Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Monday, April 22, 2013

Snowiest April EVER!

Yep, my horse is basically camouflage these days - white with black and blue just like the world around here. 
We've gotten something like 40 inches of snow in the past two weeks.  There is more snow on the ground right now than there has been all winter.  I have no choice but to believe that simply walking through the snow will be enough to prep for MnDRA 1, coming up May 5 and 6.

After our latest snow event, which closed schools yet again (three times in 6 days!) and dumped 20+ inches up on Spirit Mountain where the horses live, Saturday dawned crystal clear (and in the low teens - also setting a record for coldest low for the date), but with promise to be the best day of the month so far.  It did not disappoint, and by afternoon was just above freezing (15 to 20 degrees cooler than normal) with brilliant sunshine in a blue, blue sky and hardly any breeze.  Of course we went riding - though truthfully whether we would be able to ride crossed my mind.  This April snow is not the dry, fluffy winter variety.  It is soft, heavy, dense, and water-logged.  It is the consistency of mashed potatoes.  As soon as it is compressed, it becomes slush.  It may be less difficult to get through than deep mud, but it is not an easy footing to work with.
Between the winds and the sunshine on the exposed overlook, it is the only place with a little road showing through.
Four of us set off to give it a try; how could we pass up a glorious day such as this, when we have been stomped down by the weather over and over and over again this month?  Rhio crossed the barrier for the first time since he scraped his rear legs on it a couple weeks ago (the snow is so deep, there was only about 6 - 8" of the barrier showing!), and we proceeded to walk slowly along.  A few snowmobiles had zipped down the road, so the horses followed their trail, which theoretically gave us something resembling a firmer surface to follow.  However, it was the type of going where you sink in fetlock deep for awhile, then suddenly a leg (or all four) sink in to hock-depth or more.  It was hard, if not impossible, to tell where the horses were going to break through and sink, and a couple of times, in drifted areas, Rhio was nearly dragging his belly through the snow.  Sometimes, it felt more like swimming through molasses than riding a horse.  All four horses were working hard, sweating and getting their heart rates up (I wished I'd had my heart rate monitor on for this ride!).  Rhio was wishing for a puddle to drink out of - he kept stopping to lick snow.
J. and Ranna, D. and Windsor, C. and Cricket making an Arab train - none of the horses wanted to get out of line and have to break their own trail. 
Just shy of 3 miles of this, the horses stopped all in a line for a break.  Rhio was bringing up the rear, and after they all stood there a minute or two, he suddenly turned around and started heading home.  I guess he'd made the decision for all of us - enough was enough.  In total, we did 5.7 miles in 1:50, at the whopping pace of 3.1 mph.
The crew taking a break (right before Rhio decides it's time to go home.)
This is not the way I usually train for the start of our endurance season.  We have hardly trotted at all this year, but instead have been building muscle with the snow (or so I tell myself.)  Now the challenge will be to keep Rhio's mental state in such a place that we can do a nice, slow, paced 25 miler at MnDRA 1 and ride to our condition, not race.  We all know how Rhio will feel about that!
Post-ride, wondering why we didn't just hang out in this little bit of open ground rather than going slogging through the deep snow (actually, he's eyeing me up to see if I'll produce a treat and therefore make it worth his while to walk up to the fence.)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Happy Birthday Red

My handsome boy - photo enhanced.

My darling Red boy turned 18 yesterday.  To celebrate, I brought him a whole bunch of carrots, his most favorite treat in the world.  Then, we went for a ride through the oodles of deep, wet snow (courtesy of a major winter storm which dropped well over a foot of the white stuff over two days, with another just starting as I type this - where, oh where has spring gone??).
Eating his carrots as fast as I was willing to give them to him!

What most of our ride looked like - gray skies and endless snow.  What you can't see: some of the drifts were almost belly deep!

A brief glimpse of blue sky!  Hooray!

K. and Amigo strike a pose.

Look at that grin!  As long as we're out on our ponies, nothing much can get us down.

Showing excellent form while crossing the barriers.

Coming home, he took a couple of bad steps on the gravel road leading back to the barn, but then seemed totally fine the rest of the way.  His feet, along with everyone else's, are pretty soft right now, since they're living in a mixture of slushy snow and mud.  I'm not using boots yet, as our rides are still in the deep snow, except for the short bit to and from the barn.  So, I was (am) hoping he just stepped on a rock.  However, by the time I was untacking him, he was "resting" his right front hoof.  Horses don't "rest" their front feet, so this was definitely out of the ordinary.  I couldn't find any heat, swelling, or palpable pain in the leg anywhere, and so turned him back out with the herd while I saddled up Rhio for his turn.
What we wish we had to ride on (this is a plowed road, hence it's bareness)

Birthday portrait

Returning an hour and a half later with Rhio,  I observe Red standing in the pasture "resting" that right front.  Ok, I'm now totally convinced there's a problem, and when he's in his stall having dinner, I go over him again looking for anything amiss.  I'm really wishing I had a set of hoof testers, but after a second round coming up with nothing, I'm fairly certain he's either deeply bruised that hoof, or in fact is brewing an abscess in there.  In the 11 years I've had him, he's never had an abscess before.  But I guess there's a first time for everything.
Rhio refusing to cross the barrier (photo enhanced)

I gave him some Bute for pain and inflammation, and he and Rhio got to spend the night cozied up in their stalls.  This morning, the leg and foot still look absolutely fine, but he was still mildly favoring the leg.  The sun was shining for the first time in over a week, and it was not yet windy (the latest storm has  just started as I sit here typing), so I turned him out for the morning, planning to come back and ride Rhio in the early afternoon and reassess Red at that point.

When I came back, I wimped out of riding as the sun was already hidden behind thick, snow-laden clouds, and the wind off the lake was whipping all the horses' manes and tails around fiercely.  Red was still lame on the leg, so both he and Rhio came in to their stalls (out of the wind - and with hay - they weren't complaining at all!) and I washed his foot, then wrapped it up with a poultice pad.  This should help draw out any possible abscess, and I will leave it on until tomorrow.  Then, we'll see how things are going.  Poor guy - what a way to celebrate a birthday, by having a sore foot.

Duct tape, vet wrap, and poultice pad.

Nice clean foot (needs a trim, though)

Poultice pad and vet wrap on, now to encase the whole thing in multiple layers of duct tape.

Done!  A nice little duct tape bootie.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Winter Rebooted

Tuesday, April 9, 2013.  We really should be in the mid-40s to low-50s with a vanishing snow base (the last few years - early warm springs have spoiled us!), but instead we're in the mid-30s with snow in the forecast every day this week.  We got about a foot of new, heavy, wet, sloppy snow just this past weekend.  And that landed on top of a very well established base of snow which was not melting very rapidly at all. For us local endurance riders, this situation is bordering on dire.  Our first competition of the year is less than a month away, and our horses are far from ready.  WE are far from ready!  I, for one, do not have my riding muscles tuned up and ready to go.  So, what is a girl to do?

Well, ride, of course!  This afternoon was the first opportunity, due to both weather and life circumstances (i.e. work,) which gave me a few hours to ride.  It wasn't particularly pleasant weather, being mostly overcast, hovering around 35 degrees, and with a very brisk and chilly wind blowing down the length of the big lake, to poke its icy tentacles into every chink in my winter riding attire.  No matter - up to the barn I went immediately after finishing for the day.  Squelching carefully through the slush-mud combination to the back of the car, I shucked my work clothes for insulated tights, wool socks, muck boots, polarfleece, and an insulated jacket.  The horses, in their weather-proof blankets, seemed to think the weather was just fine.

K. soon joined me at the barn, and got her boy Amigo ready to go.  We set off with both horses' buddies tagging along up the hill to the gate, and after successfully getting through the gate without either of them, set off down the long driveway.  Both Red and Amigo's buddy Tirzannah were fit to be tied to be left behind, and Amigo felt the same way about leaving his girl.  Rhio, amazingly, was completely unfazed and didn't get caught up in all the back-and-forth whinnying whatsoever.

Our first adventure of the day was getting the horses to cross the cement barriers at the closed bridge.  With the melting that has occurred, the barriers are now "taller" and both horses needed much cajoling to scramble/step/hop over them.  Rhio managed to scrape his right hind leg in the process, but the sting went away quickly and he had just rubbed the hair off.  It would be convenient for our horses to jump on command, I think.  These barriers are probably about 25" - 30" tall and easily within the scope of jumpable for nearly any horse, I should think.  Of course, surer footing would probably encourage them to jump, while the icy slushy snow is a bit less than ideal for such a feat.  Alas, neither horse seemed willing or interested in jumping, and although we did make it across, I am not anxious to attempt it again.

The last time I rode here (five days ago,) there was gravel beginning to show through in many spots and the snow was kind of soft and grainy.  The horses felt pretty confident in the footing, and we happily trotted and cantered much of our route.  Today - not so much.  The icy slushy snow was slick and unstable, and the horses didn't like it much at all.  Some more exposed areas were less slippery, and we were able to trot out maybe a mile total in the six miles we did today.  Unfulfilling, to be sure - both we and our horses like to GO!

However, the views were stunning as always, and we enjoyed identifying tracks in the snow, watching a few deer bound away from us, and spotting our first grouse of the season.  We even ran into an intrepid cross-country skier (yes, we really still have that much snow - and he wasn't the only one who's been out on skinny skis, judging by the tracks we saw both on the road, and where the ski trails cross the road.)
Rhio and Amigo admire the view over the frozen St. Louis River.

Rhio is completely unconcerned about the distance between us and Amigo.

Raccoon tracks

Snowmobile trail

K. and Amigo


Not wanting to attempt to cross the barriers again, we opted to try the trail to get home.  The snowmobile trail section was perfectly passable, but the spur trail which goes to the barn was a mess.  It crosses a stream, and although the stream was still solidly frozen, an area just before the true stream was running water beneath the ice - and the ice was a hollow shell sitting about a foot above ground.  I dismounted, as I could see the holes ahead of us and wasn't sure we could pass safely with the horses.  Rhio followed me willingly, but did break through the ice, and scraped his right hind fetlock in the process.  Again, it was a very minor, superficial wound (although this one did bleed a little), but I feel terrible that my boy got banged up.  And, of course, on a gray horse, they look dramatic and significant, though they truly aren't.
All the scrapes look worse than they are, I promise.

Lest you think this was quite enough excitement and adventure for one ride, as we finally emerged from the deep snow onto the muddy driveway, Red and Tirzannah made a beeline for the gate to greet us, whinnying and calling to Rhio and Amigo.  The commotion riled all the horses up, and the pasture horses came flying up the hill to see what all the fuss was about.  Rhio didn't see little Abby the Fjord coming, and when she popped up on the crest of the hill, he spooked to the left and I very ungracefully plopped into the mud.  Ugh.  First unplanned dismount of 2013.  Luckily, the mud made for a relatively soft landing, and I just have a scrape on my shin from a rock.
Abby the Fjord (scary when she pops up out of nowhere)

I came home filthy, covered in hair, smelling of horse, slightly chilled, and oh-so-happy.  Despite the spook, and going splat in the mud, I was very impressed with Rhio today.  He did not get sucked into the emotional drama going on between Amigo and Tirzannah, and he did a great job of paying attention to his footing and keeping us both safe.  He both led and followed without getting upset, and felt no reason to rush to keep up when Amigo's walk was faster than his.  I hope these are a harbinger of good things to come in competition, and perhaps my pony will be a little less race-brained this year.
I wonder what he thinks when we stop to admire the view.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"Spring" Training

Since the boys moved to their new barn, it has continued to look, act, and feel mostly like winter around here.  I have managed to ride a whole five times, but today's was the first that we could actually trot and canter safely.  Let me tell you, the boys did both with gusto!  There is still snow everywhere, but it was finally shallow and squishy enough to allow more than a walk (and yet not too slippery, either.)  The conditions have been different each time we've ridden.

You will notice there's only one picture from today's ride!  That's due to the fact that we could move at a faster pace than a walk, and the corresponding enthusiasm sparked in the horses made two-handed riding a necessity today.  Both boys were very good, despite their "feeling great in the spring" attitudes.

March 28, 2013 - 2nd ride for both boys as Rhio and I went solo once previously, and Red and I went with C. and Annie earlier in the week

March 28, 2013 - heading down the long and muddy drive from the barn (yep, view of the St. Louis River and the big lake in the distance!)

March 28, 2013 - Skyline is all snow - still somewhat packed but deep enough that we had to walk.  I think it was in the middle 40s this day and no wind (balmy!).

March 28, 2013 - The overlook (only place with a little gravel road showing through) - a 4 mile round trip from home. 

March 29, 2013 - I rode Rhio and ponied Red along for 6 miles, again all walking. 

March 29, 2013 - The boys stare at a deer after we've negotiated the concrete barrier at the bridge.

April 2, 2013 - The overlook, now nearly half exposed gravel!  Only 36 degrees with an icy wind, but we were able to trot and canter so we all got plenty warm.  6 miles today.