Dec 27, 2011

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Yesterday’s ride gave Dharla and me our first “big” adventure since I brought her home last April. For the most part I’m at the age where I pick my riding risks carefully. I’ve been trail riding long enough that I have plenty of ‘been there, done that’ stories to tell and I don’t go looking to add more to my catalog. But sometimes things come up out on the trail that can’t be avoided and you just have to go with the flow.

It was (yet) another damp, gray wet day. It wasn’t raining, but it had poured heavily the night before, leaving the slightly frozen ground soft and slick. My plan had been to ride in the woods. Muzzle loading season is almost over and has actually come to an end on state land. Chances are slim that we would meet anyone hunting deer. I don’t like to foil a hunter’s carefully laid plans or risk getting shot. But with deer season finally behind us and winter temperatures staying on the milder side, I thought it would be a nice change of pace to get out into the woods. I’ve been limited to riding the biking/hiking trail for three months now and I’m sick to death of the same old scenery.

Having made plans to ride with a friend, I went out about an hour ahead and curried the mud off the buckskin. He’s always a consummate mess. The dirt clinging to his hairy flanks was dry except for one large patch on a meaty gam and big spot on his belly. As usual, Bullet had been lounging in the mud. I can’t fault the horse; there isn’t a dry patch of ground to be had lately and he needs to get off his feet at least once or twice a day. He’s a big boy. My husband had ridden him the day before and I’m sure he was a bit fatigued. Still, it seems like he’s always a major project to clean up before any ride. I brushed the clots away, spent a few minutes brushing my own mare, tossed them both some hay and went back inside to wait for my friend to arrive.

We got a late start, then only minutes into the ride we ran into my neighbors, who were just returning from a ride. We stopped to chat for a few before continuing along on our way. We didn’t get very far. The viaduct trestle was blocked with several large equipment trucks and a cement mixer. At first it looked like we might be able to squeak past them on one side, but as we stood planning our route the cement mixer started to rumble and turn and we both agreed that we would probably be better off riding somewhere else. With that decided we turned off on a woodsy path that went in the opposite direction.

The beginning of the ride was unremarkable except that Dharla boldly led and Bullet followed. Dharla stepped readily and unquestioningly across streams that only months earlier she had refused to cross, and hopped lightly over logs that blocked our path. Although the trail was slick in places and boggy with mud in others, Dharla handled the lead quite well. The last third of the two hour trail crosses an old abandoned tree farm that is leased by a local sportsman’s hunting club. Years ago we used to ride this land regularly and we know the lay of the land well. Although the property is now posted, we’ve carefully and respectfully continued to cross this land for the better part of 20 years with no complaints. Occasionally I’ve encountered bird hunters out with their dogs, but they’ve always welcomed me and allowed me to cross the fields to get to the other side where the trail circles back toward our farm. Unfortunately, today was an exception to that rule.

As my friend and I wound our way toward the open fields I could hear voices in the distance. Having encountered bird hunters before, I knew they were calling commands to their dogs. They were unable to see us as we approached, but I called out as we rounded the bend and they came somewhat into sight. Their Black Labs froze, staring in our direction. I asked if we could have permission to cross the field … if it was OK with them. They called back, “Hunting is still in season!” Taking that as a “No” I turned to my friend and told her we might actually have to ride back home the way we’d just come. That’s another two hour ride, when we were only about twenty minutes from home. As we contemplated our few options, the clouds started to spit rain.

We decided to sit tight and see where the hunters went. If they turned off the main trail and fanned out toward one side of the large field, we might be able to skirt them by riding along the opposite side of the orchard. I knew once we got around the first bend we’d be well out of sight and gun range and could probably eclipse the whole field before they even knew we’d slipped by. We waited about fifteen minutes, then quietly advanced. When we got up to the open field I could see the hunters had indeed taken the path I expected and were well on their way to the opposite side. We darted for the trees at a fast trot, then high-tailed it around the outside perimeter of the orchard. The ground was slick and greasy, but wanting to put as much distance as possible between us and the hunters, we continued to trot as fast as we dared. Then, about halfway around the field I felt both Dharla’s back feet slip sideways … and I knew we were going to go down!

Somehow, Dharla miraculously managed to regain her footing without losing a beat. We continued around the outside of the field, then when I knew we were well out of sight, crossed back to the center. We pushed the horses through the second field (the airstrip) and finally reached the path that leads back to our farm. While I hate trespassing and sneaking behind the hunter’s backs, I really don’t understand why they couldn’t let us ride through. We could have been out of their way in a matter of ten minutes. Instead, they wanted us to add another two hours to an already lengthy (and hilly) ride. Why? Because they can. I’m going to have to really think about this now, before including this trail in my future repertoire. This is unfortunate because it’s one of my favorite rides.  *Sigh*

So that was our big adventure! 🙂

Ride Time: 3 hours

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