Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Sunday, May 15, 2011

MnDRA I - What a Weekend!

Loop 1, about 11 miles into 15 miles (photo by Henry)
Gesa & I had an uneventful trip to Sand Dunes State Forest for the very first distance ride of the season.  Before loading up, however, I discovered Rhio in the pasture with a bloody leg.  Of course, he manages to hurt himself in the four hours between morning feeding & time to go!  The wound was small and high on the inside of his left front forearm.  Wounds always look quite dramatic on a grey horse, but after cleaning it up I decided it wasn't anything to worry about, and a quick trot confirmed no lameness, so he climbed aboard Christine's trailer (thanks for the loan, C!) and we headed over to pick up Gesa & Paco.
Rhio's wound on Saturday 
Driving into camp, we spot Lynne & her horse Niso set up just across from vet check, so swing in by them, since we were planning to camp together.  Paco & Rhio settle in to the high line, with Niso next door in her pen.  In no time, Donna, Salma, & CrackerJack arrive and set up with us as well.  Yay!  We haven't all been together since last August, so mile-a-minute talking quickly ensued, though I had to excuse myself and begin vetting horses in for Saturday's events.  Dusk set in with some beautiful clouds prompting us to preemptively cover the boys in their rain sheets.  A couple laps around camp to stretch everyone's legs (and the horses almost always drink when we get back from a walk, so that's a nice bonus), with the horses thrilled to munch the plentiful green grass (none of that at home yet!), and we were ready for the night.  Camp settled down quickly Friday night, with most everyone planning to ride Saturday (except all of our contingent - I was vetting & Gesa volunteering as scribe Saturday, Donna's CrackerJack is a few days shy of 48 months old - the minimal age to compete an LD, and Lynne & Niso didn't feel conditioned enough to compete).  We had munchies & conversation in Donna's trailer before splitting up for bedtime - Donna, Salma, Kelso & I in her trailer and Lynne & Gesa in Lynne's trailer.  Gesa & I loved the luxury of a mattress over our usual tent!
Ready for bed!
Saturday "morning" (yes, technically 4:40 am is morning, but it sure doesn't feel like a reasonable time to be awake - the major drawback of my chosen obsession is the wee hour wake-ups) came all too quickly, and I piled on a few extra layers, refilled the boys' hay bags, and dragged myself over to vet check for the rider's meeting and to vet in a few last minute starters.  By the 6:00 am start for the 50 milers, the sun was up and it was clear the weather gods were smiling upon us this day.

I was able to see Rhio & Paco on their high line all day from vet check, so I was able to assure myself they weren't getting into any trouble.  Gesa spent a lot of the day helping, but also did all the pony care while I was working (thank you Gesa!!!).  In the afternoon she saddled up for a little ride, and Rhio was unhappy to be left behind.  Besides making a pitiful racket calling for his buddy, he was good while Paco was gone.

Aww!  My lovely pony. 
It was a tough day on course for a lot of competitors, with temps in the low 70s and the perennial deep sand that Sand Dunes is famous for.  Six of the 11 starters in the 50 were pulled, mostly for lameness.  A few LDers and competitive riders didn't complete, either, and one horse had to be treated for a tie-up after completing the 25 mile ride.  I think there has been a horse treated at this ride almost every year; I think the course is deceptively challenging with the deep sand, especially when coupled with a slow, late spring that really cut in to most rider's training time.  Add to that the warm temps, which we haven't had a chance to accustom to yet this year, and it was a recipe for hot, tired horses.  Many of the horses had tight hamstrings from the deep sand, and sore shoulders were also a common finding.  All the riders did a great job of taking care of their horses whether they were pulled or completed the course.

Paco & Rhio vetted in with flying colors Saturday evening, with Rhio's heart rate at 32.  He must be getting used to ride camp (he should be, I think this is his 4th year of attending rides), as 32 is his resting rate at home, but it is typically 40 at a ride.  After getting our 52 inked in green on his rump, we settled the boys into CrackerJack's vacated pen for the night (thanks Donna! our boys LOVE to have a pen to relax in) and I watched as Rhio proceeded to immediately zap himself on the electric tape.  I felt a little sorry for him (he looked *very* surprised), but I was also pleased that he'd touched it and felt much more secure in leaving him in the pen overnight.  This is the first time he's been in an electric pen at night, without direct supervision.  I would have to say I think he much prefers a pen to any form of being tied.  He was very leery of exiting the pen, though, and Paco had to be brave one and lead the way through the gate every time.
Loving the life of freedom in the pen (but Rhio's staying safely away from the fence.)
Potluck & awards were held in our campsite, so we had front-row seats and our horses seemed to enjoy observing all the commotion as well.  Rhio was probably scoping out the potluck dishes, hoping for a taste of the left-overs!  I don't know about anyone else, but I quite enjoyed my potluck plate - dominated by delicious tacos provided by ride management.


Pre-potluck relaxation with Donna (have I ever mentioned that 60 lb Kelso is a lap dog?)

Kelso's safe spot

Beautiful Salma
I think we all tried to stop visiting and hit the sack a little earlier Saturday night, as Gesa & I were riding in the morning!  Ride weekends need to be 3 days, so we could have a whole day to relax & visit with all our ride buddies.  4:40 rolled around way too early yet again, and as I was fumbling around in the dark to get ready, trying not to wake Donna, I managed to drop a contact somewhere in her trailer.  Of course it was utterly impossible to find the tiny but vital item, and I hadn't packed any extras (won't make that mistake ever again!!!), so I was forced to use my glasses for the day.

This turned out to be more challenging than I had anticipated, as the prescription in my glasses is not the same as in my contacts. Also, as anyone who wears both will attest, the difference in peripheral vision is quite dramatic between contacts & glasses.  My exhausted, too-early-roused brain was very slow to adapt to the different visual input, and as a result I couldn't exactly "see straight" for about half of the first loop!  My glasses would jiggle a bit at any gait faster than a walk, and I had to attempt to focus on whatever horizon line I could find ahead on the trail to keep myself steady.  It wasn't as challenging as riding in the dark, but I did feel that I had to give over most of the decisions to Rhio and I knew the trail well enough I didn't need to spot ribbons or read plates (whew!).

Group shot!  Early on Loop 1, and Rhio is all business getting us past these horses without a backward glance.  Notice Rhio's forward ears (as long as I'm in front, I don't care about the other horses!), and Paco's inside ear tipped to the other horses (um, this ok guys?  Whatcha doing over there?)
The start of a ride is always a little intense with equine emotions running high, and riders' following suit (or is it the other way around?).  Gesa & I waited to let the hot shoes get out of camp, and well down the trail.  One disadvantage of the early portion of the trail at this ride is that you are able to see horses in front of you on a long straightaway not too far out of camp.  This makes life a little difficult for most of us with horses who want to catch those in front of them.  Rhio was very good, though, and we walked calmly out of camp, picking up a nice trot and all was well...until we caught sight of horses in front of us.  Bear in mind that my vision problems are peaking right about now, as Rhio's speed increases and my brain pretty much can't compensate for it yet.  Lots of half-halts (surprise!  Rhio presented me with a new behavior - a chin-tuck in response to a half-halt.  Previously he has always thrown his nose up in the air if I half-halt him and he doesn't want to listen.  The chin-tuck was new for him, but he was still listening and staying controllable so I left him alone) and Rhio, while anxious to catch & pass horses ahead of us, also stayed in his trot and said "Ok" every time I said "No" to a speed increase.  It was by no means an easy, relaxed first 5 miles, but it was pretty good.  Five miles is the magic point at which he becomes my easy, responsive boy again, instead of a barely contained rocket ship.

We crossed the highway bridge, manned by a caffeinated cop & a cruiser with flashing lights at either end, and made our way through the housing development to reach my favorite section of trail at this ride. The new obstacle for the day was a lawn sprinkler on full blast, spraying an arc of water & mist into the air and across the road.  Unless he encountered one before I bought him, I can attest that Rhio has never seen a sprinkler before.  I simply asked him to move to the opposite side of the road, and we passed it with no trouble at all.  Good boy Rhio!  Paco followed suit, though the guy riding behind us had more trouble I think.  Shortly after the sprinkler, there was a house & a living room picture window barely containing a frenzied dog barking & barreling into the glass; I'm quite sure there wasn't anyone left asleep in that house!
Having a bite to eat midway through Loop 1 - in our coveted pocket of space! 

And onward through the sand.
By about half way through the first loop of 15 miles, the horses were spread out enough that we had our own little pocket and were no longer catching other horses or being caught.  It is my favorite part of a ride when we have our own bubble of trail and have no interaction with other horses on the trail.  I know for sure in such instances that we are "riding our own ride" and not being pulled or pushed by another horse's position ahead of or behind us.  Rhio & Paco have done so many miles together now that their trail relationship is effortless, both for them and for us.  We are free to chat and to enjoy the scenery, soaking up the joy of time spent on the back of a good horse with companionable trail partners.

Both Photographer Bob & Photographer Henry (volunteers! wow!) were out in various spots on the trail capturing our horses' beauty in action for us.  I can't even adequately articulate how much I love having pictures of my horses at a ride.  I am incredibly biased, of course, but Rhio looks absolutely fantastic in these photos; they are the best photos of him doing his job and loving every minute of it.

Loop 1, about 4 miles from camp (photo by Henry)

Walking in to camp at the end of loop 1 (photo by Bob)

Gesa & Paco eager to go at the start (photo by Bob)

Riding with heart rate monitors was really helpful at this ride.  Gesa & I know how the boys' usually run, and we were able to monitor them closely during a markedly more challenging exertion level than we've asked of them yet this spring.  In the deepest sand, Rhio's heart rate ran about 10 points higher than normal for whichever gait we were in.  He recovered into the 80s within moments to a minute of dropping to a walk, even in the deep sand.  Paco, however, would not drop below 100 while walking in the deep sand, but would immediately drop once we hit firmer footing.  This was especially useful information to have as we came in the last mile of the first loop.  Rhio would have been fine trotting the whole mile, and the walk from the end of the trail through camp to the timer would have been enough recovery for him to be at criteria by the time we handed our card over for our in-time.  By watching Paco's monitor, though, we knew that Paco was still working hard enough to keep his heart rate just above 100 bpm and therefore we walked the whole mile and he was able to recover to criteria just a few minutes after arrival.  I think if we hadn't used the monitors, we would have trotted more of that mile and Paco would have taken longer to pulse down at the check.

After our hold, we completed our exit exams with flying colors.  Rhio had an astounding CRI of 9/10, meaning his heart rate was 36 bpm before trotting 250 feet, and 40 bpm one minute later.  Both 36 & 40 bpm are normal equine resting heart rates.  He was exhibiting pretty much complete recovery from the first 15 miles.  I do not push my horses, but I do kind of wonder what he is capable of.  I don't train *that* much - this is mostly his natural athletic ability.

Last minute adjustments before heading out on loop 2

Off we go on loop 2, scuttling out of camp at a good clip to maintain our little bubble of trail as a pair of LDers and the first group of novice competitors were set to head out just a minute or so after us.  We did a lot of cantering, which my horses seem to prefer in the sand - and taking off on loop 2 at an easy canter with forward happy horses is such a rush!  Gesa & I were both grinning & laughing with glee, and that feeling persisted throughout the 10 miles (well, actually only 9 according to my GPS) of the second loop.   We mostly trotted & cantered, with both horses drinking long & deep at a muddy puddle, and before we knew it we were done!  We could have been the only two out there, as we didn't see anyone the entire loop.

We finished in 6th & 7th positions, though we were 1:40 behind the winner.  We stood for Best Condition anyway, knowing that we had no chance of winning the award, but as good practice for our horses and because neither Paco nor Rhio had ever stood for a BC exam before.  Unfortunately, it did require the dreaded weigh-in, which I detest, but I just claim a heavy saddle.  Rhio looked good, but Paco was a little muscle-tired.  Both horses ate, drank, and rested while we started to break camp as the increasing clouds began to sprinkle and finally out-and-out rain on us just as we were loading horses & the last few items were being shoved into the tack room or truck.  Why is it that our neatly organized bins, bags, & boxes are always in compete disarray and the whole lot of it barely fits back into the rig when we leave?
All done! The boys are resting while we hustle to get camp cleaned up & packed before the rain really starts.
The truck battery was dead, but the ride manager was able to give us a jump (thanks, Theresa!) and we were on our way home, slightly damp and a titch smelly but oh-so-proud of our ponies.  I had so much fun at this ride, despite all the small troubles like a lost contact and the usual sleep-deprivation.  Thank you to all the ride managers, volunteers, fellow vets, riders, photographers, and everyone else involved in this incredible sport.  Here it is a week later, and I am still feeling the euphoria.

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