Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Amazing Weekend at Kettles n Bits

Somewhere on trail, day 1.
It was our first competition of 2015, and first completions (yes, TWO completions!) since May 2013.  I'm pretty psyched!  The first ride of the year in Wisconsin is Kettles n Bits, held a mere 60 miles from me in the Northern Kettle Moraine.  I hadn't seen the horse trail there prior to the ride, but I had been down to "the Kettles," as they are called, a few times already.  What a beautiful area! 

My new friend L. picked us up Friday afternoon, and we made the short trip down to the horse camp, approximately in middle of the north-south linear horse trail through the area.  The horse camp has two areas, one with designated campsites, and a separate open area for group camping..   All sites have nice, sturdy panel pens for the horses.  We were in the group area, and settled the three horses into their pens.  Rhio was between a big Appaloosa, and L.'s two Spotted Saddle Horses.  He looked like a little pony between them!  After registering for our rides (LD for L. and 25 mile competitive for me for Saturday), we vetted our boys in without issue, and spent some time arranging our stuff for the vet check, and getting the horses squared away.  Long after dark, we finally settled into the trailer to share our supper.  My ride didn't start until 10am Saturday, so I had the luxury of plenty of time in the morning to finish preparations.  This meant I could stay up reading until 11 pm and not stress about my wake up time!  I got the best night of sleep before a ride I'd ever gotten.
Nice pens, and you can just see the big Appaloosa to Rhio's left, who made Rhio look like a pony!

Saturday dawned perfectly, just a tad cool but with the promise of a warm, sunny day.  I was hoping it wouldn't get too warm, as heat and I are not bosom buddies.  L. and her boy Bravo got off to a nice start on their LD and Rhio and I relaxed.  Well, I relaxed, taking my time braiding his mane, getting his boots on (more on that next), grazing my way through strawberries, yogurt, granola, and o.j. for breakfast.  Rhio realized what was going on (horses were heading out on trail without him!) and spent a lot of time staring in the direction of the trail.  The trail was separated from our camp area by a large, treed berm of earth.  We could hear the horses trotting past us, but not see them.  I swear Rhio was counting the horses, so he'd know how many he had to pass to win whenever I did let him get out there and go!

Why was I applying boots?  Didn't I just get four shoes put on last week?  Yes, yes I did.  And Thursday night before the ride, when I went to the barn to give Rhio a yummy, electrolyte-enhanced pre-ride beet pulp mash, I discovered that his right front shoe was gone.  Yep, he'd somehow managed to yank it off.  Luckily, the hoof was in perfect condition and undamaged from this event.  There were some suspicious fresh scrapes on the inside of his left front forearm, but he wasn't telling any tales about whatever mischief he got into.  (See previous post!)  Friday morning, I talked to my farrier, and she was able to come out and pull the other front shoe for me.  This left Rhio bare-hooved in front, and shod in back.  This is not exactly a routine method of shoeing, but with him now even in the front, I could use boots on both fronts to protect his soles, and we'd be good to go.  Hopefully.  And provided we had usable boots.  Unfortunately, Rhio's EasyBoot Gloves have been completely worn through at the toes (as in 4" long holes where there is just no boot material left, and the toes of his hooves literally stick out.)  I haven't replaced them yet, because he's shod in the summer and theoretically shouldn't need his boots again until late fall.  L. was gracious enough to lend us a pair of her Renegade boots, and with some cable adjustments (thank goodness for that 10 am start and plenty of time to fuss with boots!), they fit fairly well. 
Renegade boots in place

We started off with the six other comp riders for the day, and Rhio wasted no time taking on his fire-breathing-dragon, Kentucky-Derby-racehorse persona.  Our friend E. (we rode with her and her horse Scooter on our 2-day 100 back in 2012! It was so great to ride together again!) was aboard her young horse Rez and both Rez and Rhio were in endurance horse mode.  We took the lead of the comp pack, and pulled away into our own pocket of trail space.  The boys were both super forward, and flying along the trail.  They settled in rather nicely together, Rez leading and Rhio happily taking the second position, although perhaps we were clipping along at a bit too sprightly a pace, since we wanted to take about 2 1/2 hours for the first 15 mile loop (we had a ride time of 4:30 for the whole 25 miles).  The trees and trail flew past in a blur, and somehow we negotiated that line between letting the horses have their heads, so to speak (to keep pony frustration and wasted energy to a minimum), and the rational human brain's ability to plan for the future and keep safety and sustainability of effort/pace in mind.  It was a rush!  There is nothing like the feeling of having a good, solid horse beneath you and letting him do his thing.  Let me tell you, I never once thought about the boots on his front feet - there were just no issues with them.  That is exactly what you want from a pair of hoof boots. 

Given that the bliss of being the only two horses on trail couldn't last forever, we used up our pocket of trail space and ran into a group of 50 mile riders.  Once they'd passed us to continue on the trail, I was no longer in my happy space with a fast but dependable horse.  Now I had a horse in a let-me-get-them frame of mind.  There would be no slowing, no stopping, no snacking, and little regard for life or limb.  Argh!  E. unfortunately had to witness much verbal berating of my crazy pony as I tried to get him to see reason, although given her own pony's behavior, she may not have noticed.  We got to the water tubs and turnaround point, 7.5 miles into the ride, in less than an hour.  Oops!  Too fast!  After a 15 minute break here (where Rhio refused to eat, drink, or stand still because of the other horses coming and going), we set off for camp.  The blessing, and the curse, of an out-and-back trail: the horses are motivated to go home, and the horses are motivated to go home!  We had just as much trouble on the return trip, but managed to squeeze in enough grazing and walking breaks to do the first loop in about 2:20, only 10 minutes faster than we'd planned. 

Upon our return to camp, I stripped Rhio's tack (no sponging allowed in comp, so the horse has to cool down and let his heart and respiratory rates return toward resting entirely on his own merits), gave him a few carrots and bites of grass, and allowed him to scratch and rub on me (a bad habit that I fully admit to allowing).  At 10 minutes after getting off trail, Rhio's pulse and respiration were scored.  He got 10 and 2.  This is extremely good!  In comp, you lose points as your horse is further and further from the 'ideal' resting state.  For the pulse of 10, I lost 3 points.  For the respiration of 2, I lost 0 points.  This was an excellent start to our competition and I was very pleased with Rhio.  I'd started the weekend questioning how fit he is, since we have had only flat roads to train on, but his natural ability and aptitude for this sport is really quite astounding.   After a trot for the vets to demonstrate soundness, we had about 35 minutes left of our 50 minute hold time.  I took Rhio back to the trailer, allowed him to graze the green grass, and stuffed my face with a turkey sandwich.  Before I knew it, I was tacking up again, and we met E. and Rez to head out on the second 10 mile loop.

This loop went very well, with our forward, happy, trotting horses traversing the 10 miles of rolling hills with ease.  We found a cold, clear spring from which the horses drank, and we sponged a bit of that refreshing water onto their necks to help them cool.  All was right in the world, basically, and we hit the 2 mile marker with just about the right amount of time to maximize our horses' on-trail recovery (walking a lot to help them get their heart rates down) and maintain the forward motion required once we'd entered the zone two miles out from camp.  And then Rhio's right front boot exploded.  Or something.  After a canter up a hill, transitioning to a walk for the steep and rocky bit at the top, we picked up an easy trot and Rhio was off.  I asked E. if his boots looked ok, and heard the dreaded, "Uh...no! You're missing the right front!"  Well, the cable that I'd carefully adjusted that morning, stabbing myself in the finger with a loose, frayed fiber, must have had a catastrophic failure (note to self: if there is even one frayed fiber in a cable, replace the whole thing!  Do not assume, as I did, that it would be ok for "just 25 miles").  I had no option but to continue on at the walk, knowing that the 'heel captivator' portion of the boot was now twisting around his pastern, and his sole was unprotected.  Oh, well.  He actually didn't seem at all bothered by it, and was more than happy to offer to trot.  Once we hit camp, we again had our pulse and respiration scored at 10 minutes, and then had our final vet-through.  Know that I could not vet through with just the one intact boot, I removed both the broken and the normal boots, and had Rhio barefoot in the front.  Again, his scores were great, but, alas, the lack of boots at the trot out cost us points.  It is a frustrating situation, since it did not accurately reflect his situation while on trail (booted) and made him look perhaps sore-footed, when in fact the issue was that he was suddenly barefoot again after being booted for 23+ of the 25 miles. Oh, well, sometimes the cards fall against you.  I was so pleased with his performance and his recoveries, and with a logical and explainable reason to lose some points on his trot out, I was more than happy to collect his 3rd place ribbon at awards that night.

Rhio recovered very well, spending lots of time grazing the abundant green grass in camp.  He shunned his beet pulp mashes in favor of grass, and since I do not generally give him electrolytes by syringe, he basically competed the weekend on mostly grass and hay and water.  For whatever reason, he does not seem to be a horse that needs much electrolyting,   I haven't given him a dose of electrolytes by syringe at all in our last few seasons of competing.  It is so important to get to know your horse!

After potluck and awards, I decided to take Rhio for a long handwalk, on the hopes that we could locate the missing half of the exploded boot.   Just before sunset, my favorite time of day, we walked out to the 2 mile marker in search of the bottom half of that Renegade.  We heard grouse drumming.  We heard frogs peeping.  We saw a gorgeous sun setting between just-budding trees.  We did not find a boot.  I think the long walk helped us both stave off stiffness and soreness, however, and it was just a glorious evening for a walk.

At bedtime pony check, Rhio was stomping his hind feet pretty seriously.  I decided to trust that my horse was telling me something, and not just brush it off.  I'd wrapped all four of his legs with a cooling clay poultice and standing wraps as I often do after a strenuous ride, especially as I was hoping and planning to ride again Sunday.  Rhio has a tendency to leg swelling ('stocking up') when confined after a ride, and the wraps help reduce it.  Well, I was surprised to find excessive heating when I removed the wraps - in fact, his hind legs beneath the wraps were actually steaming when I exposed them to the slightly chill night air!  This was exactly opposite of the cooling effect I was striving for, and a bit scary, honestly.  I quickly unwrapped all four legs, and left him 'naked' for the night.  None of his legs had swelling at the time I unwrapped them.  My theory is that the 4 mile walk with the wraps in place built up heat beneath them, which then could not dissipate.  However, I do think the 4 mile (about a hour) walk was probably really helpful in keeping the fluid and blood moving and preventing stiffness/soreness (for both of us!).  I may well wrap at future rides, but probably not routinely.  I will try to walk more and wrap less, and see how that goes. 

Sunday morning, his legs were fine (cool, tight) and his spirits were excellent.  I felt good despite my nagging knee 'thing.' We signed up for the 25 mile LD and Rhio vetted through to start.  We headed out at trail in second place; it was one of those starts where the timer says "Trail's Open!" and no one leaves camp.  Eventually, one rider left camp and we fell in behind him.  E. was on her horse Scooter, and we proceeded to lead the pack of LD'ers out onto trail.  Rhio was feeling awesome, and traveled straight and true with his ears perked to see where that lead horse had gone.  We had her in our sights for several miles, and this day got to take the south trail to see some new country.  This involved a lengthy traverse of an open meadow, perfect for cantering.  With L. on Bravo a bit ahead, then E. on Scooter and me on Rhio, we had a really lovely relaxed canter for the majority of the meadow portion of the trail. Rhio was forward and happy to be out there, but with just a little less of the crazy, maniacal gotta-be-in-the-front attitude. 
Signs at the water tanks telling us to head back to camp!

E. on Scooter and L. on Bravo at the water tanks.

Drinking well at the turn-around, we headed  back once again to camp on an out-and-back trail.  Scooter had not competed on Saturday, and he was full of energy.  Rhio had worked his crazies out on Saturday, and was ready to settle in to a nice, cover-the-miles trot.  We made in back to camp in about an hour and forty minutes.  After vetting through with all As, we spent our hold eating and rehydrating (grass and oats for Rhio, kettle corn, strawberries, and chocolate milk for me.)  We let E and Scooter head out ahead of us for loop 2, as I wanted to slow Rhio down a bit and make sure he was not being pushed too fast for his level of fitness.  L and I headed out together with relaxed ponies for the first two miles, then we were caught by the two LD'ers behind us.  One of the ladies was riding a 'roarer' horse - a funky respiratory tract makes his breathing REALLY loud - and Rhio was very uncomfortable with that horse behind him.  We had all picked up the pace as the horses got competitive with each other, and letting the loud horse get in front didn't sit too well with either Bravo or Rhio (although they were more relaxed than when he was behind them.) L. and I spent much of the first part of this loop holding our boys back.  On a steep incline, we passed the noisy horse for good, and continued onward to the same spring we'd stopped at to refresh on Saturday.  After a good drink by both horses, and quite the display of gymnastic bending by the Spanish mustang mare also riding with us (we thought she might be trying to crawl into the spring!), we sponged them for cooling and were on our way for the last 3 miles of the course.  Finishing in about 3:10 actual trail time, our pace for the LD was quite a bit faster than our 4:30 comp time from Saturday!  Rhio felt incredibly strong and fit all day Sunday as well, and I'm utterly thrilled with him.  I couldn't have asked for a better weekend.  He earned a 4th place LD ribbon.
Passing a Haflinger pulling a cart on the competitive drive.  L. on Bravo leading.

Traveling and camping with L. and her horses was easy, relaxed, and fun!  Riding with both E. and L. was amazing!  Rhio was a rockstar all weekend and really rekindled my love and addiction to this sport.  I saw new trail, met new endurance family members, and generally had a fantastic, awesome, amazing weekend.  Thank you first to my Rhio pony, you amaze me with your athletic ability and willing attitude.  I know you have as much fun at ride weekends as I do.  And, thank you to L. for taking us along - without my own rig, I can only do this sport with the generous help of my friends (not the least of which is to lend me your boots, which I then destroyed and lost one of!).  Finally, thanks to E. for being our riding buddy for the majority of the weekend.  Rhio thanks you most of all, as he loves to have a buddy on trail.  Yay, yay, yay!!!!  When's the next ride???
Rhio and Bravo practice their synchronize rolling after Sunday's LD. 


  1. Sounds like a fun couple of rides! And what a good plan to do both days and have a saner horse on the second. Sorry for the boot explosion, frayed cables will do that. What did you do the second day? At rides here there is usually a farrier, and now often a boot dealer as well!

    I really like your perspective. I also had an LD ride this weekend, and finished with a similar time in 5th place. But I was so disappointed in my horses catch-them-all attitude and the fight it entailed to get his brain listening even a little bit. I loved your quote of " little regard for life or limb." Exactly! But I do I think I need to reevaluate my perspective sometimes...

  2. Hi Irish horse! I used an even older pair of boots on the second day - with holes worn in the toes from our training rides on asphalt. This ride didn't really need hoof protection, in my opinion, but he needed something because he'd been trimmed for shoes, not for barefoot. Protecting his sole with the old boots was my goal, and it seemed to work. And his toes were fine, despite sticking out of the front of the boots!! Race brain is SO frustrating, and not very much fun. Rhio is getting better. But it is still a challenge! My worst ride ever was 2011 Kentucky Diehards and Rhio was a complete, freaking idiot. That's the only time I *really* didn't want to even be riding him and had to wonder why I was even doing this. So I compare everything else to that experience, which I hope to never, ever repeat.

    And Jonna, thanks!