Monday, May 12, 2014

Griffin's Trail Debut

As a member of the local horse club, I receive invites to monthly rides and horse events around the area. Saturday was our kick-off ride for the season. This ride takes place each year because of the abundance of morel mushrooms that are present along the ride. These mushrooms grow naturally here in West Virginia and are perceived as a delicacy elsewhere. Friends on Saturday reported that they were going for $119/.lb in NYC!

There was the opportunity to head to the base camp for the ride Friday night (about an hour or so from my barn) for a potluck dinner, drinks, and shenanigans. However, with rain in the forecast and only a tent to sleep in (as opposed to trailers with LQ that all the other members have), I didn't opt to head over Friday night. Perhaps, if the rain from No Frills and my tent fiasco hadn't been so fresh in my memory, I would have.

Instead, Mike and I headed to the barn Saturday morning to hook up the trailer, fetch the horses, load tack, and load horses.

I hadn't loaded both horses in MONTHS on the trailer. Q's been going places, the holy terror that she is, but Griffin has been staying at home. In fact, this ride would be his first formal trail ride away from home & the longest trailer ride he's had since he was a yearling.

I opted to put the grey guy on first, hoping Mike would be able to get Q on and slip out the escape door before she pursued any shenanigans.

Griffin approached the trailer with caution, sniffing the interior a bit before stepping on without issue where he almost immediately dug into the hay in the manger in front of him. Good horse!

I pushed the divider to the center and put the ghetto butt bumper up so Griffin would note that something was behind him and not try to scoot off the trailer. He seemed calm and content with his snack, so I motioned for Mike to lead Q on, "Just lead her on and immediately slip out the escape door. I'll close the big door as soon as her hind feet are on the trailer."

Mike did just that. And Q walked right on like it was nothing. -_- That mare. She didn't even do her worried dance once she was on!

This could be attributed to the presence of another horse on the trailer (likely) or it could just be because the whole situation was different due to a human leading her on and none of the terror that she associates with self-loading. I think I am going to try to rig a way for me to push or pull the trailer door closed after I step out of the escape door from leading her on. It swings open to the same side that the escape door exits, so in theory, if I had a stick rigged to this (a la stick clip used when sport climbing) I should be able to give the door a shove without stepping away from the open escape door where I can hold Q until the door is closed. Hmmm... *steepled plotty-schemey fingers* Either way, it is good to know that as long as there are two people involved there is a way to load this horse with low probability that one of us will be hurt.

Mike drove us south to the ride site while I navigated; he has a lot more experience driving trailers and large vehicles, so I am happy to turn over the wheel when he's around.

Happy pony wonders why he can't lead
this ride.
The drive was uneventful. We pulled into the new-to-me place RIGHT as the group was about to ride off! I'd been told "late morning" for ride departure. Further prodding for an exact time merely got me a, " 10:30a or 11 or something" answer. We arrived right at 10:30a. The group of folks saw us pull in and waited while Mike and I did a blitzkrieg tack-up assault on the horses as soon as we'd pulled them from the trailer.

Poor Griffin is still unaccustomed to trailering and was DRENCHED in sweat upon arrival, shaking a little bit. =( Poor baby. He was curious and inquisitive about his surroundings as I rapidly prepared him to ride though. He calmed a lot in those brief minutes, his coat even drying out along his neck and flanks by the time we were headed out.

Mike on Q and I on Griffin fell in with the group, chatting amiably as we set out, the horses settling right into their jobs.

The terrain was akin to what we have access to from home, so the horses were well equip to handle it. Mike had tacked Q up in his Australian saddle for the day, complete with crupper and breast collar as that saddle just doesn't stay put on her when hills are involved due to her mutton withers. He'd been quite conflicted about Ansur vs. Australian, but opted for the Aussie due to the potential for Q to spook. The thigh braces on the Aussie keep him on no matter what. Q was very well behaved all day though, calm and happy amidst the herd of 14 who were out riding.

Griffin was a total champ all day long. He conquered the climbs, he behaved himself around other horses, and he listened to my requests. My only complaint about him is that he can't go on "autopilot" yet. ;-) An extremely minor complaint for my almost 4 year old. The other horse his age on the ride had more Moments than Griffin did. I was pretty freakin' proud of my little grey horse.

Hanging out for a moment
When hills were extremely steep to descend, I would dismount and lead Griffin down. He was so totally and thoroughly at ease with this (and everything else). There was one moment when I was leading him down one hill and his head came even with my shoulder while he still kept a good 2'-3' between us. I looked over at him as we walked in tandem. His eye was calm and relaxed, yet curious about the terrain in front of him. His ears were forward, focused. Each of his steps were confident. And I realized, watching him then, how awesome this little horse is and how lucky I am to have such a young and willing equine partner.

It rained on and off throughout the 4½ hour ride. Two particularly drenching episodes were cause for the lot of us to put on raincoats, ponchos, slickers, what have you. I'm very happy to report that Griffin could have cared less that I pulled out a noisy plastic poncho and put it on/took it off twice during the ride! The second time I had to don it, we were headed down a hill and he just focused on his job while I struggled into the poncho. Mike was losing it laughing at me because I'd managed to get my arms through but not my helmeted head just yet as it took a little finesse to do that. Griffin didn't give a damn though, he was so focused on his job!

Griffin was thoroughly convinced that the sole purpose of this ride at a new location was to starve him. He ate like a freaking HOG all day long on the trail - something he's never done on our rides at home. Every passing piece of greenery was grabbed and consumed. He became quite adept at grabbing grass on the go. When in the woods, he was the master of finding the rare clumps of grass amidst the other understory forbs. SO hungry. ALL day. I'm glad he'll eat like a champ away from home, but I'm going to need to curb his manic need for constant grabbing of edibles.

Still so focused
Mike and Q had a blast. Q adores him and would do anything for him. He sent Q off through the woods to jump several logs throughout the day; he is really having fun learning to jump this little mare! I heard him talking to her all day, telling her how good she was, chastising her when she would try to trot when it was "beer time", and narrating the trail to her as they went along.

Mike and I were both on and off and off and on the horses throughout the day. We'd lead them through sticky spots and lead them up or down extremely steep, sustained terrain. Additionally, we were on and off as we searched for (and found) morels, fiddleheads, and ramps (the latter two of which were easy to find due to their abundance).

Mike hadn't found morels prior to this trip. He was like a kid in Candyland when we found the first. I was quite suddenly in charge of holding not only my two horses, but a third from a friend. Reprimanding each horse in turn for making bitchy faces at the other was quickly overwhelming. Griffin, sadly, was trapped between two opinionated mares! Poor guy. I tied my two after a moment, and handed the third off to her owner (riding another horse) to avoid further altercation.

Waiting on the morel hunters between hunting forays, I was still ahorse when Griffin started doing this herky jerky motion without moving his feet. I looked down to see if there was something on the ground bothering him, then looked up in confusion to a neighboring friend, my eyes wide as saucers with confusion. My look alone asked the question, "What the..?!" And she answered, "Well, Liz, you may not want to know this, but your horse is trying to breed the air right now. Is he cut?" Yes. Yes. He was cut as a yearling! She laughed.

A very happy guy
Mike and Matt found two sandwich baggies worth of morels on our outing. They made a great team. Mike additionally took some time to gather some fiddleheads and ramps so we could later indulge in the Appalachian spring trio of morels, ramps, and fiddleheads.

Overall it was a great ride. My GPS didn't work well throughout, but based on our pace when the GPS was on, I'd estimate we did 13-14 miles over the 4½ hours we were out. The ride invitations on various medias had all noted "***Shoes recommended for this ride.***" My two were completely bare the whole time without issue. Thankyouverymuch. The only two there without shoes all the way around. I'd packed one pair of Renegades for Griffin just in case, but he didn't need them. Q's feet are beyond solid, so I wasn't concerned about her at all.

West Virginia in the spring is beautiful, and in my opinion, it's best experienced from horseback. Riding along one gets to appreciate the differing hues of green that are emerging, the songs of the migratory birds returning to summer habitat, and the other forms of life emerging from the ground as temperatures increase.

The next one of these rides will be in June. This one departs from the barn where Q and Griffin are and will be on trails I ride all the time. I've got a bit of work to do to finish clearing sections of trail, but we'll be ready in time. Should be a blast!

Lady's Slipper


Far from tired after the ride.

Griffin and Q leading their friends around the field after the ride while we had dinner. Griffin was the ringleader/troublemaker.

A small sampling of fiddleheads, ramps, and morels.

Holding three horses while Mike and Mat hunt morels

Our feast!

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