So I was now on my own for the ride, and I debated where to go. While tacking up Lily I figured we'd go to the park across the street. We hadn't been there by ourselves since the day we first moved to this barn, but I just didn't feel like getting off in the mud to open and close gates like I would need to do if I chose to go towards Four Corners and Redneck Park instead.
We marched ourselves down the long driveway, across the street, and into the park. There were only two cars in the park's parking lot, so I figured we'd have the whole park pretty much to ourselves.
Lily broke into a trot on her own as we entered the park and kept right on trotting as we went around the meadow trail. It was still mostly covered in snow, which made me smile. I'd been wanting to see this park covered in snow! It was as beautiful as I'd imagined. I was going to take the back trail that we usually take with Kathy, as it provides a longer route through the park. As we neared the corner where the trailhead is located, however, I heard dogs.
I looked up and saw a lab and a pitbull running up along the meadow trail from the other side. They were far away and were playing together, so they had not seen us. Their owners were not too far behind, but the dogs were off-leash. This irritates me no end in parks with equestrian trails. Dogs have prey drives. Horses are prey. Not all horses react well to even a playful dog running up to them. A running horse can trigger the most playful dog's prey drive. There are leash laws for a reason! I've dealt with it before: riding on the streets in Puerto Rico, stray dogs would constantly run up on Lucero's heels. It was such a frequent problem that I trained Lucero to turn and chase the dogs. There came a point where, as soon as he heard the barking behind him, Lucero would turn completely of his own accord, pin his ears, and take off at a mad gallop after the offending dog. This worked every single time: the dogs would not return.
Phoebe and Deja did not have such luck last year when they were chased down by two dogs off leash. Phoebe fell and injured herself badly enough to end up in the hospital with cracked ribs. Deja lacerated a leg on barbed wire while fleeing from the dogs. She thankfully recovered from her injury, but both Deja and Phoebe are still coping with the psychological scars that such a bad event has left in both of them.
Lily is not generally afraid of dogs, but she has not really been exposed to them in every scenario possible. I have not had the opportunity to train her like I did Lucero.
When I saw the two dogs gamboling along on the meadow trail, I stopped Lily, turned around, and we trotted back to the Hidden Pond trailhead. Why tempt fate?
At the back of my mind, I wanted to put in a 10 mile ride. At the front of my mind, I'd be happy if we just did 6. Lily and I got to work negotiating almost every trail in the park, walk/trot/canter depending on the terrain. The footing was a LOT better than I expected: most of the park is on hills, so the tops of the hills would be wet but with good traction; the bottoms of the hills would be muddier and slipperier, and in those sections we would walk.
Lily was a freaking superstar. I pretty much just pointed her where I wanted to go and she chose the gait based on the footing. She was more than happy to move out at a trot now that we were riding alone and would ask to canter in the spots where she knew the footing was safe. I absolutely love how confident she has become in her abilities to negotiate a trail and move out where she sees fit. She's learning her job and it makes me grin every time to see how happy she is now that we have found something that she really enjoys.
|Happy, relaxed ears.|
On our second loop around this trail, I turned her down towards the creek, towards the trail that takes us to the water lily lake. She was hesitant at first, but I talked to her and told her she could do it, and she obliged. The footing was not bad.
We made it all the way down, right to the water's edge. Except both shores were partially covered with a thin layer of ice, with snow on top of the ice. The snow cover over the ice was at least 4" thick. I knew that if she put her foot through the snow, Lily would step on the ice and the ice would give, so she would step on the shallow bottom. Technically not a big deal. But I also knew that, being an entirely new experience, this would probably freak her out and it could cause an accident for both of us. We had nothing to prove. I chose to turn around. Lily said "Thank you" as we trotted away from the creek.
We followed the trail next to the river. I had one ear clip in place, the other one off so I could really listen to our surroundings while enjoying the music. Pandora started playing Don Omar's "Dutty Love" as we walked by the river.
This song was a big hit during our last 2 years in Florida. I love this song. Our hospital internist had a pitbull named Dotty that looked very much like Dom's Herbie. Dotty was the SWEETEST dog ever; she had been a bait dog abandoned at a referral practice; one of our techs had taken her in and our internist fixed her up and adopted her. She ended up being kind of the hospital mascot; whenever our internist was at work, Dotty was there too. She had this little tap dance she would do with all four feet when she was happy or excited; I got her to the point where she would dance if I danced. She'd even twirl if I twirled. It was hilarious for everyone to watch. We would dance together and I would sing her this song. Dutty sounds pretty similar to Dotty. :) Dotty Love. Why not sing a pitbull a love song?
We were alone in the woods. So there was no one to see me dancing in the saddle while Lily walked along, nor to hear me singing along to the song. As we reached the end of the river trail, we picked up a trot, the song still playing. I continued to sing. The trail smoothed out and we picked up a canter, and I continued to sing as we cantered through the trees, over the snow.
IT. WAS. AWESOME.
We continued on our way, and I was kind of floored when I checked Runmeter and realized we had only done about 4 miles total so far. We'd been close to an hour on the trails already and I was running out of ideas.
We looped around, came back to the river trail and asked Lily to cross at the big crossing, the one that leads into the new network of trails that Kathy and I discovered recently.
She went into the water and drank. I let her hang out and drink as much as she wanted while studying the opposite bank. Like the previous crossing we'd considered attempting, the far bank had a thin layer of ice and a good 6" of snow on top of the ice. I decided to not try it.
We walked upstream in the water until we found a shallow bank through which we could turn tail back to the main trail. Lily owned it, leaping up onto the bank and lunging in two strides back up the short steep hill to the trail.
Dude. My mare is awesome.
We did the river trail in reverse and I let her start on our way back to the meadow trail. As we climbed up another steep hill that would take us to the trail back, I heard a sharp whistle.
And then I saw them: the dogs. Again. One of the two owners had just recalled them and they had come running. They were making their way back to the meadow trail. I slowed Lily down to the slowest walk I could get her to do, buying time so the dogs and their owners would be as far away as possible up the trail.
I turned Lily towards the Hidden Pond Trail in an attempt to avoid the dogs and their owners entirely.
I could see them up on the hill among the trees as Lily and I continued on our way. The owners' backs were towards us. The labrador had not seen us, but I saw the exact moment when the pitbull noticed Lily.
She was a very cute black pitbull with a white chest. Probably a good 60 lbs of muscle. And that 60 lbs of muscle took off down the hill at a full run.
Straight towards us.
"HORSE!!!!" I yelled, as I swung Lily to face the dog.
The owners turned and called the dog's name, at the exact same moment that the pitbull slammed the brakes and came to a sliding stop, 3 feet from us. I knew by her big goofy grin that she was not in attack mode at all; she just wanted to play, but I really had no idea how Lily would react.
Lily fidgeted because she didn't understand why I was making her stand. "It's just a dog!" she said. The pitbull said, "This horse is A LOT bigger than I had anticipated!" and turned tail, running straight back towards her owners.
Relief. I thanked the pittie's owners for calling her back, and Lily and I continued on our merry way. I was SO PROUD of her!!!
I decided to do the back loop of the park one more time to give the dog owners extra time to leave. We did the newer river trail that Kathy and I discovered, trotted all the way down to the large field with the hill, galloped up the hill and made our way back up the trail at a trot. Both Lily and I prefer me posting to the left diagonal so I focused on posting to the right diagonal or just perching in a 3-point position, which invariably frees up her shoulders and always allows her to really stride out at the trot.
And this is how Lily and I ended up doing a grand total of 9.12 miles in 2 hours flat. She was a boss.
Walking home on a loose rein (she still tried to pick up a canter a couple of times!), I analyzed how she felt and how I felt. Lily still had plenty of energy and spirit left, she was not tired at all; I was tired, but if we'd been walking into ridecamp for a 30 minute hold, I would have been fine to continue to do another 15 miles.
I think we are really getting to the point where we're ready for an LD!
|About 50% of our ride was walking, but we still managed an average pace of 4.44 mph.|
I thanked her for another terrific ride, gave her her beet pulp, trimmed her feet, and turned her out for the night.