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

Sunday, April 6, 2014

North Tract Ride

TROT organizes several rides throughout the year with the purpose of showing members available equestrian trails that they might not be familiar with.

Yesterday Kathy and I took the girls to a ride at North Tract in the Patuxent River State Park (aka the famous Redneck Park that I'm always talking about. It's one of the largest parks in Maryland, taking up 3 counties. You can ride in there for days. I'm surprised no one has started an endurance ride in there.)

North Tract used to be part of Fort Meade, but when the US started downsizing on military bases, North Tract became property of the US Wildlife and Fisheries Department.

What's special about this area? The trails. They are WIDE two track trails that were originally built for military tanks with flat hard footing that remains unchanged no matter how much it's rained. I was impressed: the trails in this part of Patuxent are even nicer than the ones at the Manassas Battlefield.

I was at the barn at 7:30 am to give Lily her breakfast and get her ready. In no time Kathy and I had the mares loaded up and were driving to the park, which was about a 45 minute trailer ride from our barn. Lily was incredibly "up" in the barn when I brought her in from the field, but completely relaxed by the time we unloaded at the park. I tied her to the trailer with her haynet and she dug right in while we tacked up.

About 30 horses and riders showed up for this event. This is the first time Lily and I have trailered to an event with this many other horses and she did not give a hoot. Kathy and I signed in with the ride leader and mounted up as everyone else was finishing getting ready. It reminded me of Fort Valley and what you would expect at an endurance ride: there were Arabians and Arab crosses, solid looking QHs, gaited horses, and a couple of Thoroughbreds. The tack was as varied as the horses: a saw a treeless Hilason, several trail/endurance type saddles, Western saddles, English saddles and even a racing exercise saddle!  I did a double take on that last one. It was being used by a man that was very obviously an exercise rider at the track - he was small, lean and wiry and sat his horse with the grace of one that spends most of his waking hours in the saddle. His horse was a tall bay TB who looked very fit but was not racing fit. I wondered if it was a horse being brought back from a layup. The horse was antsy but well-behaved. The man caught my eye and seemed apologetic as he adjusted his girth from the saddle; he felt out of place. He explained that he was indeed an exercise rider and had access to regular English saddles but he is just used to riding in his exercise saddles. I told him that you ride in what you feel comfortable in, especially if you're going to be riding for a couple of hours. Doesn't matter if you're the only one in the group with that kind of saddle, it's what feels right to you. I thought it was so cool that he had come for this trail ride!

We were all asked to line up and couple of group photos were taken by the TROT leaders. Then we all split into our groups: there was one walk group (Kathy was in this group), two walk-trot groups (the exercise rider was in one of these groups, to my surprise, which reinforced my thought that maybe the TB was coming back from a layup), and one w/t/c group (I was in this group). Kathy was riding with Natalie and Jane from our barn in her group and I happened to be with the lady on the black Icelandic horse that found Kathy's phone when we rode at the Agricultural History Park recently! We all rode off at once, with the fastest moving groups taking the lead.

Our group started out with 5 people: a woman on a STUNNING Arab/Saddlebred cross, the two ladies on Icelandics (one of them was the leader of our group; her Icelandic was white), and a 4th woman riding on a black Arab cross that reminded me a lot of Liz's Q.

The Arab/Saddlebred in front of me. She looked like an Arab on stilts; she was a good 16 hh with huge lovely movement. She could trot at the same speed the rest of us had to canter!
About a mile into our ride, the woman on the black Arab felt that her mare was NQR. We walked a lot in the beginning while she tried to figure out what was wrong with the mare. She wasn't lame; she just seemed rather dull and sleepy, but she was breathing fine and her mom said she'd been eating great at the trailer. If I hadn't known, I would have thought she was just really chill, but her owner said she is normally a spitfire at rides with other horses.

We alternately walked, trotted and cantered, and eventually the woman on the black Arab decided to return to the trailer parking lot; she was familiar with the trails in this section of the park and her mare was fine without other horses.

The group continued on. While it was a wonderful ride, I didn't take a lot of photos because the trails all looked the same in photos: wide, compacted dirt:

Those little Icelandics could book it, man.
After about an hour, we arrived at a lovely lake where we stopped for 15 minutes to take a break and let the horses graze.

The lake. Sadly, horses are not allowed to ride around it.
Lily saw the other horses eating and asked for permission. She got it. I'm trying to turn this into a command now because I don't want her stopping to eat grass willy-nilly on the trail, but on longer rides she needs to eat. We can finally start working on this since there actually IS grass now on the trails...

Eating and staring back at the trail.
After exactly 12 minutes, Lily was all, "Ok, we ate, let's go."

The Icelandics and the Arab/Saddlebred cross ate until the very last minute, and then we headed back out onto the trail, re-tracing our steps. One of the walk-trot groups rode past us, going towards the lake. The two ladies on the Icelandics decided we would make our return trip as long as possible so we weren't sitting at the trailers for an hour waiting for everybody else to get back.

About 50% of the ride ended up being walk, with most trot sessions turning into canter, especially for Lily and me. I understood why Icelandics are called "horses" and not "ponies": they may have a short stride but God can they cover ground! Lily had to trot to keep up with their faster walk! The two ladies on them didn't move, even when the horses cantered. They just sat back in their saddles and coasted along. Our group leader joked that she loves that breed because they allow her to keep up with other horses while making it look like she knows how to ride. :)

The Icelandic tolt - this is the gait that Icelandics are famous for. Note how much ground they are covering and how smooth the gait is. Lily and I were trotting at a good clip to keep up. Karen, this is very similar to the paso largo in Paso finos and the running walk in TWH, though the speeds will vary depending on the individual horse and breed. :) The paso corto of the Paso Fino that I spoke of in the previous post is a slower, more collected version of this.

We crossed a bridge that took us over the Patuxent River, then rode on for about another mile or so.

The Patuxent
We ended up turning around and heading back to the trailer parking lot just in time: some of the other groups were just starting to trickle in.

All four of our horses were so good. We had such a great time! It was a wonderful way to meet new people; everyone was very laid back and admiring one another's horses, which all happened to be mares in our group. The trails of North Tract are wide enough that you could technically ride three horses abreast if you want. Since Lily was actually the slowest horse in our group, we practiced letting the other horses ride away at trot and canter and playing catch up when I asked her to, as well as having other horses pass us at the canter. Lily invariably pins her ears when this happens but otherwise doesn't do a thing: no kicking out, no speeding up. It was a great training ride for her! We did 10.72 miles in 2 hours (not including the first mile at a walk nor the 15 minute snack break for the horses) with an average pace of 5.33 mph. We never went faster than a canter, but Lily's fastest canter was clocked at 12.31 mph. Now I'm wondering how fast her gallop was at Wye Island...

In the graph you can see the flow of the ride in terms of speed. There were 4 canters where we hit 12 mph. 
Kathy was already at the trailer untacking. I set up Lily with her haynet and her beet pulp while putting away our tack.

I wish I looked as fit as she does! We're working on getting some more weight on her at the moment though; she gets grain am and pm, and she's getting 2 beet pulp meals and hay from square bales in between as well. She's very lean while still maintaining her topline.
Everyone had brought food for a potluck lunch; we filled our plates to the brim and all sat down in a circle to eat. Neither Kathy nor I thought to take a photo; we were too hungry! There was enough food for an army, all of it delicious. You can tell it's spring: most of the food items brought were different types of salad. Not complaining, as it meant we could have dessert: I finally had the opportunity of trying out Berger cookies, a Maryland cookie invented by DeBaufre Bakery that has been around since the 1800's!

It's a vanilla cake cookie covered with thick chocolate frosting. Umm, yeah: they are good!
You don't need to live in MD to try them: you can order them here.

Have a cookie! Mmmmmm...
Not my plate; I was good: only had one!  
Afterwards we finished packing up, got the mares loaded up, and headed home. Lily had a half bath while eating her fourth meal, then was turned out for the night.

And you can't tell in the pics of the trails, but I'm SO EXCITED about this:

The cherry blossoms on our street are blooming!


  1. If you want to add some weight without increasing her sugar, I would recommend adding half a pound to a pound of amplify to her grain daily. It is a high fat, moderate protein, which will not only help with increasing her weight, but will also help with muscle fitness. The fat is a necessary ingredient for the muscle to fire correctly when being worked. Much more important than sugars.

    I had Ashke on it during his rehab and it's a great product.

    Sounds like a great ride and I would give anything to have compacted dirt roads, sans rock.

    1. I had texted you about this earlier today, but I wanted to respond more in detail and also publicly. :) I know a lot of people out there with TBs and TB crosses tend to go the sweet feed route, but I try to avoid that at all cost. I'm a nutrition nut, be it with myself, my cats or my horses. At one point I seriously considered becoming a vet just so I could focus on equine nutrition and metabolic disorders: I find the whole subject fascinating, and we are just starting to scratch the surface of all there is to learn about it.

      Lily is not only a hard keeper, she's also a picky eater and she seems to like variety. She used to love rice bran oil but will now turn up her nose at it and any kind of straight rice bran, and any kind of oil. At the moment, Lily is on about 4 lbs of Alliance Nutrition's GroStrong Ultra Fiber (http://www.admani.com/horse/Products/Horse%20Grostrong%20Ultra%20Fiber.htm), and 2 cups a day of their Healthy Glo Nuggets (http://www.admani.com/horse/Products/Horse%20Healthy%20GLO.htm). Since ramping up her distance training, she also gets about 4 lbs a day of a senior feed, both for palatability and fat content. I'm putting her back on Triple Crown Senior (http://www.triplecrownfeed.com/products/feeds/senior-horse-feed-formula-seniorhorsefeed/). The third ingredient is beet pulp, and despite having molasses (which I hate in horse feed), it's still 11% NSC precisely because of its high beet pulp content. And she'll eat anything mixed with it...so it's our compromise. I also mix chopped forage with her grain meals: she gets 4 lbs a day of Lucerne High Fiber Gold + Alfa Supreme (mixed together). The 2 grains, fat supplement and forage are all split into two meals. For supplements, she gets half a cup of ground flax at each meal, SmartCombo Ultra and SmartMare Harmony at dinner, and Probios with her breakfast. I'm starting her back up on UGard as well.

      Normally she has free choice hay from the round bales in the winter and grass in the summer, with supplemented square bales (timothy/orchard grass; it's lovely high quality hay) in the evenings regardless of season. I also hang up slow feeders in the run-in when the grass is scarce and if I'm puttering around the barn after untacking, she gets to munch on hay. Basically if I'm not actually riding her, she has food in front of her, especially when I'm physically at the barn.

      For beet pulp lunches, she gets 3 quarts of beet pulp + a lb of Triple Crown Senior + 1/2 cup of flax and 8 mls of Ration Plus. She'll get this before riding AND again after riding, except after riding the Ration Plus is substituted for a serving of Perfect Balance Electrolytes.

      Yup, it's hard work feeding this hard keeper...I wish I had her metabolism!

  2. Sounds and looks like a lovely ride! I can't imagine riding for two hours in an exercise saddle. O.o Good for him!

    1. I know, right?! But so cool that he would come out to participate. :)

  3. Thought ymight enjoy this fun fact....Farley's medium endurance trot clocks in at about 12 mph. She can really move for a 14.2 hand horse and I think it's one reason I feel so beat up after rour rides.

    Being into gaits, I described what Farley starts to do at high trot speeds and funder says that she might be fox trotting! It's weird. Still like a trot but definately different. Makes me wonder whether I could encourage it at a lower speed too.

    1. Fascinating! So is it easier to ride at higher speeds, or more difficult? If she can do it at higher speeds, you should, in theory, be able to get her to do it at a slower speed as well.