First things first: as I alluded to yesterday, late on Saturday, I started getting a niggling worry about my original Sunday plans to bring Tristan down to the GMHA Fall Foliage Ride. I mean, I always worry, and last week was not exactly ideal preparation, but now I had some concrete reasons.
(Second things: in an attempt to break up the wordiness of this, I'll insert pictures throughout the text.)
In a nutshell, even the staid, conservative, reliable weather sources were predicting record-breaking high temperatures, up even into the mid-80s. Tristan has more than half of his winter coat grown in already, has not been drinking great this week (though I added in electrolytes and soaked beet pulp to help counteract this) and the really unknown factor: Cushings affects a horse's ability to regulate its own body temperature. We already knew that Tristan did not cope well with an unseasonable cold snap; how would he do with an unseasonable high? GMHA would be 8.5 miles of terrain about 1.5 hours south of where we lived, so potentially even hotter, with more exertion. (Yes, I know those of you who do 10 miles on a light day are laughing at me right now...sorry!)
I started texting the friend who was planning on going with me, and she responded immediately saying she'd had the same concerns. She also has an older, not in full work horse with a solid start on his winter coat. WHEW. I headed to the barn Saturday night to prep the trailer with everything jumbled in my head, and then talked to the trainer's barn manager/assistant trainer, M. I laid out the facts and she knew instantly why I was concerned. A few minutes of conversation and she said in our place, she'd fall back on plan B.
Plan B: Groton State Forest. Run by the VT State Parks people, it's a massive, MASSIVE preserved tract of land - big enough to have seven different state parks within its borders. It's 26,000 acres, and according to the state park website, the second largest contiguous land holding in the state of Vermont. It's also about 25 minutes away from the barn, and I'd heard the name tossed about a few times by people when they discussed good places to trail ride around here.
I texted my friend back, and as she pointed out, M. is always right. We scratched from GMHA (even when my horse is healthy, I always seem to be losing money on entries...HORSES...) and re-oriented for Groton. We planned on leaving the same time so as to get the horses home before the heat really hit. I prepped the trailer and looked at the trail map when I got home.
The next morning, after an 80 hour workweek, I got up at 5am and walked the puppy, then headed to the barn. The fog was absolutely unreal - no more than 20 feet visibility. I missed a turn I take every day, sometimes twice a day! Then, when I stopped at the top of the hill to hitch up the trailer, the truck's wheels slipped and slid in the dewy grass. I backed up and turned and wriggled out of the field, but not without digging the grass up a little bit and then getting myself pointed the wrong way out the field, which necessitated three-pointing the entire rig in some stranger's driveway so I could get pointed back toward the barn. At 6:30 am. Good thing I'm a confident trailer driver?
We got everything loaded, then loaded both horses. Tris was his usual self, but got on in a minute or two. It was chilly - low 50s - and my trailer gets a lot of air flow, so I put his new Smartpak cooler on for the ride. Then we set out for an extremely pleasant drive: little traffic, all local roads, and once we got back out to the main road from the farm (about 5 minutes) only one turn.
We pulled first into New Discovery State Park, because from our online research it looked like the biggest and most accessible, and therefore the most likely to have plenty of trailer parking. HA. NOPE. It was entirely narrow dirt roads that led to campsites, and the park office wasn't yet open. (There was a sign saying, "Pick a site and come back after 9am." Hmmmmmm. Not helpful.) So I three pointed for the second time that morning, and headed back out. We parked by the park office and jumped out to see if there were any maps or any better indications of parking lots at other sites in the state forest. We discovered that while we could in fact park the trailer in a camping spot - and there were some specific horse camping spots - we were both kind of meh on the trails we saw out of the campground, so we moved on.
We settled on Kettle Pond State Park, a few miles down the road, because it looked like it had both a decent parking lot and access to the rail trail through the park that was a piece of the Cross Vermont Trail. Back down the road we went, and about 2 miles later I pulled over and we were right! Though the parking lot was not huge, it was plenty big enough to pull the rig over into the shade, and a short hack back along the (not-busy) road a few hundred feet would put us right on the rail trail.
We pulled the horses off, and Tris was his usual self in a new place: dancing and pacing a bit but nothing seriously bad. I had parked the rig in such a way that meant I couldn't tie him on my side (whoops) but I rarely tie him anyway when we're out, unless we're going to stand for a while. I folded his cooler and put on his saddle, and then left the cooler over his saddle while bridling, just to be extra-cautious. He seemed not too warm at all under the cooler, which was exactly my hope. The only bad moment: Tris stomped on my foot HARD while dancing around, and I was wearing sneakers. We had a spirited conversation, and he regretted it, but wow, my foot hurt like a bitch.
(One other small aside: when I pulled off Tristan's fly mask - I hauled him with it to keep protecting that funky eye - he had some kind of charming pussy scab on his cheek that looked like a bug bite. He wasn't terribly bothered by it, so I wasn't either, and back at the barn later that day I cleaned it up and slathered it with Corona; I think it was a small initial bug bite that he rubbed through the fly mask and made quite a bit more irritated. Idiot.)
We mounted up and set off. Our stated goal was to do nothing more than expose them to a new place and see beautiful foliage, and I have to say, though I know H. decently well after seeing her around the barn and hacking out in the fields there, I was thrilled with how well we both communicated and were on the same page that day.
There's not too much to report about the trail, other than WOW. Tristan was eager and happy and gave me an absolutely beautiful forward walk on the buckle for nearly the entire ride, until the last mile or so when he was clearly getting tired. We ended up doing about four and a half miles in an hour and a half, on footing that was quite good - not good enough to gallop, but easily good for trotting, especially if a horse were booted. We walked only, and turned around when the horses first indicated they were a little tired.
And I just have to say: I have lived in the northeast my entire life, and have now lived in 8 Vermont falls, and I have never - NEVER - seen foliage like this. It was unreal, almost painful to look at the colors were so riotous. The pictures don't even capture a quarter of intensity of it. We could not stop talking about how amazing it was, and we're both pretty jaded about foliage!
Tristan was a little warm and a little sweaty when we got back to the trailer, but nothing terribly serious. I had brought an irish knit with me, and stripped his saddle immediately, then threw the knit on and rubbed his back and chest with it a bit to rough up the winter fur. He was cool and mostly dry by the time I put him back on the trailer without a sheet. He spurned water, of course, but was happy to attack the hay on the trailer and seemed in great spirits.
We got back to the barn without incident, and both horses looked and felt great off the trailer. We tossed them into the dry lot paddocks with the extra hay from the hay net and they both had good long rolls and stood in the shade. By this time, the heat was really cranking up, and I was hot and exhausted and the foot that Tristan had stepped on was finally starting to throb.
We cleaned out the trailer, hauled everything inside, and hit the only major snag of the day: the trailer ramp would not close. What the HELL? Problem: the mat on the trailer ramp has to slide snugly inside the wall of the trailer, and it was catching, bumping against the left-hand side of the trailer. Which made zero sense. I heaved, slammed it, cussed, and finally examined the entire thing inch by inch and discovered the problem.
The ramp was connected to the trailer itself by three large hinges. Somehow, when we took the ramp down and/or when the horses came off. the ramp shifted less than 1/4" on the hinges. I could see the bare, unpainted part of the hinges exposed to metal underneath. Somehow, we needed to shift the (incredibly heavy, not spring-loaded, all-steel) ramp back 1/4" to the right so that it would line up again with the trailer. Cue a hunt for WD-40 through two tack rooms, an equipment room, and a garage. We lubricated the hinges and the ramp would not budge.
Finally, I looked around and realized that the way the hill up and out of the barn turned, it would mean the trailer would tip to the right, and gravity would be on our side. I inched the rig up, and put it a foot or so off the road so the right wheels of the trailer were off-road and the whole thing was substantially tipped - not so much that it would've rolled, but definitely diagonal. We then lifted the ramp halfway and rocked and rocked and rocked - AND IT WORKED!
Just at the moment it slid in and we latched the door, the trainer came running out of the barn to warn us that if we drove into the drainage ditch we would ruin some carefully constructed rainwater draining systems. EEK. I swore we were not really in the ditch (we weren't) and promised to back it out precisely the way I'd gone in, which I then did, inch by inch. WHEW.
I parked the trailer, drove back to the barn, and fed Tristan some beet pulp with electrolytes, watched as he took a big long drink, and then headed home and proceeded not to move for several hours while I watched The Roosevelts and crocheted.