Not exactly MY back yard. But I did ride out from my front gate, about 2 miles down a dirt road, crossed the main (very tiny) road, another mile on a paved road and there we arrived at the local State Wildlife Area. The ride down the dirt road from home was pretty mellow, a dog followed us for a while until I bellowed at it, and we jogged down to the main road crossing, taking things in with perked ears but a relatively calm eye. The road crossing made me nervous. It is an uphill/downhill straightaway with a sloping hill that gives you a thrill in the stomach if you accelerate over it. People tend to, ahem, fly down that particular stretch. Needless to say I encouraged Desire along as quickly as I could while keeping her calm, hugging the thin grassy verge next to the road. It isn't far to the safe crossing and we managed it uneventfully. A dog went bananas at us as we rounded the corner on the street but that doesn't phase us anymore. So very MANY dogs behave that way on our neighborhood rides.
Around here you just aren't sure if that is intentional or not..
We cruised down the mile of paved road, Desire eyeballing the various cow herds like a human would little green creatures descending an UFO ramp. Of all the silly things we encountered on our ride today, the tinsel, dogs, trucks, bikes, birds flying up, and scary wood items on the ground, cows are apparently the epitome of evil to Desire. She is SO suspicious of them. And god forbid one of them moves, because that about drives her around the bend. One herd of cows started a literal stampede when we walked by and I thought for a minute my mare was going to come unglued.
I encouraged her along and managed to refocus her attention on the road ahead, thankfully. Phew. Moments like that still get my heart rate up a little bit. We arrived at the State Wildlife Area entrance in good time, and encountered the first, and most treacherous, obstacle to our choice of riding place. A cattle guard. Yep. With fencing running off in every direction, and no way around. Pretty. Sucky. I encountered it the last time (which was the first time) I road at the wildlife area, and I manged to squeeze Blaze around the cross bars supporting the fencing to the grate. I blocked the guard with my body and made him step over the cross bars on the safe ground. He does things like that fantastically. I wasn't really sure how Desire was going to do at it, to be honest. Again I stood on the bars and blocked them with my body and I encouraged her forward over the cross bars. She stepped daintily over both with all four feet, phew! A very good girl for that. Reassurance all around. I mounted and we trotted on and came to our next obstacle. The gates to the wildlife area itself. The big gates are locked and the walk-through gates have bars placed strategically so that motorcycles and ATVs won't fit through. Sooo there is rather a tight space to squeeze a horse through. Desire fit through better than Blaze, since she is taller and skinnier! Yes!
an awkward tight squeeze
Getting away with all sorts of close calls today. (Btw my husband said he is going to stash a solid board in the bushes for me to put down as a ramp for Desire to go over the cattle guard. If it sits solidly, uh score!) I mounted yet again and we headed down the trail, past the little old paddock and cattle chute, and across the little streams. It was a little soggy around the water holes but not bad. I always laugh when Desire's Easyboots squish after we cross water. So undignified for a fine mare like that ;)
To the Left
To the Right
There are some really nice trotting stretches available in the wildlife area, which is the big perk of the journey. There isn't a whole lot of trail itself, but there are 4 or 5 really nice half mile or so stretches that are fun to blast back and forth on. My favorite swings to the north after crossing the streams and runs along flat for a quarter mile, then a slight dip and it swings you up a little hill and onto about a half mile of gradually undulating great footing.
This is where I opened Desire up a bit and felt what an 11.5 mph trot felt like! I guess I'll say...Wow! It is powerful. And almost on the verge of out of control, LOL. I think I could have pushed her a little faster even but I didn't want to! She sure loves to go though. A nice forward, comfortable trot on her is about 8.5 mph. 6.5 is smooth jogging happiness, 10 is getting a little hot. That's my taste these days. Probably more conservative than I would have been 4 years ago but hey, I'm surviving and enjoying things! When we are really trucking at brink speeds of trot or canter I get vivid flashbacks of the gelding bucking under me from my accident. So annoying that it should turn up like that 2 years later! I just put it out of my mind and bring myself and the horse back into control. It's all good and it is so fun. My need for speed that was a little frustrated by Blaze is making a bit of a comeback riding Desire. It was actually really nice to have stretches of pavement where we could only walk, as it made us both calm down a little and smell the roses, as it were. We're Go Go Go Girls! Almost all the time, for me. Haha.
We explored a trail (btw these trails are basically just well worn truck tracks from the guys that keep cattle in the wildlife area) that I had been on with Blaze last time, but this time I noticed a trail to the east that headed up a fairly steep hill. Since I knew Desire had *plenty* of gas in her tank yet I pointed her up the hill and we went into adventure mode. She wanted to gallop up the hill but the footing was just iffy enough that I kept her to a slow jog at the most, sitting up out of the saddle on her mane. It was steep enough!
Up we go
We climbed up and up and around a bend and higher still, finally Desire was huffing and puffing like I'd never heard from her before. We stopped and took a moment to collect ourselves, sample the local grass, then continued our adventure up the hill. About this time it occurred to me that in this area, following faint tire tracks way out into nowhereville, might easily lead me to a Grow. I'm sure you all know what I mean by that. I'm not sure if people do that sort of thing in the wildlife area, but there is always that potential. Not good to be wandering in the wilderness in the fall in this area, put it that way. Anyway since its December I figured it was probably safe enough, but we picked our way slowly and I kept my eyes and ears peeled for any signs of anything. It was kind of thrilling, and scary. I admit to giddy feelings of cowgirl-hood when riding in the western saddle with a horn. A horn on a saddle is SO foreign to me that its still a novelty. So adventuring in the wilderness, a little scared, with my water in my pack and my horn on my saddle..well it was pretty fun.
Up and Up
The tracks narrowed to ATV tracks and I figured these had to be hunting trails. People hunt small game and birds in the wildlife areas and I know hunters love their ATVs (or Polaris, in my husband's case). We wound around following the faint tracks and finally climbed another little steep bit and came to a fence line. The trail continued on but went down a really steep nasty looking hill so I decided that was quite enough of that and we turned around.
Out of trail
Little miss stumble bum slowly picking her way up the hill like she was on her last legs suddenly turned into a prancing pony! What a scam artist she is! Pretty funny considering how for the most part she just loves being on the trail, but she was totally boon dogging me on the way up that hill making me feel sorry for her. We headed back down the hill (which was in total just over 1/2 a mile climb, by GPS) and had some discussions along the way, she wanting to trot and me wanting to not face plant.
Look in the background you'll see we climbed quite a bit
and are looking out over the valley, if not for all the trees
Such a blond! Acting like one, too.
When we finally reached the bottom and flat ground again and I thought, "AHA! Our own Sycamore Hill!" Sure it isn't as long but its a pretty damn good climb and here it is, just a few miles down the road with only a few treacherous obstacles along the way. Totally worth it. Once in a while, anyway. I'm pretty stoked with the discovery of the hill. Desire was really huffing and puffing so I know she could use some hill work. Muahahaha.
Can you see the bruise on my cheekbone from shooting the .12 gauge?
I thought I was really clever and knew a place we could exit the fenced area without having to brave the cattle guard again. The really long fun trotting stretch ended in another parking lot and gated area. Surely we could get out that way, thinks me! Nope. We hauled ass all the way over, I hopped off all eager and proud of myself and..all the gates were locked. I towed Desire through the woods for a minute looking for any way around but it IS fenced for cattle and there weren't any escape routes in the nasty barbed wire. Back on again and we went hauling ass back down the stretch (weeeeee! Some cantering) and back around, down through the stream crossings, and back up to the gates on the side we came in. We squeezed through the gate and jogged down to the cattle guard.
Desire knew what to do this time but for some reason she froze with her front feet only between the braces and then started to panic so I had to just move her forward quickly before she could melt down next to the guard itself. She popped over safely, phew heart beat up on that one! Definitely making that situation less dangerous next time. I mounted yet again (I lost track how many times today, really) and we headed for home down the paved road. A vulture picnicing on a dead skunk sprang up into the air out of the bushes and about gave us all a heart attack, and BOY was I glad we had on Easyboot Gloves and not steel shoes because this happened on pavement and the four legs in the air SPROING Desire gave would have been scary on steel. She had two more moments like that right after since she was already in the shivery mood, you know how those things seem to follow once the mood is set..I had to snap her out of when a small discoloration in the pavement made her quiver like jelly, good lord mare, get a GRIP. Refocused on going forward we continued peacefully up the road. It was downright cold in the areas that were shaded, I mean really cold. Today was the first day my toes got cold and I started thinking about some warmer shoes to wear. I guess ventilated sneakers in winter isn't really the answer. And I had my down vest zipped to my chin and was wearing gloves, but I could have used a scarf. My neck is a real temperature regulator for me so if my neck is covered and my core is covered in a vest, I am good to go. So a scarf would have been a plus. But as it was the sunshine just felt amaazzzinnggg when we hit it. A few cars passed us and we made it back to the scary road crossing uneventfully. We were crossing calmly until the fluffy white dog at the house on the corner came tearing out of the bushes barking like a nutcase and again, I was glad for rubber Gloves and not steel vs. pavement. I hurried her along across the road and onto safer ground and breathed a sigh of relief when we made it back to the dirt road that leads to the property. We had some more "special moments" when passing cow herds but were soon enough coming up the hill for home and watching Sheza-filly and Blaze come galloping down to meet us, yelling their heads off. It is pretty gratifying how ecstatic all the animals are when we get home. Oh, and I just remembered, I think it takes a hell of a horse to walk past her yelling baby and head off down the trail away from the barn like Desire does! I mean really! Pretty cool.
We ended up going 13 miles in exactly 3 hours. 6 miles round trip and 7 miles of screwing around in the wildlife area. A heck of a hill and LOTS of scary stuff to deal with. It was a fun ride but definitely draining as I was on full alert the entire time. I hadn't taken Desire on any of those trails before and there was a lot to be seen. She did really well and pooped and peed under saddle again. She didn't graze or drink because she was so amped up and ready to hit the trail. The only drink opportunity was the really shallow stream and she just wasn't into it for whatever reason. She got a thorough rub down and grooming and had a hot mash which I served next to her water bucket so she was handy to drink. I like to think that matters but I don't know. She is such a hoggy she doesn't like to leave mash but if the water is *right* there she will probably drink sooner, is my thought.
It is really chilly this evening. I came into the house after the ride to the smell of lasagna just coming out of the oven. That husband! I'm enjoying relaxing in my warm living room with the strong scent of Christmas tree in the air. Mmm what a great smell. Time for some hot chocolate! I hope I have marshmallows.