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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

C&O Canal: Lily Edition

Kathy had been wanting to go ride on the C&O towpath since I went with Carol, so we planned on going this past Friday.

Since Gracie had already had the experience, I decided to take Lily along for this adventure. It would be her first time on the C&O, riding along water the entire time, and dealing with a large number of bicyclists. She has met the occasional biker before and has been fine, but I was still a little apprehensive about how she would behave if we met a particularly stupid one that didn't know to slow down around horses. However, I figured that everything would be great because Queenie is such a calm horse and she'd set an example.

Famous last words.


Both Lily and Gracie got ridden throughout the week after last weekend's snafus: Lily had a dressage session in the arena on Monday, Gracie was worked in one of the paddocks on Tuesday (I discovered a girth gall afterwards so Gracie had the next couple of days off...Woolback girth cover has been ordered), and Lily had a second dressage session on Thursday. Both mares were wonderful in their workouts. Lily was tense on Monday but eventually worked out of it. I didn't think too much of it at the time but on Thursday she still seemed tense. Even while tacking up. I felt that she was worrying...I don't know exactly how horses think or the way their thought process works; I'm not an animal psychic. BUT Lily has been known to dwell on things in the past. I'm not sure what she was worrying about exactly: about the possibility of being punished this far out after my fall on the trail (I've never ever punished her, but she came from a situation where she was constantly punished when she tossed the cowboy trainer that worked with her before I came along), about causing me to fall again (she was almost tentative in her motions but she was not sore at all), or about something else entirely. All I know is that we were halfway through our warm-up and I suddenly decided to bring her to a walk and just started stroking her neck and telling her that I love her and she is a good girl. It seemed like the right thing to do. Lily's response? She gave a huge sigh, released all of her tension, and stretched down, down, down. She had been going around with her head up in the air and hollowing her back prior to this. Afterwards she was reaching for the contact with happy ears and just using herself effectively throughout everything I asked her to do. Completely different horse from the beginning of the session.

On Friday she seemed thrilled when I went out to get her first. She self-loaded into the trailer again just like she had for the endurance ride and looked back at me with an expression of "Where are we going this time?" as I walked past the trailer to get into the truck with Kathy.

We got to Pennyfield Lock on the first attempt. We tacked up the girls and I led the way on our adventure.

We successfully crossed the first bridge...you can see the second bridge on the left.
Photo by Kathy
First glitch: the second bridge.

This bridge is by the Pennyfield lock house. You have to cross it to get onto the towpath. And of course, there was a waterfall flowing underneath this bridge. Lily has never really been a fan of rushing water and she would NOT go within 3' of the bridge.

We stepped back to let Kathy and Queenie lead...and Queenie decided that since Lily was afraid, there absolutely must be something carnivorous under that bridge. She absolutely refused to go forward.

Great. So now we had TWO mares that would not get close to the bridge.

I refused to dismount, especially because Lily was simply walking up to the bridge and backing away from it. She wasn't doing the theatrics that she used to do in the past when encountering trail obstacles that really upset her, which used to involve stuff like half-rears and spins. She was actually being really careful about not upsetting my balance whatsoever. So I started praising every single step forward. And she pricked her ears and took another step. And another step. And another step. And before we knew it, we were on the other side of the bridge, Queenie and Kathy right behind us.

But wait. There was still rushing water...a waterfall directly under the towpath. Lily hesitated again at this section of trail but went forward with much less hesitation than the bridge.

Up ahead: bright orange safety fence on the left-hand side of the trail to block off some sort of hole off of the towpath.

This kind of safety fence.
It's carnivorous fyi
Lily was convinced that it ate horses. She shied away from it, coming perilously close to the edge of the canal, then refused to walk past it. We made room for Queenie but Queenie also refused to walk past it. Lily turned around and said, "Okay, we'll just go back to the trailer now!" And I said, "No, we'll just back up past this fence now."

So we backed up past the carnivorous fence. Lily was so focused on the backing up that she stopped paying attention to the fence. We turned around and continued on our way down the towpath.

Next up: a canoe. With two people in it. And kayak paddles.

Lily: "WTF IS THAT??!!"
Those also eat horses. Which part of it? All of it: the people, the canoe, the paddles. All voraciously carnivorous. Didn't you know that?

Lily was worried so of course Queenie was worried and again refused to lead. We alternately walked and trotted down the towpath and Lily would NOT take her eyes off of that canoe. It might take flight and attack. You just never know. Must watch it at all times!

So we turned off onto a side trail to see if we could reach the banks of the Potomac. And to give the canoe more time to disappear into the distance.

Well, that didn't work either. Lily was still imagining holes in the ground on the trail (which was partially obscured by foliage. I told you she dwells on things!) and was very jumpy about fallen trees on the side of the trail. I was really starting to get frustrated with her.

We made it to the edge of the Potomac but there was no shallow drop-off into the water to be found that would allow the mares to drink water safely, so we turned around. Queenie led the way back up this side trail but once on the towpath she stopped: "Lily will lead. She sees all the horse-eating monsters. She'll get eaten first."

So we continued in the lead.

Eventually we again caught up to the canoe. Lily wanted to stop and stare at it. I let her, hoping that maybe this time she would do a Gracie and calm down, realizing it wouldn't harm her. Nope, Lily tried to turn around to return to the trailer. I swung her back around and booted her into a trot. We continued on at a trot with Kathy and Queenie gaiting behind us, chasing the canoe down until we were past it. And we continued on for a good long ways, just to make sure the canoe wouldn't catch up to us later on.

Things would be fine now, right?

Nope. We still had to pass the rapids.

Beautiful rapids section.
As seen from the towpath...taken on the way back to the trailer!
For those of you that are newer to the blog, Lily used to be terrified of the sound of rushing water. Back when we first moved to MD from FL, she had problems on trails and over bridges that went next to/over larger streams where she could hear the water. It took months to desensitize her to the sound. She's fine with smaller streams and we've even crossed big rivers now, but some louder water rushing sounds will still get to her. As you just saw with the waterfall by the lock house.

My favorite part of this section of the C&O is where it runs parallel to some of the Potomac's rapids. You can hear the roar of the water from the towpath. Gracie and Katie were unnerved a bit by the sound last time I rode on this path with Carol, but they got over it quickly. I was expecting Lily to get nervous about it but not to the extent that she was.

She heard the water and couldn't understand where the sound was coming from. She didn't know that it was from the river beyond. She startled at every change of earth color on the path, at every large rock or fallen tree trunk by the path, at puddles, at any irregularity in the grass next to the path: "THAT'S what's making that noise! No, it's THAT! Oh no...it's THAT! I just KNOW it's THAT over there!"

Kathy and I had been debating turning around, but I decided I wanted to get Lily through all of these mini traumas. I finally sent her forward into a trot to just get past this section quicker. If she's trotting she doesn't have as much time to look and worry - that's just how Lily's peculiar little brain works. And then we got to a part of the trail where there is a concrete wall on the left-hand side, partially blocking off both sight and some of the sound of the rapids. I figured this would make things better for Lily.

Nope, it did not. Because then she thought it was the wall itself that was making the sound!

She shied away from the wall but there was only about 6' of towpath. I started to get nervous about us falling into the water if she decided to shy any further....and then Lily picked up a trot all of her own accord. "I know you're going to make me trot past this scary part, so I'm going to do it myself." "GOOD GIRL LILY!!!"

Such a good girl. We trotted right past the whole expanse of wall, beyond the sound of the rapids. This is the part where I became very impressed with her efforts at containing herself. She was worrying, yes, but at the same time she was trying SO hard to be calm and take care of both of us. She really, really was. All of these startles and spooks involved a one-eye one-ear glance with accompanying hesitation, sometimes an added stop, but she always kept her withers and neck up. Every time she got past anything that made her hesitate, she was praised. The only thing that would make me truly nervous was if she started to back up: when she does that, she's not really paying attention to what's behind her; she's just trying to get away from what's in front of her. There just wasn't enough room for this particular antic on the towpath. So the answer was always forward.

Once we were past the wall, we came back down to a walk. I figured it would all be smooth sailing from here on out. Several bicyclists had passed us uneventfully by this point. Thankfully, every time we'd been passed by bicyclists there had been room on the left for us to squeeze the mares into so the people on bikes could pass without really even needing to slow down. Mind you, horses have the right of way over cyclists and hikers. But we didn't mind getting out of their way if we could.

Lily didn't exactly appreciate these requests to stop. This would happen every time she was in an "I'm going forward!" groove, and she would get quite antsy about stopping even for a few seconds.

So we had finally passed all of these crazy (to Lily) obstacles and were walking along on a loose rein, everyone finally enjoying the ride after 3 miles of riding.

And then these two cyclists come up behind us. They ring their bell to let us know they are coming but they are not slowing down. They are a couple and they are riding side by side. The problem this time is that there is really no place to squeeze the mares into. There is a 3' wall of earth on our left for the visible future: we couldn't climb it. There's no way in hell I was asking Miss Antsy Pants to stop on the right side of the path directly next to the water either. So we simply stopped and stood as much to the left as we could to let the bikers go by.

Those two idiots still tried to ride behind the horses side by side. Like I mentioned before, the towpath is only about 6' wide. Not enough room for a horse and two bikes to be on it all side by side. Lily suddenly decided that she had stood still for one second too long and blew right through my leg to swing her butt out into the middle of the towpath. (We absolutely need to work more on the standing still patiently on the trail...Gaaaah!) The guy stopped his bike directly behind her (told you they were idiots) and the woman ended up having to stop as well when her bike crashed into his. They were lucky they didn't fall into the canal, and thankfully nothing happened to them nor the bikes. However their bikes did get stuck together. They were cursing under their breath while assessing how to extricate the bikes from one another. I looked at Kathy, wincing and feeling bad, and with a mischievous grin she whispered, "Let's turn around now!" We turned around and took off at a trot down the trail back towards the trailer before the cyclists could think to yell at us for their mishap.

Wouldn't you know it: neither the rapids nor the waterfalls were an issue heading back on the path towards the trailer. Gee, I wonder why? We even had a nice lovely canter as we rode past the rapids. One Lilybird didn't even flick an ear at the sound of the water.

On the way back towards the trailer. This was past the rapids section.
On the left is the canal, on the right are trees and a 20' drop into the Potomac below. :)
As we came even with the Pennyfield lock house, I checked my watch: it was 3:30 pm. Rush hour had just started and we had decided from the beginning that we would wait until after 6:00 pm to head out since DC area traffic is so awful.

Since both Lily and Queenie were relaxed and having fun, we continued on past the lock house. It had to be better than the first 3 miles of trail, right?

Actually, we were right.

That shallow shore on the other side of the canal, where you can see a trail going up the hill? That led to a house.
They had a beautiful view of the canal.

The biggest issue was a small branch (maybe 5" long) covered in large leaves lying dead center in the middle of the trail. Lily looked at it very suspiciously and dodged around it. That was it.

I was even able to convince Lily that puddles make decent watering holes. She would take a few good sips then stop and paw at the water in indignation, "This is not satisfactory running water, Mom. It tastes like dirt!" I burst out laughing every time. She was ridiculous.

We passed by a fisherman who wasn't even swinging his fishing rod. He was just standing there quietly with the rod in his hand. Lily didn't like him. Maybe it was the hat? Who knows. She danced sideways away from him and we walked on.

I had been eyeballing all of the side trails towards the Potomac, hoping to find some sort of shallow beach so the mares could drink water. I finally spotted one and took Lily down towards it, Kathy and Queenie following. The banks were a little steep but nothing that Lily couldn't handle. She, however, felt that this was too much and she danced along the edge of the water. It was very calm water; no rushing sound. It almost looked like a lake until you looked far out to the center of the river where you could see that the water was indeed moving. The clay banks were soft, but Lily's feet were only sinking about 3". We've encountered far worse. I'm not sure why she was so nervous about it. I found a shallower section of beach further up ahead and took her towards it. Here her feet did indeed sink and she leaped away from the bank, floundering about. All bets were off then, as now there was no way of convincing her to get close to the water.

During all of this, Queenie had decided that a small 3" hole by the side of the trail was way too dangerous to walk past and would not go any closer to the water. Kathy and I arrived at the conclusion then that Lily and Queenie indeed had been talking to one another way too much on the trailer ride to the C&O.

Lily: My mom and I almost fell into a hole last weekend.
Queenie: Holes aren't a problem. You just walk around them. Or jump across them, like you love to do so much. You should know that.
Lily: No. This was a big hole. A HUGE hole. It went across the entire trail. And the earth caved around it when I stepped on it. It almost ate us.
Queenie: OMG! Really? That can happen? I'm going to have to be more careful now!

Kathy ended up dismounting and leading Queenie closer to the water, but she would not set foot on the beach. I joked that she was having a flashback of Wye Island. We gave up and decided to continue on our way down the towpath. Kathy took Queenie back up the trail, lining her up next to a log so she could use it as a mounting block. Queenie kept taking a step too forward or backing up a step, staying just out of reach of Kathy. I had Lily stand about 15 feet behind them and ended up with my own hands full as well.

Me: Just stand still.
Lily: But I've been standing still for 2 seconds already. We must go. Things to do! Places to see!
Me: Queenie isn't cooperating. And she's blocking the path anyway. We can't go anywhere.
Lily: But we MUST go!
Me: Nope, not happening. You have to wait.
Lily: Fine. I will back up then.
Me: Lily, really? There's a tree behind you.
Lily: Backing up, backing up...OW! Where did that tree come from??! It bit me!
Me: It didn't bite you. You just backed up into it. I told you it was there.
Lily: It bit me. I'll just back up past it.
Me: *Sigh* Where are you going to go? Back onto the beach that you were so afraid of?
Lily: I wasn't afraid of the beach. I was afraid of the mud. Slimy. Ew. And my feet sank in it. At least we'd be going somewhere. *starts pawing furiously with her right front foot in impatience* Queenie, just stand still for your mom already!
Me: Kathy is on. Let's go!
Lily: YESSS! Let's go!!

Mareface was being so silly. So very silly. I was laughing at her and she was being incredibly goofy about all of this. The thing that stands out the most to me about this ride in general was that, even when she was worried, she still kept her sense of humor.

We continued on our way down the path and eventually turned around when we'd been going a total of about 8 miles. We cantered for a nice long stretch of the path on the way back to the trailer. I kept checking on Kathy behind us and kept hearing her going, "Good girl Queenie!", so we'd continue. Eventually we saw the fisherman guy up ahead and I drew Lily back down to a walk. She again gave him the suspicious eye and he looked suspiciously right back at her. Kathy asked him what fish could you catch on the canal and he said he's caught carp. Cool.

Cliffs next to the canal.
Kathy's photo
We continued on at a walk. Lily was happy and relaxed, so I decided to practice some dressage on the trail with her, having her leg yield one way and then the other in a zig zag up the trail. Kathy caught it on video!

And then I saw up ahead in the distance the little 5" branch with the large leaves in the middle of the trail. Lily started to eyeball the silly branch with all the leaves in the middle of the towpath from some 50 feet away. Instead of getting worried about her reaction to it, I sent her into a trot:
Me: Look Lily! The branch of DOOM!
Lily: Oh no!! Why?! Why are you making me trot to it?!
Lily: Ummm...okay?
Lily: You're crazy! I know that branch eats horses! *she's hesitating but continues to trot forward with ears pricked*
Me: Yes! Keep trotting! GOOD GIRL!
Lily: Okay...
And I brought her to a halt right on top of it. She actually stood on top of the branch, crushing it with her feet.
Lily: I AM!!

I actually said my parts of that conversation out loud.

Kathy and Queenie caught up to us as I was patting and rubbing Lily's neck with both hands laughing while she was standing with her front feet on this branch looking as proud of herself as a circus pony on a pedestal.

Yup, I think Lily and I were meant to be together...

And that was it. That was the end of this ride. And it was a good ride which served its purpose: re-establish confidence in the Lilybird. It doesn't sound like it did, but I knew that her stress over possible holes and feeling responsible for us had decreased significantly with the return of her sense of humor. She would prove it to me on today's (Sunday's) ride.

We returned to the trailer, where we untacked and sponged down the mares, setting them up with beet pulp mashes and their haynets. We then sat down to eat a very late lunch while killing time before it was time to return to the barn. We had completed 10. 03 miles in 2 hours and 51 minutes.

We left at 6:00 pm and it only took about 40-45 minutes to get back to the barn despite catching the tail end of rush hour.

Despite all of the small misadventures, we had a really great ride.


  1. I love that you and Lily are back together again. She does have a sense of humor.

    If I had been there I probably would have said something to the bikers along the lines of "You idiots. You could have been kicked while crashing your bikes." I just don't get people some times. At least there was no violence involved.

    I love the pics. The ride sounds awesome and some day I will get out there to ride the entire track with you.

    1. I'd love to ride all of it with you!

      Yeah, Kathy had been tempted to snap something at those people. There are rules on trail etiquette posted all over. We encountered other people who just whizzed by us without warning: bicycle bells are mandatory on the canal trail. A lot of people didn't even have them. I'm just glad the bikes didn't upset Lily at all on this ride.

  2. I'd definitely have had a hard time not saying something smartass to those cyclists. I'm having a harder and harder time not opening my mouth when people are so obviously stupid or rude.

    I'm glad you and Lily are back in good graces! I'm right with you in the charge to the scary object and stand on it thing. Q and I are still doing that whenever I can lol.

    1. Haha I think the tendency to speak up and say our minds increases as we get older. But after Karen's and N's epic encounter with that one very crazy cyclist, I'm more apt to avoid confrontation with this group in general! Neither Kathy nor I had whips with us this time... ;)

      I hope your girl has continued to flourish with the Praise All the Things technique!

  3. Wait what epic cyclist encounter? Did I miss something? It involved whips? Link please!!

    I'm glad Lily is getting her confidence back. It definitely sounds like the beginning of the ride was frustrating, but she eventually got over it and was such a good girl! The thing with the stick and all of your conversations had me cracking up. You both have a great sense of humor and I have to agree with you, you and Lily are perfect together! :D

    Oh and I probably would have laughed my butt off when the bikers crashed into each other and said something along the lines of that's why you slow down and ride single file past horses idiots!! How dumb do people get?? Wow!

  4. Here's the link: http://theeashke.blogspot.com/2014/03/sun-day.html?m=0 My blood pressure still spikes when reading that post!

    The whole ride ended up being awesome when I started seeing the humor in it and realized that Lily was trying so hard to contain herself. She's such a good girl. It was a lot of fun to write up the events!

    And yup, we were snickering quietly as we trotted off away from the people who crashed their bikes. Some people really are stupid. But wait till you read Karen's post. That woman cyclist was something else altogether!

    1. OMG!!! I'm shaking after reading that post!! If I ever get the guts to take Chrome to public trails like that I am so taking some pepper spray with me! I just have to figure out how to use it without the wind blowing in into Chrome's eyes... or take something with me to put over his face first... wow that woman was so stupid! I wish Cali had kicked her!

    2. I thought the same thing! Crazy woman. They did report her with the county but I don't think the police was able to track her down.

  5. I love the towpath! I've only ever walked it on foot, but I think the history surrounding it is fantastic and I'm so glad it still exists. And glad that you and Lily are back to having productive "conversations":) As for the bike incident, it's good that no one got hurt. I've actually been pleasantly surprised by how respectful bikers have been on our rides, but I'm sure there will come a time when we have a bad experience.