January 31, 2016

Its Back to Work for Gem

The blog has been a little devoid of fun riding content lately. When I moved Gem to the new barn she was at a 3.5 (and thats being generous) on the Body Condition Scale. Eek. I put her on Triple Crown Senior, about 1.5 pounds twice a day, plus basically free choice good quality hay. As of yesterday I would rank her around a 4.5. That is a lot of improvement but she still has a ways to go yet to get back to the 6.0 I like entering a ride.

I did not feel comfortable riding her at a 3.5. At a 4.5 I do with the caveat that I watch her closely and don't push beyond her threshold. Building muscle is important and now that I know her nutrition is on par with the demands, her vacation is over.

Saturday afternoon was glorious with shining sun, blue skies and temps in the upper 50s. I pulled into the barn just shy of 3 pm and grabbed Gem from her field.

Frick and Frack enjoying life together

My first move was to fit her new side pull halter bridle to her oddly shaped head. She is petite and sometimes even the cob sizes are too large. I removed her second bit from the leather bridle I had stashed in the trailer to attach to this one and after a bit of tinkering was pretty happy with the overall fit.

This is why you don't leave your nice leather bridle in the trailer . Poor thing needs a lot of care to remove all the mold and recondition it. 
There is a very steep hill that leads up from the back of the property to the arena and my plan for the day was to work on a few hill sets. There is a gate at the entrance to the property that gives access to a small trail through the woods to the base of the hill which leads up to the sand arena which then leads to the grass jumping field. The thought was to warm up through the woods, hit the hill, do a few laps in the deep sand of the arena, head to the grass jumping field to work on some more canters and trots and then head back down to the start of the trail and repeat. Since I was working on a large hill, I strapped on the fleece breast collar I bought from Liz.

Looking like a true endurance mare now. The new headstall is from The Distance Depot and I really like it. Review to come later. 
As I was tacking up, a virtual friend appeared in real life. She lives right next door, goes to all the hunter paces and was the one who recommended this barn to me. It was so nice to meet her in person finally!! We ended up chatting away for over an hour as Gem begged for scratches and fell asleep. Missy is one of those people who you instantly like and can talk to for hours. I really hope we can get together more frequently in the future!

After all the chatting with Missy, the BO arrived and we chatted some more. By this time, my time was running out as it was after 4, so I ditched my initial plan and just headed to the grass field. The field is deceptive in that it is on a slant in both the north-south and east-west direction, so you are going up or down pretty much constantly.

Last remnants of snow in the shade
As soon as we entered, I remembered why I dislike riding in an arena type environment and why we need to work on it much more frequently. I asked for a nice walk around the perimeter since neither of us had been in it before and I wanted to check the footing and the terrain out. Gem did her #1 work evasion tactic: go faster. She inverted and zoomed from the back of the field all the way to the gate and when I turned her to circle versus bolting out the gate, she shook her head and prepared to "buck". Her "buck" is a minuscule crow hop, but she feels all proud of herself none the less when she performs it.

I sighed. Oh this. This is why I don't enjoy this.

I recalled my tactics from the past. We haven't had access to an arena or arena like area for nearly 2 years. My best tool for her is to serpentine. Keep her moving, keep her changing direction. We serpentined back down the field using the christmas tree cross country jumps as points to change direction. Once we were at the back, she decided to bolt for the exit again. I kept her to a dull roar and once we made it back to the gate, we circled. And circled and circled.

The jump field. The field is on a pretty nice hill that runs the steepest as you go from left to right in the picture, but also has a less severe incline as you go from the house towards the shade. 

After about 10 minutes, I felt her relaxe and give in to the idea of actual work.

Then she did her second favorite work evasion tactic: come to a halt. She just stopped. Put her ears up and gave me the middle finger. I asked her to walk on. She backed up. Ok mare, you want to play this game? Fine. Don't go forward. But you also aren't going to go backwards either. You can go laterally. Now move.

That lasted only a few minutes before she conceded that that was even less fun. After that she got down to work nicely and we spent 20 minutes doing a serpentine at the trot down the hill and a canter back up.

Then we headed over to the sand arena. It is nice because it is flat and there are plenty of jumps to either use or go around. I plan to add jumping back into Gem's life once again as I think it really helps her build her core and hind end nicely. For Saturday, I just wanted her to get used to the deep sand.

Nice footing, but it is really deep and she hasn't seen sand in a long time. 

Once we entered the arena, the BO came in with her gorgeous Prelim eventer. He is my dream color: a light buckskin with dark contrasting black points and I love him. They walked around while we did our best to avoid looking completely awful. I wanted to do some short trot and canter sets in the sand and Gem was a really good girl for this. She settled in nicely and focused on me instead of the gelding. After about 15 minutes and hearing her breathing hard, I called it quits.

Just as my feet hit the ground, the BO asked if I wanted her to show me the trails. Poor Gem thought she was finished as I walked her back over to the mounting block and got back on. We wandered down the steep hill and into the woods.

Sexy fancy buckskin butt. Angry mare ears as she wanted to go faster and pass the guy in front. 
The trail was much nicer than I had imagined and while it isn't very long, this will make for a great training loop to work on speed work. It winds past a swamp and behind the pasture. I was really happy she showed me the way and can't wait to go back out and do some pretty intensive hill sets. I'm also pretty excited about the sand arena. I've been avoiding the two SC endurance rides because they are all in the sand and I did not feel comfortable asking her to perform in the sand without any conditioning in it.

Oh!! And to make me even happier!!! A short 10 minutes away is a set of private trails that include 125 miles!!!!! Holy crap!!! The trail system is limited to those who live on it and those in the surrounding two towns. It happens that I now board within that system and for a yearly fee of $150 I can have access to the trails. I was doing a happy dance in my head :)

Gem was pretty sweaty after the ride and I was really happy with how she settled in. Next weekend is finally another hunter pace and I can't wait. This one is historically pretty short, so I hope to go around it twice to get more miles in. With our next endurance ride looming in the near future, We better get laying those miles.


  1. Are you close to the GENTS trails? I've heard they're quite nice :) and how fabulous that they'll let you ride on them! I wish some of the other trail systems were as acomedating as GENTS!

    1. FETA. They let anyone in Polk County, Landrum or Campobello ride the trails if you pay the fee. The year for them starts in March or April, so I am waiting until then. I am not sure where the GENTS system is located or if they would allow access or not. I will have to look them up.

    2. The GENTS trails are in Gowensville- not sure if they're just for land owners or not (actually now that u think about it tthey might be land owners only) Didn't realize you were so close to FETA! That's quite nice! They do close down when it rains but heck so do all the trail systems! :)

    3. I think about it- grrrr… typing sometimes doesn't go the way I planned!

    4. I've heard that they close, but since it is all private land I completely respect that. As long as that are open more than closed the access to that many miles of private trails is worth every penny.

  2. OMG! 125 miles of trails? That could really enhance your year!!!!

    1. I know, right? I'm so excited to ride on them. From the tiny bit I have been on for paces they are super well maintained and a good variety of woods, hills, flat and grass. The website listed it as 125-150 miles :) It is all privately owned and I've heard that sections will close when it is raining, but I'm a through and through good weather rider most of the time. Just having access to all those miles makes me so happy inside.

  3. 125+ miles of trails?!? That's a little slice of heaven right there! Is there a way to access it via horseback, or is it 10 minutes away via trailer?

    1. I will have to trailer over there. I'm sure there are back roads, but the easiest is to hop on the highway and go west one exit. There are people fortunate enough to live on it and maybe someday we will be one of those, but for now I am just happy it is even an option.