Pace season has officially started and I am super excited! Sunday's pace was only 45 minutes away up near the SC/NC border and while the sky hung low with grey clouds threatening rain, the ride was confirmed and I loaded Pete up at 6:45 am to hit the road with Dusty and Wyatt in the van behind me.
Parking was in a small slice of grass squished between the highway and a country road with everyone instructed to pull as close as possible. I was really glad I had forced my eyes open so early as it let me snag a safe spot. As the day would progress people were being crammed into some areas I would not have wanted to park.
Registration was a long walk through the parking field, some trees, and behind a barn so I decided to just leave Pete on the trailer. He hadn't been off property in about a year and the risk was too high.
|Everyone parked facing the country road with the highway at my back.|
Once back at the trailer, now sporting my #6 bib, Wyatt asked me to play with him. I turned to Dusty who just smiled and said to go ahead, he would tack up Pete. Want to feel like a Queen? Have someone completely prepare your horse for you! The three us then hand walked Pete to the start as my stomach started doing Olympic quality flips.
You see, I had never ridden Pete off property before and my past experiences were all of Dusty having to fight pretty hard to control him as Pete tried to full on gallop away. Not in a mean manner, but in perfect joy of being out and exploring the world. Plus Pete hates anyone being in front of him, a trait only solidified by Gem's hatred of leading. I didn't know what all to expect out of him Sunday morning.
We arrived at the start behind two other groups and I waited patiently to mount up when it was nearing our turn to go. As the last group in front of us disappeared around a bend, I clambered up and waved goodbye to Dusty and Wyatt.
At 9:25am we got the green light to start and I asked Pete to walk off. He surprised me by listening and we walked into the woods. This section of trees lasted only 100 ft or so and then dumped us out onto the shoulder of the road. As we neared the road crossing, we passed the group that started before us.
The trail crossed the road and then entered a private, grass race track. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised since the road we came in on was named Race Track Road, but here I found myself on a beautiful race track and as I asked Pete to pick up a trot my face split into a grin so big it hurt.
As we made the turn, I could just feel the hooves of racehorses pounding the ground and for a split second I was tempted to urge Pete into a gallop. I held myself in check though knowing how out of shape he was and that we had a lot of ground yet to cover. While the rest of the ride was gorgeous and well marked, this would end up being my favorite part of the day.
We trotted down the other straightway to mid point and then veered through an opening in the fence line to make our way along the edges of fields and between little islands of trees for the rest of that mile and the beginning of the next.
About 2 miles in Pete started to get pretty cranky with my picture taking. He doesn't like to stand still and he really didn't understand why I kept asking him to stop randomly. If he could have given me the middle finger at this point, he most certainly would have.
He moved out at a wonderful 8-9 mph pace through the first couple of miles while we careened around the green fields. Around mile 2 we hit the woods and someone had laid down fresh gravel to protect the trail. Pete is barefoot and while he has never had super rock crunching feet, he is worse now that he hasn't had to use them at all and his soles have lost their concavity. I noticed right away that he was not happy on the gravel trail and decided to let him walk in the woods and trot on the grassy fields for the rest of the ride.
As we slowed down on the firmer ground, a group of three ladies came up and asked to pass. I pulled over into the trees and Pete stood like a gentleman as they went ahead. Once back on the trail he decided his feet didn't hurt so badly after all and attempted to catch up, but I told him that I had no intentions of playing leap frog all day and that he would have to walk.
A little ways later the group was at a stand still at a creek crossing. Two of the members had crossed over leaving the third behind and her horse was having none of it. To be fair, the crossing was a bit tricky. There was a small step over a wooden board down into the creek and then a steep uphill out of it. The creek was very narrow itself and the horse was attempting to leap over. We waited patiently as she tried time and again and then eventually dismounted to walk the horse across who took the opportunity to leap like a deer almost crushing her rider on the ground. Pete, who remember hasn't been off property in over a year and only ridden three times in the past six months, calmly stepped down the bank and gave them a dirty look as we passed.
They would pass us again going up the hill once they were all back in the tack and we never saw them again.
The trail kept weaving in and out of the woods, along grassy pastures and beside gorgeous farms and Pete settled into the routine of trotting when the footing was superb and walking the rest. The rides are between 6-12 miles in length with the actual distance only being revealed once results are posted in the days following the event. Typically the early rides are closer to the 6-7 mile mark and so when we passed 3 miles and still hadn't reached the half way stopping point, I began to feel sorry for Pete. He is incredibly fat and out of shape and I knew much beyond 6 miles would be asking a lot of him.
We were making our way up a small switch back when we came across another couple standing at a creek crossing. The man had crossed and the woman, on a gorgeous long legged buckskin, was schooling her horse on not jumping the water. As I sat and waited I began to become impatient. Her husband eventually had enough as well and told her to just move on so we could pass. We passed on by and didn't see them again either.
After that series of small switch backs, we came to a pond and at the far side was the half way point. They offered up water and apple juice, both I declined, and we settled into the 3 minute hold. I looked down at my Garmin and saw that we were 4 miles into the ride. Poor Pete.
Three minutes goes by very quickly and we headed back out again. The trail took us alongside a road and I got to see some breathtaking farms. About this time it began to rain a bit, so pictures were limited.
The gravel road lasted about a mile and it was slow going letting him walk most of it. Plus it was uphill and I was beginning to worry about him, not because he was breathing hard or slowing down, but because that is what I do: I constantly worry that I am asking too much of my horse and will hurt them.
The day stayed overcast which was a blessing. There was a nice cool breeze as well and this really helped keep Pete cool and happy even though he was drenched in sweat. He was still being his curious self, looking around and calling out a hello to any other horses he saw grazing in the numerous fields we passed.
We eventually turned back into the woods again and the trail had some nice wood chips laid down that made for perfect trotting.
We followed the creek for a good chunk and this was the first time I noticed any bugs at all. Pete started shaking his head a good bit, but otherwise moved out nicely. The creek trail ended in a large corn field and at first I was surprised at how brown the corn was. It took a second to remind myself that it was nearly September already. Summer lasts so long down here that I lose track of the seasons a bit.
The trail skirted the edge of the corn field and it was the perfect opportunity to let Pete open it up a bit. He flew down it in a smooth, effortless extended trot. I asked for a canter, but he was tired at this point and made it clear that he really wasn't feeling it. About halfway along the corn row, I realized that I hadn't seen any trail markings at all. The trail was so heavily marked everywhere else that it made me start to wonder if I had missed a turn somewhere. I would have felt terrible after pushing Pete to have to turn back around again. Just as I was really feeling nervous, I saw a pink ribbon up ahead. Phew!
Nearing mile 8 I began to lose my happy mental state. I know the entire point of the pace is to not know the exact distance and to ride the horse you have per the trail conditions. I get it. There is just something about not knowing if I am going 6 or 12 miles that day that really messes with my mind. I like to be able to look at my watch and know I only have 2 miles left or that I should hold back and save some.
Right as I was starting to worry about how long we really were going that morning, we popped out and back near the race track. Aha!! We were at the finish line!
Except then we ducked back into the woods for another mile. In fact the last mile was the most strenuous in terms of terrain. There were some really good hills and I debated getting off and walking Pete, but the thought of scrambling back on him wasn't appealing enough so I stayed put. Since we were alone (and had been for the majority of the ride) and I was losing my love of this ride, I began to sing. I sang "This is the ride that will not end" to the tune of "This is the song that never ends" Pete kept pinning his ears back at me. I don't think he liked my song.
A mile of trudging up the hills later and we plopped out of the woods at the back of the registration area and crossed the finish line! It was just shy of 9 miles per my Garmin which is never really accurate and always a bit short. I bet it was closer to 9.5 miles in reality, but will have to wait until results are up to know for sure.
I gave Pete the biggest hug ever and praised the crap out of him for being such a wonderful horse. I didn't even realize it until the end, but he didn't balk or spook one time. This from a horse who has been ridden maybe half a dozen times in the last year and has not been trailered anywhere in over a year. He went over bridges, across creeks, past cows and other horses, up steep inclines and both passed and was passed by other riders all without batting an eye or taking a wrong step. Where Gem would have ping ponged past every stump, pile of twigs or half dead tree he just kept going forward. No, I won't be permanently ditching my mare for him, but it really was a nice ride.
Dusty handed Wyatt over who was calling out for me and once again spoiled me by stripping tack and sponging Pete. Is this what it feels like to have a crew? Hmmm...
|Pete looking good, but tired after the ride. I bet he isn't so easy to catch the next time he sees me coming with bridle in hand :)|
|Wyatt was thirsty and decided he had to drink out of the water tank just like Pete.|
We tucked Pete back into the trailer and wandered over for lunch. It was mouth watering BBQ, baked beans and coleslaw and I dove into my plate downing my glass of sweat tea in record time. After lunch we packed up and headed home with a super tired Pete and equally tired Wyatt. It was a great start to the 2015/2016 season.