I snuck away for a short ride “around the block” on trails and roads last night, but today was a chance to get a good long ride in. It was supposed to rain all morning and stop around 2pm, which was going to be a great time to clean the house, but instead it was sunny and warm! I did get the cleaning done but worried the whole time that it would rain in the afternoon.
Around 12:30 I brushed Zephyr (a time consuming project) and loaded him up for the short drive over to the Great Pond Mountain Wildlands. It’s only about four miles to the north gate; the parking area is small but I can usually park the trailer along one side.
The GPMW trail system, originally created when Diamond Match Company logged it years ago, is still under development for recreational use. All the gravel roads are open to horses, and one of the woods footpaths (“Hillside Trail”, which is one of the only two loops open to horses). “Valley Road” runs right through the middle, and has some small hills, but if you deviate onto the side roads you get more hills. The downside is that they’re almost all dead-end roads, so you have to go out and then come back. If you were to use every single trail open to horses, you could log almost 25 miles without backtracking more than once.
My plan was to start at the North Gate... at the top of the map below... take all the right-hand/downhill turns (on the left side of the map below), then turn around and come back up the hill to Valley Road.
We were tacked up and riding away from the trailer at 2pm. I walked him for a while, doing some leg yields and such, to warm up, then it was off to the races. Uhhh huhhh.... riiiight. He’s still barefoot (and will be for about another 2 weeks) and he’s also quite bored with the dirt roads at the GPMW, so we only managed about an 8mph trot. It was the kind of trot where they’re spending as much energy anticipating the “walk” command as they are actually going forward... so frustrating! He was a little more enthusiastic on the way back uphill from the dead-ends, though, because we were going back towards the trailer.
I should have gotten a picture of the beaver pond we walked right past... the pond drains into a stream that we followed for a little bit before heading back uphill... but I never remember to. Here are some pictures from further down that trail:
The “boulder field” (just to the right of the upper-right photo):
There’s a nice stream that crosses under Valley Road, with easy access for horses. It almost always has plenty of water:
At the end of Mead Mountain Trail, I decided to go look at the woods trail that I used for the Hot Toddy Hustle endurance ride in 2006 and 2007. I wanted to see if it was still passable; there had been a lot of logging. This is what we encountered at the trail head. I was pretty sure we could sneak by between the boulder and the log.
Are you SURE, Mom?
I did have to get off and “send” him through, but he did it quickly and easily, and we were off to the races. (Not really, the trail alternated between lots of rocks and lots of logging debris... rough enough that we walked most of it.) Still, we got almost all the way through to the other side before a downed tree stopped us. It was too big for my little hand saw so we turned back. Here’s what the obstacle looked like from that side. Interestingly, from this direction he would NOT let me “send” him through from the ground, but he went willingly with me aboard.
From there, we followed Valley Road straight back to the trailer. Speaking of trailers, check out these fine camping sites, which I spotted across the valley from us:
I had him canter most of the way back, with a little trotting as a break, to work on building up his stamina. He can trot all day long but cantering is harder for him. I was also working on getting a left-lead canter on demand, both from a walk and from a trot. I was very pleased to be able to get it consistently from a walk and once from a trot. I also had him hold it as long as he was able... that last stretch had to have been over a half mile, which for him is excellent.
In fact, we cantered right up to the trailer with his heart rate right around 145bpm. (He wears an on-board heart rate transmitter, which I can read using a monitor watch strapped to my saddle.) That’s good for him at a canter, especially a left-lead canter... it’s harder on him so his heart rate is higher when he does it. I hopped off, removed the girth, and squirted some water on his neck, but left the saddle in place so that the monitor watch would continue to give me his heart rate. At the 3-minute mark, he had recovered to 62bpm... right about where he would need to recover to in a competitive distance ride. (In competition, he would have up to 10 minutes to do that.)
For him to recover that quickly with his saddle on, and without me sponging him with cool water, makes me feel pretty good about his fitness level right now. I’ll be able to evaluate him better once he gets his shoes, but I’m thinking he’ll be ready for the 3-day 80-miler on May 23-25. I feel confident enough about it that I’m sending the entry in today... so wish us luck!