Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Peach

Rhio was an absolute peach today.  It was my first ride since the 18th, with a trip to Arizona (wonderful, though unfortunately horseless) over the holidays curtailing my December riding schedule.  Our unseasonable, yet delightful, fall weather is spilling over into winter and we have been incredibly mild and snowless.  I will confess some disappointment, as I really do like winter and find riding in the deep snow to be quite fun.  However, the opportunity to get the horses out moving with the lack of snow has been hard to resist and their level of enthusiasm somewhat larger than I would normally expect in the winter.

Today, Rhio was really responsive and light without any of the rushing that he tended toward on our last ride.  It was a short ride and nearly all walking, but he seemed to be just enjoying it as much as I was.  After we turned for home and asked for a tiny increase in pace above the walk, instead of a trot he gave me a lovely walk-canter transition and continued on in his relaxed easy canter.  I was in my bareback pad, as I nearly always am in the winter (warm tushy), and riding that 100 yards was bliss.  The rest of the ride wasn't too shabby, either, and I was really proud of how carefully he negotiated the steep downhill with about 2" of powder snow masking the uneven ruts in its surface.

The following photos are from our ride on the 18th, which I didn't have time to write up before leaving on the 19th.

It was nearly 40 degrees!

The neighbor's horses, Missouri Fox Trotters.

Can you see how high he has his tail?  The accelerator was a hair trigger this day and the brakes were a little sticky. 

Gesa & Paco were lovely companions, as usual.

It looks wintry, but not to the usual degree for late December! 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Little Scare

After riding this afternoon, Gesa and I had Rhio and Paco out hand grazing (which meant first clearing the 1" of snow away with their upper lips, then munching the still-a-little-bit-green goodies hidden beneath) and Cricket knew he was entitled to come out as well.  I took the opportunity to give him a thorough grooming and check him over good, and then reblanketed him for the night.  We put the horses back in the pasture with a little hay to tide them over until the evening feed, and said our "Merry Christmases" early as I'm heading to Arizona tomorrow to visit my parents for the holidays (and trying not to dwell on how nice the weather is, still, and how much riding time I'll be missing!).

I filled up my beet pulp and grain bins, and refilled Cricket's soybean oil jug from the big container, so that Gesa would be all set for the week, and handed out my chewed apple core to the first horse to come to the gate in the deep dusk (Sefira) before heading home to find some dinner for myself and the dogs.  All was well, and humans and critters were all settled and content. Not a minute after I'd finished my last bite of dinner, my phone rang and Gesa's husband popped up on the caller id.  I answered cheerfully, only to hear that Cricket seemed to be colicky and I needed to get back out there pronto.

It was easier and faster to let Kelso and Killian jump into the back of the car, and away we went.  By the time I arrived, Gesa said he was fine and it didn't seem to be colic.  I had wondered on the drive over if he had another incident of being down and unable to get himself up.  This has happened once in each of the previous two winters, and sure enough that was the case.

There is a tiny slope/knoll area of the pasture behind the barn (barely discernible, really, really insignificant) and Cricket had laid down there only to get himself stuck.  Wearing a blanket restricts his shoulder and foreleg motion just a bit, and when his legs are pointed uphill instead of down, he seems to have trouble rising.  He had evidently been struggling a bit, and both his neck and his blanket were soaking wet.

The most interesting thing is Sefira's behavior.  Apparently she was extremely protective of him, and quite upset, and didn't want to let Gesa get near him.  I am not sure what exactly ensued, but he was standing in his stall looking extremely worn out when I arrived.  A quick physical revealed that everything was normal, although his heart rate (28) was a little low and might indicate some mild shock.  He wasn't interested in eating, but was interacting with me and did take a few treats.  I gave him a pain medication (Banamine) and put a dry blanket on him.  He is staying in at night anyway, and had a full bucket of water, his yummy mash, and plenty of hay already in his stall.  Gimi across the aisle was munching away, content to be the buddy horse for the night.

He is ok, and I'm obviously going to check on him tomorrow, but unless Gesa calls me, I will go in the middle of the day when it fits into my schedule rather than get up extra-early to go first thing.  It is nerve-wracking to have an old horse, even more so than any horse, and I am very glad this happened tonight, while I was still in town, rather than tomorrow night, when I'll be stuck on a plane.

This evening is an example of how quickly things can go wrong with horses, and how invaluable it is to have someone you trust caring for your horses if you can't do it yourself.  I try not to worry.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Sunday was balmy, really and truly balmy - over 40 degrees on December 11 and sunshine.  It won't come as a surprise to anyone that I spent the day outside, with my ponies.  I haven't had a horse day in a few weeks, and I was severely in need of one.   I did forget my camera, though, so I didn't take any pictures.

The day began with a long, leisurely walk with Cricket and Sefira.  Sefira is Gesa's youngest, a homebred filly just a few months past her third birthday.  She is not under saddle yet, and needs to start getting out and about to get used to the wider world.  Cricket loves her, and with his age and wisdom, is a perfect buddy horse for her adventures outside of the home farm.  He also loves to go for walks.  He struts.  And poses a little bit, ears perked, neck arched, and tail up.  He is the picture of a happy, engaged horse and no one would guess he is a mere 3 months shy of 30.

We were out for over an hour, walking along the shoulder of the paved road briefly, with a couple of vehicles and a large pile of rocks to get used to.   We continued up a dead end gravel road, again with a couple of vehicles, wind blowing in the dry grass, a barking dog, etc.  Sefira was a little upset by the new things, but Cricket was unfazed and his calmness really helped her.  She was not brave enough to lead, but was happy to follow.

We also stood and observed a neighbor's herd of minis and llamas.  Even Cricket was on alert when they all came up to the fence and stared back at us, but relaxed when one of the minis whinnied.  We continued onto a bit of trail and Sefira handled that like a pro.  On the way home, we saw some people with kids and ATVs - yet another good thing to be exposed to.  We let the horses "graze" on the dormant grass outside the pasture as a reward, and all the while we'd been chatting, catching up, and generally just enjoying each other's company.  It was truly a lovely way to spend some time.

I rounded out my horse day with a fantastically fulfilling ride on Red.  It was our first bareback pad ride of the year, and I decided to ride until I got cold (a common method I use to determine how long to ride in the winter) and after nearly an hour and a half, with dusk quickly falling and only my knees a little tingly with chill, I decided it wasn't going to be an appropriate measure for this particular ride!  I could easily have ridden twice as long.  We traversed all over the immediate neighborhood, taking in two gravel pits, some woods trails, and a nice trot up the road about 1/2 mile and back.  I am a little out of shape for bareback riding with speed, but it's just a pleasant ache in the thighs.

The horses all give two hooves up for their new treats, "German Horse Muffins" made in St. Paul, MN.  They came free from Valley Vet with my recent wormer order!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kentucky Diehards

November 16 - 21, 2011
Duluth, MN to Harrodsburg, KY and back, via Madison, WI

Candy invited me to come to a late-season ride with her in November, and we chose the Kentucky Diehards ride held at Shaker Village (http://www.shakervillageky.org/), near Harrodsburg, KY the weekend before Thanksgiving.  Wow!  That meant I not only got to add another state to my list of states-in-which-I've-ridden-an-endurance-ride, but I also got to experience my first out-of-region ride.  Kentucky is in the Southeast region of AERC (http://www.aerc.org/), while all my previous rides have been in my home region, Midwest.  It seemed only fitting to be extending my endurance season by nearly a month this year, as our fall has also been extended nearly a month with unseasonably warm and beautiful weather; it was 50 degrees on Thanksgiving Day, for heavens' sake!  

Once we'd decided when and where, our plans began to disintegrate with truck and trailer issues. Candy's big truck was in the shop and not slated to be finished until the 17th, while we needed to leave on the 16th and our 3rd companion, Tom, had an electrical fire in his trailer and the living quarters was gutted, so we didn't have any camping accommodations.  Being endurance riders, we persevered and prepped plan C (or was it D by then?).  Candy and I would take her husband's little truck and her stock trailer for the 6 hour trip to Tom's place in Madison, then we would take his rig the 9+ hour trip to Kentucky but stay in guest rooms at Shaker Village.  Ok, that seems workable although a bit of a drain on the pocket book.  Well, at this point I'm not going to let money be the reason that I can't take advantage of this amazing opportunity, so, I'm in!

Instead of having Rhio's shoes pulled after the Point Chaser ride, as I would have normally done, I kept him shod and kept riding him, so that we would be ready for another 50.  Luckily we had such a nice fall, as steel shoes on frozen ground, or even worse in ice and snow, are supremely slippery and very dangerous.  Wednesday the 16th was cold, gray, and we'd gotten a bit of snow overnight - certainly weather that made a trip to warmer climes pretty darn desirable.  I'd packed as compactly as I could, knowing we had only the bed of the little truck plus the backseat for all our gear (bins are wonderful things!).  We didn't have to bring hay, as Tom was supplying all our hay (and boy was it nice hay! the boys loved it!), and that was what saved us and allowed us to get all our stuff in the little rig.  We joked about how much stuff we had for our horses (I had 5 bins plus my saddle and saddle stand), but we each only had a small duffel bag for ourselves.

Candy's horse Windsor, a gray gelding with tons of miles and endurance wisdom was going to be the leader, voice of reason, and good example for the other two less experienced horses.  Rhio climbed aboard Candy's trailer smoothly (insert sigh of relief here...it is always nerve-wracking when I know I have an "inconsistent" loader and someone comes to pick me up; it can be quite embarrassing to have a horse that is difficult to load, a bit like having a misbehaving child in a public place I expect) and the boys settled in for the trip, all bundled up in winter blankets.  I'd even wrapped Rhio's legs and put bell boots on, which I don't normally do for our typical shorter trips, but I thought the extra support and protection was a good thing, and I was a bit paranoid about him stepping on himself and yanking a shoe off before we even got there, as we were close to the end of our regular shoeing cycle.
Ready to head south!
Settling in for the start of our drive, I asked Candy for Windsor's Coggins paper (proof of a negative yearly test for a certain virus which is required for traveling out of state) so that I could write a health certificate for him, which is required for out-of-state horses entering Kentucky (and most other states). Oh no.  She'd left it at home, since it was always in her big trailer...but we didn't have the big trailer!  This was not an auspicious start to the trip, as we had to make the 45 minute trip back across town to her place to pick it up; we would have hated to get all the way there and be turned away from the ride for lack of proof of a negative Coggins.  As it turned out, we were never asked to produce our paperwork at all.

Finally, we were on the way and the roads were clear, so we made good time heading south through Wisconsin.  Each time we stopped the horses seemed content, and warm enough, and Rhio was even eating some hay!  This was great, as he hasn't been good about eating in the trailer recently.  They were tied to the side of the trailer, as if in a slant, but chose to stand facing mostly forward it seemed, with Windsor standing in the middle of the trailer and Rhio beside him along the driver's side.  I wonder if they were able to lessen the wind in their faces this way? We made it to Tom's place after dark (which comes so early these days!), loaded our stuff willy-nilly into the cavernous husk of the living quarters portion of his trailer, gave the boys their nighttime meal of beet pulp with all the fixings, and settled them into the paddock behind Tom's barn with lots of hay.  They both ate and drank well, and seemed to be best buddies already without any squabbling.

I met Tom, his lovely wife Connie, and their two dogs Sam and Willy, and then we went to a local brewpub for dinner.  Being Wisconsin, I had to have the burger topped with fried cheese curds and avocado (yum!) but they were out of my first choice brew - a Belgian style ale - though my second choice - a "red" ale - was quite tasty as well.  We hit the sack as soon as we got home, planning for a very early start on Thursday.

The horses knew something was up as we appeared out of the darkness at an ungodly hour, and started wrapping legs while letting them eat their breakfast.  Rhio and Windsor did not eat well, being a bit anxious at the strange routine (I knew better than to do anything but let him eat!  Do I ever learn?), but loaded up just fine into Tom's trailer, which is open stock style in the horse area.  We put his horse Express, a very handsome young chestnut gearing to do his first ever 50 miler, up front, then Rhio in the middle, and Windsor last.  The temperature was in the low 20s, and we didn't know how quickly it was going to warm up, so we kept their winter blankets on at this point.  Settling in with Tom driving through the darkness, Candy and I got to relax and even nap just a little.  Our goal was to make Louisville, KY before 3:00 pm, as the Ohio River bridge there is under construction and we'd heard the traffic for rush hour was unbelievably bad.

The sun came up, and we kept heading south, then east, expecting to see the outside temperature reading start creeping up...we waited, and waited, and waited, but to little avail.  The thermometer was stubbornly stuck in the 30s all day, topping out at a mere 37 even once we'd arrived in Kentucky.  Huh. Glad I packed warm clothes!  The drive was uneventful, the horses travelled really well with zero issues, and we crossed the Ohio River by 2:30 pm with no traffic to speak of at all.  Patting ourselves on the back, we thought, "Hey, that wasn't bad at all!  What was everyone talking about?"  Well, we would pay our dues on the way home...stay tuned.

We pulled into Shaker Village and unloaded our ponies in the late afternoon; it was great to get there in the daylight.  We found the "paddock" reserved for us - it was at least 3 acres!  Fenced with the ubiquitous four-rail wooden fencing seen all over Kentucky and green with grass, the boys thought it was horsey utopia. We unwrapped legs as fast as we could and turned them loose; they all rolled and then ran amuk for a bit, before settling in to eating (what is this green stuff?  GRASS! they seemed to shout)...while we wondered if we'd ever catch them again.

Oh, yeah.  This is the life!
Unhooking the truck, we drove a couple miles to the other end of the property where the guest houses were located and Candy and I checked into our room.  We were housed in the East Family Sister's Shop.  The main floor was part of the museum exhibits, with unmarked doors shut and locked when we checked in, but we discovered on Friday afternoon that they hid the spinning and weaving exhibits. What beautiful handiwork!  It was shame that we never made it over to the craft shop to peruse the goods for sale. Our room was Shaker, all right, with two single beds, white coverlets, white walls, and hardwood floors with a rag rug.  Somewhat incongruous with Shaker simplicity and spartanism were the Tempurpedic mattresses on the beds.  Oh, heavenly!  Both Candy and I slept almost better than at home.
Our room.
Tom had grown up in the next town over, and he stayed with his mother.  The four of us went out to dinner at Eddie Montgomery's steakhouse (yes, as in Montgomery-Gentry the country music stars), which was a beautiful soaring log building, and enjoyed our first taste bud-enrapturing (and fat- and carb- rich) meal of the trip (there were to be many, many more...my jeans didn't fit so well on the way home).

Upon our return to Shaker Village, we were barely able to locate our ponies way at the far end of their pasture in the dark, but confirmed that they were fine and happy for the night, threw some hay to supplement the grass, and headed back to crash in bed with our books.  Tom left us the truck, and we made plans to meet for brunch on Friday.

Friday dawned very frosty; the low was mid-20s overnight (hey, I thought Kentucky was supposed to be warm!).  Candy and I fed the horses and headed into the little town of Harrodsburg to get groceries for ride day, and to meet up with Tom for (it turned out) lunch.  We wandered into the Beaumont Inn, a historic inn that served a Southern buffet lunch on Fridays and enjoyed the beauty of the grand old home, the antique furnishings, and the free wifi while we waited for lunch to be served.  Filling our plates and our bellies to capacity (and then a little more) with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, Kentucky hot brown (cheese, tomatoes, turkey, and I don't know what else but it was good!), corn pudding, salad, rolls, and apple cobbler for dessert.  Our intention was to ride after lunch, but Groan!  I think I ate too much!
Oh, yum.
We did manage to stuff ourselves into our riding tights and mount up, heading off across the fields of Shaker Village to loosen our horses up for Saturday.  Candy and Tom already knew some of the endurance greats that were there, but it was the first time I'd met some of the legends of our sport, like Bill Wilson.  We rode along at a relaxed pace, chatting and getting the feel for the course, which was surprisingly hilly.  We did about 4 miles for warm-up, the horses were feeling good, and I was reminded that the vegetation in these parts isn't overly friendly!  Many of the trees, shrubs, and vines have spikes, thorns, prickers and the like, and "brushing them out of your way" isn't as simple as it sounds.  I got a real kick out of a strange plant called in the vernacular "hedge apple," but known as the osage orange (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maclura_pomifera).  This plant's fruits are softball-size bright yellow-green spheres which litter the ground (I can only imagine that Killian would be overcome with the abundance of "balls" if he were to ever encounter these), and have the reputation of repelling insects.  In fact, you can sometimes find them for sale in the produce section of our supermarkets at home, as natural spider repellant!

After our ride, we completed registration for the ride and vetted in.  We were numbers 25, 26, and 27.  There were over 30 riders signed up for the 50.  The Southeast region has a horse scale which is available at all their rides; we took advantage of the opportunity to weigh our horses.  Rhio weighed in at 908 lbs.  We had a beverage of choice while getting things organized for the start, and watching our horses just be horses out in their spacious home-away-from-home.  We were continually impressed with how easily the three horses got along as a herd, without any conflict that we could see.
The Shaker barn.
At ride meeting, held in the beautiful barn (you could rent stalls for your horses as well as paddocks if you wanted to), we listened to the detailed description of the trail, but without the benefit of a map, I, at least, felt a bit more confused than I would have liked.  The 50 had three loops, with loop 1 being 25 miles and having a 10 minute hold out on course (no vet criteria, just stop and wait there for 10 minutes), then loop 2 15 miles and loop 3 10 miles.  All holds were 40 minutes, and criteria was a pulse of 64 all day.  Ok, that was pretty familiar from rides at home and wouldn't require extra thought (yay).  The course was entirely on Shaker Village property, looping around and through the fields (formerly pasture, hay, or crops, but now being mostly converted to natural prairie), and with numerous creek crossings (I am not sure if it is just a single creek that we cross multiple times, or if there are several different creeks).  Start time was 7:30 am, and we three were planning to ride together and go out well in the back of the pack, so now all that was left was to try to calm my nerves.

There was to be a catered dinner after the ride meeting that night, so we stuck around visiting with other UMECRA members who were in attendance (also new faces to me).  Dinner was once again the full spread of yummy traditional food and I once again ate way too much!

I don't even remember what time Tom picked us up Saturday morning, but it was too early to be forced out of our uber-comfortable beds!  The horses pick up on the ride day excitement, and neither Windsor nor Rhio ate well (I think Express ate well the entire time; he might have been the youngest of the three horses, but he seemed the most settled in camp, I would say).  We tacked up with rump rugs; it was chilly again but not nearly so cold as Friday morning.  We were relieved, as the frost on Friday had been very thick and would have made the grassy course dangerously slick until it dried.  We headed out to warm up, going the wrong direction on trail so that the hot shoes could get well out of camp before we left.  This type of course is a major disadvantage for Rhio; he is not used to being able to see so much around him with all the open fields, and to see horses ahead of him/elsewhere on course pretty much all the time.  It was overwhelming for him, and without our familiar trail-through-a-corridor-of-woods to help focus him, he fell apart completely, mentally and emotionally.  The start was actually quite good (we tried to be last, but had to pass another group that had horse trouble; they then had to pass us in turn about 2 miles into the loop), but many (it felt like all!) of the riders ahead of us got lost and ended up coming up from behind us and having to pass (some of them did this more than once).  Each time they passed faster and with more agitation (the riders were stressed by getting lost), and Rhio couldn't handle it at all.  I was doing serpentines down the trail trying to make him focus on me and work, but it was completely unsuccessful.  We could see multiple riders at multiple different places on the course, all at the same time, and he just came totally unglued.  I know Tom was fighting Express as well, and even steady Windsor was pretty agitated and worked up.  We got to the 10 minute stop-and-go, which just made matters worse as all of a sudden we were with a group of horses, but everyone was coming and going at different times, and the course continued in a loop to pass back past the stopping place on the other side of a rock wall.  It was still cold out, and windy there at the top of a hill, and even with his wool rump rug, I was concerned that Rhio was going to get cold and crampy standing still (well, not that we actually stood still - I don't think his feet stopped moving at all, even to pee).  He was absolutely drenched with sweat (it was dripping off his belly, as if it were a hot and humid ride), wild-eyed, and completely uninterested in the grass or even a carrot.  This really was a recipe for disaster, as Candy and I talked about later; these are the type of conditions that get horses into metabolic trouble really fast.  I've never been in a situation like this with either Red or Rhio, and I felt like I'd jumped into the deep end of a cold pool expecting it to be a soothing hot tub.  I didn't know what to do but keep going down the trail; I am grateful to have had Candy's wisdom and experience to draw on later in the ride so that I hopefully have some tools to better deal with a situation like this in the future.  I know I am lucky that Rhio didn't develop any issues, and we did finish the ride, but it is the first ride I've done (including the one in 2007 when I had the flu and was delirious) where I really wasn't having fun at all, and just wanted to give up.
Loop 1 (before the crazies).
Tom & Express, Loop 1. 
Rhio and I continued on for the second half of the first loop on our own, and the only good things I can report is that he didn't buck (this is an improvement, as the first several years I had him, he would buck in stressful situations, especially if I were holding him back) and he did drink out of the stream at least twice.  I'm pretty sure this was a scenic loop, but it was a blur to me as I tried to control my screaming, frantic, insane horse.  Really.  I'm not exaggerating.  A little more than a mile from camp, coming down a steep hill, I dismounted to handwalk him the rest of the way (hoping he might graze a little - he took maybe 3 bites).  Unlike Minnesota rides, where we get our pulse to start our hold time, but don't have our vet check until right before we go out for the next loop, here we were going to have to pass our vet check immediately after getting our pulse.  (This was the same at the ride we did in Michigan in October, so at least I'd had some time to think about a strategy for this, as it's not what I'm used to.)  I knew from my onboard heart rate monitor that he was running really high (no surprise given his mental and emotional state) and I knew there was a fair chance we wouldn't pass the vet check.  We made it in, walked over to vet check (where my efforts to get him to eat or drink or take a deep breath were for naught), and I waited until he was well down below criteria to get our pulse.  We did pass the vet check, though he didn't stand well for the vet (grr!) and had less than his normal gut sounds (no surprise as we'd just run 25 miles in less than 3 hours without eating).  He was so amped up that he did nothing but twirl around on his lead rope and completely ignore his hay and his mash at the check.  I tried hiding him behind the trailer so he couldn't see the activity around camp, but to no avail.  Candy and Tom came in, passed their check, and brought Windsor and Express over to the trailer, which finally got Rhio to eat a little bit.  I stayed in camp an extra 20 minutes to go back out with them, and to let him eat and settle down some more.
Wading the stream in the tunnel beneath the highway - loop 2.
Baptist Church - loop 2.

Loop 2 started much, much better, although he was still trying to paying more attention to what all the other horses were doing and not to my requests.  You would think he would have settled in a bit better with Windsor and Express, since they were settled down nicely, but, nope.  I kept him behind those two, and by about half way through the second loop, I finally had my horse back.  We thoroughly enjoyed the remainder of the ride, on a loose rein, relaxed and comfortable.  He continued to drink well, and started to graze better, too.  We crossed beneath the highway through a tunnel, which is also a stream bed with about 6" of flowing water, and he forged right ahead through that without any hesitation.  Finishing out the second loop, we had no trouble with the vet check and he ate at the second hold (although he preferred Windsor's to his own, of course), and we headed out dead last for the 3rd loop.  Rhio was starting to feel tired on this loop, and no longer wanted to trot up the hills.  I know it was all the extra energy he put into being crazy the first loop that sapped his strength; I didn't have a lot of horse left, which is a new experience for me with Rhio.  He has always had lots left in reserve at the end of every other 50 we've done, and that tells me a lot.  My challenge with this boy is all mental.
Loop 3.
I was so pleased just to have finished this ride.  I know I learned a lot, thanks mostly to Candy sharing all she's learned in her years and miles of experience.  I wish I could say Rhio learned a lot, too, but I kind of doubt that, unfortunately.  He needs a lot more miles at rides; no training or conditioning situation ever adequately replicates the conditions at a ride. I would love to be able to do multiday rides with him; 50 miles a day, day after day, would teach him a lot.  I'm going to try clicker training with him this winter to see if I can get some cued behaviors that will get him to focus on me even in high stress situations.  But mostly I just need to get him to more rides!  This really was only his 6th 50, so he is still green.  As am I.

The topography of this part of Kentucky was surprisingly hilly; nearly all the course was up or down, some of it pretty steep.  I think we wouldn't have finished the ride if we didn't live and train in Duluth, where all our conditioning rides are hilly, just some more than others.  I am grateful to have that base of hill work on him just by virtue of location.

By Saturday afternoon, it was a sunny 60 degrees and we couldn't have asked for better weather.  We heard that Minnesota was being socked by the first winter storm of the year, so despite the challenges of the day, it was still a better day fighting with my horse in Kentucky than it would have been at home not riding. 

We finished with a total ride time of about 7 hours, "tying for 25th place" a.k.a. the very last riders.  We were pleased with that, and had just enough time before dark to get our ponies settled for the night.  We re-weighed the horses on the scale, and Rhio dropped to 846.  He lost 62 pounds, which is more than I would have liked.  The weight loss is "water weight," i.e. sweat losses, as well as the loss of a lot of the fiber in his gut as he passes it through his system all day without truly replenishing (because he's working, not eating, all day). We got really nice wicking T-shirts as completion prizes, and after much-needed showers, headed out to a pub for yet another satiating meal.  It was a mini family reunion for Tom, with a large party of sisters, brothers-in-law, nephews, etc.  Candy and I shared our meal with another UMECRA member there on her own, and we split a slice of Derby pie for dessert (holy cow, yum!).
It's even my favorite color- blue!
Sunday morning dawned warm and humid, near 50 and foggy/drizzly.  We opted to leave the boys naked for the first part of the trip home, planning to stop as the temperature dropped and blanket them as needed.  About 30 minutes into the trip, though, while sitting in a left turn lane to get fuel, the trailer started rocking (oh for a camera so we could know what actually happened back there!).  We checked the horses immediately upon pulling into the station, and all three of them where breathing hard with flared nostrils, and trembling.  We couldn't figure out why, as everything else looked normal and heart rates and gut sounds were all normal as well.  We blanketed lightly and decided to keep going but stop somewhere with grass to unload and graze a bit on the way.  They travelled well the rest of the trip, and we never did figure out what the problem had been.

Being Sunday morning, we didn't anticipate any issues with the road construction involving the Ohio River bridge in Louisville.  That was a mistake.  Instead of following Tom's instincts for avoiding the construction, we decided to follow the posted detour.  Too bad they led us off somewhere with a clearly marked detour, then seem to have quit marking the appointed path!  So, we ended up driving in a big circle around Louisville, stuck on the east side of the river, for an hour.  Ugh.  We did finally make it across, and stopped at a nice rest area in Indiana to unload and graze the horses.  They relished the time out of the trailer, grazing like crazy, peeing, wandering about with us in tow, and Rhio even rolled.  We loaded up again and made the rest of the return trip without anything of interest to report. We were happy to find a snowless landscape in Madison, and settled the boys in for the night in the paddock, leaving our unorganized pile of belongings in the trailer for sorting on Monday morning.

After pizza, wine, and some nice Port, along with conversation, we rolled into bed for our last night on the road.  Windsor, Rhio, Candy, and I drove north Monday morning, right into the arms of winter.  We got home around 2:00 pm; Rhio was happy to trot off into his pasture (slip! slide!  Oh, geez, Rhio - BE CAREFUL! You still have shoes on, and now it's slippery out.) and Windsor was sad to see his buddy leave.

It was a great experience, and I'm so glad I went.  I hope to do another out-of-region ride next year, if I can!  It felt like a true vacation; we didn't know what was going on in the wider world when we came home, and we left the radio off the whole trip home to prolong that sense of being away just a bit longer.

To see more pictures, go to https://picasaweb.google.com/t.dentinger/KentuckyDiehardsRideNovember2011?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCIzyjoPpr8yCpwE&feat=directlink

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Not Quite Frozen

Sunday, November 27, 2011
North Shore State Trail

We'd spent the morning getting a load of hay, and felt we deserved the reward of a ride - despite the overcast skies, stiff east (cold) wind, and mercury hovering in the upper 20's F.  Red was my mount for the day (Rhio still had his shoes on and is still "resting" from our big adventure to Kentucky, which, no, I haven't written about yet - but I will soon, I promise!) and he loaded up easily into Gesa's trailer, although he was shaking like a leaf.  He has a good winter coat and it wasn't that cold for a horse, so I can only surmise that the trembling was due to emotional factors.  He has been described as "claustrophobic," and his last trailer ride involved entering a small straight load slot at the front of a 4 horse trailer with a dark interior - which he did when I asked him, but it was not a relaxing spot for him, I'm sure.  This was the first time he'd been in Gesa's trailer, and once he was in and realized that it wasn't dark or scary, and his companion was mild-mannered Paco, he seemed pretty happy, and quit shaking.

It is only a 10 minute ride over to the snowmobile parking lot for access to this particular portion of the North Shore State Trail.  Last time we rode this was March (see: http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8217460290798186155#editor/target=post;postID=3037237652001337764 ), when the snow was too soft for snowmobiles but perfect footing for horses.  We don't come much in the summer as the trail goes through some wet ground and the gate for the parking lot is locked, so we have to park and unload on the road.  Today, the gate was open and the parking lot contained a single car.  Firearms deer season is over, but archery hunters are still hunting, as well as upland bird hunters and of course other non-hunting and non-motorized trail users.  I have to admit I was a little surprised, since it really wasn't that nice of a day, but we are hardy souls up here in the North Country!

We set off and immediately around the first corner, we spotted a sled dog team pulling an ATV.  This was perfect weather for dogs to run!  Not wanting to cause a ruckus with the 10 or 12 huskies when they saw us, we halted and waited for their driver to get them turned around and headed back up the trail; she never noticed us and the horses were alert but seemed more interested than afraid.  Once the dogs had set off up the trail the way they'd come (I presume they came from the other direction, as there was not a dog truck parked in the lot), we continued forward and then decided to take the left hand trail.  I'd ridden this trail once before and remembered it getting too wet to pass fairly quickly, but we decided it was best to give the dog team some space, not knowing how fast they were going to travel.  The footing of this trail is more gravelly and less grassy than the state trail, and despite our incredibly warm fall, the ground is starting to freeze up.  It was slippery in spots, despite the lack of obvious ice, and the horses seemed to figure out pretty quickly that the safest spot was the far edges of the trail which were a little softer and more grassy.  We encountered a well-bundled couple and their German Shepherd out for a walk with several cameras in evidence.  They had also chosen this trail to stay out of the way of the sled dogs, having heard them coming.  Their shepherd was pretty hyped about seeing the horses, so we did not pause long to chat but continued on until we reached an obviously swampy portion.
Some of the open water is frozen, but not quite all of it.

The first wet spots were pretty solidly frozen and the horses had no trouble just walking through those areas, but as we attempted to cross the last 15 feet of low ground, Red and I ended up sinking into a bog and he toppled to his knees with the loss of momentum (we were only walking) and I half-dismounted, half-rolled off him so that he could extricate himself without my extra weight.  He plunged forward a few steps, came back around, and plunged several more steps back the way we'd come before he was free of the sucking mud.  It was frozen enough for me to walk across it, but definitely not frozen enough for a 1000+ lb horse!  He did not panic, but also did not want to be caught and headed back down the trail away from the bog about 50 feet before dropping his head to graze.  I walked right up to him, checked him over good for injuries (none, but lots of mud up to his knees/hocks), and then proceeded to hand-walk him through the clear-cut area to the right of the bog, which was higher ground.  He was perfectly willing to follow me, and once we'd skirted the wet area and remounted, we continued just a little distance before having to again skirt a bog-like piece of trail (we decided not to find out if it was really a bog or was frozen enough to cross).  We had about another quarter mile of nice high ground to trot before cresting a hill to see a wide expanse of bog in all directions spreading out beneath us.  Clearly, this was an excellent turning around spot!
Red's muddy legs
The offending bog - looks pretty innocuous, doesn't it?

Heading back the way we'd come we had no trouble skirting the wet spots again, and made it back to the trailhead after meeting up with a father, son, and dog party (Red was afraid of them, for some reason).  We'd had to walk much more than trot, and although the horses were plenty warm, even a little sweaty, Gesa and I were pretty chilly.  I was not quite on top of my game with the winter gear for some reason and my toes, fingers, and face were too cold for comfort.  We decided to head down the main trail and see how the footing was before calling it a day; we knew if we could trot consistently, we'd warm right up.

Yes, indeed, the grassy trail was much better footing and Red was in fine form, trotting out strongly and giving every impression of being ready to go miles and miles.  We did a couple of miles, and warmed ourselves up nicely, before turning around so that we would have plenty of time before dark to get home and get the horses cooled out and dry.

Despite the discomfort of cold extremities, it was wonderful to be out riding again; even though my last ride was only 8 days previous, it felt like it'd been a lot longer than that.  The day would have ended on a positive note, except that Kelso found some rancid deer bits to roll in and the smell was so overwhelmingly putrid that he had to ride back in the tack compartment; there was no way I was letting him in the truck with us!

A rub-down with a wet towel (I couldn't make myself hose him down at the barn in 25 degree weather) was enough so that I could barely tolerate the stench for the ride home in the car, but we went directly to the shower together and he got scrubbed down with my sweet-smelling body wash twice before I decided he was fit to live in the house again.  Ugh.  Why do dogs do that?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Friends Old and New

Saturday, October 29
Amity Creek/Hawks Ridge trails
Companions: Karen & Duke (we miss you guys!!!), Mandy & Moon, and Christine & Blaze

On Saturday, Rhio and I made our way along the road from home to the parking lot at Amity Creek/Hawks Ridge, which I was surprised to find was 2.75 miles.  It doesn't seem that far, and so I hadn't left us enough time to get there, since the traffic can be a little heavy on the route and the shoulder is narrow, hence I didn't feel comfortable traveling at a very high rate of speed.  We were running late, but conveniently so was one of our riding companions, who was coming directly from work while her barn buddies hauled her horse over for her.  With everyone converged and ready, we headed up the Amity Creek trail.  Luckily I had a partial roll of vet wrap stashed in my saddle bag, because Mandy and the metal sign proclaiming "No Motorized Vehicles Except Snowmobiles" were in the same place at the same time and her hand suffered mightily from the encounter.  After that inauspicious beginning, we were on our way, chatting and laughing and having friendly encounters with the other trail users we met, including intimidating the heck out of a couple of dogs.  This is a very popular trail for runners, bikers, hikers, and dog walkers, in addition to being a designated horse trail within the city limits, and so user conflict can be a real issue, but on this day we had all positive interactions (yay!).  The weather was marvelous (I'm sure you, reader, are getting tired of this refrain from every post I've written this fall - but I have to keep mentioning it because it has been the most delightful fall for riding in several years, and after the summer of mega insect populations and the spring of wet and cold, we deserve it!).

We made our way all the way up to the top of the trail, took a little side trip at the ford in the creek to get the horses' feet wet (good practice), and turned back down the trail when my companions suggested it might be time to move out a little.  Wa-hoo!  Rhio was more than happy to take the lead and motor down the trail, but I tried to keep an ear out for any signs of trouble behind me.  Everyone kept their heads about them, and we turned up the snowmobile trail toward Hawks Ridge itself, taking a short but scenic detour along the North Shore Trail portion of the snowmobile trail (the out trail for the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in January every year - I come up with my dogs in the winter to walk and find many brightly colored but nonetheless lost dog booties after race start).

Continuing our route in a rough triangle, we left the trail to ride the shoulder of the road, part of Skyline Parkway, up to the main raptor viewing overlook, with a breathtaking view of Lake Superior and eastern Duluth spread out at our feet.  The bird watchers gathered here, at the tail end of the migration, were friendly but more than a little surprised to see four horses in their midst.  We continued on down the road to an informal trail which cuts back to the Amity Creek trail, then finished our ride back where we started.  As we rode into the parking area, a lone woman was walking her sweaty horse to cool out before loading in her trailer to head home.  As most horse people do, we had lots in common so took up a conversation, before she and I realized we knew each other.  I used to do some vet work for her when she owned her previous horse and I was still doing regular vet work.  I should always remember to carry business cards with me, as we seemed to have a mutual desire to become reacquainted and possibly pursue riding together sometime, but I had nothing to give her my contact information with.  I hope we are able to locate each other for riding in the future.

She also gave me two tiny lights called "finger lights," which were completely new to me.  They are single LED lights with a switch, disposable when they run out of juice, and come equipped with a small loop of elastic so they can be worn around one's finger.  Apparently they are marketed for parties and raves, but their usefulness for anyone out after dark is immediately apparent.  And, they come in a bunch of different colors!  I see no reason why everyone on my Christmas list wouldn't receive these this year.  It was getting pretty close to dusk at this point, and I had the road to ride to get home yet.  I had Rhio's blaze orange rump rug and he is a gray horse, but I hadn't planned ahead well and didn't have his reflective leg bands on.  We placed one light on the back of my saddle and one on the breastcollar, and when I got home and dismounted, I was surprised to see just how bright they were.  Many thanks to Theresa for the lights!  We made it home safe and sound, and I will be getting some of those for future low-light rides as well as after-dark dog walking.

Tuesday, November 1
Ye Old Stomping Grounds
Companions: Christine & Red, Dawn & Secret, and Pat &... [insert pretty mare's name here - but I can't remember!]

Tuesday morning Christine brought the truck and trailer to pick me, Kelso, and Rhio up at the barn, then we made the short drive to Red's barn and picked him up as well.  We were meeting two women at our old farm to show them the riding in the area.  Dawn was already waiting for us, and we visited while getting the four horses tacked up and waiting for Pat.  It was cloudy and blustery, and threatening precipitation, but none of us let that deter us and off we went for a sedate trek around the farm property, then down the road to the gravel pit.

Christine asked to ride Red because Tomas had just had his shoes pulled and would have been sore footed on the gravel.  She'd also never ridden him before, despite numerous invitations to do so.  I am still hoping to get her into endurance, and experienced Red would be her perfect introduction to the sport.  Plus, Red loves to compete so much, that if I could find someone to do a few LDs on him next year, I would be thrilled.  No matter how hard I try, I just haven't been able to keep two horses competition-ready at the same time.

After touring around the farm trails, we headed over to the gravel pit and even ventured down the little-used short trail through the woods off the back of the pit.  I think it goes to someone's deer hunting grounds, but I have never followed it past a boggy area that has a sheet metal bridge - not horse friendly. It was very overgrown, and so we all got to practice our in-saddle ducking and weaving ability.

It was a short ride, and the weather held out for us.  We enjoyed each other's company, meeting new horse people, and I especially liked seeing Christine enjoy Red so much.  I also relished being back in the old neighborhood; I certainly do miss living and riding out there.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Saturday, November 12, 2011
Bird Sanctuary, Solon Springs, WI

I got up altogether too early for a Saturday, in the pre-dawn freezing dark, to get the dogs all situated for their day alone.  Walking, feeding, and medicating accomplished, I headed out to drop the oldster off with family for "daycare" while the whole neighborhood still seemed to be snoozing.  Then it was time to head out to the barn, getting Red caught up and our stuff ready.  A new horse friend, Dawn, picked us up and we set off, with a few stops along the way (mmm, caramel rolls) to meet up with our riding companions, Deidre and Kay, at a wildlife management area about an hour south of us, in Wisconsin.

It is lucky for us that the firearm deer season in Wisconsin starts several weeks after our does in Minnesota.  For those of us close enough to drive across the border to ride, it gives us a safe place to enjoy this incredible fall riding weather we've been fortunate enough to have this year.  The archery hunters are out and about, but I don't find that prospect terrifying as I do the thought of being in the woods with trigger-happy rifle hunters (who seem to shoot first, ask questions later in too many cases).

We humans were all shedding layers before we even mounted up, but our poor horses were stuck in their thickening winter coats while we all sweated in the near-60 we had in the glorious afternoon.  Despite the weather, and the great trails, we were the only people in the park for the entire day.  I am so surprised at this, as a Saturday like this is the fall should entice riders to saddle up over just about any activity I can think of - no bugs, no wind, sunny blue skies, and perfect footing, what more could you want?

This area is set up for horseback field trials, with about 2 dozen dog kennels, 2 separate sheds with stalls, and a healthy handful of paddocks.  There is no water, but a pond is accessible.  There is also a fire pit, an outhouse, and a covered picnic area.  The trails are a mixture of designated horse/dog trails and ATV/snowmobile trails.  Many of the non-motorized portions are grassy and sandy two track winding through an open, slightly rolling landscape, maintained with prescribed burns; we began our loop riding through a blackened area.  The motorized segments we rode were mostly road-like, and had a few rocky sections, but were still a sandy base.  This will be a great place for early-season training as it won't be muddy.  It'll also be a good spot for speed work, as the footing is really just about perfect everywhere - which we took advantage of with several good gallops and lots of moving out.

Red wanted to lead right off the bat, but of course we had no idea where we were going, so we had to settle for the rear guard for a while.  This proved advantageous, as Dawn's mare Secret was possessive/protective of the other two geldings and kept giving Red the evil eye/snarky face/cranky ear look.

About two miles into our 13 mile loop, we encountered the native residents: a flock of birds erupted from a shrub and the four horses scattered in four different directions.  I somehow managed to cling to Red's left side, from which position I was able to dismount rather than land unceremoniously in the dirt as I usually do, and the rest of my companions stayed aboard as well.  It would have been a very funny sight, I expect, to see us all careen off every which way.

We had some nice gallops in the open, a little bit of weaving between close pine trees and ducking the overhanging boughs on one short section, and lots of room to move out, slow down, pause for this and that, chatting all the while. Red and I were itching for our favorite long trotting, and a few miles from the trailers, we took the lead to show the others how it's done. Dawn is thinking about trying endurance (yay! another one to addict!) and her mare seemed to pace well with Red's extended trot; well, that is until she decided to take a huge chomp out of him!  Red evaded her teeth, and Dawn put her to work immediately, so no harm done.  But, shame on you, Secret!

We arrived back at our trailers a few hours later, and untacked our very sweaty horses then refreshed ourselves with a smorgasbord of munchies while conversing as only horse women can.  Red didn't eat or drink, but stood with a foot cocked.  This was not normal for him, and I was slightly uneasy about that, but I'd ridden with the heart rate monitor all day and it hadn't shown anything out of the ordinary.  All his other signs were good, so I guess I chalk it up to "I don't know."  He was 100% when we got home, enjoying his treat of oats while I curried a cloud of dried sweat out of his coat before turning him out into the chilly night.  My eyelashes were frosted with the sweaty dust I'd created with my vigorous grooming, and I realized just why people who work their horses into a significant sweat in the winter like to keep their horse's clipped!

I am so lucky to have places like this to ride, horse friends new and old to ride with (and who will pick me up!), and of course a good horse to enjoy an incredible day like this one with.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sweaty Eyelids

Ride #4 of my last-week-before-deer-season riding binge was yet another unseasonably lovely day.  Red, Sir Fuzziness himself, and I took ourselves down the road on our well travelled training route.  A few houses still had Halloween decorations on display, and Red was quite certain the pumpkins, ghouls, and ghosties were extremely vicious horse-eating monsters, liable to attack the minute you took your eye off them.  Somehow, we survived them and quite enjoyed our trek down the minimum maintenance road.  As I only had a limited amount of time, I rode out for 55 minutes, then turned around for home.  I estimated we'd take 35 minutes to get home, for my target of an hour and a half ride.  Red had other ideas, and we made it home in 30 minutes, which would have been 20 minutes if I'd let him.  Whee!

Red stares at the sheep we can see through the brush.
And the sheep stare back at us.
Getting home, I slid off to give him a hug and was delighted to see his eyelids were sweaty, but the rest of his head wasn't.  This sounds crazy, I know, but I think his sweaty eyelids are absolutely adorable.  See for yourself:

Red is going to be needing some new hoof boots for next season.  I noticed that he has worn a small hole in the toe of one of his hinds (Easy Boot Bare), and the other is getting quite thin at the toe.  I wish I'd started keeping track of the miles I put on these boots, but that is one detail I haven't been recording in my training log (I will from now on, though!).  One of the front boots (Easy Boot Epic) has a broken buckle and the gaiter is nearly torn as well, but the boot still seems to be in decent shape.  Is there a Hoof Boot Fairy that will bring new boots if I put the old ones outside Red's stall one night?  I will replace his hind boots, keeping the less worn Bare as a spare, and for now probably just replace the gaiter & buckle on the one Epic.  Frugality is the name of the game these days!

If this weather continues, Red and I will probably get out at least once during the week for a blaze orange-emblazoned road ride.  I know my days are numbered by the imminent arrival of snow, ice, subzero windchills, and lack of daylight, and I will yearn all winter for mind-emptying, meditative long trots with my boys.  So, I make the most of every opportunity I have now, in this glorious season called autumn.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Count 'Em

The little green dot at the top of the hill is Gesa & Paco.
Fall is absolutely the premier time to ride here in Minnesota - there are no bugs, the footing is good, and the weather is (usually) pretty nice.  This fall has been outstanding, as we are into November now with days still approaching 50 up here in the north.  D-Day approaches, however, as the gun-toting Deer Hunters will infiltrate the woods at first light on Saturday.  So, I've been spending a lot of time in the saddle this week, trying to eek out every bit of daylight from our dwindling supply and ride while I can.

Today's ride was uneventful and unexceptional, except in that it was perfect (well, ok, I will admit to slightly windburned cheeks and mildly uncomfortable chafing in an unmentionable location due to a poor pairing of undergarment + winter tights).  Gesa and I loaded up after the horses all got their feet trimmed (except Rhio who is still shod), and trailered the brief distance to our favorite local spot.  We had about an hour and a half of daylight left, so set off on our normal route up & down the rolling hills of the snowmobile trail.  Both boys seemed a little pokey to begin, and we allowed them to take it easy while we chatted.  With all the leaves off the trees, the trail looks wider and the landscape appears almost foreign.  Around a bend, we met a bird hunter with a pretty little Vizsla dog (who was stunned by our appearance on the trail, froze, then whipped around to join his person, and thence commenced barking from the safety of Dad's embrace), and after that the horses seemed energized and we continued along at a nice pace to the bridge, our turn around place.
Headed for home.  I always ask Rhio to cross the bridge before we turn around.
Heading back the way we came, we spotted a snowshoe hare dashing across the trail; the horses took notice of her as well, due to her unfortunate luck to be already sporting her winter white coat.  Luckily Kelso was sitting this one out, and she was safe from unwanted canine attention.
Working our way up.

Not quite to the top yet!
We mixed things up a bit by continuing across the road where we access the trail, which takes us a brief distance through the woods, past a loud-barking Newfie who challenges our right of way, and onto a short open section up, and then down, a big rock knob.  The trail is grass covered, but with large expanses of flat basalt here and there, and a particular hollow sound to our horses' hoofbeats.  It is a tiny bit of trail, but well worth passing the doggie "gatekeeper," especially in the fading rays of sunset when the light is magical shining off the rock and filtering through the pines.
I guess my grin says it all.
Returning to the trailer, the boys munched hay while we threw their coolers on, and I counted Rhio's shoes.  The last time we rode here, we came home missing two.  I'm pleased to report all four of his shoes are present and accounted for!

Tomorrow is Red's turn!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Coyote Serenade (Point Chaser 2011)

What a fantastic day for a fantastic ride on a fantastic horse. 
The last distance ride of the year in Minnesota is called Point Chaser, for obvious reasons if you are a rider who rides for points/year end awards.  Someday I might be a rider like that, but for now, as I have a pretty inconsistent competition calendar, I pay exactly zero attention to points.  I ride because I love it and my horse loves it.  I especially love to see new trail, and this year Point Chaser was held at a new location, Zumbro Bottoms horse camp in the Richard Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest, in southeastern Minnesota.  I had never had the pleasure of being in this forest before, and I already can't wait to go back. This is one of the most beautiful spots I've ridden in Minnesota, bar none.  It was stunning, even with little of the fall foliage remaining, and I can only imagine how breathtaking it would be about two weeks ago.
The landscape is limestone river bluffs surrounding the Zumbro River, and incredible vistas encompassing the river and the surrounding farmland.  I will apologize right up front - I have hardly any pictures from the ride.  We were going too fast to take pictures.  Really.

Standing corn and harvested soybeans following the contours of the land.  
Point Chaser is a three day ride, but Gesa and I were only able to drive down on Friday afternoon to ride Saturday (and I was vetting on Sunday).  It was a nice day for hauling, which we are especially thankful for now that we have a open stock trailer to haul with, but we still put sheets on the boys before leaving home, as the morning temperature in Duluth was only just above freezing.  Rhio was a little hesitant to load, although loading has been going really, really well since we discovered he likes to go in second instead of first.  I opened the front of his blanket, and that solved his hesitation and he jumped right on.  With fly masks and hay bags in place, and Kelso already snoozing in the backseat of the truck, we were off!

It was an uneventful trip down, although Rhio did eat pretty well from his hay bag, which is unusual for him (but very good!).  It is a long trip, as once we leave the divided highway, we are winding our way down into the river valley between ever-steepening hillsides and the going is slow.  We hardly noticed, though, as the scenery even just along the road is very pleasing.  I spent the boring hours of interstate driving working on attaching fabric loops to a pretty plaid wool lap blanket, in the hopes it would become Rhio's new rump rug.

This camp is huge, and it seemed there were rigs as far as the eye could see.  We were able to snag a little space fairly near the vet check area, and next to Chip, her wonderful dog Ruby, and her horse Dezi.  There was space left on the high (really, REALLY high - we "height challenged" types had to really work to get our ropes over them) lines for Rhio and Paco to settle in.  After food, water, and a walk for the boys, we vetted in for Saturday's events and got our own accommodations set up: my newly-waterproofed old tent with many layers of blankets, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads -  the nights' lows were to be slightly less than tent-comfortable so we were basically making ourselves a nest to burrow into. Even Kelso had his own "jammies" to wear, his own sleeping pad, and his own wool blanket - all my attempt to keep him from stealing mine!

We stayed up "really late" (10 pm) with Chip, visiting and snacking, until we were too cold, then snuggled in for the night.  As we were waiting for our body heat to warm up our nest of blankets (which it did nicely; we were toasty warm and perfectly comfortable all night), we heard the first of the coyote song which was going to sing us to sleep each night, and rouse us again in the pre-dawn dark.  A few owls joined in the chorus for good measure.

Gesa and Chip were going to ride the 30 mile Limited Distance ride together, and Rhio & I were ready for our first 50 mile Endurance ride of the season.  I hadn't managed to locate my headlamp (it's still misplaced, actually) and so was breakfasting myself and Rhio, and getting us ready, with my little flashlight in my mouth.  It's small enough that it doesn't make me drool too much when I do this, but the metal was really cold! I really must find my headlamp...

Rhio was calm but excited to go, and I was up in the saddle only about 10 minutes before our start time.  He gets more riled up the longer we have to wait once I'm mounted, even if I keep his feet moving, so I've found he's best left tied as long as possible.  I was a little chilly, which usually means I've dressed just about right for the exertion to come, and was glad I'd chosen wicking layers throughout: my silk long underwear beneath "fall" tights, "performance" top with polarfleece and a light jacket, little stretchy gloves (a little warmer than my summer riding gloves but not so much that my hands would get sweaty), and just a bandana covering the tops of my ears beneath my helmet.  Rhio was wearing his new wool rump rug, and the sun was just rising over the eastern bluff with the promise of a perfect riding day to come.

As soon as they called "Trail's Open!", we were off in the lead, on a loose rein.  He is such a beast when there are horses in front of him that I decided just to try going out in front.  This is not a place I'm used to being, but it sure worked for Rhio.  We were cruising down the trail, with plenty of forward motion but totally relaxed.  By the time we hit the river bridge (we were to cross this bridge 6 times during the course of our 50 miles), a small group of riders was with us and Rhio only gave up the lead to sacrifice another horse to the scary bridge monster so that it wouldn't eat us.  After a few more miles, the pack of six settled into two groups of three, with myself, a guy, and a gal staying together in the lead.  The three of us ended up riding the entire 50 miles together, and happily so.  The three geldings seemed to get along perfectly well, and we traded off leading, though Rhio and the guy's horse did the majority of it.

Our first loop was 20 miles, and it was a pleasant mix of wide 2-track and single track trail, going up, down, and around the river bluffs with some flatter areas for cantering.  Rhio seemed to have a blast with the trail and felt just as fresh finishing the loop as he had starting it.  We passed Gesa and Chip on the trail in, as they had started only 15 minutes behind us and were doing a shorter loop.  I thought maybe Rhio would want to stay with Paco, his training buddy, but he barely paused long enough to say hello as we cantered along a lovely bit of flat trail and kind of left them in the dust (sorry, guys!). We came in with a loop time of 2 hours 6 minutes.  Rhio pulsed down first, but the other two were right behind us, and we all scattered to our respective trailers for our hour hold.  Gesa and Chip arrived about 15 minutes later with Paco & Dezi, and the three horses got right to the business of eating and resting.  We riders tried to do the same, but there are always a million little things to do, find, adjust, etc plus a walk to the outhouse to accomplish, so even with a whole hour, I barely sat down.

At our exit CRI, Rhio's pulses were 12/11, which was nice to see as we'd never done a 20 mile loop at 10 mph before, but it was clearly well within his abilities.  The three of us who had ridden together were out basically together, and so we set of on our second 14.5 mile loop as a threesome once again.  Again, the loop was a lovely mix of climbing & descending, with twisty single track and some deep sand to keep us focused.  We were beginning to run into trail riders now, as it was approaching a reasonable hour to be out riding for fun and the day was in fact shaping up to be positively gorgeous.  The groups all seemed courteous & friendly on both ends - the competitive riders and the trail riders seemed to be sharing the trail easily.
The big descent on loop 2.
One hour and 33 minutes later, we found ourselves back in camp - it felt like the blink of an eye.  The competitive drive had begun by this time, and we had to pass several carts on our way in.  I was riding with the heart rate monitor, and although Rhio didn't give any outward appearance of being bothered by the carts, his heart rate shot up over 30 points each time we passed one.  He was pulsed down by the time we walked from the trail through camp to the timer, and we headed back to the trailer for more eating and resting.  Rhio preferred grass this check, but still finished off his beet pulp & goodie mash from the first hold.  It was warm enough to shed a few layers and leave the rump rug behind for the last loop.
Yep, that's ride camp down there.
Loop three took us up the eastern ridge near camp, and gave us a breathtaking panoramic view of the valley, the river, and ridecamp.  I very much enjoyed it as we flew past, really I did!  A trail rider on a cremello mare started tagging along with us, and was full of questions about endurance (hopefully a new rider for next year!).  Her mare kept up with us and she seemed to be having a blast.  Rhio did not care to have her directly behind us, however, and I kept him in the middle or front of our group of three.  About two miles from the finish, just as we'd crossed over the river bridge for the last time, the horses started speeding up on their own.  I could feel Rhio's competitiveness really kicking in, and I just kept telling him (and myself) that we were NOT GOING TO RACE!  NO RACING!  (Actually, I think my exact words were, "Knock it off! We're not racing! Settle down now! Quit!" repeated in various combinations as required.) It helped that we had to stop a few times for groups of trail riders, and pass a few carts, and just generally deal with some "traffic issues." Each time we had to slow, Rhio had to think about my directions a little bit more and settle down a little bit.  It was hard, as it was really fun to be flying along at a hand gallop and I didn't really want to slow him down, but safety was my number one priority and I kept my head about me, and checked Rhio down when my companion in my weight division took off in a sprint about 1/4 mile from the finish.  Boy did I have an unhappy horse for that last 1/4 mile to camp!  He was doing an excellent impression of a pogo stick, and when that didn't work to make me let him run to catch that horse, he started shaking his head so forcefully I was afraid he was going to throw himself onto the ground.  He was NOT HAPPY with me holding him back, but he did listen and we came into camp with the gal (a lightweight) we'd been riding with all day, and 1 minute behind the guy (a fellow heavyweight).  I've never thought I'd ever come close to winning a ride, so I was thrilled to pieces with a second place on a strong horse.  Rhio felt like a million bucks all day, eating and drinking like a champ, never tiring, and cantering or trotting along on a loose rein the entire 49 3/4 miles (yep, we were NOT on a loose rein that last 1/4 mile).
Trotting out.
And back.
The last loop took us 1 hour 20 minutes, and Rhio still felt as fresh as a daisy.  We stood for Best Condition at 30 minutes after our finish time, and Rhio looked absolutely fantastic.  He out ran me back to Dr. Dean on his CRI and was just the picture of a happy, fit horse.  I knew the guy had a decent amount of weight on me, but I was just thrilled with how well Rhio did all day and what a great time I'd had riding him.  To my surprise and delight, Rhio's vet score more than made up for the weight disparity, and Mr. Rhio, My Most Awesome Boy, WON BEST CONDITION!!!!!  It was his first BC, and the prize was, very appropriately, a bag of horse treats.  Rhio will enjoy his winnings very much!
Rhio's Best Condition treats and our ribbon.  Yes, I still like to get ribbons!  
About an hour after we finished, Gesa, Chip, & I decided to saddle up again and head up to the overlook to take in the views and take a few photos as well.  I mistakenly thought that I could take Rhio out in just his rope halter after doing 50 miles in less than 5 hours ride time, instead of putting his bridle on, and ended up having to hand walk him on the way back because he wanted to catch all the horses he could see in front of him.  It was well worth the short walk up the very steep hill to enjoy the magnificent panorama.
Paco & Dezi enjoy the view.

I wonder what the horses think when they gaze so intently at a view right along with us.

Before I knew we'd won BC, and you already can't wipe the grin off my face.
We all slept well Saturday night (I was a little too warm, actually), and in between vet duties Sunday morning I helped Gesa get everything packed up, horses loaded, and saw her & Kelso off for the long & lonely drive home.  I was able to snag a ride home with another Duluth rider, and eventually made it home, exhausted but euphoric, well after dark Sunday night.  What a way to end the season (though, sadly, I feel as though my season only just began with being able to do a single ride back in May, and now two in October, as my only rides for the year on my own horse).

I am so proud of my super star horse.  It was such an incredible feeling to ride him all day, and just feel like I had so much horse there and he was so happy flying up and down the hills, weaving in and out of the trees, and basically doing a darn good impression of magical winged Pegasus with nothing but wind beneath his hooves.  My horse is awesome.
My "poor, exhausted" pony - not exactly!