Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Croatan Bites Back

Let's begin by acknowledging what a champ my horse is. 

cheeky but still so good

The last time I spoke of the Croatan a new trail had been discovered. Not really a new trail, just new to me. When I started boarding at my current barn I studied the forest area I would be riding on google maps to familiarize myself with the trail system. Because of that I was aware of an entire set of trails in another section of forest, but the access was blocked by flooded out power lines. The four wheeler people have made a bowl out of the track under the power lines and in turn the track became swamp land all fall/winter. The satellite images were dated January 2014 and all trails were easily visible.

So on a ride two weeks ago a trail buddy and I found a way to get to the power lines completely by accident. It involved riding through an absolutely gorgeous "fairy forest", another little treasure hidden by the Croatan and a real treat for us to experience. 

I am a nature nut so I probably get excited about things like that a little easier than the rest.

Anyhow, realizing I was on the power lines, I knew I was about to find the white rabbit trail that had eluded me for so long. And I got really excited. And then really bummed out because the only thing I found was a wildlife path barely chiseled into the growth. 

That night back at home I opened google maps and scrutinized the images again for the first time in a while. Looking for the trail out of the fairy forest and its relative location to the white rabbit. The maps had been updated and the images are now from summertime, and the forest floor is blocked by all the plant life making it hard to see anything. However, the new trail out of the fairy forest is visible on these images. It wasn't there before. And pretty much right across the way, on the opposite side of the power lines, that damn overgrown path was my trail. 

And for the next five days all I did was think about that trail. 

Saturday morning (a week ago) my same trail buddy and I tacked up and returned to the Croatan on a mission to get in and ride those new trails. I left the house in a rush and totally forgot the heavy duty snips that make light work of nuisance branches. Damn. Oh well, it won't be the first time I've had to pick my way through an overgrown path.

I know our time for riding the Croatan is waning. Soon the growth and flies will make it the last place on earth you wanna take your horse (or yourself). As we entered it was obvious the plant life had taken off since we were last in. The primitive green fern things covering the fairy forest were now popping up everywhere. All the young trees are growing branches and leaves, and they are just the right height for smacking us in the face.  

fern growing out of an old can
The two of us were almost back to the fairy forest turn off and chatting about horse bowel movements when Razz had the biggest spook I've ever ridden on him. He spun a complete 180* on his haunches, super hard and to the right. As he spun I caught a glimpse of what the spook was all about in my peripheral. A man of large stature dressed head to toe in hunting camo was on the trail coming toward us. He had a 12 gauge shotgun in his hand and it was wrapped in the same camo print that he was wearing. This was the last day of turkey season and he was getting all the hunting in that he could. Wild turkeys are incredibly smart and I understand why he was camouflaged so well, but it rattled the ponies. They both snorted and blew and wanted no part of this guy as we passed him. He apologized for spooking them and we carried on.  

can you see the trail?

Upon arriving at the trail head I was realizing what a mistake it was to have left the snips at home. But these trails are such a big deal for me that it was worth pushing through. If we could get past this small stretch of thicket it thins out and enters a large area of pine savannah that is easily traversed. We march right in. I had to walk slowly and snap a few vines here, and pull a few more out of the way over there, but we were coming along just fine and Razz went wherever I pointed him. We have become a solid team over the past year. My horse trusts me completely and I love that about him. Sadly I was about to take advantage of that trust.

The thickets just got thicker. My desire to fine the new trails overrode common sense, and Razz ended up tangled in vines and thorns. It was bad and I felt like the world's biggest asshole. Trail buddy followed me in and was more or less depending on me to call the shots and navigate. Being in such tight quarters made it almost impossible to wiggle out of the mess I'd gotten us in. I ended up dismounting and leading my boy out. When my feet hit the forest floor the pine needles cushioned my step way more than I was expecting. I had no idea they were on the ground that thick. It was an overcast day, and I was hoping that worked in my favor as far as snakes being fairly inactive. All the commotion we made had certainly run off anything in the immediate area. Still the thought remains in the back of my mind, given how far into the wilderness we were. 

I had to break vines wrapped around Razz's back legs and get thorns unwrapped from his tail. He had to step high and get himself out of a vine on the front. It was way harder getting back out than it was getting in. I walked him all the way to the power lines. There I assessed the damage I'd caused my poor pony.

He had one spot on his inside right hind where a large thorn caught him and pulled for about an inch and a half in the fleshy area above the hock. His pasterns were fine, his cannons a bit scratched from thorns that never really broke the skin. My palms had some kind of weird, tiny little spurs that I never felt, I was too frustrated and distracted to realize it at the time. I double triple checked the boys legs again, along with the rest of his body, got all but one tiny spur dislodged from my hand, mounted up and I was out of there.

Riding buddy's horse is shorter and more compact. Somehow he never got tangled up like Razz and I. They followed right behind me, she never had to dismount. I gave her pony a one over also but he emerged unscathed. 

look, not thick here

We ended up taking yet another trail that I had not ridden in a couple months. But I couldn't enjoy myself. The whole time I'm asking why do something so stupid?? Obvi I'm in no shortage of places to ride. Covering new territory is such an appealing idea though. I've always been a curious person and I want to see what lies beyond. That day will come. But today I was unprepared and got denied.

My marbles remained scrambled for the duration. Razz had his tail up and leaned over to one side. He probably acquired an ulcer on that outing. We practiced a collected canter and picking up both leads on a straight stretch with nice footing. My phone said we covered just under fourteen miles in the forest.

accurate depiction of how well my brain was functioning on this ride

Tack on an additional two miles covering ground over and back to the barn. 15.7 miles total. I was exhausted both mentally and physically. Not because of the distance covered, but the stress. The anger at myself. The worry over my pony. Rarely do I have a ride that I don't enjoy but this was a tough one. Lessons well learned. Lessons I will never have to take again. 

My mood was briefly lifted by these adorable piglets on the return trip. Why can't these little guys stay this size forever?




This all happened a week ago. I am still mad at myself, and the thought of the Croatan completely turns me off right now. I have been riding the sand pits so trails aren't completely out. The deer flies are beginning to come out in drones and that is no fun. So we are shifting over to a summer riding mentality, which involves less woods and more arena or field riding. The soybean field has been planted with corn this year. I will have the track around the corn for cardio work and some dressaging. We have some exciting developments in the arena also:



  1. Ah yes, that sounds more like the Croatan I remember... We also ran into a some turkeys...driving a truck with rifles hanging out the window. At these times, I do not mention who I work for... Glad y'all made it out safe!

  2. Thanks!! Yeah, def a mixed bag in those woods. Maybe you can come down again sometime and we'll hit the trail together :)

  3. I hope so! I bet it would be much less crazy with someone who could say NO DON'T GO THAT WAY, HORSES CAN'T CROSS HUMAN DEATH TRAP BRIDGES! And other minor details. ;)