September 27, 2015

Biltmore Hunter Pace: Singing in the Rain (EDITED on 9/29/15)

Is that thar a 'durance hoss?
Saturday night I went to bed without setting my alarm. After two solid days of rain and cold (ok...cold for SC means in the 60s...I've become a wimp) with more rain and dreariness predicted for Sunday, I had zero motivation to go to the next Hunter Pace. At 6:30 am Sunday morning Wyatt came bursting into my room shouting "We going to a horse show mom?" How could I say no to that type of an alarm?

There was a 40% chance of rain and highs in the low 60s, so I bundled up in a fleece vest, long sleeve shirt and my riding tights. I even remembered to grab an extra set of shoes so I could ride with dry feet. Mental note though: grab socks too. Gem was not very happy to see me with bridle in hand in the early morning mist, but she obliged and let me grab her anyway.

We arrived around 10 am at the big field behind the Biltmore house where all horse events seem to be staged out of. I was surprised that there were so many trailers present with the gloom that seemed to invade every nook and cranny of the morning.

I decided to go with front boots only on Gem. I knew there would be a lot of slick clay and mud and both wanted the extra traction her bare hinds would provide as well as being a little concerned with the hinds staying on. Since I had already fiddled ad nauseam with the fit of the fronts previously, this time I could just slap them on in 30 seconds and be done. If for no other reason, that sold me on the boots right there.

**Oops...I never wrote about the boots from Wednesday. Well, the long and short of it is that the fronts fit pretty well and the hinds don't. I'll write up a true boot post to explain once I hear back from Renegade**

The trail would follow the permanently marked green loop and I started the ride alone although the timer sent the next rider out 30 seconds later and she caught up to us quickly. I forced Gem to walk down the gravel road to warm up her muscles. Once I let Gem trot, we caught her quickly again, but then we made a wrong turn and lost her as she shouted the proper way. I never did see her again.

The other rider passing us as we got back on track
I had never ridden on the green loop before, so I was really interested in where it would take us. It turns out that it would take us straight up into the clouds. The trail was recently graded which I found out meant that they put huge chunks of gravel down on the hills. I was really glad I had the boots on her fronts and she moved out wonderfully.  The trail was still pretty solid this early in the morning.

Heading up the first hill around a mile into the ride

The gravel didn't last long, but the ascent sure did
Gem was feeling really, really good and was moving beautifully. I still held her trotting to a minimum, but when I did let her trot she would rocket off at a glorious 8-9 mph pace even over the rocks and up the hills. Even walking a lot of it, we began to pass others.

The leaves were already starting to change up in the mountains
As we alternated walking and trotting I looked around at all the wonders around me. My mind keep jumping back to the fact that at one point a single family owned all of this. This was the Vanderbilt country home, not even their main residence, and they had it all to themselves. How amazing would that be?

Around mile 2.5 a couple of ladies came flying up behind us as we meandered up another steep climb. Gem pulled over as asked and we bid them a good ride. This was the third group I had seen since starting and the third group who made comment about my matching red and black outfit. Hmm...maybe I'm a little overboard these days?

They quickly dropped to a walk, however, as the trail weaved down a steep hill and Gem and I caught up to them. This time we passed them once the trail widened and stayed ahead for quite some time. Eventually we dropped down a really steep and very sloppy hill that led to a creek. I hesitated slightly as I looked down at the boots. Not only were they getting a muddy workout, but now we would be doing a water crossing that would come up well over the top. If this wasn't a good trial run, I didn't know what would be. Gem crossed readily and I was so extremely pleased at the other side when the boots were still in proper order.

The women came up to the hill on the other side and yelled across asking me to wait for them. They were not sure that their geldings would cross without another horse already over. Gem was not pleased at all about standing still and so we turned in tight circles until they cleared the obstacle and then shot off up the hill. The ladies stuck with us.

Steep down hill, water crossing over the boot height and then boot sucking mud on the opposite bank. Both front boots stayed through it all
While Gem seemed pleased to have some company for a change, she was downright rude about remaining in the lead. She would not let those two pass her for the world and even when we reached the double track road again, she body blocked them any time they tried. My mare is getting very competitive.

Right about this time the sky opened up and the rain just let loose. It was a cold, soaking rain and as we broke out of the single track and onto the dirt road Gem and I had the same thought: lets get the poop out of here. I let her open up and she flew at an extended trot that took my breath away. The other ladies tried to keep up, but even at a canter we left them behind.

It was short lived though as we came around a corner and nearly ran smack into the very rotund butt of a draft waiting out their half way hold. We were two groups back and the ladies behind me came up shortly thereafter. Gem was not a happy camper. I had never had issues getting her to stand still under tack before, but between the crowded hold and the cold rain running into those beautiful black tipped ears she was extremely tense and very unhappy standing. Those were a very long 3 minutes!

Eventually we got the okay to move out and the ladies followed us. We were 3.5 miles in and it wouldn't stop raining until we finished. Unfortunately, due to the heavy rain I kept my phone tucked away in my vest pocket so no more pictures of the trail to share.

Gem wanted to go and I wasn't in the mood to hold her back. She was moving great, the boots were functioning well and the trail was just getting more and more slick. I made the decision to just let her go and pull her up if anything felt off. She was more than happy to respond to the new freedom and chose an 8 mph trot that covered the slick ground rapidly.

Since she had decided she would lead (another novel experience) and the other two wanted to ride with us, I asked if they were okay with the pace. They laughed and said they would try their best to experience the endurance pace I was setting. I spent the next two miles chuckling as I listened to their whispers behind me:

"Did you know we could trot this fast?"

"How do they keep this up for miles on end?"

"I don't think we will be able to walk for a week after this!"

"Why does it feel like we are in a rush to end this ride?"

"Is something chasing us? It feels like a speed we would go if something was chasing us."

It was awesome!!

We passed several more groups through this stretch and the trail was really getting muddy. I felt bad for anyone who started later as the trail would be really slick and torn up the longer it rained and the more hooves that it saw. There were a lot of sections that needed to be walked and nearly every downhill was taken at a walk. I was so proud of Gem as she navigated the terrain. Seriously, she has really become a stellar trail horse, ping ponging and all. Overtime we reached a downhill I quickly determined if it could be trotted or needed to be walked. If I let her trot, she would come back into a collected trot and slow down to carefully handle the hill and then take off again once we reached the bottom.

Things went on as we got more and more drenched until mile 6.5. We were half way up the last steep climb and there was a river of mud trickling down it. One of the ladies pointed out that she had lost a boot. Darn! I pulled over and swung off. They asked if I was ok and I told them to move on ahead and get out of the rain. Honestly, I was really bummed. They had perform so well up to this point. The front left was still perfect, but the front right had spun off and was now on top of the front of the hoof held on by the pastern strap. Gem hadn't cared at all and would have continued on as if nothing had happened.

I swung off and stood in the rain looking at her hoof. Having had it stay put through all the rocks, hills, mud that came up over the pastern and a creek crossing that did the same, I was really bummed that it had now decided to flip off. Looking at how it sat on her hoof and the part of trail we were on, that best I can figure is that she planted the foot and when she went to push off the hoof slid out from inside the shell and it flipped over the front of the hoof. I replaced it and tightened up the toe strap hoping to not have to fix it again.

As I swung back into the saddle I realized the bigger issue with having the boot come off: my seat, previously keep dry by my butt, was now drenched. Riding with a wet butt is not fun.

We were also now alone and Gem returned to her typical jumpy behavior. The mare drive me nuts sometimes. She zig zagged like a drunken sailor down the remainder of the trail and we crossed the finish line 8.12 miles and 1 hour 52 minutes after starting.

Seriously, you owe me for this one. 

Thankfully, the rain returned to just a mist as I untacked back at the trailer. Her hooves looked great and the front right boot had stayed on until the end. Gem got wrapped up in her fleece cooler and placed in the trailer to dry off and not cramp as I went to turn my number tag in and grab lunch. Wyatt had entertained himself by jumping in every puddle and getting soaking wet and filthy dirty and gave me a giant hug when he saw me.

After all was said and done, I was really glad I dragged myself out of bed to go. I really love these events and Gem is just getting better and better all the time. The results are going to be really interesting to see in a few days. They typically send a rider out (or claim they do, I am not sure they actually send someone out and don't just know from previous events what that finish time should be) and if they had it would have been on dry, firm ground. The way the trail was looking by the end, there is no way those who started later could safely move fast over those trails. I just might not end up in last place for once!!!

**UPDATE: Results are in and while we still sucked we got way closer than normal. Our finish was 1:53 and optimum was 1:40 so only 13 minutes off. This still put us mid pack/closer to the end, but was way closer to finish time than before. Of note is that the two ladies I rode the second half with came in first and had I not had to stop and fix the boot losing track of those two I would have most likely placed. That being said, if I didn't have the boot on in the first place, I would have walked a lot of it and would have been an hour off time yet again, so there is that.**


  1. I have no words of 'boot wisdom' for you, but am crossing my fingers that you and Gem placed well! Are you planning to participate in an actual hunt in the future?

    1. I'd doubt they would let me with my garish endurance tack and lack of a coat or normal breeches. It would be great to experience though.

    2. I didn't even think of the tack issue! Something to brood about, I suppose (at least on my end).

      I'm sorry to hear that you and Gem didn't place. Still, it sounds like you both had a great time.

  2. I loved this post! Very vivid storytelling; it felt like I was riding with you! Especially laughed over the two ladies' conversations over the pace you were setting. ;)

    1. Haha, especially the 'I feel like this is the pace we'd be going if something was chasing us'. Made me lol.

    2. It was a great outing even in the rain. Getting to ride at any of the Paces is a privilege since nearly all are on private property I wouldn't have access to otherwise.

  3. Yet MORE beautiful trails. I'm coming down there next year.