Friday, July 5, 2013

Our First Solo Ride

Nimo and I celebrated our independence by taking our first solo ride on July 4th.  We were also celebrating the passing of the crazy weather pattern that had been with us for more days than I can remember.  Apparently, there was some jet stream or something global in nature that was causing extreme heat in the west and extreme wetness in the east.  On Wednesday, we got approximately 57 inches of rain, which had been preceded by 42 inches of rain a couple of days before that.  Oh, and while temperatures should have been very pleasant, they weren't because we had 122% humidity (or at least that's what if felt like - the Weather Channel said it was only 100% all day, every day, but I am convinced it was higher).  For those who are interested in this type of thing (which might be only me), the temperature + humidity hovered in the 170 - 180 range because of that high humidity.

So, we headed over to Whitney State Forest and embarked on our first ride on the trails by ourselves.  I'm not really sure why it is such a big deal.  Up until I got Nimo ten years ago, I used to ride by myself all the time.  My horses were definitely a little more reliable, but it also never occurred to me that I couldn't ride by myself.  I always used to hate arena work and much preferred riding in the ditches along the back roads of North Dakota or Iowa.  But, when I moved to Virginia, I had to start boarding at places that were either in the middle of an urban area or right off of twisting, winding, narrow roads where it would be unsafe to ride.  So, I got used to going on the occasional trail ride with a group or riding in a big field, or the arena.

Anyway, our big day started out pretty uneventfully.  I choose to begin our ride on the logging road that we had ridden on with a group last Saturday, so it would be familiar.  Nimo was happy enough, although walking a little slowly, but better too slow than too fast when you get to be my age:)  I expected the trails to be pretty sloppy, because of all the rain, but they actually weren't too bad, until we got to this section:

This was really the worst of it, though, so not bad at all.  I suspect that is primarily because the trails don't get that much use by horses.  Horses can really tear up a muddy trail, although you can see some bike tire tracks too.  (There will be some more about how I feel about bikes on trails later in this post...)

Even the creeks were the same as always:
And Nimo did great with all the creek crossings, except for one, which wasn't his fault, and I will write about it in just a minute.

We found lots of great obstacles on the trail to practice, including a little jump:

A series of "fallen" logs:
I put fallen in quotation marks, because as I rode through them, it was clear to me that the logs had been deliberately placed, probably by bike riders.  The reason I suspect bike riders is because the logs were set up so that there was a larger log in the middle and two smaller diameter logs on either side.  I've noticed several places on the trail where that has occurred, and I'm told bike riders do that so they can create a ramp to get over the log.  In this case, the "ramps" were not a big deal and I admit that the layout actually created a really nice practice obstacle for horses.  However, there are several other places on the trail where the fallen log is much larger and there are literally piles of smaller, unstable logs piled up on either side.  This kind of obstacle is dangerous for horses because if they step on the smaller log pile, they could easily lose their footing and get a soft-tissue injury when the logs roll.  Nimo has learned to actually step on top of the large log and avoid the smaller logs altogether, but he did lose his footing a few times before he figured that out.

This brings me to my main objection to sharing trails with bikers.  Wheels and hooves are two very different modes of transportation and while some surfaces work well for both, not all do.  And it's much easier to get off of a bike to rig up something on the trail than it is to get off a horse and do it, so bikers tend to do things to trails to make it more convenient or fun for them and often downright dangerous for horses.  On the other hand, I don't think horse riders would deliberately create obstacles that would be dangerous for bike riders.  We clear low-hanging branches and remove fallen logs, not put more crap on the trail.

And then there are the dirt ramps...I've noticed several places where a dirt ramp has been created, usually right off the main trail (which is OK), but not always (not OK).  In this case, I ran into a big problem at a water crossing.  The initial problem was that the crossing was washed out and too dangerous to cross for a horse because of all the tarp and ground stabilization crap:

The next problem was that the alternate crossing location looked deceptively not that bad:
However, a combination of bike tires repeatedly going over it and the recent rains turned what looked like a reasonably safe crossing into a nightmare that I did not recognize until Nimo lost his footing going down.  Literally all four feet lost traction and for a few seconds that felt like a lifetime, Nimo was on a mud-slick treadmill as he tried to regain traction.  He did eventually, and he used that traction to get the hell out of Dodge.  Which was a smart thing to do.  In fact, he had been reluctant to try the crossing at all, but I pushed him to do it, and I really regret that now.  He clearly recognized it as unsafe, but I didn't listen.  Note to self - listen to your horse.

So, the moral of this story is that number 1, when bikes and horses share trails, it is the horses that end up with the disadvantage, not the bikes.  If any bike rider happens to stumble on this blog and actually reads this far into the post, please remember that if you share trails with horses, the things you do on the trail could cause an injury to a horse or person and I hope that you think about that the next time you try to make a ramp out of logs or dirt.  Number 2, the park should be maintaining the wreckage that is this crossing by either eliminating all the crap that they put into it or fixing it.  Number 3 (most important), my safety and that of my horse is my responsibility and I need to do a better job of evaluating situations, especially on trails shared with bikes.  And, that brings me to the conclusion of my why-bikes-and-horses-should-not-share-trails rant.

Anyway, I got off and started scouting for a safer place to cross, which I found.  And then I started looking for a log to use to get back on because at 5'3", I really need assistance mounting my almost 17-hand horse.  Luckily, when you ride in a forest, natural mounting blocks are in abundance, so I quickly found this fallen tree:
The tree was actually a little big, and I ended up having to grab the breast collar to pull myself up on the log.  Then, I was literally able to just step into the stirrup to mount.

By this time, we'd been riding for probably an hour and a half (and about 4 miles).  But I had previously decided that I was going to get 5 miles in for this ride (my last ride here was 4 miles).  So, we continued wandering around on the trails.  Nimo was definitely panting, but otherwise seemed fine.  He wasn't sweating that much and there was no lather, so I figured he was fine.  I did make sure that he got some grass at about the 1 hour point in the only field in the park and I made sure to drink too, so we were both just kind of hot and wondering when the ride would end, but otherwise in good shape.

As we rode through a section of trail we'd already been on, I decided to duck off on a side trail and see where it would take us.  With the park only being 150 acres, I figured it would be hard to get too lost.  And after having ridden here several times, I was starting to get some sense of how the trails were laid out.  Nimo would tell you that my decision to take a side trail was ill-advised because we soon encountered these alien life forms:
I'm sure you're thinking, what alien life forms?  Let me direct your attention to the stumps.  Apparently, when viewed from the trail in the other direction, they appear to be giant, alien, attack stumps that come out of nowhere.  I suspect this because when my horse saw them, he did a 180 degree spin that any champion reining horse would be proud of and tried to bolt down the trail.  I say tried, because the second after he spun, he realized that there was scary, dense forest all around and that no matter where he tried to run, the alien stumps would probably get him.  So he stopped and waited for imminent death...

As it turned out, the stumps decided they did not want to eat him today, and we were able to get past them with some convincing on my part.  Then, as we came out of the forest onto the logging road that we had started on, Nimo froze because there in the clearing was, you got it, an alien deer, just standing there eating, looking like its next snack was obviously going to be the horse whose rider had so stupidly put him on this trail.  I mean, who knows when she might attack?  I'm sure by this point that Nimo was thinking that he just couldn't escape death in this hell of a place.  I managed to convince him once again that it was safe to continue as long as we moved quietly down the road instead of closer to the horse-eating deer alien.

And we wrapped up our ride shortly after that.  It turns out that it took us 2 hours to go 5.1 miles.  Yes, that surprised me too, but here's the thing.  I stopped a lot to take all these pictures that I hope you found entertaining.  And there was the time that we stopped in a small creek for Nimo to cool his feet for a few minutes because he said he was hot.  And there was the time that we stopped so that Nimo could eat for a few minutes because he said he was hungry.  And there was the time that we went over the same log 4 times because I said that the darn thing was only 18 inches high and surely we could do better at getting over it.  Also, when we started the ride at 11 am, the temperature was 82 degrees and the humidity was 79% (total =161) and when we ended at 1 pm, the temperature was 84 degrees and the humidity was 70% (total = 154).  So we did the whole ride above the "danger" zone of 150.  I did do a few bouts of trotting, just to introduce the concept to Nimo, but they were very short (less than a minute), so the fact that we went kind of slow is a good thing.

I did reward Nimo's hard work with a lovely sloppy mash after the ride, which he thoroughly enjoyed.  And I have a few final thoughts.  I did much better at drinking during the ride, and given the heat/humidity, I think that really helped me feel better than I did after my ride last Saturday.  I was also starving after the ride, but had brought a sandwich to eat, which I did.  I do always carry a snack bar in my pommel pack, and I really should have eaten it during the ride instead of after.  I remember reading that endurance riders should eat a small snack every hour or so, and I need to start doing that because I was really hungry after the ride.  Who knew a person could get so hungry just sitting on a horse?  And, the most important thing.  Nimo really did great.  He did have a couple of spooky moments, but that can happen with any horse and overall, he was really solid.  Especially after the creek incident where I know he felt a lot of panic.  He calmed down immediately afterward and had full use of his brain within 3 seconds, which was awesome.  I know that sometimes when horses get panicky, it can take awhile for them to function well again, which can be a real liability, so it was great that Nimo recovered so quickly.

1 comment:

  1. LOL, I've done 10 miles in four hours before. It's not exactly conditioning speed, but sometimes just getting it done is good enough. Lovely park, shame the bikes are tearing up the trails!