"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Another Blogger Meetup: Manassas Battlefield Adventure

Some of you might know Gail, the author of The Journey to 100 Miles. In case you haven't read her blog (which you should totally check out), Gail owns a Friesian named Nimo whom she is conditioning for endurance. She's raised him from the time he was a yearling; he's now 11 years old. They've done quite a bit of dressage training, which they still do as cross-training.

 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.)
"Why are you taking pictures of my butt back there?"
Horses and their almost 360-degree eyesight. :)
And yes, I converted her Irish clip into trace clip for this occasion. We hit 65 degrees. Despite the work we'd do later, she barely broke a sweat thanks to the hair removal!
Lily got a little bit anxious when she saw the trailer being pulled out of its spot, moving from side to side on the cross ties. I walked back into the barn to get her, and she made me grin from ear to ear when she nickered at me. "What's going on? Where are we going?" I walked up to her and rubbed her forehead, where she is just beginning to shed, and she nuzzled me, her eyes soft. "We're going to have fun, Lily."

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
The drive down to Manassas was uneventful and took us about an hour and 10 minutes. Not at all bad. We hit a small patch of traffic, but it only delayed us about 5 minutes. We still arrived around 11:50 am, a little before Gail and Jola.

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!"

We then tied them to the trailer with their haynets. The experiment worked:

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)
Gail and Jola arrived about 10 minutes after us. We properly introduced ourselves and started to get the horses ready. I removed Lily's SMBs and Rennies from her fronts and moved the Horze Tendon Boots to her fronts. I've been riding her barefoot all winter and wanted to continue the trend; she's been doing great on all sorts of terrain bare.
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.
Ok, so why the open front tendon boots if we're not jumping? I actually love this kind of boot for trail work over SMBs because the soft neoprene lining doesn't rub or collect sand/mud, the boots are cooler precisely because they are open fronts, and the hard shell protects the more delicate fetlock and tendons at the back of the legs from scratches caused by gnarly brush, rocks or interference.

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!
We decided that Gail and I would set off first since we were planning on doing a faster ride, and Kathy, Jola and Jola's friend Kate would leave later at a walk. We figured this would be less traumatic for the horses than riding away from the group of horses while out on the trail.

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.

Almost straight ahead you can see where the trail dips down into the water. This is where we would all cross the stream. There were actually two options on the far side: on is hidden by the tree on the left of the near bank; you can clearly see the second option as a straight shot from the near bank. There are a couple of wooden posts laid horizontally on the ground to form steps up the bank.
Photo by Kathy.
The water was shallow enough that you could see the bottom, but  the river was a good 20 feet wide. A REAL water crossing. Nimo got to the water's edge, then turned and spun. Recognizing what used to be a familiar problem with my own mare, I offered to go first. Lily planted her feet. "Are you kidding me? There's something down there that he's afraid of. I am NOT going first!"

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.

Many waters
I passed the whip back to Gail with a grin once we were on the other side. Silly horses.

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
Gail and I were able to go farther than she had gone before on horseback on this particular portion of trail. This is how we ended up on one particular trail where there was a sign that said "Bull Run." Gail had mentioned that you can access Bull Run Park from the Battlefield, and we excitedly continued on...

...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.
The water level was pretty high from all the snowmelt and there was somewhat of a current. However, there were recent hoofprints leading into the water. And we saw where the trail continued on the opposite bank, slightly upstream.

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
We walked the horses when we noticed pedestrians or other riders on the trail, through the road crossings and the water crossings. I videoed the last river crossing (the first on our way out) so you guys could see the little bridge. You can also see when Lily "points" at the couple sitting on the bridge:

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!
I can't begin to express what a wonderful adventure this was. I'm so excited about having met Gail and Nimo. Gail is a careful rider with a similar sense of adventure to mine and we're at similar points in our conditioning. Our horses had similar temperaments and got along great; I really enjoyed watching the easy interactions between the two of them.

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!!

My sweet girl

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!


  1. <3 lengthened trot. YAY. I can't wait for March. And then April. And then. And then. And then....THE WORLD.

  2. Glad you like the boots!
    What a fun ride! Meeting other bloggers is very cool. I love the feeling when a horse is totally okay with something that a while ago they would have freaked out about. Such a sense of accomplishment :)

    1. Right? I know you know *exactly* how that feels! ;)

  3. Team Lily, here! She was like "this is no big thing" walking through that water. A river deep enough the horse can't see the bottom is enough to cause a seasoned trail horse to balk. Nice work.

    You can see and sense the connection the two of you have, and I think it is strong enough to carry you through the really scary stuff. Like stumbling through the dark at 2 am trying to get back into ride camp!!

    So proud of you two!!

    1. Thank you!! :D She continues to amaze me every day! And totally agree: *almost* makes me want to attempt a 100 one day...almost...we'll see what happens between here and then! Maybe in a couple of years, but I've had that same mental picture lately, wondering what it would be like trying to find the way back to ride camp in the dark on her. Lately it sounds like a really awesome thing!

  4. Yay for meeting other bloggers!!

  5. I knew I could count on a detailed write-up and lots of pics from you:) I'm so glad you had fun and I definitely can't wait to do it again!

  6. That sounds like fantastic fun!

  7. I'm so happy for all of yall!

    One of the reasons I'm so adamant that if you don't know what you want to do with your horse, you really should consider doing an LD is exactly this! It's so hard to conquer all those little fears, but if you've got a goal (I am going to ride an LD) it's easier to push through, and then you and your horse just feel awesome about each other!

    So, so happy for you and Gail and your ponies!

    1. Thank you Funder!! Agree with you 100%! The past 8 months of training with Lily have been a huge, huge confidence builder for both of us, both in ourselves and in each other. Getting out on a variety of trails really does do wonders for a horse's brain! Lily and Nimo have both come such a long way!!

  8. So awesome!!! Sounds like the most perfect ride ever. I love Nimo. He is so gorgeous! I'm way behind on her blog too. I'll have to catch up after I finish catching up on yours hehe. I guess one good side effect of a back injury is that it forces me to sit down and read instead of playing outside all day hehe.