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

Saturday, March 29, 2014

More Epicness: Adventures with Liz & Co, Part III - The Beach Ride

aka The Day that My Biggest Riding Dream Came True

We woke up around 7:30 am again on Saturday, got all 4 of ourselves and Kenai ready, packed food, drinks and changes of clothes, and got ourselves into Liz's truck. We stopped for gas and breakfast at McDonald's on the way to the barn, arriving a little later than originally planned but still well within the time frame we wanted.

Kathy and her husband Doug already had their truck and trailer hitched up: Kathy would be towing Lily and Queenie. Liz's truck was quickly hitched up to her trailer too, and we proceeded to get all of the horses ready for the trip. I fetched Lily from the field and gave her a beet pulp mash while grooming her and booting her up for the trip.

I'd left the stall guard to Deja's stall (where I temporarily had Lily while getting stuff ready, since Queenie was next door to keep her company) and stepped away to get something while I was thinking about it. There had been a crowd of people in the aisle, but when I walked back into the barn, everyone had gone to do other things. Lily was standing quietly in the stall, no barrier to keep her inside of it whatsoever, peering out to see where everyone had gone.
Good mare. Good, good mare!
Ready to go. This was going to be a 1 - 1.5 hour trailer ride, so her hoof boots went on her fronts in case she pawed.
I have Easyboot Gloves as backups while waiting for our Vipers to arrive.
Kathy, Liz and Charles
Our men and our mares, all hanging out. :)
Check out Lily asking for snuggles from Charles.
If you read Liz's blog, you'll know Q is the same way with Mike!
Lily gets what she wants while Q inspects Charles's other hand to see if there's anything of interest there...

A re-do of our mare's meetup.
Since there was no food involved, there were no ugly faces. Note the slack in both lead ropes.

Q went in Liz's trailer and we rode in Liz's truck, while Lily went with Queenie on Kathy's trailer. Doug was riding along with Kathy for the trip.

And where were we going, you ask?

To a tiny island off of the Chesapeake called Wye Island.

Over the winter, I have talked multiple times about the awesomeness of riding through snow and how in a way, several aspects of snowy environments kept reminding me of the ocean, which spun off into wishing out loud to some day ride on the beach.

Liz had decided that when she came to visit we would find a way to go riding on the beach. Ocean City allows horseback riding on the shore for a small fee (I think it's $20 for the permit per horse trailer) in the off season until March 30th, but it is 3 hours away. Assateague also allows beach riding in the off season, but it's the same distance and you also have the wild horses. Which I wouldn't mind if my horse was a gelding. You know: wild stallions + mares = not a good combination, unless you've always wanted a TB/Assateague pony cross...

I had invited Kathy to come along and she was tremendously excited about the idea. But, after talking amongst the three of us, we decided that driving to Ocean City was a long haul for just a day trip. I know some of you drive much farther for endurance rides! But Liz was going to be driving for 5 hours to get from WV to MD already and back again (that's a LOT of trailer hauling for one trip!), and Kathy had no idea how Queenie would be for a trailer ride of that length one-way. So Kathy decided that she would find a beach closer to us, one way or another. She started out by asking her farrier, who is involved in some of the local trail riding organizations and often camps with his horses. She asked friends of hers from TROT. And when she still couldn't get a definitive answer, she resorted to Google.

Don't ask me how she found it, because I had searched long and far for closer beaches and had found nothing about Wye Island. But Kathy found it. She sent me the original link she found, which was from a local trail rider who listed trail riding options in MD. From there I did more research and found the Wye Island website. You have to really read closely to find the info on horseback riding, but it's there. You can ride on all of the trails except for one. I e-mailed their office for info on permits/requirements for horseback riding on the island and ended up talking on the phone with one of the rangers. No, we needed no special permits, just our Coggins. Nope, no special reservations needed unless it was 4+ horses. Yes, we could ride all of the trails except for the Schoolhouse Mills Nature Trail. See island trail map here. Horse trailer parking is on Lodge Lane Rd. We could follow Wye Island Rd to Ferry Point Trail, which would take us to the beach, where we were also allowed to ride. It was a 6-mile ride round trip.

I had to scour the internet to find photos of the Wye Island beach and found this blog post through a Google Images search. Confirmed: Wye Island did have a real beach. Probably small, but still a real beach.

Our excitement grew as the date got closer and closer. Kathy was so excited that she left the truck hitched to the trailer days in advance!

The drive to Wye Island took about 1.5 hours with the trailers.

Chesapeake Bay.
"Visiting the Chesapeake" was actually another thing on my "Things to do in MD" bucket list too.
Kathy's red trailer
Kenai riding in the back of the 4Runner, sticking his nose out into the wind. :) He rode like this the entire drive.
I can officially say that Lily has crossed the Bay Bridge.
She was so calm the entire drive. This was the only moment when we noticed her looking around.
She really likes Kathy's slant load. Queenie didn't even move a muscle.

We arrived uneventfully at Wye Island and parked the trucks and trailers. The mares unloaded without a problem and we set them up with food while tacking them up: Lily and Q with their own haynets full of orchard grass hay + alfalfa, and Queenie grazing happily while Doug held her lead rope.

We mounted up but it was a good 10 minutes before we could figure out which direction we had to take. I knew we had to go onto Wye Island Road and just follow it till the end, but there we were quite confused there for a moment as to where the main road was.

We eventually figured it out and headed out. Our men stayed behind talking, with instructions to meet us at the beach in an hour or so. It was supposed to be only 3 miles from the parking lot to the beach.

The ride to the beach was pretty awesome in and of itself. Wye Island Road is a wide dirt road pretty much the entire way from the equestrian parking lot, with flat grassy shoulders between the road and surrounding crop fields where we could ride on without pause whenever we came across cars. Drivers were polite, slowing down as they passed us on our horses. It was in the low 50's when we first arrived but overcast. I started out with a fleece shirt but ended up taking it off and continuing on in the sleeveless shirt I was wearing underneath. I'd been hopeful, and thankfully it turned out to be warm enough to warrant NO sleeves!

We walked and trotted pretty much the entire way, with an emphasis on trotting. Queenie gaited every.single.time we trotted; this is the most we've seen her gait in the time Kathy has been riding her on the trails with me! Queenie cracked us up wanting to catch up to the fastest horse in front (Q, in this case). I'd ride next to Kathy to try to influence Queenie's gait with Lily's presence and slower speed. This worked some of the time, but Queenie had pretty much decided that she was upgrading from the TB cross to the Arab cross as her object of infatuation! I walked with Kathy in the back when we were able to convince Queenie to let her mom take a break from gaiting.

Kathy and Queenie leading the way. Queenie has always been a great trail horse, but she turning into a truly exceptional one. She had no problems taking turns in the lead on this ride!
Liz and Q. We were riding on the shoulder. See how wide it was?
We'd occasionally come across shallow water-filled ditches while walking/trotting, which the mares would hop over or walk/trot through. Lily decided that she would jump all the ditches, including the largest one at 3' width. She came right up to the edge of the ditch at a walk, stopped consider it, and I felt her shift her weight to her haunches. I barely had time to grab mane before she launched herself into the air from a standstill with a good foot to spare width-wise and at least 3' of air to boot. !!! She jumped me out of the tack! We landed at a trot, me laughing my head off, with only one foot in a stirrup. Kathy and Liz completely missed it. It was pretty awesome.

On the final straightaway to Ferry Point Trail (see map here; it's on the left-hand bottom corner of the island), I asked Kathy if she would like to canter. Kathy said yes, and all three of us cantered. Kathy was grinning from ear to ear as I cantered on Lily next to her. I wish I'd caught it on video! We cantered for a solid minute or two before going back to a trot.

We finally arrived at the Ferry Point trailhead, which would take us straight to the beach. There is a parking lot right next to the trailhead with a latrine and a picnic table under a tree. I called Charles to let him know we had made it. Turned out the guys had been counting on us getting lost...and had driven back to a gas station to get drinks and food! They said they'd meet us right away. We waited and waited and waited. We had no idea how far away that gas station was - it was a good 10 minute drive just to get off the island. After 15 minutes of the guys not showing up yet, we gave up and decided to ride on onto the beach. I called Charles to let him know what we were doing, with instructions to bring only the beer cooler (so the guys could have beers while we rode), Kenai and Liz's camera to the shore. We'd eat our lunch afterwards at the picnic table.

Ferry Point trail is lovely, even now in the very early spring when the trees are still bare. We trotted all the way down to the beach. It was about a half mile from the parking lot to the end of the trail.

That YouTube "stabilize" enhancement does wonders...makes it seem like I have the steadiest hand ever when filming from a trotting horse! Really. Got these so you guys could see the trail, and Queenie gaiting like a champ. Link here.

Link to video here.

Ever since I saw The Black Stallion for the first time when I was 10 years old, I dreamed of riding on the beach. Not just any riding; I wanted to gallop down the shoreline.

Every time we've gone to the beach from the time I was 10 up until now, as an adult, I HAVE to take off at a canter on my own two legs down the shoreline, going as fast as I can for as long as I can. In my mind, I've always pretended I'm on a horse when performing this ritual.

Me "cantering" on the shore at Delray Beach, FL.
Photo was taken 2 years ago.
(It was 50 degrees; winter in FL. Hence why I was dressed in warm clothes.)
Growing up I had my own horse, yes. But we did not have a trailer and, having had Lucero in our backyard for most of his life, we didn't know anyone who would let us borrow a trailer or with whom we could tag along for a trip.

And then I learned that I could ride along the Bayamon River that ran through the valley in front of our house and eventually reach the coast. It was a 4-hour ride one way. And thus I started conditioning Lucero for this. My goal was to get him to the beach the summer before I left the island, but his heaves worsened with the summer humidity and we had to stop.

For over two decades I have had this recurring dream of arriving at the beach on Lucero, bareback. I aim him at the hard packed wet sand by the water's edge and we take off towards it...and then Lucero vanishes, leaving me once again cantering on the wet sand on my own two feet.

I can't even begin to explain to you guys how monumentally epic arriving at the Wye Island beach was for me. 

Liz and Q are the first ones on the beach
We were there. We had arrived. After a lifetime of waiting for the opportunity, and then for the horse, and then for the opportunity again. Of begging and pleading with Fate to just give me this chance dammit.

Lily's and my first time stepping on a beach together.
The beach was small, small enough that 3 people + 2 dogs already made it seem crowded, and that was before adding our 3 horses, 6 people and 1 dog. BUT it had sand and water and a distant horizon and enough room for picking up a gallop. Who cared if it wasn't really on the ocean. It was a beach!

We felt bad for the people with their dogs, who were nice enough to hold them so they wouldn't upset the horses. But this took away from their enjoyment of the beach. We didn't want to bother them. Kathy and I paused, not sure what to do. Should we wait? Should we go back to the picnic area and give time for the people to leave? 

And then Liz veered off towards the left, over a bank covered in marsh grass, and discovered another smaller but empty little beach on the other side of the marsh grass.

It was so small...we trotted up and down to see how much speed we could pick up in that amount of room, then turned around and went back onto the trail, backtracking to see if we could find another beach to ride on.

We followed a side path that took us around a crop field, all the way to the water's edge...you had to jump down from a bank into the water. There was no actual beach to be had.

At this time the guys finally arrived, bringing Kenai, Liz's DSLR, and the cooler full of beers. We returned to meet them, and they followed us to the portion of beach that Liz had discovered. They set everything up by the marsh grass and got themselves ready to take photos of us girls trotting and galloping along the small stretch of shoreline.

Have a million photos:

New profile pic on FB. This was one of my faves!

Queenie initially was like, "Really? You want me to go in this water? I don't think so."
We fixed that later; wait until the second set of photos further down. :)

Queenie starts actually going into the very edge of the water! 

Lily hated when Q passed her! You can see her pinned ears in this photo.
Her TB blood talking. Haha!
She was fine once Q had passed; it was just the action of Q passing her that irritated Lily.
Silly mare! We'd see more of this behavior the next day.

Lily: "You shall NOT win!"
Q: "Just watch me!"

Love this shot: all 4 feet in the air!

Q has an awesome jump!
My face. Lol! I was afraid we'd crash into the men 3 strides after this branch.
Moment right after the jump.
We pretty much came to a halt from the canter, right in front of the guys!

Queenie finally says, "Oh alright."

3 matching grins!

Liz being Liz :D

Walking back through the marsh grass to the main beach.

After multiple shenanigans on the smaller beach, we returned to the main beach to discover that some of the people from the original group had left, to be replaced by more people with dogs, but these dogs were all on leashes and the people were sitting at the picnic table by the beach. We decided to go ahead and do our REAL beach ride:

We succeeded at getting Queenie in the water!

Yesss for Kathy!
I can still get my heels down to China!

Q does an effective impression of a jet ski. ZOOM!!!

After about 45 minutes total (we were 15 minutes in the main section of beach; we didn't want to bother the people with their dogs for too long, and thanked them profusely for allowing us to play in the water with the horses), we were all beached out and starving.

Kathy rode on ahead on Queenie, with Doug walking along next to her, with Mike, Charles and Kenai bringing up the rear. Liz and I took a detour through a side trail, which we trotted and cantered through. It was maybe half a mile long, looping away from and then back to Ferry Point Trail. We arrived back at the main trail right behind Kathy, Queenie and Doug.

From there on, I walked Lily next to Kathy, while Liz ventured onto the side trails, alternately trotting and cantering before coming back to meet us.

Back at the parking area, we set up our picnic. And somehow, all of us failed to get photos of ourselves and the picnic itself!

We loosened the mares's girths, removed their bridles and set them up to have snacks. Lily and Queenie had some soaked beet pulp; Q was parked under a tree with access to the best spring grass by the picnic table.
Lily just hung out and napped once she was done eating (I removed the bucket so she wouldn't step on it.)

Kathy outdid herself; she brought food for everyone: lunch meats, buns, chips, salad, even cheesecake for dessert! I'd brought some of my marinated chicken and crackers and the snacks we'd bought at REI the evening before. Thank you for the wonderful lunch, Kathy!

Once we were full and rested, we packed everything back in the truck and Kathy, Liz and I mounted up to ride back to the trailer parking lot.

We walked, trotted and cantered on the way back.

So, considering I was filming one-handed on a cantering horse, I think this video is pretty good! I do tilt the camera for a couple of seconds there but the image rights itself. I wanted to capture the awesomeness of the three of us cantering together, and for Kathy to be able to see herself cantering later. Evidence that she can do it! :) Link to video here.

Liz decided to go back through the Continental Divide Trail, which added 2 miles to the route for a total of about 5 miles. We made it back in about 50 minutes.

On the Continental Divide Trail
There was a decent length straightaway, about 1/4 of a mile long, to get back to the parking lot. We checked with Kathy and decided that all three of us would canter down this straightaway; it would be the last canter of the day. As you can see in the video above, we'd already done this a couple of times without problems during the course of this ride, with the mares in alternating leading and following.

We started out as a group, all 3 mares close together. Lily and Q started picking up more speed, the canter turning into a controlled hand gallop as we reached the halfway mark down the straightaway. Suddenly, I realized that Queenie was not right behind us as she had been for every other canter on the trail. I turned around to look and Queenie was about 6 horse lengths behind us, galloping to catch up. She was not running away with Kathy and Kathy appeared to be balanced in the saddle and in control. I looked forwards, then turned around to look at Kathy once again, and that's when I heard her yell, "Stop!!" Liz heard her at the same time, and we spun both mares around in mid flight and trotted back to close the distance between us and Queenie STAT. (We didn't want to canter back towards her; some horses get really upset seeing other horses coming at speed toward them.) Queenie immediately came down to a walk when she saw her buddies coming.

Right when I had turned around to look the second time, Queenie had started bounding like a dolphin with huge, forward leaping strides in an effort to catch up to the other two mares and Kathy had started to have a really hard time keeping her position. She'd succeeded in maintaining her position, but with difficulty. Kathy was fine, but I was so upset. We had put her in danger. Thankfully she's a trooper and she laughed it off, but I felt so, so awful. She could have gotten hurt badly. I still feel awful; as the most experienced rider in the group, this one was on me. It only took seconds for Lily and Q to get that far ahead of Queenie, and she'd freaked out at being left behind. This will not happen again.

We walked back with her to the parking lot, where she dismounted and Doug helped hand walk Queenie. She cooled down quickly-Kathy's girl is super fit after all the trail riding we've been doing this winter!

We still wanted to race Lily and Q before we called it a day, so after making sure Kathy really was fine, Liz and I returned to tackle that last straightaway one more time.

We trotted out to the very end of the straightaway. Once there, we turned around. We decided that we'd let the mares gallop all out up until we reached the end of the trees on the left side of the straightaway (about a 1/8 mile distance) and bring them down to a canter for the last 1/8 mile so we weren't flying full tilt back into the trailer parking lot.
"Ready?" Liz said.
"Yes!" I replied.

We unleashed the mares.

Lily shifted her weight back onto her haunches and surged forwards as Q, with her longer stride, took the lead by a half length. Lily stayed even with Q's haunches for a couple of strides then caught up, both mares going neck and neck, snorting with each thundering stride, manes flying back with their speed. Liz and I looked at one another and laughed into the wind.

We egged the mares on more and both of them kicked into 5th gear, Q taking the lead by a nose. "Come ON racehorse!" Liz called back to Lily, as Q started to race further into the lead.

Lily was pissed that Q was getting ahead and pinned her ears. I leaned forwards and gave Lily all the rein I had. "GO LILY!"

Lily flattened her ears and leaped forward, making it seem like we had been at a standstill before. I glanced at Liz in surprise as we overtook her and Q and passed them. I whooped as the wind of our speed made the tears stream backwards across my cheeks.

All that Thoroughbred blood that flows through Lily's veins? I had just invoked it! I have never been so fast on her. I have never seen her be so fast. I didn't even know she had it in her!

Liz laughed and asked Q for more. They had just caught up with us when the end of the trees flashed by to our left. Liz and I sat up and we asked the mares to come back down to a hand gallop, then a canter. Both mares obliged and switched downward gears NBD.

We trotted back into the parking lot with matching grins!

The one other horse whom I successfully rode in this many different scenarios was Lucero. Lucero was a Paso Fino, gaited to the nth degree, with andadura racing bloodlines: he would not canter. He could rack probably up to 30 mph if I'd let him, but he would not canter. The only times he'd canter was up steep hills or one time when we got caught in a downpour on the way home. I owned him for 20 years. I can count on one hand the times I got him to canter other than on a hill.

I loved jumpers because I got my canter/gallop fix in. The main reason why I originally chose to have non-gaited horses after Lucero was because for years and years, at the back of my mind, I had always dreamed of being able to walk, trot, canter and GALLOP on a horse of my own, without fear.

So in a way, on this day, TWO dreams came true. All thanks to my awesome friends Kathy and Liz, and my wonder mare, Lily, who allowed this day to happen in the way that it did, and to our three men who came along for the adventure with us and happily took so many wonderful photos as evidence!

We quickly untacked Lily and Q and they were handwalked until they had cooled down. Liz has a Polar handheld equine heart rate monitor and she checked all 3 mares's heart rates: Lily was 54, I believe Q was about the same, and Queenie was in the low 40's. Queenie had had maybe 3 minutes longer of rest than Lily and Q: like I said, she's super fit!

After letting the horses eat their hay for a bit, we loaded them up and drove back to the barn. Charles and I may have conked out in the backseat of Liz's truck:

Once at the barn, I helped Kathy unload all of our gear and equipment from her trailer while Liz got Q unpacked and settled. The mares went in their respective fields/stalls, and Liz, Mike, Charles, Kenai and I drove back to the apartment.

We changed clothes quickly, left Kenai in the house with his dinner, and drove over to Yuraku, an amazing sushi restaurant that the doctors at work love. The restaurant closed at 10:00 pm and we figured that arriving at 9:00 pm would mean less of a wait.

It looks like yet another hole-in-the-wall place from the outside, set in an older strip mall in Germantown, MD. Honestly, if we hadn't ordered their sushi at work before, I would never have thought to set foot in there.

The restaurant is so good and so busy that despite arriving an hour before closing, we still waited for half an hour to be seated.

Charles and Mike by this point were in the verbal banter that Liz and I had been expecting from them. We couldn't stop laughing at them as they fed off of each other, getting more and more ridiculous with each round. Like I had told Liz: it would be the end of the world when Charles and Mike met.

We piled ourselves back into the car to return to the apartment and after taking turns showering, we all fell into our beds, comatose.

It had been one hell of a big day!

And I still have to tell you guys about Sunday!