Wunderground told me it was only 28 degrees outside. No big deal: I lived and rode in WI for 3 years and have plenty of cold weather clothing. Fleece riding pants, insulated tall riding boots, tank top, long sleeve tech shirt, thick vest, coat. I headed out prepared for the arctic north.
Having a junior along is great for many reasons. Not only is the enthusiasm contagious, but they are more than willing to do a lot of crappy jobs like grab your mare in the wet morning grass before daylight. Waffles took some time to load the first trip out and I start with her again, but she is a lovely mare and a quick learner and loads up after only 10 minutes or so. Next it is Gem's turn and my jaw drops to the ground as she waltzes right onto the trailer on her own without me doing anything at all. This is the first time she has ever really self loaded. It is a great start to the day.
The drive should take just under an hour and we are about 25 minutes away when Haley remembers that she forgot her helmet back at the barn. She doesn't wear one unless riding with me when I make her and the paces require a helmet for all riders. Fortunately Dusty is in the van behind us and I call him to ask if he can turn around and get it.
We pull into the facility and register for the ride. Wyatt is with us, so we walk around the grounds exploring while we wait for Dusty to meet us. He calls a while later to say that he got pulled over for speeding trying to catch back up to us. It is his first ticket in probably 7-8 years and he isn't a happy camper. Sorry honey.
|Looking down the steeplechase track|
I find it really interesting that some of the events this year are stating the distance when you head out. I thought that was part of the challenge: having to pace your horse for an unknown distance. Either way they tell us it is 8.5 miles and send us on our way.
When Gem comes back from a long period of rest she is either a fire breathing dragon or a complete slug. I'm preparing for the former, but quickly note that I have the latter under me. She is dragging already and in no mood to work today. Too bad mare, we have some trails to explore.
Waffles is being a bit spooky as well and both mares are letting us know what they think about working in the cold. The trail heads out through the parking lot and across the road then follows it under two busy underpasses. I really dislike this portion of the trail as big trucks and fast cars go zipping by overhead.
It is short lived though and we soon make it to the cross country field where the real fun begins. Both mares are being really looky at the jumps, tree line and water and we pick up a trot to get their feet moving. It takes the first 1.5 miles to settle them in and get to work.
We cross the first of several concrete bridges and Gem is being a total butt. Bridges are one thing that always gets her, but when we are alone or with an unknown horse she will cross. Not with Waffles. Waffles in 2nd in command of her herd and Gem I the lowest of the low. She will not lead that mare over and Waffles is having none of it either. Eventually we get the across but it is no fun.
After that the girls get a move on and we start to cover some ground. 2 miles in we hit a clear stream. As much as Gem hates bridges, Waffles hate water and I prepare for a bit of a fight to cross. Gem is having none of it though and bulldozes right past Waffles. As soon as she gets in she drops her head and chugs the water. I have never seen her drink before 10 miles before, so she must have really been thirsty.
The trail we are following is mostly wooded with full leaf cover over the trail. It is surprisingly dry and firm given all the rain we have been getting lately. Gem is moving out well and the cool air is keeping them from overheating. There are several creek crossings along this stretch and Gem stops to drink out of them all. Waffles starts off being a little confused, but by the third one she drops her nose down and begins to drink.
The woods end in a large field with the breathtaking views of the mountains that I have come to both expect and enjoy. We open them up for a nice long canter and Gem is feeling more sluggish than she should. I know she is really out of shape, but this is just a little less energy than I am happy with out of her. Of course, Waffles moves out much faster than Gem does anyway and she has to work hard to keep up. Still she should be a little more peppy. My overactive, hyper paranoid about horse injury brain starts to kick in.
All too soon the half way point comes into view and there are two lovely women with an elderly dog waiting for us. They offer us a drink: apple juice, water or port. Hmmm...I think I would like to stay on my horse for the next 4 miles, so I will just take the water.
I hop off Gem to give her a break and check her over. Everything seems fine and she looks good if a little sleepy. For some reason I think it is a good idea to shorten my left stirrup a hole. Stupid, stupid stupid. As soon as I climb back onboard I know it is a mistake. I ma now lopsided as my left is too short. Oh well. I don't feel like stopping to fix it now.
The trail leading from the rest stop is a grassy lane and we get the girls moving out once again.
We had passed one group of riders pretty early on and have yet to see them again or anyone else. My watch is showing us moving at a good pace and I am growing hopeful that maybe we won't be dead last yet again.
Haley makes good company and Waffles is brave and bold. She really stumbled onto a great mare. At only 7 years old the Arab cross moves out at a lovely 10 mph when given her choice of pace and is forward, happy and content in exploring the trails. She makes my "experienced" endurance mare look like a big baby as we follow along behind her cantering to keep up with her ground covering trot. I wonder if she would be willing to trade? Nah....I love my Gemmie.
The trail is marked really well despite their warning that they had to use different colors and the miles just tick on by.
We pop out of the woods and see this Paso Fino farm sprawled out in front of us.
The large gazebo in the back is a hot walker and all the horses look fit and happy. We stop to grab a picture and let the horses breathe after a strenuous climb and then sadly make our way along noting that we only have about 2 miles left which travels back to the cross country course, along the road and under the highway once again. The way home though makes a sharp right and grants participants the chance to race along the steeplechase course before dodging between the barns and back to the finish line.
We hit the steeplechase track and ask for a canter. Something spooks Waffles and she makes a sharp left heading the opposite direction. Haley stays put and reels her in before long and we begin again. I'm not sure what has her amped up, but we slow to a trot to cover the ground instead.
My Garmin reads 1 hour 44 minutes and just shy of 8.5 miles. We will have to wait and see what the official results say, but I am really happy with that. Haley looks up our finish from two years ago and Dusty and I finished in 1 hour 46 minutes and took 4th place being off the optimum by 1 minute 51 seconds. Fingers crossed!
The mares look so different at the end. Waffles is drenched in sweat as are most of the other horses coming off the trail. Gem looks like this:
|Please ignore her complete lack of top line and muscle tone.|
Other than her saddle area and a bit on her chest she is dry as a bone. I immediately start worrying about anhidorsis, near death, etc... but she is happily chowing down on her grain and emptying her hay bag so I guess she isn't in immediate danger.
Us humans head over to the food tent and chow down on BBQ and then head on home. She is perky and fresh leaving the trailer and happy to return to her pasture so maybe she isn't dying after all. Lazy mare needs to get out a bit more often.