Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lost and Found

Me and Red leading, G and Gimi following, the Saturday afternoon sunlight.

Yesterday began in a pleasant enough manner, getting ready to ride Red while G got ready to ride Gimi.  Plan A, to trailer over to our close local trail, fell through due to a low tire on the trailer.  We switched gears to Plan B, hoof it over to the trail and see how much ground we could cover and yet make it home before dark.  The afternoon sun was barely warm, but its brightness was very welcome after a couple of cloudy, gray days.

I climbed aboard while waiting for G's last minute preparations.  The sense of tension and resistance in my horse was instant, as soon as I settled into the saddle and picked up the reins.  I think he just wanted to GO, but, atypically for him, he tossed his head, braced against me, and refused to comply with my request to back or sidepass.  I had a brief internal discussion and decided not to listen to the little voice telling me to get off and find his running martingale.  By this time, he was listening moderately better and G was ready to go, so off we went.
Riding beneath a wintry sky on our way to the trail.

Now it seemed as if he didn't want to GO after all, and he kept fidgeting and stopping as if he had to pee.  Once we made it to the trail, about 3 miles, I got off to adjust my saddle and see if he would pee - at this point all his stopping and posturing was beginning to worry me.  G and Gimi continued on the trail out of sight, which was a big accomplishment for inexperienced Gimi and Red doesn't get upset at being left behind.  He did finally pee, start grazing, and seemed perfectly normal.  Once remounted, he felt great, relaxed, and happy and we motored along with G and Gimi, sometimes trying to get Gimi to lead but mostly taking the lead ourselves and setting a forward trotting pace.  This was my normal Red!

Both G and I wanted to go as far as the bridge, because it's the natural turning-around spot and Gimi hadn't been across this particular bridge before (it has a metal grating along the center of the wood planks, I think to protect the wood from studded snowmobile tracks.)  We realized we'd be racing the daylight a bit, but continued on, crossed and recrossed the bridge for practice, and headed for home.  Both horses were doing great, and of course wanted to pick up the pace on the way home.  We let them a little bit, but continued our strategy of walking the steeper downhills and the bad culverts.

About one quarter of the way back along the trail, heading up a gentle but fairly long hill, Gesa asked Gimi for a canter. This is another new skill for them to add to their repertoire - cantering up a hill in balance and listening to the rider's cues on speed - which apparently he did well with, but I wasn't around to see it!  I don't honestly know exactly what happened, but Red began to canter as well and it almost immediately turned into a flat-out run.  I think something spooked him - perhaps even Gimi's rump rug flapping up suddenly and Red only seeing it out of the corner of his eye - but I don't truly know.  At any rate, we were in a full-scale bolt and I had no say in the matter.  I was vehemently wishing for that martingale right at that moment, and the thought passed through my mind to bail off, but I immediately voted no on that plan due to our alarming speed (who knew Red could go that fast? I for one didn't!), so grabbed for some mane instead.  He was flinging himself along the trail, totally out of balance and clearly out of the range of rational thought at the moment (perhaps "rational thought" is never appropriately used to describe equine brain activity, but he was definitely in flight mode and nothing else mattered to him in that moment.)  I guess one of his front boots came off, as G found it in the trail behind us, but the "oh, shit" moment happened when both his back feet went out from under him on a tiny patch of mud in combination with a left turn.  Down we went, on our left sides, though by the time I could look up, he was on his knees then on his feet, and away.  He did not land on me, and in fact barely touched me (grazed the inside of my left knee with a hoof, I think,) but was gone so fast I hardly knew what had happened.

Now, I usually have several "unplanned dismounts" from Red every year.  He tends to be a bit spooky.  He has never, ever bolted on me before, and except for our very first ride in November of 2002 when he was terrified of a corn picker, dumped me, and ran off across the field, has never taken off before, either.  I was a bit dumbfounded, really - what the heck just happened??

G and Gimi came calmly walking up the path, easyboot in hand, and I told her what happened.  We set off on foot, expecting Red to be just over the crest of the hill.  Well, he wasn't.  Nor was he over the crest of the hill after that, nor any of the hills or turns the entire three miles of trail back to the nearest road.  We found his second front boot, and after that no evidence of him at all.  My left hip was pretty sore (I think it was first point of impact - well bruised but already better today 24 hours later), and on our long walk down the trail we lost our dimming light until it was dark night by the time we hit the road.  Luckily both of us had our cell phones on our persons (learned that lesson years ago,) and G's husband was on his way with the trailer to pick us up.  I believed Red knew the route home well enough that he had probably just taken himself home.

We got home to no Red, anywhere.  I walked the outer fence line and our route through the neighbor's property, then up the gravel road to the steep hill trail, our cut over.  G picked me up in the car on the other side of the trail, and we drove the roads in every feasible direction he could have taken.  We scanned the shoulders of the road for hoof prints.  We examined both the gated entrances to the trail for hoof prints.  We talked to the guy with the aggressive Newfoundland (yes, an aggressive Newfie - I didn't know they existed!) at the end of the trail which we don't normally take, but had ridden only three days before on a short ride.  We drove around the roads some more.  I called the local horse people I knew, and the folks where Red used to board (about 10 miles as the crow flies from where we were) in case he headed back there.  No sight, no sound, no tracks anywhere of my boy.

By now we were running on pure adrenaline - cold, physically exhausted, mentally exhausted, a bit sore, and probably hungry (though I couldn't really eat the dinner G's husband kindly made for us.)  I was completely convinced that he hadn't gotten out of the woods and was still there on or near the trail somewhere.  He was wearing some blaze orange, and always has ID tags with my cell phone number on his bridle and saddle.  Dejectedly and very sick at heart, I went home to start spreading the electronic word, and called the sheriff's department.  Facebook and Craigslist notifications posted, and a very helpful conversation with the sheriff (he'd be sending extra patrols up and down the main road as available all night long, and assured me that when the public spots a loose horse, they invariably call it in - not a lot of hope in the pitch black night, but the nearly-full moon was shining and the sky was clear, so perhaps...), I couldn't stop my trembling, took a long hot shower, made a "Lost Horse" sign with a cardboard box and a Sharpie, and attempted to go to bed.  Between my sore hip and mental anguish, I would be stretching the truth to say I slept much.  What sleep I got was full of terrible dreams (which I can't bear to repeat.)  Late October has some mighty long nights, even if I didn't lay down until well after midnight.  By 5:30, I was staring at the ceiling and obsessively checking my phone for messages, thinking I'd missed a text.  I was in my warm riding clothes and choking down some yogurt so I could take my ibuprofen before 7, and to the barn just as the sun was coming up.

Red was still fully tacked last time I saw him, meaning that the only saddle I had to take Rhio out in is the one I've been trying to sell forever, the one that no longer fits him.  I rummaged around for saddle bags and filled one with bandage materials and a sharp knife, another with carrots and some water for me.  I tied a rump rug and a halter and lead on the back of the saddle. My hip protested a bit as I mounted, but it soon limbered up and we set off to retrace our steps from yesterday.  I left the "Lost Horse" sign for G to put up at the end of the driveway, and the plan would be for her to follow on Paco in about an hour, going in to the trail on the second route, and meeting up with me.

Rhio gave me no guff about leaving solo, which was amazing as I'm not sure I had the mental fortitude to deal with it if he wasn't willing to go.  He hates going alone, but he is getting better.  We surprised a couple of early morning dog walkers, and I spread the word to watch for Red and call 911 if they saw him.  We hit the trail, and about 8 my phone started ringing (requiring me to take off my gloves to answer...it was still darn cold out there, about 26 degrees when we set off) and I had offers of help from everywhere.  I was grateful for everyone's concern, but wanted to do the first look alone.  Having Rhio out there alone I knew would make him super-vigilant for other horses, and for the first time I did not chastise him for his plaintive whinnies, but encouraged them.  About three miles in, approximately 100 yards ahead of where the fall happened, I came around a corner, on the phone with someone offering help, and there he was!  The blaze orange he was wearing was like a beacon of light in the darkness.  I slapped my phone shut (hope I said goodbye!), and started talking to him as we walked up.  Rhio whinnied, and Red just stood there with a hind foot cocked and watched us.  Finally, when we were within 30 feet, he gave his throaty gumbly nicker.  I have never heard such a sweet sound.  The boys nosed each other, and I slipped off Rhio to give Red a huge hug and tell him what a good boy he was.

The rope reins I had used on Red were looped around a front pastern (he had stepped through the loop,) and both his left legs had some bloody spots (I am pretty sure from the fall.)  All his tack was intact except he was now missing all four boots, and had just two of the gaiters remaining hanging off two pasterns.  I fed him all the carrots I'd brought along, and checked him over from head to toe.  No rope burn on his pastern meant he stood quietly once he got his leg through the reins, and lots of poop piles in a small semicircle meant he'd spent the night standing right here, "where I'd left him."  It was probably 10 minutes before I could even call anyone to spread the word that he'd been found and was okay.
Pony-ee (Red) trying to outpace pony-er (Rhio)

Red and all his gear, after spending a frosty, lonely night in the woods.
We were about 6 miles from home, and I climbed up on Rhio to lead Red out of the woods.  Red didn't want to play second fiddle, and kept trying to pass Rhio and lead.  I stopped at a frozen puddle to break the ice for them, but neither would drink the frigid water.  We just kept on walking home, taking a slightly shorter route and cutting out to the main road, then meeting up with G and Paco and making it home in about two hours.

Once home, Red ate a big pan of beet pulp, had a huge drink from the automatic waterer, and spent a couple of uninterrupted hours eating hay in a stall.  I cleaned up all his bloody spots and they are indeed all scrapes/abrasions - most certainly from our fall and the resultant skid.  His girth was muddy and the breastcollar clip had mud and grass stuck in it from sliding across the trail.  Other than losing the boots, no overall lasting damage to either of us, and my camera, which spent the night in the saddle bag, is fully functional.
My boy, home safe and sound.
I do not wish an ordeal like this on anyone, ever.  I am indescribably thankful to have this happy ending.  I am grateful Red seems to have kept calm and stayed in one place, everything they tell you to do if you are ever lost.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Blue Ribbon Boy (Point Chaser 2012)

The last Minnesota distance ride of the season is Point Chaser, always held "MEA" weekend.  (MEA is the old term for the 3rd weekend in October, when schools are typically closed for teachers to attend their annual state convention.)  It is a three day ride, with events Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  After many changed plans, Rhio and I ended up heading to the ride with J Thursday morning around 10 am.  I was preregistered (I don't do this much, being a tad bit superstitious) for the 2-day 100 miler and also committed to vetting for the day on Sunday (yup, it was gonna be a full weekend!).

The trip down was a bit rainy, but the forecast was for clearing skies and minimal rainfall, with reasonable temps.  Being a late October event in Minnesota, what kind of weather we get is a bit like rolling the dice in Vegas - it's all up to chance!  It looked like we were going to luck out this year with some fine riding weather.  I was thrilled that Rhio loaded so well into J's trailer - it had a ramp, which to my knowledge he's never seen before.  He practically stepped on my heels following me in, which was a vast improvement over his initial trailer loading for the day, when I drove him the 12 miles from home to J's house in G's trailer.  Being the only horse going, he was pretty reluctant to load by himself (the most resistant he's been in about two years.)

Upon arrival at Zumbro Bottoms horse camp, about a 4 hour haul from home,  we unload the two mares J brought and Rhio, and get them set up on the high line (the pinto mare Sweetie and Rhio) and tied to the trailer (Thoroughbred Stewie - prone to bossiness and kicking, apparently, around the other horses.)  For the first time ever, I was going to be camping in a living quarters trailer.  Wow - what luxury!  There was hardly anything to do to set up camp, and we had plenty of time to walk horses and visit with our buddies before vetting in began in the late afternoon.  Rhio and Sweetie seemed to be getting along on the high line, even sharing a hay bag.  J's puppy Racer was an energetic, adorable bundle of fun and it was impossible to resist her puppy antics.  I was happy to see that the 50 miles I (and all other 50s) would be doing Friday was three loops - 20 miles, 14.5 miles, 15.5 miles.  I absolutely love doing only 3 loops instead of 4 - it is mentally much easier for both horse and rider, I think, when all loops come back to camp.  Saturday's course was the same, so there'd be no excuse to get lost!

Ride camp usually settles in quickly after dark, as most of us will be up before the dawn to get ready to ride.  Ride meeting was to be in the morning, giving any late arrivals a chance to attend as well.  I decided to continue the strategy I'd started at Charity Cup and fed Rhio an extra-large meal of beet pulp, oats, alfalfa pellets, a touch of fat, electrolytes, carrots, and apples the night before the ride (in addition to all the hay he wanted.)  In the morning he got only a handful of oats with his electrolytes and Neigh Lox, using the hay he'd be eating all night as his primary fuel for the day.  Without being able to control all the variables of a true experiment, I do think this strategy works well for him.  I certainly don't notice any lack of energy during the ride, and skipping that morning starchy meal is designed to prevent any blood sugar spike, and thus its corresponding drop, during the first few hours of the ride.  During the ride, I offer him whatever he wants to eat, and almost invariably he chooses mostly hay after the first loop, then perhaps some beet pulp mash after the second loop (but still mostly hay), and after the third loop starts diving into the beet pulp.  I used to try to micro-manage his food intake, and offer up what I wanted him to eat primarily, but now I put everything out smorgasbord-style and let him choose.  I've also learned that he needs a flake of hay right next to the water buckets at the vet check and he will immediately grab a mouthful and we go to the pulse lanes with hay sticking out of his mouth.  Conventional wisdom says that eating will cause the horse's heart rate to remain elevated, but a mouthful of hay seems to relax and reassure Rhio.
Rhio eats some beet pulp mash at a check.
This was to be our first attempt at back-to-back 50s, and as a 2-day 100, if we were pulled at any point day one OR day two, we would not get credit for any of our mileage.  Since "regular" 50s were offered each day, the alternative would be to ride a 50 on Friday and again on Saturday, so that if one were to finish Friday but not be able to start or get pulled on Saturday, one would still get credit for the first 50.  I am a bit of a cheapskate, and the entry fee is slightly less for the 2-day event than for 2 separate rides, so that was one motivating factor in my choice.  Also, I do believe that with risk comes reward, and I love to be challenged.  So, with an amazing season so far, I decided to take the risk and do the 2-day.  It turns out that I was "richly" (not monetarily, as anyone who knows distance riding will attest - we love to say: "It's not like we win a truck or anything!") rewarded for my choice, and couldn't be prouder of my pony and our accomplishments this ride, and this season.  (Spoiler alert: yep, we finished, and in first place for our weight division!)

Start time was 7:30, and I needed my headlamp for preparations practically until mounting up to warm up at 7:20 or so.  I hemmed and hawed (and changed my mind multiple times) about what to wear for the first loop, as it was damp and chilly with rain likely to start.  I began all cozied up in multiple layers of polarfleece, but quickly decided that was too much and stripped a few layers off.  Ultimately, I shed another layer and headed out with a rain jacket - which proved to be a good choice. 

Rhio and I wandered over by the vet check, well away from the start, and hooked up with old trail buddies T and Queen.  Rhio and Queen travel well together and I knew T would pick a nice pace, so hoped we could spend the day together.  Rhio does so hate being alone, and we were thrilled to hook up with a buddy.  This trail heads out along an old railroad bed along the Zumbro River, and for Rhio it is a challenge at the start as we can see horses in front of us, sometimes for quite a distance.  Having a buddy with us is a godsend in these situations, and although he was eager and pulling to catch up to the horses in front, he was also reasonably well behaved and focused.  The start at Charity Cup was so bad in comparison, with him fighting me and being so ridiculous that I thought we might get into a real wreck, that I was thrilled with merely having to use a little muscle to hold him back.  (Have I ever mentioned how strong he has gotten as his fitness has increased?)  We were also accompanied by E and Scooter - a team we had never met before, but grew quickly to love, which was a good thing, as we ended up spending every step of the 100 miles together!

You will not be surprised to find out that Rhio led pretty much the entire time (the entire 100 miles), and was happiest doing so.  He and Scooter developed quite the ritual of communication - every once in a while Scooter would sidle up along us, Rhio would swing his head over and look at him, Scooter would pin his ears and drop back.  This scenario repeated countless times throughout the two days, much to E's and my amusement.  There was never anything aggressive, nasty, or mean about it, but they each knew their place and that was just the way it was going to be.
Scooter pins his ears after Rhio told him to "Stay back!"

The three horses, Rhio, Queen, and Scooter, were hot headed and raring to go, and as usual us riders couldn't converse much in the early miles of the ride, instead each of us was concentrating on her mount.  We hung back at the second set of water tanks, just before a steep climb, allowing some fellow competitors to gain enough lead that we would not be catching up to them readily.  I don't know about anyone else, but Rhio is SO much easier to ride when the horse(s) in front of us are far enough ahead that he is not compelled to catch them.  I may possibly have even achieved a few miles of loose rein in that first loop.

It had begun to rain lightly at some point, and some sections of the trail, notably the portion called "Upper Sand Coulee" was becoming really slick with the now-wetted clay, dead leaves, and frequently tight turns and steep ascents/descents.  This portion of the trail is also open to motorcycles (sometimes?  all the time?  I'm not sure) and they create these dips with soft footing at the bottom, small enough that only one of your horse's hooves lands in it while the other three try to cope with the up-and-down elevation change.  They are not easy to ride, even in good footing, and too many in a row tend to make me a bit seasick.  We completed this section without incident (one part skill, two parts luck) and then, finally, made our way down to the flats for the return trip.

Each loop was set up with several big climbs up into the river bluffs (and descents out of them), with twisty-turny single track in between, and nice level two track to begin and end.  My favorite stretch of trail is called "Highwater Trail," and is a relatively level, wide section about 1.5 miles long.  On the first and second loops, we do this on the return trip, after descending out of the hills for the last time.  The horses have been kept to a walk for a while for the descent, and are more than ready to be given their heads.  I, for one, can't resist the temptation to do so, and we had lovely canters (hand-gallops!) down this stretch both days.  In fact, on Saturday, Rhio did a flying lead change (huh?!) over a little motorcycle dip and continued on his right lead for about a mile (?!?!?!  YES!!!!  Really!) - before nearly spooking me off because he was watching a horse coming down a trail in front of us (where we were headed) and neglected to notice a log.  Somehow I managed to hang on, and we made the sharp turn left with me still in the saddle (whew.) 

Sadly, T and Queen were pulled for lameness at the first hold on Friday, and E and I continued on, with Rhio and Scooter still full of energy and enthusiasm.  In fact, I don't think either horse lost his spark the entire 100 miles.  I credit this, on Rhio's part, mostly to having a buddy.  He is bold on trail, and insists on leading, but really likes to have a follower or two.  His mental challenge for this ride was staying sane at a reasonable pace and allowing "those other horses in front of us" to "win."  I was grateful to have the running martingale (purchased at Charity Cup) - it made a big difference.  He was feisty and pulling (and I yelled/growled at him a lot,) but I didn't have his head in my lap and he was listening, he just wasn't very happy about it.
The bridge - which we crossed a dozen times in the 100 miles.
It continued to rain through most of loop two, and the clay spots were getting really slippery.  We rode much of this loop with a horse in boots, and I could see how much she was slipping in the mud.  Rhio was slipping some, too (we did a lot of walking,) but his steel shoes absolutely performed better in the slick conditions than the boots did.  Loop three includes the beautiful vista over ride camp, and it finally quit raining.  We finished Friday afternoon around 4:15, which was right on target for my goal of riding the 50 in approximately 7 hours.  Both Rhio and Scooter looked great at the end - Rhio and I had to only do a pulse down (to stop our ride clock, as our total time continued on Saturday) and head vet Dr. Dean wanted to check gut sounds and a trot-out.  Saturday morning Rhio would have to pass an entire vet check to be allowed to continue.
Rhio and I enjoy the scenic overlook (that's ride camp down there!)

He "ate like a horse" for the evening, and I wrapped his legs preventatively.  We walked around camp grazing a bit and visiting, and headed to bed early once again.  I had tried to pack light and both the polarfleece coolers I'd brought along were soaked after he was finished cooling out, so I borrowed from a couple friends (distance riders are the best!) and got Rhio ready for bed.  We were expecting lows in the 40s, but the rain was supposed to be done.  I'd finished so late in the day that my rump rug, saddle pad, interference boots, and girth really had no chance of drying.  Sleeping in the LQ (i.e. we had heat!), I had no concept of how cold it was overnight.  I awoke in the morning to thick fog, skim ice on the five gallon buckets of water, and frozen tack.  Lovely.  Since Rhio was wearing two layers of coolers beneath his rain sheet, I sandwiched his saddle pad, girth, and interference boots in between the layers for half an hour after he passed his morning vet check, and was rewarded to have warmed and softened (though not dried!) them all.  I felt slightly less bad putting warm wet stuff on him than I would have felt putting icy wet stuff on him!  Note to self: acquire and bring multiples of EVERYTHING - even if I am coming in someone else's trailer.  They'll just have to find room for an extra bag/bin.  I did have an extra rump rug, so at least he had a warm, dry layer over his hard working rump muscles.

We met up with E and Scooter again at the start (they were riding two separate 50 milers) and set off for another grand day in the saddle.  I hoped to complete my second half of the 100 in the same time, about 7 hours.  The mud was still slick from Friday on the first loop, and we encountered hunters in blaze orange periodically (there had been a few on Friday as well - apparently it was a youth hunt weekend and they were actually deer hunting with firearms - not a time I would typically pick to be in the woods on a horse,) as well as played leap frog with a gentleman on a Morgan mare.  Since I don't have to be totally PC on my own blog, I'm just going to say - I find the leap frog 'game' to be exceedingly annoying.  Rhio can be so race-brained that having another horse tantalizingly close, who we sometimes catch up to despite efforts to gain some breathing room by taking grazing or potty breaks, is pure torture.  I have to ride "in his face" much more than I would like to, especially on day two, and although the man and his horse were perfectly pleasant, the situation was frustrating.  I know that what anyone else does shouldn't impact what I do with my own horse, but we all know that it does, despite our best efforts.
Foggy first loop

E and Scooter in the fog

Still foggy - but at least we can see the view here at the far end of "Turkey Trail."

The sun was starting to peek out by the second loop, and Rhio and Scooter just kept on trotting along, eating up the miles.  E and I never seemed to run out of things to talk about, and I actually dug my camera out a few times (having left it at camp on Friday due to the rain.)  Pretty soon, it was on to loop three, I'd stripped down to a wicking shirt beneath my vest, barehanded for the first time the whole ride, and onward we went.  The horses knew we were going home, and the last miles of the ride flew by almost too quickly (what? we're done already?).  We finished at 4:30, about 15 minutes slower than Friday.  Rhio passed his final vet check with flying colors, and I had about an hour and a half to wrap his legs, feed him, get my stuff spread out on the bushes to dry, sit down briefly, and stuff some food in.  I "switched hats" into vet mode, and was on to vetting in the Sunday horses before potluck.
Coming home, nearing the bridge for the final crossing.
Attempting to dry my stuff in the sun, with obliging bushes as impromptu drying racks.

Rhio not only met, but exceeded, my expectations for our last ride of the season.  We took first in our weight division for the 2-day 100 (bringing home a lead rope as prize), but more than that, he finished back to back 50s in approximately the same ride time each day, and was happy and forward doing so.  I don't believe you can do this sport without a horse that truly loves it, and my little boy clearly loves it.  I am already dreaming of our next ride.
Ride card!  Side 1 (pre and post ride exams)

The map of loop 1 - ride camp is at the bottom of the photo and we went clockwise around this loop (20 miles.)

Ride card - back side showing all our holds and checks.  He vetted in Saturday morning all As and a pulse of 9 (36)!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

In Which I am Reminded to Dress More Warmly

The sun was still shining as we tacked up.
Friday afternoon, October 12.  Temperature 41 degrees.  A light, chilly breeze.  A bit of damp in the air.  Thickening clouds.  G and I loaded up Gimi, Rhio, and Kelso for a 10 minute ride up to the North Shore State Trail parking lot.  I, unfortunately, have been stuck in a rut thinking it's warmer and more pleasant outdoors than it actually has been recently.  I had just a bandana beneath my helmet, cotton tights, and summer riding gloves (read: completely uninsulated in three vital areas.) 
G and Gimi ready to ride!
For Gimi, this was his third trail ride away from home.  Everything was new and different.  We walked along getting comfortable in a new place, and I tried to ignore the tentacles of cold creeping into fingers and toes.  Rhio was settled and calm, which was great since he hasn't gotten out to ride in a couple of weeks.  Kelso's bell jingled pleasantly, and we watched or heard a total of four grouse flush away at our approach.  Gimi seemed to be handling the challenging terrain without missing a beat (this is our hilliest local trail) and I noticed that I could post the right diagonal just as easily as the left.  Wow!  This is new!  Typically, Rhio and I prefer to post the left diagonal - he breaks into a canter going up hill if I post the right diagonal, and on the flat he frequently bumps me back to the left if I am not paying careful attention.  I work on this a lot, and we have improved, but it is still very clear that his left diagonal is the easier one to post (for both of us.) 

So, what has changed since the last time I rode him?  Well, Dr. Claudia (http://www.claudiacottrell.com/claudia/Animals.html) did his first chiropractic adjustment.  I've never had him adjusted before, and I wouldn't say that I had a specific reason to have him adjusted now, but he has been competing at a higher level this season than ever before and I just wanted to do anything I could to support his hard work and keep him happy and comfortable.  We have one more ride coming up in a week - a 2-day 100 mile event, our first back-to-back 50 mile rides.  So, I had a performance horse wellness chiropractic visit, and only told Claudia that he is always tight on the right.  She didn't find any major issues, but the small issues she did find were all on the right.  I have to say, given yesterday's ride, this adjustment made a really big difference!  I am impressed, and now I know exactly when I need to call her again - when his right diagonal starts to feel difficult again.
The trail as we know it (yep, already bare of leaves...we won't see green leaves now 'till May!)
What the trail now looks like where they're logging.
Another issue we've always had - cantering on the (you guessed it) right lead.  I don't believe we've EVER cantered the right lead under saddle (he has no issues with either lead at liberty or on the lunge line.)  I wondered if the new development of easy posting on the right diagonal would translate into a right lead canter.  In short - nope.  I think, though, it is rider error plus perhaps he doesn't know at all what I want.  It would be great to take some lessons this winter. 
The whole gang crosses the bridge together!
We rode to the river, took Gimi across his first wooden bridge, and turned for home.  Along the way, our trail landscape has changed immensely with an active logging operation.  The horses were unfazed by the distant, noisy machinery.  I'm sure the logger never even knew we were there.  Beneath the darkening sky, the temp was dropping and I could barely feel my fingers.  We did a little more moving out on the way home, not asking too much of Gimi for either his mental or physical abilities, but trying to stay warm.  It's awful cold just sitting on a horse walking down the trail. 
The redone girth in action.
The sorry state it was in after its accidental washing.
I was happy to have my custom mohair girth back in action.  After the 75 miler at Charity Cup, I inadvertently tossed it in the washer with some polarfleece coolers, and it didn't fare too well.  Luckily, Vicki at Traditional Mohair Cinches  (http://traditionalmohaircinches.yolasite.com/) was able to repair it and it performed as well as ever for our 8+ mile ride. 
Just happy to be out - trying not to focus on being cold.