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.
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!