Another raging hot day. I am up at 5 am and out of the barn drive by 645 to beat some of the heat. It is an hour north to the ride site and promises to be a fun day.
The drive is uneventful and I am the first one to arrive. As I register for the Hunter Division, Dusty and Wyatt arrive as well. Depending on how the trail rides and the weather, I plan to go out for the first loop then eat lunch and potentially head back out a second time.
I get my number and tack up noticing that the entire lot is a big open field in the sun. I head off to start as the trail opens and for the first time ever we are first out on trail.
The trail starts up a steep incline in the woods. We are in the shade of some old forest growth and the morning is perfect. It is already 80 degrees out, but the sun is hidden and there is a slight breeze. I push Gem to make good time while we can and we head off up the hill and deeper in the woods.
The trail zig zags through the trees and we are both on our toes looking for the pink ribbons on the right that marks the way. This is all on a privately owned 200 acre farm, so the offshoot trails have been cut off with tape. While it would be hard to get lost, it would be easy to miss a turn and end up in the middle of the trees.
|Sorry for the blurry picture. The trail heading away from camp.|
|Lots of climbs which was great and made the mare work for it|
Gem is being pretty good. When she starts to ping pong down the trail I urge her forward. If she has enough energy/time to be an idiot, then her feet aren't moving fast enough. She responds well and settles in.
Less than a mile later we come across her worst nightmare. Gem hates all things bare wood: a stick, a stump, a log, bare jump standards. If it isn't a standing tree or bush, she hates it. At least it is predictable although annoying. We pop out of the woods and run behind the equipment shed for the farm. We enter her tunnel of doom:
The trail then pops us out along the cross country course. It is beautiful. We follow the mowed path in the long grass and Gem locks onto a jump. I inform her that I have no intentions of jumping it and we skirt on by.
|Gem looks at the jumps making sure I haven't lost my mind|
|A ditch to a cross rail.|
|A cute little house|
We make our way around and between the jumps and the shade is still overhead. The morning is warming up, but as long as we stay in the shade it isn't bad at all.
The trail then dives back into the woods and begins a long descent. We cross the first of 6 creeks and Gem balks. I know she is just being a brat, so I urge her forward and over we go. The bug down by the creek are horrendous. I want to move along faster to avoid them, but the footing isn't so good down here. I now know where all those sticks came from up behind the equipment shed. It looks like they recently bush hogged this for the ride. Thankfully they spray painted all the left over stumps bright white so it is easy to avoid them. The trail is rutted and full of left over sticks and logs that we pick our way around.
|Spray painted stumps|
We cross the creek a few more times and Gem ignores my offer to drink. She typically will not drink until 10 or so miles, but it is nice to offer it when possible. She is drenched in sweat but moving fine and we continue to be in the shade and moving out.
|Lots of hills to climb|
I can't hear anyone else behind me and there isn't a road in sight. I feel like we are in the middle of nowhere. As we continue along the woods by the creek I see a strange sight between the trees.
|Random outdoor arena. We were 2 or 2.5 miles into the ride at this point without any roads to be seen. I'm not sure how they typically get to the arena.|
We meander around the outer edge of the arena and then head back to cross the creek two more times. After that we get to a large hill that looks recently logged. It is a steep ascent in the sunshine, but we make it up without an issue. At the top I am rewarded with a gorgeous view. Two Broad Wing hawks are soaring up above and it is just breathless.
|Looking around as we make our way up the hill|
|More up in the sunshine|
By the time we get to the top Gem is pretty wet and hot. I let her walk down the other side since it is still in the full sun and then we dive back into the woods for the last time.
|About 3 miles in. This is the last of the shade for the day|
From here we get back to the cross country course and I begin to worry about the heat and sun. In fact, I wish they would have ran the course backwards with the sunny part earlier and giving shade towards the end. I'm sure they had their reasons though.
The trail weaves along the cross country course up and down the hills to add miles. At mile 4 I receive the text from Dusty and at this point I have no idea where on the trail or what caused it. We are in the full blown sun with no breeze. I decide to only get Gem moving when it is either down hill, shady or there is a breeze. If none of those things, we walk.
I know there are different opinions about how to handle sun versus shade. Some like to push hard through the sun and dawdle in the shade to recover. I prefer the opposite. Knowing how I react, it is much harder on my body to go fast in the sun and I would rather ease up and push hard through the shade. That's how I chose to ride Gem and it worked out fine for us.
|Beginning the cross country section|
|You can just make out the white poles marking the trail through here. As we went along one stretch you could see the next section running almost parallel as we switch backed through the course.|
|In cooler weather this would have been a blast to canter or gallop through|
|We are on one section and that is the next one we would get to eventually. it was a little torturous to weave along like this|
I decide to just keep going and then my phone dies so no more pictures. Eventually we skirt the woods along the start and I spy Dusty holding up an IV bag of fluids next to a chestnut horse who is flat on her side and not moving. I hurry along to the finish.
We finish in decent time: somewhere around 1 1/2 hours or so. The first 4 miles flew by at a great clip, but we lost a lot of time in the second half. Gem is dripping, but breathing fine. I hurry past the in timers and they say Wyatt is doing just fine.
I untack and sponge Gem to death, make up the second half of her soupy mash (I gave her the first half for breakfast) and then go find Wyatt. He was having a blast playing in the hose, mud and some legos he commandeered. Everyone loves him.
I'm now slightly paranoid about leaving Gem ties and out of sight since she got loose at Clemson, so I drag Wyatt back to the trailer to play with the water buckets and we await Dusty. Not long after he comes and tells me the story of the horse.
We walk back up for lunch and I drag Gem along with me. She is cooled out and happy, but I worry. Too much probably. They let me put her in a stall next to registration and we eat lunch talking with everyone and then head on home not waiting for the year end awards. I felt bad, but Dusty had already had a crappy morning and we were all a little heat fatigued. I wanted to get Gem back to her pasture.
I think in the future I need to dig my heart rate monitor out for these hot rides. I'm sure I am being overly conservative, but man it gets hot out and I just don't want to kill my horse. Having the monitor would at least let me see her recovery times. I need to figure out where I put it.