North Shore State Trail
We'd spent the morning getting a load of hay, and felt we deserved the reward of a ride - despite the overcast skies, stiff east (cold) wind, and mercury hovering in the upper 20's F. Red was my mount for the day (Rhio still had his shoes on and is still "resting" from our big adventure to Kentucky, which, no, I haven't written about yet - but I will soon, I promise!) and he loaded up easily into Gesa's trailer, although he was shaking like a leaf. He has a good winter coat and it wasn't that cold for a horse, so I can only surmise that the trembling was due to emotional factors. He has been described as "claustrophobic," and his last trailer ride involved entering a small straight load slot at the front of a 4 horse trailer with a dark interior - which he did when I asked him, but it was not a relaxing spot for him, I'm sure. This was the first time he'd been in Gesa's trailer, and once he was in and realized that it wasn't dark or scary, and his companion was mild-mannered Paco, he seemed pretty happy, and quit shaking.
It is only a 10 minute ride over to the snowmobile parking lot for access to this particular portion of the North Shore State Trail. Last time we rode this was March (see: http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8217460290798186155#editor/target=post;postID=3037237652001337764 ), when the snow was too soft for snowmobiles but perfect footing for horses. We don't come much in the summer as the trail goes through some wet ground and the gate for the parking lot is locked, so we have to park and unload on the road. Today, the gate was open and the parking lot contained a single car. Firearms deer season is over, but archery hunters are still hunting, as well as upland bird hunters and of course other non-hunting and non-motorized trail users. I have to admit I was a little surprised, since it really wasn't that nice of a day, but we are hardy souls up here in the North Country!
We set off and immediately around the first corner, we spotted a sled dog team pulling an ATV. This was perfect weather for dogs to run! Not wanting to cause a ruckus with the 10 or 12 huskies when they saw us, we halted and waited for their driver to get them turned around and headed back up the trail; she never noticed us and the horses were alert but seemed more interested than afraid. Once the dogs had set off up the trail the way they'd come (I presume they came from the other direction, as there was not a dog truck parked in the lot), we continued forward and then decided to take the left hand trail. I'd ridden this trail once before and remembered it getting too wet to pass fairly quickly, but we decided it was best to give the dog team some space, not knowing how fast they were going to travel. The footing of this trail is more gravelly and less grassy than the state trail, and despite our incredibly warm fall, the ground is starting to freeze up. It was slippery in spots, despite the lack of obvious ice, and the horses seemed to figure out pretty quickly that the safest spot was the far edges of the trail which were a little softer and more grassy. We encountered a well-bundled couple and their German Shepherd out for a walk with several cameras in evidence. They had also chosen this trail to stay out of the way of the sled dogs, having heard them coming. Their shepherd was pretty hyped about seeing the horses, so we did not pause long to chat but continued on until we reached an obviously swampy portion.
|Some of the open water is frozen, but not quite all of it.|
The first wet spots were pretty solidly frozen and the horses had no trouble just walking through those areas, but as we attempted to cross the last 15 feet of low ground, Red and I ended up sinking into a bog and he toppled to his knees with the loss of momentum (we were only walking) and I half-dismounted, half-rolled off him so that he could extricate himself without my extra weight. He plunged forward a few steps, came back around, and plunged several more steps back the way we'd come before he was free of the sucking mud. It was frozen enough for me to walk across it, but definitely not frozen enough for a 1000+ lb horse! He did not panic, but also did not want to be caught and headed back down the trail away from the bog about 50 feet before dropping his head to graze. I walked right up to him, checked him over good for injuries (none, but lots of mud up to his knees/hocks), and then proceeded to hand-walk him through the clear-cut area to the right of the bog, which was higher ground. He was perfectly willing to follow me, and once we'd skirted the wet area and remounted, we continued just a little distance before having to again skirt a bog-like piece of trail (we decided not to find out if it was really a bog or was frozen enough to cross). We had about another quarter mile of nice high ground to trot before cresting a hill to see a wide expanse of bog in all directions spreading out beneath us. Clearly, this was an excellent turning around spot!
|Red's muddy legs|
|The offending bog - looks pretty innocuous, doesn't it?|
Heading back the way we'd come we had no trouble skirting the wet spots again, and made it back to the trailhead after meeting up with a father, son, and dog party (Red was afraid of them, for some reason). We'd had to walk much more than trot, and although the horses were plenty warm, even a little sweaty, Gesa and I were pretty chilly. I was not quite on top of my game with the winter gear for some reason and my toes, fingers, and face were too cold for comfort. We decided to head down the main trail and see how the footing was before calling it a day; we knew if we could trot consistently, we'd warm right up.
Yes, indeed, the grassy trail was much better footing and Red was in fine form, trotting out strongly and giving every impression of being ready to go miles and miles. We did a couple of miles, and warmed ourselves up nicely, before turning around so that we would have plenty of time before dark to get home and get the horses cooled out and dry.
Despite the discomfort of cold extremities, it was wonderful to be out riding again; even though my last ride was only 8 days previous, it felt like it'd been a lot longer than that. The day would have ended on a positive note, except that Kelso found some rancid deer bits to roll in and the smell was so overwhelmingly putrid that he had to ride back in the tack compartment; there was no way I was letting him in the truck with us!
A rub-down with a wet towel (I couldn't make myself hose him down at the barn in 25 degree weather) was enough so that I could barely tolerate the stench for the ride home in the car, but we went directly to the shower together and he got scrubbed down with my sweet-smelling body wash twice before I decided he was fit to live in the house again. Ugh. Why do dogs do that?