December 3, 2013

Directionally Challenged

Saturday was another gorgeous fall day in the South and since it was a 4 day weekend with the holiday I figured a 2 hour trail ride to do the entire 6.5 mile loop would be okay. I wanted to do a full loop and not go out and turn around so Gem didn't think thats all we ever did. Endurance rides are mostly loop based and not out and back, so she needs to get into the mindset that we would eventually hit the trailer again by moving forward and not by turning around. If I made it to the trail head by 2,  I would have enough daylight left to do it.

W went down for his nap at 12 and I planned to head to the barn to get things around at 1230. He woke up early at 1230 and so I stuck around to help get him and the dogs around with the hubs. That put me off schedule and we never made it to the barn until 1. When I got there this is what I saw:

Gemmie and Pete snoozing in the afternoon
I snuck between the fence to avoid the noisy gate and made it almost to her before she saw me. She was not amused. I caught her easily (she was still half asleep) and we mosied oh-so-slowly to the trailer so I could groom her. She fell asleep again at the trailer.  I knew this was not going to be the best ride I have ever had.

We made it to the parking lot and I started off at 3. That would be pushing it to get back by 5 and the woods would start getting dark before then, so my idea to finish an entire loop was shot. I switched gears and decided to go for more speed. I would go out 40 minutes or so and then turn around but by gosh we would trot the entire thing. I wanted more than a 3 mph average for this ride.

Gem had other plans which always seem to clash with mine. She was slow and spooky. She refused to go over the bridge at the trail head which she has gone over plenty of times. A lot of coaxing later and we made it over and into the woods. The hubs made an immediate left and we continued on the main green trail.

Things were going slow but well until we reached the first road crossing. I made a right hand turn and we headed into the pine tree grove as usual. But then my brain misfunctioned and for some reason I began to second guess the trail. Gem kept wanting to turn around and it had me wondering if somehow I went wrong. There was a small trail parallel to the one we were on and when we came to a small connector I turned down it. Well, it turned out I was right the first time as this new trail dead ended into the woods. Fortunately, we only went mybe 100 yards and so I just turned her around and we headed back to the original trail.

Things went well again except she decided to spook at every single puddle we came across. And there were a lot of puddles since it had rained all last week. It got really annoying. But we kept up a trot (all be it a slow one) and continued on to the second road crossing. I was sure I made a right here and so we did, but when I failed to see any green tree markings and saw yellow ones instead I began to wonder. Oh well. It was a nice open trail and we were trotting. I looked at my watch and we had been out for about 25 minutes, so only 10 more to go. I figured we could continue down this trail and then turn back around. One epic spook over a water crossing later and we ended up in a parking lot. Hmmm.. I thought about going forward since it looked like the trail continued on the other side, but then a car pulled in with a yapping little dog that jumped out and I thought it better to turn around. So we did. Again.

I'm sure all this didn't add to Gem's already sour mood. She was not enjoying herself at all.

When we got back to the road I looked at my watch and wanted to be out for a bit longer, so I made the left away from the road and onto the original green trail. Away we went again. Thats when things got fuzzy. We were doing ok. There were a lot of hills and with my saddle + girth being annoying I didn't want to trot down the hills, so we did a lot of walking. As we approached a stream I noticed a side trail to the left. We were past the time I wanted to turn around, but we had done some walking and a few stops to readjust tack (I used the new girth which is too small and kept fiddling with it which made for 3 or 4 stops along the way) and we were a quarter mile away from a new mile. I thought we would go down this side trail for 0.25 miles and once it rolled over we would turn around and trot the entire way back. So we headed down the trail and it became a very nice, steep uphill climb. Poor Gemmie was huffing and puffing by the time we reached the top.

We continued on a ways and then noticed a grassy open lane to the right parallel to the trail I was on. There was a small connector trail and I took this and we turned left down the grassy lane. I wanted to get some cantering in, but the lane ended fairly quickly onto a road. I decided it was a good time to get off and do some jogging on foot and so I hopped down and we turned back around down the lane. And went right past the small connector trail. We ended in a big field which I knew wasn't right, so I turned around again and headed back. But I couldn't find the connector trail at all. We paced back and forth a few times and I am sure Gem thought I had lost my mind. The hubs texted me a pic of him and W enjoying their hike and I responded that I was lost but ok.

Eventually I gave up on the connector trail and we just bush whacked to the main trail. I could have sworn I made a right onto the lane and so to go back we went left. And kept going. About 10 minutes later I wasn't recognizing anything and I began to become worried. Just then a huge group of 6 riders on sweaty and wild looking Arabs came behind us. I pulled over and let them pass. This is when I became aware of the fact that I am way too easy on Gem. She wasn't sweating at all. Granted we had been out for only about an hour at this point, but still she should have worked up something. These horses were drenched and while I wouldn't want to be that hard on her, she really isn't being asked enough. Thats my fault. I worry about over doing it to the point of under doing it. I need to be more aggressive with her training. She needs to sweat!

It was getting dark at this point and we had been out for an hour. I was growing increasingly alarmed at the fact that I didn't know where I was or where the trailer was and it was getting dark. I decided that this group must be heading back to the trailer since it was getting dark and that I would follow them. Wrong decision.

As I headed out in their direction, keeping a ways back so as not to annoy but close enough to see if they turned down a side trail, I kept wondering where we were going to end up. A little ways down I saw the lake. Not good. I wasn't supposed to be near the lake. The good news was that I now knew which trail I was on and how to get back. If I kept the gray trail markers to my left I would eventually make it back to the trailer.

I turned my confused horse around once more and we headed back. I then understood my mistake. Apparently I needed to turn left off the grassy lane and I would have been ok. Well, it being later than I wanted and getting dark I forced Gemmie into a quicker pace and made her keep it. We actually hit a 9.1 mph trot and sustained it until the next big downhill which I let her walk. Any flat section we picked it back up because I was getting nervous with the dark hitting.

We made it back to the trailer without any other incidents and with a total ride time of 1 hr 15 min. Longer than anticipated and we still landed at a 3.2 mph average pace :( But on the bright side that included many stops as I tried to figure out where on earth we were and to adjust tack.

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