Saturday, February 13, 2016

Finding My Place

The grass is always greener, right?

After ten years with very little trail access, you'd think I couldn't be any happier boarding in a place where I can literally ride off in any direction. I mean, ask me to sum up my horse life in one word, and I'll say trail rider (okay two words). 

Absolutely I'm happy overall. I do love those trails. A couple I even see as my own. I "unwilded" them enough to make them rideable. I cleaned them up. I moved Razz in, and with the help of google Earth, my husband and I made our way through forgotten paths that others had not attempted. I can't tell you the thrill I get from turning a corner I've never been around before, or cantering down the trail and having sunlight bounce off your face sporadically between the tall, skinny pines. 

My pony loves being in the woods too. But he also enjoys jumping. And the longer I go without popping over a fence, the more I realize that I actually enjoy jumping as well.

What? Not me...I was always the one who had that slightly chicken shit feeling approaching a jump. I think its fair considering I didn't start leaping over things until three years ago when I got Razz. And I've never seriously jumped a horse other than Razz. He's not too educated in jumping either, but he is really confident in himself and we would charge over things together. 

Never thought I would say it, but I miss jumping. It is something I want to incorporate to keep me and pony entertained and to keep him fit. The long trail rides are too tiring to take every weekend. We're talking four hours plus. Through deep water crossings that just continue to get deeper. Because it can't rain a little bit and give us a break here along the NC shore. We have at least one significant rain event a month with several inches. Last week we got seven inches between Thursday and Sunday. I am sooo completely over this weather pattern. When the temps are as low as they currently are (20s-30s) I don't want to ride my boy into chest deep water. I care about his comfort more than that. If there were a diphtheria outbreak on the other side and children needed the vaccine, no problem, in we go. But there is no outbreak on the other side, no where I have to go when it's this cold, my horse is not Balto. 

I think proper jumping will help keep my boy fit and feeling young. He will be 17 this year. Or maybe he already is, there are no papers on him. But the teeth tell the story. Best thing for me to do is find a coach willing to come out to the barn and give me a riding plan appropriate for our needs. There are a few coaches in my area to pick from. But the stupid weather makes everything difficult. Our arena is plain sand and it doesn't drain very well. It's been a mess in there more than it hasn't. The bean field has been absolutely wonderful for flatwork, I have accomplished some really productive riding in the field. We've had a few frustrating rides as well, and I'm noticing a few of my position faults when left to my own devices and judgement.

If weather isn't the issue, my schedule certainly will be from now until April. My daughter is a member of a highly competitive winter guard team, and this is competition season. I will be travelling with her team to Virginia, New Jersey twice, and Ohio this year. They are currently ranked 10th in the world (yowza!!) in WGI scholastic A division & are trying for another successful year. Maybe some of you were in guard and are familiar with this scene. My time with Razz and my riding will take a direct hit as I travel. I'm not so concerned about losing ground on any gains we might have made. He generally picks up right where we left off, even after a week or more. But I am on a mission to muscle him out better. The irregular schedule over the next couple months will not make achieving that goal any easier. 

Speaking of his body condition, as it relates to nutritional issues this is another area in which I'm learning more about. Razz has made the transition from small, dry lot paddock (city horse), to pasture grazing country boy. This farm keeps horses on large turnouts with shelter access at all times unless the weather is super nasty. Like freezing rain, nor'easter or hurricane nasty. I think the horses are happier when allowed to spend their days as part of a herd in a large pasture. I want my horse in a good place mentally so I don't mind the liberal turn out. However, I am having to adjust his feeding schedule on a more fluid and routine basis which is a slight challenge. He was pretty fit when we moved. Now he has developed a hay belly and I've beat myself up over this quite a bit for being a bad horse mom. Nothing good comes from the energy wasted on giving myself a hard time. But I can't help it. Hay belly isn't completely bad but it isn't completely good either. I am determined to help him gain his fitness back and ensure many more happy years with my trail partner.

If you're still here reading after all this mostly lackluster ramble about my riding woes, thanks for stopping by and listening to what I have to say. I am having to find my place in a couple areas. The trail rider is finding herself wanting to jump. City horse still has a bit of adjusting left to country life. The ultimate take away from all the thinking I've been doing leading up to this post is:

  • stay positive & do the best I can with the conditions I am given the next few months, be it weather or schedule
  • figure out who I would like to possibly begin training with come this spring
  • sell or trade my trailer, I need a tb size (not touched on today but will cover this in a future post)

I feel like a big part of my gloomy mood is a lack of vitamin D. If you have never put on a tank top and ran outside to absorb sunlight when it first appears after several cloudy days, you should try it. And just to close on some positive news, I galloped Razz faster than ever before today. Not my fastest gallop of all time, but fastest for Razz and I. It was on his request and I happily obliged.

my cheeks are still red from galloping thru the cold air, he's mostly cooled out w/muddy field feet

Saturday, February 6, 2016

What's Up with the Croatan?

This post has been on my to-do list from the very beginning of the blog. With all the back country rides we've taken lately, now is the perfect time to formally introduce you to the Croatan.

The Croatan National Forest is located on the central NC coastal plain shown in the map below:

photo courtesy of carolina outdoors guide
The forest is just under 160,000 acres. It's comprised of mostly pine savannahs and low lying pocosin thickets. People use the Croatan for hunting, hiking, fishing, swimming, biking, kayaking, etc. Native Americans first came to the area a few thousand years ago. Tuscarora settlements dating to the fourteenth century have been found inside Croatan boundaries. The thing that makes this forest so unique is the habitat it provides for a variety of carnivorous plants. Venus flytraps, pitcher plants, and sundew all grow here. How cool is that?

A closer look details the four wilderness areas along with a trail map:

courtesy of the armchair explorer, open in new tab to expand fully

There is only one trail designated horseback, located in the Pine Cliffs recreation area (upper right corner of park). It's not the only place where people actually ride but it is the only place that's trailer parking friendly. Believe it or not I've never ridden this trail. However I've heard nothing but good reviews from those who have. Pine Cliffs ends up along the beachy shores of the Neuse River and offers wonderful views. 

Another area people take their horses is the Patsy Pond nature trail. This trail is perfect except for the fact that the parking area is right next to a super busy five lane highway. The only way I could safely see myself riding here is 1) bring a horse you can trust, and 2) tack up inside the trailer. Once your on the trail it's far enough away from the road to be comfortable. I have hiked here many times, its beautiful and well worth the trip. But please, if you don't trust your pony 100% don't even think about riding here. The parking area is just too close to be safe for anxious or inexperienced types. Bring your dog & kids and enjoy the day out with them instead. 

The section I ride is colored in light green in the above map, and located just north of the road labeled 1124 (close to Newport). There is no parking lot or maintained trail system. I use trails that four wheelers have came in and made without the authority of the forest service. They are essentially hunting paths. I also go off trail and wander around in the pine savannahs, which are rather open areas and easily navigated. I cannot say the same about the pocosins. These areas are low lying, covered in thick shrubbery, and tend to flood. As far as wildlife is concerned, the trees are home to tons of different birds. I have seen deer tracks but no deer. I have seen bear poop but no bear. We also have a few bobcats and alligators in the Croatan. I heard my first rattlesnake (who was hiding in some tall grass) back in the summer. Winter is the ideal season for riding these woods. The insects can be overwhelming in the heat and humidity of summer.

the pine savannah I ride through

carefully crossing the tracks
This is just a quick summary of the Croatan. It is much more than what I have described here. I am a lucky girl to board so close to all this trail access :)