Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Best Kind of Therapy

By this afternoon, I was crabby and out-of-sorts, for no big reason, and many small ones, all of which will look inconsequential in hindsight but at the time were looming large and irritating.  It was also the warmest, most pleasant day we've had since October, so despite the quickly waning daylight, I tacked Rhio up quickly (bareback pad, not saddle) and we headed down the lane between pastures toward the woods & freedom.  Kelso & Killian tagged along, and Rhio seemed eager.

The landowner here has a new snow toy to play with, and has been plowing tracks all over the place.  Each of the pastures has a big loop, which is great to spread the hay out very sparsely (a flake here, a flake there) and make the horses "graze" their way through their hay ration rather than standing in one place with a heaping pile of hay in front of them.  He's also plowed the trail out to the hay field in back, and the untouched snow is about mid-cannon deep so definitely still passable (and it's still soft) - so we went merrily around the field and through the trees until we reached Red's barn's land, where they've been gathering down trees for firewood with the tractor.  Tractor tire ruts are well-packed and just the right width for trotting!  Yay! We had to skip a few of our favorite little loops due to down trees, but had a grand time motoring around the woods.  On our way home, I followed another of the plowed tracks, and discovered it'd been cleared in a loop all the way around two pastures - and the footing was perfect for cantering!  So, I asked Rhio to move out and off we went, flying around the corners and scooting along the fenceline (oh, did we get everyone all riled up!).  It was so much fun, we just had to do it twice more - and I had a grin plastered to my face worthy of a denture commercial.  The sun was setting behind the bare trees, painting the sky pink, purple, and orange, as we cantered up to the barn along the last straightaway and I slipped off Rhio's back to give him a big hug and a huge "Thank you!" The twinkle in his eye let me know that he had had as much fun as I had had, and magically my bad mood had simply evaporated.

He was wet & steaming from his exertions, and my legs were quivering with the effort of riding fast bareback, so I threw his cooler on him and we walked into the twilight with the dogs until he was dry and my legs were loose.  I can think of nothing I'd rather do than this.  Ride.  Be.  Breathe.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Free At Last!

Winter wonderland

The woods are ours again, with the orange-clad hunters stuffed back into their alter-egos as regular folk once again (though you do still see quite a few pickup trucks around town with a blaze orange cap on the dashboard, or someone out clearing snow in his hunting jacket - I totally get the desire to hang on for just a little longer, refusing to believe it is over for the next 50 weeks).  Tuesday was our first bright, sunshiny day in a very long time, and Rhio, Kelso, & I were all itching to hit the trail.  It was only about 15 degrees, so bundling up was a necessity - with toe warmers in my boots and mittens instead of gloves, the only part that got cold was my nose!
We were the first to make tracks across the unbroken snow

The open areas were somewhat crusty as we'd had some freezing sleet before it switched to snow, and Rhio didn't care for trotting through the crust.  The trails in the woods were totally soft, though, as the ice seems to have formed on the trees and not really made it to the ground.  Rhio was thrilled to trot and canter where we could - though that wasn't very many places due to all the downed trees and overhanging branches & shrubs.  In fact, we got to practice our side passing many times, as small trees were laden with snow and leaning over the trail; Rhio & I sidled up to them so I could reach out & grab them, shake the snow off to lighten them, then push them up while we ducked under.  A couple of times we had to do this in quick succession, pivoting around this way and that way to reach the smaller diameter, unattached-to-the-ground tops which were actually movable.  I was very happy to have chosen to ride in my saddle (for more stability while doing all these contortions and reaching) and was extremely pleased with Rhio's responsiveness to my requests for lateral movement.  It is something we've only been seriously working on recently, but he seems to "get it."
You can see the sparkling ice in the tops of the trees

We rode all the way to Red's farm, where Thanksgiving turkeys were being distributed (yay! no more wading through that flock of gobbling, strutting birds to get my pony from his pasture! well, 'till next year at least...) and visited with some of the turkey buyers and the dogs.  I could have brought a backpack & picked up my turkey, but I hadn't thought of it - that would have been fun, though!  In the end, I got a 16 pounder, so I probably wouldn't have wanted to ride home with that much weight on my back (it really throws my balance off to wear a backpack I've found, especially a heavy one).

We got home just as dusk was falling (4:15 pm - ugh!) and in time to feed the ponies before retreating to the beauty of electric illumination and central heating for the duration of the long, dark winter night (which, yes, includes the afternoon here in northern Minnesota!).

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cookies and Cream

The horses are bundled in their blankets enjoying their hay despite the weather
Winter storm "Buck" (yep, that's right! One of our local TV stations is naming our snowstorms now, apparently) was petering out Sunday afternoon, and we just had to get outside and enjoy that expanse of fresh, clean snow.  The kids wanted a snowball fight and to build a snowman; we wanted to ride!  It's STILL deer season (the longest two weeks of the entire year if you ask me), so we were stuck with making patterns in the pristine snow of the outdoor arena.
His wind-knots always appear in this exact location and pattern - every time.  
Rhio was sporting his favorite dreadlock look, so had to unwillingly submit to having his mane detangled.  Rhio takes great pride in his appearance, keeping his dirt patterns fresh and new with frequent reapplication.  He resents being fussed over, primped, polished, washed, or generally gussied up.  So of course it is his long tresses that get routinely tangled, not Red's or Cricket's, both of whom enjoy a grooming session.
Ah - beautiful! 
Once we had the hair situation under control, we headed outside to meet the new lord of the outdoor arena - a very large, very squat snowman with tantalizing horse treats as eyes & nose.  The horses were mildly curious about him (or her - I'd say its rather gender-indeterminate), mostly in trying to assess the best angle at which to nab those tasty bits.
Giant snowman

Kaos & Rhio trying to figure out how to snatch the apple-eyes and/or carrot-nose

The three of us talked and laughed and joked while asking our horses to carry us around the outdoor arena, churning up the unbroken snow with hoof-sized chunks coated in the sandy dirt footing of the arena.  After a couple passes around, the snow-and-chunk mixture took on the exact appearance of cookies-n-cream ice cream!
Becca & Kaos and Christine & Tomas just enjoying the day

The footing was wonderful, and we all enjoyed cantering our horses through it; I really noticed how soft Rhio's footfalls were in the snow.  We played follow-the-leader a little bit, and just generally goofed off.  It's nice to know that we are all still kids at heart - enjoying a good romp in the fresh snow. Though now our hot cocoa is dressed with flavored liquor instead of marshmallows - yum!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Calculated Risk

Normally, I lay pretty low during the firearm deer season (it's only two weeks out of the whole year after all!) and only ride in the arena or yard.  This year, however, the weather has been so gorgeous in early November, that I just can't force myself to stay home.  I still won't ride out on a weekend during deer season, but I figured midday on a Tuesday was pretty safe.  Bedazzled in blaze orange and staying completely out of the woods & fields in favor of a road ride, I figured we were as safe as we could be!  I worry a little more with Red, as he's close to the same color as the deer (albino deer are pretty rare so I feel slightly safer on Rhio, though it's probably a false sense of security considering hunters can't seem to tell the difference between a bipedal human in blaze orange and a deer sometimes!).  
One of these guys will be on my family's Thanksgiving table!  And to be honest, I find the whole flock following me in the pasture, gobbling and strutting, to be a little creepy. 

Red was napping in the sun when I arrived, so after guiltily waking him up, we waded back through the flock of turkeys to the barn to tack up.  My "spooky" Arab is so used to the turkeys that he completely ignores them, even as they "graze" right along with the horses - whether this would translate into calmness during a wild turkey encounter on trail has not yet been tested!  We don't actually have wild turkeys this far north, but we do encounter grouse frequently - which make me jump when they "whir" up more than they startle Red.  

Booted all around and with his blaze orange rump rug in place, we set off on our usual route down the road.  We were passed by several of the boarders at the barn, and they all reported that we were very visible and didn't look anything like deer!  We did have an encounter with a particularly rude motorist - which is actually fairly uncommon in our neighborhood.  We were halted waiting to cross a paved road; I had one hand on the reins and one hand signaling Kelso to "Whoa!"   A pickup truck flew past us, laying on his horn.  Nice one, dude.  Appreciate that.  What point were you trying to make, exactly?  Neither horse nor dog moved a muscle - what good boys!!!
Lots of freshly cut ends of trees line the road from our wind storm several weeks ago; Red noticed every single one and gave each a WIDE berth in case they were carnivorous with a special fondness for horse.

The stream which frequently harbors exploding ducks (not today though!)

Red and I apparently had differing expectations of what our afternoon's outing would entail.  I thought a nice medium trot to work up a light sweat and get us in the zone was in order.  Red thought we should zoom along as fast as we could go, skittering sideways at the slightest irregularity in the road surface or in the vegetation along the edge.   Hmmm, maybe today would have been a good day to put that running martingale on!  

Only having an hour, we did about 5 miles and returned to the barn in time to meet the farrier.  Every nice day, and every ride, in November is a stolen one.  Ahh - heaven is the wind that blows between my horse's ears! (to paraphrase an Arabian proverb) 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Rider's High

We've all heard of a runner's high, where a long-distance run induces a state of euphoria in the runner.  Science seems to point to the release of endorphins (a.k.a. "happy chemicals") as the root of this euphoria.  I would like to respectfully submit that there is also such a thing as a "rider's high" and that today I experienced a massive one.  My brain was positively dripping in happy chemicals.  I was drunk on riding my horse, which luckily does not come with the morning-after ill-effects (unless you count the burning desire to repeat over and over again as an ill-effect!).

While a large proportion of the Minnesota populace is sporting blaze orange in its quest to bag a big buck, the three of us donned our blaze orange to make sure no one mistook our ponies for deer and set off for a nearby state park.  Blue skies, calm winds, and the anticipation of new trails lured us to Jay Cooke State Park - none of us had ridden there before.  The horse trail is short (three loops for a total of about 4 miles) but blissfully devoid of hunters.

Stormy, Paco, & Rhio
a friend graciously allowed us to park in her driveway (much to the consternation of her 6 llamas, who did NOT appreciate the intruders!)

Kathy & Stormy, and Gesa & Paco, heading down the road to the trail access - hopefully looking not at all like deer!

As I was told, it is impossible to get lost - the trails are well-signed and are all loops, starting & ending at a paved bike path (with a grassy shoulder for the horses).  We quite enjoyed the rolling hills and scenic vistas over deep ravines and the St. Louis River.  I imagine that it is quite breathtaking in the spring as the green starts to appear, and of course in the fall with the vibrant leaves.  It was still gorgeous with bare trees all around.

Ah! New trail to explore! 

"Hemlock Ravine" overlook

One of many spots where we had to ride along the paved bike trail

We encountered a set of roller-skiers on the paved path, which were of some moderate concern for Rhio, as well as a large group of horsewomen also out enjoying the day, and several hikers.  Rhio preferred to lead most of the ride, and set a lovely forward pace.  We cantered where we were able, and he gave me lovely transitions between trot and canter.  We were also able to leave the other horses behind, letting them recede out of sight, and continue with forward motion - this was a nice skill to practice as he really prefers to be with other horses.  The weather could not have been more lovely, especially for November 7, and was near 60 I think.  I even saw a lone fly, and 2 swarms of gnats!

What a pretty overlook!

The out-and-back trail along the ridge top to the overlook

We did the entire trail system twice, and ended up with about a 10 mile ride - not too shabby for so little trail!  Upon our return to the trailer, the horses gave pony rides to the kids and Rhio got to meet a llama up close and personal (boy do I wish I'd had my camera ready for that! He looked gorgeous arching his neck and gingerly sniffing noses with the strange scary creatures.).

Rhio giving the girls a ride

We headed home supremely satisfied with our ride, and tried not to wonder if this was the last nice day and the last good ride for the year.

Oh, yes, we'd love to go this way - thanks little tripod horse!
And P.S. - Rhio's been loading perfectly the last several times we've trailered, both in the stock trailer and in Jodi's 4-horse slant-load.  It'll be interesting to see what happens the next time I ask him to load into the 2-horse straight-load (which probably won't be until next year). 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Saddle TLC

My saddle got really soaked at Point Chaser, since it rained pretty much the entire 30 miles on Sunday.  I'm always amazed at how bad my saddle looks after it has been wet, and then dried.
The saddle appears dull and dry.  
It sat in the living room to dry, then I cleaned it.  I use a weak Murphy's Oil Soap solution and a rag to clean it, per instructions from Synergist when I bought the saddle.

Dirty water after washing the saddle - Ewww! 

Once it's dry from cleaning, I start oiling the leather.  I use olive oil, since that is what Synergist recommends.  Plant-based products are apparently healthier for the leather than petroleum-based products (plus better for the environment!).  

Really, it doesn't need to be organic olive oil - this is just the bottle that I have that is only for saddles - don't like to mix the kitchen with the tack room (too often). 

I lost track of how many coats of oil I put on, but suffice it to say it was at least 3 days worth of multiple applications per day.  The leather soaks up the oil almost instantly.  I continue adding oil until it doesn't soak any more up (or until I'm tired of the whole process and just want to ride!).  

Shiny, happy saddle once again!  

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Wow, was that fun!  The three culprits were found standing around and staring at their handiwork. 

Monday, November 1, 2010


Got treats? 

My horses are rarely bored.  They may wonder about my sanity, but they oblige my whims and generally play with or investigate most of the objects I give them to play with.  Today's object was an old foam mattress - which I have also used as an "obstacle" for mounted work, teaching them to walk across it.  Yesterday during our Halloween party, all the horses were very interested in the mattress, and so I decided to put it in their pasture this morning for some free play.

The boys enjoy new objects

Rhio and Tomas were interested, pawing at it, sniffing, and lifting it up with their teeth.  Kaos just kept eating her hay, occasionally looking mildly interested.  

The three amigos (Kaos never left her hay pile, letting the boys  investigate the mattress and run around like fools)

Then, I starting jumping on the mattress and that really got them going!  

Yep, the horses think I'm nuts.  But, I think we're all amused by each other.