Gem has found herself in a nice little vacation since the 50. I don't know why but I have been in a major riding slump since then. We have played around a little at the farm, but the trailer hasn't moved an inch. The mere thought of putting forth the effort to ride has had me curled up on the couch in a blanket with Once Upon A Time streaming on Nextflix. I don't think Gem has minded all that much.
My favorite trails were hosting a hunter pace on Sunday and I was determined to go. Sunday morning brought along the as of late typical resistance to all things horse related, but as it turns out the lure of the trails beats out a day hanging with a cranky hubby and so I headed out around 9 am. The event was from 9-2 with lunch from 11-2 and for $35 you can't beat it.
One of my main reasons for wanting to hit the paces this winter is work on Gem's race brain. She is horrible at the start of an endurance ride and it takes about 10 miles before she settles in and gets her senses back. I thought these paces would allow for me to have a less competitive arena to get her used to it.
I managed to tack up and head over to the start line behind a big group of people. It was perfect timing. The local pace sends groups of riders (designated as those you claim as your teammates as registration) out every 3 minutes, so I knew we would be standing around in a group of riders for a while. We had 3 groups ahead and 2 behind us. Perfect!
I was prepared for a tantrum once the others set out, but she just stood there eating grass. We inched up in line until we were at the front and she calmly watched the group of 2 riders go ahead. The start was along the bottom of the parking lot field and was a mandatory walk until you wound up and out to the road. Probably a quarter of a mile and right past the trailers, people and other horses. A perfect distraction.
We got let out and she walked. Slowly. In fact I had to urge her to keep moving at more than a snails pace. Huh. There goes working on race brain.
Once we hit the road I asked her to trot and saw the group ahead of us stop at the road crossing that leads into the woods. The pace was amazing with volunteers and stationed them at each road crossing along the way. Once we hit the woods, it was evident that I would be keeping a faster pace than those ahead, so I asked to pass and braced myself for a tantrum from my crazy horse. At the last ride she refused to pass those ahead once she caught up to them and this was yet another great instance to work on something.
Except the mare just passed without a fuss and settled into the trail. Huh.
We quickly came across another group of riders and passed them as well. In fact the only thing that bothered Gem all day were the plethora of limbs, downed trees and branches. I think the month off took us 3 steps back mentally as she spooked at everything in the woods. You would think she hasn't been ridden outside of an arena ever. I learned a long time ago that ignoring her was best and I just urged her forward each time as we ping ponged our way down the trail.
We came out of the woods and along the first field. I planned on asking her to canter through here to help put some space between us and those right behind us. I very much dislike playing leap frog down the trail and those we had passed were keeping up pretty well. She picked up a lovely canter and we laid some tracks until the jumps came into view. The local pace allows for anyone in either division (hunter which I sign up for or trail rider) to either take or avoid the jumps. I planned on avoiding them and Gem most certainly agreed as she came to a screeching halt and gave them the hairy eyeball. I used to spend the winters jumping the mare and she never really enjoyed it much but tolerated it as long as the standards were painted. Bare wood scares her, but brightly colored and flowery jumps were never an issue. Silly mare.
The others caught up again and we re-entered the woods. I was doing my best to keep a good distance, but knew the trail well enough to know when I needed to let her walk over the leaf strewn, root laden trail. I asked if they wanted to pass but they declined and stayed behind. At one point we came to a creek crossing and I asked them if they wanted me to stop for them to let their horses drink. I didn't want to charge off, but they said it was fine and off I went. I didn't see them the rest of the day.
On we went and poor Gem. Having seen what she is capable of, I wasn't in the mood to let her pretend to be tired. We could easily do the 10 mile course (or so I figured given the trail we were on and I ended up being right. The pace doesn't tell you the distance in advance.) at the pace I wanted given her effort on a much steeper trail a month before. She wasn't so happy with me, but eventually caved in and moved out. It was pretty warm out and I regretted my choice of a fleece shirt. I paid close attention to how she was breathing due to her thick winter coat and let her walk when I thought she honestly needed it.
We came out into the mandatory hold with a very well marked sign that pointed the way and said you must walk to and from the hold. There was a car parked by it, but all you had to do was wander around it and the trail was basically unmistakable. We wandered down the lane to a point by the beach and I regretted not figuring out how to bring my phone along. My new tights have no pockets, but the lake was gorgeous and would have been worth carrying it. Heck, I never even touched the bit and could have ridden her no hands the entire time she was behaving so well. I stopped and decided against taking the offered Port and drank water instead and before long the 3 minutes were up.
As we made the long walk back we saw the group we had passed coming towards us, a male/female team on two gorgeous and monstrous warm bloods and then just as we passed the sign that pointed down the lane a solo rider on a big grey percheron came into view. The trail picked back up along a gravel access road that I knew very well and Gem and I made our way along knowing there was a lot of time between us and those behind us since it had taken roughly 3 minutes to walk down, 3 at the hold and 3 to come back.
As we neared the end the lady on the big percheron asked to pass. I was confused. She was just starting the walk down to the hold when I came out and there were 2 other groups ahead of her. There was no way she should have been passing us at this point. I pulled over and let her pass just as we entered the woods and I wanted to trot, but I thought it would be rude to say no and charge off not knowing the pace she was keeping.
She slowed to a walk (sigh) and then asked if I knew where the end came out. I told her what I thought it would be given the location. As we went I slyly asked if she had taken the port or the water at the hold. She said she wasn't offered anything. I asked if she saw the lady and man there and she shrugged me off saying it was too confusing and she just stopped at the sign for 30 seconds and then came down the lane. Ah. There it was. I nicely mentioned that she had needed to follow the big arrow pointing down the lane, stop for 3 minutes while they timed her, then head back out. They take your number there and everything so they know if you don't go by. Anyway, it isn't about passing people. Cheating that way won't help you since the winner is the one closest to optimal time which included the walk down, the hold and walk back. But whatever. To each their own.
As she kept walking, I asked to pass and off we went again.
I knew right where we were and knew we had roughly 2 miles to camp. Looking at my Garmin I was surprised at how long we had been out already. I ride there enough to know exactly how much distance it drops, so I was prepared to see only 6 miles when it should have said 8, but was not prepared to see it say we were out over 1 1/2 hours already. We had kept a very good pace up (or so I had thought) and this was annoying. I vowed that we would not go over 2 hours and so when we reached the mile marker and I saw we were at 1 hr 42 minutes, I kicked it up.
The only real people encounter I had all day was at the last road crossing. Gem knew exactly where she was and wanted to get home. We came around a blind curve to the road and two volunteers were there. The one had stationed her bright red camping chair, food containers and beer can at the trail head. On the other side of the trail was a big drainage ditch and then there was the busy road. Gem took one look at the chair and freaked. She refused to go pass and really to her credit it looked scary, was in the wrong place and gave only maybe a foot of space on trail between it and the ditch.
I'm not one to get off Gem much to lead her past crap, but a quick risk:benefit analysis showed it wasn't worth the fight. We would either end up in the ditch or hit by a car. I jumped off and the volunteer made a snide remark:
"When you are young you can afford to get off and on, but when older you use a stick. No horse of mine refuses things"
"Well, it isn't worth the risk with the road right here and she has done a lot for me. It isn't worth it"
"Just wait until there is a river around and then you'll get wet jumping off. What will you do then?"
"Hope someone isn't stupid enough to leave a scary chair with barely enough room around it right by a ditch and a busy road. But who would do that?"
And off we trotted back to camp.
I looked down at my watch and was happy to be approaching the finish line before 2 hours, but still confused as to how it took so long. Once across we were told it was 1 hour 23 minutes. Huh???
I looked at the real time for the first time and verified it. I have no clue what my watch was doing. That's the first time the time has been off. I had cleared it right before hitting start and everything and I know I hit start right as we got counted down and let go.
Anyway...we stuck around for lunch, talked to some old friends we made when first in town and enjoyed the afternoon. My riding funk has come to an official stop. While I am thrilled Gem behaved so well, I am curious as to if the 50 miles finally got it into her head to not rush the start or if she just knew it wasn't endurance. Will have to wait until our next outing to find out!