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!