Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sugarloaf Mountain

Yesterday, I headed up to Maryland to explore the horse trails at Sugarloaf Mountain with Saiph and her husband, Charles.  I'd heard about Sugarloaf Mountain before, but never had the opportunity to go with someone who was familiar with them already.  Luckily, Saiph and Charles had scoped out the trails (and trailer parking), so I was thrilled to have a guide.  Having someone who knew where to park the trailers was especially helpful because, for some reason, the park had decided not to identify the trailer parking lot with a sign labeled, "Horse Trailer Parking."  Instead, the sign said, "Turner Farm: Private Property," which might lead the inexperienced visitor to believe that the area was not part of the park and not available for parking.

It took me about two hours to get there from where I keep Nimo, so it was a bit of a drive.  And I questioned my decision to ride there because my GPS sent me down a one-lane gravel road for the last half-mile or so, and I was convinced that it would be a dead-end or take me into no-man's land and I'd end up having to figure out how to turn around on a narrow road with trees on both sides.  I called Saiph when I turned on to said road and reported my suspicion that I was not in the right place.  However, as it turned out, I was in the right place and drove right past the parking area for the horse trailers because it was not labeled.  (I honestly should know better, having lived in the area for 14 years now.  Having proper signs is just not a priority here and sometimes I speculate that it might be a subtle way of weeding out the weak...)   Anyway, I met up with Saiph and Charles as they were coming into the park from the opposite direction and I managed to just turn the trailer around without scraping the luxury sedan that happened to be parked in an inconvenient location for me and we caravaned to the horse trailer parking area.

We unloaded, got the horses tacked up, and then headed out on to the trail.  Saiph had told me that the horse trail was 7 miles long, so in my head, I sort of contemplated the possibility of doing the trail twice to get a nice 14 mile ride in.  However, the horse flies were plaguing Nimo and despite our best attempts to get an early start and beat the heat, by 10 am, I could tell the day would be warm (although not oppressive).  So we decided to do the 7 mile loop and then decide how many more miles we wanted to do, based on how the horses and their humans felt.  I knew I wanted to get at least 10 miles in, though, and Saiph said she was prepared to do the full loop twice.

Saiph had also said the trail was rocky in some places, but I decided not to boot Nimo.  He'd been doing well without boots, and he'd had some chipping (or possibly big chunks coming off) on his front feet, which told me I hadn't been trimming them short enough.  I'd done a trim the night before, and I wanted to see if I'd gotten it right, so I figured riding over some rocks would be the best way to confirm the trim.  As it turned out, the trail was a little rockier than I expected and about 5 miles in, I could tell Nimo was a little sensitive on his left front.  The remaining trail was partly gravel and partly packed dirt, so he was fine to finish the loop, but I knew I'd need to boot him for additional miles.

The trail did not go up to the summit of the mountain, but there were few level sections, so it was a pretty good workout.  Saiph's and Charles' horses, Lily and Gracie, were super fit and happy to canter up every hill.  Nimo, on the other hand, stood fast in his philosophy that hills are not for cantering, although he did consent to trot quite a bit, even over the rocks, which is a huge improvement in his attitude from when we first started our conditioning work.

On the 7-mile loop the first time
The trail was almost entirely shaded, which was nice, given the heat of the sun.  I even felt an occasional breeze.  However, the horse flies loved Nimo, so I spent quite a bit of time either helping him swish them off or killing them.  And we did see quite a few people and their dogs out on the trail.  Everyone was really good about giving us space, though, and I could tell most of them were thrilled to see horses.  I sometimes forget how beautiful and special horses are, but I am reminded every time I see the sheer joy in people's faces when they see a horse.

After finishing the loop, we decided to do a short "hold" at the trailers and give the horses a quick snack before doing the whole loop again.  I also took the opportunity to boot Nimo's front feet.  Gracie had never experienced going back to the trailers and then having to head back out on the trail, so Saiph was hoping to give her that experience.  I have to admit that it always seems harder for me to get back on the trail than it is for Nimo.  Gracie was definitely thinking the same thing I was about going back out on the trail, and she was uncharacteristically happy to lag behind for a couple of miles.

Once we got through the rockiest section of the trail and started trotting again, Gracie perked up and even tried passing Nimo.  By that point, I think Nimo was feeling a little more confident about the trail, and I noticed that he tried to block her from passing him a couple of times (just by moving over on the trail, though, not by pinning his ears or kicking).  In the first loop, he hadn't cared at all if she cantered past him, so it was interesting to see the change in his attitude. 

And then something really horrible happened.  Saiph and Charles were a ways ahead of us on the trail, and I noticed they stopped for something and then moved on.  I assumed it was a tack adjustment or to communicate something, and then I realized they had stopped to go around a turtle.  But I realized the turtle was directly in our path too late and Nimo absolutely stepped on him.  His shell looked intact, but I don't know how he could have survived such an impact.  It is an unwritten law in the area that everyone stops for turtles crossing the roads.  I have seen police officers temporarily shut down multi-lane highways to rescue turtles, and it is quite common for the average motorist to stop and either allow the turtle to cross before passing or get out and move the turtle to the side of the road.  So to run over a turtle on my horse felt terrible.  I'm sure Nimo just thought the turtle was a rock, but I will feel bad about the incident for awhile, I'm sure.

We kept moving while I fretted about the turtle, and we trotted most of the way through the rest of the loop.  Lily did a great job drinking from the streams we crossed, but Nimo didn't seem interested.  It is typical for him to wait to drink until after about 10 miles, so I was slightly concerned that he didn't drink at all during the entire second loop.  However, I had given him a pretty soupy mash at our "hold," which isn't something that I normally do, so I thought that might be why.  Also, while I was feeling hot, the temperature and humidity were not that bad for this time of year, and I think Nimo is far more acclimated than I am, so I decided to just make sure he drank well when we got back to the trailer.

On the last mile of the trail
Nimo actually took the lead for the last mile or so of the trail.  I think he knew the trailer was close and he was motivated to get back, so he powered up his walk.  If I could only get him to walk like that the rest of the time!  I think he can do at least a 4 mph walk and maybe a bit faster, which would be huge help for maintaining a good pace, but alas, he only gives me that faster walk when he feels like it.

We made it back to the trailers in good shape, although our time was not that impressive.  I think it took us a little less than 4 hours to do what ended up being 15 miles.  The trail was actually fairly challenging with its hills and rocks, but we'll definitely need to up our game for future rides.

Nimo did drink well at the trailer and ate his mash as well as some hay before settling into a post-ride nap.  I wanted to give him a short rest before we headed back home because we had two hours of travel ahead of us.  So I chatted a bit with Saiph and Charles and quizzed Saiph about Nimo's weight.  I've had a couple of people mention that they think he is too thin (yes, a picture would have been good right about now, but I didn't think of it).  He is definitely thinner than he would be if I was just doing dressage or regular trail rides, but as Saiph pointed out, it's difficult to even feel his ribs.  I think the angle of his hips and lack of big muscles on his hindquarters make his hind end look a little thin, but if I get more weight on his hind end, then the rest of him seems a bit overweight to me.  I think it may just be the way he holds weight, but it's possible that I may increase his feed ever so slightly (maybe by a half pound a day).  He's currently getting about 3.5 pounds of Pacemaker's FiberFocus each day, which I think is actually not bad, given his workload and given that last year at this time, I was feeding 10-12 pounds a day of Pennfield's Fibregized.  We were putting in more miles each week last year, but I think the Pacemaker feed has been working much better for Nimo.  I hate feeding large amounts of grain or concentrated feed because I think it is bad for the horse's digestion and metabolism, and even though the FiberFocus doesn't have any grain like oats or corn (except for corn gluten) or barley in it, I still would rather that Nimo get the bulk of his calories from grass and hay.  Also, I just don't like feeding processed food.  I prefer not to eat it myself, and I don't know that it does any favors for horses either, but the reality is that the hay Nimo gets is not that high quality and the field he grazes is poorly maintained, so I have to make up for the poor nutrition somehow.  I also feed a flake of what I  consider to be a good quality alfalfa hay every day, but I may need to re-evaluate how he's fed at some point soon...more on that later, though.

Anyway, soon it was time to get on the road.  I loaded Nimo and we headed down the crazy one-lane gravel road on our way to civilization.  Our trip back to the barn was thankfully uneventful, and after getting Nimo settled in, I headed home for food and a much-needed shower.


  1. Fun ride! That poor turtle though...):

  2. FINALLY published mine!
    We had such a wonderful time riding with you!

  3. It's always hard for me to go back out on trail, too, haha. I like away checks for that reason...though dislike them for all other reasons. TURTLE </3