Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

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....

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