Monday, March 31, 2014

Maryland Adventure III: 13 Miles

Sunday: Morning dawned before I was ready for it.

Saiph and I got up quietly, ate, dressed, and slipped out leaving Charles and Mike to sleep away the morning while we rode.

The day was colder than the prior one, but not miserable. We arrived at the barn, readied the mares, and were on the trail in no time at all.

The goal: Fit in as many miles as we could at a good pace for 2-ish hours.

The result: 13 miles in 1 hour, 44 minutes with an average pace of 7.1 mph.

I told Saiph that we should try to canter and trot as much as possible. The footing was good, the terrain wasn't too rugged, and the mares were both more than fit enough to handle it.

We set off along the track we'd taken days prior with Mike. We wound down bridle paths between farms, through woods between residential areas and more farmland, over logs, across a road, and into the fields surrounding the farm with the percheron stallion...who was turned out on this day.

In past experiences going down the road that parallels part of the stallion's field, Saiph and Kathy have witnessed his mad rush to the fenceline that inevitably startles the mares. As a result, Saiph fosters a bit of anxiety about this 100 yard stretch, and rightly so!

She took the lead as we neared the stretch of road we'd need to travel that paralleled the stallion's fence. I wasn't 100% certain how we were going to handle this (dismount? walk by?), but remained ready nonetheless.

Saiph chose to gallop by, hoping the speed of our passage would confuse the stallion if he saw, and ultimately provide us plenty of time to pass before he could reach the fenceline if he chose to try.

Sketch of us running past the stallion's field by Saiph

It worked like a charm. The stallion merely looked up from his position about 100 yards away to stare at us as we went by. I can only imagine that by the time his brain processed that the strange fast moving objects were horses, we were gone.

We cantered and trotted on toward Four Corners where we veered left down a dirt track that created a boundary between crop fields. We cantered this until it met a woods line where we followed a gravel road for a time until it turned to pavement at which point we backtracked at a canter and gallop to the field where we trotted the perimeter to link onto a single track trail through the woods.

The woodland trail was a bit rockier and a bit muddier. It reminded me a lot of the Scioto Run 50 and some of the lowland terrain at Virginia Highlands 55: mature, but open, forest with a dense understory of downed wood and non-native (some invasive) shrub/scrub.

As we trotted, cantered, and jumped logs along this stretch, I called out all the similarities this trail had to trails I'd traversed during rides last season so Saiph could be better prepared for the atmosphere that will accompany her first ride in April. With each obstacle along the way, I called out to Saiph how it would be treated if you were "at a ride", "We'd all walk this section," "These rocks here are a lot like terrain at _____ ride and _____ ride," "The way this trail winds is very similar to ____," "Everyone but the front runners would probably slow up through here."

Eventually, the trail wound back out and around into the crop fields.

A hunter pace had been held the previous day through this area, so Saiph and I just set out cantering, following the hoofprints in the soft soil.

Cantering and galloping, winding around the perimeter of the fields, the mares vying for the lead position almost every step of the way, power in every stride.


I think Q really enjoyed herself. It was a great change of scenery from our usual riding, though if I had to pick between the mountains and the rolling farmland I'd take the mountains any day!

Eventually, we reached a point where Saiph suggested we turn back for the barn.

We retraced our steps, trotting and cantering the whole way home, walking the perimeter of the property upon our return to avoid dismounting to open gates. The walk cool-down around the property even included a small bridge crossing, which, impressively enough, Q did with minimal argument. GOOD MARE.

Back at the barn, Saiph and I untacked the mares and hosed them both down. We left them in adjacent stalls to munch on hay and dry out while we headed back to the apartment so I could pack up, get Mike, eat food, and then return to the barn to hook up the trailer and head home.

Originally, I'd wanted to book it out of town by 2p at the latest. Food and hunger overrode my hurry though, and Charles, Saiph, Mike, and I headed out to a pretty sweet Mexican place for a great lunch. As a result, Mike and I weren't leaving the barn to head home until 4:30p.

The drive home was uneventful, but seemed to drag on forever. It was a little after 10p by the time we got back to the barn.

Mike and I unloaded Q, unwrapped her legs, blanketed her, and turned her loose into the field of boys vying for her company. We then unhooked the trailer quickly, not bothering to unload anything, and headed home.

: : : : :

Basically, to better explain and sum up this weekend and the myriad of adventures I get myself into I give you this:

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Maryland Adventure Part II: Crossing the Bay and Galloping Fields

**Caution: Photo HEAVY post. ***

Saturday: The day dawned fairly early. Quiet shufflings of the four of us in the apartment as we prepped to get out the door as fast as possible - which still wasn't on the schedule we planned. Showers needed to be had. Kenai needed to go out. Coolers needed to be packed. Clothing needed to be planned - and for Saiph and I, an extra pair of clothes *just in case* we ended up wet from the beach.

The day's plan was to head to Wye Island, a small island the State manages on the Chesapeake Bay. The original plan had been Assateague or Ocean City to do some true beach riding - but with a 3½ hour haul one way? That was really going to eat into our days! Saiph and Kathy found Wye Island though, and the haul was considerably less!

We headed out like a herd of turtles. We got out the door at the apartment only 5 or 10 minutes behind schedule, needed to get gas and ice, then realized my car could use a bit of oil since it was low, and then we needed to snag food from McD's. Finally, finally we got to the barn...only 30 minutes behind where we planned. Haha.

Once at the barn, we rendezvoused with Kathy and her husband. All three of the ladies got our horses prepped and trailers packed (well, mine was already packed, haha). We pulled out of the barn a bit behind schedule, but it wasn't too bad.

Men and mares.


The haul was an hour and a half of easy driving - I say easy because there weren't any mountains to haul over! Ha.

Saiph, Charles, Mike and I in my car hauling Q followed Kathy and her husband who were hauling Queenie and Lily. It was fun to watch Lily (who was the further back of the two mares in the trailer) as we traveled. She was very calm and quiet. However, crossing the Bay Bridge, an incredibly large and long bridge over the Chesapeake Bay, Lily was a bit more "looky" than she'd been the whole trip. And I don't blame her! Its a huge bridge, high up in the air, for a long ways (maybe a mile?).

I joked with Saiph about Lily's former issues crossing small creeks, "Gah, she must be really freaked now. "Mom, I said okay to crossing rivers and creeks, but BAYS?! This is bullshit." Hahaha. Poor, Lily!"

Crossing the Bay

I was all business while Mike took photos, haha

We arrived at Wye Island around noon, unloaded, tacked up, and discussed our plans. As a semi "guest" on this trip, I just sort of assumed that Saiph and Kathy had everything dialed in for what we were going to do. Well, you know what assuming does! As soon as we'd gotten out of the cars Kathy joked, "You thought I knew where I was going and what I was doing, didn't you!?" She faked it real good. Haha.

I had zero notion as to where the "beach" was that we'd be riding on. I hadn't so much as even looked at the trail map! Once we had all mounted though, it became blindingly obvious that no one really knew how to get from point A to point B - parking lot to beach. Things that were known: the "beach" was at a far away point on the island that kayakers used; if you summed the trails on the island you could create 6 miles one way; it was flat and there were a lot of fields.

And so the ladies, plus our men, sat and discussed the map for a time. Waxing and waning over where we were at that point and where needed to go. We had two false starts before we finally figured things out. I ended up getting on my phone and downloading the damn trail map (IN COLOR) to use as we went along. (In past trips (i.e., Uwharrie, NC) I've been one of a few ladies who takes charge of map reading from everyone else. I grew up reading maps and orienteering at numerous camps, so I may as well use my skillset!)

Finally, we were off! Once again, like a herd of turtles.

The path we took to the beach was about 3 miles. I don't know where in the communication train it happened, but somewhere it was translated to the menfolk that it would take us an hour to do that distance. Ha!

We trotted and cantered most of the way. A lot of it was on the dirt road that the cars use on the island to access the point we'd made our destination.

Q was surprisingly forward the whole way. I think the time she'd had to spend in a stall/small paddock was really pissing her off. So given the opportunity to strike out, she took it! But only after she'd had her fill of "real" water from puddles at the beginning. Silly mare!

Wide open spaces!
She struck out at a solid 7-9 mph trot for the first bit. So forward. So eager. And because we were on the road or on the edge of a field most of the way, there was very little in the way of "monsters" for her to spook at. I cannot tell you how nice it was to just enjoy my horse and her way of going without having to be hyper-vigilant about every tiny possible thing that could cause her to spook.

Kathy's Queenie mare seemed a little shocked in the beginning that Q would strike off at such a pace, by the end of our day though, Queenie realized just how fun this could be and matched pace. Such an incredibly fit mare!! Kathy's done an incredible job with her.

In no time at all, the three of us + our mares had reached the trailhead for the beach. We were about 20 minutes faster than the men expected. We tried to wait for them at the trailhead (they'd disconnected my trailer and were going to drive over), but we gave up waiting after a time. It turns out they had gone into town to get beer. Sigh.

We headed down a beautiful little trail to the beach. Trees with thick, low branches looped overhead, OMG its everywhere! she calmed some. This was wonderful for me because I didn't have to worry so much about a sudden horizontal teleportation from her. *whew* turning the trail into a tunnel of green and brown. There was a lot of down wood along the trail, which Q was super concerned about for a time, but when she realized that

When we reached the water's edge, we found a half dozen people, some with dogs, and about 200 feet of shoreline. Not a ton of space for that many people when you couple it with trees that nearly reached the water's edge!

Q immediately spooked at: a dog, a branch, a stump, a tree, and a hole in the ground.

Everyone on the beach ceased their activities to watch us. Talk about awkward! I'm not sure horses frequent the beach often - even though they're allowed to be there re: the information we found.

Fortunately, with some encouragement, I navigated Q away from the staring, bewildered people and down the beach to an area less populated - and for good reason as the beach wasn't as pretty.

It served our purposes though.

Lily, Queenie, and Q were all a bit apprehensive about the whole "get in the water thing" at first. With patience though, they were moving in and around the water as we all giggled like kids. We tooled around for a short time, wondering if the guys would show up. When they didn't, we navigated back down the tunnel-esque trail to find them.

The pretty trail that led to the beach.
Or well, we kind of did.

Q and I struck out first. She was so forward and eager and there were so many people suddenly milling about on the trail that I was worried she'd spook them or they'd spook her. So I turned her off the trail where it opened into a field to the right. I could see the shoreline bordering the far edge of the field, so I pushed Q into a canter and we cantered the edgeline of brush until we could break through and see the shoreline a little better. Alas, no sand.

As I turned Q to canter back toward the trail, Lily and Saiph broke through the same opening with Queenie a moment's hesitation behind, Kathy looking a little alarmed at Queenie's exuberance to follower her friend.

We all circled and returned to the trail, only trotting a little ways before finding our motley crew of men complete with: coolers, cameras, coats, and an over-eager Kenai.

Each guy fell inline walking beside their lady on horseback, Mike and I in the lead. I chastised him a bit for needing to go to get beer (and pretzels), but he guaranteed me we would have run out of beer otherwise, so it was a worthwhile jaunt. Le sigh.

Upon reaching the beach again, I had Mike lead Q by the scary wood-based things on the beach to gain access to the less-populated area. Once there, the guys set all their things in one area before readying the cameras to get photos of the three ladies + mares playing in the water.

Have some photos:

Huge smiles.
Huge smiles...still.
STILL, huge smiles!
Oh, and lookit dem bare hoofies.
The branch is hot lava - never forget!
Saiph's face = lol
Hot lava!

With our little hearts *mostly* content, we decided to head back to the trailhead to have a picnic.

...except when we got to the nicer part of the beach, no one was using it!

I glanced back and looked at Saiph, giving her a look that didn't require words. She returned the same, a big(ger) smile spreading across her face. "We're here," I told her, "we may as well!" And I urged Q out into the water and down the beach a ways, the other four following.

And so, we enjoyed running through the water some more. I giggled 2x as much as the first time, and got 3x as wet from water splashing up from Q's legs as she bounded through the water.

Have some more photos:

Evasive maneuvers!
Horse? Or porpoise?
Lookit that extension. Neeeeerrrmmm!

Finally, once I was thoroughly soaked, the mares were tired, and smiles were permanently plastered on my, Saiph, and Kathy's faces, we headed back down the trail for a picnic.

...or well, Kathy and her husband did. Saiph and I had to have *just one more* ..or two ..or three ..gallops through the water.

THEN. We were happy. Q led us away from the beach, Lily hot on her heels. I took Q down a side trail to add 0.6 mile onto our trek out. Saiph and Lily trotting along with us.

Such a pretty little trail! A narrower version of the trail we came in on. Other than a very rotund, white golden retriever, Q spooked at nothing. Saiph and I giggled the whole way.

When we burst back out onto the main trail, we were right behind Queenie, Kathy, and her husband. Saiph fell in line with them, while I, unable to resist, trotted Q on ahead, spurring into a field off to the left of the trail this time. We cantered down the field (which paralleled the trail), turning at the trailhead to head right back down the main trail to meet back up with everyone. Such. A. Blast. Flat land is funnnn!

Within a few moments more, we were all back at the trailhead where we hitched the horses to numerous things (Lily and Queenie to a fence while I tied Q to a high tree branch - shame, shame, shame to my Leave No Trace learnings....shame).

Damn crazy Arabians. Can't trust them for shit....lies.
Lunch was simplistic, yet wonderful. It was fun to sit with everyone and share various tails.

In no time at all though, the food and beer were gone and it was time to head back.

I'd been studying the map on our way to the beach and had plotted our return to be a bit longer, as I planned to spur off onto a few side trails. I really wanted to get the distance in on Q as this trip was a bit of a training mission for her before we taper for our April 50. I told Saiph and Kathy that I really planned to do the distance with or without them, but fortunately for me, they were both game!

All of the additional mileage we did on the way back to the trailers was along the edge of fields, right at the perimeter of the woodline/field interface. SO FUN for someone like me who is in woods and mountains all the time! ZOOM ZOOM ZOOM. (This isn't to bash on my mountains and woods, I adore them and prefer them, but periodic change is SO ENJOYABLE!)

The ride back was pretty evenly split between walking, trotting, and cantering. We reached the trailers in an hour time.

The last ¼-mile straight away to the trailers though...oh my, oh my. Saiph and I shared knowing looks again, and turned the mares loose into a fast canter...that turned into a gallop...that turned into a race. We were neck and neck and giggling the whole way.

...but then we heard Kathy on Queenie behind us, calling out in spurts, "Slow down...stop...stop!...slow down..STOP!"

Saiph and I looked over our shoulders to see a very dismayed Kathy on a very speedy and excited Queenie. Saiph and I pulled both our mares to a stop, standing them perpendicular to Queenie's path. Queenie slowed. Kathy took a breath of relief.

Queenie had taken off after Lily and Q, sharing with Kathy yet another mystery gait (Queenie is gaited) that was akin to a porpoise bounding in and out of the water. It jarred Kathy pretty good in the saddle, and she said she had no idea how she'd stayed on!

We walked the remainder of the distance to the trailers with Kathy where she dismounted. Saiph and I though? Oh, you betcha we hadn't had enough!That gallop had been the fastest either of us had let our mares go - ever.

We wanted more.

And we got more.

And it was SO FUN.

Back at the trailers, all three mares pulsed down into the 40s in short order (yay).

Q was disinterested in her alfalfa after a short time though, so I handed her over to Mike to ride around at a walk bareback for a bit.

Upon seeing Mike and Q together, both Kathy and Saiph remarked, "Liz, I think you lost your horse." "I know," is all I could respond.

See for yourself:

I see gravel stuck in her left hind! NBD, folks! Gravel crunchers.

Laughing about who knows what.
Swinging his legs with her front legs like a goof.
Little pony with her man
Seriously, she never looks this happy when I'm riding!

She adores him.

The ride home was fairly uneventful. I surrendered a lot of anxiety with someone else driving my car + trailer + my horse and let Mike drive us home. He's operated heavy equipment, driven trailers of every capacity, and a myriad of other things, so I figured I should set aside my worries and let him drive. He did a beautiful job - I needn't have worried at all.

Saiph and Charles caught a couple zzz's, but mostly we all sat in silence, exhausted from the day.

Back at the barn, we quickly settled all three mares, Mike unhitched the trailer, and then we all raced back to the aparment to change clothes and prep for dinner...SUSHI!

We had a bit of a wait, but it was worth it! ...although I'd reached the point of being hangry (hungry + angry because of hunger) before we could get food.

Fortunately, the rolls arrived as they were finished instead of all on one plate, so I didn't have to wait *so* long. After engulfing one roll, I was immediately much happier.

The guys being absurd.

Some of the best sushi I'd ever had. So much fish. So much roe. So much yum.

It was the perfect end to our day! And it really was the end, considering that as soon as we set foot inside we all pretty much crashed asleep, dead to the world. WHAT a day!