Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Friday, August 26, 2011

Geocaching on Horseback

Carmen came to visit, adopting barn kitties Max and Maggie for her barn.  She happened to introduce me to geocaching (there's a cache at the town hall, 0.17 miles from me! Who knew?!) and now I'm hooked!  Being a fellow endurance rider, of course we made time for a ride.  What better to do than to combine riding and geocaching?

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear!  See Red in the mirror?  Yep, we "ponied" him from his barn to mine. 

Red is thoroughly unimpressed with this mode of transportation. 
We plotted out several potential caches to ride to, loaded up the coordinates into our GPS units, and got the horses ready to ride.  Carmen had brought her Specialized saddle along for me to try, meaning she was going to get to try my Synergist.  I am still trying to sell my second Synergist, the one that no longer fits Rhio, and I'd like to replace it with a Specialized when I do.  This was a great opportunity to ride enough miles in a Specialized to really get the feel for it.  To sum up briefly - I loved it!  Of course it took the first mile or two to get used to it, but after that I just felt comfortable and no longer was conscious of it being "different" than my saddle.  I was very secure in it, and best yet Rhio seemed to like it also.  We moved out, especially on the way home, using all three gaits, and he & I felt good in every gait.  I hadn't done any shimming or adjusting of the saddle, and I did have a little bit of dry area on either side of the spine behind the withers - it was just a teensy bit too wide for him - but that would be easily adjusted with the saddle fitting system Specialized uses.  Best of all, Carmen liked my Synergist as well!

Carmen and Red made a great team!
Now to the riding and the caching.  Carmen rode Red, and they spent a little time getting used to each other in the outdoor arena.  That was successful, so we headed out down the road.  I hadn't realized that a major road nearby was closed, and so the route we rode had a lot more traffic than normal. It also has pretty narrow shoulders and the ditch is swampy - so probably not the best choice of places to ride, but we survived.  Luckily my boys are traffic safe, but with the excitement of a fast ride going home, both horses got a little goosey with the big trucks whizzing past.  Carmen is a great rider and handled Red's excessive enthusiasm very well.  It was NOT a ride for the faint of heart, that's for sure.

We did make it to the normally quiet gravel road which had 2 geocaches along it we could hunt for.  The gravel road wasn't quiet at all, with many vehicles passing us.  Geez!  Talk about bad karma in the traffic department!  The horses were both happy to move out, and Red can out-trot Rhio by a mile, so I spent some time eating Red's & Carmen's dust.  Rhio didn't seem to care, though he usually much prefers to lead.

Our GPS units told us we were getting close to the first cache, and the description had said it was back in the woods, so we dismounted and led the horses into the woods, then tied them to trees and set off on foot.  I love having horses that I can tie to the trees in the woods and walk away from!  They would have preferred a grassy meadow to eat in, but they patiently waited for us to return and didn't get into any trouble.
That fly mask kind of makes him look like he has mule ears, don't you think?

I love this look as he peeks around the tree at me.
Finding the cache didn't turn out to be the successful portion of our ride, unfortunately.  Number one rule of geocaching in northern Minnesota in the summer - bring bug spray!!!  It was a bit difficult to concentrate with all the slapping and hopping around (oops).  We found the indicator marker and decrypted the clue to finding the cache, but were ultimately unsuccessful.  Boo!  You'd better bet I'll be going back there later in the season, hopefully with fewer bugs and more time, and finding that darn thing!

Looking at our timeline, we realized we didn't have any more time to spend searching, headed back to the ponies, led them out of the woods, mounted up, and headed home.  It was such a fun ride, despite its challenges, and I was so happy with the saddle.  I wish Carmen lived closer so we could ride together more often!!

Best of luck to Max & Maggie in their new home, and thank you Carmen for coming to visit me :)
Even Cricket got in on the action, see him half in the corner of the shot? I love that Carmen & I are both kind of cocking our heads the same direction, obviously responding to Becca who took our photo, while the horses are all focused on each other.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

So Where Does That Trail Go?

Yep, way behind on blogging again!  You may think I haven't been riding, but that's not it.  Luckily, I have been riding and enjoying my ponies - so these next few posts will be "catch up" posts about rides over the last few months, and I will try yet again to get back on track and keep up in more "real time." Do forgive me, gentle readers.

Several weeks ago Gesa & I had the opportunity to head back to one of our favorite riding spots up in Brimson, about a 45 minute drive from the farm.  This was only our second time to ride up there this season.  Last time we rode here, in May, we followed an old logging road that petered into a well-travelled ATV path.  It was so well-travelled that we assumed it went *somewhere*, but we didn't have the time to explore, so we vowed to come back and find out where that trail went.

Deer flies were still in full force, and our boys sported their fly masks for the entirety of the ride.  Even with the masks, we also needed rider-applied fly control to keep our mounts happy.  Rhio & I employed several leafy branches (it took me three tries to find a good one!), and Gesa found her crop to be an excellent fly swatter.  The flies swarmed the lead horse, and switching off leading was a welcome relief for the following horse.

For those of you who don't ride ATV trails horseback, here's something to note:  humans on horses are much taller than humans on ATVs.  That translates into lots of ducking and dodging for us riders!  Our helmets & sunglasses are employed as branch-control devices, and we must stay alert for the next face-slapping twig.  This trail was much like other user-created ATV trails I've ridden in that you must be loose & limber in your saddle and your horse must be instantly responsive to leg & rein.  Rhio and Paco were very good all day, and we emerged after our 15 mile ride with only a few superficial scratches and no major mishaps.  We did have one large tree crosswise across the trail which was too short to ride under, but our little horses were able to walk under it once we dismounted.  Whew!

We kept following the trail, eventually emerging at a minimum maintenance road and a set of railroad tracks.  To my knowledge, Rhio has never crossed tracks before, and he did very well.  The minimum maintenance road was smooth, level, and relatively soft - begging for a long, easy canter.  We took advantage and cantered the boys quite a ways, with a few scoots to the side when we crossed a large cement culvert and passed by a monster pile of logs.  Eventually the road ended at the county highway, and we crossed it briefly to explore further ATV trails, which were clearly on private property (though it wasn't signed as such) and led only to deer stands.  We made the turn for home, retracing our steps, and the boys were, as always, very motivated to head back to the trailer.

Both boys wore boots for this ride, Paco on his fronts only and Rhio on all four hooves.  Paco's boots only lasted the first few miles however, as one of the gaiters finally bit the dust (it had been on its last legs anyway) and Gesa had to carry the boots on her saddle the remainder of the ride.  Paco seemed to do well barefoot, though he did seek the side of the trail on some of the rockier sections.  Rhio's boots worked well, as usual, though he has been battling scratches (a skin infection) on both his hind pasterns, and one front pastern (all his lower legs with pink skin instead of pigmented skin).  I was concerned about the gaiters rubbing on this raw skin, so I outfitted him with some old socks from my sock drawer; it turns out his feet are a bit bigger than mine!  It was a little bit of a struggle to get them over his hooves. The socks stayed in place, and because I used non-cotton they seemed to perform well even when wet.  Upon removal of the boots & socks, his pasterns looked just the same as they had pre-ride - no rubs!  I was dismayed to discover about 15 minutes returning to the trailer and removing his foot & leg wear, that all of his affected legs swelled!  His right front is especially prone to swelling, and I can only presume it was due to using the socks & boots over already compromised skin.  He didn't seem sensitive, sore, or lame at all - he didn't seem to notice he was swollen at all.  After the trailer ride home, the swelling was reduced and he remained completely sound.  How frustrating!

It was a great ride, though - one I wish I could repeat more often.   Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures as my camera has died the true death - have no fear, however, the new hand-me-down camera is working well and future posts will be adorned with my usual assortment of photos.

And, as a side note, Rhio's trailer loading was very good this time - walking onto the trailer instead of leaping, and only having to consider the big scary box for a moment or two.  I hope this trend continues!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Plan B

Friday was our first opportunity to ride together in nearly two months, and despite the high dew point and stifling humidity, Gesa and I loaded the boys up for the short trek to our local snowmobile trail.  This spot was a favorite training trail last summer, and the footing was great, barring a couple of dodgy culverts, for about 3 1/2 miles (giving us a 7 mile round trip).  Early this spring we discovered a side trail that will make it a 9+ mile training ride, and we can do it at speed, and it has hills.  Did I mention it's only a few miles from Gesa's farm?  Yep, pretty much perfect for a quick ride...  Except not this summer!  We haven't been over there at all since our difficult ride in the spring (mucky with frost coming out of the ground), and were dismayed to find that it has not been mowed at all.  The snowmobile trails are usually mowed to maintain their condition for winter use, as well as having trees cleared, etc.  The great state of Minnesota endured a government shut-down for nearly all of July, and I wonder if this was one of the many tasks set by the wayside.  I don't actually know who mows the trail, but the belly-deep grass was not conducive to a training ride, though the boys did enjoy munching at chest-level as we traversed the first long hill in hopes of discovering mowed trail at the top.  So, we decided to move on to plan B....which we didn't have in our back pockets, but the ride back to the trailer yielded one!
Good thing we left our skis at home!
We would drive just a few more miles, parking at the base of the Amity Creek trail, and utilize both the Amity trail and Lester Park trails for some conditioning in the heat and, we presumed, bugs.  Rhio has never been there, so it would be new to him, and neither of us had ridden there in over a year.  It is an extremely popular spot for hikers, runners, bikers, and dog walkers, but as it was a weekday morning we were in luck with just one car in the parking area.  It is designated as a city horse trail, but it's brevity (3 miles total) and inaccessibility for trailer parking (our one little rig takes up the majority of the available parking) means it's mostly used by locals with horses near enough to ride to the trail.  The non-horse users are somewhat used to seeing horses, though, and that makes for generally pleasant encounters.
Rhio says, "Really, Mom, you want to ride in this weather?  Shouldn't we just stand here in the shade and eat hay?"
The poor horses were dripping sweat just from a 10 minute trailer ride, it was that hot & humid.  We tacked up for the second time, applied more bug spray, and headed up the trail.  This trail was formerly a road, so it is a very solid gravel - dirt base and includes two stone bridges at its base.  It is entirely shaded, tucked into the backside of Hawk Ridge, and with the Amity Creek rushing (lots of rain recently, usually by August it's more burbling than rushing) along the other side, it stays relatively cool and fresh.  To our utter amazement, it was also virtually bug-free.  We didn't need the fly masks we'd put on the horses, and I think I only had to swat a half-dozen deer flies the entire ride!
The tip of the trail, near the ford

Given the other trail users, we kept our speed to a slow trot and just enjoyed our surroundings.  The boys were eager despite the heat, and once Rhio figured out that the noise was rushing water (we couldn't really see the creek at the beginning), he was constantly asking for more speed, ears pricked ahead to see what was around the next bend.  We stopped for a cooling drink at the ford used by a local riding stable, and got back to the trailer feeling great and ready for more!
Standing on the bank of Amity Creek

Heading back to the trail-side of Amity Creek

We had about 1/4 mile of paved road to travel to get to the lower trails, and being out in the full sun with the heat radiating up from the pavement was a whole 'nother world!  It would have been an extremely unpleasant ride in the sun, but was a magnificent ride in the shade.

There was a lot of water damage to some of the trails from our recent torrential rains, with deep fissures in the red clay which Paco was pretty wary of but Rhio barely seemed to notice (so much that I was worried he might step in one!), as well as multiple areas where the vegetation was swept all in one direction, showing how much water had flowed overland to get to the creek and river.  We crossed a metal snowmobile bridge, which was covered almost completely in run-off clay and made hardly any clanging noise because of it, and were off for another 5 miles of hill work.

We did a lot of walking the whole ride, with our overall average speed a mere 3.8 mph.  But, with the weather conditions and the hills, the boys were both panting when we finished our total of 9 miles, and had begun stopping at every mud puddle for a sip or three.
Does it taste like chocolate milk, too - or just look like it? 

I was very pleased with Rhio's loading on this trip, since it's been a few months since we've gone anywhere.  He walked on each time, calmly, instead of his customary leap into the trailer.  It still was not a shining example of trailer loading (like Paco), but his hesitation was probably only for 2 minutes each time.  I hope this was a sign of permanent improvement!

Looking ahead to a 50 miler in two weeks (fingers crossed that the logistics all work out to get there), I need a few more good rides on Rhio to feel confident for that competition.  After Friday's heat, humidity, and hills, he got Saturday off, and Sunday we went for speed work.  We did half the distance at more than double the pace, 4 miles at 8.2 mph - whee!  He feels great, now if only the last of his scratches will clear up and his leg will quit swelling up at every little thing...
The boys rubbing each other's heads after sponging.