Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Loop

Rhio & I set off for our 12 mile loop this afternoon, booted all around for the fresh gravel.  We haven't had many solo rides this season, as I've been lucky enough to have many opportunities to ride with friends.  Last year we surmounted a big hurdle, learning to go out by ourselves, and I need to make sure we keep practicing this skill periodically!  Today he seemed not quite unwilling but not quite thrilled to be heading out by himself. It is always the first several miles down the road that are the most difficult, but once we pass some invisible barrier, he suddenly becomes focused on where we're going instead of where home is.  And it helps to be covering new territory, so today we did the loop "backwards," or at least in the opposite direction that we normally do.  

We have mostly road work on this long training loop - crossing over a busy two-lane road and down a stretch of narrow-shouldered road then we typically cut through the gravel pit to hit the ski & snowmobile trail.  The gravel pits were very busy today, with at least 6 trucks passing us in 1/4 mile, so we continued down the road to the water stop at the public access (Rhio didn't want to drink as we were only about 4 miles in to our ride), then crossed over to hit the snowmobile trail.  Many of our snowmobile trails are swampy or otherwise impassable for horses, but this section is about 2 miles of good footing, rolling hills, and so much fun to ride!

The view at the water stop

Fern-covered ski trail
(Rhio is wearing a fine mesh fly mask for the bugs, hence the dark color of his ears) 

The bugs were pretty ferocious, especially in the woods, but we travelled at a fast enough pace to outrun them most of the time.  We looped around the ski trail and did a portion of the snowmobile trail twice, although when we got to the deer trail that we take as a short cut through the gravel pit, Rhio took a hard left and I was barely able to correct back onto the trail before we had an up-close and personal encounter with a tree.  The trail is hard to spot, and I am not often able to anticipate where we cut through the woods, but Rhio knows *exactly* where it is and takes the turn on his own initiative every time.  Too bad sometimes we're not going that way!   

I am so grateful to have the opportunity to spend this time with such a beautiful, athletic, and willing partner.  These long solo rides are a very Zen-like experience for me; I live completely in the moment for the length of the ride, my mind is totally focused on the now, and we just go.  When we get back to the barn, I feel like I've been on vacation.  I am mentally relaxed and physically tired, and just feel so centered.  It's a definite cup-filler, Qi-booster, rejuvenate-the-soul kind of thing.  And I thank my ponies for the opportunity to experience this with them.  

Thursday, June 24, 2010


He is so stinkin' cute in Cricket's western bridle!!! 

Thursdays are supposed to be our day for doing in-hand work, but Kristi & I decided we really wanted to ride today.  So, we picked a few exercises from the Equine Fitness book and I decided to ride with a bit instead of the hackamore.  Rhio has been unhappy in snaffle bits in the past, so I tried Cricket's bit, which is a low-port solid curb with short shanks.  I couldn't believe how great he looked in Cricket's bridle!  And he was quiet & content with the bit immediately, so I hoped for success under saddle.  

My little western pony! 

We warmed up walking over some poles to loosen their backs, then trotted around the arena both directions, doing large circles at either end.  Rhio & I definitely need to work on our bending!  He was quite distracted and didn't enjoy being required to stay within the confines of the outdoor arena.  Kristi & Cody then did the warm-up at a canter, and I attempted to get Rhio to canter in the arena.  We have never succeeded before, and I initially got a really fast trot but eventually he did start to canter for me.  Kristi tells me that we did a very nice circuit of the arena in a counter-canter - who knew we could do that?!  Too bad it wasn't intentional, or organized, or controlled in any fashion...  We cantered a few more times, and only zoomed out of the arena once. 

The second exercise we did was a series of serpentines down the center of the arena, using poles to guide our figures.  Kristi & Cody were pros!  Rhio and I had a pretty dismal performance, but he was relaxed with the bit and never got tense or frustrated as he has in the past with a snaffle bit.

The outdoor arena with the poles laid out for our serpentine work.

We wouldn't have scored very high on execution marks today, but I was thrilled to have achieved two things: cantering in the arena and a happy, relaxed horse working with a bit not just a hackamore.  Go Rhio! 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Why, oh why, do you keep grading the road???

Gesa & April came over Sunday afternoon for a ride down the road, in an attempt to avoid the hordes of blood sucking, buzzing insects that have descended upon us & our poor horses since the rain finally stopped.  The road was considerably less buggy than the trails, but the local road grader has been going crazy on our road recently.  It's been graded 4 times in the past 2 1/2 weeks!  Every time he grades it, the gravel becomes so sharp that the horses can barely walk on it.  April was barefoot all around, and Red only has boots for his fronts, so was bare on his hinds.  Neither horse appreciated the footing at all, and we ended up walking the majority of our 9 mile trek.  Even so, by the time we got back, I had to do a fair amount of rasping on Red's hooves to clean up the chips and rough spots he acquired from the gravel.  Plus his right hock is pretty sore and although I gave him Bute before we rode, he was still off on it.  I'm planning to do his hock injection tomorrow or Friday, depending on when the supplies arrive.

Gesa & April headed down the driveway

The terrifying llama and its sheep at the "sheep farm hill."

Going down the road - enjoying the scenery if not the footing!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hoof Update

The lower part of the hoof is shiny because I applied a hoof sealant in an attempt to keep any bacteria out of the crack.  We have had lots of rain and therefore have lots of mud in the pasture, so I thought a little extra protection was a good thing. 

Rhio's latest farrier visit and our hoof crack/defect is nearly grown out at the heel.  We are hoping that when it hits ground level, the unaffected part at the heel stays intact while only the damaged hoof crumbles away.  It's really a wait-and-see right now.   The new hoof growing down from the coronary band looks perfect - but it is bulging out above the crack so that's another thing to keep an eye on.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Core Training

I have been reading and thinking about doing some cross-training, or alternate fitness building methods, with Rhio.  I worry about putting excessive miles on that don't really increase our fitness much, and the wear and tear those miles may cause to his joints and tissues.  Also, I have mostly hard-packed gravel roads to train on, which I fear cause excessive concussion forces over time, so I'd like to reduce the amount of time & miles we do on the road.  And, Rhio gets bored quickly and I want to keep our training fun and interesting for us both.  I know when I point him down the road and he balks, that we've been doing too much of that and it's time to change it up.

To that end, I bought a book called Equine Fitness by Jec Aristotle Ballou, which is filled with all sorts of exercises & stretches to increase your horse's fitness, strength, and flexibility.  I feel that many of the maneuvers in her book are a bit advanced for my & Rhio's level of dressage skill (a hair above nothing) but I aspire to be able to execute them.  I also recently read a short article on the Easy Care website (http://easycarenews.com/05-28-2010/articles/posture-and-performance-by-duncan-mclaughlin/) by Duncan McLaughlin entitled "Posture and Performance."  This article presents several simple in-hand exercises to strengthen your horse's core muscles and thereby strengthen his back & his ability to carry his rider, which is so important to our endurance horses which carry us for long distances.

Rhio is still "resting" (read: running, bucking, & playing in his pasture with his tail flying) from his 50 mile ride last Saturday, but I wanted to do something with him today that was useful, fun, and not mounted.  Kristi and I devised a short program with exercises from both sources, and got to "play" with our boys while hopefully deriving some physical & mental benefit as well.

We began with a hand walk on the road to a slight hill (about 5 minutes); at the hill, we asked our horses to lower their heads (engage their hindquarters & backs) and back about 4 steps, staying straight.  This is a deceptively difficult exercise and Cody struggled with the concept, but both horses accomplished several repetitions of this backing-up-a-hill exercise.  We then came into the outdoor arena and set up 2 obstacles: a "fan" and a series of cavaletti/ground poles.

Killian showing off the "fan"

Kristi & Cody walking the ground poles & cavaletti with several set up to higher levels - the horses had to look & step over according to height.  These cavaletti are quite close together to promote lifting those legs nice & high, engaging the core muscles to do so.

Kristi & Cody executing a spiral around the "fan" - we all knocked a lot of poles down doing this one!

Our final & most difficult exercise - these cavaletti are all set at the highest point yet still very close together, requiring the horses to step high to get over them - this exercise is called the "climb through."

Yes, I have short legs!  It's not the easiest exercise for us humans either!

It seemed like a worthwhile way to spend some quality time with our horses, as well as challenge them both physically and mentally.  Also, the weather was threatening rain, so we were nice & close to home in case of sudden downpours!  

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Fishing is Good When it Rains

Rhio's got the eating part down pat! 

It always rains at the Maplewood West ride, and this year was no exception!  This is one of my favorite parks to ride in Minnesota, but it's about a 5 hour trip from home, so I only get there once a year for the endurance ride.  Rhio and I were going with Jodi & Rhonda again, and we loaded up on a foggy, soggy, chilly Duluth morning, having checked the weather twice and packed lots of extra dry clothes!  The trip was uneventful and we pulled into our reserved camping spot at the tip of the tear drop loop - our friends DeAnne, Jutta, & Donna from North Dakota were already parked across the way and Deb was going to join us on our site - cozy but good for socializing!

I didn't get to ride this ride last year, as I was vetting all weekend.  This year, the ride manager found a new vet who was interested in giving it a whirl, so I was able to share the vetting duties with another vet/rider and we each got to ride one day & work one day - what a great arrangement!  All three of us worked getting horses vetted in Friday night, and Donna was gracious enough to bring Rhio up to be vetted in for me.

Saturday morning dawned cloudy & humid, but not yet raining.  Rhio and I were doing the 50 miler, riding with our buddies Tracy & Diego.  Start time was 7 am, and our first loop was to be 25 miles.  This is a new trail layout for this ride, and gave us a 3-loop 50 (25 miles, 13 miles, and 12 miles) instead of a typical 4-loop 50.  I thought the trails were great - well marked and easy to follow.  Although we covered a lot of the same ground throughout the day, it was pieced together differently on each loop and sometimes we went the opposite direction over a section of trail that we'd been on earlier.  We never got bored!

Tracy & Diego leading the way down one of the least steep of the grassy hills

I'd decided to start the ride completely barefoot and see how the footing was before deciding whether or not to boot for the second half of the ride.  There are some really grassy hills we traverse, and I know from experience that wet grass, either from dew or rain, is very, very slippery in boots - so I wanted to avoid the dewy grass (there wouldn't be much I could do about avoiding rain-wet grass, but I'd cross that bridge when I came to it!).

We started well after the rest of the pack, making sure they were out of sight before ambling towards the trail head.  We left camp at a walk but not for long - Rhio took the lead and set a nice 10 mph pace.  We cruised along on a completely loose rein, definitely a first for us, and negotiated the footing with no issues.
Photo courtesy of Bob (I don't know his last name)
Coming into the boat landing water stop

About the time we hit the boat landing on the first loop, the rain started and I was glad I'd tied my rain jacket on the back of the saddle.  Rhio preferred to drink from the numerous mud puddles on trail, and didn't care too much for the boat landing as a watering hole.  He was content to stand in the water and cool his legs a bit, though, so I couldn't complain.  Diego amused himself by vigorous pawing and playing in the water.   One of the other rider's husbands was at the boat landing with buckets of water available for those horses that didn't like the lake - how nice!  He was there all three times we came through the boat landing.
Photo courtesy of Bob

photo courtesy of Bob
Diego's water antics

We completed the first loop in about 3 hours, which was a nice pace.  We had to walk past our trailer & camp to get to the timer & vet area, which Rhio didn't think was the best plan, but we were able to come back to relax for our hour hold.  Luckily the rain stopped for the entire length of our hold - which made getting him fed and actually taking care of myself much more pleasant.  I debated about putting on a dry shirt, but decided against it because the shirt I was wearing was a synthetic "performance" fabric and all my other shirts were cotton.  I was also hoping the rain was actually done, but that didn't turn out to be the case!
Rhio relaxing at our hour hold

We left for the second loop and discovered that the rain and the horses ahead of us had turned certain sections of the trail into mud slip-n-slides.  We let the boys pick their pace, and they automatically slowed to a walk where they needed to, then picked the trot back up as they could.  Many of the grassy areas are so tall that the horses barely need to lower their heads to grab a bite - so both horses made the most of every opportunity and grabbed snacks on the fly.  We picked our way carefully through some muddy sections, were able to move out nicely on the gravel access roads, and were happy that the horses continued to drink at almost every available puddle or pond.  We did have some distractions on this loop, as the fishing public was out en force on this rainy Saturday and Rhio was fascinated with all the boats - standing staring at them instead of drinking at several water stops.  My Dad always says the fishing is good when it rains, and that was apparently the case!  We also ran into several individual and pairs of hikers.
Rhio enjoying the smorgsaboard of delicious greens

The horses paced very well together, and changed roles leading and following pretty regularly, and I think maybe of their own choosing!  I don't actually remember deciding who was going to lead most of the time - we just travelled in whatever order our horses chose.  Diego seemed to enjoy rubbing his head on Rhio's tail, and even wore Rhio's tail as a decorative boa once, and Rhio, my boy who doesn't like anyone close to his rump, was completely at ease with it all.

The trails are a mixture of packed dirt or sandy improved trails through the hardwood forest, with some rocks scattered in but not "rocky," gravel access roads and gravely areas of improved trail, and grassy open prairie areas. This area of Minnesota is filled with small depressions (lakes, ponds, potholes) that hold water and rolling hills around them, left over from the glacial period.  I think there's a specific geologic term for this landscape, but I don't know what it is (despite living for 4 years with a geology major for a roommate in college!).  It looked to me like they are doing some prairie maintenance in the park, as we rode through at least one area that had clearly been burned this spring.
One of the many pretty flowers in bloom

I didn't take very many pictures because it was so rainy, but this gives a sense of the landscape.

The rain continued through the entire second loop, and slowed us down considerably as we negotiated the slippery areas very carefully.  It was very quiet during the rain - no bird song, no wildlife sightings, no wind in the trees - and the pattering of the rain in the leaves was almost too relaxing, as I started thinking about napping!

By the time we returned to camp for our second hold of 40 minutes, the rain had quit and the sun came out, heating things up quickly.  I'd had my sponge on my saddle all day, but the natural sponging effect of the steady rain meant I hadn't even unclipped it until our third stop of the day at the boat landing.  Diego was "sponging" himself in the lake, so Rhio & I availed ourselves of the buckets for a good drink and some sponging.

Close to the finish we had a deer come barreling down the trail on course for a head-on collision, but it executed a beautiful sliding stop, spun off into the woods, and was gone.  Rhio was leading at that point, and never even wavered in his stride.  We crossed the finish line with 8 hours of ride time, which I was pleased with.  We never pushed the horses all day, took it carefully through the slippery & mucky sections, and both finished with happy horses.

Rhio looked great at the end, and I spent some timing sponging him down to get the mud & sweat off at the end before presenting for our completion exam.  We'd done the whole 50 miles barefoot!  He had a little bit of soreness in his shoulders - I assume from the combination of hills and slippery footing - but his back was great and his feet looked great, too.

I settled him in to the trailer with his beet pulp mash and wrapped his legs with a new wrap I've just gotten called "Cold Flex."  It's a bandage meant to cool the lower extremities via evaporation, and seemed to work nicely.  I still got a little stocking up overnight (he wore the bandages for about 3 hours after the ride then was bare-legged overnight), which is pretty normal for him, especially as he lays down to sleep much of the night.  His right front leg, the leg with the hoof injury from the winter, stocks up the most and I have to wonder if it's related to the different weight bearing in that foot currently.  He doesn't show any heat or soreness in the leg, so for now I am just watching that leg after all our rides, training and competition.
Rhio with his mash and his Cold Flex wraps

We had a fabulous spread at potluck, and nearly finished awards before the down pour started.  I walked Rhio in the rain, letting him graze a lot, and finished up the nightly chores drenched to the skin. Boy did my dry clothes & dry bed feel fantastic when I finally crawled into them!  The rain stopped just at sunset, and although a thunderstorm rolled through nearby, we got only the sound-and-light show without any more precipitation.
A very dramatic sunset

Sunday morning Rhio was looking chipper, trotting a few circles around me as I walked him before starting the morning vetting-in of newly arrived horses and horses which had competed on Saturday (we require them to vet in the morning of their 2nd ride instead of the night before).  Vetting went smoothly, and I even had a chance to go shopping at Teddy's Running Bear mobile tack trailer; she stopped here for the weekend on her way to the Ft. Howes ride in Montana next weekend.  I think I feel about racks of rainbow-colored biothane tack what other women feel about shoes!  Drool, drool!  I restrained myself, coming home with only a new pair of SSG riding gloves and a human electrolyte to try for myself.

The weather was beautiful all day Sunday, and we had all riders in and accounted for by 2:30 pm, just in time to head home to arrive before dark.  We topped off the weekend with the traditional Dairy Queen stop, and got home around 7 pm.  I got my wet stuff unpacked & hung to dry, jumped in the shower, and watched Rhio enjoying his freedom in the pasture for the evening before falling into bed, tired and happy!

I am very proud of my little Rhio, now with two 50 mile completions (and two ribbons - tied with Tracy for 5th heavyweight this ride!) and to feel that he was entirely capable of what I was asking him to do was really wonderful.

To see lots of ride photos taken by a rider's husband (Bob but I don't know his last name!), see this link: http://picasaweb.google.com/kaleidobob/MaplewoodWest2010#