I honestly don't remember how I stumbled upon her blog, but it caught my attention because:
1. Gail lives in my area.
2. She is conditioning a Friesian for endurance. Draft type horses are not generally popular for endurance because of their larger body mass (they can have problems with cooling down in hot, humid weather if the rider is not aware) but they can definitely do it with special attention to conditioning. Gail is an experienced horsewoman who has done careful research on the sport she is training for, and, riding a non-Arab myself, her story promised to be an interesting one. I always learn something new reading her posts.
3. Her blog is fairly new; its first anniversary will be in April.
I love her thoughtful writing style, seeing the trails of Virginia through her eyes, and reading about her adventures with Nimo as he has gotten more and more used to being out on the trails. Gail moved to the DC suburb area several years ago after living in Iowa, so it was especially interesting to see her take on this winter!
After e-mailing back and forth a couple of times, we were finally able to meet up to go ride at the Manassas National Battlefield Park in Manassas, VA this past Saturday February 22nd.
Gail invited her friend Jola to come along, and I invited Kathy. Both Jola and Kathy prefer to enjoy the trails at a walk, so we figured this would allow Gail and me to do some faster-paced work on the trails while all of us had fun.
|Photo of the Battlefield from www.parkadvocate.org|
Kathy and I met at our barn at 9:00 am to get the girls ready.
I really wanted to see how Lily would handle riding on the trails in a new environment after all of our training rides these past few months. We hadn't done this since FL a little over 2 years ago, and that time Lily was kind of a nut.
Queenie was in her stall whinnying because all of the horses had been turned out for the day. I brought Lily in and put her in the stall next to Queenie with a small beet pulp meal with lots of water and a half flake of alfalfa. Lily dove into her food while we groomed the mares and finished packing and organizing our things. Kathy let me borrow one of her haynets and in a lightbulb moment I filled half of it with alfalfa and half with the barn orchard grass hay. Lily has always been iffy about eating away from home which is something that needs to resolve if we're really going to do this endurance thing. She will never, ever say no to alfalfa while at the barn, so this was an experiment to see what she'd do when it was offered at a new location.
I put Lily on the cross ties when she was done eating so I could pick her feet and put her boots on: she wore her SMB boots in front, the new Horze Tendon Boots I won from Adventures With Shyloh on her hinds (they would be moved to her fronts at Manassas; I wanted the backs of her hind legs protected while in the trailer) and I put her Rennies on her front feet to protect them in case she decided to paw while in the trailer. (She pawed herself bloody on the trailer ride from FL.) This was going to be Lily's first longer trailer ride since the move from FL to MD; the longest she'd been on a trailer since then was 10 minutes!
|"Where did the trailer go?"|
|"What's going on?"|
You can kind of see the Horze boots on her hinds.
(I was so excited about the ride itself that I failed epically at properly documenting how awesome these boots are.)
I love that she has started talking to me. I love how far her trust in me has come. I never thought I'd see the day.
Before, back in FL, when we went on trail rides off property I was often nervous. This time I was just really happy and excited. I think she picked up on that.
Queenie got on uneventfully. Kathy closed the partition (her trailer is a slant-load), and then Lily got on.
We had practiced getting on this trailer awhile back to go for a ride at the park across the street. That time, Lily said, "I don't fit in here" and it took a couple of attempts for her to realize that she was supposed to stand in the trailer at an angle.
Even though that was 4 months ago, she remembered. She walked right onto the trailer, got up against the partition, and waited for us to close the door.
|Brown butt and red butt|
Kathy and I unloaded the girls and let them look around. Lily used to get off of trailers with a lot of anxiety. She'd be pretty "up" and distracted for the first hour or so at a new place.
This is all I got:
|"This is kinda cool!"|
|This is the moment where my pride for her started on this day!|
I actually had a hard time getting her bridle on because she wouldn't stop eating!
(I had switched her Horze tendon boots to her fronts in this photo; you can see the tops of them)
|These are the Horze Tendon Boots. So you can get a good look at them. And this is the color I chose from the options available in the giveaway: it's the Ombre Blue. They really are exactly this color: a dark blue-gray.|
Yup, I failed at photo-taking to the point where I also completely forgot to photograph the EasyCare Stowaway water bottle and holder that I purchased and added to Lily's current saddle bags. This model has a clip that I used to attach it to my Stowaway saddle bags and an adjustable strap with a snap that I used to attach it to my billet strap.
That thing stayed in place and didn't bounce despite all the trotting and cantering we'd later do.
|Gail getting Nimo ready. He's such a cool horse!|
Gail and I mounted up and we started towards the trail that was accessible directly from the parking lot. As we were leaving, we heard two loud whinnies and Kathy's voice shouting.
Queenie was calling after Lily and she had broken the trailer tie connecting her to the trailer! She was cantering straight towards us, Kathy running behind her.
I turned Lily towards Queenie. Queenie suddenly realized that there was all this GRASS right behind Lily which looked a lot more appealing than her trail buddy...she kept right on going past us and into the open field full of knee-high dry grass next to the trail!
Laughing, I turned Lily and chased after her at a trot; after several attempts we were finally able to cut her off. Lily wasn't sure what we were doing nor why, and she wasn't too keen on the idea of blocking the path of one very determined Queenie, but she obliged (this was time #2 that my heart almost burst with pride for Lily!) and Queenie stood still long enough for Kathy to catch up to us and grab her little red mare's trailing trailer tie.
Kathy ended up tying Queenie on the other side of the trailer and offered her Lily's alfalfa hay net. Queenie was appeased long enough for us to get going, but afterwards she continued to call and call. She eventually calmed down when Kathy led her over to where Jola and her friend were finishing tacking up and gave Kathy a wonderful ride!
Gail and I headed out on the trail at a walk. The trail was flat and wide enough that we could ride side by side. We initially decided to walk for the first 10 minutes to warm up our horses, but the trail was somewhat muddy and it ended up being more like 30 minutes or so. Gail said she hoped Lily wouldn't mind Nimo's antics, as he can sometimes be looky on the trail and will randomly be iffy about water crossings. I told her this was NBD.
As if on cue, a small patch of snow in the tall grass by the trail caught Nimo's eye and he dropped his head a bit and took a couple of steps to the side. Lily never saw what made him look, but she responded by imitating him.
Funnily enough, this was the only time she would react to something he reacted to. He's not a spooky horse at all though. He'll give the hairy eyeball to certain things, like specific fallen branches or chopped tree trunks, the same exact kind of thing Lily will worry about when she's in heat or in a worrying state of mind. Gail mentioned that up to a year ago he was terrified of everything to the point where she had stopped riding outside of the arena. Until one day she said, "Enough!" He's come a very long way; it was hard to imagine him being frightened of the world.
We continued on down the trail, talking and getting to know one another in person. It was fun getting to fill in the gaps of the bits I know about Gail and Nimo from the blog, and it made for some great conversation.
We crossed a quiet park access road. At this point the footing was fairly dry, so we cantered several strides. We then continued at a trot, eventually arriving at a fairly large river crossing next to a very pretty wooden pedestrian bridge.
|The pedestrian trail on the left. The horse crossing is about 20 feet past the bridge.|
Photo by Kathy.
I borrowed Gail's dressage whip for a second. I tapped my leg firmly with it and Lily slowly ventured forward. The minute her front feet were in the water, Nimo went right up to the water, sniffed it, then walked right in, taking the lead again.
The order in which things happened after that is already becoming blurry. We crossed a second, wider road that was also quiet, and there was a third main road that was much busier, but thankfully the car drivers were really good about stopping to letting equestrians cross.
There was a second river crossing that was about as deep as the first but not quite as wide. It was very similar to the Rock Creek crossings on the Bayou Trail at the old barn. Nimo and Lily both went right in without a problem.
We trotted through a lovely portion of trail that wound through a pine tree forest. It was absolutely gorgeous. Gail said it was her favorite part of the trail, as it reminded her of a movie. I had to agree!
|The pine forest trail|
Photo by Kathy
|Kathy's view of the pine forest trail! Those are Queenie's red ears.|
We both agreed later that this section was definitely one of the highlights of this ride.
|The pine forest.|
Photo by Kathy
...and arrived at the banks of the Bull Run Creek.
This was no "creek" guys. It was a river.
|Bull Run Creek on a quiet summer day.|
Photo from here.
Lily has never crossed a river that wide or that deep. I've been quietly wanting to try her out on this sort of water crossing for awhile, just to see if she would do it, but did not have access to this kind of obstacle on the trails back home. I was totally game to try, and so was Gail.
Nimo knew the second we decided we were going to try to cross and he paused. Lily was ready though and stepped forward when I asked, right down to the water's edge. The near bank was a red sandy clay. She walked into the water, one step at a time, until it was up to her elbows. She stopped to look around. Nimo went into the water behind us and as him and Gail came even with us I asked, "Do you have any idea how deep this is?" She said, "I was wondering the same thing." Nimo answered the question for all of us, plunging bravely ahead and leading the way. The water came just up to his belly as they made it halfway across the river. Nimo is nearly 17 hands; Lily barely scrapes 15. Gail called back, "You sure you want to go on? Your boots are going to get wet!" With a grin, I told her it wasn't a problem. I took my feet out of the stirrups and bent my legs back so my boots wouldn't touch the water (an antic that she would never have tolerated as little as 7 months ago...), as Lily continued on, one step at a time. She was in no rush to get across and seemed to be enjoying her little impromptu bath!
We made it safely, both Gail and I laughing over what fun that was, and continued on down the trail...except it dead-ended not far after on someone's property. We turned around and crossed Bull Run again. And this time I got video!
At the very end you can hear when Gail says, "That was AWESOME!" :)
Remember guys, this is the mare that wouldn't cross water!! Yup, the pride was overflowing by this point!
Oh, and the Horze boots? They stayed on no problem!
We retraced our steps for the rest of the way, mostly at a trot now that we were familiar with the conditions of the trail. Nimo has a huge trot stride even when he's moving at a conservative pace. I continued riding Lily on a loopy rein and she simply extended her trot and stretched out. There were several times when Nimo lengthened and Lily asked to canter. She asked to canter, she didn't fling her head around and lose her mind like she used to do a year ago. I gave her permission and she proved to be extremely reasonable about it, keeping her distance behind Nimo even at the faster gait, slowing down to the trot on her own when the footing warranted it, and then picking up the canter again. It was a great exercise in riding behind a faster horse, which we haven't done since riding with Tina and Houdon at the old barn. Her canter was relaxed and easy, her "all-day" canter that she has secretly developed with all of the trail riding we've been doing. (We do canter on the trail but it's never a lot; this is basically a side effect of her conditioning.) It was a blast!!
|Lily's shadow as she was trotting along behind Nimo on a loose rein|
All of the hikers we encountered were polite and cheerful, giving us the right of way. We came across several that had their dogs in tow, but I'm happy to report that all of them were on leashes. Our horses didn't care.
We walked the last mile or so home, completing 9 miles in slightly over 2 hours. Both horses still had plenty of energy but were relaxed, happy, and comfortable.
It was such an awesome ride!!! We untacked the horses and let them eat. Kathy, Jola and her friend had arrived about 15 minutes in front of us and were just starting to untack when we arrived. I had brought beet pulp for Lily and she alternately attacked that and her haynet. I was beaming watching her. Yup, the mare that wouldn't eat away from home. She didn't drink water when offered, but I had made the beet pulp extra mushy, so she did get some water there.
We hung around talking for about an hour or so, long enough to give the horses a good break, then loaded up and headed home.
|Nimo listens in on our conversation with calm interest.|
Like I said: he's such a cool horse!
Like Gail said in her write-up, I too love enjoying the trails at a leisurely pace, but for endurance conditioning you really do have to occasionally train faster than a walk to prepare your horse to make it within the time limit on race day. It's awesome to have found a potential training buddy with similar goals and a horse who's at a similar level. I'm excitedly looking forward to riding again with Gail and Nimo!
And again: this was another terrific adventure that would never have happened without this blog. It is yet another adventure that I owe to my mare, who inspired this blog to begin with.
Thank you Lily!!
P.S. The Horze tendon boots were covered in red clay from the Battlefield after our ride. I swapped them out to Lily's hinds for the trailer ride home, and the Velcro tabs still worked just fine despite all of the mud. Once home, they rinsed off easily with warm water and minimal brushing. By the next day, they were completely dried out and looked as good as new. I was so happy with them that I ordered the matching fetlock boots! Thanks again for the awesome giveaway Allison!