Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Not Many Signs of Spring, Yet

I'd like to be able to say we've started spring training!  But, alas, with a good solid snow pack everywhere, even on the sunniest exposures, it is more like winter training.  I picked Red for today's ride, since he hasn't been out at all since November, and D. will likely ride him on Thursday.  I hate for someone else to be the first ride of the spring - I want to make sure everything feels right, brakes are good, etc, before letting someone else ride one of my horses.  I realized as I was tacking up that I had yet to put rings on his new biothane reins, so went without the running martingale.  I wondered at the wisdom of this, but he was very good (and so happy to get out!).

Rhio was NOT happy to be left behind - see the following sequence of photos for some idea of his carrying-on at the gate.  He will be very happy to get to go on Thursday.

C. on Annie accompanied us, along with Kelso.  We ventured down to the road and set off along the closed section. The horses were sinking in up to their fetlocks in the snowmobile-packed going, so it was quite a workout despite keeping mostly to a walk.  Our first ride of the year is very sandy, so working through snow is actually good conditioning for those trails.  In no time, the scent of horse sweat wafted up from their necks and flanks.  Annie was a little annoyed at Red's insistence on leading, and pinned her ears in her best attempt to intimidate him.  He ignored her, taking the lead and keeping it nearly all the 8 miles we did.  If allowed, he would have moved out at a much faster pace, and several times we let them trot and canter for the sheer joy of it.

It was a lovely evening ride, and I can't wait to repeat it on Thursday.  Even more, I can't wait for the snow to melt so we can REALLY ride!  Five weeks till our first endurance ride of the season.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

In The Spirit: Multi-use Trail at its Best

Happy Leprechaun Day!  Or whatever this silly green Irish holiday is - to me, it was Barn Day (a recurrent and requisite holiday if I am to stay sane.)  Yes, the mercury read well below zero this morning when I got up.  Yes, we still have 3+ feet of snow on the ground.  But, the March sun is amazingly warm, and it was the first opportunity I'd had to ride in a very long time, and most definitely since my horses moved to their new barn a week ago.

First, we released my boys from their paddock turn-out for the first time, and added 3 horses from the main herd to the mix.  They now have run of the entire upper area around the barn, and we thought they'd take off through the deep snow running and bucking and showing off.  We were ready to shoot video and enjoy the spectacle.  The horses took one lap around, and decided either a) the snow was too deep to make it worth the effort to run through it and/or b) the hay was way too tasty.  Oh, well.  I'm sure they'll run and play when no one is watching!

It was only about 15 degrees by this point, so I added a rump rug for Rhio and decided on my balaclava beneath my helmet.  With studded boots on the fronts, we were ready to check out the riding conditions along Skyline Parkway.  This road is routinely closed to traffic in the winter, but additionally this year it has been closed since the June floods as the bridge over Stewart Creek was nearly washed away (actually, the bridge isn't so much the problem, but all the soil/embankment/etc on either side of it is gone.)  I had checked out the bridge on foot to determine whether I thought I could get my horse across it, and the questionable bit was going to be the cement barricades on the west end of the bridge.  They were placed with only about 6" of space between them end to end, and there was rebar sticking out of one of them.  The edges drop off into flood damage, so there wouldn't be any going around them.  I thought it looked possible, if he would hop over them.  But I was also fully prepared for my ride to consist simply of riding down the hill from the barn to the bridge, only to turn around and retrace my steps if we couldn't cross the barricades.

Many other locals use the closed road to recreate, with the most common uses in the winter being snowmobiles, skiers, and snowshoers.  A few cars were parked near the east barricades, and a couple was just getting ready to snowshoe as we came up.  Rhio was a little unsure about the funny noise (?) or look (?) of the snowshoes, but we passed them (I was on foot hand walking him) and encountered a couple on skis towing a small-child-enclosing capsule behind them.  They stopped and disassembled their contraption, got the small child out, and we had a nice conversation in which the apparently horse-crazy small child was too afraid to pet the horse.  I have had this happen many, many times before, and luckily Rhio (and Red) are very people-friendly horses.  Rhio was pretty worried about the capsule, but we made our way to the west barricade, and Rhio sized it up in a moment, then hopped over it like it was a routine part of his daily life.  I was elated - because now I *knew* I was going to get to RIDE, finally!
Gazing down the road, getting ready to mount up.

Ears forward - gotta love that view!

My grin, to match Rhio's ears

The road is somewhat packed by snowmobile traffic, but staying in the firmest/most packed section proved to be a little bit of a challenge.  Rhio was sinking in anywhere from a few inches to an entire hoof depth, and if we got off the packed area at all, we sunk in much more.  Trotting in the semi-deep, slightly grainy snow is a bit like running/trotting in sand, so it was a great workout, but also something to be careful with, especially for a first conditioning ride of the year after essentially 4 full months off.  It is easy to strain soft tissues in this type of going.  But, it was not a "spring ride" in the sense of a crazy, go-go-go attitude from my mount, and so we went along quite sensibly, walking the vast majority of the time.

In the next half mile or so, we encountered both a fat-tire mountain biker (Rhio was nervous and I jumped off because Kelso is not known for good behavior around bikes - those 4" wide tires do make an odd sound swishing through the snow) and a single snowmobile.  Everyone was very polite, pleasant, and just out enjoying the day.  For all the user conflicts that can arise in a multi-use trail situation, this was an outstanding day of encounters all around.

The overlook.  What you can't see is the stone retaining wall -  because the snow is THAT deep!

Post-ride euphoria

Once past the overlook, we saw only wildlife, including deer and a pileated woodpecker.  We went all the way to the far western barricade, where the road is officially blocked on that end, then turned for home.  We did about 8 miles in about 2 hours, which is not very impressive during the main riding season, but for a first conditioning ride since November, it was heaven.  The scent of horse sweat wafting up, the familiar tiredness in my legs from posting the trot, and the mindful escape from daily life that comes with being out on the trail, living in the moment, were just exactly what I needed.
Red getting the low-down on the trail from Rhio.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

How is it possible...

For one woman with two horses to have so much STUFF???  Tomorrow Red and Rhio are moving to a new boarding barn, and today I spent several hours attempting to sort, organize, and cart to storage much of my horse paraphernalia.  There were 3 Subaru loads of it, not counting what's going to the new barn and the big dome-top trunk which doesn't even fit in the Subaru (thank you, G, for helping me haul it with your truck!).  I have been very, very lucky in that the last two places I've boarded had ample storage for my growing pile of stuff.  As an endurance rider, I have at least two of everything...for each horse.  And there have been rides where I needed more than two of everything, usually because of rain and everything getting wet.  But where does one store all these duplicates when they are not in use?  Just the number of blankets, sheets, and coolers alone is staggering.  Oh, and don't get me started on buckets.  I don't even know how many buckets I have.  Then, there's all the supplies and medications I have on hand to do my own vet work - two bins of that.  And the list goes on.

In preparation for a new barn, and to attempt to streamline their meals, both boys are going onto new supplements.  Red will be a "fancy horse," and will be getting Smart Paks.  This is a clever, convenient way to order supplements, in which they come packaged in a strip of wells, each well containing the various powders and pellets you've selected for your horse.  Whomever is feeding needs to simply pull the top off the strip of wells for the day, and dump into the feed bucket.  Red will be getting a senior horse vitamin-mineral supplement (pelleted, because he won't eat what Rhio will be getting...just to make life difficult!), MSM for his hocks, and plain salt.  This is essentially what he is currently getting, but instead of doling out a scoop o' this and a scoop o' that each day, it'll be just rip and dump.  Easy!  I'm not thrilled about the premium price I pay for this convenience, but I think streamlining feeding for the new barn owner will be worth it.  Rhio will be getting a granular vitamin-mineral-Omega 3 supplement (the one Red won't eat), plus his antacid, and a fat supplement.  It'll still be scoop-and-dump from a big bucket for him, but hopefully it won't be too much trouble.

Now, if today's winter weather (mostly snow, but some periods of drizzly rain) will hurry up and stop, so the roads will be good and clear tomorrow for hauling, I would be grateful!
Rhio taste-tests his new supplement (it's a winner!  He licked the bowl clean.)

Red's fancy drawer, which came filled with his individual servings of his supplements.

My corner of the tack room, filled with my stuff (it's a lot - but at least it's fairly organized and contained in bins and drawers!)

What's left after hauling most to storage.  It looks so empty! 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

My Little Ponies

Needing a break from paperwork and organizing, I dressed warmly for the icy wind off the lake (though the thermometer read a respectable 27 degrees, it didn't feel that warm!) and headed to the barn to visit the boys.  I am desperate to ride, but the footing is just not safe.  So I suffer along as best I can, dreaming of the first long trotting ride of the year.  In past years, that has usually happened at least once in February - not so this year!

Despite the still-wintry weather, the horses are definitely shedding their fuzzy coats.  The trigger for shedding, and for growing their coat in the late summer, is the changing amount of daylight.  I actually try not to groom them too much right now, since they still have plenty of cold weather to endure.  But, sometimes, a girl's just gotta play with her ponies and spend some time making them beautiful.  There's nothing like combing out manes and tails, and currying up a cloud of hair (make sure to stay upwind of the horse you're working on, though - helps keep your eyes, nose, and throat relatively horse-hair free), for mental therapy.

I didn't take any "before" pics, and other than Rhio's wind knots in his mane (now smoothed and braided), there really isn't a lot of visual change.  But I had my hands on my ponies, drinking in their delicious aroma, and soothing my soul just a bit (it's a mite ragged on the edges with too little horse time in general.)

The consequences of wearing anything polarfleece around shedding horses. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Lucky, or Unlucky?

"Where's the treats?"
If my horses could talk, I don't know whether they'd judge themselves lucky or unlucky to be owned by a veterinarian.  Percentage wise, it is not very often that I wear the "veterinarian hat" when I interact with them.  And, truly, they do not seem to mind (well, except Red and his hock injections - he does not appreciate those even sedated!).

Yesterday was the day for their annual Coggins test.  This is a blood test looking for exposure to a virus which causes a disease called Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA).  This disease is blood-borne, and spread by biting flies or sharing needles between horses.  It used to be very common around the country, but with a 50+ year testing program, it is now a very uncommon disease.  Thank goodness.  However, legal requirements still exist in all states for (usually annual) testing of horses that go out and about to "do stuff."  Each state is slightly different, but in Minnesota, the test must be performed once every 12 months and we must present the original paperwork, as well as leave a copy of the paperwork, at every horse event our horses attend.  If horses are sold, they should have a current negative Coggins for the sale to be legal.  If you transport your horse across state lines, you must not only comply with your state's Coggins requirements, but also with the state you are entering (as well as have a current health certificate, in most cases).

Funnily enough, "Coggins" is a bit of a misnomer these days.  It is the name of the man who invented the first test for the disease, but now a newer, quicker, cheaper test is run in most cases.  This new test cannot truly be called a "Coggins" test, as it uses completely different technology.  However, as happens with other "name brands" in our language, the Coggins moniker has become synonymous with the new test run for EIA.  So, we horse people will say "Coggins," though technically we merely mean a blood test for EIA.

Yesterday, I wander into the pasture and four of the six resident horses, including both Red and Rhio, immediately mob me looking for treats.  Instead of treats, however, I pull needles, syringes, and blood tubes out of my pocket.  Having dealt with many uncooperative horses in my career, I know how lucky I am that I can draw blood in the pasture without a halter or any form of restraint.  My boys just stand there unfazed.  In moments, I have my two tubes of bright red blood and am trying to fend off the four muzzles in my face still looking for treats.

I fill out the paperwork, old-school style with drawings of each side of my horses' bodies and their faces.  I enter descriptions of their markings, along with all their pertinent details (registered name, age, sex, breed, color.)  Commonly, veterinarians are using digital photos and electronic forms for EIA testing, but since I only do my two horses each year, and the old hand-drawn paperwork is still accepted, I keep it low-tech.  Later in the day, after the blood has clotted in the tubes, I stop by a local clinic to centrifuge it, separating the serum from the red blood cells.  Only the serum is needed for testing.

I send off the blood tubes and the paperwork to the lab, and in about a week, I'll have their 2013 paperwork in my hands, and we'll be "legal" for another year!
Freshly collected blood. (Don't worry, the tubes are labelled on the other side so I don't mix them up.)

Blood that has clotted. 

After "spinning."  The red blood cells are at the bottom of the tube, beneath a gel layer (the white stuff), while the liquid serum is on top.  Horse serum is supposed to be that bright yellow color - quite unlike most other species.  It always makes the small animal techs at the clinic nervous when they see it - a dog with serum this color would be in serious trouble!