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

Saturday, March 5, 2016

First Day of Spring

Last Sunday, we hauled out to North Tract.

North Tract is part of the Patuxent River State Park, with Patuxent being one of the larger parks in Maryland, taking up two counties (Howard and Montgomery) with its 6,700 acres. It is full of unmarked trails that criss-cross it in a web. My first ridden adventures while conditioning for endurance took place in the Patuxent. I love this park: I call it The Rabbit Hole, and exploring its narrow winding forest trails is akin in my mind to wandering into the Fire Swamp. You just never know what you're going to encounter. I would not be surprised to find ROUS or fire spurts on the Patuxent trails...I haven't encountered lightning sand in there, but we have encountered boot-sucking lightning mud!

North Tract is probably the most "civilized" part of the Patuxent: it is part of the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge and is currently the only US Fish and Wildlife property that allows horseback riding. It used to be part of Fort Meade and its wide, hard-packed trails were originally built for military tanks!

I've been there twice before: you can read about my adventures there here and here. I have been itching to return ever since we bought the trailer last year, since Charles has never been there.

Sunday promised temperatures in the 60's, the first real warm day of what is turning out to be a very early spring, and we had originally planned to go to Sugarloaf Mountain...but I just knew that it would be PACKED with people coming out of hibernation for the first time. So I proposed North Tract instead and Charles agreed.

The girls were a little more nervous when tied to the trailer this time. Lily was quite fidgety while I strapped protective boots onto her legs and put Vipers on her fronts for her hooves: I boot her fronts for longer hauls because she has been known to paw herself bloody on longer trailer rides...like when she was hauled from South Florida to Maryland when we moved north!

The girls loaded up and we headed out. It took us about an hour to get to North Tract but it was an easy drive on the highway. The day was gorgeous.

The best kind of rearview mirror view is one that has a horse trailer in it! ;)
You check in upon arriving at North Tract and you are supposed to check out when you leave. Charles stayed in the truck while I ran into the office to fill out the paperwork. The girl behind the desk was majorly flustered: I was person #70 to register in the park!!! Yup: you could tell it was the first day of spring!

There were several other horse trailers in the equestrian lot. The girls unloaded and stood calmly while we fed them mashes and got them ready.

I was ridiculously excited about being out and about in a tank top on the last weekend of February!!
I've never met a horse that loves attention as much as this one. She was totally leaning into the jelly curry as I rubbed her face with it.
Getting Lily groomed.
You can really see how shaggy Lily got this winter!
Her coat won't get this long if I blanket, but it never got cold enough for long enough to warrant blanketing. The mares have a source of shelter in the form of a run-in shed that faces away from the wind and had a 24/7 supply of high quality square bale hay grown on the farm where they live. I've barely even grained them this winter!
Professionals, those two!

We mounted up and set off. I remembered the trails from the times I had come to the park with TROT and knew that they all looped back to one another. And anyway, both mares will always return to the trailer, regardless of whether it is a familiar park or not.

Off at a trot!
Since there are no true natural water sources at this park, we let the girls stop at all the puddles. Lily again made a point of splashing and splashing in the water.

You can see how wide the trails are here. 

Blue Heron Pond.
Another pond.
A still from the video below. Love Gracie's flying mane and Charles's solid position in the saddle!

I always play music when riding. When with Charles, I simply won't connect the headphones to my cell so we can still talk, and let the music play as if on a radio. It was playing "Iko Iko", which PERFECTLY matched the beat of Lily's trot! Charles caught me dancing. :) The video is below; this is a still from it.

We had a blast on this ride, exploring the extra-wide trails. The mares were SOLID. Lily was just starting to come into season so she was a little more nervous and looky than usual when leading, but otherwise did fabulously. We didn't encounter many people on these trails at all, despite the number of individuals checked into the park. The most eventful thing that happened was Gracie spooking at a guy that was carrying a guitar case slung across his back. G-Mare backed up at speed down the trail...and Lily remained completely unperturbed. Charles got Gracie under control while Lily and I waited, then caught up to us, Gracie still snorting loudly over the offending guitar case. Silly girl.

We did exactly 10 miles in exactly two hours: a conservative pace, but more than I had expected given how much we walked! It was quite hot in the sun and I was concerned about the mares overheating, so the girls ultimately walked more than they trotted and cantered. It just goes to show how much a horse can move out on these extra-wide, hard-packed trails!

The girls had mashes again upon returning to the trailer while we untacked, had a snack ourselves, and put everything away.

The girls loaded up uneventfully and we checked out at the park office. It was another one-hour drive back to the barn. Gracie is terrible for the clippers (she needs Dormosedan for clipping: ace is not enough!) but Lily doesn't care, so I gave her a quick clip upon arrival: temps are in a steady upward trend and I wanted peace of mind in regards to her temperature regulation during future rides.

I can't wait for summer. I'm anxiously looking forward to tank top weather, long, long days, having to blast the A/C in the car, having to carry Gatorade and electrolytes in our saddle bags, and riding in a brilliantly green world again!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


Basically ALL WINTER we have been talking about hauling out. Between the holidays, the general weather (it's been a wet winter, which = mud. In MD, it is preferred that you don't ride on public trails when they are sopping wet as it destroys them...and can lead to complaints from other trail users that will ban their use by trail riders), the huge amounts of snow that are finally just about gone 3 weeks later, and our own crazy work schedules, we basically hadn't been able to take the girls out in the trailer since...October?

This past weekend we finally succeeded!

On Friday night Charles and I had gone out dancing with my Surgery peeps, which was probably an insane thing to do considering that I wanted to get up early on Saturday regardless...and we didn't get home until after 3:00 am! I still woke up at 8:30 am like clockwork, though I let Charles sleep in. We were both exhausted (we had both had rough, long weeks at our jobs on top of the lack of sleep + sore bodies from dancing for 4 hours nonstop) but I was determined to just take the trailer out. The worst thing you can do to a horse trailer is let it sit unused for extended periods of time.

We didn't get to the barn until 1:00 pm. We hitched up the trailer and found everything to be in working order after a thorough check-up. We got the girls from the field and I removed the caked-on mud from both of them while Charles loaded up our tack. The girls were happy and relaxed to find themselves tied to the trailer for the first time in 4 months. I had been expecting to need to review trailer loading with G-Mare but she hopped on willingly behind me and as soon as the partition was in place, Lily was already peering around the trailer door wanting to go in! Laughing, I unclipped her lead rope and she hopped on completely of her own accord then waited for me to tie her up.

It is in moments like this that I seriously adore that mare: I couldn't ask for a companion that loves her job more!

We chose Little Bennett as our destination because of its close proximity and quiet, varied trails. Both horses are familiar with the park and there is plenty of water access for drinking and cooling down. I wanted to trial them at a slower race pace over a longer distance (my goal was 10 miles) and was counting on that water access: they both still have full winter coats and Lily's is especially long.

It was chilly when we arrived at the park. The girls received mashes while we quickly tacked them up. Both mares were "up" upon our mounting up, but not in a nervous way, nooooo: they were all "LET'S DO THIS!!" The second we were on the trail, we let them move up into a trot.

Gracie led in the beginning.

And then Lily and I took the lead. We leap-frogged throughout this ride: when one mare seemed to start lagging in energy, the other would pass and go in front. It was a smooth and seamless process with them: Gracie used to hate letting others take turns leading but she did not mind it on this ride.

First river crossing. Both mares drank!
Lily found this deeper pool of water and stood there for a while, cooling off. I have to watch her carefully in the winter if she has not had any sort of clip: at 45+ degrees, she can overheat much easier if she has her full winter coat. I let her take as much time as she wanted in here.

 We continued on, adding a couple of gallop sets.

We let the horses hang out at the second water crossing as well.

Lily played A LOT with the water!
Gracie decided to imitate her.

Trotting down one of the gravel roads that connects the different trails.

Charles had so much fun on this ride.

Another canter.

Lily and I took the lead.

It was an absolutely wonderful ride.
We returned to the trailer after exactly 10 miles ridden.

Not bad at all for our first off-property outing of the year!
We walked the last additional half mile and by the time we arrived at our rig, both mares were down. We fed them mashes while we untacked and loaded them up.

Old pros at this, both of them.
It was a short, uneventful ride back to the barn.

I was so impressed with them. They had not been ridden in nearly two weeks and hadn't hauled out in almost 4 months, but here we just randomly had them hop on the trailer and took them out for a spin and neither one of them batted an eyelash at anything.

This sport, guys. I love what this sport does for horses!!

A spectacular sunset on the way home.