Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What About Rhio?

Sorry, sorry! I have been terrible at keeping up with my blogging this summer!  There is much news in my horsie life, but I will try to contain myself so this doesn't get ridiculously long.  The boys have moved to a new boarding barn, about a month ago.  Things are going relatively well there, and Red is getting to be a horse, part-time.  More about Red in another post! 

Rhio has had a tough summer.  On May 30, the boys moved to the farm out west of town, with trail access and lots of other boarders.  Red got hurt.  Rhio spent a few weeks hanging with Red in the small paddock, but as Red went on stall rest for his fracture, Rhio went out with the herd (one of three at this facility).  His herd was 6-7 horses, with 2 mares in the group. They had a pasture during the day, and a large dry lot at night.  The freedom to run around, and gallop up and down the lane leading from the dry lot to the pasture, was very good for him.  He loves room to move!  He buddied up with another gelding pretty quickly; interestingly, it was the other lightest-in-color horse in the group, as most of the group had dark coats.  I hate to say it, but horses do frequently seem to discriminate, or at least pick their friends, based on coat color!  We had direct trail access, and friends to ride with; life seemed good. 

In a matter of 2-3 weeks, Rhio had lost almost 100 pounds, despite daily grain and daily beet pulp.  One of the horses in the herd was especially rough and violent toward the "new" horses in the group: Rhio and the other two, newer geldings.  He was a bully.  Rhio is a pacifist and a conflict-avoider.  He chose to stay in the dry lot well into the morning, after the herd was at pasture, just to avoid this particular horse, who was guarding the lane to the pasture and not allowing the newer horses to go out.  I did not fully understand when I chose this facility that the horses were not given hay at night, but taken off pasture without feed for 12-14 hours every night.  For "easy-keepers" and horses that don't work very hard, this might be ok. (Although I really don't believe it is okay for any horse to be routinely fasted for long periods of time!  Their gastrointestinal tracts and physiology are very negatively impacted by this type of management; they are designed to eat 24/7 as their stomachs produce acid continuously, regardless of whether they are eating or not.) For Rhio, this management scheme, unsurprisingly, spelled disaster!  Additionally, the pasture was totally overgrazed and did not provide adequate forage whatsoever. 

I went to the barn every day.  All summer.  For the first half of the summer, I went twice a day. It was 22 miles one way from my house.  I bought my own hay.  I fed Rhio supplemental hay, in addition to copious amounts of beet pulp, alfalfa pellets, and his ration of pelleted feed and fat supplement.  I quit riding him, except to ride him out to graze along the trail.  I hand grazed him.  I watched him acquire bites, kicks, scrapes, and wounds.  I watched his ribs become more and more visible.  I cried.  I fumed.  I lamented, yet again, that I need to board my horses and cannot have them at home.  But the one thing that needed to happen, couldn't.  I needed them to move to a better place, where they would be fed.  But I had Red, injured and on stall rest, unable, physically, to endure a trailer ride to a new home.  I was stuck.  They were stuck.  Looking back on it now, I had no idea how stressed I really was. 

Some of his wounds.

One time I tried to ride, and dismounted within a mile to let him eat, because he was desperate for food.

At the end of August, I decided it was now or never, and Red had to be ready to move.  I found a new place only 8 miles from my house, with plentiful pasture and a few herd mates.  There is a barn with stalls if need be, and good hay.  The downside: nowhere to ride except the asphalt roads with no shoulders.  But, I wasn't able to enjoy the trail access I had, anyway, since I wasn't willing to ride Rhio in his stressed, skinny state. 

The day we moved (heartfelt thanks to my friend S. for spending her evening hauling my horses with her rig!), the boys loaded right up, Red in a protective, supportive bandage on his injured leg, and we hauled them about 45 minutes to my friend L.'s house.  We dropped Rhio off there, where he spent an overnight with his endurance ride buddy Bravo (eating non-stop, according to L.) and took Red on to the new boarding barn nearer my house. I met L. the next day, and we were off to the Northern Highland distance ride near Merrill, WI (north central Wisconsin).  Rhio and I hadn't been to a ride since June! 
Rhio and Bravo staring at ???
Ride camp was in a huge alfalfa and grass hay field.  We set up a pen and the horses were in heaven!  Rhio and I happily completed a 25 mile LD ride on Saturday with L. and Bravo, placing 6th.  It may be the only ride I can remember where Rhio willingly gave up the lead and followed Bravo the whole day!  It is so interesting how the horses work out for themselves what the proper order of the group shall be, and it is SO much easier to go along with their decision!  I hemmed and hawed quite a lot about whether to compete Rhio, given his 100 pound weight loss and lack of conditioning. However, I decided that his years of competition and fitness gave him enough base to handle 25 miles, even with less body condition than I would prefer.  I was not wrong, as he let me know in no uncertain terms that he was loving every minute of being out there on trail.  I do believe he managed to visibly gain weight over the weekend, despite competing.  We had a super weekend, and on Sunday, Rhio joined Red (who was VERY happy to see him!) in the small paddock at the new barn, happily munching hay.
Riding with Bravo!

Oh, we love this!
Rhio did not require paddock confinement, and so he has been on grass pasture 24/7 since moving to the new  barn.  He has had the pasture to himself, mostly, only in the past two weeks spending some gradually increasing time with the herd.  The acclimatization with the new herd seems to be going well, and I am happy with the slow, methodical method the new barn owner M. uses to introduce the horses.  I go every day with their beet pulp mashes, but I think the main factor in Rhio's weight gain (he is back to normal) has been the 24/7 pasture and zero stress from the herd. 

Enjoying the new pasture.
He has, unfortunately, been dealing with ulcer-like symptoms for the past month. To truly diagnose stomach ulcers in horses requires a very, very long endoscope and a look-see around their stomach.  I haven't done this with Rhio, so I cannot say for certain that he has ulcers.  However, when he starts not finishing his grain or beet pulp, walking away from it, and starts licking his buckets clean again after going on a horsie antacid supplement, I feel pretty safe in declaring that he has ulcers.  I am sure that the ulcers developed at the previous barn, between the emotional/herd stress, the prolonged fasting on a daily basis, and the weight loss, but he was too hungry to show symptoms while there.  In retrospect, I should have had him on the antacid supplement all summer, and I wish I had.  However, I am happy to report that he is now cleaning his buckets thoroughly and seems to be very happy and relaxed.  He's put his weight back on as well, and is growing in a nice winter coat already. 
Zoomies in the new pasture!  And, yes, that's Red in the background - out in the pasture!
Since the ride the weekend that I moved them, we had only ridden once from the new barn - a 5+ mile easy jog around the paved roads (while the Packers game was on, so the traffic was extremely minimal!  I highly recommend strategic ride scheduling to coincide with Packers football when you live in Wisconsin).  He is ready to go-go-go, but we have nowhere to really ride - big downside of the new barn.  Enter my very good friend B. and her husband T. - they hatched a plan for Rhio to go have a week-long sleepover at their house (an hour north of me), so B. and I could ride together a whole bunch.  Woo hoo!!!  I declare this a most excellent plan, as my husband is out of state this week and I'm on my own.

On Sunday, they picked us up and all three of us went to their local trails to ride.  Fun, fun, fun!!!  Rhio and I had a blast seeing trail for the first time in a month, and we did an easy 8+ mile ride on a gorgeous fall afternoon.  After settling Rhio into their back pasture, we hatched plans for more rides during the week.  Yesterday, B. was able to get off work early and we trailered the 5 miles to the local trails, and did a real conditioning ride.  Rhio was on fire, leading B. and her boy Scout on a 12+ mile trot/canter with an overall average pace nearly 7 mph.  Zoom, zoom!  That is plenty fast enough to complete an endurance ride in the time allotted, with extra room to spare.  We saw turkeys, Cooper's hawks, and a porcupine "running" down the trail in front of us as fast as it could go.  Rhio was so, so forward and happy; it was a blast to ride him.  I noticed that when he led (99% of the time), he used his back, rounding it up under my seat and moving out in a really balanced, efficient, effortless stride.  Those adorable ears were pricked, eagerly looking down the trail in front of us.  There was so much joy in both of us, it's really hard to put into words.  During the 1% of the ride that Scout led, Rhio traveled with a hollow back, head and neck thrown up in the air, ears back, head weaving from side to side (so he could look behind us - apparently he takes back-of-the-pack responsibility to make sure nothing sneaks up on us VERY seriously!), gait all bouncing and atrociously uncomfortable to ride.  Huh, I can't say that I've ever noticed before quite how different he moves (very poorly) when he's not leading.

Rhio checks the map at the Machickanee.
Machickanee trails
Post- 12 miler at the Machickanee.
This is B. on Scout - Red's half brother!  Both born in 1995, with the same daddy - they likely grew up together and were weaned together.  And boy do they have some of the same traits!  For example, both like to carry a mouthful of grass on trail - so when we slow down to take a breather, they have a meal at the ready.
We have another ride planned for tomorrow, and again Saturday with T. and then Rhio will go home.  It's like a week of the joyous vacation for us both (yes, I'm calling extreme athletic pursuits "vacation") - then back to "boring" home.  We have one last endurance ride planned for the year, the second weekend in October.  With this week of conditioning, and if my musculoskeletal issues allow, we will be doing the 55 mile endurance event to round out our 2015 competition season! 

By the way, Rhio did earn his 1000 mile UMECRA award this year and we'll be getting a plaque at convention in January!  Woo hoo!!!  We actually earned it at the first ride of the year, but it's taken a while to straighten his mileage record out and get it officially noted.   I am definitely more interested in the longevity awards in my sport: 1000 mile UMECRA horse (1000 miles in competition, including all divisions), 3000 mile AERC (seems like a pipedream, but it's a goal to work toward - you get your horse's picture and story in Endurance News for this one!), and Decade Team AERC (10 years of endurance competition as a team - Rhio and I have 6 years as of 2015).  I'm very proud of my pony, and feel very accomplished to have reached 1000+ miles in competition with him - we have been partners every step of the way. 

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