Tuesday, January 31, 2017

sweet air adventures

Finally. FINALLY. We had a glorious weekend weather-wise (as further evidenced from the fantastic conditions during our jump lesson) and managed to drag Brita and Bella out on their first off-property adventure together!!!!!

perfect trail conditions!
(I say "drag" but what I really mean is that Brita handled all the planning and logistics and sandwiches and whatnot and Charlie and I simply rolled up with the chariot, ready to go!)

introducing the newest power couple #bay&gray
You may remember from early December when Brita and I first practiced trailer loading with Bella and Charlie together in anticipation for our first big outing. Alas, the originally planned outing (the Stephen Birchall clinic) got scrambled bc of the big ice storm... and while Charlie and I could reschedule, Brita could not.

charlie thinks bella's hay > his hay. also i kinda love how both horses are making moon eyes at brita lol
So we had to delay our eventual 'first play date' for a bit longer than intended. No matter tho! It's no secret that Brita and I are both pretty big fans of getting a lot of experience traveling with our horses before we attempt potentially higher-stress (or expensive) outings like competitions.

the cotner only has one hook on either side for tying a horse. these guys didn't seem to mind the separation tho - they could see each other through the doors of the main cabin. convenient!
Being familiar with the trailer and how each individual horse handles the travel is our way of reducing anxiety of the 'unknown' - and over the years we've developed a pretty solid routine. It was nice to see that this hasn't changed despite each boarding at different barns now, with two new equestrian partners and a new trailer on top of it all. The pattern still holds!

bella is so freakin cute tho
It helps that Brita's new lease mare Bella already has a bit of worldly experience despite her youth. We pretty much expected she would travel just fine, and we were not disappointed. Both horses came off the trailer calm relaxed and quiet. Yesss!

there's something so scenic about wintry woods
Anyway - our destination du jour was new to both of us, sorta: the Sweet Air Area of Maryland's gigantic Gunpowder State Park. Fun fact: this park stretches across enormous swaths of the state, and has "areas" of various sizes dotting the landscape from east to west, and north to south. In fact, Isabel's farm was also located on an 'area' of this park - thus our access to tons of wonderful trails.

"i'm on a horse!!" - emma
We had incidentally ridden on parts of this area's trails back in 2015 at our first paper chase at Tranquility (which backs up to the park). At that time we had ridden past the parking area and through some fantastic trails (including a perfect galloping path adjacent to a corn field), so we figured it would be a great place to revisit.

between the ears pics all look the same.... but i <3 them anyway ;)
And it was actually pretty damn perfect. We had googled the location and parking info ahead of time, and I found a couple comments along the way saying things like "well marked" and "well maintained" trails. Plus I've heard lots of positive things about the area previously from other friends. This was sufficient enough information to make up our minds (especially given the area's proximity to OF - what a SUPER easy drive!) so off we went.

friends!!
We hopped aboard and checked out the area map - identifying that we'd like to stick to the two yellow loops: the pine loop (twas piney!) and the pond loop (was mysteriously lacking in ponds!).

more friends!!
Pine loop came first. The trails were broad, smooth, not at all rocky, and often allowed for the horses to travel side-by-side. The horses, incidentally, seemed quite happy with each other's company, and neither cared much about being in front or behind.

of note: many pines
This first loop would prove to be a barometer for the ride - as we ended up coming through this same section later to get home. Towards the end of the loop there were a couple of downed branches - including one innocuous woodpecker-riddled log that Charlie was not able to lead the way over, but managed to awkwardly hop following Bella's lead.

Then there was some bushwhacking needed when we had to redirect around larger fallen logs. Just plain viney brambly things - but the shrub was thick and chest-high on Charlie, and he was not very confident about just pushing through it. He did after some convincing tho, good boy!

opening onto the corn fields!
We then cut across to the pond loop - which took us around the same corn fields from the 2015 paper chase. There are two types of ground that I LOVE: lanes surrounding pasture fences, and lanes surrounding agricultural fields. And I love them for the same reason. The ground may undulate up and down, and may sometimes be boggy or wet in areas. But, generally, as a rule, these lanes are always smooth, of consistent width, and perfect for some speed.

charlie definitely wanted to treat bella like a pony on the track haha
So naturally Brita and I opted to trot around the corn field. That might sound.... tame haha, and I guess it was. But I'm kinda a chicken about doing new fast things with horses, and Charlie hadn't been the most reliable horse on terrain haha. The trot was perfect tho - these lanes are nice and smooth (compared to the occasional lumpiness of your typical pasture) and Charlie happily jogged on up (and DOWN!!!!!!) the hills while I basically just bridge the reins, took video, and giggled lol.


Upon reaching the other side of the field, we realized we were nearly back to the parking area... So, naturally we did what anyone would do in similar circumstances: turned around to go back the way we had come. Including back up this same lane, but this time cantering instead of trotting :)

<3 these horses tho
No video from the cantering bc I actually did hold my reins haha. But it was spectacular. Just.... ahhh, so good! Charlie was basically just loping along. Didn't trip or misstep once - good boy! He asked twice about whether he needed to be racing when Bella got ahead of him (we mostly were cantering abreast) but was nonchalant when I said 'nope we're just cruisin buddy!'

it's a bridge!!
What a good feeling! I'm so glad we did that too - I had kinda regretted not trying for a canter on our last trail outing but sometimes it just takes me a little while to warm up to things lol. But I'm very happy to report that Charlie successfully trotted AND cantered both up AND down hills. That "down" being of particular significance. Homeboy is definitely figuring out his balance and his feet!


And he felt equal to whatever he faced after the canter. Including a wooden bridge on a yellow trail spur we took to get back to the pine loop. Honestly I don't think Charlie even registered the bridge - he just stepped right on up. And then immediately jolted ever so slightly through his body upon hearing the odd sound of his footfall on the bridge lol... but then just kept going. 

this is what i looked like after cantering this boy across the field: joyous ;)
Once back on the pine loop we were faced with the same brambles and fallen logs that had slowed us down earlier while Charlie processed it all. This second time through? Exactly zero hesitation. Including getting around an even larger treefall with even more serious bushwhacking - Charlie took the lead of charging through the brush with a zeal that had definitely not been present at the start of our ride.

it's a proven fact: charlie's nose is supremely smoochable
That just felt like a win - it was clear that both horses had grown (remarkably) in confidence throughout the ride. Both were tackling whatever fell in their path with gusto! I was particularly pleased with Charlie bc he really seemed to come into his own body throughout the ride. Very little tripping, very few feelings of awkwardness on the terrain. Mission accomplished!

going home. until next time!!
Brita and I both loved the park too - and definitely plan to return, hopefully often. Sorry if it sounds like I'm gushing haha. Really, tho, what's not to love? I mean, obviously we both have goals for riding, we both are investing in our training and are eager to get to competitions and progress and all that. But rides like this are maybe just as, if not more, important to our ultimate horsey goals.

Especially leaving the park with horses and riders who were demonstrably more confident than they had been before the ride.... ahh it just felt good!

You know what I'm talking about? Have you had a ride like that? Or do you have preferred ways for testing the waters for your horses, for laying the foundation for an upcoming competition season? Do you measure the success of your conditioning as just physical, emotional, or both?

50 comments:

  1. Oh man, nothing is better than a horse who is with you, having fun, on a good trail with a friend! And I definitely know what you mean about feeling a horse gain in confidence through a ride, and also about these types of rides being as or more important than training/competition. I ride to have FUN and I want my horses to have fun too!

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    1. Friends and fun make everything better with horses haha. Esp friends who know how to prod me a little bit when I act like a chicken lol

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  2. Sounds like a great time and what a nice way for you and Charlie to build up some confidence!

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    1. I'm thrilled with his confidence and even happier with how steady he felt on his feet. He is not in Kansas any more but he's figuring it out lol

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  3. Great blog post! I felt like i was there with you. Speaking of...i KNOW where that park is and think it would not be TOO Far for me to haul one weekend to meet you guys :) I could go right up 1 to get over that way!! :) It looks like a great ride was had by all!

    And have you guys not gotten as much rain and gross as we have cause all our trails are muddy as heck :) Glad you had a perfect day with two perfect ponies!

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    1. Oooh yea it's super close to route 1!! Tho we really REALLY wanna figure out a big play date at fair hill too. I know there are a couple other folks up your way who would be interested in a big trail ride meet up so we need to make this happen!!!

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    2. YES def a fair hill ride is in the future as well (10 minutes from me YAY) but i am always intrigued by new places too. Plus Fair Hill I ALWAYS GET LOST HA so need a good navigator if we have a meetup! Def lots of riding up head i hope with you guys!

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    3. omg haha nooooooo getting lost at fair hill again!!! last time we hacked out there (for a paper chase) we got stuck on the same look for seemingly forever. like. the park has something like 5,000 acres and we got lost in this one small never-ending cycle of purgatory in it lol.

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  4. omg im soooo jealous this looks like so much fun!!!

    i'm obsessed with bella, she's so beautiful. and charlie is the most kissable little face ever. i'll have to see if i can trek down to this place it looks awesome.

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    1. Bella is freakin awesome! a very different ride from Wick, but Brita's doing a great job with her! and yes, omg, charlie's nose is so kissable haha - you have to meet him! we all have to meet up at fair hill, i'm convinced lol

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  5. PURE JOY!! I was grinning along reading this - these kinds of rides are seriously the highlight of my life! Absolutely nothing beats asking your horse to be brave and smart and trustworthy on the trail, and having him step up a million percent. Ahhh I CAN'T WAIT to do a big trail day with y'all! :D

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    1. agreed - it's just the best feeling ever. and i can't wait for a big trail day with you too!!!!! fair hill 2017 haha!!! Dino's gotta meet the new guard!

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  6. Oh my gosh I love everything about this post! What an excellent, confidence-building excursion! I love these kind of low-key outings to gauge how a horse reacts to new situations.

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    1. i'm with ya - definitely a big fan of low key confidence building. no pressure, no getting in trouble - just lots of variations on slightly new experiences. nothing beats it!

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  7. Gush away girl! That sounded like the perfect outing for building confidence all around. Horray for field canters!

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    1. i <3 field canters! with isabel i was so trusting - i would always just get up into two point and push my hands into her neck asking for faster, faster!! it's going to take a little while longer with charlie before i'm ready to do the same with him haha, but this was an important first step!

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  8. This post made me smile :) You just sound so happy. Charlie is such a great match for you. I am jealous!!!

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    1. thanks - i'm really so happy with this horse. it's such a gamble committing to a new horse like this, we never really know how it'll turn out. so far so good tho!

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  9. Replies
    1. it was super pretty - i can't wait to see what the park looks like in other seasons!

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  10. That ride looks amazing! What a cool park, I wish it was near me! Charlie is such a good boy!

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    1. it was a seriously cool park - tho there's plenty others down near you too i'm sure! one of these days hopefully charlie and i will make our way west too ;)

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    2. If you head westward, I will head northward...and slightly eastward.

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    3. how far are you from gaithersburg? i happen to know a certain DQ who lives out that way with access to many wonderful trails ;)

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    4. It's about an hour. I think I could do that!

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    5. exxxxxxxcellent!! keep an eye out for an email eventually and we'll get something set up!!!!

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  11. Replies
    1. thanks - sometimes these simple trail rides are exactly what the doctor ordered!

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  12. This is all so great! And I love all the gushing, you should be so happy and proud of your pony! He's such a good dude!

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    1. thanks - i'm definitely pretty proud of him haha! he's just so fun!

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  13. Sounds like a very fun day! I wish we had longer trails where I am at.

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    1. nothing beats a long trail ride lol. we actually chose one of the shorter loops thinking we didn't need to push the horses much, but then ended up doubling back bc we weren't ready for the ride to be over so soon!

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  14. Developing confidence is key - going through different terrain, going out alone or with others - it's why I really love the trails. Plus who doesn't like a good outdoor gallop?

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    1. ha i love a good outdoor gallop!!! not quite ready for trying with charlie yet (trust building takes time, yo) but he's still developing great!

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  15. Replies
    1. it was a great way to spend a weekend ;)

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  16. It sounds like a really great outing for both of you! I'm envious of your lovely trail pix, too. So nice!

    I would like a horse-oriented trail system out this way that wasn't solid effing rocks, but I live in the mountains and they're made of rocks. *sigh* My local state forest hunk is the section of Buchanan (discontinuous like Gunpowder) called Sideling Hill. Sideling Hill is not especially scenic (except on the inside, it's a syncline), but it's no slouch on the elevation front and will serve as our practice mountain for the No Frills in late April.

    And yes, I look at both mental and physical conditioning. I haven't made a point of mentioning it, but the road to Sideling Hill has more, faster traffic, crappier sight lines, and worse shoulder than the roads we have been doing. He needs to be SOLID on cars and stuff before we head out on the hard road to Sideling Hill... so I'm using our preliminary conditioning to get him some exposure in less-stressful circumstances first.

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    1. yea road traffic makes me nervous... even with isabel, who spent a not-insignificant part of her life living in a field next to a busy road, i would still get a little worried about traffic. seems like a good approach to get him a lot of gradually building exposure first!! still tho, it all sounds so exciting in prep for the big ride!

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  17. AHHH, this looks SO awesome! The video of riding around the field made me nostalgic for home. That is absolutely the BEST. Looks like a really fun outing!

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    1. definitely! we've been super lucky with a mild winter. it's been pretty wet.... but dried up (with the help of some winds) in recent days. if you ever find yourself over on this coast again we can definitely find a way to get you out on the trails!!!

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  18. Lol I love The "I'm on a horse".
    What a fun day.

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    1. lol is it weird that "i'm on a horse!" has basically become my catch phrase with charlie? i can't even explain why haha, it just is

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  19. aw everyone is so encouraging on here. love that. so happy you and charlie found each other! such a fun day! can't wait for another one soon!!

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  20. It's always a great ride when you and your horse end it happy and relaxed. Ben comes off the trailer pretty hot no matter how many times I go to the same location. He calms down after the initial excitement though (at least lately he has been a cool cucumber). Maybe the anticipation makes him nervous? He's kind of a goober though, so it's hard to say. :)
    Sounds like you had an incredible ride. Can't wait to get back in the saddle and hit some trails myself!

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  21. Sounds like a great day! I know exactly what you are talking about! I have the same theory on travel with horses and prepping them for potentially stressful new experiences. I like to build up the stress level. Start with a small low key experience and then start to increase the level of new and number of horses.

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  22. Nothing beats a day on good trails with good horses and friends (: Bahhhh I can't wait until Quest is fully back to hand gallop fields again

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  23. Sounds like an awesome ride! Glad you guys are having so much fun together.

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