Wednesday morning I pointed the truck towards Croft State Park instead of work. It felt amazing and liberating to ride instead of stress and worry about paying the bills. Yeah, I will need to work harder to make up for the day off, but so be it. There has to be some benefit from all the added work load and stress and that is the ability to take random days off.
Croft was the perfect place to try out the Renegades with steeper hills and a ton of rocks on a nice 6 mile loop. I will save all the boot talk for another post to focus on the ride itself.
The morning was cool and overcast with the promise of reaching the low 80s in the afternoon. I had chosen to wear a long sleeve shirt for the first time since spring and the scent of fall was everywhere. Gem looked smashing in her tack, new boots and very rarely ever used cantle bag. I prefer to wear a camelbak myself and keep as much gear off her as possible, but I needed somewhere to put the boots if they decided to come off and not go back on. Her winter coat is already starting to come in and is speckled with black hair. I love it :)
We headed off to the trail head and dived immediately into the heavily treed forest. Gem was eager to move forward, but remained calm and focused on me. The trail began up a nice grade with gravel. It would be the perfect start to trial the boots.
At the top of the hill is an old graveyard. Every time I pass it, I tell myself to research the family but I never seem to remember to.
The first 1/2 of a mile was on a double wide gravel path and I let Gem stretch her legs at a forward walk. She was feeling good and strong beneath me and I took a deep breath letting it out slowly as all stress left me. In its place was a deep seated peace at being deep in the woods, far away from the busy hive of life, on the back of my favorite girl. Nothing else can touch that feeling.
The trail began a steep, but short down hill that would end up making a sharp turn onto the lake. I knew the large drain would be waiting blindly around the corner and had been a point of tension for Gem in the past. The summer had been exceptionally dry and the last time I hiked there the drain wasn't flowing at all, but I still worried a bit.
It was a partly self fulfilled prophecy and I really need to get better at not anticipating problems which in the end just creates tension in Gem as she senses my apprehension. As it was though, she just stopped and looked around trying to figure out where the danger was. Once I relaxed and let her know it was ok, she moved forward again.
Once past the drain, we popped out onto a lovely sandy lane that divides Lake Craig from the river/creek it drains into and then down a short hill and back into the woods. I knew this section very well since it is one of our main hiking trails. Gem had only been on it twice before though and so I just let her take her time and look around.
I paid close attention to my Garmin during this section out of curiosity for how long the next uphill climb really was. Having hiked it frequently, I knew it was steep and seemingly un ending and always pegged it as a great training hill for Gem. We began at the base at 0.63 miles and I made a mental note to check it at the top.
It is hard to capture the grade of hills on camera when on horseback, but this single track hill just keeps going with a few really steep sections, but mostly just a continuous climb. Gem stopped a few times to grab some greenery alongside trail and since I wasn't there for speed work, I let her.
Even at a walk, Gem was breathing a little harder as we neared the top. She moved freely, never hesitating except to grab food and really seemed to enjoy the morning as much as I was.
When we finally reached the top the Garmin showed that it was about 3/4 of a mile of continuous climbing. No wonder she was breathing a little harder!
From there the trail flattened out and weaved along becoming a single track and then widening once again. Overhead the trees formed a near sold canopy of leaves blocking out the overcast sky. It was like moving through a fairy tale and I quickly lost track of all thought as I got lost in the moment.
As the trail flattened, I also allowed her to open up and trot short sections. I didn't want to push her too hard and refrained from opening her to a canter even though the combination of great trail and perfect weather was screaming for a run. Gem responded by flowing into an extended trot that reached 8 mph effortlessly.
I slowed her to a walk after 1/4 mile and only let her trot again when the mile changed over and if the trail was flat and not technical. No reason to hurry her return. Gem stayed calm to the point where I dropped the reins for a good mile and just enjoyed the freshly fallen leaves strewed along the trail, cool breeze blowing through the warm early fall air and the pure sense of freedom. While I love wide open spaces and grand vistas, my soul belongs in the forest.
Sadly, the miles flew by and I soon found ourselves nearing the bridge only a mile and a half from the end. Gem notoriously hates bridges, but will cross them. I forced myself to think positively and she marched across snorting in displeasure. Half way across I had to laugh out loud as the wind plus her movement made the metal braces start to creak and her snorting grew louder and more disgusted. She crossed over the creek and I rewarded her with letting her move out once again.
It is such a novel experience for me to reward her with letting her move out. This is the mare who was completely unrideable solo on trails and then turned to careening wildly. Not this day. This day she was calm, forward and eager. It was the icing on the cake.
Of course, this is still Gem I am talking about and as I turned her to head back to the trailer we past by the barn. There was a camper with a boat and I looked at it bracing for her to spook to the right, away from the boat on my left. I'm not sure what the reason and Dusty is prone to believe she did it on purpose (past experience would have to agree with him). Her signature move is a 180 degree spin and shoulder duck to the right. She very, very rarely goes left. Well, with my weight slightly more in the left stirrup she spun left and off I flew through the air. Fortunately, while the last year has seen me lose practice at it, I have enough in reserve from the last 5 years and I landed on my feet tweaking my right shoulder as I clung to the reins and spun around.
Gem looked at me calmly without so much as a glance back to whatever it was that set her off and not even a tad snorty or tense. Mares.
I climbed back on board refraining from any reaction whatsoever. Getting mad at her, going after her, or hitting her only back fires. Ignoring the bad behavior and carrying on like nothing ever happened to interrupt it is the only way to go, so we made our way past the boat and barn and back toward the trailer.
As we got close to the trailer, I looked over at the gorgeous show ring. It had been nearly 2 years since Gem saw the inside of an arena, so I pointed her inside the gates. The thought of cantering her inside the arena to test the boots a little more flitted through my mind, but the footing was deep, soft sand which is not something her ligaments and tendons are used to, so instead we just made our way around and then exited.
Back at the trailer, I took a look at the boots, snapped a bunch of pictures to send off to Renegade untacked her. I gave her a huge hug to thank her for such a lovely ride (minus the fall) and brushed her out.
Unfortunately, the ride had a bit of a damper at the end. Pre ride, all the weird filling I had noticed to her hind legs last week was gone. The legs were nice and tight with well defined tendons. It both verified that I hadn't made it up and lessened my worry about the previous existence. However, when I removed her hind boots it was back. We did 6 miles in 2 hours, right at a 3 mph pace, and while we did trot some short sections and walked hills this was by no means a difficult work out. I have no clue when the filling began during the ride, but it was most certainly there at the end. There continued to be no reaction from Gem with prodding or flexing. She weighted it evenly and had no pain with prodding. No heat or pulse was appreciated either. I am not rushing her off to the vet for an evaluation, but I will be keeping an eye on it as we continue to move back into full work. Dusty is under the impression that getting her stronger and back to full work will improve it. I am worried that she might have injured it back in June, but it was missed with the very much more important left front injury.
|Front left post ride. Nice and tight.|
|Hind left post ride. Filling noted above the joint. If she was off on it or it was painful I would be making an appointment immediately. For now I am going to mindfully ignore it.|