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

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Sunday's Ride

On Sunday Charles and I went to Great Falls for a 3 mile run that ended up being a 2.8 mile walk/run...with everything that had been going on what with having to go to the barn to soak haynets, set up beet pulp and then tend to Gracie's cut, I had not had time to exercise in the past 4 weeks. I try to do the bulk of my working out during the week so the weekends can be for Charles and the horses. When going to the barn is a 1 hour round trip and it takes me 2 hours to get everything done while there, that's basically all the spare time I have between getting 6 hours of sleep and having to rush to work.

Gorgeous trails at Great Falls.
If you "embiggen" the photo, you'll see tons of little white flowers in the grass!
The Potomac.
Check out the blue flowers!
So not surprisingly, I've lost a lot of my running fitness. I got back to work on that again this week. Charles and I went home afterwards, made lunch and left for the barn to ride together again. :)

We're having some problems with the back woods loop. It's all private land and the main trail was just closed off by the people that own the white American Bulldog that has chased after the horses several times already....so instead of taking the dog outside on a leash to comply with Maryland's strict leash laws or putting up a 6' fence, they close off the trail so they can continue just releasing their dog into the woods.


I want to see what's going to happen come hunting season when hunters are up in their blinds in those woods (there are at least 3 blinds) shooting at moving things with that dog running around.

We can still cut through there to go towards the soybean farm and Redneck Park, but the only route now is going straight down the Hill of Doom. I call it the Hill of Doom because it is a 75 degree grade. The horses love galloping up it, but negotiating it downhill is not for the faint of heart. One of our trail riding friends lives and keeps her horses on one of the nearby properties. All she does is trail ride and she is incredibly upset over this change in our available routes. She is going to talk to some of the other neighbors to see if we can figure out another route for getting to Redneck Park without having to load the horses on a trailer every time.

Since it had rained most of last week and several of the trails at the park across the street (which drain better than most) were still soggy, I knew the Hill of Doom would be too slippery to negotiate as a downhill. Plus the temps have been skyrocketing into the 80's after it being cold for so long and a lot of animals have been having a really hard time acclimating. We've been getting at least one heat stroke case per shift at work. The route to Redneck Park involves a lot of riding in the open under the sun. 80 degree weather is nothing for Lily after having lived in FL but when the humidity is high I still like to be careful. And we don't know how Gracie handles the heat yet. So Charles and I went to the park across the street again, which meant riding in the shade the entire time and we have the river and creeks flowing through the park, which allow for frequent water breaks for the horses.

This park does connect to Redneck Park but we don't know the route. We started out by exploring what seems to be a gravel side road towards the back of the park, trotting up the length of it until it eventually turned into a driveway. Stumped, we turned around and went back to the meadow trail.

Charles asked, "So when can we canter?"

I laughed. The mares had warmed up at the walk and trot. "We can canter now," I said. So we cantered side by side the 20 strides or so left to go around the meadow loop until we came to the back trail of the park, where we came down to a walk again. I wish I could've taken a picture of Charles's expression while we were cantering. He was SO happy! He is an easygoing happy-go-lucky kind of person but the kind of joy that was painted across his face was something I had not seen in a while. I was thrilled to be able to give him that kind of happiness again through our horses.

I took Charles and Gracie through a different route, the long way around to the Hawlings River.

Charles and Gracie leading.
Half chaps have been ordered...and we need caged stirrups, and another pommel pack, and a breastplate for Gracie so Lily can have hers back, and and and...it never ends. lol
New section of trail for Gracie and Charles, so Lily and I went first to show them the way.
Charles laughed when he realized he was the first person to hear me arguing with Lily (in Spanish), "Do you have to jump every single water crossing?" "MARE! Slow down!" "Lily goddamn it..." "It's a log!" "It's a rock. Keep going." Every argument followed by a burst of laughter. This is a constant in my solo training rides with her and it's actually the part of our conversations that I enjoy the most: she likes when I talk to her and over the past 9 months I've progressively started talking to her more and more. She humors me most of the time but other times she will do what she wants. Whether she complies or not I'm always laughing in the middle of our arguments because I enjoy seeing her have opinions: it's taken Lily 3 years to really let her personality shine. She used to be this meek, insecure shy vanilla of a thing that was borderline pathetic. I knew she had this bravery in her: she showed it to me the first time I rode her down to the field at the end of the street for our first ever outing together and she didn't even bat an eye. It was the #1 reason why I chose to take her when she was offered to me. I just needed to get her to believe in me, to know that I would never do anything to hurt her.

I love her joy in the trail and in having me as her companion, I love that she trusts me enough to have an opinion, to do what I say when I know better and to let me know when she thinks I'm wrong, and I love that I trust her enough to let her call the shots when I see that she is indeed right. I think she enjoys when I talk to her, when I sing to her, when I grumble at her. One ear always flicks back and her entire demeanor changes. I can feel her happiness radiating from her.

I love that goofy horse. :)

The sun was bright in the sky, creating dappled shadows over the trail, the rocks and the logs, which made for a mare that was lookier than usual. She gave the one ear-one eyeball look at several things but kept right on going with minimal insistence. 

We rode down to the Hawlings River and crossed it, letting the mares drink.

If Gracie drinks, Lily takes the hint and at least takes a sip. Gracie, however, is much better than Lily at taking care of herself so this is a GREAT example for Lily to follow!

Typical Lily with her annoyed ears: "Why did we stop? I want to get through this water already."
Lily: "Look! The trail is right there!"
I took Charles and Gracie up the far side of the river to the trail that goes up to the mountain ridgeline. It looked so different now in the summer!

Trail leading up to the ridgeline
We alternately trotted and cantered on this section of trail as it is flat but winds sharply around the trees. Since we were moving at speed I called out to Charles as we made each bend in the trail, "We're going to turn left here!" "We're going to turn right around this tree!" so he'd know when to expect each sharp turn.

The trail eventually slopes downward and here we walked, following until it dead-ended in one of the area's back country roads. We turned around and alternately walked and trotted/gaited on our way back towards the river.

To get back across the Hawlings River, the horses have to step down a very steep bank. It's not a long bank, maybe a 16" drop, but you have to step down onto a ledge that is basically made up of soil and a tree root and then from there down into the water. It is nothing for an experienced trail horse, but for one less experienced it is at a very awkward angle. Lily had problems with it the very first time we went through in this direction. She paused for a second this time, as all the ice, snow and rains we've had had made the bank appear steeper than it is. At my urging she stepped down, taking our usual route, and trotted through the water with great splashes.

I stopped her on the other side to wait for Charles and Gracie.

Charles showed her the route Lily and I had taken. Gracie stopped, put her head down and studied the ledge for a second. I saw the moment when she said, "No, I don't like that." Instead of balking or trying to turn around, she simply took a step to the side where the bank was just one drop without a ledge, planted her front feet on the edge of the bank, let them slide down first, then stepped into the water nonchalantly.

Charles was laughing.

OMG I LOVE that mare's brains!

We followed the trail and decided to play leap frogging: I'd trot off and Charles was to hold Gracie back at a walk, then let her catch up at a calm gait (NOT cantering) at his request. Charles and Gracie got the hang of it by the second attempt. Lily is really good about being left behind but I had not had the opportunity to really practice this with Gracie yet. Again, Gracie took everything in stride.

As we neared the end of this portion of trail, we came across a hiker with two dogs on leashes who was nice enough to give us the right of way. The dogs, both terriers, stood still and quiet while we passed. We thanked the woman. As we finished passing by, the hiker moved forward with her dogs. I heard a commotion behind me and turned to look. Gracie was suddenly VERY "up", rolling her eyes and snorting while prancing in a circle with her tail flagged. Charles got her to calm down immediately. She had been fine seeing the dogs in front of her but the minute they moved behind her, she had spooked.

We walked down a steep hill to the creek crossing that Gracie had had issues with last time. She crossed behind Lily and me without any problems. There is a small ditch on the trail that Lily LEAPED across as if was 10' wide with a 3' obstacle on the end of it, literally jumping me out of the tack so that I lost both stirrups. I was laughing when we landed. Gracie just gaited through the ditch with a look of, "Seriously...that was so unnecessary."

We followed the trail around the lily pad lake, then let the mares choose whatever gait they wanted to tackle the hill behind it. Lily chose to canter, then stretched out into a gallop for the last several strides, her ears pricked, head and neck up, reminding me of an event horse locking onto a cross country fence. I rose into a two point, held onto a chunk of mohawk with one hand and let my hands follow the movement of her neck as her legs coiled and extended beneath her, her hind legs propelling her full force up that hill with huge bounding strides. She was SO. HAPPY.

That headset and that same expression!
As we neared the top, I looked back over my shoulder just in time to see Charles and Gracie veer off in a straight line towards the woods on the side of the hill, Gracie gaiting and Charles seeming to be in full control. "Where are you going?" I shouted in surprise. "Gracie startled at something." he called back, just as he straightened her out and brought her back onto the trail. Neither one of them lost their cool - it totally looked like they had deliberately turned away from the trail. One of the really awesome things about Gracie is that even when she gets upset about something, it will be a fleeting thing: the moment passes and she immediately returns her focus to her job.

We made it to the top of the hill and then I took Charles and Gracie through one of the side trails here that Kathy and I had discovered over the winter. Now that you could actually see the trail, I found the spot where it connects to another one of the newer trails we had found. I let Charles lead in this portion and we trotted back to the river crossing. I instructed Charles to let Gracie drink water if she wanted to stop to do so. She did.

Lily did not want to drink, but I held her back so we stayed behind Gracie so her and Charles could lead for a while.

We practiced some more leapfrogging, this time with Gracie in the lead. Even if Gracie is just walking, she covers so much ground that Lily has to trot just to maintain the same distance between them.

Even when Lily picks up a canter here, you can tell by the pace of the two mares that if Gracie were to continue gaiting, Lily would still be keeping the same distance!

We backtracked through the woods, taking the trail that takes you through the middle of the forest. It's a gently winding and curving trail with smooth footing and we did one last canter through this section, the two mares almost side-by-side. It was so much fun and my favorite part of this ride.

We walked the rest of the way back out of the woods and did one loop around the meadow trail (it's one mile long) to allow Gracie and Lily to really cool down. Both of them still had energy to spare. It was a lovely breezy afternoon and by the time we were halfway around the meadow, the sweat on both girls had dried off.

You can see how soft his hands are on the reins in this photo.
Lily says "TRAIL!!!" while enjoying a snack
It may sound like we did a lot, but in reality we did about 8 miles in about an hour and a half for a conservative 5.3 mph pace, especially when you take into account that Lily can walk at 4 mph and Gracie at 5 mph. Lily was booted for this ride in her Vipers and 100% comfortable - she would have moved out a lot more if I'd let her!

Both girls received baths and their dinners.

I walked down the hill with Charles to put Gracie back out in the mare field. He removed her halter and she lingered for pets like she always does. She loves people and human company and will stay with you until you step out of the pasture. Charles was beaming as he patted her neck. "I really, really like her!" he said.

It is so cool to share this with him now. There is so much more adventure to be had on horseback when we can both ride! We got to catch up on so many things we just had not had time to talk about during the work week (we enjoy sharing human vs veterinary ER stories), and Charles was able to see, learn and experience so many things that I'd only been able to tell him about before with the horses. He always tries to understand but it's one thing to hear about it and a whole entirely different thing to actually experience it. He started asking endurance training questions and about equipment, etc, too. It's so awesome to have him be a part of this story instead of the person whom I tell the story to. He was already asking, "So when can we ride again next weekend?"


  1. I love that C is already riding out with you and Lily and is completely comfortable. Nice pick on the mare.

    I love that you talk to Lily in Spanish. I love that you talk to Lily. I do the same thing with Ashke. We talk about rocks and sticks and trees and birds and any other silly thing that catches his attention.

    I just wish we could ride together.

  2. You are very lucky! I wish I could get my hubby to ride, he has no interest...

    1. His sense of adventure is a big driving force behind his wanting to ride with me. He just loves to explore and be outdoors, so this is a good way of combining all of that. :)

  3. Charles sounds amazing! I am so happy you guys can have so many new adventures together :)

  4. Still so freaking happy for you! I'm on my own little side-car of cloud 9 beside you two lol