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

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Ride with Gail!

Since November, Gail from The Journey to 100 Miles and I have been trying to meet up for a conditioning ride. My concussion set our plans way, waaay back, but around mid-January, after taking Lily out on the trails a few times and feeling comfortable with both my riding and her behavior, I messaged Gail: "I'm ready! When do you want to meet up?"

We got together this past Saturday. We had discussed meeting in VA, where Gail lives and boards Nimo, but she was happy to drive up to MD and check out some of our trails. So we met at the park behind Kathy's barn. Charles was off work and was excited to ride Gracie with other people: he's only ridden her with Lily and me so far except for our ride with Carol last summer. 

We had taken both mares out for a spin on the trails on Friday to make sure their brains were on straight and to check out the footing on the trails. There were some icy, slippery patches in some sections but it was supposed to be warmer on Saturday, almost in the 50's, so we weren't too worried. Both Lily and Gracie were very calm. Lily felt stiff and Gracie had been stepping a little short on her arthritic leg so we did a lot of walking and some trotting to just get them out and moving. 

On Saturday we were at the barn a little after 10:00 am to get the girls groomed and tacked up. I've been braiding Lily's tail and rolling it up into a ball to protect it from getting caught on things, as I have noticed it's been thinner and shorter than ever, despite no real changes in her nutrition. I undid the braid and her tail looked...bizarre. Curly and kind of kinked from where it had been folded up into a ball. I ended up just re-braiding it and letting it hang. 

Gail texted when she arrived in the park at 11:00 am, so we finished bridling the girls and set off to meet her. I think it was close to 40 degrees by then, as I was able to remove my fleece jacket and ride in my 2 long-sleeve layers + my vest. Charles kept his jacket on because it was cold in the shade of the woods. 

Riding down the meadow trail to the park parking lot. If you "embiggen" you can see Nimo by Gail's truck.
Gracie was all for going wherever, but gave a startle when she saw the big Friesian gelding and pricked her ears way, way forward in his direction. Both Charles and I laughed. Gracie was completely indifferent to him after that. Like, "Oh he's with us? NBD." Lily was very calm up until the moment she realized we were riding with a third horse. She has met Nimo before, both on a previous trail ride a year ago, and from a distance at Fort Valley. She hasn't had race brain so far, only when I first started trail riding her after moving to MD, but she TOTALLY had race brain on this day! It was good to have the opportunity to work through this in a non-competitive environment though. 

We let Charles and Gracie lead so Gail and I could talk. Lily started jigging and prancing when Gracie took the lead...Gracie was walking, but Gracie can walk at over 4 mph with her huge stride. Instead of relaxing and going into her own swinging walk, Lily decided that she needed to catch up to her sister as fast as possible by prancing, which involves a lot of up-and-down movement but no forward movement, which meant Gracie just got farther and farther in the lead and Lily got more worked up. Goofy horse.

We took the Hidden Pond trail into the woods and Gail gave the okay to move out into a trot. Gracie picked up her 8 mph gait and of course then Lily wanted to canter. I asked her to extend the trot but we had some canter moments interspersed throughout. Any time Nimo got remotely close to her, Lily pinned her ears and made snarky mare faces at him over her shoulder. This is SOOOOO unlike her! She NEVER does that, and we've used her to help train forward-moving horses on the trail...she usually never cares about another horse breathing up her butt, gelding or mare, and Nimo was several feet behind her. After the third time of her doing this I gave her a light smack on her neck, which surprised her and she cut it out. 


Charles led the way down towards the creek crossing that leads to the lake trail. I asked to go first since it's been a while since Gracie has led through water. There was a small rim of ice on the edge of the river but it was thin and nothing to be worried about. Lily begged to differ. She spooked at the brush next to the ravine that leads into the river, then spooked and spun around when she saw the ice. Charles offered to dismount to break the ice, which he was able to do, but the second he got back on Gracie she refused to cross as well. So Gail tried and Nimo was also not convinced. Gail ultimately dismounted and led Nimo down to the water. Once his feet were in the water, Nimo was all, "I got this! We're walking to the other side, right?" Gail had to reel him in so she could mount up again, as the water of the creek was knee-high. Once Gail was up, Nimo forgot that he had just been in the stream and refused to go back into the water. I had to laugh: our horses were all being extra-special.

I offered to attempt to lead again and this time Lily remembered that the Hawlings River doesn't eat horses and she plunged right in, with Gracie and Nimo following. 

In this photo you can see the bank down which we came. 
Gail said, laughing, "How many horses does it take to cross a creek?" Three horses plus three people apparently. :)

We gave the horses the option of drinking water, then continued on our way, going towards the right to take the lake trail backwards. Charles let Lily take the lead and she settled into a more relaxed but forward trot.

As we were going up the back loop of the trail, I saw a large black dog among the trees in the distance and indicated to Charles and Gail to slow down. We all halted the horses and waited to see what the dog would do, but he just sat in the middle of the trail and then we realized that there was a man with him. The guy waved at us and said hello, apologized for his dog and said him and his dog were from the farm across the street; he was just clearing the trail of some vines that were hanging lower than usual. We know which farm that is: it's a large property set at the edge of the woods with a real log cabin and an older barn. They have several horses that all seem to be black except for their piebald, but he has black too! Kathy, Zoe, Charles and I have always loved that property. 

The dog, an older Lab, wagged his tail at us and the horses and walked up to us to say hi, looking up at both the horses and us with a big grin. The horses were all fine with his sweet, friendly presence. I grinned right back at him.

He then sat down to continue waiting for his master.
Charles rode on down the trail for a bit before turning around. Gail and I stayed chatting with the man while he finished cutting the vines. The yellow spot on the right that you can see through the trees was the guy's jacket.

Gail and Nimo then led the way back through this loop.
Down the hill towards the lake.
Charles and Gracie bringing up the rear. It looks like it was sunny in this photo but it wasn't. The day stayed overcast and in the 40's. I was actually happy about this change in the weather, as it meant that we really had the entire park to ourselves. 
The forecast had said it was going to go up into the 50's...it never did! The lake was still frozen solid and there were still patches of ice on some parts of the trail. 
Icy lake.
There is a section of the lake loop that has the lake on the right and a bog off towards the left of the trail. You can't really see the bog the rest of the year because it is obscured by bushes and tall grass, but you can really see it in the winter since all the greenery is dead. Gail had just made a comment about how this looked like a place where you'd find a dead person, and I'd agreed that it looked like the Dead Marshes in the Lord of the Rings.

Nimo must've thought the same thing because he came to a screeching halt, looked at the bog and said, "Oh hell no!" Lily took the lead and Nimo was happy to follow behind her.

All 3 horses crossed the creek uneventfully this time.

We stopped to give the horses the opportunity to drink water.
You can see the thin layers of ice next to the banks in this photo. Of course the ice was not an issue heading back because horses. ;) This was very thin, very crunchy ice that was instantly crushed under the horses' hooves.
Gail said Nimo usually drinks after 10 miles. I told her how Lily has figured out that she can take a nice long break at water crossings by pretending to drink: she'll touch her nose to the water repeatedly but not really drink. 

We took Gail through the forest and down the river trail. Since the ground was still quite hard and frozen (vs slippery and muddy), I took the opportunity to go up the zig-zag hill with the dead-end trail. I explained to Gail how the trail goes up the hill, as it can be surprising when taken at speed for the first time. Lily bounded up at a trot then broke into a canter. Halfway up I looked back over my shoulder to see Nimo calmly working his way up the hill at a walk, with Gracie behind him looking shocked. We all laughed at poor Gracie: it's a tougher workout for a horse to hike up a steep hill at a walk than to bound up at the canter, and Gracie is used to cantering hills. Charles said Gracie kept trying to find ways to sneak past Nimo but that wasn't going to happen on that skinny little trail. 
Made it! At the top of the hill. Gracie was still pouting. Haha... And Nimo was like, "Whatever." :D

We trotted on down the trail then turned around before the "Private Property" signs that mark the end of the trail. We walked back down the hill, then crossed the river to do the Bumpass trail. Lily was the only one of the three horses that drank here. She's been quite the drinker this winter. Not complaining!

Lily: "I'm done drinking let's go!"
We went up the steep Bumpass trail and then Gail and Nimo led the way back down to the river. We took Gail up the galloping hill, where Lily and Gracie tried to take the lead because they know the routine. Lily ultimately ended up leading.

Going back down the other side of the hill at a walk, I heard a noise behind me and looked back just as Gracie slid into a sitting position. The trail was starting to get just a titch slippery as the day was warming up and it had been just enough to cause Gracie to slip with both hinds. She literally sat down, then stood back up. Charles didn't lose his balance in the least. They were both fine and Gail said Nimo had some difficulty with that section too.

We took a different route back to the lake trail, then did it the usual way around (taking left at the fork). All three horses cantered up the hill behind the lake and then looped around back towards the river.

Nimo did a Lily and pretended to drink water at the creek crossing this time. :)
His mane has gotten so long!
We took the Hawlings River trail and crossed the river to go up the gnarly hill on the other side. We did a short down the flatter section of this trail, then trotted through some of the more treacherous sections (several fallen trees with large branches sticking out at rider eye level. Gail called them "impalement objects," which they definitely are!)

This trail dead-ends on a road, where we turned around. We trotted back through the woods, Gail and Nimo in the lead.

Nimo's big trot is as fast as Lily's canter...14 mph.
Working our way back down the hill.
Impalement object. Do you see it?
We took the Hidden Pond trail and veered off onto the trail that leads back to Kathy's and the meadow trail. We walked the last mile and a half or so. We did a grand total of 11 miles.

Lily pouting because I made her stand still.
Back on the meadow trail riding towards Gail's truck and trailer. 
We hung out with Gail at the trailer for a bit, talking some more now that the horses were at a standstill. Except for Lily, who kept fidgeting. Gracie was happy to rest. Gail dismounted next to the trailer, where there was a bucket with Nimo's alfalfa. Gail made a comment about what a good girl Gracie was, and I told her she's a good girl as long as there isn't food involved. We looked at G-mare again and all burst out laughing because she was ever so slowly inching towards Nimo's alfalfa, neck arched, ears pricked and eyes a little buggy. Charles turned her around to get her away from the food. 

I love his ears.
The temperature was dropping rapidly so we finally said our good-byes and wished Gail a safe drive home. You can read about her point of view and what happened on the way back to VA here. (Gail, Nimo, the truck and trailer were all fine, thankfully!)

Charles and I rode back to the barn. Lily wanted to jig all the way home but I repeatedly asked her to walk, released when she obeyed. She would walk normally for a few steps then proceed to jig more. Repeat. I won: she walked the last bit of trail before arriving at the barn. 

We gave the girls warm mashes while they dried off under their coolers. Lily was lackadaisical about the mash, her grain and the alfalfa I offered. She ate, but she didn't finish any of the things I put in front of her. That's when I figured out why she'd been so amped, nervous and competitive: she was in heat! Temps in the 40's or higher in the winter usually cause her to go into heat, and the two tell-tale signs are nervousness and less interest in food. 

I wish we were closer to Gail so we could ride together more often. We had so much fun! 


  1. So happy y'all got to ride together. Sounds like a very fun day. =)

  2. Looks like a great ride and 50 degrees is a gift in the middle of winter. Glad that Gracie didn't slip more than that and that she didn't freak herself into a scrambling mess trying to get her feet under her (think road runner on ice).

    Part of the issue with Lily might also be the top mare in the herd stuff. Lead horses don't like to share the front position. I struggle with the same thing with Ashke. Twinkies, I tell ya.

    1. I wish it had gotten up to 50! I think it stayed in the mid 40's tops that day. I was relieved that Gracie did her best to keep things under control. She was a really good girl on this day. She hadn't been ridden with more than one other horse since the summer.

      I think you're 100% right about Lily re: top mare + lead horse!

  3. I am very jealous for many reasons :)

    1. I'm really hoping we get to ride together again sometime this year!

  4. looks like a great ride - despite some 'speshul' behavior from the horses haha. our trails are still pretty slippery too - but the horses have been surprisingly ok about the ice (even in the water!). we only ever do about 3-4 miles tho haha

    1. Yeah, Lily didn't like ice on water last year either, but it was a lot more than what we encountered on this ride. Silly horse. Haha

  5. Looks like a fun time! You are so lucky to have so many nice trails within riding distance where you board!

  6. I always love reading about the same event from another point of view!:) I'm so glad we were able to get together and I'm hopeful we'll be able to do it again!