First, we released my boys from their paddock turn-out for the first time, and added 3 horses from the main herd to the mix. They now have run of the entire upper area around the barn, and we thought they'd take off through the deep snow running and bucking and showing off. We were ready to shoot video and enjoy the spectacle. The horses took one lap around, and decided either a) the snow was too deep to make it worth the effort to run through it and/or b) the hay was way too tasty. Oh, well. I'm sure they'll run and play when no one is watching!
It was only about 15 degrees by this point, so I added a rump rug for Rhio and decided on my balaclava beneath my helmet. With studded boots on the fronts, we were ready to check out the riding conditions along Skyline Parkway. This road is routinely closed to traffic in the winter, but additionally this year it has been closed since the June floods as the bridge over Stewart Creek was nearly washed away (actually, the bridge isn't so much the problem, but all the soil/embankment/etc on either side of it is gone.) I had checked out the bridge on foot to determine whether I thought I could get my horse across it, and the questionable bit was going to be the cement barricades on the west end of the bridge. They were placed with only about 6" of space between them end to end, and there was rebar sticking out of one of them. The edges drop off into flood damage, so there wouldn't be any going around them. I thought it looked possible, if he would hop over them. But I was also fully prepared for my ride to consist simply of riding down the hill from the barn to the bridge, only to turn around and retrace my steps if we couldn't cross the barricades.
Many other locals use the closed road to recreate, with the most common uses in the winter being snowmobiles, skiers, and snowshoers. A few cars were parked near the east barricades, and a couple was just getting ready to snowshoe as we came up. Rhio was a little unsure about the funny noise (?) or look (?) of the snowshoes, but we passed them (I was on foot hand walking him) and encountered a couple on skis towing a small-child-enclosing capsule behind them. They stopped and disassembled their contraption, got the small child out, and we had a nice conversation in which the apparently horse-crazy small child was too afraid to pet the horse. I have had this happen many, many times before, and luckily Rhio (and Red) are very people-friendly horses. Rhio was pretty worried about the capsule, but we made our way to the west barricade, and Rhio sized it up in a moment, then hopped over it like it was a routine part of his daily life. I was elated - because now I *knew* I was going to get to RIDE, finally!
|Gazing down the road, getting ready to mount up.|
|Ears forward - gotta love that view!|
|My grin, to match Rhio's ears|
The road is somewhat packed by snowmobile traffic, but staying in the firmest/most packed section proved to be a little bit of a challenge. Rhio was sinking in anywhere from a few inches to an entire hoof depth, and if we got off the packed area at all, we sunk in much more. Trotting in the semi-deep, slightly grainy snow is a bit like running/trotting in sand, so it was a great workout, but also something to be careful with, especially for a first conditioning ride of the year after essentially 4 full months off. It is easy to strain soft tissues in this type of going. But, it was not a "spring ride" in the sense of a crazy, go-go-go attitude from my mount, and so we went along quite sensibly, walking the vast majority of the time.
In the next half mile or so, we encountered both a fat-tire mountain biker (Rhio was nervous and I jumped off because Kelso is not known for good behavior around bikes - those 4" wide tires do make an odd sound swishing through the snow) and a single snowmobile. Everyone was very polite, pleasant, and just out enjoying the day. For all the user conflicts that can arise in a multi-use trail situation, this was an outstanding day of encounters all around.
|The overlook. What you can't see is the stone retaining wall - because the snow is THAT deep!|
Once past the overlook, we saw only wildlife, including deer and a pileated woodpecker. We went all the way to the far western barricade, where the road is officially blocked on that end, then turned for home. We did about 8 miles in about 2 hours, which is not very impressive during the main riding season, but for a first conditioning ride since November, it was heaven. The scent of horse sweat wafting up, the familiar tiredness in my legs from posting the trot, and the mindful escape from daily life that comes with being out on the trail, living in the moment, were just exactly what I needed.
|Red getting the low-down on the trail from Rhio.|