|Looking pretty darn good after nearly two months off|
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.|
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|
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|
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.