North Tract is awesome. Like I said in this post when we went the first time, it's one of the few trail systems in our area that never floods and the footing is always good thanks to the trails having originally been trails made for military tanks back when North Tract belonged to Fort Meade.
I had planned to take Gracie this time instead. It would be her first outing with a large group of horses and I wanted to see how she'd behave w/t/c in this type of scenario, where we'd have the opportunity of being in front, in the middle and in the back.
I was at the barn at 7:30 am, very, very early so I could give Gracie her breakfast and get her ready. Lily was still out in the drylot with Kara, and I went outside to say hi. Both mares were hanging out with their heads in Queenie's window, visiting with Kathy's red mare.
I called Lily's name and she turned away from Queenie's window, looking up in surprise. She gave me happy ears and strolled over. I rubbed her forehead as she pushed her face into my chest and left it there so I'd give her a head hug.
She is adorable!
I got Gracie from the field and brought her up to the main barn. Her legs were coated in mud so they got hosed off. I let her eat her breakfast and munch on some hay while grooming her.
|Look! She's getting butt muscles!|
Déjà will self load and sometimes will actually be willing to stand in the trailer all day...as long as the trailer door is open. The second you try to close that door, she leaps out.
We decided to get Déjà in Phoebe's trailer first and then put Gracie and Queenie in Kathy's, since they are uncomplicated.
I held the trailer door open while Kathy stood at the escape door with treats and Phoebe tried to load Déjà. Déjà started out right off the bat placing her front feet on the trailer then immediately spinning left right into her mom to turn around. She didn't even attempt to put her hind feet on the trailer. Phoebe would walk away with her and bring her back to the trailer. Nothing was changing after the 5th attempt and Déjà was just getting worse about spinning right into Phoebe. I was worried she was going to get hurt. As Phoebe's level of frustration understandably escalated, I asked, "Can I try?" "Please." Phoebe said, gladly handing me the lead rope. I tried 2 different tactics, mainly involving keeping her feet moving as long as she was outside of the trailer while keeping my own energy very quiet and calm. When she was snappy with her responses to my cues, I hopped onto the trailer as the little Arab stepped up. She seemed happy to have someone go into the big metal box with her: her ears pricked and she paused. Phoebe closed the door at that moment and I got out through the escape door. It had taken 10 minutes total to get her on. The last time Phoebe and Kathy had tried getting Déjà to load, Phoebe had not been able to go at all because the mare would NOT stay on the trailer. :( Déjà is too smart for her own good and tends to quickly figure out every trick in the book. Not only that, Déjà is very particular about who is allowed to touch and handle her...I was immensely flattered that the little mare had done as well as she had with me.
Gracie loaded on the first try and Queenie followed. We were off!
Gracie was cool as a cucumber when we arrived at the park an hour later. She unloaded perfectly, no hijinks, no shenanigans. She looked around curiously then got to work munching on grass while we tacked up.
|Gracie looking around|
|Phoebe and Deja|
The group was smaller this time from last time with different people and horses. There was one woman on a Puertorrican Paso that she'd had shipped from Florida and we shared Paso stories. Another lady was on a gorgeous Rocky Mountain gelding with the more traditional flaxen mane and tail.
We split into 3 groups: one walk, where Kathy and Phoebe went; one w/t; one w/t/c, where I went.
My group was led again by Barb, the lady on white Icelandic mare.
It was a fairly uneventful ride. Everyone else in the group knew one another so I just listened to the conversations and kind of kept to myself. Gracie led a good portion of the way starting out but when we trotted and cantered, all of the other horses were faster, so we got to practice having other horses pass us at speed. Gracie was absolutely fine with this.
|Leading for a bit|
|One of the many historic cemeteries in Maryland|
I've discovered that Gracie needs a fairly long warmup before she can gait consistently, which is normal in gaited horses that are just getting back into shape. She'll hop into the gait then proceed to rack, trot, pace and tranter in quick succession, trying to find her groove. Our trot sets on this ride were long enough that I was able to just push her out into her huge ground-covering trot and encourage her to stretch down over her topline, waiting for her to be ready to pick up her gait again. Even her trot is smooth: you couldn't post it even if you tried!
After the third trot set she started consistently gaiting at different speeds when requested. It was pretty awesome! My abs got a workout though: there is a lot of abwork involved for the rider in getting a gaited horse consistent. We did about 10 miles in 2 hours: 60% was walk, 20% was trot and 20% was canter. Gracie cracked me up: we would walk and after a few minutes she'd arch her neck and be all, "OK, enough walking! Let's GO!" and pick up a very collected gait.
And her canter! She has a lovely rolling canter that it turns out she is happy to maintain for miles if requested. The canter sets on this ride were longer in duration than the trot sets. She didn't accelerate or slow down, she just kept the same even steady pace.
We rode out to the same lake as last time where we let the horses take a 10 minute break to eat, then turned around to head back towards the trailers.
At this point our group was joined by a man on a gorgeous blue roan TWH and a woman on a 20 year old OTTB that looked and acted like a horse a third of his age! He was a very handsome horse, put together like a Warmblood.
|Gracie enjoys her snack|
|The TWH is the almost black horse. He had streaks of white at his tailhead.|
The OTTB was behind the chestnut.
We did 2 more canter sets on the way back with the new additions to the group. Gracie and I were in the back at this time, with only the lady on the OTTB behind us. For whatever reason Gracie decided she did NOT like the gelding and when he got too close to us she would become quite agitated and actually dart across the trail to block his path, regardless of my aids! I apologized profusely to the other rider and she was fine; she explained she'd had no intention of passing us as it was her horse's first time in a long time riding in a group and he was pretty wound up. She wanted to stay in the back.
I wondered if that's why Gracie didn't want to let him pass? She felt something bad would happen if he did?
We walked the horses the last couple of miles back. Gracie still had energy for days.
|Trailing behind the group. Gracie showed no anxiety whether they were close or far.|
Our group was the last to return to the trailers. Kathy and Phoebe were finishing untacking their girls. I tied Gracie to Kathy's trailer and set her up with a haynet, which she immediately dug into. Good girl!
All the riders then gathered again for lunch. We'd each brought a dish - there were various salads, fruits, veggies and desserts to choose from. Everything was delicious.
|Gracie after, "Where were you?"|
And then it was time to load up the horses. Déjà is notorious for being even worse to get on the trailer to return home. Phoebe handed her to me right from the beginning. We tried self loading 3 times. Each time she got off the trailer, I immediately lunged her for a few turns. On the 4th attempt I jumped onto the trailer and Déjà followed. Phoebe closed the back door in her. I was urged to get off through the escape door, which Kathy was holding open. But looking at Déjà, I chose to stay.
About 7 years ago, Déjà was rescued as a 4 year old from a hoarder situation. She was completely wild and had never been touched by humans. She had a baby at her side, a filly. When she was rescued, the filly was taken away. Déjà was so wild that she had to be roped, tied down and dragged onto the trailer that would take her to a better life. A slam of the trailer door, and Deja's world as she knew it was turned upside down. She would go straight to the shelter where she would meet Phoebe, but she didn't know that when that trailer door closed.
All she knew then was terror, restraint and loss, all finalized by the slam of the rescue team's trailer door.
I saw all of that flash through Déjà now when Phoebe's trailer door was closed. She looked back at the door in distress but, talking to her, I turned her head back to look at me and I saw when the raw edge of that old memory diminished because of the fact that someone was inside the trailer with her this time. I rubbed her neck and Kathy passed me treats to give her. Déjà took them quite willingly from my hands and stood with me. She then turned and walked away to look out through the back window of the trailer. (Phoebe's trailer is a slant load and like Q, Deja prefers to face backwards. She is not tied in the trailer because she gets extremely claustrophobic.) I quietly stepped off the trailer then.
It had taken all of 5 minutes to get Déjà on. The last time she had been brought along to a TROT ride, it had taken 45 minutes and 5 people to get her to load.
I later told Phoebe my impressions. Phoebe knows Déjà as if she were an extension of herself. Out of all of the employees and volunteers at the shelter, Déjà CHOSE Phoebe. She would not let anyone else touch her. When I relayed to Phoebe what I had seen in Déjà inside the trailer, she saw it too and understood. The trailer has been an impasse between them for the last 3 years. I hope this provides the key to resolving this issue once and for all.
It took 2 attempts to get Gracie on the trailer, but I think she is rapidly coming to associate it with good things like Stud Muffins (I give her one once she's in) and an endless supply of hay: she is the first horse I've owned that will attack the haynet I hung inside the trailer! Queenie followed without issue.
The ride home was uneventful. Upon returning to the barn, I offered Gracie a beet pulp mash with electrolytes but she turned her nose up at it. She'll eat the beet pulp but not the electrolytes. We'll work more on that. She guzzled water the second I turned her back out in her field.
I said good night to Lily and gave her the day off. We had a ride planned with Charles for the next day. :)