Thursday, November 20, 2014

Glenmore Fall Hunter Pace 2014

Last year, a friend and I competed in the Glenmore Hunt Club's Fall Hunter Pace.  And even though it took us about 2 and a half hours to get there (it's near Staunton, Virginia), we decided to go again this year because it was a lovely ride, with a yummy lunch (it's amazing what I'll do for food that someone else makes these days!), and great volunteers.

For those unfamiliar with hunter paces, they are essentially a cross-country jump course of at least several miles that you ride with a partner.  Different hunter paces have different rules about who has to jump what and how often, but this particular hunter pace is pretty low-key.  There are 3 divisions:  one for super fabulous hunters who can jump 3-4 foot coops without a problem while maintaining a pace of mostly trotting and cantering, another one for less capable jumpers or green horses/riders, and one for "trail riders" who ride in western (or endurance) tack and for whom jumping is optional and not really expected.  The other interesting thing is that placings are determined by who rides closest to the optimum time.  The optimum time is a secret, and in fact is unknown until all riders have come in.  It is based on the average time that it takes the riders in that division to complete the course.  It's kind of a neat idea because it means you are really just competing against the riders in your division for the conditions (footing and weather) of that day.  My friend and I did the trail division last year and actually got 3rd place (out of 5 teams, so don't get too excited), but we were only 5 minutes off the optimal time, which I thought was pretty cool.

Anyway, I got my trailer loaded and we were on the road by about 8 o'clock this past Sunday morning.  I admit that I was a little less enthusiastic because colder temperatures were moving in and the air had that bone-chilling cold feeling that comes with winter rain.  It wasn't supposed to start raining until later in the day, but the humid cold that precedes rain always makes me feel chilled.  The temps were in the upper 30's, though, and I was hopeful that they'd get into the 40s by ride time.

The drive looks like it would be nice on paper - it's almost all state highways and interstate - but in practice, it's a bit of a pain because it involves driving through Charlottesville (and not the pretty part; instead it's the strip mall part) and some mountains.  For some reason, there is some kind of unwritten law in Virginia that when multi-lane roads are built, there can be no consistency.  For example, if as a truck and trailer, you want to hang out in the right lane to let other people move around you in an expedited fashion, you will inevitably find yourself trying to go across three lanes of heavy traffic in a desperate attempt to make a surprise left exit with less than a quarter mile's notice.  Or the right lane AND THE ONE NEXT TO IT just disappear or go off in another direction on a highway that will take you to West Virginia when you really wanted to go to North Carolina.  This is why I am now skilled at turning my trailer around in tight quarters or in the middle of a cramped Food Lion (regional grocery store chain) parking lot.  Because traffic was pretty light for this trip, I in fact made all the turns correctly and didn't miss any exits, but I'm still not enthralled with driving through Charlottesville.  On the up side, I now know where the Dover Saddlery store is in that area:)

The other super fun part (not!) about this drive is what I shall now refer to as Death Mountain.  There is a stretch of about 30 miles on I-64 that goes through what I guess is probably the southern end of the Shenandoah Mountains (I'm not that good at figuring out which mountains are which).  During that stretch is one mountain in particular which is transmission-killing and gas-guzzling.  I'm sure there are much worse mountains out west, but I found myself anxiously watching as the needle on my transmission fluid temperature gauge kept climbing and the needle on my gas gauge kept creeping downward while this stupid mountain climb went on FOREVER.  It was miles and miles, I think.  Luckily, the transmission gauge needle didn't quite make it to the High level, but it was close by the time we finally got to the top.  I can't imagine how rigs hauling more horses manage it...

But we finally made it to the parking area for the ride, where I was parked on a steep enough slope that I thought my parking brake should help out.  (I just got it replaced and I think I'm going to have to get it replaced again, because it was definitely not as helpful as I would have expected.)  I got Nimo unloaded and set up with some hay and went to register.  I would like to note at this point that while the temperature had fluctuated between 38 and 41 degrees on the trip, it was now firmly ensconced at 39 degrees.  I get that it isn't That Cold compared to the crap weather that has been going on in other places, but it was mid-November, where average high temperatures hover in the upper 50s to 60s for this area and I was not lovin' the new normal for this year.

Once my friend and I got registered, we tacked up and got on the course at 11:11 am.  The plan was to do the trail division again this year and just enjoy ourselves.  Last year, for some unknown reason, both of our horses were complete nitwits at the start of the ride and we ended up doing a lot of trotting up the first hill to get them to settle down.  This year, however, they were both calm and forward, which was perfect! 

The course was the same as last year, taking us through fields, forest, roads, and cattle pastures.  There is so much history in Virginia and we caught glimpses of it throughout the ride.  I am especially fascinated by old barns and houses, and there is one house on the route that is clearly from another lifetime, with part log and part stone and brick assembly.  I like to think about what the owners' lives were like many decades and even centuries ago, before modern conveniences made life in the mountains a much different experience than it is now.  These people must have been tough to endure a challenging lifestyle with no major cities nearby for supplies and endless forest to clear for crops and livestock.

I have to admit that at one point I was kind of disappointed with Nimo.  He was sort of acting like the ride was a bit challenging for him (the terrain actually is at least as difficult as endurance rides in the area, with the exception that the footing is much less rocky) until we were passed near the top of a small mountain by a couple of other riders.  When two relatively tiny horses zipped on past us and continued trotting up the mountain, it was like a switch flipped in Nimo's brain and he was like, "OH!  This is an Endurance Ride!  Why didn't you say something earlier?  OF COURSE I can trot up the rest of this hill!  I'm not really tired - I was just faking..."  We actually made the horses walk as a lesson in manners and because we were close to the finish line too, but I had to laugh a little at the quick change in Nimo's attitude.

I totally sucked at taking pictures this year, so if you really want to see what the ride looked like, my post from last year is your best bet:)  Here's the only decent one I got from this year:

The terrain was pretty hilly/mountainy.  At the start of the ride, I wondered if my assessment of the difficulty of the terrain would change from last year.  As we've done more rides, my perception of the terrain we ride on has changed and in many cases, what I thought was challenging really isn't anymore.  In this case, I didn't change my mind at all.  This terrain is hardcore.  The clearing of the land gives the impression that it's just rolling hills, but it really is mountainous.  There are very few level spots in the ride and a lot of the "hills" are quite steep.  The climbs aren't too long (by long, I mean more than a mile), but because they are steep, they get the job done for a cardio and butt workout.  At one point, as Nimo was carefully picking his way down a pretty steep decline, I remember thinking that I was glad we were going down instead of up.  The universe had a bit of a laugh when we got to the bottom, went through a gate and then were directed right back up again and I'm pretty sure I heard Nimo crying a little bit.:)  It was an awesome conditioning ride, even though it was only 6 miles.  It ended up being a great way to keep some of Nimo's fitness without doing a lot of miles.  I don't know how we did in terms of placing (last year, I just got a random ribbon in the mail a few weeks after the ride), but it was just a great experience regardless of any competition.

After the ride, we had a lovely warm lunch of tacos with shredded beef and chicken, refried beans, sauteed onions and peppers, salsa, sour cream, and other fixin's plus yummy tea and cookies and brownies.  The hay bales we had to sit on were warm, which was nice because the temperature had increased about one and a half degrees from the start of the ride and the wind felt like death.

And then it was time to head back.  I have to admit that the 2 and a half hour drive was not nearly as fun going back, especially when it started to rain and get dark.  The good news was that after we got out of the mountains, the temperature went up to 50 (yay!), but of course the weather rapidly deteriorated later that evening as a cold front moved in.

Anyway, I feel like I can now officially say that Nimo and I do hunter paces in addition to our dressage and endurance stuff.  We definitely still need to work on jumping cross-country obstacles (the little ones, not the giant coops) because Nimo is still pretty suspicious of logs, but I love the idea of cross-training him over some low jumps and I think it adds a nice dimension to our trail work.


  1. That sounds like a lot of fun. I love when Nemo "pretended" to be tired, my horse does that too, but suddenly is fine again when passed by other horses, heading home, etc. But that is cold! I might have been frozen after a couple hours of that. I think learning to jump a few logs so you can do the other division next year would be fun!

  2. Thanks for explaining this sport, I had no idea. Now I have to find a TREC group in my country, someday it has to happen! ( TREC is a distance sport with an Orienteering element, and a jumping element (and the jumping, I've heard, is also optional). Since endurance kind of sucks here, I have put a lot of hopes into this possibility.

    1. TREC sounds like fun! I am seriously directionally-challenged, so orienteering is out for me, but jumping out on the trails is definitely something I want to do more of!

  3. I really enjoyed your story - I have been so wanting to do a hunter pace! One of these days :)

  4. That sounds like so much fun! I would love to try something like that someday.

    Nimo's "faking" had me giggling! Sometimes they need motivation. :D I'm glad you had a great ride!

  5. This is still on my bucket list! Though I think our MD hunter paces are more strict than yours. I love that yours welcomes trail and endurance riders!