Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kentucky Diehards

November 16 - 21, 2011
Duluth, MN to Harrodsburg, KY and back, via Madison, WI

Candy invited me to come to a late-season ride with her in November, and we chose the Kentucky Diehards ride held at Shaker Village (http://www.shakervillageky.org/), near Harrodsburg, KY the weekend before Thanksgiving.  Wow!  That meant I not only got to add another state to my list of states-in-which-I've-ridden-an-endurance-ride, but I also got to experience my first out-of-region ride.  Kentucky is in the Southeast region of AERC (http://www.aerc.org/), while all my previous rides have been in my home region, Midwest.  It seemed only fitting to be extending my endurance season by nearly a month this year, as our fall has also been extended nearly a month with unseasonably warm and beautiful weather; it was 50 degrees on Thanksgiving Day, for heavens' sake!  

Once we'd decided when and where, our plans began to disintegrate with truck and trailer issues. Candy's big truck was in the shop and not slated to be finished until the 17th, while we needed to leave on the 16th and our 3rd companion, Tom, had an electrical fire in his trailer and the living quarters was gutted, so we didn't have any camping accommodations.  Being endurance riders, we persevered and prepped plan C (or was it D by then?).  Candy and I would take her husband's little truck and her stock trailer for the 6 hour trip to Tom's place in Madison, then we would take his rig the 9+ hour trip to Kentucky but stay in guest rooms at Shaker Village.  Ok, that seems workable although a bit of a drain on the pocket book.  Well, at this point I'm not going to let money be the reason that I can't take advantage of this amazing opportunity, so, I'm in!

Instead of having Rhio's shoes pulled after the Point Chaser ride, as I would have normally done, I kept him shod and kept riding him, so that we would be ready for another 50.  Luckily we had such a nice fall, as steel shoes on frozen ground, or even worse in ice and snow, are supremely slippery and very dangerous.  Wednesday the 16th was cold, gray, and we'd gotten a bit of snow overnight - certainly weather that made a trip to warmer climes pretty darn desirable.  I'd packed as compactly as I could, knowing we had only the bed of the little truck plus the backseat for all our gear (bins are wonderful things!).  We didn't have to bring hay, as Tom was supplying all our hay (and boy was it nice hay! the boys loved it!), and that was what saved us and allowed us to get all our stuff in the little rig.  We joked about how much stuff we had for our horses (I had 5 bins plus my saddle and saddle stand), but we each only had a small duffel bag for ourselves.

Candy's horse Windsor, a gray gelding with tons of miles and endurance wisdom was going to be the leader, voice of reason, and good example for the other two less experienced horses.  Rhio climbed aboard Candy's trailer smoothly (insert sigh of relief here...it is always nerve-wracking when I know I have an "inconsistent" loader and someone comes to pick me up; it can be quite embarrassing to have a horse that is difficult to load, a bit like having a misbehaving child in a public place I expect) and the boys settled in for the trip, all bundled up in winter blankets.  I'd even wrapped Rhio's legs and put bell boots on, which I don't normally do for our typical shorter trips, but I thought the extra support and protection was a good thing, and I was a bit paranoid about him stepping on himself and yanking a shoe off before we even got there, as we were close to the end of our regular shoeing cycle.
Ready to head south!
Settling in for the start of our drive, I asked Candy for Windsor's Coggins paper (proof of a negative yearly test for a certain virus which is required for traveling out of state) so that I could write a health certificate for him, which is required for out-of-state horses entering Kentucky (and most other states). Oh no.  She'd left it at home, since it was always in her big trailer...but we didn't have the big trailer!  This was not an auspicious start to the trip, as we had to make the 45 minute trip back across town to her place to pick it up; we would have hated to get all the way there and be turned away from the ride for lack of proof of a negative Coggins.  As it turned out, we were never asked to produce our paperwork at all.

Finally, we were on the way and the roads were clear, so we made good time heading south through Wisconsin.  Each time we stopped the horses seemed content, and warm enough, and Rhio was even eating some hay!  This was great, as he hasn't been good about eating in the trailer recently.  They were tied to the side of the trailer, as if in a slant, but chose to stand facing mostly forward it seemed, with Windsor standing in the middle of the trailer and Rhio beside him along the driver's side.  I wonder if they were able to lessen the wind in their faces this way? We made it to Tom's place after dark (which comes so early these days!), loaded our stuff willy-nilly into the cavernous husk of the living quarters portion of his trailer, gave the boys their nighttime meal of beet pulp with all the fixings, and settled them into the paddock behind Tom's barn with lots of hay.  They both ate and drank well, and seemed to be best buddies already without any squabbling.

I met Tom, his lovely wife Connie, and their two dogs Sam and Willy, and then we went to a local brewpub for dinner.  Being Wisconsin, I had to have the burger topped with fried cheese curds and avocado (yum!) but they were out of my first choice brew - a Belgian style ale - though my second choice - a "red" ale - was quite tasty as well.  We hit the sack as soon as we got home, planning for a very early start on Thursday.

The horses knew something was up as we appeared out of the darkness at an ungodly hour, and started wrapping legs while letting them eat their breakfast.  Rhio and Windsor did not eat well, being a bit anxious at the strange routine (I knew better than to do anything but let him eat!  Do I ever learn?), but loaded up just fine into Tom's trailer, which is open stock style in the horse area.  We put his horse Express, a very handsome young chestnut gearing to do his first ever 50 miler, up front, then Rhio in the middle, and Windsor last.  The temperature was in the low 20s, and we didn't know how quickly it was going to warm up, so we kept their winter blankets on at this point.  Settling in with Tom driving through the darkness, Candy and I got to relax and even nap just a little.  Our goal was to make Louisville, KY before 3:00 pm, as the Ohio River bridge there is under construction and we'd heard the traffic for rush hour was unbelievably bad.

The sun came up, and we kept heading south, then east, expecting to see the outside temperature reading start creeping up...we waited, and waited, and waited, but to little avail.  The thermometer was stubbornly stuck in the 30s all day, topping out at a mere 37 even once we'd arrived in Kentucky.  Huh. Glad I packed warm clothes!  The drive was uneventful, the horses travelled really well with zero issues, and we crossed the Ohio River by 2:30 pm with no traffic to speak of at all.  Patting ourselves on the back, we thought, "Hey, that wasn't bad at all!  What was everyone talking about?"  Well, we would pay our dues on the way home...stay tuned.

We pulled into Shaker Village and unloaded our ponies in the late afternoon; it was great to get there in the daylight.  We found the "paddock" reserved for us - it was at least 3 acres!  Fenced with the ubiquitous four-rail wooden fencing seen all over Kentucky and green with grass, the boys thought it was horsey utopia. We unwrapped legs as fast as we could and turned them loose; they all rolled and then ran amuk for a bit, before settling in to eating (what is this green stuff?  GRASS! they seemed to shout)...while we wondered if we'd ever catch them again.

Oh, yeah.  This is the life!
Unhooking the truck, we drove a couple miles to the other end of the property where the guest houses were located and Candy and I checked into our room.  We were housed in the East Family Sister's Shop.  The main floor was part of the museum exhibits, with unmarked doors shut and locked when we checked in, but we discovered on Friday afternoon that they hid the spinning and weaving exhibits. What beautiful handiwork!  It was shame that we never made it over to the craft shop to peruse the goods for sale. Our room was Shaker, all right, with two single beds, white coverlets, white walls, and hardwood floors with a rag rug.  Somewhat incongruous with Shaker simplicity and spartanism were the Tempurpedic mattresses on the beds.  Oh, heavenly!  Both Candy and I slept almost better than at home.
Our room.
Tom had grown up in the next town over, and he stayed with his mother.  The four of us went out to dinner at Eddie Montgomery's steakhouse (yes, as in Montgomery-Gentry the country music stars), which was a beautiful soaring log building, and enjoyed our first taste bud-enrapturing (and fat- and carb- rich) meal of the trip (there were to be many, many more...my jeans didn't fit so well on the way home).

Upon our return to Shaker Village, we were barely able to locate our ponies way at the far end of their pasture in the dark, but confirmed that they were fine and happy for the night, threw some hay to supplement the grass, and headed back to crash in bed with our books.  Tom left us the truck, and we made plans to meet for brunch on Friday.

Friday dawned very frosty; the low was mid-20s overnight (hey, I thought Kentucky was supposed to be warm!).  Candy and I fed the horses and headed into the little town of Harrodsburg to get groceries for ride day, and to meet up with Tom for (it turned out) lunch.  We wandered into the Beaumont Inn, a historic inn that served a Southern buffet lunch on Fridays and enjoyed the beauty of the grand old home, the antique furnishings, and the free wifi while we waited for lunch to be served.  Filling our plates and our bellies to capacity (and then a little more) with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, Kentucky hot brown (cheese, tomatoes, turkey, and I don't know what else but it was good!), corn pudding, salad, rolls, and apple cobbler for dessert.  Our intention was to ride after lunch, but Groan!  I think I ate too much!
Oh, yum.
We did manage to stuff ourselves into our riding tights and mount up, heading off across the fields of Shaker Village to loosen our horses up for Saturday.  Candy and Tom already knew some of the endurance greats that were there, but it was the first time I'd met some of the legends of our sport, like Bill Wilson.  We rode along at a relaxed pace, chatting and getting the feel for the course, which was surprisingly hilly.  We did about 4 miles for warm-up, the horses were feeling good, and I was reminded that the vegetation in these parts isn't overly friendly!  Many of the trees, shrubs, and vines have spikes, thorns, prickers and the like, and "brushing them out of your way" isn't as simple as it sounds.  I got a real kick out of a strange plant called in the vernacular "hedge apple," but known as the osage orange (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maclura_pomifera).  This plant's fruits are softball-size bright yellow-green spheres which litter the ground (I can only imagine that Killian would be overcome with the abundance of "balls" if he were to ever encounter these), and have the reputation of repelling insects.  In fact, you can sometimes find them for sale in the produce section of our supermarkets at home, as natural spider repellant!

After our ride, we completed registration for the ride and vetted in.  We were numbers 25, 26, and 27.  There were over 30 riders signed up for the 50.  The Southeast region has a horse scale which is available at all their rides; we took advantage of the opportunity to weigh our horses.  Rhio weighed in at 908 lbs.  We had a beverage of choice while getting things organized for the start, and watching our horses just be horses out in their spacious home-away-from-home.  We were continually impressed with how easily the three horses got along as a herd, without any conflict that we could see.
The Shaker barn.
At ride meeting, held in the beautiful barn (you could rent stalls for your horses as well as paddocks if you wanted to), we listened to the detailed description of the trail, but without the benefit of a map, I, at least, felt a bit more confused than I would have liked.  The 50 had three loops, with loop 1 being 25 miles and having a 10 minute hold out on course (no vet criteria, just stop and wait there for 10 minutes), then loop 2 15 miles and loop 3 10 miles.  All holds were 40 minutes, and criteria was a pulse of 64 all day.  Ok, that was pretty familiar from rides at home and wouldn't require extra thought (yay).  The course was entirely on Shaker Village property, looping around and through the fields (formerly pasture, hay, or crops, but now being mostly converted to natural prairie), and with numerous creek crossings (I am not sure if it is just a single creek that we cross multiple times, or if there are several different creeks).  Start time was 7:30 am, and we three were planning to ride together and go out well in the back of the pack, so now all that was left was to try to calm my nerves.

There was to be a catered dinner after the ride meeting that night, so we stuck around visiting with other UMECRA members who were in attendance (also new faces to me).  Dinner was once again the full spread of yummy traditional food and I once again ate way too much!

I don't even remember what time Tom picked us up Saturday morning, but it was too early to be forced out of our uber-comfortable beds!  The horses pick up on the ride day excitement, and neither Windsor nor Rhio ate well (I think Express ate well the entire time; he might have been the youngest of the three horses, but he seemed the most settled in camp, I would say).  We tacked up with rump rugs; it was chilly again but not nearly so cold as Friday morning.  We were relieved, as the frost on Friday had been very thick and would have made the grassy course dangerously slick until it dried.  We headed out to warm up, going the wrong direction on trail so that the hot shoes could get well out of camp before we left.  This type of course is a major disadvantage for Rhio; he is not used to being able to see so much around him with all the open fields, and to see horses ahead of him/elsewhere on course pretty much all the time.  It was overwhelming for him, and without our familiar trail-through-a-corridor-of-woods to help focus him, he fell apart completely, mentally and emotionally.  The start was actually quite good (we tried to be last, but had to pass another group that had horse trouble; they then had to pass us in turn about 2 miles into the loop), but many (it felt like all!) of the riders ahead of us got lost and ended up coming up from behind us and having to pass (some of them did this more than once).  Each time they passed faster and with more agitation (the riders were stressed by getting lost), and Rhio couldn't handle it at all.  I was doing serpentines down the trail trying to make him focus on me and work, but it was completely unsuccessful.  We could see multiple riders at multiple different places on the course, all at the same time, and he just came totally unglued.  I know Tom was fighting Express as well, and even steady Windsor was pretty agitated and worked up.  We got to the 10 minute stop-and-go, which just made matters worse as all of a sudden we were with a group of horses, but everyone was coming and going at different times, and the course continued in a loop to pass back past the stopping place on the other side of a rock wall.  It was still cold out, and windy there at the top of a hill, and even with his wool rump rug, I was concerned that Rhio was going to get cold and crampy standing still (well, not that we actually stood still - I don't think his feet stopped moving at all, even to pee).  He was absolutely drenched with sweat (it was dripping off his belly, as if it were a hot and humid ride), wild-eyed, and completely uninterested in the grass or even a carrot.  This really was a recipe for disaster, as Candy and I talked about later; these are the type of conditions that get horses into metabolic trouble really fast.  I've never been in a situation like this with either Red or Rhio, and I felt like I'd jumped into the deep end of a cold pool expecting it to be a soothing hot tub.  I didn't know what to do but keep going down the trail; I am grateful to have had Candy's wisdom and experience to draw on later in the ride so that I hopefully have some tools to better deal with a situation like this in the future.  I know I am lucky that Rhio didn't develop any issues, and we did finish the ride, but it is the first ride I've done (including the one in 2007 when I had the flu and was delirious) where I really wasn't having fun at all, and just wanted to give up.
Loop 1 (before the crazies).
Tom & Express, Loop 1. 
Rhio and I continued on for the second half of the first loop on our own, and the only good things I can report is that he didn't buck (this is an improvement, as the first several years I had him, he would buck in stressful situations, especially if I were holding him back) and he did drink out of the stream at least twice.  I'm pretty sure this was a scenic loop, but it was a blur to me as I tried to control my screaming, frantic, insane horse.  Really.  I'm not exaggerating.  A little more than a mile from camp, coming down a steep hill, I dismounted to handwalk him the rest of the way (hoping he might graze a little - he took maybe 3 bites).  Unlike Minnesota rides, where we get our pulse to start our hold time, but don't have our vet check until right before we go out for the next loop, here we were going to have to pass our vet check immediately after getting our pulse.  (This was the same at the ride we did in Michigan in October, so at least I'd had some time to think about a strategy for this, as it's not what I'm used to.)  I knew from my onboard heart rate monitor that he was running really high (no surprise given his mental and emotional state) and I knew there was a fair chance we wouldn't pass the vet check.  We made it in, walked over to vet check (where my efforts to get him to eat or drink or take a deep breath were for naught), and I waited until he was well down below criteria to get our pulse.  We did pass the vet check, though he didn't stand well for the vet (grr!) and had less than his normal gut sounds (no surprise as we'd just run 25 miles in less than 3 hours without eating).  He was so amped up that he did nothing but twirl around on his lead rope and completely ignore his hay and his mash at the check.  I tried hiding him behind the trailer so he couldn't see the activity around camp, but to no avail.  Candy and Tom came in, passed their check, and brought Windsor and Express over to the trailer, which finally got Rhio to eat a little bit.  I stayed in camp an extra 20 minutes to go back out with them, and to let him eat and settle down some more.
Wading the stream in the tunnel beneath the highway - loop 2.
Baptist Church - loop 2.

Loop 2 started much, much better, although he was still trying to paying more attention to what all the other horses were doing and not to my requests.  You would think he would have settled in a bit better with Windsor and Express, since they were settled down nicely, but, nope.  I kept him behind those two, and by about half way through the second loop, I finally had my horse back.  We thoroughly enjoyed the remainder of the ride, on a loose rein, relaxed and comfortable.  He continued to drink well, and started to graze better, too.  We crossed beneath the highway through a tunnel, which is also a stream bed with about 6" of flowing water, and he forged right ahead through that without any hesitation.  Finishing out the second loop, we had no trouble with the vet check and he ate at the second hold (although he preferred Windsor's to his own, of course), and we headed out dead last for the 3rd loop.  Rhio was starting to feel tired on this loop, and no longer wanted to trot up the hills.  I know it was all the extra energy he put into being crazy the first loop that sapped his strength; I didn't have a lot of horse left, which is a new experience for me with Rhio.  He has always had lots left in reserve at the end of every other 50 we've done, and that tells me a lot.  My challenge with this boy is all mental.
Loop 3.
I was so pleased just to have finished this ride.  I know I learned a lot, thanks mostly to Candy sharing all she's learned in her years and miles of experience.  I wish I could say Rhio learned a lot, too, but I kind of doubt that, unfortunately.  He needs a lot more miles at rides; no training or conditioning situation ever adequately replicates the conditions at a ride. I would love to be able to do multiday rides with him; 50 miles a day, day after day, would teach him a lot.  I'm going to try clicker training with him this winter to see if I can get some cued behaviors that will get him to focus on me even in high stress situations.  But mostly I just need to get him to more rides!  This really was only his 6th 50, so he is still green.  As am I.

The topography of this part of Kentucky was surprisingly hilly; nearly all the course was up or down, some of it pretty steep.  I think we wouldn't have finished the ride if we didn't live and train in Duluth, where all our conditioning rides are hilly, just some more than others.  I am grateful to have that base of hill work on him just by virtue of location.

By Saturday afternoon, it was a sunny 60 degrees and we couldn't have asked for better weather.  We heard that Minnesota was being socked by the first winter storm of the year, so despite the challenges of the day, it was still a better day fighting with my horse in Kentucky than it would have been at home not riding. 

We finished with a total ride time of about 7 hours, "tying for 25th place" a.k.a. the very last riders.  We were pleased with that, and had just enough time before dark to get our ponies settled for the night.  We re-weighed the horses on the scale, and Rhio dropped to 846.  He lost 62 pounds, which is more than I would have liked.  The weight loss is "water weight," i.e. sweat losses, as well as the loss of a lot of the fiber in his gut as he passes it through his system all day without truly replenishing (because he's working, not eating, all day). We got really nice wicking T-shirts as completion prizes, and after much-needed showers, headed out to a pub for yet another satiating meal.  It was a mini family reunion for Tom, with a large party of sisters, brothers-in-law, nephews, etc.  Candy and I shared our meal with another UMECRA member there on her own, and we split a slice of Derby pie for dessert (holy cow, yum!).
It's even my favorite color- blue!
Sunday morning dawned warm and humid, near 50 and foggy/drizzly.  We opted to leave the boys naked for the first part of the trip home, planning to stop as the temperature dropped and blanket them as needed.  About 30 minutes into the trip, though, while sitting in a left turn lane to get fuel, the trailer started rocking (oh for a camera so we could know what actually happened back there!).  We checked the horses immediately upon pulling into the station, and all three of them where breathing hard with flared nostrils, and trembling.  We couldn't figure out why, as everything else looked normal and heart rates and gut sounds were all normal as well.  We blanketed lightly and decided to keep going but stop somewhere with grass to unload and graze a bit on the way.  They travelled well the rest of the trip, and we never did figure out what the problem had been.

Being Sunday morning, we didn't anticipate any issues with the road construction involving the Ohio River bridge in Louisville.  That was a mistake.  Instead of following Tom's instincts for avoiding the construction, we decided to follow the posted detour.  Too bad they led us off somewhere with a clearly marked detour, then seem to have quit marking the appointed path!  So, we ended up driving in a big circle around Louisville, stuck on the east side of the river, for an hour.  Ugh.  We did finally make it across, and stopped at a nice rest area in Indiana to unload and graze the horses.  They relished the time out of the trailer, grazing like crazy, peeing, wandering about with us in tow, and Rhio even rolled.  We loaded up again and made the rest of the return trip without anything of interest to report. We were happy to find a snowless landscape in Madison, and settled the boys in for the night in the paddock, leaving our unorganized pile of belongings in the trailer for sorting on Monday morning.

After pizza, wine, and some nice Port, along with conversation, we rolled into bed for our last night on the road.  Windsor, Rhio, Candy, and I drove north Monday morning, right into the arms of winter.  We got home around 2:00 pm; Rhio was happy to trot off into his pasture (slip! slide!  Oh, geez, Rhio - BE CAREFUL! You still have shoes on, and now it's slippery out.) and Windsor was sad to see his buddy leave.

It was a great experience, and I'm so glad I went.  I hope to do another out-of-region ride next year, if I can!  It felt like a true vacation; we didn't know what was going on in the wider world when we came home, and we left the radio off the whole trip home to prolong that sense of being away just a bit longer.

To see more pictures, go to https://picasaweb.google.com/t.dentinger/KentuckyDiehardsRideNovember2011?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCIzyjoPpr8yCpwE&feat=directlink

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