Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

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 )

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