Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Not Quite Frozen

Sunday, November 27, 2011
North Shore State Trail

We'd spent the morning getting a load of hay, and felt we deserved the reward of a ride - despite the overcast skies, stiff east (cold) wind, and mercury hovering in the upper 20's F.  Red was my mount for the day (Rhio still had his shoes on and is still "resting" from our big adventure to Kentucky, which, no, I haven't written about yet - but I will soon, I promise!) and he loaded up easily into Gesa's trailer, although he was shaking like a leaf.  He has a good winter coat and it wasn't that cold for a horse, so I can only surmise that the trembling was due to emotional factors.  He has been described as "claustrophobic," and his last trailer ride involved entering a small straight load slot at the front of a 4 horse trailer with a dark interior - which he did when I asked him, but it was not a relaxing spot for him, I'm sure.  This was the first time he'd been in Gesa's trailer, and once he was in and realized that it wasn't dark or scary, and his companion was mild-mannered Paco, he seemed pretty happy, and quit shaking.

It is only a 10 minute ride over to the snowmobile parking lot for access to this particular portion of the North Shore State Trail.  Last time we rode this was March (see: http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8217460290798186155#editor/target=post;postID=3037237652001337764 ), when the snow was too soft for snowmobiles but perfect footing for horses.  We don't come much in the summer as the trail goes through some wet ground and the gate for the parking lot is locked, so we have to park and unload on the road.  Today, the gate was open and the parking lot contained a single car.  Firearms deer season is over, but archery hunters are still hunting, as well as upland bird hunters and of course other non-hunting and non-motorized trail users.  I have to admit I was a little surprised, since it really wasn't that nice of a day, but we are hardy souls up here in the North Country!

We set off and immediately around the first corner, we spotted a sled dog team pulling an ATV.  This was perfect weather for dogs to run!  Not wanting to cause a ruckus with the 10 or 12 huskies when they saw us, we halted and waited for their driver to get them turned around and headed back up the trail; she never noticed us and the horses were alert but seemed more interested than afraid.  Once the dogs had set off up the trail the way they'd come (I presume they came from the other direction, as there was not a dog truck parked in the lot), we continued forward and then decided to take the left hand trail.  I'd ridden this trail once before and remembered it getting too wet to pass fairly quickly, but we decided it was best to give the dog team some space, not knowing how fast they were going to travel.  The footing of this trail is more gravelly and less grassy than the state trail, and despite our incredibly warm fall, the ground is starting to freeze up.  It was slippery in spots, despite the lack of obvious ice, and the horses seemed to figure out pretty quickly that the safest spot was the far edges of the trail which were a little softer and more grassy.  We encountered a well-bundled couple and their German Shepherd out for a walk with several cameras in evidence.  They had also chosen this trail to stay out of the way of the sled dogs, having heard them coming.  Their shepherd was pretty hyped about seeing the horses, so we did not pause long to chat but continued on until we reached an obviously swampy portion.
Some of the open water is frozen, but not quite all of it.

The first wet spots were pretty solidly frozen and the horses had no trouble just walking through those areas, but as we attempted to cross the last 15 feet of low ground, Red and I ended up sinking into a bog and he toppled to his knees with the loss of momentum (we were only walking) and I half-dismounted, half-rolled off him so that he could extricate himself without my extra weight.  He plunged forward a few steps, came back around, and plunged several more steps back the way we'd come before he was free of the sucking mud.  It was frozen enough for me to walk across it, but definitely not frozen enough for a 1000+ lb horse!  He did not panic, but also did not want to be caught and headed back down the trail away from the bog about 50 feet before dropping his head to graze.  I walked right up to him, checked him over good for injuries (none, but lots of mud up to his knees/hocks), and then proceeded to hand-walk him through the clear-cut area to the right of the bog, which was higher ground.  He was perfectly willing to follow me, and once we'd skirted the wet area and remounted, we continued just a little distance before having to again skirt a bog-like piece of trail (we decided not to find out if it was really a bog or was frozen enough to cross).  We had about another quarter mile of nice high ground to trot before cresting a hill to see a wide expanse of bog in all directions spreading out beneath us.  Clearly, this was an excellent turning around spot!
Red's muddy legs
The offending bog - looks pretty innocuous, doesn't it?

Heading back the way we'd come we had no trouble skirting the wet spots again, and made it back to the trailhead after meeting up with a father, son, and dog party (Red was afraid of them, for some reason).  We'd had to walk much more than trot, and although the horses were plenty warm, even a little sweaty, Gesa and I were pretty chilly.  I was not quite on top of my game with the winter gear for some reason and my toes, fingers, and face were too cold for comfort.  We decided to head down the main trail and see how the footing was before calling it a day; we knew if we could trot consistently, we'd warm right up.

Yes, indeed, the grassy trail was much better footing and Red was in fine form, trotting out strongly and giving every impression of being ready to go miles and miles.  We did a couple of miles, and warmed ourselves up nicely, before turning around so that we would have plenty of time before dark to get home and get the horses cooled out and dry.

Despite the discomfort of cold extremities, it was wonderful to be out riding again; even though my last ride was only 8 days previous, it felt like it'd been a lot longer than that.  The day would have ended on a positive note, except that Kelso found some rancid deer bits to roll in and the smell was so overwhelmingly putrid that he had to ride back in the tack compartment; there was no way I was letting him in the truck with us!

A rub-down with a wet towel (I couldn't make myself hose him down at the barn in 25 degree weather) was enough so that I could barely tolerate the stench for the ride home in the car, but we went directly to the shower together and he got scrubbed down with my sweet-smelling body wash twice before I decided he was fit to live in the house again.  Ugh.  Why do dogs do that?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Friends Old and New

Saturday, October 29
Amity Creek/Hawks Ridge trails
Companions: Karen & Duke (we miss you guys!!!), Mandy & Moon, and Christine & Blaze

On Saturday, Rhio and I made our way along the road from home to the parking lot at Amity Creek/Hawks Ridge, which I was surprised to find was 2.75 miles.  It doesn't seem that far, and so I hadn't left us enough time to get there, since the traffic can be a little heavy on the route and the shoulder is narrow, hence I didn't feel comfortable traveling at a very high rate of speed.  We were running late, but conveniently so was one of our riding companions, who was coming directly from work while her barn buddies hauled her horse over for her.  With everyone converged and ready, we headed up the Amity Creek trail.  Luckily I had a partial roll of vet wrap stashed in my saddle bag, because Mandy and the metal sign proclaiming "No Motorized Vehicles Except Snowmobiles" were in the same place at the same time and her hand suffered mightily from the encounter.  After that inauspicious beginning, we were on our way, chatting and laughing and having friendly encounters with the other trail users we met, including intimidating the heck out of a couple of dogs.  This is a very popular trail for runners, bikers, hikers, and dog walkers, in addition to being a designated horse trail within the city limits, and so user conflict can be a real issue, but on this day we had all positive interactions (yay!).  The weather was marvelous (I'm sure you, reader, are getting tired of this refrain from every post I've written this fall - but I have to keep mentioning it because it has been the most delightful fall for riding in several years, and after the summer of mega insect populations and the spring of wet and cold, we deserve it!).

We made our way all the way up to the top of the trail, took a little side trip at the ford in the creek to get the horses' feet wet (good practice), and turned back down the trail when my companions suggested it might be time to move out a little.  Wa-hoo!  Rhio was more than happy to take the lead and motor down the trail, but I tried to keep an ear out for any signs of trouble behind me.  Everyone kept their heads about them, and we turned up the snowmobile trail toward Hawks Ridge itself, taking a short but scenic detour along the North Shore Trail portion of the snowmobile trail (the out trail for the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in January every year - I come up with my dogs in the winter to walk and find many brightly colored but nonetheless lost dog booties after race start).

Continuing our route in a rough triangle, we left the trail to ride the shoulder of the road, part of Skyline Parkway, up to the main raptor viewing overlook, with a breathtaking view of Lake Superior and eastern Duluth spread out at our feet.  The bird watchers gathered here, at the tail end of the migration, were friendly but more than a little surprised to see four horses in their midst.  We continued on down the road to an informal trail which cuts back to the Amity Creek trail, then finished our ride back where we started.  As we rode into the parking area, a lone woman was walking her sweaty horse to cool out before loading in her trailer to head home.  As most horse people do, we had lots in common so took up a conversation, before she and I realized we knew each other.  I used to do some vet work for her when she owned her previous horse and I was still doing regular vet work.  I should always remember to carry business cards with me, as we seemed to have a mutual desire to become reacquainted and possibly pursue riding together sometime, but I had nothing to give her my contact information with.  I hope we are able to locate each other for riding in the future.

She also gave me two tiny lights called "finger lights," which were completely new to me.  They are single LED lights with a switch, disposable when they run out of juice, and come equipped with a small loop of elastic so they can be worn around one's finger.  Apparently they are marketed for parties and raves, but their usefulness for anyone out after dark is immediately apparent.  And, they come in a bunch of different colors!  I see no reason why everyone on my Christmas list wouldn't receive these this year.  It was getting pretty close to dusk at this point, and I had the road to ride to get home yet.  I had Rhio's blaze orange rump rug and he is a gray horse, but I hadn't planned ahead well and didn't have his reflective leg bands on.  We placed one light on the back of my saddle and one on the breastcollar, and when I got home and dismounted, I was surprised to see just how bright they were.  Many thanks to Theresa for the lights!  We made it home safe and sound, and I will be getting some of those for future low-light rides as well as after-dark dog walking.

Tuesday, November 1
Ye Old Stomping Grounds
Companions: Christine & Red, Dawn & Secret, and Pat &... [insert pretty mare's name here - but I can't remember!]

Tuesday morning Christine brought the truck and trailer to pick me, Kelso, and Rhio up at the barn, then we made the short drive to Red's barn and picked him up as well.  We were meeting two women at our old farm to show them the riding in the area.  Dawn was already waiting for us, and we visited while getting the four horses tacked up and waiting for Pat.  It was cloudy and blustery, and threatening precipitation, but none of us let that deter us and off we went for a sedate trek around the farm property, then down the road to the gravel pit.

Christine asked to ride Red because Tomas had just had his shoes pulled and would have been sore footed on the gravel.  She'd also never ridden him before, despite numerous invitations to do so.  I am still hoping to get her into endurance, and experienced Red would be her perfect introduction to the sport.  Plus, Red loves to compete so much, that if I could find someone to do a few LDs on him next year, I would be thrilled.  No matter how hard I try, I just haven't been able to keep two horses competition-ready at the same time.

After touring around the farm trails, we headed over to the gravel pit and even ventured down the little-used short trail through the woods off the back of the pit.  I think it goes to someone's deer hunting grounds, but I have never followed it past a boggy area that has a sheet metal bridge - not horse friendly. It was very overgrown, and so we all got to practice our in-saddle ducking and weaving ability.

It was a short ride, and the weather held out for us.  We enjoyed each other's company, meeting new horse people, and I especially liked seeing Christine enjoy Red so much.  I also relished being back in the old neighborhood; I certainly do miss living and riding out there.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Saturday, November 12, 2011
Bird Sanctuary, Solon Springs, WI

I got up altogether too early for a Saturday, in the pre-dawn freezing dark, to get the dogs all situated for their day alone.  Walking, feeding, and medicating accomplished, I headed out to drop the oldster off with family for "daycare" while the whole neighborhood still seemed to be snoozing.  Then it was time to head out to the barn, getting Red caught up and our stuff ready.  A new horse friend, Dawn, picked us up and we set off, with a few stops along the way (mmm, caramel rolls) to meet up with our riding companions, Deidre and Kay, at a wildlife management area about an hour south of us, in Wisconsin.

It is lucky for us that the firearm deer season in Wisconsin starts several weeks after our does in Minnesota.  For those of us close enough to drive across the border to ride, it gives us a safe place to enjoy this incredible fall riding weather we've been fortunate enough to have this year.  The archery hunters are out and about, but I don't find that prospect terrifying as I do the thought of being in the woods with trigger-happy rifle hunters (who seem to shoot first, ask questions later in too many cases).

We humans were all shedding layers before we even mounted up, but our poor horses were stuck in their thickening winter coats while we all sweated in the near-60 we had in the glorious afternoon.  Despite the weather, and the great trails, we were the only people in the park for the entire day.  I am so surprised at this, as a Saturday like this is the fall should entice riders to saddle up over just about any activity I can think of - no bugs, no wind, sunny blue skies, and perfect footing, what more could you want?

This area is set up for horseback field trials, with about 2 dozen dog kennels, 2 separate sheds with stalls, and a healthy handful of paddocks.  There is no water, but a pond is accessible.  There is also a fire pit, an outhouse, and a covered picnic area.  The trails are a mixture of designated horse/dog trails and ATV/snowmobile trails.  Many of the non-motorized portions are grassy and sandy two track winding through an open, slightly rolling landscape, maintained with prescribed burns; we began our loop riding through a blackened area.  The motorized segments we rode were mostly road-like, and had a few rocky sections, but were still a sandy base.  This will be a great place for early-season training as it won't be muddy.  It'll also be a good spot for speed work, as the footing is really just about perfect everywhere - which we took advantage of with several good gallops and lots of moving out.

Red wanted to lead right off the bat, but of course we had no idea where we were going, so we had to settle for the rear guard for a while.  This proved advantageous, as Dawn's mare Secret was possessive/protective of the other two geldings and kept giving Red the evil eye/snarky face/cranky ear look.

About two miles into our 13 mile loop, we encountered the native residents: a flock of birds erupted from a shrub and the four horses scattered in four different directions.  I somehow managed to cling to Red's left side, from which position I was able to dismount rather than land unceremoniously in the dirt as I usually do, and the rest of my companions stayed aboard as well.  It would have been a very funny sight, I expect, to see us all careen off every which way.

We had some nice gallops in the open, a little bit of weaving between close pine trees and ducking the overhanging boughs on one short section, and lots of room to move out, slow down, pause for this and that, chatting all the while. Red and I were itching for our favorite long trotting, and a few miles from the trailers, we took the lead to show the others how it's done. Dawn is thinking about trying endurance (yay! another one to addict!) and her mare seemed to pace well with Red's extended trot; well, that is until she decided to take a huge chomp out of him!  Red evaded her teeth, and Dawn put her to work immediately, so no harm done.  But, shame on you, Secret!

We arrived back at our trailers a few hours later, and untacked our very sweaty horses then refreshed ourselves with a smorgasbord of munchies while conversing as only horse women can.  Red didn't eat or drink, but stood with a foot cocked.  This was not normal for him, and I was slightly uneasy about that, but I'd ridden with the heart rate monitor all day and it hadn't shown anything out of the ordinary.  All his other signs were good, so I guess I chalk it up to "I don't know."  He was 100% when we got home, enjoying his treat of oats while I curried a cloud of dried sweat out of his coat before turning him out into the chilly night.  My eyelashes were frosted with the sweaty dust I'd created with my vigorous grooming, and I realized just why people who work their horses into a significant sweat in the winter like to keep their horse's clipped!

I am so lucky to have places like this to ride, horse friends new and old to ride with (and who will pick me up!), and of course a good horse to enjoy an incredible day like this one with.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sweaty Eyelids

Ride #4 of my last-week-before-deer-season riding binge was yet another unseasonably lovely day.  Red, Sir Fuzziness himself, and I took ourselves down the road on our well travelled training route.  A few houses still had Halloween decorations on display, and Red was quite certain the pumpkins, ghouls, and ghosties were extremely vicious horse-eating monsters, liable to attack the minute you took your eye off them.  Somehow, we survived them and quite enjoyed our trek down the minimum maintenance road.  As I only had a limited amount of time, I rode out for 55 minutes, then turned around for home.  I estimated we'd take 35 minutes to get home, for my target of an hour and a half ride.  Red had other ideas, and we made it home in 30 minutes, which would have been 20 minutes if I'd let him.  Whee!

Red stares at the sheep we can see through the brush.
And the sheep stare back at us.
Getting home, I slid off to give him a hug and was delighted to see his eyelids were sweaty, but the rest of his head wasn't.  This sounds crazy, I know, but I think his sweaty eyelids are absolutely adorable.  See for yourself:

Red is going to be needing some new hoof boots for next season.  I noticed that he has worn a small hole in the toe of one of his hinds (Easy Boot Bare), and the other is getting quite thin at the toe.  I wish I'd started keeping track of the miles I put on these boots, but that is one detail I haven't been recording in my training log (I will from now on, though!).  One of the front boots (Easy Boot Epic) has a broken buckle and the gaiter is nearly torn as well, but the boot still seems to be in decent shape.  Is there a Hoof Boot Fairy that will bring new boots if I put the old ones outside Red's stall one night?  I will replace his hind boots, keeping the less worn Bare as a spare, and for now probably just replace the gaiter & buckle on the one Epic.  Frugality is the name of the game these days!

If this weather continues, Red and I will probably get out at least once during the week for a blaze orange-emblazoned road ride.  I know my days are numbered by the imminent arrival of snow, ice, subzero windchills, and lack of daylight, and I will yearn all winter for mind-emptying, meditative long trots with my boys.  So, I make the most of every opportunity I have now, in this glorious season called autumn.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Count 'Em

The little green dot at the top of the hill is Gesa & Paco.
Fall is absolutely the premier time to ride here in Minnesota - there are no bugs, the footing is good, and the weather is (usually) pretty nice.  This fall has been outstanding, as we are into November now with days still approaching 50 up here in the north.  D-Day approaches, however, as the gun-toting Deer Hunters will infiltrate the woods at first light on Saturday.  So, I've been spending a lot of time in the saddle this week, trying to eek out every bit of daylight from our dwindling supply and ride while I can.

Today's ride was uneventful and unexceptional, except in that it was perfect (well, ok, I will admit to slightly windburned cheeks and mildly uncomfortable chafing in an unmentionable location due to a poor pairing of undergarment + winter tights).  Gesa and I loaded up after the horses all got their feet trimmed (except Rhio who is still shod), and trailered the brief distance to our favorite local spot.  We had about an hour and a half of daylight left, so set off on our normal route up & down the rolling hills of the snowmobile trail.  Both boys seemed a little pokey to begin, and we allowed them to take it easy while we chatted.  With all the leaves off the trees, the trail looks wider and the landscape appears almost foreign.  Around a bend, we met a bird hunter with a pretty little Vizsla dog (who was stunned by our appearance on the trail, froze, then whipped around to join his person, and thence commenced barking from the safety of Dad's embrace), and after that the horses seemed energized and we continued along at a nice pace to the bridge, our turn around place.
Headed for home.  I always ask Rhio to cross the bridge before we turn around.
Heading back the way we came, we spotted a snowshoe hare dashing across the trail; the horses took notice of her as well, due to her unfortunate luck to be already sporting her winter white coat.  Luckily Kelso was sitting this one out, and she was safe from unwanted canine attention.
Working our way up.

Not quite to the top yet!
We mixed things up a bit by continuing across the road where we access the trail, which takes us a brief distance through the woods, past a loud-barking Newfie who challenges our right of way, and onto a short open section up, and then down, a big rock knob.  The trail is grass covered, but with large expanses of flat basalt here and there, and a particular hollow sound to our horses' hoofbeats.  It is a tiny bit of trail, but well worth passing the doggie "gatekeeper," especially in the fading rays of sunset when the light is magical shining off the rock and filtering through the pines.
I guess my grin says it all.
Returning to the trailer, the boys munched hay while we threw their coolers on, and I counted Rhio's shoes.  The last time we rode here, we came home missing two.  I'm pleased to report all four of his shoes are present and accounted for!

Tomorrow is Red's turn!