Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Monday, August 23, 2010

Many Levels of Frustration

Getting ready for a solo ride today, I discovered that both of the Renegade boots I used on Rhio's fronts are beginning to split at the outer edge where the sole meets the sides - and his left front, uninjured, hoof is quite a lot larger now than it apparently used to be.  It has been a very wet summer, and I wonder if this has contributed to hoof softness, and therefore flaring.  I can see some flaring, but I would think with religious every-three-weeks trimming, this should be totally under control!  I did a little rasping but had to use Red's Epic on the left front.  I will be happy to put Rhio back into shoes next summer - the boots aren't working all that great for us :(  

Rhio was extremely reluctant to leave, and all the extra time working on feet & boots, meant we weren't headed down the road until close to noon - hot sun blazing down, humidity at 74% (stifling), and an unhappy horse didn't bode well for our ride.  Rhio was dragging his feet, literally and figuratively, and my frustration level crept up with each stride.  

View of hayfields along the southern portion of Church Rd.

Church Road's namesake church.

At a snail's pace, we made it to Church Road.  Hoping to encourage him by varying our normal route, we turned left instead of right.  This route takes us along an avenue of fruit trees, currently laden with ripe apples, crab apples, and some type of cherry (I think).  We enjoyed the view, turned around at the church, and stopped for a freshly-picked apple treat (Rhio says yum!).  Of course, going home made the reluctant Rhio raring to go and instead of toe-dragging and urging, I had cantering forwardness.  Ah, Rhio!   

Yummy apples.

Post-ride boot cleaning. 

Difficulty in the Gravel Pit

All these pictures are post-difficulty.  Christine & Tomas did not have the best of rides, and her wrist/hand is now sporting a handsome brace to show for their bonding time together.  Argh!  We attempted to do a little hill work, but Tomas threw a bucking fit as he was cresting the first hill and Christine was unceremoniously dumped.  She's one tough cookie, got right back up and we came around to do the hill again.  No more bucking, but he was definitely not happy about doing the work of climbing the hill.  Conveniently, the equine body worker is already scheduled for Wednesday, and I'll follow up his therapy with some acupuncture.  Hopefully, we'll get Tomas straightened out and Christine's injury will heal quickly.  

The pond scum which the ponies actually thought was tasty.

Tomas sampling the scum.  Ewww! 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lucky 13

Friday the 13th dawned misty & humid - and with the stench of skunk hovering in the thick air.  My big dog Killian got a direct hit, and I was already on the road to get our gear situated in Jodi's rig, ready to head out.  I felt terrible, but I had to leave Kristi & Christine to deal with the stinky boy.

Gesa & Paco swung in to pick up Red, and take the boys over to Jodi's to meet up with her.   In the 7 miles or so between her place & Red's barn, Gesa's tailgate had sprung open, smashing into the crank on the hitch and pretty much destroying the tailgate.  So far, a great start to Friday the 13th!

We got to the little town of Frazee, MN mid-afternoon and settled in for a great weekend at Thistle Down Run.  All our buddies from North Dakota rolled in with their rigs, and we lined up all in a row.  I haven't been to this ride for the past couple of years due to scheduling conflicts.  It is the only Minnesota ride run exclusively on private property.  Camping is in several pasture areas, and the ultimate luxury - no dragging manure around in a sled!  All we have to do is scatter it.

our trailers all lined up
We registered for our rides on Saturday - we were all riding in the 25 mile Limited Distance division - and were given a black embroidered cap as a memorial to the previous landowner host, affectionately known to one and all as "The Cowboy."  He passed away last year, and his daughter provided the hats to all riders as a way to remember her dad and how much he loved having the ride on his land.

We got the horses vetted in - lucky number 13 on Red's butt, organized all our ride gear to be ready for our early morning wake-up (I'm NOT a morning person!), attended the rider's meeting (complete with visual aids for trail marking: orange = out, yellow/blue combination = in for both loops), and enjoyed a potluck supper with our buddy group. Dogs Salma (Australian Shepherd), Ben (Golden Retriever), and Ellie (Springer Spaniel) did their best sad puppy dog eyes impressions and scored a few tidbits. We crawled into bed and lay awake listening to DeAnne's mare Bella and Jutta's gelding Gandolph nickering & carrying on like a couple of hormone-laden teenagers.  The markedly strange thing about this is that Bella is spayed, and Gandolph is a gelding, so there should be no hormones!  They eventually had to put the two in separate pens so we could all get some sleep.

Gandolph & Bella before they were separated - looking all peaceful here, but it was just an act! As soon as sun went down, their relationship started heating up...
Gesa & I planned a late exit from camp, as Red has always been hyper at the start of a ride and we wanted Paco to have a calm start at his first LD.  Our plan worked beautifully as we exited camp about 10 minutes after trail opened, and were able to walk out on a loose rein.  This is the first time that Red has ever walked out of camp on a loose rein at the start! We both chose to start the ride barefoot, with our hoof boots waiting at camp if we felt we needed them.  The beginning of the ride skirts the edges of a large hayfield, and I knew the grass would be wet & slippery at dawn - I have had issues in the past with boot traction on wet grass, so we didn't want to chance it.  Also, I didn't want to catch sight of horses ahead of us at the start, hoping to keep Red from doing his freight train act and pulling my arms off; we succeeded on both counts - no slipping on the wet grass and calm, happy horses heading out on trail!  We ducked into the woods pretty quickly, and the rest of the first loop consisted of mostly single track trail in the woods with some logging roads and a little bit of distance along the grassy hill beside Hwy 10.  It was a beautiful and challenging trail with lots of twists and turns - we had to stay alert not to miss any ribbons! Red & I occasionally had minor disagreements about which way to go, resulting in a few near-misses with tree trunks, but managed to stay on track.  Silly boy thinks he knows where we're going, but last time I checked he wasn't too good at telling the orange ribbons from the yellow ones!

Gesa & Paco at the very beginning of Loop 1

The view along the highway
Heading up the powerline
The week prior to the ride had been incredibly hot and humid, so we were relieved to wake Saturday to much less humidity, a nice light breeze, and a forecasted high in the 70s.  Perfect riding weather! Both Gesa & I rode with heart rate monitors to keep an eye on the boys - those heart rates sure climbed on some of those hills! It wasn't a trail that lent itself to hitting a steady pace, so we had many gait and pace changes throughout the loop, but their heart rates remained within their normal ranges.  We appreciated that extra level of information to ensure that the new horse who had never travelled this distance before and the veteran who might not be in as good a shape as he thought he was were doing just fine.  I carried my sponge and used it at water stops, since Red is more heavily muscled than Rhio and it shows in his pulse-downs.  I expect him to take about 5 minutes to get to criteria, whereas Rhio is usually down as soon as we've walked from the timer to our buckets.  We hadn't practiced with the sponge in a while, and he acted like an old pro - not at all concerned about it dropping into the water next to his head or being drawn back up to my hand dangling in the air.  These are skills that Rhio needs more work on! It was really great to be riding my old pro again.

Because we'd come in off Loop 1 a little bunched up with other riders, we spent a few extra minutes on our hold, letting DeAnne & Jutta get out on trail ahead of us enough that we wouldn't be right on their tails the entire loop.  I much prefer to ride in a pair and stay in a little window of space on the trail so we're not getting jammed up with larger groups of riders.  Our strategy worked, and although we caught sight of them several times, we were never close enough for our horses to try to surge ahead to catch them.  Loop 2 was positively delightful - circling and crossing cattle pastures, hayfields, and cow paths in the woods.  Again the woodsy trails were full of twisty-turny fun, and the views across the rolling hills of the pastures & fields were lovely.  One section crossing a field looked like a slalom course weaving between monstrous chest-high thistle bushes (you don't need to wonder where they came up with the name Thistle Down Run!) - Red & I didn't always assume we were following the same path around the prickly plants and I'm pretty sure we lost major style points on our execution!  But we managed to cross unscathed and continue on to a tasty mud puddle for a slurp, when, lo! What's that black thing in the woods?  It's a BULL!  He didn't seem to mind our presence at all, but he sure was a big guy - and only about 10 yards off the trail.

The main water stop on this loop is a stock tank with a float valve and a squeaking pump that comes on when the water level drops.  The boys were pretty interested in this moving, noisy thing, but Red dove in to drink the water anyway, keeping a watchful eye on it.  Paco was a little more suspicious, but did decide it was safe enough to drink.  We got to visit the tank twice - the first time through the pump was already running, and the second time it was quiet.  We were glad it didn't turn itself on while we were there - that might have just been too much.
The scary pump - you can see the water flowing into the tank on the left hand side. The whole thing was squeaking and the vertical pieces were moving up & down.

Thirsty but keeping a close eye on the scary pump
We came out of the trees for the last time to see Henry, ride photographer extraordinaire, stationed on his ATV to snap our photos.  Yay!  I love to have photos of my horses in competition, and I was especially pleased that Gesa would have photos of her & Paco at their very first 25 miler.

Photo courtesy of Henry Gruber.

Photo courtesy of Henry Gruber.
We came in, pulsed down, vetted out, and we were done!  Our actual trail time according to my GPS was 3 1/2 hours total - our official ride time will be about 25 or 30 minutes more than that because we left late on both loops.  Neither of us had worried at all about our time or placing - our goal was a fun, safe ride within the abilities of our horses, and we achieved that!
Gesa & Paco after completing their first 25 miler!
We spent the afternoon eating, drinking, and being merry with friends new & old.  Everyone in our group completed their rides, and had a great time.  We let our horses relax & eat, occasionally taking them out for a stroll to keep them from stiffening up, until potluck & awards rolled around.  At potluck, Gesa & I both won door prizes (Chapstick!), gathered our completion awards (I chose a MnDRA pint glass to round out my set of 4, Gesa chose a MnDRA t-shirt), and cheered for our fellow riders.  It started to rain, and the wind picked up, so we put rain sheets on the boys, filled their hay & water for the night, and crawled, both exhausted and exhilarated, into our beds for the night.

The boys relaxing after the ride. Red likes to eat a little, then have a nice nap before continuing to eat.
Yummy!  Knee-deep alfalfa to munch!
The gang relaxing.
Photo courtesy of Henry Gruber.
Door prize winners (I'm in the plaid shirt & Gesa is next to me in the denim shirt).
Photo courtesy of Henry Gruber.
Sunday morning dawned early again for a few of our group who were riding again - Jodi, Jutta, and Missy (who'd rolled in about 1:30am Friday night and chose to ride Sunday instead of Saturday) - but I slept in and happily roused well after the sun was up.  Of course, the first thing I do is check my pony - only to discover he's covered in hives!  Luckily his rain sheet and thick mane kept the hives restricted to his neck, chest, and thin strips of his thighs not covered by the sheet.  Poor Red!  I have no idea what kind of insects they were, and none of the other horses had reacted, but my boy looked awful and was pretty itchy.  We walked & hand grazed the boys, then started packing up while Jodi & Rana were completing their weekend with another first place finish - go girls!

Oh, poor boy!
Scratching his itchy neck.
The ride home was uneventful, we made our traditional Dairy Queen stop (mint oreo blizzard for me!), and poor Paco whinnied forlornly as he & Gesa drove away and Red enjoyed a long drink and a good roll in the pasture.

It was a fabulous weekend.  I was thrilled to ride Red again in competition, and despite his hives, he clearly thoroughly enjoyed himself.  Gesa & Paco did great at their first ride and I'm pretty sure I've got her hooked on the sport.

Thistle Down Run 2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

Gold Star

Kathy & Stormy on left, Gesa & Paco on right
One day last week we planned our last significant conditioning ride before Thistle Down Run next weekend, and Gesa's new boarder Kathy & her Quarter Horse mare Stormy came along.  We made the quick trek up the road to Boulder Lake; we haven't ridden there since May because it is typically horrendously buggy, but we thought we'd take our chances.  We were thrilled with few bugs (a sprinkling of pesky deer flies would bother the lead horse, but the followers were safe) and excellent footing, despite all the rain we've been receiving.  Red & Paco really needed to put on some decent trotting miles, but Kathy was willing to ride alone if it didn't work for her mare to move out at the speed & distance we were planning to do - so we set off through the trails at a walk to warm up. 

Red anticipates the trail ahead
Red was happy to lead, and set a nice trotting pace which Stormy had no trouble maintaining.  All three horses seemed comfortable together, and after the first few miles, Red was willing to give up the lead, and we switched places often.  Kelso ran along with us, with his bell on so all the horses knew where he was, and was happy to take a break when we came around to the lake the first time.  None of the horses drank from the lake either time we approached it, but both Stormy and Red dove into several mud puddles on trail and sucked them nearly dry.  That is something Paco will have to work on for the endurance trail! 

Kelso cooling off in the lake
After completing our loop in the "normal" direction, we turned around and did it again "backwards," so the horses got almost 14 miles of conditioning in 2 hours, mostly trotting with a little walking and some cantering, too.  Kathy & Stormy had no trouble at all maintaining our pace for the duration of the ride, and both earned a great big gold star in my book.  By the end of the ride, Gesa and I had started working on Kathy to sign up for a novice ride at Thistle Down (unfortunately not going to work out) - and to think about doing an LD at Point Chaser, the last MN ride of the year in October.  Hopefully we can get them to come to that one!  They both appeared to have enjoyed themselves immensely.  And Gesa & Paco, and I & Red loved having new, compatible training partners.  

Kathy & Stormy

Gesa & Paco, with Kathy, Stormy, & Kelso bringing up the rear

Sunday, August 1, 2010


A few weeks ago I spied a likely looking ski trail system about 45 minutes drive north of the farm, while I was on a successful quest for wild blueberries.  Today, Gesa & I had the opportunity and, according to the radar on the NOAA website, enough time before the rain and thunderstorms moved in to go explore.

Number of fabulous outhouses: 1

Number of uncrossable bogs: 1

Number of replanted clear cuts with beautiful views: 1

Number of lobster mushrooms viewed from horseback: probably at least 30

Number of times I lead us cross-country bushwhacking: 1

Number of eskers (glacier-related geological feature) we climbed & descended: 2

Number of scratches from low-hanging branches: uncountable 

Number of Easyboots lost (and then found): 1

Number of happy humans & hungry horses after 8 miles of fun: 4

The Thrills

happy riders return!

Friday morning I brought Red over to be Kristi's mount and we set off on the long loop.  This would be Kristi's first time on the long loop, and her first time riding Red.  I was thrilled that she was interested in taking one of my horses out - makes my job of getting/keeping two horses in shape a lot easier if they both get ridden together!  I'm not sure what she expected from a conditioning ride with me - but I think she found it both fun and challenging.

Both horses were booted on all four feet, sporting four different types of boots.  The road has yet again been recently graded so the footing is rather poor (sharp loose gravel scattered on the surface) and boots are definitely the way to go.  I think even a horse shod in steel shoes may have trouble with this road surface in its current state.

Rhio was fairly unmotivated and wanted to proceed at his slow (uncomfortable to ride) trot, but was happy to lead and didn't really want Red to pass him.  Red moved out well for Kristi and was totally relaxed.  We headed down our road, up the minimum maintenance road, and then continued west along the wide shoulder & rideable ditch along Normanna Road with no issues.  The UPS truck passed us back and forth a couple of times, but the driver was very considerate and slowed way down.  Neither horse even batted any eyelash at the truck, but we appreciated his care nonetheless.  Once across Rice Lake Road, we admired a pair of adorable and harmlessly ferocious bulldogs and continue on to the snowmobile trail.  At this point, Rhio really perked up and we took the back trail to loop around to the snowmobile trail mostly at a canter / hand gallop.  I'm pretty sure my comment, "This is my favorite part!" before zooming off didn't do much to settle any butterflies in Kristi's stomach, but I was thrilled to know she was on Red, whom I can trust to not misbehave and keep up with us without any trouble.  It's always fun to take other people out and give them a taste of how and where I love to ride, but when I am not sure about their horses' mental or physical abilities to cope with the trail and the speed, I have to hold back a little (safety first!).  This ride was a no-holds-barred romp in the woods without the slightest worry about what was going on behind me.  I knew Kristi was a great rider and Red would just do his job, so we could fly! The 10 or so miles of road riding are completely worth it just to do the 2 - 3 miles on these trails.  What a blast!
Kristi & Red - Look! No Hands!
We all-too-soon exited the woods and headed home along the road, with a quick water stop for the horses and a new-found spring in Rhio's step.  We were going home!  I had one big spook to the side from Rhio when he suddenly caught sight of some white spray paint on the pavement, but otherwise the boys know their jobs and away we go. Red got into his big trot and Kristi went flying past us with a grin on her face.  Not to be outdone, but also not as fast a trotter, Rhio & I cantered to keep up with (and then pass!) Kristi & Red.  Our overall time for the 12 mile loop was a little slower than I typically like to do it, but we all had a great time.  It was great to watch Red move and see him be such a good boy for Kristi.

I rode Red the last mile home (so he did about 14 miles total) and got a couple of spooks, including one major one that nearly unseated me when a turtle splashed into the pond as we trotted past.  I tell him that they are more afraid of him than he is of them, but I don't think he believes me!