Sunday, June 7, 2015
One more small step: first overnight trip.
Douthat is a local state park with fantastic horse camping sites. It’s still in the county, barely an hour drive door to door, and has new covered stalls for the horses complete with buckets, water, and horse amenities like shovels and wheelbarrows and hay racks. The park is pretty although there are only about 6 miles of trails accessible to horses, but once you ride through into National Forest you can go just about anywhere if you’re looking for a longer ride. It offers lots of options and makes a great home-base if anyone is looking for good horse camping in our area.
We had a somewhat rough start to the day as we pulled into the almost empty campground to find our 3 camping sites were the farthest away you could get from the horse stalls. There were no maps of the site numbers available online when I reserved, so I just asked if they could be as close as available to the stalls. (Apparently the woman who helped with the reservations at the call center wasn’t paying attention). We drove back to the camp office to ask if there were any other sites available for the night- well, almost all of them and for a small fee we could switch. For what it’s worth, the Douthat Staff were fantastic and helpful.
Then we had girth troubles- Laurie’s horses hadn’t been ridden since October and had gotten a bit fat over the winter, plus her gear wasn’t exactly set up yet for the riding season, so though they grabbed a handful of girths to be sure they would have whatever size they needed, most of the ones they grabbed were english rigging, and two of her three horses were using western saddles. They weren’t a perfect fit- but for a short easy ride would be fine.
Karin however had had help loading her trailer and they had completely missed bringing her cinch. Her saddle was also western and we had not one extra between us. She said she’d be fine with staying at camp with a glass of wine- but we were not going to let that happen!
This was not much of a problem for a group like ours- between everyone we fished out leather strings, a sturdy english girth and got to work. We rigged her up and crossed our fingers that she’d be good to go and except for one stop to tighten it up, she was fine!
Small issues out of the way we set out onto the trail.
We had a group of 7 riders so this was also our first “large” group ride. It was a really nice group of easy-going ladies with great horses. For the most part Khaleesi did really well on the ride. We led the pack to start, rode at the back, and also in the middle. She didn’t kick out at anyone although I’m sure she thought about it a few times. As the 9 mile, 3 hour ride was wrapping up she got into tired toddler stage again and refused to go in front, but she didn’t do anything truly wrong on the ride [which I’m constantly reminding myself she’s only done a handful of times- this was her 4th group trail ride…] and I’m happy with her progress.
As for the renegade boot saga… her back boots stayed on the whole trip. At one point she had a spook at a shadow in the woods (last few miles of the ride) and jumped back slightly twisting her front foot and the boot also twisted.
was it not tight enough? Her feet were just trimmed days ago, so maybe they need to be pulled in a bit tighter right after a trim than I’m used to the week before a trim.
At least we saw it immediately (thanks Madison!) and I hopped off and put it back on. We still haven’t had a ride where all 4 boots have stayed on perfectly the entire trip. On the positive side, I love how easy they are to deal with if they do come off, and how they seem to be handling the ‘abuse’ of our riding overall. The jury is still out if by next spring I’ll be ready to nail on some shoes and call it over, or if we’ll have it dialed in and be happy with the boot solution.
She didn’t love being in jail instead of turned out into a huge pasture, but she was a good sport. I gave her a ton of hay, and since she’d just been on a 9 mile ride with 6 other horses, she’d used some mental and physical energy up so was ok with relaxing alone for a while.
Though this ride was planned in my head for a good (easy) first overnight for Khaleesi, it was also a great chance for camaraderie with the best women rider-friends in the neighborhood, and it’s a good (easy) first camping trip for some of them too!
My friend Karin and her beautiful Saddlebred mare “Fritzy” had never horse-camped before and I was so glad she came to join in. Karin is a great horse-mentor to me. Her horse was “born perfect” and is always a pleasure to watch as she calmly does whatever Karin asks her. They both carry themselves with lovely grace, and Karin’s smile shines the most genuine inner light I’ve ever seen. She is a trooper and slept on mats in her horse trailer with her cute little dog Nigel.
It was also Madison’s first camp out- Madison is my favorite 15-year old with beautiful blond wavy hair and a big laugh from a carefree joyous spirit. She is always up for anything and she and her mom have become great friends of mine. Because they live in Florida we don’t get to ride together as much as I’d like- but they visit often.
Madison and her mom are my crew in training for when we start really endurance riding and I can’t decide if I’ll be excited or disappointed if she gets the “bug” and starts riding with me herself and I have to find another willing horse-savvy group of folks to help me out! (In truth, I’d love to see her start endurance riding… she has the adventure spirit too!)
After drinks around camp we headed to the next reason Douthat is SO easy for us… the Lakeview Restaurant. The food is average, the wine is inexpensive, and the view is lovely. It’s a perfect way to end the day- no cooking and no camp dishes! Everyone can eat what they want, and the salad bar isn’t bad. The deck overlooks Douthat Lake and it was a beautiful night.
As I kicked a pile of Khaleesi’s poop from the trailer and then tried to clean off my shoes in the grass, I thought of a quote I clipped out and stuck to my fridge that talked about how many friends in life come and go… separated by lifestyles, geography, choices, ages… but there’s something about the horsewomen bond with that has staying power across those divisions. Somehow it doesn’t matter that our group spans in age from teens to 60s, in geography from the Mid-Atlantic to the far South. What bonds us is stronger. It’s the horse manure on our shoes.