Ah, new trails to explore!
Gesa, Paco, Rhio, and I had a weekend of fun planned, starting with more exploring at the Mother Bear Ski Trail, which we rode once earlier in the year. Upland bird hunters, and archery deer hunters, are in the woods now, so we adorned ourselves appropriately with some blaze orange bedazzlements, and Rhio wore his rhythm beads (I sure hope most deer don't tinkle with jingle bells - Santa's reindeer excluded, of course). We began our ride traversing the top of a glacial esker, common in this area and affording us plenty of stunning views of the boreal forest in its fall finery.
Overlooking a spruce bog fringed with aspen, birch, and pines.
Doing our best to NOT look like something to shoot at!
We came upon several interesting discoveries throughout the day, including this cute resting place (tea and crumpets, anyone?) and the Cloquet River with a good spot to ford and miles of trail on the other side!
the Cloquet River
Gesa & Paco crossing the river
The trails we followed varied from old logging road (well packed, somewhat rocky, a few overhanging branches to dodge or duck) to wide, sandy ATV/snowmobile trail (perfect for cantering) to narrow, winding ski trails and spots where ATVs have just blazed their own routes through clear cuts and dense trees - these have to be travelled with caution on horseback because we are much taller than the ATVers and eyeball-poking branches abound. The terrain is quite hilly (those glacial eskers) and gave the boys a good mix of technical trail and long trotting. We eventually met a gravel road and turned around to retrace our steps. We met a couple of nice fellows on ATVs who were able to tell us which road it was, so we hope to be able to trailer back there for more exploring and hopefully some spring riding when our home trails are all deep muck. We completed about 16 miles, although the batteries on my GPS went dead about halfway through.
Trotting down the snowmobile trail
Rhio sporting a festive red maple leaf in his mane (I braided it the wrong direction so it's upside down, showing the pink underside).
Paco sporting his handsome new cooler
Back at the trailer, we relaxed a little and let the boys cool out a bit before loading. We were using a 2-horse straight-load trailer, and I believe it was the first time I'd hauled Rhio in such a trailer. He did not load well, to put it mildly! It took about 30 minutes to get him in the trailer, and he appeared to be very anxious/afraid. Paco was awesome, walking right on the trailer and standing there patiently the entire time, contentedly munching his hay. Rhio would half-load, putting his front feet in, then suddenly panic, fling his head up, and rush back out of the trailer. He would repeat this over and over again. Once he did load, he stood quietly, ate his hay, and trailered just fine, so he didn't appear to be anxious of the trailer itself, just loading onto it. I really couldn't figure it out, except that the following day I tried loading him on the left side instead of the right side, and it went much better (after trying for 30 minutes on the right side) and the second loading of the day he went in the left side after only 8 minutes. I can't figure this out, and I wish I could practice at home with that trailer. Was it really the side of the trailer that made a difference?
We headed up the road to a lake home owned by relations of Gesa's, which is an old Finnish homestead. What a great old place! It has been shut up for several months, since the last visitors used it, so we had a little work to do getting the water turned on, etc. We set the boys up with a pen for daylight hours and a high line for the night, and Gesa got a fire going in the wood stove in the sauna for later. I threw some venison stew in the crock pot, and we enjoyed some wine, bread, and cheese while waiting for dinner and the sauna to heat up. We got the boys settled on the high line in their winter blankets just after dark, as the forecast was for temps well below freezing overnight. Rhio was acting much more stressed than is his normal, eating and drinking but less than normal. He also stocked up severely in all four legs. The sauna was lovely and relaxing after our day of riding, and we crawled into our comfortable beds ready for sleep.
I slept on the second floor, beneath a beautiful quilt and with a window overlooking the high line and another overlooking the lake with a small deck.
The view from my window of the boys. Paco is quite the macho gelding, sporting a pink blanket and hay bay! Gesa reported she peeked at them during the night and Rhio was laying down taking a snooze - that is good, since it is his normal routine.
The house is a lovely mix of modern conveniences (central heating, shower, laundry) and family heirlooms, including several photo albums full of old photographs and paintings on the walls done by one of the original owners. The original part of the house is hand-hewn square logs and hardwood floors; you can tell it did not originally have central heating because every room has a door. The kitchen is dominated by a combination wood-electric cook stove, which is fully functional.
The wood-burning side is on the left; the electric range is on the right.
The lake side of the house.
There are several original wood outbuildings, including a barn and a wood shed, which are filled with the various accumulated items typical of a family homestead passed down through the generations. It is a beautiful, secluded spot and rich in so much family history.
One of the barn doors
Old rotten wooden rowboat
The boys seemed quite happy in the pen after a handwalk down to the public access picnic area/boat ramp where Rhio took a big drink out of the lake and both of them walked out onto the pier. I figure, why not use every opportunity for training? The pier was wide, wooden, and very sturdy - so count it as bridge-training and trust-building. (Yes, I want you to follow me out onto this bridge that clearly goes nowhere.) Rhio layed down to munch his hay and seemed totally at ease, despite his mild stress indicators from the day before.
Ah, this is the life!
Waiting for us to finish packing up.
We took our time making breakfast, cleaning everything up, shutting the house back down, and heading out to another trail for an afternoon ride before heading home. We tried the North Shore State Trail (snowmobile trail, so no guarantee that it's passable during non-frozen months due to frequent crossing of swampy areas) north of Two Harbors, and had a very successful 8 miles. Our boys handled the terrain well, flying along at a pretty quick clip for the most part, feeling fired up and coping with the uneven ground and squishy areas with no complaints. We crossed a couple of challenging bridges that looked scary due to extra boards running length-wise in addition to the cross boards and some with steep approach ramps. We flushed up about a dozen grouse over the course of the ride.
I did land unexpectedly on the ground once, and have the bruises to show for it. We were taking a break, I had dropped my reins on his neck and was drinking out of my water bottle when something behind us in the woods startled both of them, and Rhio just scooted out from under me. I was so hoping to have an entire season without an unplanned dismount! Alas, it was not meant to be :( We found more trail in the area to explore, but had to cut our ride short in the hopes that Rhio would load and we could get home before dark.
I rode most of the weekend in 4 boots - our usual setup of Renegades on the fronts and Gloves on the hinds. We covered various terrain, including some mud and a river crossing, and the boots stayed in place and he didn't seem to have any trouble on the rough ground with tripping or otherwise having boot interference. He does wear hind fetlock boots when booted, as he will knock himself. Also, I discovered on Monday a small rub on his left hind from the gaiter, so I will have to try something to alleviate that. I am hoping to ride a 50 miler on Friday and a 30 miler on Sunday in 3 weeks, our last ride of the year in Minnesota, and know I will have to use boots for some or all of that, just due to the distance. I want to make sure I have any rubbing issues (or other issues!) dealt with before that.
The end of a beautiful weekend