Thursday, October 22, 2015

Two Years

Two years ago I took my first riding lesson as an adult beginner and started this crazy journey. I'm so incredibly blessed to be able to pursue this hobby and lifestyle that I enjoy so much <3

Dec 2013- Levi helping me learn to post, this was my 6th lesson

Jan 2014- First ride on Rori; I ended up leasing her for about 4 months

Oct 2014- First ride on Quest; I had her for about a month at this point

Oct 2015- Our first hunter pace (:

Monday, October 19, 2015

Windy Hollow Hunter Pace

Quest and I did our first ever hunter pace together this weekend and it was SO fun!

Happy mare and happy me <3

With the stifle injury hopefully well behind us, we have been working hard every weekend since then to get good saddle time and mileage on the trail. Schedule differences have prevented us from riding with J and B this whole time but the solo trail ventures have helped me and Quest gain confidence in each other. She is still alert of her surroundings but there is less tension now and more curious interest- a minute difference, but a pretty huge deal in my opinion.

When I gushed to J how well the mareface was doing, she suggested that it was time to up the ante and see how Quest handled a few more “realistic” ride competition settings. With that, the Windy Hollow Hunter Pace was scheduled to be our first ever away-from-home trail ride.  

In the days leading up to the event, I was excited but nervous too. Quest has improved SO much mentally since I first had her and as eager as I am to get ourselves active and competing on the trail, I wanted to make sure it was a fun experience for her too. Almost if to assuage my worries, our ride on Saturday went particularly well- we did another solo 8 miles and trotted everything we could. Towards the end of the ride, we passed another rider on the trail who was working with a cute 5yo chestnut gelding. He asked to tag along behind us on the trail; Quest didn’t seem to mind so we helped pull them along and dropped them off at their barn. Even though Quest is still green herself, she acted like a trail veteran and power trotted past all the “scary” things without hesitation. We were moving at a good clip/our usual trot pace too- I could hear the gelding behind us cantering from time to time in order to keep up!

When I arrived at the barn the next morning, I finally got to meet the other boarder M who owns Remy, a cute stout buckskin QH mare. We chatted amiably together while we got our horses and tack ready and waited for J, B, and J’s husband P to show up with the truck and trailer. They soon arrived and while the trailer was readied, we got the horses fed and ready to load up. J told me to lead Quest on first- she stepped up without hesitation after me. Good mare! Next was Remy, then Pedro (J’s gelding pony), and finally Soup (B’s warmblood mare). Everyone on, everything packed, we hit the road.

The drive took about an hour and went by quickly since we were all chatting away. M talked about her job which involves art so that was super cool to learn about. And B told us firsthand about her AERC Nationals experience- which by the way she and Maddy won, got Best Condition, and tied for High Vet Score. Pretty awesome!

When we arrived at the hunter pace, we went to the tents to get signed up in our teams and pay. Quest and I would be riding with B and Soup in the Open division, while J would take Pedro and team up with M and Remy in the Hilltopper division. Then it was back to the trailer to unload and tack up. Quest was a little sweaty but definitely NOT a lathered mess this time so I’ll count that as a win. Once off the trailer, she was eager to graze so I think that's another win. Tacking up and mounting up was definitely a two person job this time though- probably 30% standing still and 70% moving around. While the latter wasn’t too unexpected, I’m hoping it'll get better in time since that'd make my life a whole lot easier.

Everyone all mounted up, we all set off for the starting area. In a few short minutes B and I were given the okay to move down the trail. Quest was definitely feeling good and moved out in her power trot. Soup and Quest matched each other very well in pace and we had zero issues efficiently weaving through single track forest paths and along cornfields surrounded by gorgeous autumn foliage.

Riding the fields of corn- A first for us and no problem for mareface
The trails were very well marked with plenty of ribbons and signs
Pausing for a quick snack while humans pause to take pictures.
I was very glad to see this!
There were a few rather steep hills that I was dubious about doing at anything but a walk but Quest powered up every climb at a trot or canter with ease and energy. This was definitely a side of her that I have not yet seen before so that got me very excited. The only hiccup we faced the entire day was the cows. Fields and fields of horse-eating cows  meandering along the trail. Poor Soup, who had been leading the whole time, had quite a meltdown so Quest took the lead to get us past them.

B and Soup did the jumps while Quest and I happily took the go-arounds...Though I sincerely think Quest would have had no problem jumping if given the opportunity because she seemed to "lock on" to the jumps and I felt pretty bad telling her no each time. I guess we're going to go play with jumps soon. Very soon.

My absolute favorite section of the trail was also the most terrifying part. A little more than half-way into the ride, the trail opened up along a stretch of pristine green rolling pastures. B and I started to canter, no problem there. Then I saw B and Soup move ahead even faster. I felt Quest click into a gear that I had never felt before and suddenly we were moving faster that I've ever gone. 

I've NEVER ridden a gallop before, let alone on hills going both up AND down, and we were literally charging up and down those hills. I was rather preoccupied making sure I didn't lose my seat or stirrups. But I did indeed survive. Quest never felt out of control but the speed was both absolutely thrilling and terrifying all at the same time. I went back to check my GPS later and we apparently got up to 23mph!

We galloped the hills behind the trees
Walking at a much more sedate pace after.
The rest of the pace went by rather quickly after that. Endomondo on my phone started late and cut out before the end so I'm guessing the total distance was around 7-8 miles. I was a bit surprised by how short it was since I was actually enjoying myself and Quest was eager to keep going. There was a steady wind blowing the entire time though so B and I was more than happy to hide away in the LQ to warm up after we untacked the girls at the trailer, got their coolers on, and grabbed a bite to eat. We chatted away while waiting for J and M to get in and it was neat to hear about B's experiences doing endurance and some pretty exciting plans in the future. This entire time Quest was tied outside to the trailer alongside Soup with zero issues. Good mare.

J and M got in about 30 minutes after we did. Since B needed to be back home early afternoon, we didn't hang around much longer then needed. All present and accounted for, we packed everything back into the trailer and loaded up. Quest was good about loading and unloading again. I checked her feet (she handled the trail with no problems barefoot) and let her back out into the pasture after she got her lunch.

All in all, I'm very happy with how the hunter pace went. Quest did much better with the trailering, she was responsive and listened on the trail, and was calm about hanging out tied to the trailer afterwards. She stayed sane, safe, and I could not have asked for a better result for our first ever off-property trail ride.

Monday, October 12, 2015

More Solo-ing

Despite the very ominous start of the weekend weather-wise, Quest and I got two fantastic trail rides under blue skies and bright sun. J and B were gone at the AERC Nationals in VA so we were all by our lonesome both days, fortunately mareface handled our first solo trek impressively well so I didn't worry about it too much.

I got to the barn in time to see Quest get her breakfast. I met N who has been checking on the horses and doing the feedings when J is usually out of town. N admitted she accidently added water to Quest's feed though mareface could not have cared less about it being more soupy than usual because she ate every bite and licked the tub clean while I was there!

Yay pretty browband! And a lucky find since it really fits our tack colors well
Breakfast done, groomed and tacked up (sporting the new browband), we warmed up w/t/c in the pasture-arena first for a few minutes before heading out to the trails. Quest definitely isn't as motivated leaving the barn when she's alone but always perks up immediately once we get to the trailhead. I budgeted about 2 hours to hopefully do a longer ride, though again I had no hard expectations but just to do as much as possible and enjoy the ride. I pointed Quest towards what I will call the north trail. This is the trail we did with J and B on the second day we moved- a long straightaway through the woods, a trail turn off to cut across two open fields, loops around the edge of a third and largest field before turning back onto a trail running along the river with the choice to cross the river and walk the wooden bridge or take the go-around through the field.

All the colorssss

It was our first time doing this trail alone (and second solo outing ever) so I didn't feel like chancing the bridge crossing on our own though Quest had zero issues when escorted by J and B's horses. Quest was doing fantastic already and I was happy enough with that. No need to prove anything.

So we looped our way back and headed back to the main trail head. We had only been out for about an hour and Quest was feeling good so we continued on the south trail. This is the trail we did solo last week, though this time I did take some pictures!

Views like this remind me that it was the right choice to move us out here

We did about 8 miles in 1hour and 41 minutes, not too shabby since we walked pretty much everything but the forest straightaways. This was also our first time doing this distance and solo as well. Might not seem like a big deal, but in my mind a step forward no matter how big is something to be proud of.

The next day, I only had a little over an hour of ride time since I had church in the morning and then a big dinner that night (celebrating my grandmother's 90th birthday! with like 30 guests invited). While warming up in the pasture-arena, I realized I never got my weekly 2pointober time........FYI: I do NOT suggest trying to get a two-point time the day after a workout ride, unless you enjoy torturing yourself. I whimpered, cringed, and moped but I got it done AND improved my base time.

Torture complete, Quest and I headed out for the trails. The goal was to try and fit in whatever trails we could during the time left; I knew I would get seriously chewed out if I was late for dinner so I kept a close eye on the time. We easily did the entire north trail (~5 miles) in 45 minutes. Not bad at all.

Towards the end of the ride , I noticed two hikers had stopped ahead by the trail head entrance. When we walked out of the trail, they wanted to inform me there had been a bear sighting on the south trail earlier! So even if we did have the time, we could not have repeated the ride we did yesterday. I was very grateful that the hikers had intentionally paused to warn me know though.

Overall I'm very happy with how our first few solo rides have been going. Quest, while still looky, has been nothing short of fantastic going out by herself and moving out great on the trail. It's a serious relief not to have to think about crossing busy streets all the time or worry about sudden encounters with rude ATVs or motorcross bike drivers that barely slow down and even rev engines while going PAST horses. Ask me how I know that they really do this...

The nicer weather this weekend has been giving me a better idea what other trailusers are like here and  no problems yet. Every biker, hiker, dog walker that we have crossed paths with so far were courteous in yielding the trail to us. There are lots of other people on the trail with their horses as well so that has been good for Quest to deal with getting passed from behind and approached from the front. Though hearing that bears in the vicinity on the trail definitely makes me wary about being out on the trail completely alone....maybe time to invest in some bear bells!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Back on Track

The imminent threat of Hurricane Joaquin kept the entire east coast wondering and waiting for the storm aniticpated to be of Sandy-proportions this past weekend. Fortunately the weather system didn't make landfall anywhere near NJ but we got TONS of rain and wind. With moving Quest almost an hour away and my current work schedule, I can only see her on weekends. I was checking radar every chance I could hoping for at least a couple hours for anything less than a deluge so I could snag some mareface time and maybe even get my baseline time for 2pointober. Saturday's forecast predicted a couple hours in the morning with 35% I chanced it and headed out to the barn.

It was a steady drizzle/mist and I was quite damp by the time I fetched mareface from pasture and sheltered us under the main overhang attached to the barn. I took advantage of the wet conditions to check and trim Quest's feet. Her feet look so much better since she's been able to move 24/7; I didn't have much asides from smoothing things out a bit. The rain had subsided to a fine mist by the time I finished so I got her tacked up and we did some riding in the pasture-arena. I didn't want to chance cantering on the wet grass so we stuck to only walk/trot. The wind was gusting the entire time and the rain was misting on and off but we stuck it out for almost 90 minutes. Not too shabby for a meh riding-weather day.

In stark contrast, Sunday was absolutely gorgeous. The sun was out, the sky was blue, and the air was autumn crisp = perfect trail riding weather. I headed out to the barn after church and saddled up Quest for another ride. We started out in the pasture arena with a walk and trot warm up to see how my homemade DIY running martingale worked out (so far, so good!) and then moved into cantering.

It was our first canter with the treeless saddle + Skito pad combination; it took some adjusting on my end to get used to how differently Quest moved out in it but she felt great and I quickly got comfortable again. Satisfied that the saddle and martingale would work out, I checked my watch for the time. Only 10 minutes had passed. I groaned internally. This was going to be a long ride if Quest and I were already bored out of our minds.

I was hoping that J and B would show up to ride that afteroon but there was still no sign of them after almost an hour. Quest had been on her best behavior and totally in tune with me.....The trails were calling.

After making sure the gates were shut behind us, I used the fence to hop back on and we set off down the road. As much as I wanted to go out and immediately do a full trail, I made a point to temper down my excitement to be fair to Quest- it was her first time ever going out alone and second time leaving the property. I didn't want to expect too much, but of course mareface eagerly motored past the end of the road and up the street to the trailhead. Well then, a full trail ride it is!

I decided to take the route that J and B had showed me the first time I visited WSS. That was almost two months ago but I have a decent memory/sense of direction and was pretty sure I could recall it. It was nice 3.5-mile loop with diverse terrain; first a forest straightaway, then a country road through open fields, finishing up with a single track through the woods with a creek crossing at the very end. Speed was not a priority but Quest willingly gave me her power trot and we flew down the trail surrounded by a forest in the beginnings of autumn. I don't think I stopped smiling the whole time.

The trails were rather empty which was surprising for a beautiful day. We only encountered two ladies walking their dogs and a group of 3 trail riders. Other than that we had the whole trail to ourselves. The path was easy to follow for the most part though it was more difficult when single track faded out into nothing and the ground was covered with fallen leaves in every direction. I did secondguess myself and thought we missed a turn at one point but thankfully we were on trail the whole time.

After getting back to the barn, I hopped off and immediately gave Quest a huge hug. I was giddy with happiness. Absolutely thrilled.

Mid-yawn and one foot cocked. Completely bored by our achievement.
This ride was exactly what I wanted but didn't want to expect too soon. The best part about it was that Quest arrived back at the barn even more relaxed than we left. An honest testament to a truely happy trail horse. I'm a little sad I didn't take pictures on trail but I was more preoccupied with how Quest was faring rather than documenting for posterity, but the pictures will come later! Perhaps when we're into autumn and surrounded by colors.

Being able to only see her twice a week is definitely tough and gives me yet another reason to wish weekends arrived faster, but Quest is much happier at WSS and I feel it was a good move to make for us. There will be hiccups here and there as we figure things out but it's all part of the bigger adventure.