Sunday was absolutely amazingly beautiful out. 65 and sunny without a cloud in the sky. It was a day made for the trails.
Nobody tells you how hard it is to make friends as an adult. Especially when you move a lot. We have always made friends and really enjoy hanging out with other people but since we moved down here we haven't found anyone. I got tired of always riding alone and so I made the brave move of posting on a couple facebook group pages that I wanted a friend. And got a few responses one of which invited me out to the trails on Sunday. I admit I was a bit nervous. I've been on both sides of the bad riding pair coin. Either Gem wants to go faster and the other person just wants to walk the entire thing or Gem is heaving heavily and can barely keep up with the speedy other horse. Neither are fun, but until you ride with someone you just don't know what their definition of fast or far is.
Part one of this story is going to focus on the positive. I am tired of being frustrated, so I will save the bad for tomorrow.
We planned to meet at the trail head at 10:30 Sunday morning and I thought ahead well enough to hook the trailer up Saturday afternoon to save time. We got to the barn at 9 am with plenty of time to get Gem, groom and load.
Fast forward to getting to the trail head and tacking up. We were a little late (part 2) but S was super nice about it and didn't mind. Gem was oddly subdued while I got her tacked up. We introduced ourselves and our horses and mounted up.
S lives close by and has been into endurance since 1991. She has done 100 mile rides with her previous horse and has a lot of experience. Her current mare is 11 and had some issues at the end of last season which she is working through and is hoping to get back on track for a successful ride season this year.
Her mare is very pretty. A dark bay purebred Arabian with spindly legs and a trot I could die for. She looks like she just floats down the trail. We started off down the hill into the woods and S asked if I could lead. Apparently her mare also thinks the entry bridge is the bridge of doom. I said sure and Gem actually strutted her stuff over the bridge without a problem. Go Gemmiecakes! We led for a little bit, but S's mare didn't really like the slogging pace that Gem picked up so they went out in front which I was fine with. I have been in the back for 4.5 years and Gem is happy to be back there. My only concern about being behind is sometimes Gem likes to run up the other horse's butt which the other horse tends to not like. But I needn't have worried. I think working with her out alone has helped her confidence a lot because she just hung back a nice distance and went along. It was perfect.
We ended up taking the red trail (because I was out front at a trail crossing and made a wrong turn - go figure!) which I have not done before. I think it is 9 miles. Unfortunately, while I remembered the Garmin I never reset it from before. When I glanced down at it about 30 minutes into the ride it said we had gone 7.25 miles. Um...no. But I know we ended the last ride at just over 5 miles and we ended this ride at just over 13 miles. Plus the Garmin drops distance in the woods. We did it in 2 hrs 20 minutes or so which was a nice pace. We trotted a good bit and even did some cantering, but I never felt the need to ask her to slow down. There were enough walk breaks to allow Gemmie to catch her breath.
Anyway...we walked along chatting it up about rides, work and life and S is just a super nice person. She has the best trail etiquette too. When she was out in front she always waited for us to get off the hill, out of the mud, over the rocks before trotting again. And while her mare is shod on all four feet, her last horse was barefoot on all 4 without boots and competed successfully for 8 years that way. She understands footing and was aware of the super rocky bits and walked them without a problem.
Gem was a super star. She never spooked, tried to turn around or acted up in the slightest. She was forward and seemed happy to have a trail partner. She got along well with S and her mare and I barely touched her mouth the entire ride. We led a little and Gem moved out nicely. She isn't the best at trotting up in front yet. She tends to go slow, look at everything and then speed up and slow down and speed up. Oh and she is very picky about her footing so if the person behind is too close she ends up cutting them off a lot as she zig zags to find the best footing. S's mare isn't so great at following. I think she is in the lead a lot and it didn't help that she moves out at a naturally faster pace than Gem does and I know how annoying it is to try to hold your horse back the entire time. We led through a particularly muddy area and Gem will bushwhack through the trees if she thinks the footing is better. I don't mind. Her job is to pick her footing, get down the trail and not kill me. But I think it is hard to be behind that.
We ended back at the trailers in good form and I know I had a smile plastered on my face. S's mare was covered in sweat and S made the comment that Gem was barely even damp. I have had Gem sweaty so I know she can sweat, but it takes a lot. Her mental game is the hardest part. At the thought of exertion she shuts down, but we are working through that. S rides in a Freeform treeless saddle and when I asked about it she let me jump on up and try it out. It was very cushy and comfortable, but I like my solid tree for stability.
All in all it was a fantastic ride. We meshed well for pacing and I never once felt rushed, too slow or nervous. Gem was pleasant and happy to have a friend. She has been to Biltmore and gave me some pointers on the ride. Maybe I can convince her to go in September. I know she is planning to do the 25 there in May. We have each other's numbers so hopefully we can meet up again and ride up there for more conditioning. It was one of the best rides I have had on Gem in a while and it was definitely great company.