Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Last Hurrah (Point Chaser 2010 - Part 1)

End of loop 2, 50 miler
This is it.  The final ride of the MN distance season has come and gone. It was a great weekend of many miles and memories to tide us over the long winter till May.

Point Chaser is a 3-day ride, and I actually had the opportunity to go for the entire weekend.  Given that, I planned to ride the 50 on Friday, take Saturday as a rest day, and then ride the 30 Limited Distance on Sunday.  Rhio & I have never competed more than one day in a weekend before, and this was his first competition since June, so I wanted to maximize our chances of completing the 80 miles.

Start of loop 2, 50 miler
I started him on beet pulp about two weeks before the ride, so his hindgut would be used to digesting it, and added a small amount of alfalfa pellets starting several days before the ride, as a yet another source of readily-digested fiber and also for its calcium content.  Calcium is an essential electrolyte for muscle activity, and also can help buffer the acidic stomach environment to reduce the chances of ulcers developing.  Rhio has been prone to very loose manure at rides in the past, and I hypothesize he may be one of the many horses that develops some stomach ulceration with stress.  He also gets plain salt and a prebiotic/probiotic powder starting the Monday before the ride and throughout the ride (I replace the salt with a balanced electrolyte powder the day before the ride).  I only give e-lytes in his beet pulp mashes, and he eats it readily.  So far, this strategy has worked well for us.  At the ride, he gets as much hay as he wants, plus the beet pulp + alfalfa pellets + a handful of senior feed + electrolytes + probiotic mixture morning, night, and at every vet check.  Three of us travelled together for this ride (myself, Jodi, and Gesa), so there were three different hays for the horses.  They all seemed to prefer Gesa's hay!  Rhio's normal ration at home is hay (or pasture) plus a handful of "lite" pellets twice a day, and a vitamin E - selenium supplement.  So far, he hasn't need much in the way of extra feed for his endurance endeavors. And this strategy seemed to work well, as he did not develop the extremely loose manure than he has in the past.  Of course, other factors come into play as well, so it's hard to say if it's the change to his feed plan for rides or not.

Somewhere on the first loop
Point Chaser is held at St. Croix State Park in Hinckley, MN - about a 2 hour drive from home.  It's a nice horse camp with high lines, some corrals, and a building with electricity, bathrooms, hot showers, picnic tables, and 2 fireplaces.  The trails are flat, wide, and mostly grassy.  There are also multiple bridges to cross.  Due to AHA Nationals being cancelled, among other things, many more people wanted to come to the ride than had camping reservations.  There was a significant amount of frustration on the part of ride management, park staff, and competitors, but eventually most everyone was accommodated somehow.  We started with our horses sharing a highline with a friend's 2 horses, but ended up with Rhio & Paco sharing a corral (they're about 16' by 10').  The corrals do not have gates, and luckily we had a long rope in the trailer with which to pen them in.  I was slightly nervous as Rhio has a history of crawling out of non-electric fences, but decided with plenty of hay in front of him and his buddy to hang with, he'd probably be ok.  Thank goodness I was right!  It is always a relief in the morning to crawl out of bed and find your horse right where you left him.

Thursday night got very, very cold with a full moon and shining stars.  I was snug in my mummy bag in the trailer, and Rhio was snug in his layered polarfleece plus sheet.  There was ice in the water in the morning, and as we headed out just after sunrise into a frosty dawn, I discovered that water bottles can freeze while in my pommel pack and riding as a fast clip.  They were definitely NOT frozen when I put them in there in the morning, but the first time I tried to drink I discovered a healthy amount of ice in the bottle!  Someone said it was 22 degrees just before dawn.  I wasn't dressed as perfectly as I could be, but as long as we kept moving out I was fine.  I got chilled when we slowed to walk or graze the horses.  It took a long time for the sun to feel warm, but by the afternoon I'd shed a few layers and it had turned into a lovely day.

Early in the first loop - a good spot to let the horses graze some of the frosty grass
We started out with our buddies Tracy and Diego (we did our last ride with them too), and rode the whole day with them.  Diego didn't want to leave camp and Rhio wanted to catch all the horses we'd let go out of camp ahead of us (most all of the other 50s) - so the start was a bit more intense than I like.  Rhio gave a couple of little crow-hops, but no major tantrum.  I did ride most of the first 3 - 4 miles with a VERY firm grip on those reins, though - not the easy, relaxed way Rhio usually goes, but I guess somewhat normal for the start of an endurance ride, especially one that was so crisp & invigorating.  It seemed that everyone had more horse than normal this day!

With Tracy & Diego, finishing loop 2
Both horses were completely barefoot, and our first (and longest) loop of about 24 miles included a fair amount of gravel road.  Rhio didn't seem to mind it as long as he could stay on the edge of the road.  Everything was covered in dry, crunchy leaves and trotting through them created quite a noise; whatever wildlife may have been around to see in the early hours definitely found somewhere else to be when it heard us coming!  It was so loud it made conversing quite difficult.

We ran into two potentially difficult situations on the first loop, both of which turned out fine.  The first was a particular bridge with a rubber matting over it (to protect the wood from snowmobile tracks with studs, I presume).  This bridge was completely frosted up, and I made a dumb choice and did not dismount to lead Rhio across.  He willingly walked onto the bridge, but almost immediately started scrambling with all four hooves unable to gain any traction at all.  There was absolutely nothing I could do, so I did my best to stay centered & balanced, and out of his way, so he could hopefully cope with the situation.  He did a marvelous job, staying calm and getting us safely across the bridge. Whew!  Good boy, Rhio!

Crossing the big bridge for the first time, on loop 1
The second situation was really a non-situation - a tractor came up to and passed us along a gravel road, and was then working on the trail we were supposed to take.  A misplaced beaver dam caused some flooding earlier in the year, and the trail had been rebuilt, but the heavy equipment used to do so had left deep ruts in the trail.  The tractor guy was smoothing the ruts out when we had to pass him, but the horses didn't mind at all and he even turned his engine off.

The last few miles of the loop are two-way trail, and also the end of the 2nd loop for the 30 milers.  We were unlucky enough to arrive to this section during a high-traffic time, and Rhio was once again difficult to rate and not paying attention to anything but those horses ahead of him.  We had several people blow past us, which wasn't helpful at all.   This is a very frustrating situation for me, as it is not much fun to ride a rocket poised to blast off at any minute.  He shakes his head and swings his neck around incessantly and I can feel him throwing us off-balance.  I am afraid that we will fall sometime because of these antics, but if I let him go, which is what he wants, then we're racing down the trail too fast.  I even got off and hand-walked (with him spinning around me in circles) for a while, which helped a little, until I got back on.  And all this was at the end of the 24 mile loop - I guess 24 miles isn't enough to settle him down AT ALL!

Our first hold was one hour, and we were down as soon as we came in, so were able to get our pulse and head back to the trailer to relax immediately.  We had exit exams with CRIs all day, so headed back to the vets and had to wait in line to vet through.  Our turn came, and Rhio looked fresh as a daisy with a CRI of 11/10.  Off we went on loop two, about 11 miles long.  I was about 4 minutes late getting out because of the wait at the vets, and Tracy & Diego had headed out at a walk waiting for us to catch up.  Rhio knew they were up there somewhere, and the ride photographers got some great shots of him as he was totally focused on finding them.  

Heading out to catch Diego on loop 2
Diego gave Tracy a couple of big spooks throughout the day, including one self-inflicted when Tracy pulled an overhanging branch down and it fell off, smacking Diego in the rump.  She managed to hang on - to his ear!  After hanging there in space for what seemed like forever, she realized there was no way she could get back into the saddle from her position and allowed herself to drop to the ground.  It probably didn't help that we were both laughing uproariously at the spectacle!

A few miles later, Rhio stopped to drink at a puddle and the first cart on the competitive drive came up behind us.  The driver was very considerate & waited for us to finish drinking, then followed along behind us for a little while (that little horse of his could FLY!).  We moved aside so he could pass, as it became clear that his little horse could out trot ours for sure.  Rhio was a little nervous watching "the contraption" approach us, but as soon as it was in front of us, it became a game of "chase."  Boy did Rhio love that!  He followed the cart for a mile or two, happily cantering along to the cart horse's trot, until we pulled our boys up to let the cart go ahead.  I think Rhio was convinced he'd find that cart again, just around the next bend, for the rest of the loop.
"Chasing" the cart
We again came into vet check already pulsed down, and started our 40 minute hold before our third and final loop of about 14 miles.  Another exit CRI (12/12) and we were off!  Rhio and Diego continued to pace well together, and traded off the lead more on this last loop.  Previously, Rhio had led most of the time.  Rhio found cantering to be his preferred gait when Diego led, as Diego's trot is a little faster than his.  I had the heart rate monitor and GPS on all day, and was curious to discover that his fastest comfortable trot was about 10.5 mph and his nice canter was about 12.5 mph, but he did both gaits at about 126 beats per minute. So, on this flat course at least, he could travel 2 mph faster by cantering, but apparently expend no extra effort.  We definitely need to work on the canter, though, as I don't think I'm as good at riding it for extended periods as I could be, and Rhio only uses his left lead.  We don't have a lot of good cantering trails at home, as we have lots of hills and what is flat and open with good footing for cantering is gravel road, which I do not like to canter on (it's a pretty hard landing, for one thing, plus I think it's too concussive for his legs.)  So, something to seek out next year is more opportunities to work on long cantering stretches.
End of the day, on the way "in" on the third loop
We finished almost exactly at 5 pm, vetted right through, and got our completions!  Rhio looked like he'd been out for a walk in the park, and I was feeling great, too.  I do think the 50 miles barefoot had taken a little toll, as the trot-out area was all gravel and he was less willing to move out at his trot out on that surface.  In retrospect, it would have been nice to have his boots on for the first loop, with the most gravel on it, but also could have been an issue with the frosty conditions and slippage.  All in all, I was happy with my decision to ride barefoot.

Enjoying our buddies
Our moving time, according to my GPS, was 3:31 for the first loop (24.4 mi), 1:36 for the second loop (11.4 mi), and 2:05 for the third loop (13.7 mi).  Our total ride time was 7 hours 12 minutes, although our official ride time was longer.  Our average speed was 6.9 mph first loop, 7.2 mph second loop, and 6.4 mph third loop.

Way to go, Rhio!  What a great day :)

Yummy hay (munching at a vet check)
All done! Poultice & standing wraps in place, ready to go back to the corral to hang with Paco

No comments:

Post a Comment