But then I met a lady a few weeks ago who rode at Thompson WMA all the time and wasn't an endurance rider. She offered to ride with me at the park and show me the trails. I also discovered that the park was only about an hour from Nimo's barn, which made it a lot more appealing that the hour and 45 minute drive I was doing out to the 4-H Center in Front Royal, so I could access the major climb into the Shenandoah National Park and up to Skyline Drive.
With the stars finally aligned, I met up with my new riding friend at Thompson's last Sunday. I didn't really know what to expect, but I was first surprised by how small the parking lot was and how time-consuming it would be to park more than a few horse trailers there. There are actually 11 parking lots, but my friend assured me the one we wanted to park at was the one at Lake Thompson. I assume that the others are smaller lots or don't have good access to the trails (although I may explore a bit after I become more familiar with the park). I remember spending a lot of time at Phelps trying to figure out which parking lot was the best one for horse trailers and accessing the trails.
Luckily the day we choose to ride had kind of crappy, drizzly, cool weather, so there were no other riders there that day and only a few fishermen. After I got parked and Nimo was saddled, we headed out. And right up the mountain. There is no level ground in the area, except for a short path around the lake. Even the parking lot has some slope to it. I guess that makes sense because the park is essentially in the Blue Ridge Mountains and it doesn't take long to get to the Appalachian Trail, which runs through the park. (And apparently horses are not welcome on the AT, which is a real bummer.)
The lady I rode with was quite familiar with the trail up the mountain and while she kept saying her horse wasn't that fit, he trotted quite a bit UP THE MOUNTAIN. The trail was easily comparable to any OD trail I've been on in terms of grade. Not all of it was super steep, but there weren't many switchbacks and it was basically a 3-mile climb. The thing that made the trail perfect for conditioning was that it wasn't nearly as rocky as OD trails typically are and it was wide enough for two horses to walk next to each other for most of the way up.
|View from the trail about halfway up the mountain|
Even better is the idea that we can continue to train at the park and probably improve our pace up the mountain even more, which means that Nimo should get quite a bit fitter. And best of all, we can work on trotting down the mountain as well. I think the trail is quite comparable to the downhill section of the first 15-mile loop of the OD ride that gave us some trouble and being able to practice at Thompson WMA will give us great experience for the next time we do the ride.
|View from the top of the mountain down the trail|