Bound and determined to do the entire 6.5 mile loop at Butch Kennedy, I dragged the family out at 11 am Wednesday morning. The morning was overcast and slightly chilly, but warm enough that W could go for a hike in the pack while I rode.
Being New Year's Day and not everyone going to bed at 9:30 pm like I did the night before, I figured the trails would be empty. We got a slow start due to breakfast for the horses being later than usual (they were just being fed when we pulled up at 11 am) but we got hooked up, groomed out and packed up in short order and headed out making the trail head around 11:45. And this is what I saw:
A jam packed parking lot. I have never seen it so busy before!! There were horses and riders everywhere. There were quite a few Arabians being tacked up in what appeared to be endurance gear and one even had a fading number painted on his rear end. If I was more social I could have introduced myself and seen if I could join them, but I'm not so we ended up going out alone. Some day I will meet the local endurance riders, but not just yet.
A group of 5 Arabians and their riders headed down to the trail head right in front of me and once over the bridge of doom I heard "Are you ready" and off they all went. Off Gem and I went at a much more sedate pace up the initial trail. It was pretty muddy and sloppy and I worried the entire trip would be slow going again, but it quickly dried out and the entire trail was mostly dry with some sloppy wet spots.
I had two goals: make the entire loop and don't get lost. I succeeded in both although the second one was sketchy a couple of times.
The first 2 miles was old hat for us and we picked our way along walking the bad places and trotting the rest. Gem was doing very well, the saddle was looking good and I was sitting fairly comfortably. We pulled over a few times to allow larger groups to pass us and made our way along. The trail is set up so that the markers are on your right. I have never been able to figure out how to get on the trail to do this and so I start at the end with the markers on my left. It works out nicely though because I always pull off the trail for others to pass and this way I see them coming at me.
Once we got to the dirt access trail which had been the farthest point in the past, I pointed Gem down the trail and she started to pay attention. She knew the old sections, but this was new and she started to have an interest in her surroundings. I tried to keep her to the side in the leaves and dirt, but the mare likes to go down the middle of the trail. I'm beginning to debate internally about her remaining barefoot or not. More on that some other day.
We cruised on up the hill and then went on back into the woods on single track again.
Some spots were so covered in leaves I could barely see the trail. Gem has no clue what a trail is either so it makes it interesting. She will just keep plodding along and doesn't care if it is bush whacking or on a trail or not. At one point I dropped the reins to grab some pictures and she just walked on up a big hill through the bushes and off the trail without a care in the world. Silly girl.
Some spots were pretty rough with mud and there were a lot of super steep sections. Steep enough she had to tuck her rear end and slide down. And guess what? That amazingly wonderful saddle never budged an inch. At about mile 3 I gave up watching the saddle and relaxed into the ride and it felt great to not worry so much about my tack.
We passed a couple more groups and kept making our way along the trail. We hit another road I got off to jog a bit. And by a bit I mean about 0.25 miles. But hey, it is something. I did notice that the EZ ride stirrups don't stay run up my leathers at all, so when I jog with her they swing around. I need to come up with a solution for that.
We actually picked up a 9 mph trot and maintained it going down the access road for quite a ways. I was just beginning to think about asking her to canter a little when I noticed a marker going off on a single track through the woods at a sharp 90 degree turn to my right. We made the turn and back to the tight, twisty turns we went.
The second half of the trail wound around by the lake. It was really pretty and when the trees broke up a little there was a nice view of the mountains in the distance. Gem wasn't in the mood to stop though and so I got what pictures I could. After spending all this time teaching her to go, I don't want to fight over making her stop for nothing. She was great about getting off the trail and standing quietly when others passed us and she trotted when asked so I wasn't going to fight over pictures.
There was one section of trail that made me nervous. It was single track, muddy, and steep with added logs, stones and a creek crossing. We picked our way down carefully and I realized that I had been feeling very secure in the saddle at that point. I hadn't been paying that much attention to it and the thought that I was secure made me happy.
At the bottom of that steep section was another bridge of doom:
It crossed over a small creek and then back up the hill we went. I was a little worried, but Gem plodding over it without much comment.
More single track through the woods and then we popped out into a big field.
There was a little road to cross and then a trail heading to the left which I followed. I didn't see any trail markers, but it was the only option, so we went on down. I asked for a trot which she gave me and we headed on down the road. We passed another couple riding and I figured we were doing ok.
But then I saw this:
Yes, that is a trail marker (the green and orange triangle) on the same sign post as a "No Trespassing" sign. Hmmmm....so do i go down because it is marked or do I turn around because it says not to trespass? Who's bright idea was it to do this? We stopped by it and I contemplated it for a bit. To add to the problem there was a house (a scary looking, run down shack really) up ahead past the sign. It looked like I would be riding down someone's driveway. I decided to go forward since I hadn't seen any other options and shortly after a trail snuck off to the left and into the woods again and had my trail marker. Phew!
On and on we went. I don't know if Gem got tired, bored or just mentally had had enough but with 2 miles left to go she got spooky on me. She started to shy at fallen trees, big rocks and rustling leaves which she hadn't done the last 4 miles. She had a lot of energy still, so maybe she was just tired of the slow pace. I don't know. It made for a more annoying last 2 miles though.
After I saw the 1 mile marker (remember, I went backwards, so it was counting down for me) we popped back out onto another road. But this time there were no trail markers or anything. I had 3 choices: straight, right or left. And nothing to give me any clue as to which was to go. I decided to go straight and eventually saw a small trail to the left of the paved road.
I followed this until I saw the backside of the arena that sits next to the parking lot and then we popped back on the backside of the lot.
So now I knew how to go the correct direction on the trail. I may still go my way though. It is nice to see people coming at you, but then again I don't want to be the one person breaking the directional flow.
Back at the trailer I untacked and noticed a few things.
1.) Even after 6.5 hilly miles Gem still did not break a sweat. Yes it was chilly out, but the other horses were sweaty and she didn't have a drop. Hmmm...
2.) Her fur was completely flat under the tack. Not a single ruffled hair. I emailed K to see if she thinks we even need to make fitting changes at all after this ride and will see what she says.
3.) My knee didn't rub at all and I wasn't sore. My butt was a little sore from the hard seat, but a sheepskin cover will fix that nicely.