Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Riding the Valley & the Sods

I brought Q along for my weekend in Canaan with plans of spending a few hours each day on the trails with her. It's so nice to have the luxury of a pasture to dump her in for the weekend. I can easily enjoy a weekend away with my horse with little effort on my part.

I'd planned to ride with Dan most of the weekend, but he ended up only being available on Saturday. Instead, I rode with his intern Lena who is from Germany each day; Dan joined us on Saturday.

Before I continue, I want to note how absolutely incredible Q has become with trailering. She used to be such a terror about it, refusing to get on, whirling once on to bolt off, getting on only to back off immediately, etc. And while I'm sure we'll come across some rough patches in our future, we've passed a big hurdle this year. Q reliably self-loads now; sometimes she gets on and turns around to face backwards immediately, but more and more often she's choosing to just face forward.

At the beginning of the year she was self-loading reliably on the third attempt (third time I asked). Now she walks up and gets straight on with little to no hesitation straight from the field. She'll get on by herself or with another horse. On our third day of riding this weekend when we trailered a short distance to access the trail access, she was trying to pull the lead out of my hands to load herself on the trailer when the ride was over! WHAT a difference in this little horse.


For Friday's ride, we headed up to Canaan Mountain. Due to a bit of contention due to some misunderstandings about an area we rode my last time up there, we had to ride along a road for about 5 miles to reach the trails. Not ideal, but no big deal. Plenty of areas on either side to get off the road - and it isn't heavily traveled at all.

Lena rode Dan's mare Nell and led the way. She and I gabbed for the whole 3.5 hours pretty steadily. We trotted and cantered a fair amount, walking the tricky single track as necessary.

Q did very little leading all weekend. Largely, I didn't know where we were going a lot of the time, but I also had zero desire to deal with her spookiness. She's been a bit more uppity under saddle this past week either due to being in heat or perhaps another episode of uveitis is paining her. Regardless of the underlying reason, I didn't care to push things. She was oggling at enough things (oh god, a ROCK, oh god, a HOLE, oh god, a BUTTERFLY, oh god, a POST, oh god, a BOTTLE...) following a leader that I was quite content with my decision for the weekend.

We racked in a 15 mile ride Friday in about 3.5 hours. Not too shabby. Q was booted in front and bare behind for this ride.



On Saturday we got an early start. I met Dan and Lena at the field to get ready, choosing to boot Q all the way around on this day in anticipation of a very rocky Dolly Sods trail.

Charlie, a neighbor and another local, joined us for this day's ride. Her gelding has >4300 AERC miles, mostly from rides out west. He's an absolutely stunning horse, even at 20. He's got a lot more substance to him than a lot of Arabians do, which I like a lot. Cuidado is booted all the way around as Q is, but with EasyBoots. Unfortunately, Charlie was having a hell of a time with her boots on this day, and half way up Salamander - a ski slope at Timberline we use to access the Sods - she called it a day after losing her 3rd or 4th boot. She noted that there are only so many signs one can ignore before calling it a day.

Dan, Lena and I went on to have an absolutely outstanding ride in the Sods. It was a BLAST zipping along those trails with someone (Dan) who knew the area so well! Q's last time in the Sods was nearly a year ago. She was barefoot for all of it and the trail I did required us to walk most of the time due to the gnarly footing. Quite the feat of barefoot power when you consider the rocks!


Prepared for gnarly footing, I'd booted all the way around for our second visit. Fortunately though, the trails Dan took us on were much less rocky by and large. Still gnarly in many sections, but not so bad as the trail I'd done previously. Big bonus right now - we've had little rain for over a week so the trails are drier than usual making for fabulous footing in a commonly-sopping-wet area! Q did have 3 mishaps where her front boots twisted off after we'd gone through some mud, but beyond that, no issues!

We kept a great pace all through the Sods. Dan's gelding Dakota is a standardbred x morgan (Störgan as coined by Dom) and can really move out at the trot (not surprisingly). Q picks up the most enjoyable canter when he does this, which is what we held for much of the ride.

I thought merely riding in the Sods during peak autumn last year was more than amazing - and it was! - but riding in the Sods at speed? Oh goodness, that neatly topped it. Seeing so much stunning beauty in one go was so outstanding.


We ended up clocking a good 19 miles on this day. 10 of it was accessing the Sods from the pasture, but a solid 9 was actually in the Sods. Q was perky and strong still at the end of this day with 34 miles completed in two days.

We galloped the horses for a short stretch about 3/4 of a mile from the end of this ride so we could see how fast Dan's horses would pulse down. Gallop for ~200 yards, walk with a little trot for 3/4 mile, and then untack and take pulses.

His two non-Arab's were around 70 and dropping. Q was also at 70, but then peed and dropped to 54, haha. Fit horses all the way round! I think I've got Dan talked into moving up slowly into 50s with me next year. 


Sunday Dan was way-laid yet again, though a bit unexpectedly this time. He sent Lena to ride with me again though, with direction to ride Dakota and give Nell a rest.

Not wanting to ride on the road to access Canaan Mountain again on this day, we hooked up the trailer and trailered Q and Dakota to the top where we tacked up and headed out. MUCH nicer.

Lena and I were both pretty tired by Sunday morning. Q took a little longer to get her head in the game, too.

We set off down Loop Road at a nice little trot/canter for a time, but eventually slowed to a walk. We decided to just ride the pipeline as it was a weekend and running into mountain bikers on the trails was much more likely. The trails are tight single track used primarily by mountain bikers, so it's common courtesy to stay off them during likely times of higher-use. (It also saves the risk of a nasty wreck on our part or a biker's!)

We walked and walked and walked down the pipeline. We eventually decided to see how far we could go as I had been thwarted by the boggy conditions in May after only a few miles. Fortunately though, the dry conditions of late lent themselves well to allowing us passage. We rode clear to the Blackwater River.


Both Lena and I were curious to see where the pipeline would continue (the river was totally crossable) and were also curious as to where the dirt road we'd crossed right before the river headed. But alas, I had evening commitments and couldn't explore. We vowed to explore next time and turned for home.

The whole journey back was a slight uphill. The footing was impeccable and soft. Q had begun the day with boots all around (for the gravel road), but I'd taken her boots off half-way down the pipeline as Lena and I had planned to just canter it all the way back up.

Well, that canter turned quickly into an all out gallop for about 5 miles! 3 up the pipeline and then a short pause to boot Q all the way around before galloping the final 2 miles on the road.

What. A. Rush! The whole way up the pipeline both horses launched over perceived obstacles like the small erosion cuts in the slope, small rocks, and the two more significant creeks (quite the jumps over these!!). I had a grin plastered to my face the whole time.

I have not traveled that fast for that long on a horse ever. I haven't traveled that fast on a horse for any length over a half mile or so since high school probably! Q was eager and happy throughout, too.

Back at the trailer after a short stretch of walking to begin to cool them down, both horses pulsed in in the upper 70s. Q was breathing hard, immediately after the gallop, but she wasn't blowing like an animal about to keel over from exhaustion. In fact, during our short walk, her respirations settled to normal within minutes. Dakota's respirations didn't drop as fast, but he wasn't greatly distressed either. Quite pleased with both horses overall after such a distance @ speed.

This final ride ended up at 10 miles, putting Q around 45 for the weekend. Not too shabby!

It was a beautiful 3 days of riding in one of my favorite West Virginia locations. Thanks to Lena and Dan for helping to make it happen. <3


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