Saturday, November 12, 2011
Bird Sanctuary, Solon Springs, WI
I got up altogether too early for a Saturday, in the pre-dawn freezing dark, to get the dogs all situated for their day alone. Walking, feeding, and medicating accomplished, I headed out to drop the oldster off with family for "daycare" while the whole neighborhood still seemed to be snoozing. Then it was time to head out to the barn, getting Red caught up and our stuff ready. A new horse friend, Dawn, picked us up and we set off, with a few stops along the way (mmm, caramel rolls) to meet up with our riding companions, Deidre and Kay, at a wildlife management area about an hour south of us, in Wisconsin.
It is lucky for us that the firearm deer season in Wisconsin starts several weeks after our does in Minnesota. For those of us close enough to drive across the border to ride, it gives us a safe place to enjoy this incredible fall riding weather we've been fortunate enough to have this year. The archery hunters are out and about, but I don't find that prospect terrifying as I do the thought of being in the woods with trigger-happy rifle hunters (who seem to shoot first, ask questions later in too many cases).
We humans were all shedding layers before we even mounted up, but our poor horses were stuck in their thickening winter coats while we all sweated in the near-60 we had in the glorious afternoon. Despite the weather, and the great trails, we were the only people in the park for the entire day. I am so surprised at this, as a Saturday like this is the fall should entice riders to saddle up over just about any activity I can think of - no bugs, no wind, sunny blue skies, and perfect footing, what more could you want?
This area is set up for horseback field trials, with about 2 dozen dog kennels, 2 separate sheds with stalls, and a healthy handful of paddocks. There is no water, but a pond is accessible. There is also a fire pit, an outhouse, and a covered picnic area. The trails are a mixture of designated horse/dog trails and ATV/snowmobile trails. Many of the non-motorized portions are grassy and sandy two track winding through an open, slightly rolling landscape, maintained with prescribed burns; we began our loop riding through a blackened area. The motorized segments we rode were mostly road-like, and had a few rocky sections, but were still a sandy base. This will be a great place for early-season training as it won't be muddy. It'll also be a good spot for speed work, as the footing is really just about perfect everywhere - which we took advantage of with several good gallops and lots of moving out.
Red wanted to lead right off the bat, but of course we had no idea where we were going, so we had to settle for the rear guard for a while. This proved advantageous, as Dawn's mare Secret was possessive/protective of the other two geldings and kept giving Red the evil eye/snarky face/cranky ear look.
About two miles into our 13 mile loop, we encountered the native residents: a flock of birds erupted from a shrub and the four horses scattered in four different directions. I somehow managed to cling to Red's left side, from which position I was able to dismount rather than land unceremoniously in the dirt as I usually do, and the rest of my companions stayed aboard as well. It would have been a very funny sight, I expect, to see us all careen off every which way.
We had some nice gallops in the open, a little bit of weaving between close pine trees and ducking the overhanging boughs on one short section, and lots of room to move out, slow down, pause for this and that, chatting all the while. Red and I were itching for our favorite long trotting, and a few miles from the trailers, we took the lead to show the others how it's done. Dawn is thinking about trying endurance (yay! another one to addict!) and her mare seemed to pace well with Red's extended trot; well, that is until she decided to take a huge chomp out of him! Red evaded her teeth, and Dawn put her to work immediately, so no harm done. But, shame on you, Secret!
We arrived back at our trailers a few hours later, and untacked our very sweaty horses then refreshed ourselves with a smorgasbord of munchies while conversing as only horse women can. Red didn't eat or drink, but stood with a foot cocked. This was not normal for him, and I was slightly uneasy about that, but I'd ridden with the heart rate monitor all day and it hadn't shown anything out of the ordinary. All his other signs were good, so I guess I chalk it up to "I don't know." He was 100% when we got home, enjoying his treat of oats while I curried a cloud of dried sweat out of his coat before turning him out into the chilly night. My eyelashes were frosted with the sweaty dust I'd created with my vigorous grooming, and I realized just why people who work their horses into a significant sweat in the winter like to keep their horse's clipped!
I am so lucky to have places like this to ride, horse friends new and old to ride with (and who will pick me up!), and of course a good horse to enjoy an incredible day like this one with.