July 6, 2016

DuPont Recreational Forest

The high was predicted to be 100F with humidity of 82% for the holiday weekend. I was looking at a long weekend bereft of any riding when Sheree texted me wanting to hit the trails. I became determined to find somewhere nearby that either had lower temperatures or a lot of water access. Then it hit me. This was the perfect time to explore the massive trail system at DuPont Recreational Forest in the NC mountains only an hour from the barn. A quick look at my Wunderground App showed a high of only 81F and low humidity. Perfect!

Looking pretty darn good after nearly two months off
I met Sheree at a gas station about 15 minutes from the barn and followed her along the winding back roads to one of six different trail heads. She hadn't been to this system in a long time, but it had been a favorite haunt of hers at one time and she still remembered a lot of it.

The parking lot was spacious but nearly full already by the time we got there around 11:30 am. It is a popular spot for mountain bikers and hikers alike and we were the only trailers at the time. By the time we mounted up, two more trailers pulled in and the lot was filled to near capacity.

Probably contemplating what new Hell I was planning for the day. Would we be gone for one hour or 18? You never know what I have up my sleeve, so a nap was in order to prepare.
Sheree and I caught up while we tacked up. Her mare, Riiah, is looking amazing coming back from a long treatment for Lymes that caused both neurological and musculoskeletal symptoms last summer. Riiah is an amazing athlete with a lot of opinions and I really enjoyed riding with them during the summer of 2014 before her decline and eventual diagnosis in 2015. She has a clean bill of health now and is gearing back up for some more endurance rides.

When I swung my leg over Gem and settled down onto her familiar back, I was excited to see what she would be like. This was her first real ride post 100 and I was curious to see if the bravado she showed with no spooks or even attempts to spook for 18 hours would carry over. About 100 yards into the ride she gave a massive sideways spook and I sighed. Nope. No change.

The trail heading away from the parking lot

I really think she just plum hates conditioning. It is hard work and boring at times and she sees no reason for it and tries to get out of work by being an idiot. Take her to a competition and she is brave and forward and willing to go all day and then some. My next horse will be much less complicated I think.

The trail system is massive. DuPont is 10,000+ acres and is cut with multi use trails for hikers, bikers and horses. In fact, an endurance rider in the region helped build most of the trails in a sustainable way hoping to build a relationship to allow for an endurance ride. Unfortunately, while his hard work resulted in beautiful trails, it did not help foster any motivation to allow an endurance ride in the forest.

Enjoying the shade and wide open trail

I bet this place is gorgeous in the fall

Neither of us had any plans for the ride. No set distance or pace with the main goal of just exploring and having fun. We wandered down the main access road to the forest and I was glad for the front shoes as we crunched over large gravel and stones. I was trying to pay attention to the trails for future use, but I never saw any trail markings. It was really odd. At every intersection there were lovely trail signs like street crossing signs with the names of all involved trails, but no additional information like mileage. Once past the intersection there were no markings at all: no ribbons, arrows, colors on the trees. Nothing. You basically kept going until you reached the next intersection. Since we didn't have a map, these intersections were useless to us and we just picked a direction and went hoping to be able to find our way back eventually.

Lots and lots of gravel
Most of the trails were double ride, hard packed dirt with a scattering of gravel, rocks and boulders. I had to laugh at my own sense of "rocky" after being at the Old Dominion ride. Nothing seems rocky after those trails and I didn't even ride them!

We ran across several bikers who were all super polite. Gem hates anything running up behind her at a fast pace. She gets really tense and her ears fling back. At one point we were going down a hill at a trot and she started to get super tense and distracted. I looked back and sure enough two bikers were flying down the hill towards us. We stopped and yelled back asking them to slow down which they did and then went on by us as we waited.

The only other time she had an issue was coming down another hill that had a small creek crossing at the bottom. Two bikers came flying down it towards us and splashed loudly through the water. It caught Gem off guard, but otherwise she didn't seem to mind any bikes coming towards or behind us. Everyone we passed was polite, slowed down or got off and told us to  have a good ride. If we came along someone on an uphill we always told them to stay moving to not lose their momentum. Being polite back to them really helped a lot.

These little speed bumps were a ton of fun a the canter
It felt almost spring like in the shade

Gem trotted and cantered a good bit when we could and we just enjoyed the cooler air and new trails. One really annoying habit she picked up from the 100 was eating on the trail. She was starving from mile 70ish on and I let her stop frequently to graze when grass was around. Well, she took that as approval to eat all the time and I had to battle her constantly stopping to drop her head. It was really annoying and is something I need to put a stop to immediately.

My favorite part was a small, overgrown single track trail with sandy footing that led to the river. We trotted down it dodging the bright green, leaf heavy limbs and I laughed as we weaved along.

My favorite trail of the day
Once we got to the river, Sheree asked if I wanted to switch horses. She rode Gem during a Ride and Tie I convinced her to do in 2014, but I had never had the pleasure of sitting on Ri. I was happy to do so!

I climbed aboard her tall mare. Ok..she isn't that tall but she is taller than Gem and I really like my short little 15H horse quite a bit. The biggest thing I had to get used to was her treeless Freeform saddle. It felt so different than my Advantage. I felt more propped up and tipped a little forward with the dressage seat in place. I am used to having next to nothing between my horse and me and this felt like a lot of padding and saddle between my tush and her back.

Sheree on Gemmie

Riaah wondering who this new person was on her back

Riiah also moves incredibly different than Gem. She has a lot of "boing" in her step whereas Gem moves very flat. Between the boingy motion and the saddle feeling like I was propped seven miles over the horse's back, I was feeling like I was going to get posted right in the air. It took a few tries, but I eventually learned to just relax my pelvis ad go with the flow a bit more and settled in.

We moved along with Sheree and Gem behind and Riaah figuring out what I wanted. She has a great respect for your seat and legs, something Gem does not have, and if I sat down just a little stronger she would immediately halt. I really enjoyed playing around with the buttons she had installed. Sheree for her part enjoyed the laid back Gemmie tailing along behind Riaah. We both laughed that we always ride color coordinated to our mares and now we clashed horribly with my red and black on her pink mare and her pink and grey on my red and black one.

A new set of ears to look through
A very long neck held higher than Gem does

In the end we covered about 6.5 miles in about 2 hours with several stops to let the bikers go by and slowing down for me to get used to my new mount. Both horses looked great at the end and I can't wait to go back up there. I really need to find a detailed map though or I could get very lost. The trails are very different than I am used to with no real loops or end points. They are more like a maze where all the trails intersect at some point and are all fairly short (like less than a mile for most of them) but can be strung together to be riding all day and then some. We didn't even cross the river to get to the trails on the other side and there are still 5 more access points with loads of other trails too. Some even have waterfalls although those are crazy busy with hikers. It was so nice to get out again and be with a good friend on new trails. I think my summer riding will likely be spent up there to escape the oppressive heat and humidity.


  1. Sounds like a really sweet place to ride! Trails look very well-built, too.

    1. These trails were the most well thought out and planned of any I have ridden. Even with a ton of foot, bike and horse traffic there were no wash outs, boggy areas, ruts or even sings of hoof marks. They were built correctly and I really wish they would allow an endurance ride. It would be a great place to have one.

  2. What a fun ride!! And no humidity to boot, win win.

    1. It is really nice to ride with friends who go the same overall pace as you. It seriously felt like spring versus the nasty summer we have been having only an hour south of the park.

  3. Replies
    1. It was gorgeous there. The barn being 40 minutes away stinks in some regards, but it has opened up some new places to ride that I would have otherwise avoided due to a long trailer ride.

  4. Those trails look great and I love finding nice, cool places to ride.

    1. It is essential in the summer. There are no good swimming holes around here so the mountains and shade are needed.