Not intentionally and not in any sanctioned or competitive event. It just turned out that way and man was it a ton of fun!!
To start at the end: Gemmiecakes was an absolute power house and I am so proud of her. She not only brought it physically, but mentally she grew up a lot on this ride too.
Back to the beginning....
It's Saturday morning and the day is starting off cold and brisk, but there isn't time to focus on that. 20 miles are on the docket for the day. To make my butt move even faster, after a convoluted series of events, I have a plan to meet up with some friends at a new-to-me trail system about an hour and a half away. I need to get moving!
The night before I had scoured the internet to find some sort of directions to the trail head. Along the way I noticed that the official website had said something about a 25 mile loop, but discounted it since those I was joining had trained here many a time and were very experienced endurance folks. If they say it is 20, then I believe them.
I am the first to arrive and head over to pay my entrance fee to the park. I pick up a map and note that it says it is a 26.7 mile loop. Huh...thats strange. Every time I hear about this loop it keeps getting longer and longer.
The other two arrive and much to my chagrin he brings along his top endurance mount who is heading to his 4th 100 attempt at the end of the month. I've never me this gelding before, but have heard lots of stories about this 2000 mile horse. Mainly that he is fast! Better hold onto your britches Gemmie!! It's gonna be one heck of a ride :)
We mount up and head off to see what this day will bring.
The gelding/husband start off in the lead and his wife asks me to keep him honest on pace. He forgets that not every horse can move like that!! We head off and pick up a solid pace right from the start. Gem follows like she always does - keeping pace, but also keeping about a horse or horse and a half length behind. I smile as she settles in remembering how it took me about 20 miles of our first LD together to get her off the butt in front of us. This is one trait I am very, very glad she has learned.
The trail proves to be my absolute favorite and is just heaven to ride. Single track through the woods with so many twists and turns you can't possibly know which direction you are facing at any given point. It is a good thing that it is just one gigantic loop. As we move out with the boys picking a fast, but steady pace Gem starts to choose to canter to keep up. Once the pace moves much beyond 10mph, Gem almost always prefers to canter and I let her. So long as she stays balanced and steady I'm game.
The trail makes for perfect training in adaptability and listening. She is going great on a loose rein, but I maintain some level of contact throughout to balance her in the turns. I've been meaning to train her to do flying lead changes and this ride reminds me of why. As we sail over the trail, I pull her back into a trot when she isn't on the proper lead to canter the turns. She respond quickly and remains light in the bridle and drops back to a trot readily. I ask her to stay in the trot when the turns start coming faster than I can keep track of.
Eventually, and right about the time I start to think this was a very bad idea indeed and that my mare is going to die out here, the wife calls it quits and forces her way in the lead. We had gone about 3 miles covering it at a steady 12 mph pace. The wife gets the lead on her absolutely gorgeous grey mare and settle into a more sustainable (for us anyway!) 7-8 mph pace. Her mare is fairly green and the start and stop as she spooks early on in the ride gives us time to regroup.
She leads for a good chunk and then we come up on a road. They ask Gem to take her turn at leading and at first she completely freezes. I ask her to go forward down the trail and she attempts to turn and run. I ask again. She refuses again. I apologize but they are super nice about it and don't mind at all. I love riding with them!!!
Eventually she realizes it is in fact her turn to lead and off she goes. We settle into a more sedate 5 mph pace with a bunch of spooks, but we move forward. I apologize for the slow pace, but being as awesome as they are they say that they don't mind at all and that it is a nice enough pace. We hang onto the lead for a while and then she finally has had enough and I let her pull over to be passed.
We settle back in and I laugh at Gem. She blew her chance to breathe as the gelding takes the lead once more and off we go again!! I tell her that she better learn to lead next time or she will have her legs worn off :)
As we are moving along I keep an eye on my GPS. I know my Garmin extremely well and it drops 1 mile every 5 in the woods. This is the most twisty trail I have ever used it on (seriously, in the first 10 miles we didn't take more than 5 strides going straight at one time) and so I figure it has to be dropping even more. At the most we should pull back in at 16 miles, but I figure it will be more like 14.
We get to a certain spot on the trail and the husband yells out "We are half way done!" I look at my watch. It reads 10 miles. Ummm...??? I ask how they figure this is a 20 mile loop and mention how online it said it was 25 and the map says 26.7 They respond that each time they have ridden it, the GPS always reads 20 miles. I cock my head to the side and ask if they have ever wheeled it. Nope. Oh. I thought everyone understood that GPS watches are never, ever, ever accurate unless maybe you are on a straight line in the open without any trees at all. Even then I would question the accuracy. On a heavily wooded, super twisting trail with elevation? You are lucky if it only drops 1 out of every 5 miles.
But that doesn't matter now. We are in this thing until the end which is now seeming way more likely to be 25 or more miles. Gemmie was in for it!
We move back along and eventually we get to a very long and steep paved uphill road. They absolutely take off! I mean full on gallop racing up the hill. I panic a little. This is pavement and their horses are shod. Mine is bare and I wouldn't even ask her to slowly jog up this thing let only full on gallop up it. I try to hold her back, but know it is a slightly losing battle as the other two carry on up ahead of us. Fortunately, she is either tired enough to not be really into it or finally decided to listen because she at least maintains a controlled canter after them. Unfortuantely, this is the time I note my saddle is very loose and begin to very much fear an annoyed Gemmie buck because that pavement looks awfully hard.
We make it to the top and they stop to allow me to fix my tack and then we settle into a nice pace once again.
Eventually, and I can't remember the mile marker but I think it was around mile 16 on my watch, Gemmie takes the lead again. This time she is absolutely amazing!! She picks up a wonderful 9 mph trot and just floats along the trail with ears pricked forward. It is the first time, ever, that I have seen her do this and it makes my heart absolutely sing!!!
We maintain it for about 2 or 3 miles before we come to a wide lane and we all carry on down it at a canter side by side. When we tuck back into the trails once more, Gem finds herself in the back.
The last 2 miles Gem really starts to drag a bit and I'm egging her on more than before. The husband worries her feet are sore given that she is barefoot and if they are I blame that darn gallop up the paved road. I don't feel her being off though and think it is more her being tired from keeping up one heck of a pace over extremely technical and challenging terrain. About 1 mile to go she pulls over and has to pee. Ah!! The mare really doesn't like to have to pee under saddle.
We finish with 3 tired horses, well 2 tired mares and 1 gelding who looked like he could go for about 4 more trips around that course. Gem looked amazing at the end of it too. Her heart rate was already down and we trotted off that trail and she dug into her wet mash like it wasn't anyone's business. We stood around chatting letting them all graze on the winter fescue and I look at my watch one last time. 19 miles. Theirs read 20.02. Yeah, that loop is waaaay over 20 miles.
Basically, Gemmie and I did an LD without any stops and what was our time? 3 hours. She was a rock star!!!
If that doesn't help prepare for our next outing, I don't know what will. I'm glad to have ridden it with them to really push the envelope with Gem and knowing that the trails at Pow Wow are pretty easy compared to these, I think we should be able to do just fine.
Bring it on!!