Sunday morning was cold at 37F, but the weather forecasted a high of 68F and the sky was free of clouds. I layered up against the morning cold, but prepared to shed layers as the sun warmed up the earth. Winter may make a comeback yet, but it will only be halfhearted and won't last long. Spring is beginning to make an appearance.
I arrived and hooked up the trailer. Now, I don't usually mention this because it is commonplace for me when I ride, however I don't think I have shown you all where my trailer is parked now. Below you will see the spot available for the trailer.
That is the BO's rig on the left side of the picture. And on the right is a wagon of sorts.
It is like threading a needle and I will fully admit that while I am 100% comfortable hooking it up and pulling it out without damaging anything, I have yet to be brave enough to park it. Dusty and Wyatt have been coming with me lately and so I always hand him the keys when we get back. They did not join me this time, so I was a little nervous pulling out about my prospects of a safe return. Fortunately, he came out to meet me and pull blood for the BO's Coggins after the ride. I will eventually need to figure out how to get it in there, but for now I have dodged that bullet again.
Croft was on the docket again Sunday, but this time I wanted to explore the large loop that we rode last time a bit. I wanted roughly 10-12 miles and planned to keep her moving. Well, as we left the trailer I remembered my dressage whip was still inside it and didn't want to turn around to get it. I probably should have. We left the parking lot going the opposite direction we normally go and hit the trail on the left side of the road paralleling it. The footing was gross. Lots of roots and rocks with muddy patches and Gem was none too thrilled about moving out.
|Reaching the trail head on a bright sunny morning|
|Look closely. Maybe you can find the wood monster lurking in the logs. I can't.|
|She was trotting along just fine and then BAM! on came the brakes with ears forward and eyes staring a hole through these logs. Sigh. We need to move to the desert.|
|A really nice, steep hill that she balked at going up at first due tot he sloppy base. She went up it just find without slipping or sliding once she realized I wasn't going to cave in.|
There were trees down all over the place as well. They had spiky branches that made jumping them unsafe and we had to bushwhack a great deal to go around them. I am not a fan of bushwhacking, even on foot which is a trait that drives Dusty slightly batty when we hike. All this going off trail was wearing on me.
When we came upon that tree it was roughly mile 2.5 or so and there wasn't a really good way to make it around while still on her. I decided to get off and lead her around and also look her over really well. She was breathing harder than she should have this early into the ride with as much walking as we had been doing.
I led her around and saw this look:
She was hot and sweating profusely in the sun and probably over 60F temperatures. She has yet to start to shed and her coat is super thick. I felt bad for her and decided to hand jog a ways down the trail. I also pulled the bit out and went with the side pull again. Her gas pedal was a non issue at this point. I was more worried about releasing the emergency brake she seemed to have gotten stuck.
Eventually the trail crossed a road and led to a river. It paralleled the river for a time and then made a sharp left across it.
That was the crossing. Pure rock. I didn't think it was all that smart to take her over mounted up and so I dismounted pleased with myself for wearing my tall waterproof and insulated boots. While my feet were beginning to roast, at least I wouldn't get wet. She crossed without a hesitation and the water came up over my ankles. This is when I learned something new.
Apparently these boots are only water proof up to just under the ankle and then they remain insulated but are most certainly not water proof. At this point Gem was looking extremely hot and we had gone roughly 4 miles or so.
Of note, Gem hates sweating. Seriously despises it. Her little princess self is above working hard enough to break a sweat. When I went to mount up on the other side of the river I saw this:
|That is not the face of a happy mare|
The trail then came to a T intersection and I really had no clue where I was. The sign was pretty full of choices of trails and I looked around as for a suggestion as to where to go.
There were two barn signs. The one above that went to the left and was 6 miles and one directly across from it that said 3 miles. There was no sign on the trail we intersected with, but there was a small map and it appeared as though this trail made a big loop and ended back along my beloved Forest Mill trail (the one we always take from parking and is 6.5 miles).
Given that we had only gone roughly 4 miles at this point, I didn't really want to take the 3.3 mile trail and the 6 mile one seemed to head off to nowhere, so I kept going straight to see where it took me.
The trail became lovely double wide track begging for a canter and so I asked Gem. This was the first time in the side pull that I asked for a canter and I wondered how she would move. She responded really well and moved out great. In fact, since taking the bit out back 2+ miles before she had acted pretty much the norm for her. Not better really, but no worse so that was a great sign.
Eventually the trail came to another intersection and I was really confused. The map didn't show any intersections on the trail I thought I was on. I was a bit worried about the temperatures continuing to rise and being out for too long, so I turned around and decided to go down the 3.3 mile trail. It would be a bit shorter than I wanted, but at least I would know where I was and that water was close at hand back at the trailer if she got really hot.
And then the best thing of the entire day happened. This trail dead ended into my beloved Forest Mills Loop anyway. I could then go right and be at the barn in 2 miles or go left and be back at the barn in 5 miles. The 5 mile way would take me over my favorite part of the trail and would also put us back right around 12 miles total, so I pointed her nose that way and off we went.
I wasn't the only one happy to recognize where we were. Gem knew exactly what trail this was and perked up tremendously. From this point on, while still a complete idiot about the wood, she moved out without any nagging from me. At one point the mile marker beeped on my watch and I thought we were poking along until I saw we were trotting at 9 mph.
Having spent so many miles in the saddle with Gem and a Garmin, I had built up a pretty reliable internal sense of her speed based on her footfalls and my posting. In the past, if I was working pretty hard at the posting I knew she was going about 4.5-5 mph, when I was comfortable and could relax it was around 6-7 mph, when I was going way fast and having a hard time keeping up it was roughly 8+, and when she began to break into canter it was around 10-12 mph.
Well, after spending the fall and winter working on her speed, she has changed it up on me. I was feeling like I did at her previous 6mph, but instead she was going 8-9mph. It is really good to see that it has all paid off!
Anyway, we flew around those 5.5 miles and ended up back at the barn in good form with her still asking to go. Even in the side pull, passing several groups of riders both coming towards us and going our direction, she was completely ratable and controllable with the side pull. It was a big win!
And then we were coming alongside the barn and through the camp ground. The arena was in sight with the trailers behind it and I stopped riding. Plain and simply, I relaxed and loosened my legs from her sides to stretch them out a bit and started thinking about the ride in April as we meandered at like 2 mph in the grass. It had been a mentally taxing ride for me keeping on the alert for her sudden stops and jumps and I breathed out to let it all go.
The little snot knew I wasn't paying any attention and even though there wasn't a single leaf, rock, stick or shadow she went sharply right and deposited me on the ground. It has been a very long time since she caught me that off guard and I fell hard. For the first time in my entire 25+ years of riding horses, my head hit the ground. I have fallen off plenty, but have never felt my head hit the earth. It wasn't hard, but it sure pissed me off.
I got up and she knew I was pissed. She wasn't scared of anything and there was no reason for that. None. I got on and made her trot forward. When she tried to jump at nothing I growled at her, dug my heels in to move her forward and smacked her on the neck. Not hard, but enough to get her attention. Once we made it to the arena, I made her go in and work in there trotting and cantering in straight lines without being an idiot. It took a while, but eventually her head dropped and she relaxed and after she went in each direction in a relaxed manner, I let her be done and we went to the trailer.
I untacked her, took her to get a bath and made her a mash. She looked hot and sweaty, but was still full of pep. I checked the helmet as well and while there was no dent, I will be replacing it promptly.
|Poor Pete, the good horse, was left behind and feeling sorry for himself when I pulled back in.|