Winter Riding in the Shawnee

Winter Riding in the Shawnee
2 mares, a wife and a frozen stream

It has been cold and frozen here. To do what we are trying to do, which is to prepare and endurance a variety of gaited horses, we ride several thousand miles a year.  I love it.  Throughout the winter, I ride at night with lights on my helmet after I get home from work.  So, if there are more than a few days I can’t ride, I start to get withdrawals.  Maybe the wrong phrase, but you know what I mean?

Saturday came and I talked a friend into going to the Shawnee with me.  We have a pretty large and hardy gaited group of local riders who will usually go on Saturdays.  All of them said “no”, including my better half Sandy.  I am getting Kate, my favorite twh mare,  ready for another 100 mile ride and she needs the work. My friend Jeff rode another of our TWH mares, Niki. We had a wonderful 11 mile workout with lots of racking.  The trails were just clear enough to see the trail from the surrounding snow and occasional patches of ice.

So, Sunday after Church, I told Sandy I was going back to the same area.  After all, it was so wonderful the day before.  My wife and I are not from the same universe.  Her list of concerns came spilling out. Was I sure about the trails, how much ice was there; was it too cold, would the horses be too cold in the trailer getting there?  Patience, I needed patience.

Jazz, on a day with mud but no ice and snow.

I took another twh mare Jazz, who had not been ridden in about 3 weeks since her last 50 mile endurance event.  This mare is tiny, and does not look like a walker due to her finely crafted features.  She is 14.3 on a tall day and weighs 854 lbs.  She moves like a dream.  Her stable mate Kate is the first twh to place first and BC at the 100 mile distance.  Jazz is not as far along in her training as Kate, but she shows every sign that she will be better than Kate.  I have to keep working this horse towards her next 50 in Ga that is scheduled in March. We don’t get this done without being deliberate in our training.

Sandy and the mft mare Savanah on a day with snow.

Sandy chose her mft mare Savanah, who is coming off a recent 25 mile  LD.  The mare has shown some balking issues and I wanted to help Sandy with that. Church, lunch, load up and go meant we would only have about 2 hours of actual riding time.

Getting to the ride start I heard Sandy say, “I thought you said the ice was gone, why are we having to use 4 wheel drive?”  Ah, the wonders of being married.

Saddled and moving, I heard, “We need to walk 10 minutes, I don’t want to start off too fast without warming up the horses”.

Then, “Hey, there are some rocks on the trail, I want to slow down.”

Followed by the infamous, “Are you sure this is the right way, I don’t see any hoof prints ahead?”

I swung Jazz around and said, “We only have so much time to ride, we either have to pick it up, turn around in 25 minutes and go back the same way or keep going on this loop and finish in the dark.”

She tentatively agreed to pick it up.

At times, the trail, which I was going on the opposite direction from the day before, was very different.  The weather had warmed, which meant less snow, some exposed ice but quite a bit more mud.

Sandy took exception to the mud where it was slick. I heard several sentences that started with, “I thought you said.”  I did mention several times that we ought to speed up.

Then we came to a creek that was not in my memory. The crossing was about 15 yards to the other side and covered with 2 inches of ice.  We found a place on down that was not covered by ice, and looked like a 4-wheeler had gone through it, but it had a bad bank drop off into the murky creek and the horses just would not step off the bank, because they could not tell how deep the water was.

I had Jazz go back to the main crossing and I tried to break the ice by using heavy chunks of wood. I could not. Jazz could and got about 6 foot of it broken until Sandy got concerned I would hurt Jazz by using her as a ice breaking tug.

We went down the creek in an effort to find a way across. It was getting dark, we were heading away from the direction of the truck. The trail had turned into overgrown saplings and thorns.  Sandy was not happy about the thorns and marital discord raised its ugly head.

I asked my little wife if she wanted to stay here and change our address. My point was certainly valid, but perhaps my choice of words could have been better chosen.

Sandy suggested strongly that we go back to the swollen creek and “she could wade across it and lead Savanah across while walking in the frozen stream,  and then  Jazz would follow.”

I thought, “bad, bad idea, potentially very stupid idea”.  She then played a card I had not expected.  She said she had forgotten that her insulin pump was in her pocket and was afraid of submerging it if she stepped into a deep hole.

Unhappily, I went for an ice wade. It was knee deep and freezing. To say the least, I was cold.

However, it worked and off we went in the direction of the truck.  Then the trail veered away from the truck and trailer and we ended up bushwacking with the GPS, in the dark, in snow, and yours truly was frozen.

We finally found the trail that lead us back. When we were only a bit less than 800 yards from the truck, I saw a street light though the woods.  I commented that I had never noticed a street light in that area before.

Behind me I heard, “Well, we’ve never been here in the dark before!”

Back at the truck I got most of the wet, frozen clothes off and cranked up the heat on my bare feet.  Sandy drove us home.  All in all, a great adventure of dealing with a bad situation and having a good story to tell.

Horse adventuring is a lot like life. Things happen.  It’s not what happens to you that’s important, it is how you deal with it….

Merry Christmas!

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