December 16, 2014

River Valley Hunter Pace 11/14/14

The setting was spectacular: a brilliant blue sky without a cloud in sight, gorgeous rolling fields with early winter grass, picturesque farm houses with matching barns and wooden fence lines, faint mountains in the distance and temperatures starting in the 50s and rising to 68 by afternoon. A wonderful day to be out exploring new trails.

The start
The communities along the NC/SC border have put together semi private trail systems. Basically they are all neighboring farms who allow you to ride in their woods, along their fence lines, into their pastures and even sometimes use their cross country fields. The only rule is that you have to live on a property included in the system. Each owner has to right to close their section of trail due to footing conditions and some require that you walk only to preserve the footing or prevent rousing their own animals. Outsiders are not permitted to ride on the trails, so the only chance I get to ride on them is during a Pace and this one was held on the CETA trails in Columbus, NC.

Wyatt wanted to ride before I left

We pulled into a gorgeous large field surrounded by beautiful houses and happy looking horses. I registered in the Hunter division and tacked up to head out. The start began down the hill and went between a gap in a black fence line and into the woods.

I won't ruin such a beautiful day by belaboring how horrid Gem was behaving. It took me a solid 4 minutes to get her through the gap in the fence (something she has done countless times before without issue although granted not at this exact spot) and from there she just stayed spooky. I will skip over a lot of those details to instead spend time painting the picture of the area.

Once through the gate we headed through some woods and then popped out into a pasture that I would die for. The first half of the ride carried us along picture perfect fence lines, into pastures and along driveways. Some spots requested us to walk which we did and others were just screaming for a long gallop in the late morning sunshine.

Even on a bad day I love those black tipped ears
A perfect place for a canter
Who wouldn't want to live here?

The terrain was rolling hills and the footing was mostly excellent. There were some spots that were still mucky from the recent rains, but all in all the first half was just perfect for a romp. I did ask Gem to open up and canter on the longer grassy sections where there wasn't anything looming ahead to cause her to freak out. She was happy to oblige and we rolled along those pastures with a big grin on my face.
There were spots that drifted back into the trees that dotted the sides of the fields and we zig zagged our way along the trail thankful for the ability to be out and enjoying the day.

Another gorgeous farm
Matching house and barn
I found myself in a nice little pocket early on. I had passed a group that had left 3 minutes ahead of pretty quickly and either nobody had gone before them for a while or I was just going at the perfect pace to be spread out because I didn't seen anyone else for a long time. It was just me and my mare for the first hour and I felt neither rushed nor slowed.

Look how on alert those ears are. She was convinced things were hiding everywhere

We headed straight down this towards that trees at the back. I was dying for a gallop, but instead we trotted along

Look! She is actually noticing me!

We eventually made our way into a very large field behind a monstrous farm house and two people came up behind us. I knew we wouldn't ever be able to stay ahead, so I let Gem graze as they came up along the fence and into our field. They were both on older Arabs and asked Gem's breeding remarking how beautiful she was. I have her papers tucked away in our safe at home, but haven't looked a them for years. Perhaps I should. Anyway, I let them go on by and then asked Gem to move her butt. I was looking forward to the chance to school her on not racing to keep up with others. We were in a very large and safe pasture. I could circle her or turn her around or pretty much do anything with minimal risk which is rare when out on the narrow single track trails around home. She just watched them go and actually picked up a working trot, but stayed calm and didn't try to rush to catch up. Good mare!

On the other side of the pasture was the half way point where we caught back up to the two others and ate oreos and sipped lemonade. 3 minutes is a blink of the eye and soon we were back off.

The second half was mostly on the woods and the footing was still good, but Gem was not fond of it. Most of it was covered in about 6-8 inches of leaves and she had a really hard time judging rocks and roots. It would have helped had she been actually trotting and not just shuffling along (my biggest Gemmie pet peeve) but we managed just fine. The terrain got a lot steeper too with long, steep up hills and twisting down hills.

One thing I love about the Paces is that I never get lost. I think it is impossible. They use ribbons, but also large directional arrows on plastic boards at every turn. By about the 3rd or 4th mile Gem began to recognize the arrow signs and would turn as needed on her own. There were a lot of off shoot trails we ignored and after a while I tested her by not encouraging any turn, but she impressed me by turning correctly at each sign. Smart mare!
Second half was mostly woods
A little more relaxed

Super alert ears

Beautiful blue sky

It doesn't seem to matter what the distance is that I am going, be it 10, 5 or 50 miles, by about 2 miles out I get antsy for it to be done. I had forgotten my Garmin and didn't know these trails at all, so by the time we had been out about 1 hour and 20 minutes or so I started to get ready to be done. I knew we had to be close, but we just kept winding our way through the trees. The ground was so covered with leaves that I couldn't see the trail and just had to go ribbon to ribbon.

Eventually we popped out of the woods and at the back of the parking lot field. We had to go along the entire field hugging the tree to end where we began. Gem had no interest and just kept trying to dodge back to her trailer. The photographer was a the finish and I tried to smile and get a good picture, but by that point I was fighting Gem to just go straight and had had enough.

We finished and met Dusty and Wyatt for a pasta/salad/lemonade lunch.
Pasta lunch in the bed of the truck

Wyatt and Dusty had enjoyed the time out hiking the trails and playing in the trailer/truck. I am so glad they get to come so I don't miss out too much on my time with Wyatt. These Paces will be a great way to introduce Wyatt to trail riding and endurance some day.

Gemmie was sweaty but not nearly as much as she probably should have been had we moved out on the trail like the others. She propped her back leg and rested while we ate.

She stood with her tail in the air the entire time at the trailer. It made me think she was in heat and that was why she was being extra spooky on trail. I always brush her out fully, pick her hooves and go over each leg prior to loading at the barn to make sure there is nothing off. She wasn't in pain and was moving fine. With her tail being raised and all the horses around us, I am ok with blaming it on her being in heat this time.

After I ate I offered her some water, which she refused, then sloshed it over her back to rub out the little sweat she had. I then made up her lunch with her vitamins and after she munch about half of it, I created her first ever mash out of the rest. I was worried she wouldn't eat it and wanted her to get some food before I ruined the rest.

Well, I needn't have worried because she gulped that mash down!! Phew! One less endurance worry off my list.

A mash covered nose

My new favorite Gem picture!

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