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

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

More Epicness: Adventures with Liz & Co, Part IV - 13 Miles

Liz and I woke up around 8:00 am on Sunday* with the plan to let the guys sleep in while we squeezed in as many miles as we could in a 2 hour ride.

*This is Sunday March 23rd; I'm still catching up on Liz's visit. Sorry guys; there's just been tons of stuff going on that has kept me from spending time on the computer. All fun stuff, though!

I made a quick and quiet breakfast of scrambled eggs and cinnamon toast for both of us, and then we were out the door to head to the barn.

It was much chillier than the day before, in the 40's and with overcast skies, but the weatherman had said no rain, and this held true.

We had the mares ready and on the trail in no time. We trotted up the bridle path and cantered through the backwoods, jumping all of the fallen logs across the trail. 

My plan was for us to go out to Four Corners and from there ride out in each of the other 3 directions. By now I knew how to connect 2 of those 3 directions into a single loop. The third direction was a toss-up: if we found a loop, great. If not, we'd just retrace our steps back to Four Corners.

The famous Four Corners up ahead
Like I've mentioned before, Four Corners is the intersection of 4 dirt roads, 3 of which lead straight to the perimeters of the sod and soybean fields. You can choose from there to either ride around the edges of the fields (we are not allowed on the fields themselves) or into the forests of Redneck Park.

But first, we had to get past the soybean farm buildings, where they now have their horses on daytime turnout.

As we approached the road we had to cross to get to the soybean farm, I scanned the fields surrounding their barns. The horses were out including the black Percheron stallion that makes all mares dance in his presence, including Lily and Queenie. (He almost caused an accident with Deja and Phoebe too, before I moved to this barn.) Liz, of course, knew the entire Percheron stallion saga. I warned her that he was out and we decided we'd dismount and jog our mares down the road in front of his field to avoid any potential problems.

The trail winds between a cornfield and a huge soybean field. As you move along the trail, the cornfield is to your left, there is a ditch to the right, and on the other side of the ditch is a huge soybean field. The Percheron stallion's field is on the other side of the soybean field. He was at the end of his field farthest from the dirt road that we had to use. I watched him off in the distance as we trotted along. I saw when he looked up and noticed us. He watched us for a long time. However, he eventually put his head down and continued grazing.

As we reached the end of the trail, I mentally compared the length of the portion of road that we had to cover to get past his field vs the length of field he'd have to cover to get to the fence line nearest to us. 

I decided that the only way he'd get to that fence line faster than we could get past his field would be if we were walking/trotting and he was galloping.

I was pretty sure, though, that our mares could outrun him. He is a Percheron, after all, whereas we were on a TB cross and an Arab cross. 

As we arrived at the road I called back to Liz over my shoulder, "Change of plans. We're not dismounting. Follow me!"

Lily and I reached the road at a canter, and as her hooves made contact with the dirt road itself, I leaned forward and gave her her head. "HAH!!"

Lily's ears flattened and she lowered herself close to the ground, leaping forward into that sixth gear that I'd just discovered the day before. I heard Q's hooves galloping behind us. We flew past the Percheron stallion's field. At the very far end where he was standing, he looked up to watch us go by but never moved a muscle to even try to come check us out.

As you can see, on Monday I was still daydreaming about this ride. I doodled this sketch of Liz and me "outrunning" the Percheron during a slow moment at work.
We flew past the next horse field, still galloping. The 3 horses that get turned out in that field were also grazing at the far end. They too looked up but made no move to come to the fence. (Thank God for that sweet new spring grass, I guess! Haha...)

I slowed Lily to a canter as Liz and Q caught up. I looked at Liz and we both laughed.

We cantered on, sitting back, relaxed on the mares, one hand on the reins. For the first time I felt like the girls in this video:

I saw this video long before I knew anything about the whole FEI endurance thing. The Distance Depot sponsored these riders and had posted this video on their website a couple of years ago. Regardless of what's going on with the FEI now, I still love this video: it's very fit horses with caring riders riding effortlessly across the desert.

I've had many aspirations for my performance on different horses, but getting to the point where I could ride the canter in this relaxed of a fashion was one I had for Lily in particular. What's really cool about seeing that video again is that for the rest of this ride, I rode the canter on Lily like the girl on the bay horse: in a half seat (though later she sits back; there's only so long you can hold that position at an endurance ride); Liz rode Q very similar to the way the other girl rides her gray.

We followed the curve of the dirt road and brought the mares back down to a trot as we veered left to go through the grassy trail that would take us through the sod fields, down to the gravelly road.

Once on the gravelly road, we picked up that effortless canter again and we both sat back, quiet in the saddles. I held slack reins in one hand because I could. I could not avoid grinning from ear to ear, reveling in Lily's calm forwardness.

We reached Four Corners at a trot and turned right. We picked up a canter as we rode up the slope in the road, then trotted on the other side of the hill.

Road to the right
The road took us through the soybean fields and dropped us off in one of the hunter parking lots of Redneck Park. 

Kathy and I recently went exploring the dirt road that leads away from this parking lot and I had liked what we discovered: a quiet residential area with large sprawling houses with land and little to no traffic.

Road to residential area, leading from the hunter parking lot
I took Liz through here alternating walk and trot, up to where the road becomes paved. Here we turned around and retraced our steps back to the parking lot. You have to ride up a hill on this return trip and we decided to count it as a gallop set: we urged the mares on and they flew back up the dirt road in great lunging leaps, Lily taking the lead.

We arrived back at the parking lot breathless and laughing. We trotted back out onto the perimeter of the sod field, and I decided to take Liz through a portion of The Rabbit Hole trail so she could see some of the footing I'd been training on.

Riding into the Rabbit Hole!
Fallen tree over the Rabbit Hole trail
(These two are recycled photos from the first time I went on this trail; it's funny that right now it looks exactly like it did back in the fall!)
Lily took the lead and I let her choose the gait she wanted. She chose to trot, maintaining a pretty even speed regardless of footing conditions: that's how confident she's become. I slowed her to a walk in particularly muddy spots, but afterwards she'd pick up the trot again right away.

Liz and Q followed behind us, Q happy to stay at the pace that Lily was setting. Liz compared different portions of this trail to different endurance rides she's been on, making me feel so much more confident about our preparation for our endurance ride.

There's a part of this trail that requires some serious bushwhacking thanks to a fallen tree blocking the trail lengthwise. As we arrived at this section, I changed my mind and led Liz back onto the perimeter of the sod fields.

The Goshen Hunt had had their final hunt of the season the day before. As we burst out of the trees onto the perimeter of the sod field, we encountered their tracks from the day before. I was elated, as horses are not allowed around all of the sod fields and this would help to guide the way for us.

Trail following the perimeter of the sod fields
We galloped up a steep slope, following the tree line and the hunt's tracks, Lily and I in the lead. We'd already been riding for about 45 minutes at this kind of pace and Lily felt as fresh as when we'd left the barn. She'd barely even broken a sweat. Liz complimented her, how she looked like a super fit mini racehorse.

We continued following the hunt tracks next to the tree line, eventually coming out onto one of the roads that leads back to Four Corners.

We cantered down the road, back towards the road intersection, Liz and Q taking the lead by a good 10 lengths. Lily picked a speed and held it, relaxed and effortless, making no move to try to catch up to Q, but at the same time maintaining a pace that kept them from getting even further ahead.

This portion of road is a good mile in length. I leaned forwards a bit and got off of Lily's back in a half seat as she cantered happily on. She chose the firm footing on the very edge of the dirt road and stayed there, snorting along with each stride.

I watched Q's chromed legs coil and extend way ahead of us, the flexion of her hocks and fetlocks as she cantered on, black tail flagged in the wind, Liz's red ponytail caught in the breeze of their movement as the sun shimmered down through the foggy cloud cover, catching the light in the puddles on the dirt road. The clouds billowed up and covered the sun once more as we came down to a trot at Four Corners.  We turned right (when facing home; we took the opposite direction from when we first arrived at the intersection on this day) and continued on at a canter up the gentle rise of the road, Q in the lead.

As we came onto the other side of the rise, we returned to a trot and Lily was conceded the lead because at this point Liz didn't know where we were going.

Lily and I took her on the trail that surrounds the huge expansive sod fields. We followed a peninsula of tree line that took us onto a spit of grass that I thought led to another road between sod fields. We reached the end of the grass and I realized that it was not a road at all; it was just a demarcation line between 2 different sod fields in different growth stages. Whoops! We turned around and cantered back towards the tree line. 

Lily was the pace setter for the entire second hour of the ride: she cantered on flats, galloped up hills, trotted down hills or through mud, and took walk breaks when she needed them. All I did in the saddle was stay out of her way and tell her where to go. The pace of the ride was entirely her decision. She had SUCH a BLAST! This was a total dream come true for her: she'd been wanting to pick speeds during our rides in this particular area for awhile now. It was so much fun to feel her joy at being set free, and my own joy at her being happy to let me come along for the ride with her.

I couldn't love her more.

Q and Liz easily kept pace with us, two fit strong mares cantering over the rolling hills of these wide open spaces, giving us one of the most exhilarating rides I've ever had. I'd wanted to do this since the first time I saw Four Corners, and it was especially awesome to share all of this with Liz.

It was like something out of a movie.

Liz adjusts her sheepskin cover
It amazes me how Q can be all business when asked to move, but can still relax like this when requested.

Lily did NOT want to hold still for this photo. Note the hunt tracks on the ground.

Lily says, "Can we just get going already?"
We eventually turned around and returned back to the barn. We still cantered most of the way home, jumping all the fallen trees in the back woods again and galloping once more up the Hill of Doom.

We took the long way around my BO's property to give Lily and Q an extra mile to walk and cool down. They were both quite peppy coming back up the driveway. Lily even tried to trot...

Distance and time? 13 miles in 1 hour and 44 minutes. 

This was Lily after her 13 mile, 7.1 mph average-paced ride:

'WHERE'S MY FOOD???! Untack me, woman!"
I wasn't moving fast enough for Her Highness...
I think the mare is fit, guys. 

I gave Lily a partial bath and Liz took advantage of the heated wash rack to bathe Q. Since all the horses were still turned out, we set the mares up in adjoining stalls with a feast of hay, wearing coolers, and returned to the apartment so Liz could shower and get ready to leave.

Mike and Charles had been hanging out all morning, and we discovered upon meeting up with them that we were all STARVING. Liz decided that she didn't care so much about leaving on time; right now she wanted real food and a margarita. I'd been told about a nearby Mexican restaurant named Uncle Julio's, so we all went there for lunch.

The food was AMAZING. Best Mexican we've had in this area so far!

We returned to the apartment, where we all helped Liz and Mike finish getting packed. We all returned to the barn so Liz and Mike could hitch up the trailer and get Q loaded up, which was pretty uneventful. Charles and I saw them off. They'd arrive safely in WV about 5.5 hours later.

It was such an awesome weekend that I honestly cannot come up with anything else to describe its awesomeness other than "It was SO epic!"

Hope you guys enjoyed reading about it as much as we enjoyed living it! :)


  1. Sounds to me like you are ready for your first fifty. What an awesome mare.

    I LOVE the sketch of you all racing. Your eye and ability to put it on paper is absolutely amazing to me.

    I also covet your trails. You will have to let me know how you like the Vipers. I'm going to have to do something different this year. Ashke hates the gloves. I may just try and condition his feet to ride on the rocks and see how it goes. It's just so darn rocky everywhere we try to ride.

    1. The variety of available trails here is pretty amazing: we have smooth rolling trails around the sod fields, the flat dirt roads of Four Corners, the gnarly rocky trails of the park across the street, and the unpredictable variability of the unmarked Redneck Park trails.

      I will keep you posted on the Vipers! The more you ride them on rough terrain barefoot, the faster they get acclimated to it; it was so muddy over the winter that I just rode Lily barefoot so she'd have the best grip possible, and it really did wonders for her. Have you tried hoof hardeners on Ashke's feet, like Keratex or Durasole? I used Durasole ALL the time when Lily was first coming out of shoes and it really did seem to help. 3 different farriers recommended it to me; I always keep a bottle of it around.

  2. Definitely a blast racing around those fields! Loved it!!

    1. I'd wanted to do that ever since I first laid eyes on that entire area! It was exactly as much fun as I'd imagined it would be! :)

  3. 100% love that video (especially the water bottle hand offs!)

    I got to experience a horse that could canter/gallop effortlessly for 50 miles this past November and it was a feeling that changed my life.

    1. I remember that ride of yours. ;) What a wonderful experience to have! I was so happy for you! I miss your endurance stories, as I'm sure you miss living them. I hope you have more opportunities this year!