws live.  

I was very happy to have Red's running martingale tucked in my saddle bag, because I sure needed it today!  It's been a long time since he got to go for a zippy ride in a group, and he was pretty excited.  The running martingale reminds him to stay in my zone!  We stopped for a quick tack adjustment before crossing Rice Lake Rd, about a mile from Jodi's, and I quickly added his running martingale and had a great ride from then on.  That first mile he wanted to run, and wanted to lead, and wanted to ignore me! As soon as the martingale is on, he listens and still moves out strongly but doesn't try to rush.  

We had a fast ride through the trails, which is a balance challenge when you're not used to it (for horses & riders alike!) and Beth was a champ keeping up with an unfamiliar horse and not being used to that kind of speed when riding.  All the horses behaved very well, and we did a total of about 16 miles in a little over 2 hours.  

Beth & Rhio as we set off from Meadowbrook.

Jodi & Rana on the left, Beth & Rhio on the right, and Rhonda & Snickers in the distance on the right.

It was interesting & informative to watch Rhio move with the boots on.  I haven't been able to see him move booted before.  I thought he looked good in the back end, and actually didn't seem to be forging all that much, but I wasn't too pleased with his movement in the front end.  With the boots, he has a lot of extra knee action (from the weight? or just the feel of boots?) and really seems to slap his heels down.  He also didn't seem to extend into his floaty trot.  When Beth & I arrived at Jodi's, he had managed to twist his left front boot on his hoof, so it was all caddy-wampus.  That was a first.  I fixed it, and he didn't seem to have any other boot issues.  After the ride, he had no rubs anywhere.  But, watching him go did confirm that I would prefer to have him in shoes.  I hope this hoof crack from his coronary band injury this winter grows out soon!  

We noticed on our way home past the little lakes in the area that the dragonflies are out en masse!  That must mean the nasty biting insects are out too, and I did notice a surge in the mosquito population when I was working in the garden last night.  Red is especially bothered by the bugs, even ones that don't bite, because he hates having anything bonking him in the head.  I had a lot of head tossing while we trotted through the swarms of darting dragonflies!  He is famous for tucking his chin to his chest anytime he has to move into the rain, as he hates having raindrops hit him in the face as well.  Silly boy!  

On the way home - both of us are sweaty, tired, and happy! 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Run For The Border

Rhio & I head down the road to meet Jodi & load up

I decided on Thursday May 13 that my massive poison ivy rash was healed enough for me to consider riding at the Run For The Border ride in St. Croix Falls, WI on the weekend.  My friend Jodi was gracious enough to clean out the fourth horse stall in her trailer so Rhio & I could tag along with her & Ranna, Rhonda & Snickers, and Vickie & Scamp (otherwise known as "The Black Thing," although he is turning grey).  I took all my gear to her house in my car, then Friday morning I rode Rhio over there (4 miles) to meet up with her, load horses, and head out.  Rhio loaded right up into her trailer, which was a relief since he has been a bit reluctant about loading this spring.  

This is a close ride for us, only about 2 hours away, and we pulled in to ride camp around 5 pm.  It is a three day ride, so many rigs had come in Thursday evening and competed on Friday.  Thursday it rained all day, and apparently most of the rigs had to be towed into the field with a tractor.  We had to unload the horses to get into the spot we liked, but thankfully didn't require any assistance from the tractor.  Ride camp is situated in a grassy field near the back of the property of a tack store/boarding facility/riding stable.  

We got camp set up, including a tent for me because there are only 3 sleeping spaces in the trailer.  I was happy to try out my new self-inflating camping mattress from REI - two thumbs up for comfort & performance!  Also, I was able to pitch the tent on the far side of the trailer, so I could look out & see Rhio and Snickers tied to the trailer, while those in the trailer could easily see & get to Ranna & Scamp. This turned out to be a very advantageous choice, as Friday night Rhio rubbed the braided connection between his lead rope & its snap enough that the two separated - resulting in a loose horse!  In my tent, I realized I could hear a horse eating grass, which I shouldn't be hearing.  I peeked out, and there was Rhio happily grazing and not at all attached to the trailer!  I was able to knot the lead rope back onto the snap and Rhio unhappily went back to munching his hay.  

Ride map - start is in the lower right corner. We did the purple (pink) loop going up to the out check at the upper left corner, then the yellow loop back to camp.  Our third loop was red. 

I decided it was time for Rhio & me to move up in the distance riding world, and we signed up for the 50 miler.  I was especially interested in this 50 as it would consist of a 20 mile loop to an out check, 20 miles back to ride camp on different trail, then a 10 mile loop.  Most of our 50s are 4 loops total, doing 2 loops each twice, with all checks in camp.  I think that pattern can be more challenging for the horses mentally, as they have to continually return to & leave camp (i.e. their buddies, their food, their resting spot) and do lots of repeat trail.  Maybe I'm anthropomorphizing here, but it seems like it's less mental stress to go away from camp and stay out there for most of our miles. 

Rhio with his braids

We vetted through Friday night for our pre-ride check and I started to get ready for the morning.  Our start was 6 am.  I braided his mane, which he doesn't like at all & I heard a lot of "thwap, thwap, thwap" all night long as he shook his head and the braids hit his neck.  The forecast was for low 70s, sunshine, and no wind, so I expected it to be pretty warm out there.  We still have a little of our winter coat left, mostly over the rump!  And we did just have 3" of snow Mother's Day weekend.  Also, I had to pack a bag for the out check and get it on the right truck.  Ride management was providing water & buckets, as well as hay.  Great!  That means I just needed his beet pulp & grain, a bucket to make his mash, carrots, electrolytes, snacks for me, water for me, and what else?  It was hard to decide what to take "just in case," knowing that there was a good chance the truck wouldn't return to ride camp before we made it back for our 2nd hold and therefore whatever I sent to the out check I likely wouldn't have access to again during the ride.  I made sure I had my sponge & sweat scraper attached to the saddle, and I rode with a rump rug tied on but rolled up so that I could cover his big muscles as soon as we got into the check.  So I was covered for both cool and warm conditions!  

I met up with Theresa Friday night to see if she was interested in riding together.  I was hesitant to try the 50 completely alone, as I know Rhio goes better with a buddy.  We discussed our plans for the ride, and they sounded compatible, so we planned to meet up before the start and let the front runners get out of camp before setting off.  

Sunrise Saturday morning - this is about 5:30 and we were warming up.

There was a 75 miler and a 100 miler also running on Saturday, and they started together at 5 am, which meant ride camp was awake pretty darn early.  I rarely sleep much the night before a ride, and this ride was no exception.  I think I got about 2 hours of uninterrupted sleep & lots of dozing.  I got Rhio fed first thing, then got his hoof boots on.  I was unsure about the footing for the majority of trail, since I'd only ever ridden the 25 miler here before & our route was going to be almost all new trail to me.  I felt pretty good about using the Renegades on his fronts, even though he'd only worn them for 2 rides so far, both about 6 miles in length.  I put the Gloves on his hinds, and splint/fetlock boots all around just in case.  He certainly does interfere behind in the Gloves, although he seems ok up front in the Renegades.  I managed to lose my watch somewhere during my preparations, so set off with my heart rate monitor & GPS only.  Rhonda later found my watch ground into the mud where Rhio had been tied to the trailer - the band had popped off the face, but it seems no worse for the wear (albeit a little dirty). 

I was mounted up by 5:30, giving us a half hour to warm up.  I don't usually warm up this long, and think I was feeling a little apprehensive about the longer distance.  Rhio was relaxed until other horses started warming up, then he got a little wound up.  I walked him completely out of sight of the start to let the front runners go, then headed back to meet up with Theresa & her mare Queen and set off.  Queen was very anxious and gave Theresa some guff, including rearing, but once we were on our way, both horses settled in nicely.  

Rhio did a lot of leading, which he likes, and hesitated only briefly in a few spots - the tiny palomino mini running around like crazy in a round pen right beside the trail was probably the scariest thing we saw.  We maintained a nice 9 - 10 mph pace most of the time, with rest breaks for water and a little grazing here & there.  There was lots of grass available on trail, which was excellent for the horses.  We came into the out check a little sooner than we expected, and Rhio & I practically cantered right to it, as we didn't realize it was right there.  Despite that, which would not be my normal practice, we pulsed right down to the 64 criteria with no trouble.  Rhio dove into his beet pulp mash, had a nice drink of water, and munched some hay while I pulled his boots to check for any issues.  There was a tiny spot of rubbing on one hind, despite the fact that I'd coated his pasterns liberally with Desitin before booting up in the morning.  The whole trail was grassy or sandy so far, and so I decided to pull his boots and continue barefoot.  I sure hoped I wasn't making a poor choice, but it seemed like it would work.  I had packed some strawberries for myself and that was a great decision, as they tasted wonderful.  We were surprised to see all the 50s ahead of us still in the check when we arrived, but they started leaving pretty soon after we got there.  Rhio watched every horse leave from the opposite end of the check, and he was anxious to move out & follow them - the last 10 minutes of our hold after we'd done our CRI he couldn't even stand still for wanting to chase the horses that had already left.  We took off at a canter on loop 2 but were able to rate them back to a more reasonable pace within about a mile.  

Out check

Rhio enjoying his beet pulp at the out check

Loop 2 we maintained about the same pace as Loop 1, stopping to graze periodically.  As the day warmed up, the gnats came out and every stop included swarms of the nasty buggers around our heads & the horses' heads.  The horses continued to pace well together, with Queen occasionally giving Rhio the evil eye, but he pretty much ignored it.  The trail was almost all two-track, so we rode side-by-side a lot, as well as switching off leading.  We did play leap frog with one other 50 miler for a little bit on this loop, which I don't find very pleasant.  We eventually stopped for about 5 minutes to let him get ahead on a long open stretch where we could still see him for quite a distance.  Rhio seemed happy & relaxed the whole loop and was eating & drinking very well.  

Grassy two-track after leaving the out check.

The Settler's Cemetery which we pass near the river & the DNR horse camp

Sandy two-track through the pines - that's Theresa & Queen on the right.

Theresa & Queen drinking & sponging at the stream crossing.

The trail in and out of camp is single-track, two-way and shared by all competitors, which can make it a bit crowded in spots.  It's also really fun trail, winding through the trees and climbing up a couple hills.  We appreciated the shadiness and had fun cruising through the curves.  We came in to camp with 40 miles done and both horses looking good.  We pulsed down within a minute of each other, had our 40 minute hold and exit CRI, and were back on trail for the last 10 miles before we knew it.  The horses were definitely reluctant to leave camp at this point, especially as most of the horses we saw on trail were coming towards us and headed back to camp.  Once we got 2 miles from camp and stopped to sponge & drink at the stream, the horses picked up the pace and finished up the last 10 miles easily.  Our in time was 1:14 pm, with two holds of 40 minutes each, giving us a ride time of 5:54!  Wow!  I was impressed, as I was thinking something around 7 hours for our first 50 (well, technically our 2nd as we did one at Charity Cup in 2007).  We had to complete our final vet check at 30 minutes after finishing, so I let Rhio graze while I sponged him and we walked around a little to stay loose.  We had no trouble doing the last 30 miles barefoot and Rhio looked good for his final trot-out.  We had a little back soreness, but nothing too bad and not really unexpected since I'm riding him in Red's saddle and I know the fit isn't perfect.

Rhio napping while having his legs iced.

Rhio munched another beet pulp mash back at the trailer, then took a snooze while Jodi let me borrow her ice boots for his legs.  He thought those felt nice & was happy to stand in them for 20 minutes.  I had pulled about a dozen ticks off his legs over the course of the day, so I was diligent in checking for more ticks.  Later in the afternoon, he laid down to rest, which is completely normal for him but caused several comments from friends that were socializing with us on the other side of the trailer - "Ah, I can see a horse laying down on the other side of your trailer!"  

Rhio gets comfortable.

At potluck that evening, I found out Rhio & I had taken 6th place heavyweight!  Yay - a ribbon!  I still love to get ribbons.  I picked a MdDRA pint glass for my completion prize and completely overstuffed myself on the delicious food.  Jodi & Rana took 1st and BC in the LD, Rhonda & Snickers got a completion in the LD, and Vickie & Scamp had been pulled for lameness in the LD.  

"Roger" snuggled into my goose down sleeping bag.

I had a snuggly bunk mate for the evening, Jodi's new rat terrier puppy, tentatively named Roger.  We were worried he might jump off the bed in the gooseneck, so he curled up in the tent with me.  That is one smart little guy - he took one look at my goose down sleeping bag and climbed right in!

Rhio looking bright and hungry for his beet pulp Sunday morning.

Sunday morning Rhio looked good although he was stocked up in all four legs.  I do know he spent a lot of the night laying down, again something that is completely normal for him but does kind of set him up to be stocked up.  We walked the horses before breaking camp, and he was trotting along looking for the next best patch of grass.  We stopped for breakfast on the way home, and were happy to be home by noon.  Rhio trotted off into the pasture, had a good roll & a drink, and settled into grazing with his buddies.  He looked great and not at all like he'd gone 50 miles the day before!  

It's official - I'm now an endurance rider and I have an endurance horse!  Next ride Maplewood in 3 weeks!  

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Are You My Mommy?

Rhio & Tomas enjoying the sun before I rudely made them get up to go for a ride.

I've had a horrible case of poison ivy on my thigh since our first endurance ride of the season last weekend, and was finally able to ride on Sunday.  I have a new pair of hoof boots to try - Renegade boots. (http://www.renegadehoofboots.com/ ) They were simple to put on, Rhio didn't object at all, and they looked pretty good. They are rounder than the Easy Boots and seem to fit his hoof better.
My pair of used Renegades from eBay are sparkly green!  

  We headed off for a Mother's Day trail ride with Kathy, Kristi, & Christine.  I left his hinds bare, and didn't feel any issues with the Renegades on the grassy trails out back.  We cantered a little in the hayfield and that seemed fine, too.  Yay!
Enjoying our sunny, beautiful Mother's Day ride.

A mushroom I found on our ride in the woods - and brought home much worse for the wear from being stepped on by the dog & stuffed into my saddle bag.  Oops! 

Although my thigh was killing me, Christine & I headed down the road so I could do a little sustained trotting for more boot assessment.  We headed to the sheep hill and did a couple repetitions up the hill, then headed home.  Both horses were very lazy on the way out, but the lambs caused some undue excitement when one in particular came running to the fence, "Baaaaaaing" desperately all the way.  I think he saw Rhio and thought we might be his mommy :)   He seemed so disappointed when he got close and realized we were not a sheep.  The horses were both standing stock still watching this small & loud creature barreling towards us - contemplating whether or not our lives were in danger.  We had a lively canter/hand-gallop up the hill and then headed home with much perkier horses.

The view across the hay fields at the top of the sheep hill.

I was pleased when we got home to discover no interference marks on Rhio's front limbs, the boots were securely in place, and did not have any debris in them.  He did not have any rubs from the boots, either, but clearly areas of disrupted/ smashed down hair on his heel bulbs.  This will be something I will watch to see if it develops into a rub.  Overall, I was very pleased with the new boots and have hopes they will work better for us than the Easy Boots.  I am still using Easy Boots on the hinds, but also have to use splint boots to prevent interference marks.

My poison ivy wasn't in such good shape by the end of the ride, however, and I was grateful to sit down with an ice pack and some more thickly applied cream.  

Monday, May 3, 2010

Derby Day, Endurance Style

Ride camp as the sun is coming up

The first Saturday in May may be Derby Day for much of the rest of the horse world, but it is the first ride of the season for Minnesota distance riders. (And thanks to the internet, I got to watch the Run for the Roses when I got home from ride camp, anyway.)  Friday was a damp, dripping, gray day as we packed & loaded the trailer for the ride.  Gesa & her boy Paco came along to try their first distance ride - the 12 mile novice competitive ride.  It rained much of the trip, as we progressively emerged into deeper and deeper shades of green landscape, essentially traveling south into spring.

Paco on the high line

The ride managers had a spot for us right next to their rig in the vet check area, and kindly left the high line free for our use.  I really like the parks that have permanently installed high lines for the horses.  My boys do extremely well on them, and I like that they do not have to stare at a blank wall (the side of the trailer) for much of the weekend.  I have never used portable pens or temporary electric pens - for one, tying is cheap (already own the lead ropes!), and for another, I am not convinced that Rhio would respect an electric pen.  We waited for a break in the rain and got the tent set up in a private spot behind some pine trees.  We couldn't have picked a better spot, given how windy it got - we had a tiny bit of protection from the wind, anyway.  The sand makes a great base for the tent - easy to stake and the sand conforms nicely as a supportive surface beneath our sleeping pads.  And, we could just unzip the flap on the door and see the horses, so investigating those odd middle-of-the-night noises didn't even require getting out of bed!

Our friends Lynne & Donna from Fargo were already set up with CrackerJack and Niso, and Jodi, Vicki, and Rhonda from Duluth had their spot, too.  Mary and Bonnie had the vetting-in under control, so I didn't have to work Friday night and was able to socialize with everyone that I haven't seen since last fall.  Rhio settled right in to the business of eating & drinking, setting a good example for Paco, who had never been camping before.  I think the boys kind of enjoyed watching all the other horses vetting in, and all the hubbub of ride central.

Carmen let me try her Specialized saddle on Rhio, and we did a mile or so before dinner.  I was pleased with how well he moved in it, although I would like a narrower twist and would change stirrup positions.  Specialized are definitely still in the running, if I can sell the saddle I have but am not using.

We got everything ready for morning and crawled into the tent just after dark, around 9pm.  I  never sleep well the night before a ride, and this was no exception.  I listened to our horses playing with the water, and a nearby horse rattling a clip (hay bag?  lead rope?) against a trailer for what seemed like forever, and the next thing I knew it was 5 am and time to feed Rhio his beet pulp mash, brush my teeth, and get to the 5:20 am rider's meeting.   We had one good thunderstorm sometime during the night, but it was clear at dawn.  Jodi, Vicki, Rhonda, Lynne, and I were all riding the 25 mile limited distance ride (6:30 am start) and Donna & Gesa were going to trail ride together.  Donna's horse is too young to compete, and Gesa's novice ride was scheduled for Sunday.

MnDRA 1 is held at Sand Dunes State Forest, and it is not called "sand dunes" lightly.  Much of the trail is like riding on a beach - deep, loose sand.  The early spring weather has been exceedingly dry and therefore the sand was deeper, looser, and dustier than ever. The rain Friday and overnight would help compact the sand somewhat, but I knew it is always a tough ride, especially as the first of the season.  Lynne & I planned to ride together, starting well back from the pack so as to have a better chance to set our own pace.  I wanted to complete with a happy, sound horse and not risk any injury in the deep sand. We hoped for a 5.5 - 6 mph ride, and ended up with closer to 7 mph pace overall.  We were still the last two LD riders to finish (happily so!).

Ready to ride!

Settling up our final plan for the start and getting ready to mount up
(Lynne & Niso in foreground)

Starting our warm-up

Jodi (in turquoise) & Vicki (in gray) ready to start

The first loop is 15 miles and has quite a lot of good footing, including a nice stretch of sandy gravel road and some pretty bits through the woods.  We also cross a county highway bridge, and the local sheriffs office staffs the crossing to stop traffic for us.  Rhio didn't mind the flashing lights of the patrol cars at all, but the big pink sign saying "Slow - Horses" required a wide berth.  Niso and Rhio paced together perfectly, once we decided to allow them to go down the trail the way they wanted - Niso leading and Rhio following.  We stopped at the first water stop (they were happy to graze the wet grass, but weren't interested in drinking yet) and I made a mistake.  I tried something new on ride day.  I know better than that!  I had 1 bottle of water and 1 bottle of a powdered vitamin-mineral-electrolyte drink.  I downed about 1/3 of the bottle of vitamin drink and was nearly immediately overwhelmed by nausea.  Yikes!  I actually felt dizzy I was so nauseous.  I forced a little of my nut bar down, and then some plain water, and that seemed to fix it.  I should have known better, because I can't take multivitamins either, for the same reason.

We both had rump rugs ready to go - I used mine during our warm up, but rolled it up before setting off on the loop.  The wind really began to pick up, and as the day progressed went from "breezy" (the forecast according to NOAA) to downright "gale force" - it was nice to be able to cover those hindquarters when we started our 1/2 mile cool down before getting back to camp for the vet check.  I rode with a heart rate monitor, which I don't typically do at an endurance ride because I don't like to have to fuss with extra stuff during a ride.  This ride however, I was planning to go slow, not worry at all about time or speed, and wanted the extra bit of information about how well Rhio was handling the deep sand.  I noticed that his working heart rate was appropriately elevated in the sand (around 145 at a 9 mph trot) but returned to his normal in areas of firmer footing (around 115 - 120 at the same pace), and his recoveries when we slowed or stopped were normal.  I was very pleased with this and it was nice to have that information.

Getting our pulse after loop 1

Rhio was down below the pulse criteria of 60 after getting our time at the timer, so I walked right in to the pulse lanes and then directly to the trailer for more beet pulp mash, hay, a warm cooler, and some R & R.  We had a 40 minute hold, but had to be back at the vets in 30 minutes for our exit exam with CRI. Boy does that time fly!  I'm not sure I sat down at all, not counting the brief stop at the outhouse.  We passed our exit exam with all As, and a CRI of 11/11.  Way to go Rhio!  Lynne & Niso were just a few minutes behind us since it takes her a little longer to pulse down, so we waited for them and set off on Loop 2 together.  Rhio felt as fresh as he had at the start, setting a fast pace through the single track at the beginning of the loop.  Once through the single track, Niso took over the lead and we cantered a lot of the deep sand.  It was so windy by this point there was no way to carry on a conversation, so Lynne & I quit yakking for the most part.  Before we knew it, we had done 10 miles and were back at camp for our final pulse down and vet check.  Rhio was once again below pulse criteria by the time we'd walked from the timer to the pulse lanes, so we pulsed down and headed to the trailer for a snack and to untack before presenting to the vets for our final check.  We passed our final check with all As, again with a CRI of 11/11, and on our trot out Rhio was surging ahead of me and tossing his head just as he did at the pre-ride check.  I was very, very happy with our conservative ride and finishing with a lot of horse left.  This was the best ride I've ever had on Rhio (our record is 2 novice rides, 4 LDs, and 1 50, so he's not all that experienced yet) and I am pleased that we had no back/saddle issues.  I also rode him completely barefoot, and that was not an issue either!  I am looking ahead to the next ride in two weeks and seriously thinking we can do the 50!

Lynne & Niso in the lead on Loop 2

First water stop on Loop 2

Having a snack after the 2nd water stop on Loop 2, about 2 miles from the finish

Bundled up against muscle cramping and eating a snack before presenting to the vets for our final check

I rounded out the afternoon with a nice nap, and then started vetting in Sunday riders before potluck.  Gesa & Paco looked great at their vet in, and Paco looked & acted like a veteran horse.  Potluck included a plethora of delicious dishes, and an appearance by a much-beloved veteran head vet, who was presented with a custom pair of jeans with flame-print fabric on the pockets & cuffs, in honor of last year's MnDRA 1 ride, where he stood too close to the fire and set his coat ablaze.  Lynne, Rhonda, Vicki, and Jodi all completed their LDs with flying colors, Jodi finishing 3rd on her young mare's first ride.

Upon our return to the truck after potluck, I discovered Kelso had eaten the blackberry-oatmeal muffins I'd made and the doughnut holes, as well as possibly some hamburger buns (we're not sure what happened to them, but they were definitely missing).  Bad dog!!!  It was an unpleasant night on my side of the tent, with excessive doggie gas emissions.  
Kelso with the evidence of his crime - the empty doughnut hole container!

And all too soon it was 5 am Sunday, and I was getting up to get Rhio walked and fed before starting the early morning vetting at 5:30.
Rhio looking fresh as a daisy the morning after our LD

Sunday's rides went well, with a large number of local riders showing up for the novice ride.  Gesa & Paco had a great time on their ride, and Paco looked great at his vet check.

Paco at the finish of the novice ride

Carmen checking Paco's pulse at the finish

By mid-afternoon we were ready to leave (despite some trailer-loading antics from Rhio - he seems to be getting worse instead of better!), and discovered that the front drop-down window wouldn't stay latched to the side of the trailer in the down position and also wouldn't stay latched in the up position!  A bit of baling twine and some duct tape fixed that, and we were on our way home, dirty, tired, and very, very happy.

You know you're a redneck if...you fix your horse trailer with baling twine & duct tape!

Both horses' number one priority upon being turned loose was a good roll in the dirt, then a drink, and then food.  Sounds a lot like my priorities - shower, dinner, and bed!  What a great start to our 2010 ride season!