Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Riding Red & Rhio

Post-ride snack
Yesterday, I rode Red about 8 miles in an hour and twenty minutes, just a simple out-and-back down the gravel road.  Today, I rode Rhio about 8 miles in a hour and twenty minutes, covering the same route.  The two rides were vastly different, though on paper they look virtually identical.

Red was forward, relaxed, and eager to go.  After our warm-up, he picked up his comfortable trot, between 7 and 8 mph, and just stayed in it, except for slowing to a walk for the downhills.  He was minimally spooky (yay!) and travelled pretty straight down the middle of the road (his preferred path), and we did the whole ride on a loose rein.  One of the things I love about Red is his complete ease with going out alone.  We march down the driveway from the barn with his ears up and nary a backward glance, despite the pony neighing to him.  He felt great the whole ride.

Rhio was lazy, dragging,  and asking to turn back for the farm at every opportunity for the first 3 miles of the ride; this is normal behavior for him and he complies easily when asked to continue forward, but does so at a slow trot while craning his neck around to the side to glance back and always with one ear back.  Once we hit the 3 mile mark, he no longer acts like he wants to turn around, but he is still not particularly motivated and I have to keep asking him to maintain a decent pace or he will slowly fade back to his slow trot.  He prefers the very edge of the road, but weaves back & forth from one side to the other.  Once we hit the turn around spot, though, his extra batteries kick in and he's off like a shot for home.  We compromise by alternating trotting (9 or 10 mph vs. his slow trot at 6 mph) and cantering, and he no longer weaves back and forth but makes a straight path down the edge of the road.  We still walk most of the downhills, and end up with the same average speed for the ride for both horses, though the execution of the ride is not at all similar.

It was interesting to compare the horses like this, and I wish I had put the heart rate monitor on each of them as well, so I could look at their working heart rates at Red's steady pace and Rhio's fluctuating one. Of course, Red is not as fit as Rhio and the humidity, especially, is more difficult for him to cope with.  I noticed that the veins under the skin on Rhio's neck pop out right away after only a little trotting, and Red's are never visible.  Both horses appear equally sweaty when we return, and neither was breathing hard nor seemed to have any difficulty recovering after the ride (although I didn't actually pulse them down to see - I know Rhio pulses down almost immediately and Red takes a bit, even if they were equally fit).

On both rides, I worked on posting both diagonals.  I prefer to post the left diagonal on both horses, and it feels strange to post the right diagonal.  I have been trying to concentrate on posting equally to both sides when I ride.  Red accepted my changing diagonals with no outward sign that it bothered him, but Rhio would either bounce me back to the left or break into a canter when I tried to post his right diagonal at his faster trot.  At a slower trot,  he did not care which diagonal I was on.

I'm glad to have gotten the boys both out for a nice conditioning ride before I leave on vacation for 6 days.  Our next competition is August 14 -15, so I'll only have about 10 days to work them when I get back before they'll be on their rest days pre-competition.  The farrier is coming right after my vacation and we will make another assessment on Rhio's hoof crack at that point.  There is a fairly large section that is loose, but it doesn't seem to be stressed by the exercise and it is clear that the heel section is going to stay intact - hooray!  He is always in boots now when I ride to protect that crack.  I sure hope I get to take him to the ride in August, but if not it will be fun to ride Red at a competition again.  Red's last season of competition was 2008.
Rhio says "Ahhh! I love to get dirty, especially after Mom just hosed me off." 

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Red exploring the temporary fencing paddock at Gesa's, post-Moose Mountain hill work.

Friday afternoon Gesa & I took Red to her house, and proceeded to make our way over to Moose Mountain for a little hill work.  Red was bold & happy to lead down the shoulder of the paved road, but had to skitter away from the terrifying cracks in the pavement, which were filled with black tar, and the random bits of trash here & there.  He is perfectly road safe in terms of the traffic but I worry that he may jump in front of a car someday to avoid a light patch of grass, or a kleenex, or something equally horse-eating.  

We surprised many deer on the way up the hill, including a doe with two little spotted fawns.  It is a thrill to feel Red's big engine kick in going up a hill, and we just glide on up.  I think he even enjoys it - he is definitely a hill horse.  At the top, we turned left to explore the power line in the opposite direction that we usually go.  We had some 4 wheeler tracks to follow, but also lots of rocks strewn about & hidden in the long grass and weeds, so the footing was a challenge.  We were rewarded for our efforts with some spectacular views of Lake Superior.

The horses did great with the challenging terrain, and got a good strength training workout.  Back at Gesa's, we settled the boys in together in a grassy paddock and I left Red for a "sleepover."  

Saturday morning, we loaded up for a trip to Dago Lake.  The forecast was for warm & humid weather, and we hoped for minimal bugs.  Upon arrival, we were the only rig there, but by the time we were tacked up, 2 more rigs had pulled in to ride.  We did find a lot of blueberry pickers parked willy-nilly along all the roads and I spent a lot of time drooling over the edge of my saddle as we trotted by laden bushes.

We put heart rate monitors on both horses, and Gesa tried my black Synergist (Rhio's old saddle), which fit Paco really well but she didn't like the seat too well.  We did about 9 miles on our first trek, mostly with Red leading at his big trot, and only encountered a few, very courteous ATVers.  I wonder what the traffic flying along I-35 at 75 - 80 mph thought about the two horses & riders trotting along the clear cut area right next to the highway?  There was actually a woven wire fence and occasionally a few trees between us and the grassy shoulder, but the horses didn't even bat an eyelash at the traffic.

We saw bluebirds and Monarch butterflies, and thoroughly enjoyed the narrower, more winding paths which cut across the grid pattern of off-road trails. The sand footing was nearly perfect, pretty well packed and with frequent puddles for drinking.  We may have given some frogs the scare of their lives when we walked through a large one and the little guys went swimming every which direction (oops, sorry little froggies!).

Back at the trailer, we took a snack break (hay for the boys and strawberries for us) and Gesa switched to the other Synergist that she has on trial right now.  It was interesting but not surprising to note that it took about 3 -4 minutes more for Red to pulse down than for Paco; both horses were very hot and had been sweating a lot but also drinking well from ponds & puddles, and they had essentially the same working heart rates in the 120 - 140 range.  With Red's heavier muscling and less conditioning this year, it was completely expected for him to hang with a higher heart rate for a few more minutes than Paco.

Red drinking from a pond.

As we finished up our rest stop, the clouds rolled in and thunder boomed in the not-too-far distance.  We debated, not wanting to ride in lightning, but also not wanting to stop short of our planned long ride.  So we decided to do a short loop that would bring us near to the parking area, and make another decision at that point.  It began to sprinkle, and then to rain, but the thunder & lightning held off and we did another 8 + miles looping around the same general area we'd ridden earlier but without repeating much trail.  We figured once we were wet, we might as well keep riding!  

Both boys did great all day, although Red did get muscle-tired in the last few miles and took a big stumble in a deeper section of sand, which I thought was going to result in one or both of us hitting the dirt, but I managed to stay balanced and out of his way and he recovered his footing.  We have some work to do to be ready for a potential 25 miler by August 14!  

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Back in training

Red is back in action! I first discovered some arthritis in his right hock last summer and injected it.  The same symptoms cropped up this spring, and I decided to inject both hocks this time.  He is finally back to total soundness, except for periodic episodes where his neck "thing" flares up.  He was diagnosed in 2007 with calcification in his neck, possibly from an old injury from when he was a youngster, which is outside the spinal column but can irritate the nerves where they emerge from the spinal cord to head down his left front leg.  This is at the base of his neck, between the 5th & 6th cervical vertebrae.  He was originally treated with a steroid injection into the area to control the inflammation of the nerves, which worked great but rendered him unfit for endurance competition, as we are not allowed to compete our horses with any drugs or medications in their systems.  I first started my acupuncture training in 2007 in the hopes that it would allow me to control the inflammation in his neck and keep us competing.  In 2008, the only treatment he received was biweekly acupuncture and we had our best season ever!  Since then, I treat him as needed, and have had great success.
Rhio's right front post-trim on 7-6-10.  You can see the heel part of the crack is to the ground surface now, so we may begin to lose chunks of hoof anytime. You can also see how perfect his coronary band and new hoof growth are - yay!  That means this is a this-season-only problem and not something we will continue to have to deal with once it's finally completely grown out. 

Since Rhio's hoof crack has reached a critical point, I do not know what is going to happen with him in the near future in terms of how much conditioning and/or competing he is going to be able to do.  I decided not to compete him at Mosquito Run last weekend because I don't want to overstress that hoof or have a larger chunk of hoof wall come off due to the rigors of competition.

Since Red is back to soundness, and will be legal to compete at our next ride in mid-August, I am embarking on a conditioning program for him so that he can truly be my backup horse and allow me to compete (only a 25 mile Limited Distance ride) even if Rhio is out.

Friday we rode 4 hours at Spirit Mountain, Monday we rode in the gravel pit doing hill work, and Tuesday we set off down the road with the intent to do about 8 - 9 miles of trotting.
Our home stretch of road, 1/2 mile along the shoulder of this paved (and really quiet) road, past a pond. You can see Red's left ear cocked toward the pond on our left, as we had just heard a mysterious shuffling sound followed by a "plop" into the water - I think a turtle hurried to safety.  This pond used to be home to some bullfrogs (though I haven't heard them there in a while), which, with their loud, guttural "Aou-ump" followed by a big splash as they jumped into the water, were positively *terrifying* for poor Red.  We would careen back & forth down this section of road from one shoulder to the other (thank goodness it is such a quiet road!) as the bullfrogs would sound off & splash on either side.

The pond, home to ducks and the occasional loon, plus many painted turtles and various frogs.

The gravel and the deer flies, however, had other plans for us and we completed only 6 miles, much of it at a walk.  Even with his front boots, he was still ouchy on the gravel on his bare hind feet and unwilling to trot after the first 3 miles or so.  There were at least 3 different types of "deer fly" type flies mobbing us anytime we got anywhere near any trees, so the only relief (despite a 15 mph breeze!) was in the totally open sunny areas of the road - which were also uncomfortably hot.  And, since he didn't want to trot, we couldn't move fast enough to get away from the buzzing monsters.  I broke a branch off a leafy tree and used it as a swatter, but we were still in danger of falling down as Red was so agitated by the flies, tossing his head, that he really wasn't paying any attention to where his feet were going.  He's a bit of a clumsy horse anyway, and with the added distraction of the flies, it just wasn't a good thing!

This road looks pleasant enough, but the sharp gravel & hordes of flies sent us home early.

It was a no-win situation.  Red was willing to continue, but neither one of us was enjoying ourselves, so enough was enough and we headed home.  We did stop at the other barn to pick up the old pair of Old Mac boots that Rhio wore over his foot bandage all winter and that I keep around for emergencies.  I put them on Red's hinds for the last mile home, and he was more than happy to stride along in his big trot once all his feet were protected.  They aren't very good boots for endurance, though, because they are large & clunky, and this set is nearly worn out.

Easyboot Epic on right front, Easyboot Bare on left front, and old-style Old Macs on both hinds. If any of his boot-wearing buddies saw him in this get up, he'd be embarrassed! 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

First too soft, then too hard

Red peeks out of his window

Last Friday, Gesa & I took the afternoon for a ride at Spirit Mountain.  We borrowed Carol's 2 horse straight load trailer, which both Red & Paco load readily into, and made the 45 minute drive to the ski trail parking area just off Skyline Drive, a 23 + mile scenic drive that traverses the length of the city with panoramic views of the St. Louis River, the harbor, the bridges, the city, Park Point, and Lake Superior.  This is the westernmost portion of the scenic drive, and is much less visited than the rest of it.  It is also a favorite trail riding destination for local horse people.  Today, there were 2 other rigs in the parking lot when we pulled in around 4pm.  

All ready to go!

Gesa has a used Synergist endurance saddle on trial which she was considering purchasing, so we were hoping to get some miles under our hooves, to give it a good testing.  We set off on the north side of the road, heading into the ski trail system.  Both horses were eager to go and after a little warm up at the walk, we set off at a nice trot, only to be abruptly forced to slow down for what turned out to be the first of many deep sucking mud patches.  The trails have been recently mown, so the mowed grass hides the footing beneath it in many spots, and without warning we would suddenly be fetlock deep in mud.  The horses didn't much care for this, and especially didn't like having to slog through the deeper, watery spots.  

This section of trail was at least 50% muddy spots and forced us to walk nearly all of it.

We struggled on, hoping it would improve.  We took the Bardon's Peak trail, emerging onto a point with a panoramic view of the St. Louis River winding its way into the Duluth Harbor and then Lake Superior.  The deep blue of the water reflecting the afternoon sun with the height of summer greenness in the trees and the city spreading out before us is always a pleasure to behold.

You can't really appreciate the view in this shot.

We finished that loop and decided to call the trails quits, as we were only rarely able to get out of a walk, and we both wanted to move out more.  The ski trails cross the road (this section of road is closed & unplowed in the winter), and we took the opportunity to head back to the trailer on firmer footing.  It soon became apparent, however, that the gravel was too sharp for Red to be comfortable trotting on it, and we were yet again forced to walk.  This is a new issue for Red, as usually I have only had to use hoof protection in the past because his hooves wore down too quickly with all the riding I did; being "ouchy" on gravel is not normally an issue.  I have to admit I was surprised and disappointed.  

The road

Gesa & Paco at the overlook

The view!

Fuzzy wuzzy!

We made it back to the trailer, and decided to head down the hill from the parking lot to the abandoned railroad grade to see if we could get some trotting in along it.  We picked our way carefully down the steep, rocky hill with Red in the lead.  I stay out of his way and let him pick his own route down this hill, and generally he does very well.  

Heading downhill onto the steep, rocky, technical section to get to the railroad grade.

I had the misfortune to experience a saddle-slipping incident, however, just as he lurched over a particularly difficult section, plopping off of him as the saddle hung sideways on his ribcage and landing on my bum right smack on a rock.  Ouch!  My breastcollar prevented the saddle from going under his belly, luckily, and he just stood there looking at me, as if to say, "Uh, what are you doing down there?"  Note to self: always check your girth before tackling technical trail!  

We proceeded down the hill to the railroad grade, and turned west to follow its course.  It was still too gravelly for comfortable trotting, and I am apparently afflicted with some memory impairment, as I kept thinking the footing was going to switch from gravel to dirt.  We kept going, eventually passing beneath the overlook on the road, and continuing about 4 miles total to the railroad tunnel.  The tunnel is passable on foot, but enough rock has fallen from the ceiling that riding through it is ill-advised.  It's a fun challenge to lead your horse through it, though, as it has a curve in the center and you can't see through to the other side.  We turned around without traversing the tunnel, and headed back.  It was well into evening at this point, as we had been walking the entire length of the railroad grade.  We had no choice but to walk back the way we'd come!  Red got progressively more reluctant to stride out, even at a walk, and I eventually dismounted and did the last several miles on foot.  

An unidentified canine-type skeleton on the railroad grade

We made it back to the trailer at about 9pm, which is still evening in the summer at this latitude (sunset was 9:03pm).  We didn't dawdle with getting the horses ready to load up, but it was still pretty much dark by the time we were heading home.  By the time we dropped Paco off, got Red home and the trailer unloaded & parked, it was after 11pm - whew!  That was an unexpectedly long day!   

And here is where I admit that my judgement should be somewhat questioned in regards to my choices this day. Red's feet were already sore, yet I opted to do another 8 miles of gravel.  It was already late when we started out, and I kept insisting that the tunnel was just ahead, let's keep going.  We were all a little weary and quite hungry by the time we returned to the trailer, and caused some undo stress to friends & family who wondered why we got home so late, but we had an adventure and no one got hurt (if you don't count the purple bruise on my bum from that rock I made unexpected contact with).  Spirit Mountain is always a beautiful place to ride.