Red peeks out of his window
Last Friday, Gesa & I took the afternoon for a ride at Spirit Mountain. We borrowed Carol's 2 horse straight load trailer, which both Red & Paco load readily into, and made the 45 minute drive to the ski trail parking area just off Skyline Drive, a 23 + mile scenic drive that traverses the length of the city with panoramic views of the St. Louis River, the harbor, the bridges, the city, Park Point, and Lake Superior. This is the westernmost portion of the scenic drive, and is much less visited than the rest of it. It is also a favorite trail riding destination for local horse people. Today, there were 2 other rigs in the parking lot when we pulled in around 4pm.
All ready to go!
Gesa has a used Synergist endurance saddle on trial which she was considering purchasing, so we were hoping to get some miles under our hooves, to give it a good testing. We set off on the north side of the road, heading into the ski trail system. Both horses were eager to go and after a little warm up at the walk, we set off at a nice trot, only to be abruptly forced to slow down for what turned out to be the first of many deep sucking mud patches. The trails have been recently mown, so the mowed grass hides the footing beneath it in many spots, and without warning we would suddenly be fetlock deep in mud. The horses didn't much care for this, and especially didn't like having to slog through the deeper, watery spots.
This section of trail was at least 50% muddy spots and forced us to walk nearly all of it.
We struggled on, hoping it would improve. We took the Bardon's Peak trail, emerging onto a point with a panoramic view of the St. Louis River winding its way into the Duluth Harbor and then Lake Superior. The deep blue of the water reflecting the afternoon sun with the height of summer greenness in the trees and the city spreading out before us is always a pleasure to behold.
You can't really appreciate the view in this shot.
We finished that loop and decided to call the trails quits, as we were only rarely able to get out of a walk, and we both wanted to move out more. The ski trails cross the road (this section of road is closed & unplowed in the winter), and we took the opportunity to head back to the trailer on firmer footing. It soon became apparent, however, that the gravel was too sharp for Red to be comfortable trotting on it, and we were yet again forced to walk. This is a new issue for Red, as usually I have only had to use hoof protection in the past because his hooves wore down too quickly with all the riding I did; being "ouchy" on gravel is not normally an issue. I have to admit I was surprised and disappointed.
Gesa & Paco at the overlook
We made it back to the trailer, and decided to head down the hill from the parking lot to the abandoned railroad grade to see if we could get some trotting in along it. We picked our way carefully down the steep, rocky hill with Red in the lead. I stay out of his way and let him pick his own route down this hill, and generally he does very well.
Heading downhill onto the steep, rocky, technical section to get to the railroad grade.
I had the misfortune to experience a saddle-slipping incident, however, just as he lurched over a particularly difficult section, plopping off of him as the saddle hung sideways on his ribcage and landing on my bum right smack on a rock. Ouch! My breastcollar prevented the saddle from going under his belly, luckily, and he just stood there looking at me, as if to say, "Uh, what are you doing down there?" Note to self: always check your girth before tackling technical trail!
We proceeded down the hill to the railroad grade, and turned west to follow its course. It was still too gravelly for comfortable trotting, and I am apparently afflicted with some memory impairment, as I kept thinking the footing was going to switch from gravel to dirt. We kept going, eventually passing beneath the overlook on the road, and continuing about 4 miles total to the railroad tunnel. The tunnel is passable on foot, but enough rock has fallen from the ceiling that riding through it is ill-advised. It's a fun challenge to lead your horse through it, though, as it has a curve in the center and you can't see through to the other side. We turned around without traversing the tunnel, and headed back. It was well into evening at this point, as we had been walking the entire length of the railroad grade. We had no choice but to walk back the way we'd come! Red got progressively more reluctant to stride out, even at a walk, and I eventually dismounted and did the last several miles on foot.
An unidentified canine-type skeleton on the railroad grade
We made it back to the trailer at about 9pm, which is still evening in the summer at this latitude (sunset was 9:03pm). We didn't dawdle with getting the horses ready to load up, but it was still pretty much dark by the time we were heading home. By the time we dropped Paco off, got Red home and the trailer unloaded & parked, it was after 11pm - whew! That was an unexpectedly long day!
And here is where I admit that my judgement should be somewhat questioned in regards to my choices this day. Red's feet were already sore, yet I opted to do another 8 miles of gravel. It was already late when we started out, and I kept insisting that the tunnel was just ahead, let's keep going. We were all a little weary and quite hungry by the time we returned to the trailer, and caused some undo stress to friends & family who wondered why we got home so late, but we had an adventure and no one got hurt (if you don't count the purple bruise on my bum from that rock I made unexpected contact with). Spirit Mountain is always a beautiful place to ride.