Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Friday, September 21, 2012

My Horse is Amazing

Friday night in ride camp - excitement is in the air!
Two weeks ago right now I was trying to get myself and Rhio fed and ready for an early start.  It was the evening before we attempted our second 75 mile ride.  The ride was Charity Cup, located in beautiful Pillsbury State Forest about two hours from home.  Our companions for the weekend were Gesa with Gimi, along mostly for camping experience, and, of course, Kelso.  We nabbed a nice secluded spot for camp, away from the hustle and bustle and with a big tree to nestle our tent beneath.  Unfortunately, we were very close to a rowdy bunch of trail riders who stayed up late around their campfire, sharing their stories and laughter with the entire camp.  I am glad they were enjoying themselves, but courtesy to follow the posted 10 pm quiet time would have been nice.

Charity Cup is a benefit ride - this year for Coborn Cancer Center in St. Cloud, MN.  Upon arrival, we admired sparkly pink ribbons on many horse's rumps and discovered that for $1, our boys could be "pretty in pink" as well.  I had to take pictures, because I suspected that Rhio's adornment wouldn't hold up to ride day (and I was correct - he had pink oozing down his leg for the first half of the day, before he finally just sweated it off completely.)
The boys sporting their pink ribbons for breast cancer support!
The first night in ride camp is always hectic, with trying to get camp set up, horses vetted in, friends visited with, and everything ready for the next morning.  Then, I spend much of the night tossing and turning, catching little cat naps and waking in a panic to check the clock thinking I've missed the alarm.  I figure at least I'm "resting," even if I'm not sleeping! 

Saturday morning I rolled out of my sleeping bag before dawn, as usual.  Rhio seemed have spent a good night - having eaten his massive beet pulp mash and much of his hay.  I was trying a new feeding strategy with him this ride - instead of a morning meal, he had been "carb loading" for a few days before the ride and got a huge meal (like the marathoners eating their spaghetti feed the night before Grandma's Marathon) overnight, then just a handful of senior feed with his antacid supplement and electrolytes in the morning.  Some new research has shown that the best time to feed a grain meal is about 8 hours before exercise, and that grain ("carbs") fed the morning of the race actually causes a drop in blood sugar as insulin is released during digestion (which is happening during exercise on race day - not the best for optimal performance.)  Of course, my version of a "grain meal" is still mostly beet pulp but with a couple pounds of oats added, so it may have a different effect than a true straight grain feeding.  Anyway, I thought the research was compelling enough to give it a try and see what effect, if any, I noticed during the ride. 

I took both horses for a walk to stretch their legs and start warming Rhio up (and let Kelso do his business - he then went back to bed in the tent with Gesa!), then tied him to the trailer to get ready.  This is the point at which he starts getting really worked up if we are in the thick of things.  Our secluded spot was perfect - he was munching hay and looking around, but very calm (for him.)  I was even able to get him saddled without chasing him around on the end of his tie rope. 

I was the lone 75 miler, but (luckily, I thought) I was starting at the same time as the 50s.  I'd made plans to start with a buddy horse (Rhio does so love to have a buddy), and we went out just a little late, in the very early morning fog and mist.  The trail goes to single track pretty quickly in the first section, and with the horses all fired up at the start, we hadn't really gotten settled into a good place before that happened.  Horses got all bunched up, Rhio had his head practically in my lap, and it was about the level of hyperness and amped-up anxiety I'd expected (though I don't relish one moment of starting a ride...if only we could start without actually starting!).  We played leap frog with several other horses, working our way north on what would be a 25 mile loop for us.  I was partially successful in keeping Rhio's speed down, but he thinks he's hot stuff and can run out in front all the time.  I was really hoping for a reasonable first loop to conserve some of that energy for the end of the day.  I didn't really succeed, it turns out.  At some point, it becomes more harmful and stressful to keeping fighting him (and he wastes more energy being so tightly wound up) - and when he relaxes into a fast pace, he actually seems to expend less energy.  We ended up running a 10 mile "lollipop" loop on the northern most end of the 25 mile loop with a group of very speedy horses.  Knowing that we couldn't maintain that pace and do 75 miles, I planned to backtrack to a water stop at the end of the "lollipop" and take a 15 - 20 minute break to get him to settle down and find ourselves a little breathing room to go our own pace.  I split off from the group at the access road to the water stop, and dismounted my whirling, spinning mount to try to settle him down.  He knew all those horses were ahead of him now, and most certainly did not want to drink, eat, or even stand still.  About 5 minutes into our planned break, a group of horses that had been behind us showed up for water (amping Rhio up all over again), and then left, but apparently got mixed up on trail and came back past us a second time.  Wow, was Rhio being ridiculous at this point - literally spinning around me like a top and occasionally trying to bite me.  Then, two of the horses passed us for a third time, being totally confused on the trail and I knew my hopes of getting him settled were completely destroyed.  He had eaten most of his snack of oats with his electrolytes mixed in (a very sticky concoction, may I just say, especially as I was feeding it to him by hand - I had electrolytes and oats in my hair, on my face and my arms, and of course splattered all over my clothing) but wasn't about to drink.  Well, I knew we had a couple of puddles plus a couple more water stops on the southbound trail, so I wasn't too worried.  I mounted up (really, that spinning of his just gives me extra momentum to get my bum into the saddle....yeah, that's it!) and we were off at a reasonably controlled pace.  We hadn't actually seen any horses for about 5 minutes and he was willing to go my pace as long as we were moving.  He took a nice long drink at a puddle, and we joined up with a 25 miler when we reached the main trail again. Rhio was so happy to have a buddy, he immediately settled down into a nice, relaxed, lovely trot and we traveled about 4 miles happy, on a loose rein, and chatting with our companion.  Ah!  Now this is the kind of ride I was hoping for...when we came upon a 50 miler who also had a very amped up horse, and Rhio immediately went back into race mode.  Oh, not fun, not fun at all!!!  We were then passed by some speedy 25 milers, and I knew it was a lost cause.  I dismounted (read: flung myself to the ground, hoping to land on my feet and keep my horse from bolting after them at the same time) and hand walked for the 3rd or 4th time so far on the first loop.  Theoretically, hand walking should be a good idea when one's horse is completely insane.  Rhio runs circles around me while "hand walking" and I am just thankful that he doesn't step on me.  He was really ridiculous on this loop, and we finished together with several other horses - which ended up working out great for the second loop.  He was pulsed down already, and Gesa (my CREW!  I had CREW!!!!  A girl could really get used to this...) was there to help.  We are used to having exit exams with the vets on all our holds, but this loop we had just a check of gut sounds and soundness right after we pulsed in, then were free to head out on the second loop when our hold time was up. 
Rhio stares in the direction he just knows all the horses have gone, leaving him behind (here we're trying to take a time out at the lake)
The mobile tack shop wasn't open yet (I guess it was still pretty early - I'd been riding for 3 hours already so felt like it was much later in the day than it was), so I asked if it might be open by the end of my hold.  I was in desperate need of a martingale!  Twenty-five miles of one's horse's head in one's lap is enough to throw thoughts of cost, availability, or color schemes right out of one's head; I didn't care how I got it or how much it cost or what color it was - I needed a martingale!  Nadine, bless her heart, came and found our campsite and brought me not only a martingale, but a beautiful, matching, turquoise martingale.  Hooray!

Rhio ate like a champ during the hold and Gesa did a stellar job of taking care of him so I could sit in my chair and take care of me.  It's hard for me to relinquish control of my horse during a ride - I feel a certain tendency toward micromanaging - but I think it was easier because she is the one that takes care of him at home.  It was also easy for Rhio to relax with her working on/around him for the same reason - which was good, because he really dislikes wearing his splint/fetlock boots to protect his legs.  He had a big scratch/scrape on the inside of his left hind leg, and so instead of wearing his usual short fetlock boot on the hinds, he was wearing a regular splint boot on that leg (which was tall enough to cover that area.)  He did not like that boot one bit, and I am sure that someone he didn't know wouldn't have been able to get his boots on or off of him (he takes a while to trust anyone, especially around his legs.)  As instructed, Gesa removed and cleaned all the boots every hold, and sponged his legs down (what an awesome crew I had!  between that and holding his dish for him to eat his oats/antacid/electrolytes, I usually have no time to sit down on a 40 minute hold.) 
Pondering how tasty the ferns are on loop two.
We headed out on the second loop with the 25 mile riders we'd finished the first loop with (they'd done 15 miles and we'd done 25 at this point).  Originally, the 75 mile plan was loop 1 - 25 miles, loop 2  -15 miles, loop 3 - 25 miles, and loop 4 - 10 miles.  This, however, would put us on the last loop as it was getting dark and in the dark - and it was the only section of trail that we only rode once for the day, on that loop (it went out the south side of camp).  Wisely, it was suggested that we change the order of loop 2 and loop 4, so that we would be doing familiar trail at the end. 

Loop 2 was a lot of fun, and Rhio was still pretty fired up and hot.  The martingale was useful - he hit it once - and I will be interested to see how it goes using it in the future.  But, mostly he settled into a nice pace with our companions, and was eating and drinking great.  At our halfway point, we were both looking and feeling really good, and had our longest hold of the day - 50 minutes.  At our first 75, back in May, I chose to stay longer in a couple holds than the prescribed time, as Rhio was resting and eating so well.  I thought a lot about what the best strategy would be on this ride, as we had a lot less daylight in September than we'd had in May and I wanted to get as many miles done before dark as possible.  But, this did mean that I didn't have the luxury to stay in camp longer on any holds - and with only 4 loops, we actually had only 3 holds and a total of 2 hours 10 minutes of hold time. 
A water stop on loop three.
Heading out for our third loop, I knew we'd be alone for the rest of the ride - another 40 miles.  Rhio really struggles with motivation when we are alone, and I worried about keeping his spirits up for the rest of the day and into the evening.  We had a note to "watch left hind" on our exit exam, and I was sure it was that unfamiliar, tall splint boot that was bugging him.  I hemmed and hawed for the first 3 miles of the loop - wanting to keep that scrape covered and wanting to keep his leg protection on "just in case" - but finally decided to pull that boot off in case he was moving asymmetrically because of it.  I never felt anything in the left hind while riding, but I felt better having removed the boot.  I'd hate to be the cause of a lameness because I was trying to prevent a problem. 
That's a pretty lonely looking trail - no one out here but us!
We set off in fairly good spirits, facing the long 25 mile loop solo.  We worked our way north to the water stop where we'd tried to "rest" on the first loop, and he was drinking like a champ, munching grass, and generally feeling pretty good (and finally calm!) though not moving out very quickly at all.  We stopped for about 10 minutes halfway through the loop, and I fed him another snack of oats and electrolytes, further sticky-ifying myself, and shared a couple granola bars with him, too.  At this point, he wanted to stop and eat, or stop and look, or stop and pretend to pee, much of the time and was clearly thinking this riding by ourselves long after we "should" have been done was a hill of beans.  Some people sing to their horses, but
I am terrible at remembering songs, so without prompting from an actual musical source, I was hopeless at singing us down the trail (perhaps next time I will pack my iPod along for long, solo loops?) - though there was no one around to hear my exceedingly mediocre singing voice.  In retrospect, I should have had Gesa drive up to the day use area where the water stop was and meet us - it would have been heartening for us both to see someone we knew, I think.  The squirrels and birds weren't much company, I'm afraid. 
Well, one of us thinks we're having fun, at least!
The first two loops had gone pretty much according to plan in terms of time, although we were a little faster on loop 1 than I'd hoped.  We did this 25 mile loop in 3 hours first thing in the morning, and I'd planned doing it in 4 hours the second time.  We completed it in 4 hours 15 minutes, so I was pretty happy with that.  Again, met by Gesa at the vet check, we pulsed right in and went off to have our hold.  Rhio ate constantly during all his holds, and I did a pretty good job of eating, too.  I am never quite sure what I will really want to eat while I ride, but chocolate chip granola bars and chocolate milk are always winners.  I also had turkey and provolone sandwiches, fruit, potato chips, hard boiled eggs, and fruit bars.  I felt pretty good all day, staying hydrated with a bottle of water and a bottle of electrolytes on every loop, plus at least one bottle of something during every hold.  My biggest complaint was chapped lips!  The saltiness of the electrolytes really wreaked havoc with my upper lip as I drank out of regular screw-cap water bottles all day.  In the future, I will use resuable sip-cap sport water bottles for my electrolytes, so that I don't have the liquid in contact with my lips so much.  Of course, I couldn't lay hands on any of my lip balms I'd brought along, but Gesa, in true self-sacrificing crew fashion, gave me hers for the rest of the ride.  You're a life saver, Gesa! 

Our vet check on our last hold found Rhio with a sore back, for the first time in several years.  I was very surprised, but we were cleared to head back out.  He doesn't like being alone, but he's never refused to leave camp and in fact we left at a trot - 15 miles left!  It was just before 6 pm, and we had until about 8:30 pm before it would be fully dark.  If we'd had a buddy, and hadn't already done the 25 mile loop alone (Rhio was feeling a little discouraged at this point), I think we could have made our goal of finishing by dark.  But, Rhio got to dictate this loop and we walked probably 70% of it.  He walked up and down every hill (have I mentioned that the entire course is hills?), and I alternated between dismounting and hand walking him (felt great to walk, my legs still had enough strength to mount repeatedly) and staying mounted.  He was actually slower when I was off him than when I was on - like he thought if I was walking, we must be done, and so there was no point in going on - let's just stand here and eat, Mom.  And I worried about putting extra stress on his back by repeatedly mounting from the ground.  I think I worried about which was the best option for the entire loop, which ended up taking us 4 hours.  We saw a barred owl, which watched us curiously from several trees, and scared the living daylights out of a couple guys walking the trail (I wondered if they were perhaps bear baiters?  Though they did not have guns with them, they stated they were looking for animals, just not expecting to see a horse - especially a white one materializing silently out of the dusk.)  We'd done the entire 15 mile fourth loop contained within the 25 mile loop, so it was our third time seeing this trail.  I'd cleared a few downed limbs on our way through on the 3rd loop, thinking about riding some of this loop in the dark, and memorized a couple of spots where we had to stay left or stay right for the best footing.  I had my headlamp along, but never used it, not wanting to disturb Rhio's night vision and truly not needing it - there were no trail intersections to worry about, and I knew Rhio knew where we were going.  I did have a single green LED on Rhio's breastcollar, which gave just a little glow down under his chest and gave me a little sense of security that I could see the trail.  It didn't seem to bother him at all to have it on.  We rode the last hour in the complete dark, after stopping at the last water stop 3 miles from camp, calling in to give a progress update, listening to a chorus of howls in the not-so-distant distance (dogs, right?  It wasn't coyotes, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't wolves, either, actually), and Rhio draining about 1/4 of the tank.  From there on, we walked.  It didn't really seem like an hour of walking to me, but I know that it was.  It was actually quite peaceful, and Rhio just kept moving forward without any prodding on my part - he wasn't going to go fast, but he was most certainly going to keep going!

A few folks met us on the last 1/4 mile stretch of single track trail into camp.  Rhio was puzzled by their presence, and spooked when they tried to walk behind us, so we sent them on ahead.  We walked into camp, and Rhio started eating as soon as his hay bag full of alfalfa was fetched for him.  Hugs all around for me and him - I don't even know who all was there congratulating us, lending a helping hand, and being supportive, but it was awesome.  I pulled his tack and dropped it right there on the ground while Gesa covered him with a cooler and the blanket she'd brought for me (I was feeling absolutely fine, fatigued but fine, at this point - all my focus was on Rhio) and Dr. Dean checked all his vitals, then asked for that one last trot.  Rhio did it willingly and we were done!  First place!  Well, yes, we didn't have any competition - but I was so proud of him that all I cared about was finishing and taking care of him.  He stood there in the vet check eating for about 20 minutes before we slowly walked back to camp.  He had a smorgasbord of grass hay, alfalfa hay, beet pulp mash, and a full water bucket at the trailer, and he didn't lift his head from eating and drinking for two hours straight.  I know because I sat in my lawn chair, wrapped in a horse blanket, with a glass of wine, and watched him for two hours straight (after I cleaned and wrapped his legs.)  Once he quit eating, we went for a short walk to loosen up and then put him to bed in his pen next to Gimi with his blankets on and crawled into the tent ourselves.  Within a few minutes, I heard him paw his hay into a nest and plop down for a rest.  Now I knew he was absolutely fine, and I fell into a deep sleep myself, Kelso snuggled close by my side. 
Gimi and Rhio go for a trail ride.

We did 75 miles yesterday!
In the morning, he and I were both a little stiff when we went for our first walk. He'd eaten another massive beet pulp mash and quite a bit of hay overnight and I unwrapped his legs and was pleased to see they looked great.  His eyes were bright and alert, and he was tossing his head watching other horses leave camp on the day's competitions.  Gesa wanted to do a little trail ride with Gimi, and Rhio's back was still quite sore, so I hopped up bareback and off we went to walk for a few miles down the trail.  I think it did us both good, actually - and then Rhio got his much-deserved massage and Gesa and I relaxed before starting the chores of packing up.  After a stop at both Fleet Farm and Dairy Queen, we made it home and I watched Rhio trot off into the pasture with his buddies.  What amazing athletes our horses are, truly. 
Beckie gives Rhio his massage.  He laid down as soon as she was done :)

Kelso and Stella playing!  Neither of these dogs plays with other dogs, so we were quite dumbfounded by this development.
I felt great after 13 hours in the saddle, but found that I had to eat about every 2 hours for the 2 days after the ride.  I also slept about 11 hours the night after we got home.  I didn't have any real soreness, just muscle fatigue and one unexplained bruise on my arm.  Rhio's back was back to normal in a few days, with some physical therapy of lunging over poles to get him to stretch it out, and today was our first ride since then - 13.5 miles in 2 hours and he felt like he was at 110%.  Unfortunately, we'll be missing the next couple of rides, but plan to try the 2 day 100 miles (50 miles each day) at Point Chaser mid-October.  

Go pony!  You are awesome! I'm so proud of you!
So proud of my boy!!!

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