Posted in Riding/Horses

A Refreshing Return to the Trail

It is no secret that I’ve been lacking motivation lately. For the past year a trip to the trails meant a 45 minute drive to the barn, 20-30 minutes to hook trailer and load, 2 hours to the trail, then repeat backwards. It was a lot of time for little output. The last time I rode was with my friend Zoe and I had to get up at 5 am just to meet her at the trail at 9. I just got burned out on it.

Sunday though was too pretty not to ride: 76F and sunny with a cool breeze. Both Gem and I are terribly out of trail riding shape and it was time to head back out to test the waters. Dusty even came along with Wyatt and Einstein to hike while I rode. That meant the only time not with Wyatt would be the actual trail time.

I can’t even begin to express fully how amazing it was to wake up at 7:30 am (thats sleeping in!) and lazily make my way to getting Gem and still have her loaded up in 10 minutes since we had the foresight to hook the trailer up the night before. Then it was only an hour to my favorite trails. Once I was done riding, all I had to do was drive home. I put Gem out in the pasture and walked inside to change. That was all.

The ride itself was refreshing. With nothing looming on my ride calendar, no conditioning plan to fulfill and a fluffy, hair yak on a warm day, I had no reason to push things. For the first time in two years, I left my GPS watch and expectations at home. I just rode the trail, happy to have my favorite mare under me and my favorite views ahead. I trotted when I felt like it and walked a lot of it. I took the time to just look around, snap some pictures and breath deeply the fresh spring air. At one point, I pulled Gem up in a meadow and sat on her watching the goldfinches, blue birds and cardinals building their nests. It was amazing and just what I needed. I honestly can’t remember the last time I just enjoyed the time on the trail without staring at my watch and prodding Gem along to keep up the pace for conditioning. It was a good reminder of why I even ride.

The trail head was already busy at 10 am and I felt a little fumble getting Gem tacked up. It has been so long since I had her in her endurance gear. Once I swung up though, my butt felt like it had finally come home. I adore my endurance saddle.

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Gem on high alert. There were road signs up ahead covered in black plastic bags that were billowing in the wind. 

I chose the green 6.5 mile loop as a good reintroduction for us both. It is mostly single track winding in the woods with some breaks out in the open. The trail system places the markers on your right although I have never seen anyone ride this trail the proper direction as most don’t like riding along the road at the start. I like going this way to avoid any crowds at the trail head.

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The woods are just beginning to come back to life

I let her walk the entire first mile to loosen up. She was extremely lookie at everything, but didn’t pull any nasty stunts and mostly kept her pace. For my part, I used this first mile to work on halt transitions. I really need to remember to do this more often. When she si all nervous at the start, making her work through halts gets her to relax and think which is really beneficial.

The woods then dump out onto a dirt road. I recalled a time when we were both brave enough to blast down this section at a full bore canter, but not today. This day we just walked along, getting the feel for each other out in the open once again and enjoying the feel of the sun on my skin.

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She drank deeply from the stream at mile 2 which is unusual for her. Typically she won’t drink until mile 10 or so. The day was hot with her thick winter coat. 

Once we got back into the woods, I started to ask for trot sets. I’d ask her to trot and maintain her pace for a while. During this I really worked on what trainer J had taught me: make sure my thumbs are up, close my fingers and relax my elbows. It is amazing how hard it is to force yourself to relax!

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Going back up away from the stream. I was mean and asked her to trot all the uphills, allowing her to walk the downs. There really aren’t any flat sections in the woods here. 

For her part, Gem worked hard for me. She trotted when asked although she did ask to walk more often than I would have liked. We continued to work on our halting and not walking off again until I asked. It was hard to work on rhythm on the trail since the terrain really dictates a lot of it and when it comes to going up or down I let Gem balance herself and choose as long as it is within the gait I asked for.

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The lake is in such a sad state with the drought we have been in. The water should go all the way up to the tree line. It was all exposed shoreline the entire way around. 

We made our way through this part of the woods which wraps around the lake. I like this side because the lake typically provides a cool breeze and Gem found a second wind through here. With the lake being so low, the water was actually lapping at the shore and this made Gem a bit more nervous, but still she responded well to me and didn’t even try to drop her shoulder, turn 180 degrees and run.

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After the twisting single track around the lake, the trail dumps out onto an access road for about a mile or mile and a half

It had been way to long since I had ridden here last. When we first moved here, this trail system was only 25 minutes way so I rode here every weekend. I knew every inch of every trail. Once we moved houses and then barns, this place just got to be too far with others a lot closet.

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A rare selfie. Mental note: I need to tighten my chin strap. 

I found myself not 100% sure how much farther each section of trail was and it was a little frustrating only because I had once known it so well. Once we hit the access road though, I knew we were about 2 miles from the trailer.

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One of my favorite sections and a place I used to gallop through. This time, I stopped to watch the birds and breathe in the smells of a forrest beginning to wake up from its winter slumber

Gem seemed to be enjoying the more relaxed pace and was happy to trot when asked and came back easily to a walk. Around this point she started to act a bit funny and I knew she had to pee. She typically goes in the pasture when she sees me coming, but with the new arrangement she sees me so often she never knows what is up. Gem really hates to pee under saddle, so I kept giving her opportunity and she kept refusing but would then walk and trot as if uncomfortable.

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Enjoying the day out with my favorite mare

The access road reenters the wood with about 1-1.5 miles left and once there I knew exactly what all was remaining. I really like to finish any ride strong and was hoping to trot in the last remaining bit. We crossed the road, but then ran into a really big snag. There was a piece of ribbon across the trail,blocking access. This system is really well maintained though, and there was a new trail off to the right with hoof prints.

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Fresh trail. I get nervous on brand new trail. the footing isn’t packed down and sink holes abound. We just walked this bit hoping we were on the right track.

A quarter of a mile down, if that, there were signs of hoof prints cutting back to the original trail. As I’ve mentioned, I am a rule follower to the T though and I didn’t want to ride back on a trail that was closed off. I kept to the new trail hoping it would end up somewhere close to where we wanted to be. I go a little concerned when the new trail veered off to the right when I knew the old one went left, but I was optimistic.

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The reason for the new trail became obvious. I’m not sure if this was a purposeful, controlled burn or what but it involved a large area and was pretty fresh. 

This new trail was not very good. While it was wide, nobody had cared about the branches overhead and I found myself laying down on Gem’s neck quite a bit. Thankfully, she si awesome at this type of stuff.

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At one point, I saw the red trail off to my left. This was odd because the red and green are not together at this juncture. They run together across the road going into/out of the trail head but on this side of the road they go on their own in completely different directions. I now knew that we would not be meeting back up with green and debated turning around.

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My decision was made for me when the trail completely dead ended at a road where green does not go. There wasn’t even  nice way to reach the road. There was a 2-3 foot drop with really bad footing on the other side of this plus the road here is in a blind curve. Not very safe.

Once I hit that, I turned her around and looked for the red trail now off to my right. Once I saw the trail, I bushwhacked  over to it and just took that back to the road crossing. Along the way I saw the full extent of the fire. There were large sink holes where stumps were burned out and the heavy smell of burnt pine was in the air.

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Finally we reached the point where green and red split and crossed the road which put us about 1/2 mile from the trail head. Gem made quick work of this section, knowing we were not doing my typical green-red-green 20 mile loop, and we finished the ride happy, relaxed and having not parted ways.

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12 thoughts on “A Refreshing Return to the Trail

  1. how crazy: you’re now in drought and here in Northern California we’re under water! Your trails look so dry and lovely. I’m glad you had a good ride, not being on any time or conditioning schedule is so nice. I do quite a few rides like that, I think it is good mentally for horse and human.

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    1. It seems to be feast or famine lately. I think the ride did us both good. The problem with only having the ability to hit the trails 1 day a week is that I have to make that day count and there isn’t much room for leisure when I am actively conditioning. Now that I am not, I can enjoy my horse again 🙂

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