Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Coyote Serenade (Point Chaser 2011)

What a fantastic day for a fantastic ride on a fantastic horse. 
The last distance ride of the year in Minnesota is called Point Chaser, for obvious reasons if you are a rider who rides for points/year end awards.  Someday I might be a rider like that, but for now, as I have a pretty inconsistent competition calendar, I pay exactly zero attention to points.  I ride because I love it and my horse loves it.  I especially love to see new trail, and this year Point Chaser was held at a new location, Zumbro Bottoms horse camp in the Richard Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest, in southeastern Minnesota.  I had never had the pleasure of being in this forest before, and I already can't wait to go back. This is one of the most beautiful spots I've ridden in Minnesota, bar none.  It was stunning, even with little of the fall foliage remaining, and I can only imagine how breathtaking it would be about two weeks ago.
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.  
Point Chaser is a three day ride, but Gesa and I were only able to drive down on Friday afternoon to ride Saturday (and I was vetting on Sunday).  It was a nice day for hauling, which we are especially thankful for now that we have a open stock trailer to haul with, but we still put sheets on the boys before leaving home, as the morning temperature in Duluth was only just above freezing.  Rhio was a little hesitant to load, although loading has been going really, really well since we discovered he likes to go in second instead of first.  I opened the front of his blanket, and that solved his hesitation and he jumped right on.  With fly masks and hay bags in place, and Kelso already snoozing in the backseat of the truck, we were off!

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.
One hour and 33 minutes later, we found ourselves back in camp - it felt like the blink of an eye.  The competitive drive had begun by this time, and we had to pass several carts on our way in.  I was riding with the heart rate monitor, and although Rhio didn't give any outward appearance of being bothered by the carts, his heart rate shot up over 30 points each time we passed one.  He was pulsed down by the time we walked from the trail through camp to the timer, and we headed back to the trailer for more eating and resting.  Rhio preferred grass this check, but still finished off his beet pulp & goodie mash from the first hold.  It was warm enough to shed a few layers and leave the rump rug behind for the last loop.
Yep, that's ride camp down there.
Loop three took us up the eastern ridge near camp, and gave us a breathtaking panoramic view of the valley, the river, and ridecamp.  I very much enjoyed it as we flew past, really I did!  A trail rider on a cremello mare started tagging along with us, and was full of questions about endurance (hopefully a new rider for next year!).  Her mare kept up with us and she seemed to be having a blast.  Rhio did not care to have her directly behind us, however, and I kept him in the middle or front of our group of three.  About two miles from the finish, just as we'd crossed over the river bridge for the last time, the horses started speeding up on their own.  I could feel Rhio's competitiveness really kicking in, and I just kept telling him (and myself) that we were NOT GOING TO RACE!  NO RACING!  (Actually, I think my exact words were, "Knock it off! We're not racing! Settle down now! Quit!" repeated in various combinations as required.) It helped that we had to stop a few times for groups of trail riders, and pass a few carts, and just generally deal with some "traffic issues." Each time we had to slow, Rhio had to think about my directions a little bit more and settle down a little bit.  It was hard, as it was really fun to be flying along at a hand gallop and I didn't really want to slow him down, but safety was my number one priority and I kept my head about me, and checked Rhio down when my companion in my weight division took off in a sprint about 1/4 mile from the finish.  Boy did I have an unhappy horse for that last 1/4 mile to camp!  He was doing an excellent impression of a pogo stick, and when that didn't work to make me let him run to catch that horse, he started shaking his head so forcefully I was afraid he was going to throw himself onto the ground.  He was NOT HAPPY with me holding him back, but he did listen and we came into camp with the gal (a lightweight) we'd been riding with all day, and 1 minute behind the guy (a fellow heavyweight).  I've never thought I'd ever come close to winning a ride, so I was thrilled to pieces with a second place on a strong horse.  Rhio felt like a million bucks all day, eating and drinking like a champ, never tiring, and cantering or trotting along on a loose rein the entire 49 3/4 miles (yep, we were NOT on a loose rein that last 1/4 mile).
Trotting out.
And back.
The last loop took us 1 hour 20 minutes, and Rhio still felt as fresh as a daisy.  We stood for Best Condition at 30 minutes after our finish time, and Rhio looked absolutely fantastic.  He out ran me back to Dr. Dean on his CRI and was just the picture of a happy, fit horse.  I knew the guy had a decent amount of weight on me, but I was just thrilled with how well Rhio did all day and what a great time I'd had riding him.  To my surprise and delight, Rhio's vet score more than made up for the weight disparity, and Mr. Rhio, My Most Awesome Boy, WON BEST CONDITION!!!!!  It was his first BC, and the prize was, very appropriately, a bag of horse treats.  Rhio will enjoy his winnings very much!
Rhio's Best Condition treats and our ribbon.  Yes, I still like to get ribbons!  
About an hour after we finished, Gesa, Chip, & I decided to saddle up again and head up to the overlook to take in the views and take a few photos as well.  I mistakenly thought that I could take Rhio out in just his rope halter after doing 50 miles in less than 5 hours ride time, instead of putting his bridle on, and ended up having to hand walk him on the way back because he wanted to catch all the horses he could see in front of him.  It was well worth the short walk up the very steep hill to enjoy the magnificent panorama.
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.
We all slept well Saturday night (I was a little too warm, actually), and in between vet duties Sunday morning I helped Gesa get everything packed up, horses loaded, and saw her & Kelso off for the long & lonely drive home.  I was able to snag a ride home with another Duluth rider, and eventually made it home, exhausted but euphoric, well after dark Sunday night.  What a way to end the season (though, sadly, I feel as though my season only just began with being able to do a single ride back in May, and now two in October, as my only rides for the year on my own horse).

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!

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