Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Musings and Observations

We have four groups of horses pastured separately, each pasture with a run-in shed.  For the most part, all the horses stay outside 24/7, blanketed as needed.  This is a great way to keep horses; it's very healthy for them to be outside in the fresh air and moving around at will, plus they have all the social/psychological benefits of being part of a herd.

During particularly inclement weather, however, we have found that we need to manage these groups a little more, including bringing some of the horses in to stalls.  Each run-in shed is plenty large enough for the number of horses (max:4) in each group, but none of the groups will use the sheds in such a manner that all individuals can be under cover at once.  Each shed is configured a little differently, but I think one of the big factors is the number of entrances.  Two of the sheds have two doors, and two of the sheds have a single opening.  With a single opening, one horse can stand just inside or outside the door and block all the other horses out.  With a double opening, one horse can only block one door, and so the other is still available.

Living on-site and observing the horses in different group configurations (our current herd structure seems to be the best we've ever had) and in the different pastures has been really interesting.  In Rhio's group, which is four horses and a single-door run-in shed, any two of the horses can be in the shed with hay at any time, but if a 3rd horse is added to the shed, the lowest ranking of the three will immediately leave and stand in the alleyway or paddock.  This pasture also has the poor luck to have the run-in shed facing east, where we get a lot of lake wind (read: icy cold), so standing in the alleyway or paddock provides no windbreak whatsoever.  In this group, we often bring the two lowest ranking horses (Cricket & Tomas) into the barn overnight and feed hay to the two highest ranking horses (Rhio & Kaos) inside the shelter so they can stay out of the wind.  This arrangement works really well and all the horses seem happy with it (although the humans are less happy when we have to clean stalls the next day, or go out late at night to put out fresh buckets of warm water to the stalled horses in the winter).

Another group (3) has a two door run-in shed with a large protective overhang, which also faces east.  They have excellent protection from north or west winds, but not as much protection from an east wind.   There is ample space both under the overhang and in the shed for at least twice as many horses as are in the group, yet only the two geldings get to utilize the shelter and the mare is typically standing just outside the overhang.  This group does a better job of sharing the overhang if their hay is placed well outside the protected area, so if we feel we need to feed hay in the shed/overhang, one of these horses must come in to a stall as well.

Our smallest group is two horses, and neither of these horses tolerates being stalled very well.  The mare, however, stands in the doorway of their single-opening shed and does not allow the gelding in at all.  This shed faces south, so even standing in the alleyway, the gelding gets protection from the wind most of the time and does just fine with this arrangement.  It is extraordinarily frustrating, however, as a rational being to see a huge shelter being occupied by a single horse, with the poor old pony standing with his head down out in the elements just outside the doorway.

Our final group is three geldings with a south-facing, two-door shelter.  The two top geldings usually each claim a side of the shelter (this one is actually divided with a gate in the middle into two "stalls"), and the third is left to stand in front of the shelter.  Sometimes there is some wind protection in front of the shelter, depending on the direction.  This field has zero wind breaks at all, however, and in very bad conditions we must put the hay inside the shelter to prevent its blowing away; at those times, we have to bring one of these geldings in to the barn as well so that the other two can each claim a side of the shelter & a hay pile.  Imagine my surprise this morning to find all three of these horses in the shelter!  I think I've only seen the 3 sharing once before.

You may wonder why we have shelters that don't face south, as would be typical for our climate.  Three of the shelters are built into existing buildings, and there were no options with the pasture & building layout but to face two of them east.

Last night was a night of pretty inclement weather, with a cold east wind and rain to begin, which switched to snow overnight and we woke up to 2" of wet snow on the ground.  Most of the horses were wearing waterproof sheets or light blankets, but I still brought Cricket & Tomas in the barn for the night and fed everyone else in or near their shelters.  In the fresh snow at morning feeding, I could see how each group had behaved over night.  Rhio (& Kaos? or maybe just him) clearly spent time wandering all over the pasture, as there were tracks and trails leading to & fro everywhere. The pasture looked to be a parquet floor of muddy hoof prints interspersed with white snow.   Cody, Winston, & Centaurus hadn't come out of their shelter much at all, other than to get to the hay piles just in front of their overhang; the snow was pristine & undisturbed.  Mo & Annie (both? just one or the other?) had wandered just out of their alleyway in a small loop and right back to the shelter - a single foray out into the snowy landscape. Duke, Quick, & Levi had done a good amount of wandering around, with tracks leading every which way in an indecipherable maze, although all three were tucked in to the shelter when I brought their feed out.

I don't know why horses do the things they do, exactly, but I am thoroughly enjoying observing how each individual's personality plays into their herd dynamics and behavior.

Friday, April 15, 2011

How We Lost & Then Found Ourselves Again

Last week Gesa & I planned another long training/conditioning ride and set off to do our 11 mile loop once again.  Both Rhio and Paco were particularly lazy heading out from the farm, and this continued for a while.  It's actually pretty typical for Rhio to be unmotivated when we head out, and then we reach some unseen threshold and he is suddenly ready to GO!  I suspect it may be a certain distance from the farm - prior to hitting that magic place (I know right where the switch happens; it's pretty consistently in the same area), I can barely get anything more than a tiny jog-trot and he's dragging his feet (literally).  Once we cross that line, however, I have my forward-trotting, offering-to-canter-every-chance-he-gets Rhio, and grab mane for the ride home, because once we turn around, it's a race!  This is actually an annoying habit, and one I can't seem to conquer.  It doesn't happen at all if we trailer out somewhere else to ride, but almost always happens on rides from home.
Posing in the gravel pit.
We decided to cut through the big gravel pit to see what the footing was like in there, and for variety.  Doing something a little different always seems to perk the ponies up a little.  First, we had a nice long drink at the first icy puddle we came to, then a little canter up a hill until a big spook at the top because of the boulders lined up there.  They are the very same boulders that have always been there, and Rhio has been through this pit numerous times.  Ah, spring!  We head down into the "belly" of the pit to do a little hill work climbing back out again, and enjoy the views from the top.
Gesa & Paco at the top.
Ready to go on with our loop, we try to find the little path through the back of the pit to the trail in the woods that leads to the snowmobile trail.  This is just a trickle of beaten down ground through the aspen saplings which has been made by repeatedly cutting through, and although I had trouble getting my eye on just the right spot, Rhio remembered where he was and led us through the brush.  Once we hit the trail, we were surprised and disappointed by just how much snow was still on the ground in the woods.  It was grainy, soft, and slid around easily, making for very slippery going for the horses.  Rhio especially seemed to have trouble with his hoof boots; I have found them to be incredibly slick on snow.  We carefully picked our way along, sliding down the hills, and both horses did a good job of keeping their footing and moving cautiously.  The snowmobile trail was in slightly better shape as it had been packed & groomed all winter, but was still walking-only.  After all that walking due to the footing, our average speed for the ride was pretty slow, around 4.3 mph.  We picked up a trot down the gravel road starting the "top side" of our loop, and soon found ourselves waiting to cross the busy road.
Paco picking his way carefully down a little hill in the slippery snow.
Once across the road, we have about a 1 1/2 mile stretch along the shoulder of a fairly busy road.  The shoulder is wide & flat, but when the ground is dry we can actually ride way off the road in the ditch.  We had to stick to the shoulder now, but I am pretty comfortable riding here.  It is a long straightaway, however, and we are heading home.  Rhio & I started to argue at this point - he voted for an all-out gallop down the road towards home.  I voted for a nice controlled trot.  We were not able to compromise, and both became increasingly frustrated.  Every time a car would pass, Rhio would start to canter, sometimes in place if he was halfway listening to me and sometimes feeling like he was going to buck.  I was growling at him, yelling at him, trying to make him work (leg yields, circles) - but every time I put any leg on him at all, he took off.  Anytime I released pressure at all, he took off.  It was a very unpleasant ride, and once we got off the straightaway, we continued to argue pretty much the entire 5 miles back to the farm.

It was not a good end to our ride, though we had done the 11.6 miles with an average pace of 5.2 mph and he had done some things really well, like being careful on the bad footing.  It felt like we were really at odds with one another and not functioning like a team at all.  Part of the trouble could be the fact that I was very sleep-deprived and exhausted, and he is already starting to get bored with doing the "same" ride all the time. Also, I know that we have some saddle fit issues, and soreness will definitely make a horse out-of-sorts.  At any rate, I turned him out for the night and went to bed early!

The next day we went out for a solo ride to get our heads together again.  His back was a bit sore from the long ride (surprisingly, the saddle is not starting to fit any better on its own!) and he had little rubs from the gaiters on his hind Gloves.  So, I left him barefoot, tossed the bareback pad on, and we set off for a little wander with no purpose other than to enjoy ourselves.  A zero-pressure ride was just what the doctor ordered.

We picked our way through the trails out back, where the footing is pretty bad with alternating areas of mud and ice/snow.  The little stream which usually runs through a culvert on the trail was flooded and rushing over the trail, but a little lookie-loo at that for a bit and he walked right on through it (good boy!). We sank through snow & hit water beneath several times, which surprised him but he again stayed calm.    One section of mud was particularly deep & sucking, and that was no trouble either.  In fact, I would say the whole ride he was a model citizen and seemed happy, relaxed, and very willing.  I was happy & relaxed, too.  There was the little incident of the grouse, and then a little later the ducks - but besides a quick shudder in place at those frights, he just kept right on moving without any balking about being out alone or rushing to go faster.  We made a loop out of it, passing through the farmyard at Red's barn and home along the road.  He was so good we even cantered along the shoulder of the road, all nice & relaxed.  He didn't even break stride when we came even with the hayfield at the corner and saw a man dressed in a green sweatshirt lying prone in the grass.  Both Rhio & I did a double take at that, and I shouted "Hi!" and got a response of "Hi!" back, so at least I knew the guy wasn't dead or something.  But it was a very odd thing to see - why would you lie down in the middle of what was probably a cold, wet, muddy field?

So now you know how two rides can be so very different in tone & emotion; one was not fun at all, really, and the other was bliss.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sweet Sixteen

Got carrots? 

April 13, 1995 was a great day.  It's the day my boy Red was born on a farm in Wisconsin.  To celebrate, Red got a bunch of carrots, his favorite, and a hock injection with a special add-on service of sheath cleaning.  What a lucky birthday boy!

Still sedated post-hock and post-sheath cleaning

A friend sent me the following email, which I just had to share because it's hilarious!

"Dear Taryn (notice I am not calling you mom anymore),

Please take me off your birthday present list – I don’t like your birthday presents.  I was hoping for a hot bran mash, a full grooming with a massage and 50 lbs of carrots (that is to share with my friends).  Since your presents are not really to my liking I think I will celebrate my birthday by myself.  Good luck catching me?  I am going to go stay with the cows!

Red aka Pincushion"

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Whole Neighborhood Was Out!

I took Rhio out for a solo ride today, which is something I need to make sure we do on a regular basis.  He MUCH prefers to go with another horse, and although we manage alone, he does make it abundantly clear that he is not happy.

I had a few things to try out today, so tacking up took longer than normal.  I gave up on trying to get my horse clean, though, and just made sure the areas under tack were relatively dirt-free.  After de-tangling his wind knots, I braided his mane in a single running braid.  For some reason, Rhio absolutely hates having his mane braided in the narrow vertical braids that I normally do for cooling purposes at an endurance ride. He constantly shakes his head while I put them in, and seems aggravated by having them in place.  As a rule, I remove his braids as soon as we are done with our ride.  The running braid worked great today and he didn't seem annoyed by my placing the braid and I got zero head shaking during or after.  Hmmm!  I may have to work on my technique a little, but this might be his new style for endurance rides :)
Pretty boy! (This is the cleanest spot on him because it's normally protected by his mane.)
So why did I braid Rhio's mane today?  There are two main reasons, the first being that it was very windy and it seemed like a good way to help retrain his twisted mane out of its wind knots.  The second reason is to keep all that hair out of the way of the reins, as I was planning a little experiment riding with 2 bridles, and therefore 2 sets of reins.  And, of course, I think he looks pretty braided!

I have been having some issues with him listening to me and respecting the hackamore in situations where he's very amped up and wanting to go forward faster than I want him to.  He has not actually done anything that qualifies as certified bad horsey behavior, but he has not been the relaxed, easily rated horse I'm used to.  Once again, I'm contemplating using a bit with him (I've gone through the bit vs. hackamore debate with him at least once a year and so far keep coming back to the hack) and thought I'd see if I could ride him in a version of a double bridle so I had both options.  My version of a double bridle consisted of Cricket's headstall with it's low-port, solid mouthpiece, short shanked curb (a "grazing" bit) which has a leather curb strap with Rhio's regular hackamore over it.  Rhio's hack is adjusted a bit higher on the nose than the bit, so the curb strap on the bridle and the curb chain on the hack did not interfere.  The shanks also seemed clear of each other, so I decided to ride with this set up.  Thankfully, all my reins have snaps at the ends and I was able to put blue reins on the bit and my normal black reins for the hack, so it was easy for me to distinguish the two.
Green is the headstall for the hackamore. Black & tan is the headstall for the bit. It didn't seem too annoying to him to wear them both.

They don't actually interfere!
The other two things I tried today were rub-related.  Rhio is getting rubs on his sides from the very worn sheepskin stirrup leather covers I have; the back part of the sheepskin is worn away completely into a sharp edge of stiff leather which is between my calf and his side.  I really need to replace them.  But I also need to replace the stirrups "leathers" that I use (which are biothane)... so it's easier to just keep using the same old getup I've been riding in for years.  So, I removed the sheepskin covers to see if, with my half chaps, I could ride without the covers. [The answer, by the way, is "not in the current configuration - ouch!" I need to reverse the direction of the leathers and see if I can get my buckle on the outside of my ankle instead of rubbing against the front of my ankle as it did today.]   The other rubs are on his hind pasterns from the gaiters on the easy boot gloves.  He got these last year as well, and I was using vet wrap beneath the gaiters with good success.  Today I tried nylons, but left the toe intact and slipped them over his hooves.  They simply slid down to the bottom of his pastern and didn't stay under the gaiter to protect his pasterns at all!  I think I need to remove the toe and just have a tube that will sit on his pastern, so I will try that on our next ride.
Rhio, who is not girly in any way, sporting nude nylons under his hind boots. I hope the other horses just thought it was dirt (not hard to imagine with this boy!) and won't make fun of him in the pasture!

The light area with a dark rim where the hairs are actually broken off shorter than the rest of his coat from the bare trailing edge of my sheepskin leather covers. Also note the big buckle on my leathers, which was eating my ankle for dinner! Yikes! I can't have the buckles up under the saddle flap either, which is where they would be on an English saddle, because in that position I have a big nasty lump under my thigh.
So, finally we're ready to ride!  It's so warm (upper 60's!) that I don't even bring a jacket with me, and therefore forget completely about having treats along.  Too bad, as today would have been a perfect time to utilize Rhio's treat-centered motivation for some behavior modification.  We set off out the end of the driveway and he balks slightly, which is usual for him.  We walk (slowly & with many attempts to veer off to the right or left in the hopes that I wouldn't notice him turning around) down the road to the first paved road crossing, about 3/4 mile.  We practiced our circles as Abby taught us, and his unwillingness to go away from the barn was about normal for him.  Once we cross this road, he usually stops arguing to go home and will move forward willingly (though still not at the pace that he would volunteer when headed home).  Today we crossed the road to encounter a pair of girls on chestnut horses coming toward us.  Lo! Now, this is exciting!  Rhio pricked his little ears as stiff as they would go and moved out to meet them like long lost friends.  I said a quick hello but didn't let him stop (we don't actually know these girls or their horses), and as soon as he realized they were "leaving" him, he basically threw a fit.  He refused to turn away from home, and would only go in reverse, and tossed his head, swished his tail, etc. Neither piece of headgear had any effect, and I jumped off to lead him away in hand.  Getting out of sight around a bend, I was able to remount and we continued forward without fuss.  He was happy to trot, but not quickly, and threw in a big mournful whinny for his long-lost, barely-met "companions."

As we got further from home, his behavior & pace improved.  We met another pair of riders, again unknown to us, at our turn-around at the second paved road and we were able to walk along and chat with them briefly.  With their permission, Rhio & I left them at a trot and he was soon rocking along just as easy as can be in his little canter...until he realized they weren't coming with us.  Luckily we were still headed home, so it didn't take much convincing at all to get him to continue away from his second set of long-lost companions.  About another mile down the road, we meet yet another rider, this time known to me but the horses didn't know each other.  We stopped to chat, and meanwhile the first pair of riders came back and turned away from us and the second pair of riders crested the hill behind us.  This was great because now there were various sets of horses moving in different directions, and he had to continue on by himself (again, we were going home so he didn't fuss too much).  What a great and totally unplanned training day!  We rarely run into other riders, and those we do are known to us.  The whole neighborhood seemed to be out riding today.

I used the bit a few times, and he seemed a bit more responsive to it than to the hack. He did not get all tense & worried as he has in the past when I've ridden him with a bit.  I was pleased that the two reins & such didn't seem to interfere with each other and I was able to manage them fine.  I did have to hold the black reins of the hack in my left hand while using the bit, as those reins are very long and seemed to want to ride with a big loop hanging off one side of his neck, which seemed like a safety hazard (he might have been able to somehow get a front leg through that long loop).

We made it back to the barn without incident, and then I did the unthinkable - I asked him to continue on past the driveway!  NO WAY he practically shouted, and once again he was throwing a fit.  I did not have to get off this time, and with some circling and instant release of pressure when he was facing away down the road, it seemed that he caved to my will more quickly this time.  We carried on at a nice trot, then stopped to chat with the neighbor.  Again when I asked him to leave her driveway, he balked.  It only took about 2 corrections this time to get him headed away from home again.  We hustled over to Red's barn to visit (by the way, the beaver are enjoying the 6 feet of open water at the edge of the pond and gave us a big tail THWACK going & THWACK - THWACK coming... not a very horse-friendly animal, the beaver!) and Rhio got to "graze" the green shoots poking up in the lawn.  (Mmmm, fresh munched grass makes the best horsey breath!)

Our return ride home (minus the beavers) was relaxed, happy, and easy, including a little canter.  There was no rushing, no franticness, no head way up in the air - it was a fantastic end to what turned out to be a very good ride.  It was a mentally challenging ride for Rhio, and I think he did really well.  I used my GPS as usual to record our time, distance, and speed, which I will dutifully record in his log book, but the physical wasn't the point of this ride at all.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Signs of Spring

Look closely & you'll see the oodles of chestnut fuzz littering the ground around him.  I love being able to do spring grooming outdoors where I don't have to clean up!
Yesterday was the first no-jacket weather we've had all spring, and Red, Kelso, & I went over to the gravel pit to explore.  Red's hocks are still sore, and I'm waiting on one item before I can do his injections, so we just moseyed and enjoyed.  See our ride in photo essay form below:

Gazing out over all the still-frozen ponds.

You can't see them in this picture, but there are Canada geese on one of the frozen ponds.

Poor geese possibly migrated just a shade too early this year!  They're stuck wandering around on the pond instead of swimming in it.

This is actually a photo of pussy willows - the little shrub next to the evergreen.  When the photo is large on my screen I can see them, but I realize you'll have to use your imagination for this one. Sorry!

The aquamarine color of the thinning ice was really pretty here - it is washed out in the photo.
Ready to go back out with his herd.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

32 Miles

Got treats?
It's begun!  The roads are clear enough to do some serious conditioning, and my endurance season has officially begun.  Our first ride is MnDRA I on May 7 & 8, a mere 5 weeks away.  I always plan on riding Limited Distance (25 miles) at that ride, because our spring weather is so fickle here in the Northland.  It's hard to predict how much conditioning I'll actually be able to do in preparation for this first ride.  So, I plan for the first ride to be 25 miles of conditioning, and a really fun time catching up with everyone I haven't seen since Point Chaser in October.

We've had a great week of rides.  Rhio and I did a total of 32 miles this past week, in rides of 9 miles, 9 miles, and 14 miles.  Our first 9 miler was Tuesday, 3/29.  We have had lovely afternoons for riding, with temps in the 40s and sunshine.  We set off with Kelso, heading toward our closest significant training hill with the intention of doing a little hill work and heading home.  Just as we turned to head up the hill, here comes Jodi & Rana down the hill toward us.  Well met, pretty mare & fine friend!  The horses were both in full spring mode, spooking and trying to race, and we rode up & back along the clear portion of road (hemmed in by shady/icy sections and paved roads without good clear shoulders) enjoying each other's company and lamenting together about the fact of riding spring-fresh horses.  Rhio had been pretty unmotivated riding out alone, but of course as soon as we met up with a buddy, he was overwrought with energy & the inability to disperse it efficiently into useful forward motion.  As a result, I was riding a stiff board of a horse with a rock-solid neck jutting up in front of me, head-tossing & neck-snaking his way along at a stilted canter, hooves slapping the ground and jarring my internal organs in a most unpleasant fashion.  I have to say, the experience really wasn't all that enjoyable.  But, it was fairly reminiscent of the start of an endurance ride, so in its way it was a useful training situation.  He did not buck, rear, bolt, or lose his mind.  In past years, it would not have been unthinkable for him to do all those and then some in a situation like this.
Still a little fancy footwork required to negotiate the remaining icy patches on the road, but it's totally doable!
Our second 9 miler was two days later, and Gesa & Paco joined us for more road riding.  This was our first time booted for the year, and also we attempted to use the heart rate monitors.  I never got a good signal on Rhio's monitor, but Paco's worked pretty well.  I presume that the still-present winter fuzz was preventing good contact with the electrodes.  I usually just wet my electrodes with water upon application, and rely on my sweaty pony to keep them sensing well.  With all the extra coat, I should have used some electrode gel (which solved the problem perfectly on ride #3).  The Gloves are still working nicely on his hinds, and I used fetlock boots as well to prevent any interference wounds.  The Renegades on his fronts actually seemed a little tight, and I'll have to figure out how to loosen the cables before I use them again, I think.  I did not notice as much forging as he usually does in boots (well, he does it all the time, but the boots seem to make it worse, though it may just be more noticeable).  We had a nice ride, mostly covering the same ground as I had with Jodi on Tuesday, though we also ventured through the softening snow pack on the closed portion of the road.   The boys did wonderfully together, as they always do; we did not have to contend with race-brained, spring-crazy horses and allowed them to set the pace as they chose.  Rhio led 99% of the time, as he prefers, and Paco followed, as he prefers.  The horses clearly have some lines of communication which are a mystery to us, as they nearly always put themselves in the same positions and are completely at ease with one another.  Rhio can be really reactive to other horses (especially mares) when we are riding in groups, and we tend to do a bit of skittering around as he tries to keep a "safe" distance from the other horses' bubbles of personal space (whether they are projecting obvious "get away" body language or not).  With Paco, there is none of that.  Our average pace per my GPS was 5 mph for this ride - not too shabby considering we had to walk the whole snowy section, and found ourselves walking & chatting a bit more than we sometimes do (although we do it, it's not as easy to carry on a shouted conversation at the trot).
Muddy legs, muddy boots, and muddy Kelso in the background 

Just mounted up for ride #3 and they're both smiling :) 
Our third and longest ride of the week was Saturday April 2.  Gesa & Paco again joined us, and we planned to attempt the big loop ride, which is mostly road with about 2 miles of snowmobile trail.  I had Plan B worked out in case we couldn't negotiate the half-melted, slushy/icy snowmobile trail and had to turn back, but luckily we were able to complete the whole loop.  Our plan was to increase distance to at least 12 miles (we did 14), but maintain approximately the same pace as our Thursday ride.  Um, apparently the horses didn't get that memo!  Rhio was fired up and ready to go, setting a nice forward pace and moving along on a loose rein right from the start.  That boy was all business, moving along eating up the miles, and occasionally stopping for a refreshing sip from an icy puddle.  Ahhhhh!  Now this is the kind of ride I've been longing for since the snow first fell 6+ months ago.  We had an absolutely fantastic ride for the first 9.5 miles.  Then I landed abruptly on my backside in the snowbank.  Uh, what?!  Ok, turns out poor Rhio had a fright and just disappeared from beneath me (a.k.a. Arab teleporting) - Jodi and Rana popped up over the crest of a ridge in the gravel pit to our left, which was slightly screened by some trees, and Jodi shouted a greeting.  None of us knew they were there, but I expect they heard our hoofbeats on the road.  Anyway, it wasn't a big deal and it was the softest landing I've had, ever.  The worst of it was hopping around on one foot emptying the snow out of my boots before my socks got too wet.  Successfully remounted, Jodi & Rana joined us for a few miles of road work, and again the horses got racy, competitive, and hard to handle (well, mine did at least - Paco had the sense to stay back out of the fray and I don't think Gesa had as much trouble with him as I did with Rhio).  It's like the energy level just shoots up and Rhio can't emotionally cope with it.  I again had the stiff, fighting, crazy horse beneath me.  Not fun.  Again, he didn't do any of the explosive behaviors that I know he is capable of, and we even started to make a little progress backing off the pace and staying behind and he began to be able to listen to me a little bit.  Hopefully Rhio is learning to listen to me even when he gets emotionally overwrought (for that's what it seems to be to me).  We split off from Jodi and headed home, ultimately finishing our ride with an average pace of 5.6 mph.  Yep, we committed the cardinal sin of conditioning, increasing both pace & distance at the same time, but both horses did extremely well and handled the work load easily.  Rhio's heart rate monitor showed completely normal working heart rates for him, and both horses were still full of zip when we turned in the driveway.  The horses drank 4 or 5 times during the ride, which is something Gesa has been working at with Paco, and we ended the day with cold beer & steak on the grill (thanks to Gesa's husband Mike).
Posing on the still-snowy snowmobile trail
I am amazed (and a little jealous) at how quickly Rhio gets back into shape.  Obviously, he wasn't "off" all winter, but the kind of riding we can do in the winter is very different from endurance and our early rides showed me his reduced condition, especially in the hill work we did on the snowmobile trail.  Already he is feeling nearly as fit as he was at the end of the season last year, and ride #3 last week was his best by far for energy, enthusiasm, and drive.  (It's just not fair!  It's taking me WAY longer to get back into my jogging program.)
Argh!  See that white area up by his shoulder/withers?  It's not sweaty because there's too much pressure there from the saddle, not allowing the sweat glands to activate.  This is NOT GOOD! 
The major issue I see cropping up is saddle fit (yet again).  After all three rides, he had dry spots behind his withers on both sides, with the left side being slightly larger & more obvious than the right.  His back is not sore, he is not moving differently, and he is not exhibiting his averse-to-tacking-up behavior (which has been the major indicator of saddle issues in the past), but I am not happy with the less-than-perfect sweat pattern!  More investigation to come on this matter....