|What a fantastic day for a fantastic ride on a fantastic horse.|
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.|
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.|
|Yep, that's ride camp down there.|
|Rhio's Best Condition treats and our ribbon. Yes, I still like to get ribbons!|
|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.|
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!|