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.|
|Down the hill towards the lake.|
|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.|
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.
|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!"|
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!|
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?|
|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!