Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Wildlife Safari (Run for the Border 2012)

Friday Dawn left her horse Secret and her trailer at the barn while she went to work in the morning, and I arrived a few hours later to finish my horse stuff packing, and to load the trailer.  It's hard to know where to put everything since we haven't taken her rig to a ride before (it's her first ride ever!), but it seemed to work out well.  Luckily we only had the two horses going, so could use the extra straight load stall in the front of the trailer for hay/water/feed and miscellaneous stuff.  Rhio got the back compartment to himself.
Gassing up before we hit the road.
After discovering that the brake controller wasn't working coming down 21st Avenue East in Duluth (um, yeah, being pushed down the hill by the trailer isn't too fun), we stopped for some fast food (side note: my first inclination was to order a strawberry shake, but I switched to caramel just in time.  The previous week I'd eaten a strawberry-banana frozen smoothie and broken out in a rash!  I guess strawberries do this sometimes?  I'd better NOT have become allergic to strawberries!!!!!  I LOVE strawberries.  But, I wasn't going to chance it on the way to a ride.) and jiggled the connection around.  Everything seemed to be working after that, so fingers crossed we proceeded to head out of town and ventured south on the interstate through the construction.  Very conveniently, the bulk of the traffic heads north on Fridays and south on Sundays (to and from the Twin Cities), so we cruised along at a decent pace and weren't too troubled by the miles and miles of single lane.

Upon arrival at St. Croix Falls, WI, we found a convenient spot to camp in the large field behind Wolf's Creek Bar, ride camp for the weekend, and unloaded the horses so they could gorge on the lush grass.  Oh, they were happy!  We set up electric pens for them, popped up the camper, and hauled some water for the vet check and camp.  After vetting in, we got things ready for the morning and walked the horses a bit before the ride meeting.  Dawn was doing her first ever ride - a 25 mile competitive.  Rhio and I were attempting the 75 miler.  I almost backed out, seeing the forecast for ride day to be nearly as hot as Friday (close to 90 - we haven't had anything above 70, and only a day or two of that, even - neither Rhio nor I is acclimated to the heat yet at all) and for thunderstorms to pop up in the afternoon.  But, I really thought this would be an ideal first 75, as the trails are moderate and the footing is pretty good.  Also, the first loop had an outcheck, so we wouldn't have to leave "home" so many times over the course of the day.

After ride meeting, we went up to the bar to have a late dinner.  Bedtime around 10 pm made for my 4 am wake up to come pretty darn quickly.  Though, I hardly sleep the night before a ride anyway, so it didn't much matter.  The pop-up pick up camper was very comfortable, and plenty of windows caught the breeze to make for pleasant sleeping.  I'm not sure what time it was that I was woken by raised voices - of course my first thought was loose horses, but in a moment I realized that it was actually a bar fight.  Oh boy.  I didn't hear any sirens, nor any gunshots, so I guess it was resolved without too much violence.

I woke up before my alarm, got dressed, and crept out of the camper with breakfast in tow.  Kelso barely opened an eyelid at me, refusing to get up.  That dog does like his creature comforts, and getting up pre-dawn isn't one of them, apparently.  I got Rhio his morning beet pulp mash, gave Secret some hay and carrots, and set about getting ready.  I never have *quite* enough time (didn't get his mane braided Friday night, so had to do that in the morning) and so was just mounting and walking down to the timer tent about a minute after the rest of the 75s started (5:30 am).  There were 6 of us, and being a little late suited me just fine.  Rhio couldn't see the horses in front of us, and we left camp quietly.  About a half mile from camp we cross a small creek - we would cross this creek 8 times over the course of our 75 miles.
Crossing the creek for the first time, 5:30 am.
In about a mile, we caught up with Sarah riding Callie, and continued on with them for the first 15 mile loop.  This was the first time I've had the opportunity to ride with Sarah and we chatted so much that we were surprised to round a bend and be right on top of the out vet check. Oops!  Rhio and I had been cantering, which is not my normal procedure for coming in to a check.  Nonetheless, Rhio dropped like a rock and was down by the time I'd gotten my in time written on my card, so we pulsed right away and went to find our pile of stuff.  I don't have a crew bag, so sent a brightly colored backpack that would be easy to spot.  I didn't send any hay, figuring he'd want grass anyway.  I had a ziploc of soaked beet pulp and oats, a dose of electrolytes, and a bunch of carrots for him.  Luckily, I'd also thrown in his riding fly mask and a bottle of fly spray.  The gnats were horrendous!!!  He was so glad to get his fly mask on, and then settled down to eating.  I had water to refill my bottles and some snacks.  I wasn't particularly hungry and I hadn't been drinking as well as I'd planned (I'd intended to finish both of my bottles on every loop - knowing it was going to be hot and I was going to be battling dehydration myself,) but I made myself eat and drink, too. At this point, only the 75s were in the check and it was peaceful (aside from the bugs).  He was calm and settled right into eating.  Soon, though, the front running 50s started showing up, and then it became too much action and commotion for Rhio.  I did get him to finish his beet pulp by carrying it around with us as we wandered.  He decided all the piles of stuff were meant for him, and wanted to sample everyone's hay and/or grain.  I had quite a time convincing him that he didn't own everything, but Rachel and her horse Beamer were nice enough to share some of their excellent hay with him (thanks, guys!).  We passed our exit vet check with flying colors, and set off alone (Sarah and Callie were delayed a bit) for the 2nd 15 mile loop back to camp.  I figured some of the fast 50s would be upon us in no time, but the first to catch us was Candy and Windsor at about the halfway mark.  We continued on with them, finishing the loop together.  The pace was fine for Rhio for a 50, but really a little too fast for my plan for doing a 75.  However, his mental/emotional state is such a challenge to manage, that I knew staying with Windsor was actually less stressful and used less energy, even at a faster pace, than holding him back would have.  We took our time in some of the sandier areas (whew! a lot deeper sand than I remember from previous years - it's been so dry) and spent some time in the Trade River sponging and drinking.  The nice little creek by camp was a great way to start getting pulses down before heading in, and photographer Bob was set up there all day.  We pulsed in right away again, and our hold was the same as the 50s, so that meant I could leave with Candy.  [wildlife spotting loops 1 and 2: deer, turkeys, yaks (actually Scottish Highland heifers, but they looked an awful lot like yaks!)]
Slurping up beet pulp mash at the out check.
I didn't do a good job of taking trail pics; this is the only spot I did, on loop 2.  
Sponging with Candy and Windsor, heading back to camp off loop 2.
Purposefully, I spent an extra 20 minutes in camp, giving Rhio an hour hold.  He was eating great, as was I, and those two reasons alone were good enough to take the extra time, but also I did not want to go out with Candy and then have to back Rhio off her pace.  It was easier to go out at our own pace ("Ride your own ride!") if we stayed in camp a bit.  Unintentionally, that also put us back on track with Sarah and Callie, so we got to ride the entire third loop (20 miles of blazing sun and unrelenting heat) together.  That was absolutely the best, as we humans kept each other's flagging spirits up (it was SO hot!) and the horses did the same.  We would have been grateful for more water and more shade on this loop, but we were right on track with what I'd kind of planned for a pace - about 3 hours for the loop. [wildlife spotting loop 3: black bear]
More sponging.
Sarah was so hot she got off in the stream. 
We were both hot when we finished up the 3rd loop, and had now done 50 miles.  It was about 1:15 pm.  Dawn, Carmen, Janet, and Deb (hopefully my fuzzy brain didn't forget anyone!) were all done with their rides if they rode that day, and they all came over to help hold Rhio, sponge, refresh our now-tepid water buckets, and clean Rhio up a bit for me while I actually sat down.  Thank you for your help.  It was wonderful to have a crew!  We rested a little longer than our 40 prescribed minutes, and Rhio was very confused when I tacked him up again and off we went.  Our first steps onto trail, and every step thereafter, were the steps taking us on our longest ride ever.  Rhio was reluctant to leave camp (by himself) and wanted to either turn and go with the horses we met headed in to camp, or hang back and wait for trail riders behind us to catch up.  I had to do a lot of persuading until we'd gone about 4 miles out of camp.  We did a lot of walking on this loop, and I handwalked him for a while as well - both to stretch my own legs and to help him out with some of the bigger hills.  We had a long, fun stretch of single track along a ridge top, which we'd done part of at the end of the 3rd loop, but the steep hill to access it was deep, deep sand, so I walked it.  Boy, was I huffing and puffing by the top!  He continued on willingly enough, but he wasn't too enthusiastic in his trotting and we slowed our overall pace quite a bit.  One more hold in camp, and we were off again on our last loop, with the prospect of finishing well before dark, which was my only real time goal for the ride.  The dark clouds were brewing on the horizon, however, and I knew it was only a matter of time before the rain and thunderstorms hit.  I hoped we'd be back at camp before they did, but no such luck.  [wildlife spotting loop 4 and 5: turkey, deer, those "yaks" again]
50 miles done, and getting ready to head out on loop 4.

Yep, another stream crossing.
Rhio was actually better about going out alone on the last loop than he had been on the fourth loop (resigned to his fate, I suppose!) and we were completely alone.  We saw one other 75 miler at the two mile marker - she was headed in and we were headed out.  Sarah and Callie were somewhere on the loop ahead of us.  Again, we walked a fair amount of this loop (and he has a slow walk, unfortunately) but his trotting was still free and easy, and he was always willing to maintain forward motion.  He grazed a lot and I knew I'd done a good job of drinking all day, as I had to get off to pee three times!  I'd been using electrolytes in my water bottles (Sustain by Melaleuca), plus drinking chocolate milk at every hold and a couple of bottles of limeade as well.  My electrolyte protocol seemed to work!  And Rhio was using new electrolytes as well - Dynaspark by Dynamite.  He did great all day - eating and drinking like a champ - and we had no issues, so I presume they worked well for him.  He is always a good drinker, but has been so-so about eating his beet pulp during rides and I have also been treating him as an ulcer-prone horse for the past 2 seasons, which has made a big difference.  He is on a pre-biotic/probiotic daily during the training and competition season (Proviable by Nutramax), and gets an antacid the day we trailer and throughout the ride (Neigh Lox by Kentucky Performance Products).  He gets a big beet pulp mash right before trailering, plus green grass if there is some, because he just will not eat hay on the trailer.  Once in camp, he gets to eat whatever he wants whenever he wants it, and I give him some alfalfa pellets as well (for calcium, which is a vital electrolyte and acts as a buffer in the stomach).

About halfway through this last loop, the thunder began to roll.  Uh oh.  It was still a ways off, and I tried to pick up our pace a bit, but Rhio was really hungry by now and insisted on stopping at every patch of good grass.  I couldn't really refuse him, so we made steady, though kind of slow, progress.  It was feeling pretty dark by now, with the clouds, although it was only about 7 pm and we had a couple hours of daylight left on a clear day.  Just as we approached the 2 mile marker, the first rain drops fell, and quickly became a downpour.  Out of nowhere, the winds kicked up, the lightning began to dance, and the thunder cracked overhead.  YIKES!  Rhio turned his rump to the onslaught and planted his feet.  We were both drenched in seconds. I was not going to win this battle of wills from the saddle, so I dismounted and started leading him.  I knew we couldn't stop because we would both get chilled, for one, and camp with food and shelter was less than 2 miles ahead.  Rhio didn't know this, though, and was sure his plan of waiting it out was much superior to my crazy plan to continue down the trail.  I was sure we were going to get hit by lightning or struck by a falling tree, and started running with Rhio in tow.  I barely noticed how tired my legs were, to be honest, as the storm was a mighty powerful motivator.  We reached the stream 1/2 mile from camp, and Rhio flat out refused to cross.  As testament to how much rain we'd gotten in just a few minutes, the water was really rushing and the depth had already come up.  I plunged straight in, hoping he'd follow, but he didn't.  I stood in the middle of the stream (I really couldn't get any wetter) and pleaded with my boy to follow me.  It felt like it took a really long time for him to decide to cross, though I'm sure in reality it was only a moment. We continued on up the trail, emerging from the woods in that funky twilight light of a thunderstorm, with rain still pelting down, and saw 2 figures emerge from somewhere dry, I presume.  I actually have no idea where they were hiding, but they brought blankets and I could have kissed them.  Thank you Lynn (ride manager) and Linda for meeting us at the finish with blankets for us both.  Rhio, in typical horse fashion, spooked at the scary blanket monsters, but then let me cover him up so he wouldn't get chilled and cramp before we could trot out.  I wrapped up as well (I hadn't even noticed that I was cold, but I was) and we led Rhio over to the tent by the vet area.  A brief attempt to get him to enter the tent failed, and Dr. Dean vetted him through right there outside the tent in the pouring rain.  His pulse was 12.  We trotted into the rain (yes, he did trot - though reluctantly) and got our completion.  I am pretty sure this was our first true test of endurance - and we passed!  Heat, bugs, deep sand, rain, wind, a raging thunderstorm, and 75 miles, in about 11 hours of saddle time (official time will be more due to the extra time I took in camp at a couple holds) and about 14 hours of clock time, with the last 25 miles done completely solo.  I can't express how proud I am of us both, but especially of my little horse Rhio.  It was a tougher 75 than I'd planned, and we still conquered!

We got back to the trailer and found a couple flakes of Rachel's fabulous hay, which Rhio had so loved at the out check all those hours previous, waiting for him by his water bucket.  He dove in with gusto (thank you Rachel!) and I made up a mash for him while someone (Linda? I'm not sure, actually) helped untack and get him settled for a bit.  I left him at the trailer, still covered in the warm blankets we'd been wrapped in upon finishing, so I could see him out the camper window.  I peeled off my wet clothes, climbed into dry ones, and sat so I could see him out the window while I ate a ham sandwich, polished off most of the rest of my half gallon of chocolate milk, and probably babbled somewhat incoherently to Dawn about the day.  About 45 minutes later, the rain let up and we went out to check Rhio.  He was great, having eaten all the hay and most of his mash, and was warm under the blankets.  I cleaned up his legs and, by the light of Dawn's headlamp, applied poultice and wraps.  I switched him to his rain sheet for the night, and we walked both horses.  He was grazing like crazy and moving easily.  Snuggled into their pens for the night with oodles of hay, both horses seemed content despite the rain.  And rain it did - all night long.  We were snug and mostly dry in the camper (damp from bringing wet things in with us, and wet Kelso sharing my bed) and I slept well.  No bar fights this night, and a more reasonable wake-up time of 5 am so that I could take care of Rhio in the morning before vetting started at 6 am.  Yes, indeed, I was vetting the ride on Sunday...glutton for punishment that I am.

I rolled out of bed feeling remarkably well the next morning, and Rhio seemed well also.  I unwrapped his legs and took him for a walk - he was a little pokey walking around camp - then made him up another mash before stepping into vet duties for the day.  Beckie the equine massage therapist (and new distance rider) came in the morning, and Rhio was her first patient.  I wasn't able to stay to watch his massage, but he obviously quite enjoyed it.  She said he wouldn't let her leave his pen when she was through, and a little bit later I caught him curled up napping.  The right side of his neck was stiff (a chronic issue for him and probably unrelated to the ride, actually) and he had a little soreness around his girth.  Otherwise, she didn't find any issues!
Napping after his massage.
It was chilly and rainy all day, and a few riders had trouble with cold, shivering horses.  The temperature had gone from 90 Friday and Saturday to about 50 on Sunday, and they were wet.  It was pretty much a recipe for disaster, but we didn't have to treat anybody.  Dawn and I hoisted wet gear wherever it would fit, breaking camp in record time, and loaded up for the ride home.  Both horses travelled home in their rain sheets, and probably I could have put Rhio's thin polarfleece cooler on him as well.  He was stiff coming out of the trailer, and didn't trot off into the pasture with his normal head flip, plus I noticed some swelling in his right front.  He was sound, though, and grazed lawn grass for an hour, then took himself off on a walk-about into the woods beside the pasture (this is why he is generally NOT allowed to free graze - he had a halter and lead on but you would have thought after 75 miles and the trailer ride home, he wouldn't have wandered off.... but nope).  He was easily caught, after bushwhacking through to him, and promptly confined to his stall to eat his evening meal before being turned out with the herd.  Silly boy - never to be trusted. After hanging up all my wet stuff, I headed home, stopping at the grocery store for a roasted chicken on the way.  Once home, I crawled under a blanket on the couch, watched the season finale of Grimm on the DVR, and proceeded to eat almost half the chicken with my fingers, too tired even for a knife and fork.  Now that the euphoria of finishing was beginning to wear off, I was hungry!

Monday morning, after a nice long sleep-in (I'd taken the day off), I headed out to the barn to check on my boy.  He looked amazing, was totally sound, sassy, and begging to be allowed to eat lawn grass.  Of course I let him, but this time with my hand on his lead rope.  I pulled up a lawn chair and sat admiring him while he munched, until Gesa came home and we tacked up for a ride.  Yes, you read that right - on Monday afternoon I wanted nothing more than to get on a horse!  I took Red and used the bareback pad, and we did a nice slow walking trail ride - Gimi's second ever trail ride in his young life.  He was a champ, and Red was a good babysitter.  It felt great to ride, and loosened me up.  I have one rub on my left calf, and my hips and ribs were a little sore, but otherwise I feel great.
"Got anything for me?" (on Monday at home)

Yummy lawn grass! (on Monday at home)
Things I learned doing a 75:  10 pounds of carrots is not overkill, Rhio ate almost all of them; put his interference boots on him for anything more than 50 miles as he banged himself a little bit when he got tired; a buddy is great for motivation but we *can* do it alone - I think this may have been the first time we've ever ridden solo at an endurance ride; get off and walk - it feels great to both of us; take my helmet off when I'm hand walking and it's hot - I'll feel much cooler; follow my gut - if it says stay in camp a little longer for whatever reason, do it, there's plenty of time to finish; let my crew help me and my horse; and, take the rump rug along on the last loop or any loop nearing evening because you can't keep your horse warm if you don't have it along.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

It Rained...a lot!

I was prepared: 2 of nearly everything, plus 4 polarfleece coolers for Rhio.  As Gesa and I were loading the truck and trailer on Friday to head out, we wondered suspiciously why we had room to spare in both.  Deciding not to worry about it, we left cold, soggy, foggy Duluth and headed south to Sand Dunes State Forest for the first distance ride of the season - MnDRA 1.  We pulled into camp (it was at least WARM and soggy) after an uneventful trip (a good thing, since Gesa brought her youngster Gimi for a camping weekend and wasn't competing - we don't have the divider in the trailer and the two horses seemed to be bickering a little bit when we first loaded up.), and parked next to Lynne and Donna.  They had camp set up with space for us to add our pens next to theirs so we could share their fence charger.  We do not yet have a charger of our own and didn't want to use pens overnight without "juice."  We started setting up a single large pen for Rhio and Gimi to share, but Rhio was not very happy about sharing space with Gimi and was threatening to kick him.  I think he was protecting the limited amount of green grass that was enclosed in the pen.  At any rate, we ran a dividing line through the pen to give them each their own space, and they were very happy with that set up.

Rhio and Gimi content to have their own "rooms."
I decided to do something different this ride, and ride in the competitive division (instead of endurance or limited distance).  UMECRA, our regional group, offers a versatility award for the horse/rider team with the most points that completes at least 2 rides in each division: competitive, LD, and Endurance.  It seems like a fun award to work toward, so we'll see how the season turns out.  I have never ridden in the competitive division before, excluding novice rides.  I thought it would be interesting to see if the different format helped Rhio's mental state and I figured he might do pretty well since he pulses down very well.  The competitive rides are scored, everyone starting the ride with 400 points and losing points over the course of the ride for pulse/respiration scores (lower is better), lameness, back or muscle soreness, leg swelling, etc.  The horses all cover the trail in the same prescribed amount of time; in this case, we had 4 hours of ride time to cover 2 loops: loop 1 was 15 miles, and loop 2 was 10 miles.  We had a mandatory 40 minute hold between the two loops.
Lynne & Niso head out on the LD Saturday.
It rained on and off throughout the evening and overnight Friday, but our rented tent (a fancy Marmot which we couldn't quite figure out how to set up entirely correctly - there were no directions!) kept us dry and comfy.  Lynne was riding the LD and she and Niso set off early.  My ride didn't start until 10 am (what to do with a entire morning to sit around?  I am used to starting at dawn.) and Donna and Gesa both headed up to the vet check to help with everything.  Rhio vetted in perfectly, and eventually it was finally time to saddle up and get ready.  Our group had five riders, and I was a little worried about this with Rhio.  He is not that great in groups, unless he can lead.  We had a peaceful, quiet start (probably the best thing about riding the competitive division, in my opinion - no crazy race start with people taking off at speed to rile the horses up) and Rhio quickly settled into leading the way.  We tended to trot out ahead of the group, then pause until they caught up, then repeat.  It is usually better not to try to hold Rhio's speed down and cause frustration, as long as he is being sane.  And he was being really, really good.

I was riding with my fancy new reins - I ordered them with turquoise at the bit ends and plain black beta biothane for the grip (lots of reins have a pebbly grippy area, but I don't like that).  They are a flat rein, and I have been riding in rope reins for years now.  I wasn't sure what I would think of them, but it turns out that I absolutely love them!  Not only do they look fantastic on him, but I felt that I had a better connection with them - more solid - and he fought me (head shaking/tossing) hardly at all, even when I was holding him back.  They're also just a smidge longer than the reins I have been using, and so I didn't have to bend over so much when he put his head down to graze or drink!  Thank you Silver's Equestrian for my awesome reins!!!!  http://www.silversequestrian.com/
Heading out on the first loop Saturday, with Carmen and Phoenix - both riding in Vicki's amazing custom mohair girths! (photo courtesy of Bob Zimmerman)   http://www.facebook.com/TraditionalMohairCinches
The first loop went great, and we hadn't gotten rained on.  Carmen's mare Phoenix (the other grey horse in our group) was having fun and looking spectacular, and mostly all the horses got along.  Timmy, Sheryl's gelding, tried to go after Rhio once, when he had 2 of the mares in front of him, but as long as we were in front, Rhio and Timmy could trot or canter along next to each other without issue.
Yum!  Beet pulp mash!  And see the pretty new reins?  I even found turquoise vet wrap to wrap the noseband of his hackamore.  Such a stylin' pony!
Our first pulse down went well - Rhio scored 10/3 for a 5 point deduction (perfect is 9/2).  He loved his beet pulp mash at the hold, and then spent the rest of the time hungrily grazing all the fresh green grass around our campsite.  Everyone was telling us about a big storm that was about to hit - the radar was plastered in red/orange/yellow splotches - and we prepared as best we could by adding rain jackets and making sure we had rump rugs for the horses so their big rump muscles wouldn't get chilled and cramp up at the end of the ride. We headed out for the 10 mile loop, realizing that we had less time to do it than we'd planned.  About 3 miles into it, we decided we had to really move out, and we ended up cantering about half of the loop.  Rhio thought this was awesome and really relaxed into the pace.  All the horses seemed to handle it well, although it is more typical to ride this fast on an LD or endurance ride than competitive!  It started to rain as we left camp, and rained the entire time we were on trail.  Despite our rain jackets, we were all completely drenched by the time we finished the loop, and I was wringing out my riding gloves.  Luckily, we'd been moving out so fast that I wasn't the slightest bit cold, despite being wet through to the skin. (It helps that I was wearing all synthetic fabrics - no cotton - and so they were still slightly insulating despite being wet.)

Our last pulse down was perfect - Rhio made 9/2 and lost zero points.  And this was after cantering half the loop in the rain!  I think the faster pace actually relaxed him more, and we didn't see any other horses out there on trail, so he "knew" he was winning.  We finished our vet check losing 5 points for fatigue and 2 points for a sore shoulder muscle.  Our score was 388/400 - a great score!  I was so pleased with Rhio all day and how great he looked and felt - the score and placing were secondary.  We took 3rd place, by the way :)

Rhio bundled up against the weather - notice his ears back in annoyance - he'd definitely be the first one in the shed at home when it rains.  Also notice how his stands with his front feet back underneath himself.  This is a weird habit he's always done - I call it his "circus pony" stance.
The rest of Saturday and into Sunday morning was dreadful, weather-wise.  I bundled Rhio up in a polarfleece cooler with a rain sheet on top, poulticed and wrapped his legs, and left him with more beet pulp and a pile of hay in his pen - where he stood with his butt to the rain 95% of the time.  Every time the rain would let up, people flocked out of their trailers/trucks/various semi-dry places and started walking horses and dogs, feeding, etc.  Then the heavens would open again, and everyone would dash for shelter.  For the first time in my ride career, we didn't have potluck!  The food was placed in 2 trailers, and everyone collected a plate and retreated to their dry spaces to eat.  Lynne's trailer had just enough room for the four of us to sit and chat, so we dragged our wet selves (I no longer had a rain jacket to wear, as both of mine got drenched riding the last loop - luckily my thick polarfleece jacket mostly did the trick as long as I was moving shelter-to-shelter and not standing out in the rain indefinitely.) into its cramped quarters for our meal.  The major downside to this arrangement was that we didn't get to visit with all our riding buddies, many of whom we haven't seen since the last ride in October!

Before bed, I was able to change Rhio's blankets out for a dry sheet and dry cooler and made plans to skip riding on Sunday due to weather.  All my stuff - tack, clothes, etc - was soaking wet with zero chance of drying out.  The only dry item I had to use was an extra saddle pad, and frankly the thought of climbing into a wet saddle was not appealing.  Our tent kept us dry, and with vestibules on either side for our wet boots/jackets/etc, it proved to be well worth the $24 rental fee.  (It is definitely time to shop for a new tent!)  The rain/thunderstorms made for good sleeping (in a tent - too loud in a trailer!) and we snuggled in for the night.  Around quarter to 6, I woke up to hear a call for the LD riders to get ready to go out.  It was still raining.  I thought to myself: "Someone is riding in this?  Crazy!" and rolled over to go back to sleep.  Fifteen minutes later, the rain stopped and I decided to check the horses - the sky was brightening and on my way to the bathroom, I saw someone looking at the radar on a smart phone.  Well, look at that!  The rain is over, the radar is clear - and maybe I'll ride after all!  Checking in with ride management, I found out that the start time had moved up to 7:15 (!) and only 2 other riders were currently planning to start.  I ran back to camp, quickly unwrapped Rhio's legs and took his blankets off (he was dry underneath, and his legs looked great), and headed off the long way around to the vets to warm him up (trotting out in hand sound).  We vetted in great, I agreed to sponsor a junior, and I had about 20 minutes to get ready.  Gesa fed me spoonfuls of yogurt as I scrambled to find everything I needed, change into riding attire, and get some food into Rhio before the start.  I had no choice but to tack up with a wet saddle, a wet and sandy girth, and wet riding boots.  Yuck.  As soon as I was mounted, however, I didn't notice any of this and was just happy to be setting off on another ride.  Rhio was full of energy and ready to go.
Rhio in his favorite spot - the lead - heading out on our 1st loop on Sunday. And, no, Olivia and I did NOT plan the color coordinated riding attire! (photo courtesy of Bob Zimmerman)
Rhio and I leading Olivia and Cricket into camp off our 1st loop on Sunday. (photo courtesy of Bob Zimmerman)
Rhio eager to head out on our 2nd loop Sunday. (photo courtesy of Bob Zimmerman)
Sunday's trail was changed to doing the yellow/pink loop twice, thus avoiding the highway bridge crossing (manned by county sheriff deputies on Saturday -thanks, guys!) on the orange (15 mile) loop.  That made our trail 22 miles, and they gave us 3 hours and 50 minutes to do it in.  Olivia and I set off, scaring up early morning browsing deer and skirting around the many puddles on trail (keeping our horses hydrated wasn't an issue!  Rhio LOVES to drink out of puddles and took many opportunities to sip and sample the various vintages available.), finishing our first loop right on track.  We moved out a little at the end, so that Bob the photographer could get us trotting, and paid a little bit of a price for that with slightly higher pulse/respiration scores at the first hold.  Rhio scored 11/3 and lost 8 points.  The horses were just as happy to go out the second time as the first, and we made our way around the loop again.  This time, passing the beaver pond, there were 4 swans making quite a racket with calling, flapping, lifting off the water and splashing back down, etc and Rhio was convinced the huge white birds were going to eat him (they are related to the dinosaurs, you know - can't be too careful around them!), so we boogied around that part of the trail pretty quickly.  (Too bad I wasn't carrying my camera; I have few pictures because of the rain/threat of rain.)  We made it in on time, didn't get wet at all and the sun even peeked out a bit, and pulsed in great at the end (10/3 for another 5 point deduction.)  Rhio looked fantastic again, loosing 8 points on fatigue and a couple points for filling in his legs.  After 47 miles in the sand, I couldn't complain - he looked awesome and felt awesome.  With a score of 377, we took first place and Rhio brought home our very first (ever) blue ribbon!  I'm so proud of my pony!

In the meantime, Gesa had been working to get some stuff (like the tent) as dry as she could, begin packing up, and grilled our last burgers for lunch.  Gimi did great on his first weekend away from home at ridecamp, enjoying the all-weekend feast that is horse camping, and seeming to take it mostly in stride.  Hopefully next time he'll get out on trail for some riding experience, too!  I can't say thank you enough to Gesa for all the work she did - helping at vet check all day Saturday, and all the work she did around camp while I was busy riding (and doing acupuncture, and pulling blood for vitamin E and Selenium testing for anyone who wanted their horses tested- it was a working weekend for me,) and even deciding to come despite not planning to ride!  Good and generous friends are worth their weight in gold!
Gimi camping like a champion!
We stopped at Dairy Queen on the trip home, as tradition dictates, and rolled into Duluth around 7 pm with a trailer and truck full of dirty, soggy gear.  Turning the horses out after a weekend away is always fun - the whole herd got into the action for some running around, Rhio and Gimi had a couple of good rolls, and then everyone settled down to eating.  I couldn't have been happier with Rhio and just sent in my registration for the 75 miler at Run for the Border.  We've never attempted any distance longer than 50 miles, so I'm excited and a little nervous about trying the 75.  Two days of back to back competition in the sand at MnDRA 1 were perfect conditioning for Rhio, and his only job until RFTB is to rest, recuperate, and EAT!  (We had our hay tested at the Nutrena booth at the horse expo, and it confirmed what we thought - it's not very high quality.  What was interesting was how low the protein is - 8% and 9% in the two types of hay we have right now.  This explains why Red and Rhio are both a little thin, but more importantly have lost muscle on their toplines.  I'd been messing with their rations - more beet pulp, add oil for calories, etc - but not addressing protein at all.  The folks at the booth said almost all the hay samples they'd been seeing have been poor quality/low protein - 2011 wasn't a good year for making hay in MN as it was so wet early that the grass couldn't be cut until it was over-mature.  The nutritional value of the hay is pretty low by that point.  Watch for a further post on nutrition in the near future!)
Rhio in camouflage!
Other than a couple bumps from tick bites (ooh, how I hate those little buggers!), Rhio is 110% this week after our ride.  Legs, feet, back, muscles - all check out.  No tack rubs, despite the ideal conditions for creating issues - wet, sandy conditions the entire weekend.  He's sassing around in the pasture with his buddies, clearly feeling great.  That is the best reward - a happy horse during and after the ride.

(Bob's photos can be seen at :  https://picasaweb.google.com/kaleidobob )