Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Not again!

With a tiny bit of guilt, I rescheduled my Subaru's service appointment to Friday (weather forecast: COLD!) and played hooky from my responsibilities for a little while yesterday afternoon.  You are getting tired of me saying it, but the winter heat wave was still with us and driving home from an early afternoon patient, my car thermometer read 48 degrees!  If you guessed I threw on riding clothes and headed to the barn, you'd be exactly right.

As a side note, I have been finding dressing appropriately this winter to be extremely difficult.  I'm used to piling on the layers, and this winter's warmth has befuddled my wardrobe.  I've been hit or miss with choosing correctly; for example, on Monday afternoon, Gesa and I took Cricket and Sefi for a handwalk around the neighborhood just at dusk.  I had a single polarfleece top plus my winter jacket, silk long underwear bottoms beneath my winter riding tights, and my lightweight winter boots.  I was steaming -  unzipping, unbuttoning, unsnapping, and even shedding layers just while grooming. With that in mind, yesterday I dressed a little lighter, with "fall" tights instead of winter over my long underwear and two thin layers on top plus a light jacket.  I rode around the same time we'd walked the day before, and it was about the same temperature.  Yesterday, by the time I returned to the barn, I was very much on the chilly side and looking forward to cranking the heat in the car.

I was loading my tack into the car at Gesa's, on my way up to Red's barn, when I realized that, like Sunday, I'd forgotten Red's bit at home AGAIN!  Geez! I leave it there so it will be warm for him, and I can't seem to remember to bring it.  It doesn't matter that it's warm when it's sitting at home. Planning a road ride, I knew I needed a bit not just his rope halter, so I threw Cricket's bridle into the car along with saddle, pad, girth, rump rug, and reflective vest (for me) and leg bands (for him).
It's amazing how different Red looks in Cricket's bridle!  He has the longest head of my three, as I had to let it out a bit to fit him.  Also, Cricket's curb bit is a 4 1/2" and a 4 3/4" bit fits Red better.  Despite the strange bit that didn't fit, he seemed perfectly content in this bridle.  I have never ridden him in any other bit besides his snaffle, so I don't know if he has any experience in a curb bit or not. 

Ready to go and mounted up in no time, we set off down the edge of the icy driveway.  I had high hopes for the state of the gravel road, given our streak of spring-like weather and sunny days to melt the road surface, but, alas, I was wrong in my prediction and we ended up with a short 2 1/2 mile walk.  The sunset was lovely, and we enjoyed being out, so I didn't really mind.  Who can complain about riding in January like this?
This shoulder was the best footing of our whole ride.


Sunday, January 8, 2012


I always celebrate my birthday with a ride.  More specifically, I ride Red, my first horse.  Being that my birthday is in January, this is frequently a very short ride due to weather conditions.  This year, I was able to ride as long as I wanted and we wandered around all over the farm trails, neighbor's trails and hayfield, and the other's neighbor's gravel pit.  Kelso and Killian accompanied us, and we had a grand time.  See the story below in photo essay form.

The cows observing us on our way back to the trails.

Whee!  Killian and Kelso are so happy to be running off leash.

Checking out some of the trails that Dave has been using to get wood.

We are being stalked by a wild beast!  Oh, never mind...just Killian's shadow. 

Crossing the hay field toward the frozen bit of swamp that we can utilize to get to the neighbor's gravel pit.

In the gravel pit.

Red's a little afraid of these stumps.  Every time we see them.  You'd think he'd get over it. 

My crazy set up, because I'd forgotten his bit at home.  I attached my reins to the noseband of his rope halter instead of knotting the permanently attached leadrope back on itself.  It looked ridiculous, but it seemed to give me more control than when the "reins" are the leadrope attached under his chin.  He didn't like it much when I held him back, though, and tossed his head (not used to pressure on his nose.) 

Carol took our picture after our ride!  (I am a little overdressed - it was 33!)

He's searching my pockets for treats.

After his post-ride drink, just making sure there aren't any more treats. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Pinch Me

45 degrees.  January 6.  Duluth, MN.  Yep, you did read that right!  (And actually yesterday was even warmer... what a strange winter!)

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I found a convenient hole in my schedule this afternoon, and took myself directly out to the barn.  This is my first ride of 2012!  The wind was really blowing when I was saddling up, but I didn't much care as it didn't have the usual icy bite to it and I needed to RIDE! Rhio and I set off solo, winding our way around the pasture and the neighbor's pastures to the cut-through in the woods which dumps us out on the dead-end gravel road just to the north of the farm.  I figured the footing might still be too icy on the road, since it is heavily shaded and gravel roads compacted by vehicle traffic don't melt easily in my experience.  Luckily we've had so little snow that the plows have left bare scrapes along the edges of the road and that gave us some non-slip surface.  And, actually, day two of balmy temperatures did have even the center of the road pretty soft and therefore not icy at all.

Rhio objected mildly to leaving alone, and offered to turn around and head home pretty regularly for the first mile or so.  I was prepared for this, and had a stash of treats in my saddle pack so that I could reward him when he was going forward and relaxed.  He remembered this lesson immediately, and anytime I moved from using both hands on the reins to having one hand relaxed at my side, he'd turn his head watching for a treat.  Silly! And very food motivated.

We headed up the steep hill and emerged onto another portion of the same gravel road, which also had some dirt showing along the shoulders.  The footing was good enough to trot much of this portion, and we stopped briefly to chat with a lady and her small dog out enjoying the day as well.  She admired my horse, and that always feels nice!  She was curious about his blaze orange rump rug, but quickly agreed that it was great for visibility when I mentioned that as its primary use.

My goal, if it was doable, was to ride all the way to our favorite local snowmobile trail, which I had scoped out by car on my way to the barn to make sure it was rideable.  Not only was it rideable, the footing was perfect!  It had been packed by a handful of snowmobiles, so the snow was firm enough to support a horse with enough softness of the top to give us grip.  YeeHaw!

In order to get to the trail, we had to ride about 1/4 mile along a very busy county road; Jean Duluth Road is a major local route for getting to and from town and is very well travelled by not only passenger vehicles, but county road work vehicles (including plows and sanding trucks - not much call for those today!), school buses, semi's, and the like.  It does have pretty wide shoulders and is very popular with the road biking crowd, so drivers are somewhat used to sharing the roadway - but of course bikes don't spook at random or unexpected things.  Rhio is (now) really traffic safe, and I felt comfortable heading down the shoulder against traffic.  The footing continued to be excellent, and for much of the distance we could actually get down into the ditch.  At about 3:00 pm, the traffic was fairly light and I'd say about a half dozen vehicles passed us.  Rhio didn't flinch once, and as soon as we hit the last section of gravel road to get to the trail, he seemed to know where he was and launched into his smooth and ground covering big trot. We turned onto the trail, and headed up the big hill, both of us working hard enough by the top to be puffing and sweating a bit.  We continued along, trotting and cantering and even a little galloping, enjoying the silence and solitude of the winter woods without frozen cheeks or frosty breath.  The late afternoon sun and gathering clouds accentuated the naked trees, and I lost myself in the moment with my horse.

My GPS battery conked out just shy of 5 miles, so we went a little farther and then turned for home...and the lessons began.  Rhio started channeling his anxious, rush-rush-rush self (last seen at the Kentucky Diehards endurance ride in November... I don't like this Rhio very much!) and head tossing violently while cantering/galloping on the edge of control.  Well, this was PERFECT!  What a training opportunity.  I spent the trail portion of the return trip insisting that he relax, and trot.  And, guess what? It worked.  Without the added emotional craziness of a ride, and other horses, he was able to listen to me and although he continued to attempt to start cantering, pressure-and-release on the reins and verbal "No" resulted in good behavior.  He wasn't perfect by any means, but I was encouraged by his response.

He even seemed to realize that the time for antics was past when we hit Jean Duluth Road again on the return trip, and he walked along obeying my leg and rein cues to move over as I micro-managed our position relative to the road to deal with footing and traffic.  Now, closer to 5:00 pm, the traffic was heavy in both directions.  Horse-eating monsters were in the mix, including a propane-delivery truck with air brakes (really? did you have to?), a truck pulling an ATV trailer, and a obnoxious pickup without a muffler, and Rhio kept walking along calming, just an ear and an eye on them clueing me in to his slight worry.  I would (will) ride this section of road again, but only on a really road safe horse and preferably in the middle of the day.

We walked most of the three miles home, for safety reasons as well as to get him cooled out well since his winter coat was soaked with sweat and evening was nearly upon us. It might be crazy warm out, but not warm enough to put a wet horse out to pasture at night!  And, I didn't want him to have to stay in the barn unless absolutely necessary.

Two hours, and ten miles, later, we rode in the way we'd left.  I was admiring sunset, and he was grabbing at grass (!).  Both of us were pleasantly tired and utterly content.  It was a good ride, a really good ride.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Keeping Track

When it comes to my horses and endurance, I've learned not to set many yearly goals down on paper.  So many variables about my competition season are completely out of my control that I have to just take whatever opportunities I have to compete and enjoy them.  That said, I do have some career goals in this sport.  I would like Rhio and I to achieve Decade Team status, which means we've ridden and completed at least one endurance ride of 50 miles or more each ride season for 10 years.  2011 marked year two for us on this goal, although we completed our first 50 mile ride together in 2007, we did not do any in either 2008 or 2009.  I believe the ten years need to be consecutive, but I may be mistaken about that.  I can't wait to compete together for at least another eight years!

Another goal I have for Rhio is to make 3000 career endurance miles in competition.  We are 1/10th of the way to that goal, having now 300 endurance miles to our credit.  He's also got 180 limited distance miles for rides between 25 and 35 miles in length.   I expect he and I will continue to do some limited distance rides mixed in with endurance rides as seems appropriate at the time, although I do think that the shorter rides are too easy for him and he does not learn to pace himself because he can "race" them.  We have a lot of work to do in the area of "pacing" and "listening to rider even when other horses are in front of or passing us." I will use the LD rides as conditioning/training for him, and hope to concentrate only on having a calm, easily controlled horse whenever we do ride them.

I've mentioned previously that I would also like to ride in competition in every state where competitions are held (which is not all 50 states; conveniently there are none in Hawaii, since getting there to ride would be extremely difficult!).  So far I have 5 states on my list: Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Kentucky.  2011 was a great year for this goal - I added two states this year!

Living where we do, with long winters and wet springs, we do not have as much opportunity to accrue miles, either conditioning or competing, as we would if we lived somewhere with a longer riding season.  I expect it will take us a long time to reach these goals.  And that's ok, because I plan to be Rhio's partner for many, many years to come!

Red's log is the one on the left (obviously!); Rhio's is the one on the right

I keep a log book for each of my riding horses.  I usually ride with a basic GPS and try to record distance, time, speed, and a little bit about each ride in the log.  This has been a really interesting exercise, as it has been invaluable as a "reality check" when my sense of "we've been riding a lot" or "we've hardly been riding at all!" kicks in.  In 2011, Rhio and I did about 200 miles of logged conditioning rides, not counting lazy local rides with friends or arena work, and 150 miles in competition (two 50s and two 25s).  For comparison, in 2010, we did about 300 miles conditioning and 205 miles in competition (three 50s, one 30, and one 25).  In 2010, I rode him on 93 days for the year, and in 2011, I only rode him on 65 days.

I also have a good record of the weather via my log books; for example the first time the roads were clear enough of snow and ice to ride out was March 7 in 2010 and March 16 in 2011.  Our first ride that we hauled out to trails in 2010 was April 11, to Dago Lake (south of us and sandy), and the first time I was able to ride local trails was May 10.  Our first time to haul to a trail in 2011 was technically February 15, as we went to the local snowmobile trail because the footing was perfect for horses but too soft for the snow machines.  I didn't ride a local trail in 2011 until June 3; we tried on May 17 and it was still too mucky for the horses.  Despite not being able to get out on the trails until after the first Minnesota ride of the year (the first weekend in May), I seem to manage to get about 100 miles of conditioning in between March and May, all road riding unless we get to go somewhere south of here.

Similarly, I can see how far into the fall we were able to really ride each year, and at what point our riding became walking through deep snow (otherwise known as "resistance training," or sometimes I call it merely "mental health therapy").  In 2010, our last "real ride" before winter settled in was November 7.  In 2011, we still had open roads and trails through December and do not yet have any deep snow.  We do have some ice, and that's been constraining our riding, but we are not yet doing any "resistance training."