Friday, May 22, 2015

Tough Mudder: Horse Edition

Determined to get more mileage into our rides, Quest and I explored some new trails this past weekend. We’ve been doing short 3-mile jaunts multiple times during week evenings with no issue and minimal effort. It was time to add on more miles. Still unable to find an endurance local willing to help trailer us out, I have been scouring maps to get creative with what trails we do have access to.

I was fortunate enough to wrangle A to come along for the adventure. It was a lazy Saturday and we took our time getting the horses groomed and ready. Finally tacked up, we decided to hit the trails heading toward the big barn before doing the route I had originally planned. Quest led the way with a brisk trot though the forest, weaving through the trees. She was incredibly surefooted and had happy ears the whole way. We calmly went back to a walk when we left the forest and came into the clearing, I had a huge grin from ear to ear. I can't wait to do a real ride with this mare.

While riding the usual route, we noticed a faint path that led into the forest and randomly what the hell, let's go bushwhacking. Despite initial appearances, the trail was actually decently marked by ATVs so we simply followed their tracks. After riding for several minutes, we were delighted to stumble upon an opening in the trees that gave way to a sandy bank with access to the river. Swimming will so be happening this summer. We continued to wind our way through the forest, following the ATV tracks. Quest was leading and I continually kept my eyes open for sharp objects or deep holes. There were a few hoofprints along the way which helped reassure me that it was safe for horse passage. After awhile, I began to notice that the tracks were sinking deeper and deeper into the ground. The plant life around us started to change too- the deciduous trees became plants reminiscent of a marsh or bog. I mentioned this to A and was about to suggest turning around when I suddenly felt Quest’s hind end sink down. Next thing I knew we were in thick, knee-high mud. Not good. 

Quest began lunging forward to try and get out of the bog, her hooves flailing and flinging mud everywhere. I was still mounted and couldn't get a good look at what was happening but it probably looked something like this:

Pretty accurate.

Searching for a way out, I quickly glanced behind me and saw that A and Smokey had followed us in and he was also trying to climb out. Turning around was not an option so the only way was forward. As I attempted to steer Quest towards higher ground, I half-thought about dismounting but there was the risk that Quest could lunge on top of me in her haste. However when her flinging started putting us dangerously close to a half-mud sunken tree trunk, I decided I didn’t really want her falling with me on her or getting scraped off by the tree. I emergency dismounted and immediately sank past my ankles in the mud. No wonder the horses got freaked out. From the ground, I was able to reassure and lead Quest to safety. “Hey I’m here, I’m right here.” I said over and over again. Her wild flinging felt less erratic and we were able to clamber up to higher ground. Finally safe, we stood together on the bank for a moment, adrenaline coursing through from exertion and nerves. I immediately checked Quest all over. Her knees and hocks were completely caked with dark mud. It was enough bushwhacking for one day. A and I led the horses on foot back towards the main trail where we continued our ride, trying to put together what actually happened. The entire thing had probably lasted less than a minute but it felt much longer than that. We were both grateful the horses behaved through it all and so very lucky the mud wasn’t deeper than it was. Definitely made mental note to not to go back there and warn other riders to stay out.

Asides from all the mud, Quest was none worse for the wear- in fact she was game for more trails. As we approached the barn, she marched on past the gate. I had to laugh to myself- mud incident or not, there is no stopping this mare. We continued walking along the trail and past the turn off for the lake. We kept going, and going, and going until we ran out of trail and had to double back. Much of the trail was 100% new to us both and Quest led the way probably about 90% of the time. We walked for the most part but whenever I asked for trot, mareface was happy to oblige.We stopped to let the horses graze a few times along the trail.

We worked on some trail skills, like being passed and allowing Smokey and A to trot ahead at a faster gait while we maintained a walk. Quest still gets annoyed about being left behind but single-rein stops addressed that. The majority of the ride I was able to ride with one hand on the reins and on the buckle as she powered steadily forward without me nagging at her.

The trail intersected several busy streets downtown so I hopped off each time to lead everyone across on foot. Quest followed politely and didn’t have any issues with me parking her next to a rail tie to mount back up. In fact none of the random objects I used each time to get back on ever bothered her. She’s really getting tons better about standing still and letting me mount up while out on the trail; such a huge noticeable difference from how she was back in November. The busy road traffic isn't bothering her quite as much any more either. It's just so awesome to see these tiny changes in her demeanor.

We got in a little over 6 miles which was totally respectable for a hot and humid day. A and I immediately stripped tack and bathed the horses when we got to the barn. I felt Quest's legs for heat or swelling and she was fortunately moving just fine. We let the horses handgraze while they dried out. The mud incident was definitely pretty scary but mareface didn't let it faze her at all, instead she was still game to continue on the ride and had plenty of go left in the engine at the end. I'm seriously glad she kept her space from me despite how crazy things got because it could have been pretty bad otherwise!