Thursday, July 3, 2014

Riding with the Midland Outlaws

Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to ride with the Midland Outlaws.  Who are the Midland Outlaws?  Good question.  I really don't know that much about them, except they are a group of riders who hosts an annual trail ride just down the road from where I board my horse in Midland, Virginia.  I first heard about the annual trail ride last year, but wasn't able to work it into my schedule.  This year, I was bound and determined to go, though, because it was a trail riding opportunity so close I wouldn't have to trailer my horse.  Plus, the distance sounded perfect for us.  One of the ride leaders told me she thought the trail was 12-15 miles.  The terrain would be easy because the Midland area is mostly forested and dead flat.  In fact, it would probably be a swamp if our annual rainfall was just a little higher.  Having given Nimo the previous week off after our adventure at Graves Mountain, I figured a longer, easy ride would be just what we needed.

I'd been told that we would be leaving at 11 am, so I got Nimo ready at the barn and rode over.  It was a very exciting .2 miles on the road.  Nimo apparently thought I was asking him to go to his execution and walked as slowly as possible and pretended that any trash in the ditch, fence posts, and tree branches were serious predators.  I had to laugh at this horse who a week ago calmly and competently went through some really rough terrain and who now was incapable of walking along a flat, paved road...Anyway, we did eventually make it to the ride headquarters.

It honestly looked pretty much like an endurance ride camp.  Riders and their families could camp the night before and it looked like that's what most people had done.  There were a lot of rigs with LQ as well as water troughs for the horses and the barbeque was already going for that night's dinner (this ride is a BIG deal for these folks).  After checking in, I found out that the start of the ride had been delayed because the crews working the ride were stuck in traffic (gotta love northern Virginia!).  So I took the opportunity to just let Nimo hang out and watch all the activity.  And I met many of my fellow riders as they assembled.

There would be more than one group of riders and I'd be in the first group.  We would be mostly walking with a little trotting.  Secretly, I'd been hoping to be part of a faster group, but I also didn't want to have to wait around much longer to start because I'd sworn to my husband that I would be home at a reasonable time after spending the last two Saturdays getting home at 3 am and 10 pm, respectively.

We ended up heading out at about 11:45.  There were probably 12-15 of us in the group, which is a pretty big group.  There were mostly experienced trail riders in the group, with a few ladies who felt maybe a little less secure, but their horses seemed fine.  The biggest issue we had at the beginning of the ride was just the pace because there was a combination of gaited and non-gaited horses, and it can be hard to get them going the same speed.  Nimo did get a little frustrated by how slow we were going, though.  He was fresh and ready to go, and so he slowly worked his way to the front of the pack.  I'm not even sure how he did it, but within a couple of miles, we were sharing the lead.  It's kind of unusual for Nimo to want to be in the front, particularly at the beginning of a ride.  He likes to start out ploddingly slow and then as he warms up and figures out what's going on, he becomes willing to be in front for awhile.  But today, he was on fire, and very motivated to get to the front, which is where we stayed until we got to the first "break" point, about 3 miles into the ride.

Just before the break, we walked into a stream and then in the stream for maybe 50-75 feet, and I was convinced Nimo was going to go down.  For whatever reason, the leaders (other than me, who knew what was going on) decided we needed to stop in the stream to wait for stragglers.  Nimo believed this stop meant he could play and roll in the water.  So I spent what seemed like forever arguing with him about whether he could lay down.  I prevailed, but I have no idea why we needed to stop in the water when we were literally stopping for a break 2 feet past getting out of the stream.  Sigh...Also, I don't really know why we needed to stop for a break after walking 3 miles on flat terrain.  Oh, how things have changed in my brain!

Luckily, things picked up a little bit after that and we did some trotting.  However, the group behind us (who was going faster) caught up.  So now there were about 30 of us alternately walking and trotting down the trail.  The horses were all well-behaved, but there was a lot of energy building up underneath me...

After going probably another 3 miles, we got to the halfway point of the ride, where there was a crew with snacks and drinks for the riders and what appeared to be the equivalent of Cougar Rock for this ride.  There was even a photographer.  Remember I said the Midland area might be a swamp with a little more rain?  Well, before we could get to the crew, it looked like we needed to wade through a pond about mid-canon bone depth.  No biggie, I thought.  Until I watched some riders in front of me go.  Well into the pond, there was an abrupt 3-foot drop off, which plunged horse and rider into above belly-deep water.  Almost immediately, the horse had to scramble up an 8-foot vertical and muddy bank.  I nearly had a heart attack.  Nimo is great with pretty much any large body of water, but he's also really picky about where he puts his feet, and I thought a surprise drop that he couldn't see might not be the best way to continue to earn his trust on the trail.

Thankfully, there was an alternate route, which was extremely muddy and full of tree roots, but at least my horse could see what he was getting into.  So I opted for the alternate route and watched as many of the riders attempted the pond/drop-off/bank climb.  All but one horse/rider who attempted it was successful.  The other horse just decided it wasn't for him, and I couldn't blame him one bit.  Most of the horses went down on their knees as they climbed the bank and it was clear many of them were anxious about the obstacle.  As far as I know, none of the horses was injured, though, and only one rider lost his balance to the point where he almost pulled his horse over backwards as he climbed the bank.  It was definitely an extreme obstacle, but I was coming to learn that many of the members of this group liked to ride hard and fast and this was just something fun for entertainment.  Since I spent last weekend traipsing down a mud-slicked mountain during a storm, I'm going to refrain from passing judgment and chalk this up to a different perspective on what's fun on a ride:)

We stopped for a break again and Nimo was beginning to seriously question my piloting skills.  He was behaving himself, but I could tell he was very ready to get back on the trail and couldn't fathom what we were doing standing still.  Finally, we got underway, but this time, there were 70-80 horses on the trail because the mid-way stop had jammed everyone up.  And all the faster-paced riders who had left later had caught up, so with that many horses on the trail and especially because those riders wanted to move out, the energy level was really high.  Nimo was starting to pull and break into a trot all the time, and finally, I let him start to move out.  We kept pace pretty close to the front riders and I noticed more space between riders as people rode at different paces.

We did have a bit of a close call when we crossed a small ditch.  I've been working on my trust skills with Nimo by riding him on the buckle when he's doing ditches. I feel like he can balance a lot better when I'm not pulling on his mouth, but I hate the loss of control  Anyway, somehow after Nimo went through this ditch, I ended up with no reins and no stirrups.  I can't explain it - one second everything was fine and the next my horse was happily cantering down the trail and passing people while I hung on for dear life while screaming obscenities.  I did manage to get everything together within a few seconds, and after calling my horse some unpleasant names, I apologized to the riders near me in case I had cut them off or caused their horses to get upset.  The guys who were near me just laughed and said it was no big deal.  They were all riding gaited horses and moving at a pretty good clip.  Nimo seemed to want to match their pace, so I kept him just behind the group and we trotted along for maybe a mile or so.

But Nimo was still unhappy.  He was eyeballing the four-wheeler who was leading us (we were riding on private property with the permission of the landowners and there were gates that needed to be opened and closed, so the four-wheeler guy was taking care of that) and the lone horse who was cantering just behind it.  And I was really tired of holding him back.  I figured he'd get tired soon because we'd been doing a fair amount of trotting and the temperature was getting hot.  Little did I know...

The gaited guys I was riding with were really moving out now, but I didn't want Nimo cantering.  I just felt like his energy level was too high for that to be in my best interest (see previous ditch incident), so I explained that he could go as fast as he wanted, but he had to keep trotting.  He totally understood and that is when he used a gear I have never felt before.  This horse started pushing with his hind end, came through his back, held firm contact with the bit and powered past those gaited horses like they were standing still.  The guys all cheered me on as we whooshed past them and down the trail.  (My GPS clocked that trot at 14.8 mph!)  I figured as soon as we got a little ahead, Nimo would slow down, but he had no intention of slowing down until he caught up with the four-wheeler.

There was still one horse cantering in front of us, and as we turned down a gravel road lined with trees, Nimo held his crazy-fast trot.  Because he was barefoot, he preferred to ride just off the road on the grass, which would have been awesome if the tree branches had not been gracefully arcing over the road...I'm not sure what kind of trees they were - we were going too fast for me to tell as I weaved and dodged the branches coming at me at warp speed.  Meanwhile, Nimo never varied from his determination to trot fast enough to catch that cantering horse.  I think another mile went by as we slowly got closer and closer.

But alas, both the four-wheeler and rider had to stop for a road crossing, so we'll never know if Nimo could have caught up on his own.  After the road crossing, a few riders went on ahead, and I stayed to chat with the lady who had been cantering.  I guess that satisfied Nimo and he was happy enough to just walk at that point, and we kept each other company for the last 2 miles of the ride while the horses cooled down.

We ended up going 12 miles that afternoon, and what I thought would be a slow, pokey ride, turned into a perfect conditioning ride.  We got quite a few miles of trotting in and I will now never believe Nimo when he tells me he can't give any more impulsion in the arena:)

One of the things that I loved about this ride was that it was essentially put together by one man but supported by his community.  He hosted all the camping and the after-ride dinner and he had personally connected with many of his neighbors to get permission to set up a permanent trail through their properties that would be used once a year for this ride.  My impression of the Midland Outlaws is that the membership was either all or mostly men and that they enjoy riding gaited horses at a pretty good pace on the trails.  But they loved having non-members come to their ride and every single one of them was super friendly to me.  While I don't think organized rides are generally my thing anymore because of my conditioning goals, I will definitely make an effort to go to this one every year...and someday, I might feel confident enough to try that water obstacle:)


  1. It's really fun watching you (and Nimo!) become one of us. Why stop after 3 miles, indeed! And yeah, I remember riding with people who treated horses exactly like four-wheelers, and yeah, I guess it's not that much more dangerous, overall, than trotting for 10 hours - but it's totally not to my taste anymore. Good job Nimo! (And good luck actually getting that impulsion in the arena - I finally rode Dixie again after WW, and I had to kick-kick-kick to get her to trot anywhere. Horses!)

    1. Thanks, Funder! I'm having fun becoming one of you and I think Nimo is too:) And you're right about getting impulsion in the arena. At my lesson the next day, he was totally denying that he could trot more than feebly. He did manage to produce a couple of nice walk to canter transitions and even a canter leg yield, so all was not lost. But there's no question he's more motivated out on the trail now.

  2. I think Nimo is really enjoying his new job! He's finding a new determination with it and really hunkering down and focusing on that more and more! It is very exciting to read about each time. =)

    You may just have to move his dressage to the trail permanently. =)

  3. Loved this so much! The mental picture of Nimo doing his big fancy extended Friesian trot at 14+ mph, flying past all the gaited horses in his attempt to catch up to that four-wheeler is just so fantastic!

    Do you read Trail Rider magazine? The July/August edition has an article on endurance riding and they mention a Friesian cross who is top-10ing and winning Best Condition in 100s in California! I thought of you and your boy. :)

    1. I used to have a subscription to Trail Rider, but had to let it drop for more endurancy things:) I think the TSC store carries it, though, so I'll check it out the next time I'm there - thanks for the tip!