Thursday, October 25, 2012

a last hurrah

Our riding club got together the past weekend for one last hurrah trail ride before winter sinks in. About 20 of us set out on the trail Saturday morning. We started at the river and climbed the mountain to the almost-top, stopped for lunch, and then descended back to the campground we were basing out of.

Seeing folks I hadn’t seen lately, and riding with folks I hadn’t ridden with in weeks/months/years was really a treat. The day was overcast and a little breezy, but the chances of rain were minimal. The trees weren’t quite at peak, but a lot of rusts and golds still cling to the trees. It was still beautiful. West Virginia autumns always are.

I was exceptionally excited for this ride because it was in an area that I have always dreamed of riding. The time I’ve owned Q has really opened a lot of doors for riding places I’d always dreamed about. Its been such a treat finally getting to experience these places on horseback. Many of them are places I’m familiar with through hiking and various work through the years. This mountain was no exception.

I’d spent the entire summer of 2009 working on the mountain we rode last weekend. It’s close to home, too, and I’d grown up playing and hiking most of the trails. I know most of the Forest Service roads up there rather intimately from my summer 2008 job with the Forest Service (that job is the biggest reason I have an intimate understanding of so many FS roads and the trail systems within the Mon. Forest).

The trails we road were a mix of FS roads, old logging roads (circa early 1900s), and a few game trails to link adjacent roads. Steep and rocky, beautiful and fun. No more of a challenge than the trails on the endurance ride, really. Q was more than up for it.

I booted her all around in anticipation of the rocks. I think we slid a little more than she would have barefoot on the leaves due to the boot plastic, but nothing too crazy. The leaves were very thick on the forest floor. I’d reckon to say that ~75% of them have fallen.

Overall, I was very proud of Q through the whole ride. She’s still a bit mare-ish about horses running up her butt, but nothing crazy. She had a few moments where she became exceedingly worried about all activity around her and had a little skitter-fest. One of my good friends, the area’s equine vet, even noticed and we laughed at Q for being a spazz.  Truly though, I hope to figure out what triggers her concern and remedy the problem for her. She never put me in danger by behaving in such a manner, but I’d like for her to be able to work through and overcome things better so she doesn’t have to be distressed.

She took care of me through the whole ride though and out-performed all my expectations for her.
  • When bush-wacking (minor) up a hill to link two trail-roads, she took my cue to move away from the other horses and skillfully navigated through the trees at a canter, breaking through onto the road above like it was nothing. She promptly dropped her head to eat, totally unconcerned with all the crashing going on as people plowed through the woods behind us.
  • We deviated from the beaten path to drop off a short, steep incline as the terrain below appeared better. She tucked her hind legs underneath and slid down the short incline per Man From Snowy River. I was nearly lying on her back due to the steepness! Upon reaching the bottom we found it to be quite rocky under all those leaves. Soccer ball-sized stones. Tricky, tricky footing. I gave her her head and let her work her way back up the slope a little further down. She stumbled a moment into the side of the hill; I took this moment to step off and let her take the last three or four tricky steps on her own.
  • At the very end of the ride we had yet another short, steep incline to reach the point of crossing on the river. She took this slower, and more precisely than the former hill. This resulted in my saddle slipping forward onto her neck and putting me immediately in a very tricky position. I didn’t know HOW to get off safely without spooking Q or hurting one of us. It was NOT a good place for this to happen! Apparently, Q’s back leg was also caught up in a stick (per the account of a friend behind me). She’d lifted the leg high, high, high to get it over the stick. She didn’t spook over that sensation coupled with me + saddle on her neck. She situated her feet, got stable, and then turned uphill into a safer position so I could dismount and fix everything. GOOD GIRL, Q!!!!!
  • Finally, at the river crossing our biggest yet, she was a super star. She let me guide her to the least-deep section that still came up to her belly. I had to take my feet out of the stirrups to avoid wet boots! The bottom was cobbled river stone and a likely a little slick in places. She picked her way carefully and I giggled the whole time. It was just a too cool ending to the day.
  • And then, all through the night she stood stoically tied to the trailer like a champ. Even with a small crowd of rowdy drunks and a campfire being ~20 feet from her location, she was unbothered and relaxed. Such a good girl!!
You can see where her belly and chest are wet from the deeper water!

A great end ride to the season. We had a blast. I’m so happy with my little horse and grateful that she stumbled into my life when she did.

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