Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


G and family were off to Colorado for a week over Christmas.  I was thrilled (really!) to be horsey caregiver while they were gone.  There is something about working in the barn, with the radio on, soaking up the equine atmosphere (ok, eau du horse is maybe not universally appreciated, I realize...), which is good for my psyche.  I got to put my hands on horses every day, and that is a good thing.  I got to sink my nose into my ponies' fluffy winter coats and inhale deeply, sucking in peace and contentment along with the stray bit of hay.  I also got a lot of fresh air, and exercise, and weight lifting.  I listened at dusk to the hooting of a great horned owl.  I marveled at the beautiful halo around the midnight moon last night, nearly full and shining crystalline in way it only does on deep, dark, frigid winter nights.  I swore, mildly, at the hay when it fell off the sled on the way out to deposit it strategically around the paddocks.  I swore, not so mildly, at the frozen half of the automatic waterer.  I sighed at the sight of six dirty stalls the few mornings I'd kept everyone inside overnight due to windchill advisories, but also gazed at the cleaned, fluffed stalls with simple satisfaction when the work was done.  I hauled a lot of hot water from the house - because I "needed" to fill the water buckets with warm water at night.  I dragged a lot of frozen buckets back to the house in the morning to thaw.  I hauled the poop sled to the manure pile and dumped it countless times.  I pulled bales of hay out of the stack and portioned them out into hay bags at night, or into many more piles than there were horses during the day.  I walked gingerly over the ice to and fro, back and forth, here and there.  My thick socks balled up in the toes of my boots.  My nose ran.  My cheeks were pink with chill.  My heart thrilled to the low, nickered greetings of welcome in the mornings when I opened the barn doors.  My soul smiled when the work was done and I stood quietly, taking a moment to listen to the horses chew and simply to watch them.  Horses are magic to me, and I am so blessed to live my life with them in it.

Dusk (4:30 pm)

The frozen half of the waterer
Rhio takes the long view of the camera lens
My Red boy
Barn aisle with Paco looking out (they come in to eat twice a day)
Rhio with his crazy lip indicating he's ready to go out
Paco, bundled up against the icy weather, enjoys morning hay

The buckets piled in the kitchen thawing (and the wrench I used to open the waterer)
Newest herd member Georgie, all decked out in her pink garb!
The guts of the waterer (heating element on the left is kaput)
Rhio using the working half of the waterer (he ALWAYS drinks when he leaves the barn after eating)
Rhio and Red - a unique perspective

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ice, All Ice!

You know, I live here for a reason - it is NOT SUPPOSED TO RAIN IN DECEMBER!!!  We had a promising start to the winter season, with several pleasant snows, and the city even began grooming the cross-country ski trails.  And then last weekend  happened.  It rained.  All weekend.  It stayed about 32 Fahrenheit.  All weekend.  It wrecked absolutely everything wonderful about winter.  Grrrr!!!

Needless to say, riding is an impossibility at the moment.  The ice layer over everything makes footing dangerous (though, I have purchased studs for my Easy boots - need to install those and try them out for traction!), and the horses are shuffling around the pasture coping with it.  We pray for snow.

In the meantime, I have not yet told the stories of my November riding adventures, and need to relive them now for purely selfish reasons.

November in our area comes with the firearm deer season.  The woods are full of hunters, and, I'm sorry to say, I just don't trust them to know the difference between my pony and a deer.  I know they only get two weeks a year, and I get the other 50.  But, the weather was SO nice in early November!!!
So, D. and I loaded up and hauled to Spirit Mountain twice.  Being city property, only licensed/permitted archery hunters are allowed and we deemed it safe to ride.  What a jewel we have so close to home!  It's really a shame that we don't head over there to ride more often.

Deer Season Ride 1: November 5, 2012

Rhio was still shod, as was D.'s mare, and so we were free to explore the abandoned railroad bed.  I used to live just down the hill from it, and walked the dogs on it several times per week.  This trail will eventually become official Duluth horse trail and will be greatly improved, but for now it remains a mostly-forgotten and definitely neglected thoroughfare.  The locals use it for hiking, dog walking, mountain biking, riding, and, in the winter, snowmobiles.  Non-locals don't even know it's there!  As a railroad bed, it's on the straight and narrow, but the inexorable creep of nature and the major flooding in June have remodeled and reshaped the trail into a nearly-unrecognizable path.  The footing remains sharp limestone (?) gravel in many places, and I am glad to ride a short horse ducking beneath some of the overhanging trees.  The views of the St. Louis River can't be beat, and it really feels like you are alone out there.  This day, we traversed as far as the tunnel and then reversed for home.  After climbing the hill up to Skyline Parkway, we let the horses stretch out into their big trots and travelled along to the scenic overlook.  From there, we continued west/south until intersecting with trail that would loop around and bring us back to the access point to get back to the trailer.  Any good ride I can get in November is icing on the cake, and this was no exception.

Picking our way carefully down to the railroad grade.

The entrance to the tunnel (Rhio has actually been through this tunnel in the past.)

D. and Secret

Do our horses enjoy the view as we do?

Looking down river toward the bay, and eventually the lake.

Yep, we're decked out in our blaze orange even though it is only archery hunters here.

Ah, contemplation.

Deer Season Ride 2: November 17, 2012

I was lucky enough to return to Spirit Mountain near the end of deer season, this time riding Red.  Being barefoot, and still missing one boot from our ordeal in October, D. lent me the 4th boot I needed for a complete set and off we went to explore.  This day, we stuck to trail and went to visit some of the best overlooks in the area.  It was a gorgeous Saturday, and so we saw other folks out and about enjoying the beauty and sunshine.  Red and Secret got along well, which is notable since Secret has a weird dislike for Red, for some reason.  They had no arguments this day, however, and D. and I just enjoyed ourselves, without any agenda.  Perhaps I don't do that often enough with my horses - I am always thinking about mileage, and pace, and conditioning in the back of my head.

Yum - a bit o' grass!

Through the trees - the river and the bay. (And there are blueberries here in July!)

The chestnuts enjoy the trail together.

Late fall bare trees.

My boy Red!

Now it is a month later, December 17, and I have only be astride once since our trip to Spirit Mountain - and that for about 20 minutes of walking around the outside of the pasture.  I do love winter - my heart thrills to enjoy snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and other cold weather snow pleasures - but when conditions aren't favorable for that, I chaff at being kept on the ground and not riding.  Thank goodness I have been very busy with other parts of my life - but the lack of riding is starting to show!  I don't have Seasonal Affective Disorder - I have Sans Adequate Distance (horseback) disorder!!!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Photo Shoot

It's December, and looking a little like Christmas out there with some snow on the ground.  We got our Christmas tree today (a balsam, fresh cut by yours truly after tromping around in the slushy snow debating the merits of each specimen with my roommate,) and so it seemed like a good opportunity to try for the annual Christmas card photo.

In past years, I have used a photo (or several) taken of me with my critters (usually the horses) sometime during the year.  I thought it might be fun to take a "Christmas photo" this year.  I don't know how animal photographers do it, especially with more than one animal in the frame!  Here is a sampling of this year's outtakes.  I hope they make you laugh as much as they do me!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Investigation

After last weekend's traumatic "incident," I remain utterly grateful that no lasting harm befell Red or me.  But I am also a little peeved at having lost the two brand new hoof boots, only on their second hoof-side foray into the wide world.  And so, on Wednesday morning, along with G and Gimi, Rhio and I set off on a search mission.
The short cut trail
It was a brisk morning, and the frost on the grass and dead leaves made the footing occasionally slippery in unexpected places.  But the sun was shining, and the calendar count-down to deer season was on (the two weeks I can't ride in the local woods, for fear of being mistaken for a mutant, English speaking, jingling deer,) so I was happy to be riding, despite the layers of clothing required.
Gimi doing an A+ job!
We decided to take a direct route to the area around where Red and I had parted company, which involved about 1 1/4 miles along the county highway.  The same county highway that sees little traffic these days, with the road block due to the washout from June still in place (and only a little work being done on it so far, apparently.)  We were not so lucky, however, and on this Wednesday morning, we had traffic in both directions, including large trucks from the county highway department building and a garbage truck.  Most of the trucks were very polite, and young Gimi showed very little concern about them.  Having steady Rhio in front of him (Rhio: "Remind me again why we have to slow down for traffic?  or for garbage cans?  The young one should just keep up with us!") I'm sure helped, but so far Gimi is proving to have an excellent attitude about new and potentially scary things.
The open space of the gas line
We turned into the woods and followed a short cut to the gas line, which was mowed/brush-hogged sometime this fall and looked like a broad runway for a galloping horse.  It was my best guess as to where Red had gone on Saturday after our tumble.  We headed left/northeast to start, and walked along looking for signs that Red had been there.  We went as far as a swampy (currently frozen) area with a bold NO TRESPASSING sign just on the other side of it.  To our literate brains, this was a logical turning around point, though I am under no illusion that it appeared so to a horse.  I spotted some frozen manure and Gesa spotted one of the missing boots!  Hallelujah!  Turning around and heading out to the main trail, we didn't see anything further.  We backtracked to the spot where we fell; the skid marks on the small patch of mud are pretty obvious.  We rode up to the spot I found him; 9 piles of manure are evidence enough of his overnight stay.  We checked a bit of the gas line area a second time.  That second boot remained hidden, and with a glance at the time, we turned for home.
The boot!
Friday would be my last opportunity to search until after November 18th, and by then there may be snow on the ground.  Friday was even colder than Wednesday had been, and I was riding out solo.  My motivation was not only boot location, but also to shake the gremlins of having fallen and to "get back up on the horse."  I took Red.  It is true what they say: Get back on right away.  Although I have come off of Red many times, I think this was one of the few times I did not get back on immediately and continue riding.  If we had found him on our walk out on Saturday, I definitely would have climbed aboard.  But since that option wasn't available to me, this day, five days later, I couldn't suppress the tiny voice inside whispering, "The last time you rode him, you came off.  And he got lost."
Last ride before deer season - all is well.
With a few butterflies, I mounted up and we ambled off along our regular route.  He felt fine.  He felt normal.  I felt fine.  I felt normal.  Well, okay then.  I retraced our route from Wednesday, where barefoot and bootless Red preferred the pavement to the gravel shoulder, and we took our sweet time getting where we needed to go.  I tried asking him to show me where he lost the boot, but he wasn't very forthcoming with information.  I only had about 30 minutes to search, and came up empty handed this time, unfortunately.  I peered closely at a possible hoof print in the swampy/frozen area by the no trespassing sign, a hoof print which I am certain we did not leave ourselves on Wednesday, but I am still undecided as to whether it was indeed evidence of Red's passing that way.

The ride home was uneventful, and I was already running late, so detacked and turned him out without any ceremony.  I guess life just goes on the way it was before.  The "first ride after the incident" turned out to be completely ordinary and unremarkable. No looking back, and no regrets.  And maybe I'll find that boot, yet.
So happy to have my boy home where he belongs.