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.|
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.|
|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)!|