April 25, 2016

Conditioning Plan Check in: Weeks 3 and 2

I can't believe I am only two weeks away from my endurance ride. To be honest I sort of wish I was doing the 50 instead. I know she can do a 50 and is in great shape to do one with the right amount of luck that is required at all these rides no matter the distance. I know of people having their perfectly fit and ready horse pulled at the first 10 mile loop due to the wrong rock and the wrong place. It just happens. Anyway... I'm not backing her down and I really, really want to do this, but the closer I get the more my stomach gets tied into knots just thinking about it all. We will cross the start line and go loop to loop and hope for some luck along the way.

Week 3: Weeknight: last hill sets. We did 3 sets up and down and a few loops around the arena before the lights went out on us. 

Weekend: 20 miles, moderate pace. Yeah, we know how this went. Got in 10 slow miles. At least there were a lot of hills and even with all the sitting on her back up and down, she didn't have a lick of soreness afterward so the prior back soreness from a few weeks ago was just a fluke. Yay!

Run Wed and Friday. Yup.

Check supply of Grand Vite and alfalfa cubes. Wash and organize trailer. Turn 34 and hope hubby purchased the saddle pad I asked for. I did turn 34 and get my back up pad which is so lovely. It even came with samples of the detergent they recommend. I decided to forgo the Grand Vite. After talking with a vet about it, it wasn't recommended to load her up the week before with it as usual since she is now getting a high quality complete feed at the recommended volume. They were concerned she would get overdosed on some of the things that get stored and said it shouldn't be needed with the feed she is on. I will likely use the electrolytes a few extra days instead. Since the trailer tires needed replaced and the trailer was at home, I did organize the crap out of it with the help of Dusty. I am very nearly 100% pleased with the tack area now. Just one more modification to do before it is complete, but that won't happen before Biltmore. 

Week 2: Weeknight: work in grass field to keep muscles loose and moving.  A big nope. The trailer stayed at home until Sunday and while I went out on Wednesday it was work related and I didn't have any o fly tack since it was all inside the trailer back at home. 

Run Wed and Friday. Yup.

Weekend: 10 - 12 miles, moderate to fast pace (hunter pace scheduled). Hunter pace was just shy of 7 miles, but we went pretty fast and Gem came back to me mentally quicker than ever before. 

Purchase compressed alfalfa. Confirm grass hay requirements with BO. Make sure all grain is fully stocked Yup, yup and yup. BO said I can grab as much as I want and I was able to snag a great looking bale from a local feed store. Gem loves the compressed bales better than the regular ones, plus I like that they make a fine powder of loose pieces that soak up water and make it more appetizing for her to drink. 

Go over camping gear and portable corral to make sure everything is in working order. Order electrolye syringes from Running Bear to confirm they will be there upon arrival in camp. Figure out where to get some dry ice. Confirm plans with Liz about arrival. I haven't gone over the camping gear or corral yet, so still need to do that. I was able to find 6 doses of my favorite elyte paste (Perfect Balance) at the feed store so I am not as worried about pre ordering any. I need to get several more, but this is a good start. I also decided to forgo dry ice since that was kinda silly anyway. As far as Liz. I'm not sure. She has been too busy kicking some major butt both on a mountain bike and on her super pony Q. We will sort it out eventually. 

April 24, 2016

River Valley Hunter Pace: The Manic Depressive Mare

Sorry, no media, from this ride. Instead you get some of my favorite Gem pics.

Gem had a stick up her butt from the start. That stick was named Tristan. We pulled into the ride about 10 minutes ahead of BO and Tristan and they parked 4 trailers down from us. Gem knew. Tristan knew. They spent the next 15 minutes screaming for each other. I somehow managed to wrangle her tack on without getting either stomped by her pawing feet or smushed by her ever swerving big bay buttocks.

Kind of like this
I knew what I was in for and I secretly wished for my slow as a snail mare from last weekend.  In a way it was good though. I started going to the paces to not only condition, but to use them to get her over her race brain mentality. After all the paces we have been to this year, this is the first time she started a ride in the same mentality she does an endurance ride. In the past, it has taken her 10 miles to calm down and focus and I knew this ride was between 6 and 7 miles, so it was going to be interesting.

The ride was done backwards from December which meant that the horses leaving went past the trailers. As I was clipping the breast collar on her, Tristan went soaring past. Gem was livid.

The beast sleeps

I hand walked her to the start and climbed aboard. We paced as we waited to be let loose and then she took off. I had a death grip on the reins and I know my face was white as a ghost.

I don't mind fast. I love forward. What I don't like is fast and sometimes mostly forward with random sideways leaping and coming to a complete and sudden stop without any warning. just to leap forward again. We wove between the fences that create the trail and she was not listening to me one bit. Eventually I just started to circle her and make her halt. I don't know if that helps or hurts, but it at least gets her to focus on me and not on whatever lunatic plan she has at the moment (in this case it was catching up to the now long gone Tristan).

By the time we hit the woods around mile 2 she had calmed down with the spooking enough for me to dig my nails out of my palms and breathe again. She was still fast and furious, but was at least consistently moving forward. I let the reins out a bit and she galloped off. Fine, wear yourself out mare. Just keep moving.

By mile 3, she had decided that she was never going to catch him and calmed the poop down again. She was still looky and not 100% back to herself, but she was back to only tensing up or skirting problem areas and not trying to spin out from under me. So I gave her more slack, told her she was beautiful and let her move out. She clocked in at 9 mph and was mostly behaving herself.

Her yearling photo. At least she kept her attitude as she grew up. 
By mile 4, she had her breaks reinstalled and I could finally get her balanced going downhill or over more tricky terrain. I could nearly trust her to make smart decision by this point which was a big win. We were only 4 miles in instead of 10. Small victories, folks.

We reached the halfway point and she buried her nose in the water bucket then began shoving her face full of grass. She was sweaty, but it was more of a nervous sweat than a true exertion one. We moved off after the hold and she was a little more looky than I would have liked. I wished I had my whip with me, but had left it behind at the start not wanting to add fuel to her fire.

I never felt comfortable enough to let her canter, but we did move out freely and after the hold I actually caught myself having fun. I was smiling again and talking to her a lot to give her a confidence boost. We went down a few new trails that had some holes and she paid attention and skirted around them as directed.

We came to a road crossing and I finally got to meet Bec!! Hi!!! Not sure how she could have possibly recognized us with all our red and black tack on ;)

Gem never slowed down and never asked to stop or walk the entire ride which was a win in and of itself given last weekend. She was on a mission. We came out into the last field that goes to the end and just as the finish line was in sight I heard off to my right in the woods "hH Mommy!" I smiled and turned to look at him and said HI back, Well, Gem knew my attention was gone for a split second and jumped sideways. Good thing I was prepared for the shebitch to come out and I stayed put. Wyatt screamed out "Are you ok Mommy?!" I laughed and gritted my teeth and finished the darn ride.

We finished in decent time, but due to the first 2 miles being stop and go as I tried to get her to focus on the present we came in 9 minute too slow and out of the ribbons. It doesn't matter though. I was just happy that I actually turned the ride into something I enjoyed and got Gem refocused only 4 miles in.

April 21, 2016

When To Say When

In all the miles that slowly went by underfoot on Sunday, I had a lot of time to think. There were a lot of things that floated through my mind from she is dying of colic from the trailer stress to she is just trying to get out of work. My biggest dilemma was whether or not I should push through it. I could have kept nagging her and forcing her to move out and she was keeping a steady 6 mph pace, but man was it hard fought and really stressful on both of us.

The whole dilemma was that 2 years ago this was her norm. This type of ride was a good ride because at least we kept a good pace up. In fact two years ago we would have done the same thing only at a 3.5 mph trot and not a 6 mph one. I got her through it by constantly making her move forward. Forward was always the right answer.

But she hasn't given me a ride like this in probably a year if not more. She will always be spooky, but she had quit looking for a fight in every shadow, pine needle and butterfly. So what was the problem on Sunday with gorgeous weather and even better footing? I have no idea.

And that bothered me. Her tack was fine. She wasn't lame. Other than not pooping as much as I would have liked, she was eating on trail and had eaten just fine at the trailer. Without knowing the catalyst, I had no method of fixing it.

So it brought me to doing a lot of reflection. Was caving in and walking the entire ride rewarding her "bad" behavior? Would it create a trend backwards to where we used to be? Should I be pushing her to move out even though she was telling me with every fiber that she couldn't handle it?

I follow a lot of blogs and recently there seems to be a lot of talk of riding the horse you have under you. This isn't new to me. Around mile 7 I recalled the times spent in the arena in WI when I had planned to work on halt-trot transitions and instead was happy to make it one lap in each direction at a walk without losing our shit. That was a victory on those days and I went with it. Some days we jumped a grid and others we walked until she could breathe again.

I think it is easy in endurance to lose sight of that mentality. We have a set plan of miles needed to cover and a pace we want to cover it in. Unless the weather is hotter or colder than expected or the horse is feeling tired, as a whole endurance riders tend to stick it out.

I was fine with my decision to walk when Gem was telling me she couldn't handle any faster pace. I was sore (walking that long is way harder than trotting!) and sad that my day had started off so promising and was now dwindling to a blown out tire and a walking trail ride, but I was happy that my horse was relaxed finally and seemed to be enjoying being out.

We didn't get our 20 or 30 miles in and we certainly didn't work on speed either, but we did have a mental day and I believe that had I pushed her through it, one or both of us would have gotten hurt.

There are more days to ride between now and the 100 and honestly with only 2 weekends between now and then, there isn't a whole lot more fitness that I am going to add on to her. She is as ready as I am able to get her right now. I don't need to blow a mental gasket at this point.

April 20, 2016

The Sunday Crawl

When I finally pulled into the trail parking lot, I was nearly 3 hours behind schedule. The weather was absolutely gorgeous though: 65 and sunny with a slight breeze and promised to continue warming up. I was feeling calm and relaxed and decided to just see how things flowed. If Gem was doing well and we were making good time, I would salvage what was left of my lunch (Wyatt had spent the time we were fixing the tire to eat most of my lunch) and head back out again.

Gem looked just fine coming off the trailer and had eaten about half her hay bag. I noted that there was no poop in the trailer which was odd for the length of time she was in there. I let her graze which she was more than happy to do on the spring grass. I had fed her grain before loading her up and spent a bit of time really going all over her with her favorite curry.

Since I had just done the green-red-green loop a few weeks back, I thought I would hit the grey trail which had never been my favorite in the past due to a long gravel uphill that I was forced to walk because she was bare before. Now that she had shoes, we cold tackle the hill no problem.

The first section leads over a creek and then crosses a road and I let her walk this entire way to stretch out and relax after the trailer ride over. With 20 miles to go, there was no need to rush anything early on. She moved out just fine, snagging any ferns or grass she could find (which was plenty with the forest in full bloom) and making her way to the creek.

We crossed without any issues then headed across the road. I was relaxed and happy for the greenery around me, the sun shining down and the cool breeze. It promised to be a wonderful day.

Then we hit the other side of the road and the wheels fell off. I told you Sunday was a bad day.

I asked her to trot up the stupid hill and her brains melted out of her head. She spooked at everything. I mean everything: a pine cone, a shadow, a rock, the normal tree branches. She had her neck craned and her eyes looking for any reason to be an ass hat. These weren't her typical little sideways ping ponging maneuvers either. She was full fledged jumping out of her skin, all four legs going different directions, spinning 180 degrees spooking.

They had recently done a controlled burn on this side and the air was thick with the scent of pine trees, so I thought maybe that was bothering her. I kept on her asking her to move out and my watch was reading 6-7 mph. She was moving freely and was feeling good when we managed to go forward, but her brain was completely checked out.

I slowed her to a walk and tried to keep my relaxed manner even though my temper was starting to boil a bit at her behavior, This is the crap she used to do 2 years ago. I used to shrug it off as just being her, but she is 18 now and has been riding with me for years. our last ride out was in a  completely new place over new terrain and she soared over it all like it wasn't anything. I was annoyed.

We kept trudging forward, making a 6 mph pace but I was fighting hard for it and by mile 3.5  she had already nearly dumped me 3 times. I was on super high alert which is the only thing that saved me. Had I relaxed at all, I would have eaten dirt.

We came out into a meadow and I let her eat until she was content which ended up being about 10 minutes. I let her take her time and then we walked off. She was fine and nothing bothered her.

A little ways later I asked her to trot again. Her brain melted out of her ears again and she turned into the spooking monster. Gray eventually met back up with red and I hoped the familiar trail would kick her back into gear.

A cool black snake we saw on the trail. Of course the one time I wanted her to stand still so I could get a picture of it, she refused to. 

When she refused to cross a bridge that she has crossed dozens of times, I gave up. We were at mile 4 and neither of us were having any fun whatsoever.

I got off and looked her over. She was fine. She moved fine. She had no lumps, bumps or issues. Her shoes were fine. The saddle was sitting just right and the girth was not pinching. Everything was normal. I did note that while she was eating super well on trail, she still hadn't pooped at all. So I decided to hand walk her a mile and see how she moved and acted.

She walked behind me like a puppy without a care in the world. A lizard jumping on a tree above her? Not even an ear flicker. A squirrel running in front on her? Didn't even notice. I looked back often and she was chewing away, head down and walking evenly on all 4 feet without any issues.

At the end of the mile I got back on. At the walk she was fine. I asked her to trot.

Super high alert mare looking off the trail for any reason at all to spook.

I gave up. We had 5 miles to go before we could be back at the trailer and we would just walk the whole thing. I fervently wished that I could figure out what was bothering her so much and why she had reverted back to such horribly annoying behavior. Without knowing the answer, pushing her ever onward and killing her mental health seemed pointless.

So we walked. I enjoyed the sunshine on my arms. I enjoyed the smells of pine needles and spring flowers on the cool breeze. I enjoyed the feeling of my mare walking beneath me. And Gem? Well she lowered her head and walked on without a care in the world.

She eventually pooped around mile 7 and peed around mile 8, but she was no more willing to go faster than a walk than she had been before.

We tackled the hills at a walk as I thought about a lot of things that I will write about tomorrow. Mostly I just enjoyed being outside and in the woods.

Just shy of 10 miles into the ride, we came to a junction in the trail where we could go right to add miles or straight and end it. Gem knows this area super well and knows exactly which trail leads where. We were walking along and she started heading off to the right. She wanted to keep walking. I, on the other hand, wasn't interested in walking any more. The day had already gotten super long with the tire incident and now the slow pace. We still finished the 10 miles in under 3 hours which isn't great, but isn't awful. My Garmin died at mile 6.5 so I don' know the exact time or pace.

We headed to the trailer and I untacked her and looked her over super well. The temperatures had risen to 77F while we were out and she only had a smidgen on sweat under her saddle. Nowhere else. The mare didn't work at all on that ride. Well, not physically. Mentally she worked pretty hard.

I made her a mash, practiced our trot out and loaded up to go home. Dusty needed to meet us at the barn to pull coggins on her and Pete.

April 19, 2016

Maybe Its Maybelline....

The Triple Crown that Gem is on is making her look like a super model. You can see her shine from across the pasture. Her mane and tail have always been good, but I am seeing new growth coming in like crazy. I can only imagine what it is doing for her hooves as well.

The above was taken after 10 miles in the hills at 76F without a cloud in the sky. Granted, you will read tomorrow about the slow as a snail pace we went, but still 10 miles of hills in the sun would have had her sweating like a beast a year ago. The mare is fit, folks.

April 18, 2016

Do You Know What Isn't Fun??


Actually, all of Sunday would solidly fall into the THIS ISN'T FUN category. Lets start at the beginning though.

The morning actually went well. I got off to the barn, Gem came right over to me and she loaded up with only minimal convincing. I left the barn in record time and hit the road for the 90 minute drive to Clemson where I planned to do 20 miles, break for lunch, and finish with 10 more. I had even remembered to pack myself a lunch.

The 13 miles on I-26 went uneventfully, but only 7 miles into I-85 and my day went seriously downhill. I-85 is 70 mph and three lanes. It typically travels well and they have been working hard at repaving it so it isn't just one large pot hole anymore. They close down two miles sections at a time for repaving bringing the highway to only one lane overnight and then in the morning they open it back up.

Sunday morning they must have been running late or something, because at 9:30 am they still had it down to only one lane. Traffic slowed to about 50 mph and was pretty jammed packed. As I was driving along I saw a semi truck pulled onto the shoulder. Obviously, this isn't too abnormal on the highway, but it made me pay extra attention since it made the already narrow lane even worse and I slowed a bit more to make sure I would fit without any issues.

Just as I passed the semi, I felt an odd crunching and looked into my driver's side mirror to see if I had hit some debris from the truck or potentially the construction.

You know what you never want to see? Smoke. Specifically smoke coming from where a tire should be on your trailer. Crap. Of course, right then I was going under an overpass and there was no way I was going to pull off there, so I eeked it along a bit and pulled off.

Crawling through the passenger door to avoid getting creamed by the cars flying by inches from my door, I held my breath until I checked the tire out. It was demolished. I peeked in on Gem and she looked like she was handling it all pretty well and I grabbed my trailer helper so that I could go about trying to replace the destroyed rubber with my spare.

I adore my trailer helper. Seriously, if you own a trailer you have to own a trailer helper. I placed it in front of the good front tire and drove the trailer on up the small ramp which elevated the back, destroyed, tire off the ground for replacing. All with Gem safely still inside the trailer.

Unfortunately, with the tire blown to pieces I was unable to get anywhere with the lug nuts and I called Dusty for help. Thankfully I was close to a northbound exit that he could get off at and turn right back going south to find me hugging the road. Wyatt was with him and I immediately became stressed that he would get hit by a car, but thankfully he was happy to eat all of my lunch in the truck while Dusty toiled away to replace the tire. I don't know how he kept his cool with semis blowing past inches from his head.

Another piece of equipment that I adore is my portable tire inflater. It plugs into the lighter (anyone remember when cars actually had cigarette lighters in those holes?? I do.) and has a long enough cord to reach all the tires on the truck. It doesn't reach back to the trailer tires with the trailer hooked up. The spare needed some air, so we just hooked that up to the truck and filled the spare before putting it on the trailer.

This got us back on the road and I debated about just calling it a day and turning around. Dusty convinced me to go on ahead and ride. Gem had been munching on her hay the entire time, hadn't broken a sweat and seemed to be ok with the entire ordeal which ended up taking about 2 hours total.

Now for the preaching part of my post. This deserves all caps too so pay attention:


I knew this. I also knew that our tires were made in the first week of 2011 placing them firmly in the 5 years old category. They had also been used a lot. We just didn't have the money and were hoping to make it to the fall when we would buy 5 new tires (4 for the trailer and a spare). I had been keeping a close eye on them, but you can't see the interior.

We were lucky. The trailer is heading to the shop tonight to get 5 tires.

Let me repeat this in case anyone wasn't listening:


April 8, 2016

Conditioning Plan Check In (Weeks 5 and 4)

I am posting this a bit early as the week isn't over yet. We had hoped to make it through 2016 without losing anyone close to us since we said so many goodbyes in 2014 and 2015. Alas, that was not to be. Dusty's step dad passed away this week. My heart goes out to his mom as she has lost her best friend, fishing buddy, camping partner and travel companion. I can't even imagine.

Week 5: Weeknight: hill sets. No, but I have a good excuse! Gem got her shoes on Monday and then it poured the rest of the week. I finally got out between storms on Friday and just as I got into the barn my phone rang with an emergency and I had to go back to work.

Weekend: 10-12 miles, fast pace (hunter pace scheduled). Finished the pace and it was roughly 8 miles with a ton of hills. We kept up a race pace and Gem didn't even look like she worked at all.

Run Wed and Friday. No again. Wednesday I was still battling hip issues from my stupidity the weekend before and I used Friday to try to sneak a ride in that didn't happen.

Double check all gear for any signs of wear or weakness. Go over portable corral for missing parts and functioning charger. Order anything that requires replacing. Have dental work on Gem. Spring vaccines and new coggins.  All gear is good to go and nothing needs replacing. The corral wasn't put together because it was a glorious weekend and I spent it hiking and riding instead, so this will still need to be done soon. Gem isn't really due for spring stuff until June, so I have decided to just wait until after the ride. She will need new coggins before hand, but Dusty can do that and just forgot to this weekend because Wyatt was sick. He will pull it for me on week 4.

Week 4: Weeknight: arena work. I decided to do hill work and actually remembered my Garmin. The hill isn't insanely impressive, but it is steep and we worked it at 13 mph each time. She knows what I expect of her on these days. We get to the bottom of the hill and she turns around and charges back up. I only did 3 hill sets because it was already 6:30 pm before I tacked up and she was getting pretty sweaty. With temperatures dropping to the mid 30s overnight, I didn't want her wet at all when she went back out.

Weekend: 10-12 miles, fast pace (hunter pace scheduled). 
We left SC on Friday to be with Dusty's family and won't be back until Tuesday night, so Gem gets the weekend off to rest and recover.

Run Wed and Friday.  I ran on Wednesday and then went out of town.

April 6, 2016

My First Endurance Dream

I rode yesterday evening working on hill sets. Gem was pretty blah about the whole thing although she still put in 13 mph uphills and worked up a sweat. All in all though she just felt kind of blah.

There were plenty of reasons: it was 6:30 pm before I tacked up, I pulled her away from her lovely grass hay while Pete stood and pigged out, the sun was setting and it was getting colder by the minute  and she just in general hates the arena and hates repetition. Still, all those reasons didn't stop me from driving home thinking that her saddle wasn't fitting right anymore, the shoes were bothering her, she wasn't fit enough, we were never going to finish 100 miles and on and on and on.

My mind is awful like that.

I went to bed and dreamed my first ever endurance dream.

I was at the 100 and it started at 0700. I was overly confident and figured that I didn't need the full 24 hours allotted and could therefor sleep in a little. At 0900 I finally got around to tacking up and everyone was giving me a hard time about starting 2 hours late which essentially wasted an entire loop. I didn't care. I had been tired and I knew we would still have 22 hours which was all we needed.

Then I woke up so I have no clue if my cocky dream self was able to finish the ride or not. Heck, in real life they wouldn't even let me start 2 hours late!

Anyway...so there is that. This ride is fairly always on my mind in one form or the other. I'm either pretty happy with the way things are going or feeling dread and completely sure that we will get pulled. The one factor that worries me the most is saddle fit. I have no real reason to worry about it. She has never been back sore. No white hairs. She has competed in this saddle for 125 miles with all As. I think it weighs so heavily on my mind of two reasons

1) she has been a saddle fitting nightmare in the past and saddle fit always worries me in general

2) it is something I have no means to change and no real control over at the moment. With all As in the past and no current issues, I have no reason to go off the deep end and start finding a saddle a month out from the ride so this is the saddle we will be riding in. I don't have the money to purchase a back up saddle, so if she gets sore we are screwed. Having no real control over it makes it a point of stress and so my brain is focusing on it.

4 weeks stand between me and this ride and I just hope that my nerves let me survive to the starting line. Once I am on her it will all go away. It will be just getting through from vet check to vet check and seeing what happens. Until then, my brain is in overactive mode worrying needlessly.

April 3, 2016

Green Creek Hounds Pace

Sunday morning was brisk at 40F with a wicked wind that felt like it whipped right through you. My excitement for the pace dwindled as I got ready to leave the hours in the early morning hours. By the time we arrived at the barn, Gem was just finishing up her breakfast and it seemed to get colder. I grabbed her from the pasture and she was high as a kite.

The other two horses at the barn were racing up and down their pasture screaming at the wind. A quick risk:benefit analysis showed that it would be better to just throw her in the trailer without removing her sheet and hope she was calmer at the ride for grooming.

We arrived in a beautiful little valley that was completely sheltered from the wind. Gem unloaded and got busy eyeing up the lush grass all around her as I went to check in. Wyatt hopped on up and helped me warm her up as we wandered to the start.

 Three, two, one...enjoy your ride!

I started Gem of really slow. Two people had warned me that the NG shoes can be slick as skates on ice when riding over wet grass. Well as you can see from the above picture, the start was noting but thick and wet grass. We walked off and things seemed to be ok, so about halfway through the field I picked up a trot and she still moved out without an issue.

At the back left corner of the field, the trail headed into the woods and I let Gem move out as she wished maintaining a nice and forward trot. I wanted to feel how the shoes made her move.

The first mile had a few good hills in it and while the trail was mostly sift dirt, there were sections that became rocky. It took until the end of the first mile before Gem realized she didn't have to worry about rocks and really just flew down the trail.

We spent the first mile or so hugging the bank of a large stream/small river and the sound of trickling water made a lovely soundtrack to our progress through the woods. Gem was feeling good and the slight breeze that made its way through the trees served to keep us both cool as the sun began to warm the air.

The second mile came quickly and we began to duck into the woods and the skirt more gorgeous, lush fields. I began to grow more confident in the tall grass and kept Gem trotting. She never took an odd step or slipped in the grass. 

Eventually the trail dumped us onto a road crossing and I made her slow way down. Farrier had never heard of the slick in grass thing, but had heard people say that the shoes were sticky on pavement and to be careful. We made our way across the road and bypassed an optional jump before heading back into the woods. 

From here we once again skirted fields and ran through the woods. Gem was forward and willing the entire time. I wasn't quite up to letting her canter just yet, but she still keeping a good pace just at the trot.

 We eventually re entered the woods and the trail went up, up and up some more. As the end of the woods drew near, Gem was breathing pretty hard and I told her we could walk a bit once we reached the top. As the trail broke from the trees, I saw the steepest, longest hill I think I have ever rode on Gem. It was all grass covered and went on for forever. I apologized to the mare and let her walk half way up and then made her get going once again. At the top, the view was simply breathtaking and I felt my face break into an ear to ear grin that never faded until the end of the ride. I stopped at the top and turned around to grab a picture.

This was the only spot that made me second guess myself. The trail went straight ahead and there was a large jump. A sign read "TO JUMP" with a big, bold,  black arrow pointed straight ahead to the jump. There was another sign below it that read "NO JUMP" with a big, bold, black arrow pointing to the left. Right beside the jump was a small trail and typically on these courses you can take the jump or go beside it. As I was pointing Gem to go beside the jump I saw a blue ribbon off 90 degrees to my left going down and equally steep and long, rock strewn trail. Not seeing any ribbons dead ahead, I turned down the hill. There weren't any confidence ribbons along the entire down hill portion and I was beginning to think I made a wrong turn and should have gone straight to the jump when finally we reached the bottom and I saw a ribbon. Phew!

From here the trail go even more fun. Gem hit her stride and was just flying along without a care in the world. The trail was mostly single track and wove through the trees. There were small little hills that were more like moguls on a ski slope and we bounced up and around and through the woods. I was giggling out loud like a school girl and giving Gem huge pats.

Honestly, it was moment that just made me thankful to be alive and fortunate enough to get to enjoy my time on the planet like this.

These woods plopped us out by a local vineyard and there was yet more gorgeous scenery to take in.

The trail ran off to the right up a gravel road and for once I could let gem just go. The trail wound its way up the hill in the picture above and I was laughing as we soared around the curve and then the world exploded at the top.

I have never seen a more gorgeous view in my entire life. Thankfully, they put the rest stop at the top and I just sat there on Gem like a fool with my mouth gaping open. The hold folks laughed and said that it was coined the bas view in he county. I spun around snapping pictures and just gushing. The lady offered to snap my picture with Gem and I happily handed my phone over. Gem wasn't too thrilled with posing instead of stuffing her face full of grass.

I can't get over how shiny Gem is. She wasn't even breaking a sweat at this point and she just radiated. Well, except for her incredible angry face because I made her stop eating. 
The 3 minute hold ended and we headed off to go down the back side of the hill and entered a fairy land forest. Seriously, the grass was near neon green and covered the entire forest floor with trees sprouting from the earth all around us. It was surreal.

We trotted through our dreams for quite a way and then re entered a pine forest with the trail littered in pine needles. Gem was moving well, the ground was glorious and the trail wide and I asked for a canter. Maybe it was how relaxed I was, maybe Gem was feeling the magic too, maybe it was the shoes or maybe the footing, but most likely it was combination of it all. Regardless she put out the most glorious canter she ever has. I couldn't even feel her feet touch the ground as we soared along the trail.

We slowed as the trail grew more narrow and wound through the trees once again. We were at mile 7 and I reached for my phone to take a pic of the trail we had just traveled. Except my phone was not there. It had to have slipped out of my waist band. Darn. I though about turning around, but I figured we weren't that far away from camp and I could sen Dusty running it backwards to pick it up. I made a mental note to break down and purchase one of those thigh belts that holds the phone.

All too soon we were back into the fields and the trailers came into view. We crossed the finish line with my Garmin reading 7.8 miles and I fervently wished this was a longer ride. I briefly debated just going around a second time, but money is tight right now and the boys were waiting on me.

Gem didn't even look tired at the end. Even with a faster pace and a ton of hill work, she hadn't broken a sweat and people at the start asked if we were just heading out. She is looking amazing right now!

As I was filling Dusty in on my lost phone, a woman came over to let me know someone found it and was riding back with it. I was thrilled!! As we chatted, she asked me how the ride went an pretty much everyone could see my beaming face. These were the most beautiful trails I had ever ridden and I was sure to tell everyone who would listen. Turns out I was talking to someone from the Green Creek Hounds who hosted the pace and hunt on the private property were were fortunate enough to get to ride on. She invited me to join the int which honestly, I believe I will do. They put on a summer walking with the hounds thing where you can go and just ride with the hounds, but not do the hunt so you can get the horse accustomed to being with the hounds  and learn more. The attire is pretty much whatever and I plan to go the summer and learn more about it. If I fall in love, I hope to join the hunt next fall as a guest and maybe even a permanent member after that!!

I stripped her tack and we headed over to get lunch. They had tables set up with table cloths and it was very cute.

I let Gem hand graze a bunch and decided to forgo any extra grain. She didn't really work hard at all and there is no need to juice her up just to do so. I took a picture of how shiny she is too.

I am just so excited for this year. No matter what happen at Biltmore, Gem is looking and feeling the best she ever has and at 18 years of age that is saying a lot. We have so many great opportunities right now and I am just thrilled with life.