Hiawatha National Forest
Upper Peninsula, Michigan
Pine Marten Run
Theresa lives about three hours from me, yet she was willing to go out of her way to pick me up so that we could drive across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan together to attend the Pine Marten Run endurance ride. Many, many thanks to Theresa for driving the extra miles (through some seemingly endless construction on the way home, no less) to pick me up! I had a great time and was thrilled to ride new trails and check another state off my list.
Speaking of my list, one of my career goals for endurance is to ride an endurance ride in every state that has one (there are none in Hawaii, for example). So far I have only ridden in the Midwest; my state list is now Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Michigan.
It was a goal-fulfilling weekend, as I’d set a few goals for Rhio for this ride, including riding alone (which we did not accomplish) and doing a 3-hour 25 miler. Well, my actual trail time (not counting the time to pulse down, so this won’t concur with my official AERC time, but I have always kept track of my trail time) was 2 hours 40 minutes (!) and we took 4th, only 10 minutes behind the leaders. Not bad for not having gone to a ride since May, and only having done about 6 conditioning rides in the past 2 months. I was really, really happy with his performance, and the only thing I regret is not doing a 50! I was hesitant to ask him to go 50 miles with the two long trailer rides (7 hours) sandwiching competition day, and so little competition this season. He was full of himself the entire ride and trotted out at the final check looking like he hadn’t done a thing.
Theresa & her mare Queen arrived in Duluth Thursday evening, and got settled in at Gesa’s for the overnight. Friday morning we loaded up and were on the road before 9 am. Rhio loaded willingly, actually surprising me by just following me onto the trailer without the slightest hesitation. He sure makes it clear that he has a strong preference for big trailers! Friday was a cold, windy, on-and-off rainy day as we drove east along Lake Superior to Nahma Junction, MI. The only problem with the drive was the unending vistas of blazing hillsides covered in maples in all their fall splendors, and of the impressive waves crashing into the shore; we wanted to stop and enjoy the beautiful fall vistas around every bend, but we knew we had to keep marching on for ride camp.
|Pine Marten Run ridecamp|
We found ride camp in the Hiawatha National Forest easily, and drove in gingerly, having been warned that it is “just a big field.” Well, it’s more like an area that formerly had trees and no longer does, but their remnants (stumps and holes) are still very much present. The major groundcovers are lichen and a woody-stemmed plant called “sweet grass” which was about 12” – 14” high. There were also small trees and shrubs scattered about, and we tromped around looking for an acceptable place to park without doing major damage to truck or trailer in the process. Thinking we’d found a spot, we unloaded Queen and Rhio and Theresa proceeded to back through the humps into a “spot” of sorts. Unfortunately, something under the hood of the truck didn’t much like this, and she was smoking pretty good by the time we were situated. Oops. (Just so you don’t worry, the truck seemed to be functioning normally on Sunday and the smell of scorched whatever was mostly dissipated, and we made it home just fine. I’m sure Theresa will be having the truck looked at, though.)
|Rhio's side of the trailer|
|Queen's side of the trailer|
Although Rhio and Queen had had the entire day in the trailer to bond, we gave them each their own side of the trailer and got set up for the night. I had brought a few step-in posts and a rope (borrowed from Gesa) to make a “fake” electric pen for Rhio, as I know he is much happier in a pen than being tied. Obviously this is not a secure containment method and I only allowed him to be loose in his pen when I was there to supervise. Overnight, he was tied to the trailer.
We vetted in and marked the first differences from the routine at MN rides – the vets didn’t have scribes and had to do their own writing on our cards! Speaking as a ride vet…that sucks! They didn’t seem to have the line-up of horses waiting to vet in that we are accustomed to, either, so the extra time it took for them to fill out the cards didn’t seem to be an issue. Also, though, we riders weren’t immediately aware of how they’d scored our ponies, as we are at MN rides because the vets are verbalizing their scores as they go. Our horses remained unmarked, as they felt the rump rugs (it was going to be pretty cold at the start) would just rub the grease paint numbers right off their rumps. That would have been too true, I’m afraid! I actually rode Rhio the entire ride with his rump rug covering his hindquarters, as he is pretty easily chilled and I have learned from experience that it is much better to err on the side of a little too warm with him. It would be nice, however, to finally get around to finishing the wool rump rug I’m making for him, as Red’s polarfleece one is really too big for Rhio and hangs way off of him.
Theresa set up the camp stove and cooked us hot & satisfying tortellini for dinner (I contributed salad), then we were off to the ride meeting. We were not given maps, as everyone does the same trail – pink out to the out check, and blue back to camp. The pink trail is 13 miles, and the blue trail 12 miles, so the 25’s do it once and the 50’s do it twice. We packed up our hay, water buckets, and various sundries for the out check, put our stuff in the trailer hauling everyone’s junk out there, and walked our ponies before bed. Here we noted another big difference from ride camp in MN – no one besides us was walking their horses. Walking your horse before bed, and periodically at all times while camped, is practically religion at MN rides (and, also a major social event.) There was no horse walking and no socializing that we were aware of, although to be fair we were camped way out on the fringe of the rigs, and we discovered Saturday morning that more rigs had parked in the open area on the other side of the road.
|Kelso was happy to come along to ridecamp|
The weather forecast was for lows in the 30s, so I layered Rhio up with 2 polarfleece coolers beneath his rain sheet (why didn’t I just bring his winter blanket? That was dumb.) and slept in 2 layers myself. I stayed warm enough, and because I was wearing my riding clothes to sleep in, I didn’t have to dress in the frigid pre-dawn. Theresa & Queen were doing the 50 mile competitive ride, and they left at 8 am (sunrise occurs sometime after 7 am). My start time was 8:30, and trying to get Rhio saddled turned out to be an exercise in frustration. He was spinning around, completely unsettled watching all the other horses warming up and leaving camp. My saddle fell off him no less than six times before I was able to get it all situated correctly and his girth attached. You can imagine I wasn’t too thrilled with him – and, frankly, I wasn’t too sure I wanted to get on! I hand walked him briefly, let him “lunge” himself in frantic circles around me for a few minutes, then finally mounted (he stood still!) and we were off warming up. He settled down immediately under saddle to a controllable trot (walking was not an option) but had a fit every time I asked him to turn in the direction he thought was away from the trail. He didn’t actually have any idea where the trail was, however, so this was kind of comical as he thought the trail was the other direction. Anyway, we got going and quickly overtook the few horses in front of us at the start. He was demonstrating a pretty solid case of race brain, and we had to catch and pass the front-runner before I could ride on a loose rein. That woman stayed with us, and we were joined by another, and the three of us cantered (mostly) and trotted (a bit) our way through the first ¾ of the loop before being joined by a fourth rider. Once Rhio decided these horses were in “his group,” we were able to follow as well as lead without any fuss. I didn’t catch these gals names, but really enjoyed the loop with them and chatted back and forth a bit about our home trails for conditioning, rides we’d done, etc.
|Rhio in an extreme state of alertness as he watched all those other horses get ahead of him on trail (or so he thought)|
About a mile from the out check, we passed Theresa and Queen, and sailed into the check cantering. Oops. I don’t normally do that, but it was more stressful to fight him than to just let him stay with the group. He normally pulses right down, so I wasn’t too worried about that – although I’d left my only stethoscope at the finish and would have to guess when he was down at the check. I found the whole out-check to be pretty chaotic. There was a method to the madness, I am sure – and it seemed to center around a guy named Bruce. Unbeknownst to me, he was keeping track of EVERYTHING! It’s impressive, really, but I didn’t quite get the flow of things and didn’t get much rest myself as I was a little stressed trying to figure out the system. The vets took our pulses for our hold time (40 minutes) to start but then immediately had us do a trot out for our CRI and did the rest of the exam. I was happy that Rhio’s CRI was 16/15, but thought it was an odd way of doing it, as we are used to doing the vet exam at the end of our hold, when the horse is rested, fed, watered, and no longer in the adrenaline-fed “up” state that they are when they first came in off trail. When that adrenaline is high, they will look great even if they aren’t. The exam after they’ve rested is much more indicative of their true metabolic and mechanical fitness to head back out on trail. At the end of the hold, we have to do a trot-by for the vets and then are released to head out. Theresa and I were out within a minute of each other, so we decided to ride together. It was great to be out there just the two of us, and Rhio was no longer trying to win but was happy to move out relaxed and enjoy the trail. I still didn’t get many photos, as we weren’t dallying around, but believe me when I say these trails were GORGEOUS!
|Rhio enjoying some of his beet pulp at the out check|
|Theresa and Queen getting ready to trot out at the out check|
About 2/3 of the way back to camp, three other LDers passed us, and Rhio was prancing, dancing, and kicking up quite the ruckus – he does NOT like to be passed! I decided to let him go, as fighting him was no fun for either of us. We stayed with that group of three, finally passing two of them in the final half mile and coming in to vet check with TJ and his lovely mare Tara, a Wisconsin rider we frequently see at MN rides. Tara pulsed down just before Rhio, and we finished the ride by standing for Best Condition. No surprise given the weight difference between TJ and me, but we did not win BC. I was proud of my pony, though, and he looked great at his trot-out. Again, the exam was done immediately after finishing, unlike what I’m used to, and his gut sounds were a little down for him (but, he hadn’t had anything to eat since the check, as there wasn’t a whole lot of grass on the loop).
|the one trail picture I took|
Settling him into the trailer, I had the afternoon to relax while Theresa & Queen finished their ride around 5:15 pm. I pulled my chair up in the sun outside his pen and settled in with lunch and my book for an hour or so, then Kelso, Rhio, and I took a long wandering walk around the sandy roads in the area. Rhio found a great place to roll, drank deeply out of several puddles (he does have a fondness for puddle water), and Kelso ran back and forth chasing squirrels until his tongue hung halfway out of his mouth.
|Rhio relaxing in his jammies|
It was a beautiful sunny afternoon but the wind was pretty chilly; I was layering and unlayering constantly. After our walk, I left Rhio’s cooler off as he seemed to be basking in the sun. Shortly thereafter, I noticed a tiny bit of either shivering or muscle twitching in his quadriceps. He was either cold (common with him) or low in electrolytes (possible, as with all the commotion at the out check he did not eat his entire beet pulp mash and his normal dose of electrolytes were mixed into the mash – so he got less electrolytes than normal), so I treated both possibilities and covered him with his warm cooler and gave him a dose of e-lytes. He loved standing facing out of his pen watching all the activity in camp, and Kelso & I crawled into bed for a little nap (ah, the luxury!).
|The view out the trailer door after my nap|
Theresa & Queen finished looking good, although she’d had some muscle cramping at the second out-check, and we worked to get her settled in before potluck. Being a U.P. ride, lovely pasties were served as the main course and as always our plates were bulging with good food. Theresa & Queen took first, and got a lovely handpainted mug. I chose a roll of vet wrap as my placing award, and a tote stenciled “Pine Marten Run” as my completion prize. I love to have stuff that is personalized to the ride.
It was getting very chilly as the sun set, and we were again one of the only groups out walking our horses. We were both pretty happy to be crawling into our sleeping bags, although those first few minutes before the slippery cold nylon lining warms up with body heat are never enjoyable. We knew we wanted to get a pretty early start on the 7 hour trip back to Duluth, as Theresa would be continuing on back to her home directly. But, we also didn’t feel like setting our alarms and getting up pre-dawn again – so we didn’t! We were in for a surprise when we did get up Sunday morning, though, as there was frost on the inside of the trailer! There was ice on the water buckets, a heavy frost on every surface and leaf, and it was in the low-middle 20’s! Brrr!
|Theresa & Queen walking in the morning frost|
Luckily, the switch from Eastern to Central time was in our favor this direction, and we pulled out of camp just after the riders all headed out on trail. It was an uneventful and again extremely scenic trip back west across the U.P. The horses traveled well, although Rhio did not eat much hay at all on either journey. On the way across, I dropped Rhio’s hay onto the floor (we left the horses untied in the trailer) instead of leaving it in his hay bag and that seemed to appeal to him. Queen was able to snake her neck beneath the divider and steal much of his hay, but with a big enough pile of hay this wasn’t too much of a problem. Rhio did refuse to drink on the trailer, and I fed him a wet beet pulp mash at our rest stop. We had hoped to find a safe spot to unload on the trip, but we did not and were only able to stop and let the horses rest on the trailer.
|Kelso zonked in the backseat|
Rhio does internalize his stress, but even so he seemed to handle the trip well. I will be trying a few things in the future to get him to eat and drink better on the trailer. Neither one is a problem as soon as he’s unloaded, though! I had started him on his probiotic product about 10 days before the trip and continued through the weekend. He also received an acid-reducing supplement, which I have not used previously. He exhibited nice formed manure the whole weekend instead of his typical loose manure in stress situations, and I was quite happy with that. I will continue to use both, and in fact have continued him on his probiotic daily through the end of the ride season.
Overall, it was a most excellent weekend and I would go back to Pine Marten Run for the beautiful 95% single track trails and the friendly riders, vets, and management. Two thumbs up!
|Rhio at home in the pasture, getting directly to the business of eating!|