It is early fall in the South. The mornings are chilly and make me wish for a hoodie, but I know that by mid morning the sun and humidity will climb making me shed it quickly. It is Sunday morning and while all I want to do is stay home and play with my son, I instead get around for a long ride in the woods on my favorite (and only) mare. I remember to grab the camelbak and place a granola bar and bottle of Gatorade in it for on the trail. I then fill a plastic bag with pop tarts, pepsi, a PB&J sandwich and bottle of tea for the road. Annoyingly, the Garmin is dead because I forgot to turn it off after the last ride, but luckily the hubby has one too. Unfortunately that one is only at 50%, but I grab it anyway hoping it will last most of the ride.
Feeling nostalgic for my old stomping grounds, I point the truck an hour away to Clemson. The morning is humid with low hanging clouds and I tack up looking forward to an afternoon of fun. Gem is in a good mood and seems all business like today. Maybe the debacle that was the last trail ride finally made her job sink in a bit. She trots off down the trail with very little energy sucking crap being pulled although she still throws in her typical spook at fallen trees and downed logs for no reason.
We first hit the 6.5 mile green loop and wind through single track hilly woods. The first part is relatively flat for the area and when we pop out onto a meadow path she is feeling good and I ask for a canter. She picks up a lovely smooth canter and off we go down the lane and back into the woods. I find us quickly entering the section of trail the winds along the lake and I am tempted to point her nose into the lake itself through the horse beach. She is a little sweaty with her new winter coat coming in, but I know we have 16 more miles to go today, so I point her away from it and we begin the section that is constant up or down.
The miles fly by as we climb and descend and she is doing super well. Eventually we pop out of the single track and onto a long uphill on a gravel access road. I am a little disappointed to see her walking more gingerly on gravel than ever before, so I hop off and hand walk her up the hill. She seems to really appreciate it and shuffles along behind me snatching at blades of grass as we go.
Before long we hit the crossroad of green and red and make a sharp right on the 9 mile red trail cutting off about a half a mile of the green. Gem is a little confused as to why we turned instead of going back to the trailer, but she carries on as asked. Red is a lot more climbing but also has more areas of double lane gravel roads. When the footing allows, I ask her to canter and we fly down the lanes enjoying the breeze. When it gets too rough or very steep, I get off to give her a break.
Around mile 8 she finds herself a big patch of grass at the foot of a very steep incline and stops to shovel grass in as fast as possible I get off and let her graze for a full 10 minutes before we start the climb. I am not sure if she is starving, stalling for time, or just learned from the last outing that she needs to eat, but I am super happy that she is filling her guts. She historically is a very poor eater and this is my primary concern for longer rides.
Eventually we make our way up and I get back on. At mile 11 my watch dies and so does my horse. She hits her mental wall and shuts down. I remember a comment Karen made on my post about the last long ride. She mentioned how important it is to stay actively engaged in the ride. I pull out my granola bar, chug half my Gatorade and begin singing (very poorly) as we go down the trail. When Gem picks it back up and we scoot between the trees on the winding single track I stick my arms out like an airplane and go "VROOOOM!" Gem cocks and ear back, but I think she picks up on my enthusiasm and she gets through her wall a lot better and quicker than before. Thanks Karen!!!
We come across one last section of grass which she only picks at this time and I know we are nearing the end of the red. At the red and green crossroads, we turn left away from camp and back out to do green backwards. Red is 9 miles and we cut off about a mile of it on either end.
She is not happy with this new turn, but about a half a mile down the trail she realizes where we are and really picks it back up. We sail through these 6 miles and end up cantering back down the trail towards home.
We finish the 20 miles of very steep and long climbs and descents, a lot of trotting and some cantering in just over 4 hours which for us is doing pretty darn good. I am feeling good thanks to the midway snack and the beverage and Gem seems not too worse for the miles. I get the tack off her, note that she is sweaty but not too bad, palpate her back and find no sore spots and then go hose her off. Even after all the work and the humidity in the woods as well as cantering into camp, she is not hot at all and the water runs off her cold.
Afterward, I make her hand jog back to the trailer to practice a vet in. She gets a big bucket of grain mixed with her vitamin powder and scarfs it all down quickly. I stash her stuff back in the trailer, give the stink eye to the person who felt it necessary to park their trailer on top of mine in an otherwise completely empty parking lot, then put her up and head out. I manage to spook their horses in the process but don't really care since the one horse had its butt resting on my truck. Seriously people. Park somewhere else.
When we get back to the barn, she is sleepy looking but manages to canter off up the back hill of her pasture to meet up with her girls. She looked great and definitely made me proud.