It's about an hour and 15 minute haul from Nimo's barn, and this is what the Shenandoah Mountains look like as we approach from the intersection of 211 and 522:
We parked at the 4-H center near Front Royal and I was surprised to see a couple of endurance riders pulling in just in front of me. I know that this section of trail is often used for conditioning, but I've never seen anyone else there unless I was meeting someone to ride. I decided to give these riders a head start because I expected them to be riding faster and longer than me, and I didn't want to get in their way or have Nimo worry about keeping up with them. Nimo actually did really well when the two riders took off. He whinnied once and then was happy to hang out while I got him tacked up. The other thing he did really well was hold his ground when faced with a speeding motorcycle just after we got on the road. Nimo actually handles traffic pretty well (as long as he doesn't have to wait too long), but motorcycles are a lot like bicycles, which are not Nimo's favorite mode of non-horse transportation. We were unfortunately in a place where there was just a small amount of room to get off the road, and while the motorcyclist did move over a little and slow down a little, it wasn't enough to make me comfortable. I could tell Nimo was VERY alert, but he faced the motorcycle without moving and then we were on our way. Whew!
The best thing about this trail is that it is 2.5 miles up a mountain. The grade fluctuates from easy to steep and everything in between throughout the trail, which makes for a great workout. We started off by riding on a county road to a boundary access point to the park, which looks like this:
Shortly after entering the park, we crossed a stream.
I finally remembered to bring my sponge-on-a-leash that I bought last fall after it was too cold to really use it. I had practiced swinging it around while riding, but hadn't actually dipped it in a creek and dripped water on Nimo yet. Because it was 80 degrees out, I figured this was the perfect opportunity. For whatever reason, Nimo loves this little creek and never wants to leave it once he gets in, so we just hung out for a while and I dipped the sponge and whacked Nimo's legs and head with it. Aside from briefly assessing the sponge's potential as food, Nimo ignored it, so I can finally check that training task off my list!
Just after the creek, we got to a giant tree that was blocking the trail:
My original plan was actually to stop the ride just shy of the infamous steps and turn around, but Nimo felt pretty good (likely because of the frequent breaks he insisted that he needed), so I decided to cross Skyline Drive to head a short distance down the logging road/hiking path on the other side.
There are always hikers here, who many times want to pet Nimo and take his picture. While I absolutely understand that Nimo is a beautiful horse, I sometimes feel a little bit like a tourist attraction instead of a fellow visitor to the park. Luckily today there were no photo requests (or even worse, people taking pictures without asking), although there were a few families out and about. To give Nimo a breather before we turned around, I stopped him and gave him some carrots and just enjoyed the day.
Our trip down the mountain was pretty uneventful, and Nimo even figured out how to get over the fallen tree that had stumped him (pun totally intended!) on the way up. It wasn't pretty, but he got the job done:)
We took one more break in Nimo's favorite stream: