..miles. We did our first 8.5 mile ride within days of arriving at the this barn. That's like, real endurance training distance, yo.
No one freak out. We just walked the entire distance. Lily was fresh and happy by the end of the ride and standing square on both hind feet. In fact, here's what she looked like after her shower:
|"Hey peeps. What's up?"|
She was a little foot sore after from all the rocks we encountered on the trails. Can't blame her; she's been either stallbound or turned out on grass, and our former trail riding was over a much smoother path. This issue will be resolved soon. She was buted, linimented, and her hooves packed with Magic Cushion for good measure.
Ok, so let me backtrack.
We have about 15 boarders at this barn. Over half of them are diehard trail riders, with good quiet, solid horses. After riding out with Kathy and Phoebe, I was put in contact with Natalie and Jane, who often ride out to a park I had not even realized was that close to our barn: it is a HUGE state park, one of the largest in the state, taking up two counties and with an infinity of riding trails crisscrossed throughout. Locals call it Redneck Park. It's just a two mile ride to get there, and Natalie and Jane go that way frequently during the week. Kathy and Phoebe have not been able to successfully go out with these two ladies, so they were hoping that if I could make, I'd later be able to give them the tour of the trails.
The ride was originally going to be 2 hours, but it turned into 3 which only happened because we had to backtrack. These ladies prefer to walk on the trails (which I don't mind, especially while we're still working on conditioning Lily and getting her used to this area) and at the beginning of the ride, they apologized saying, "If you want excitement, it's not us." Famous last words.
On our way out, we met up with two other ladies on their mares, Holly and Bootsie. Natalie and Jane ride elderly QH geldings, named Newton and Ace, respectively. Ace and Newton are in their late 20's. You would never be able to tell to look at them - the two horses are muscle-bound and uber-fit. Trail riding is good for a horse's body and mind, and they are living proof of it.
Lily was by far the youngest in the group; the next youngest horse was Holly at 18. Holly didn't know her age: she squealed randomly at other horses and threatened to kick if another horse got too close to her rear end. I let Lily tell me about herd dynamics: she always knew when a squeal wasn't directed at her and held her ground, but if a pinned ear or swinging rump was aimed at her, I didn't stop her from turning and getting the heck out of the way if she needed to. She knew before I did when the issue was with her v s another horse.
My girl impressed the hell out of the other riders. She asked to lead heading out, then became a little hesitant so the other mares led for a ways. Lily, Bootsie and Holly took turns leading as we made our way through the woods, across a street, and onto a private farm where we are allowed to ride on the road. The day was glorious, with temps in the mid-70's and clear skies all around.
|Stunning, yes? Yes.|
And then we came across The Dog.
A Weimaraner, of all things.
|Not the individual we met, of course, but you can see where I'm going in terms of appearance. Imagine seeing this creature from a horse's point of view.|
Read more about Weimaraners here.
I urged Lily to catch up to Holly and Bootsie with their riders, and we waited for Jane and Natalie to catch up to us. Ace did NOT like that dog, and despite being a solid, quiet trail horse, there was a huge commotion. We couldn't see what was going on from where we were on the trail, but there was a lot of shouting involved between Jane, the owner of the dog, and the other woman on her green horse.
Everybody made it in one piece, thankfully.
Our next obstacle was a creek crossing. Lily has been fine with creek crossings, but this one involved a steep drop (1.5') into pastern-deep mud before actually crossing the creek. I knew she'd have problems with that. The two mares in front of us took their time crossing, even stopping to drink from the creek, so Lily got to stand in front of that bank and take a good look without trying to spin around away from it. When our turn came, instead of trying to fight with her I simply got off and led her across. She hesitated for a split second, thinking about the drop, then followed. I mounted up on the other side, no problem.
We continued on our way.
The next obstacle was A Mud Hole. It was actually a really shallow, wide creek, but the creek bed had been churned to mud by the local hunt that had galloped through the day before. Said mud was cannon-bone deep; the "creek" was about 4' wide. Going in was easy, but coming up on the other side involved leaping up onto a 2.5' bank. The bank was literally perpendicular to the mud at a 90 degree angle, looked slimy, and you could see where horses had slipped trying to get up. I wish I'd gotten a photo. I didn't like the looks of it at all.
I could have sent Lily across if I'd brought my lunge line-just let her leap across, unhindered by my weight. (No idea how I would have gotten across after her, though..) But I knew there was no way in a million years that I'd get her to step into that muck, and I didn't want her to. It was just asking for a broken leg if she panicked, and for what?
All of these thoughts ran through my head as Lily and I stood and watched Holly's and Bootsie's riders attempt to get their mares across first. Of the two, Bootsie was the only one that actually put her legs into the bog, took one step in, then immediately backed away. She refused to even think about attempting it after that. Newton made it across, but since none of the other horses would go, Jane and Natalie decided to backtrack and take us another route.
We had the horses crawl up a steep hill...
...and ended up in The Cornfield.
I had Lily follow Jane and Ace through the corn, with the rest of the group behind us. Jane was trying to find a shortcut around the creek that would take us to an area called Four Corners, from where we could head home. There was no path to speak of as we followed the tree line, and the corn just got thicker and thicker in front of us until it was impassable. So we all turned our horses around and headed back.
|We did some serious bushwacking|
So then we had to go back down the steep hill and follow a deer path through the woods back. The deer path was on the side of a 45-degree-angle hill. We followed it back onto a real trail around the cornfield. This part seemed to take forever. Lily and I were second, behind Newton, and Holly was walking along with her nose right up against Lily's butt. Lily normally doesn't mind this, but she kept turning her head to glance at Holly behind her in annoyance. No pinned ears, but I knew she was annoyed. She'll tolerate another horse's nose touching her behind, but not forever. I looked back and saw that Holly was placidly munching on a giant stalk of corn leaves, and realized that the leaves were tickling Lily. There was nothing we could do, however: we were right up against Newton's muscular chestnut rump and couldn't go any faster.
The trail led us up another very long, very steep and very rocky hill. Lily started to really struggle trying to stay behind Newton at a slow walk, but I held her back...and then the trail widened. I asked Natalie if we could pass, and she said yes. We trotted past her and came back to a walk at the top. At that point I realized that Bootsie and Holly had followed right behind Lily.
We crossed a road where Lily for whatever reason tried to whirl around, upsetting Holly behind her. I kicked Lily forward and we stayed in front. The forest was beautiful.
Natalie and Jane wanted to show a stone wall to Holly and Bootsie's riders, and we followed the trail until we finally found it. I missed the part where they explained why this wall was a big deal, but it was a 2' high wall that was probably a couple hundred years old that ran parallel to the trail for a ways. I tried to get a photo, but at this point, Lily was on a mission and this is all I got:
|You can kind of see the light on the top of the wall to the left. Terrible photo. It could just as well be a photo of Big Foot for all you can see of the wall...|
|You can see a fallen tree up ahead on the trail that we had to negotiate.|
I'm glad the other two mares went ahead. We followed the trail up an incline, to a point where it did a right angle and veered sharply to the right. Bootsie and Holly suddenly spooked and tried to bolt right at the corner where the trail turned. Lily didn't react to the mares, and I was really happy about this, because we came face to face with...
...A Bow Hunter.
In full camouflage gear, bow laid across his lap. He was sitting stock still. If the mares hadn't reacted so strongly, I would have never seen him, despite him being only 4' in front of us. Lily pricked her ears at him, recognized him as a person before I registered that it was actually a living being and not a mannequin (he was that still), then said "Whatevs" and followed after Holly.
Lilybird, I love you.
The trail took us right onto the edge of another soybean field. But we had one more obstacle:
Yes. That dog. Again.
|Again, not the individual we encountered.|
The older woman and Jane got into a yelling match. Then the dog's owner spoke up and clarified that they just wanted us to step aside so they could go down the trail that we had just come out of. Jane immediately switched gears to a more polite tone, and we all made room so they could go down towards the bow hunter. We then turned around to continue the trail up the other way, following the tree line by the soybean field.
We came to another fork in the path. Bootsie's and Holly's riders had to be back at their barn by noon. Holly had some sort of freakout and I didn't get to see what it was about because all of a sudden Lily just about jumped on Jane's lap trying to get away from the other mare. Next thing I knew, both mares had taken off down the trail at a trot, Holly still bouncing around, half-bucking and swishing her trail angrily. I held Lily back so we could stay with Jane and Natalie. Lily had absolutely no problem with letting the other two mares go ahead.
We continued our way back home, Lily and the two geldings, in peace, following a dirt road through meadows, sod, and more soybean fields.
Once back at the barn, Jane, Natalie and I parted ways by their paddock, and I continued with Lily solo around the property. She hesitated a little at being separated from the other horses, but I urged her forward into a jog. Once we were at the main bridle path, I let her come back down to a walk until we came to our gate.
Seriously, my mare is a superstar. I gave her a bath, rubbed all four legs and her back with Sore No More, gave her treats, packed her hooves with the Magic Cushion, gave her a scoop of bute mixed with a handful of sweet feed, then put her away in her stall with extra hay and a whole flake of alfalfa, her favorite. She had more than earned it.
And then I gave her the next three days off! She had earned that, too.