Mecklenburg Hounds Hunter Pace
Ah, the hunter pace. Just about the only "competition" I enjoy these days. When we were living up in NJ, there were endless opportunities to hunter pace within miles of our barn. Down here, everything is a little more spread out and it takes longer to get places. Also, it's hot in the summer. Really, terribly, awfully hot.
I did a hunter pace a few years ago when I first brought Goose down. It was fun but it was pretty far, and also I rode it in a t-shirt in December. Did I mention it's hot down here? With more riding opportunities off property thanks to my wonderful friends willing to trailer us, when I saw a post on a local Facebook page about a hunter pace right down the road from us, I was all in. Kalyn and Amanda both wanted to go, so we signed up and agreed to meet at the place and ride together.
Goose has a long history (okay two, he's won two) of winning hunter paces, usually entirely by accident. The first one I took him too was a few months after I bought him and we did the Turkey Trot in NJ. Jenni and I rode together and ended up winning our division - Goose's first blue ribbon ever! A few years later I won another with him. To be fair, we're usually placed in the slower divisions. How they're usually broken up is by pace, so if you want to ride the trail faster, you go in the faster divisions, and we usually take the equivalent of the Hilltoppers division. I have to laugh because I love following some endurance and more serious trail rider blogs, and they really put away miles in quick time. I think it takes us a few hours to go six miles, but hey we have a good time doing it!
We loaded up and headed to the field where the pace was set to take off. It was run by the Mecklenburg Hounds, and I realized that this is where Amanda and I had taken Goose and Zena to cap a few years ago (which I apparently never blogged about, I'm really bad at this). I recognized a few of the women at this pace and reintroduced myself, casually chatting about how I'd love to join on a limited membership but unfortunately don't have a ride to the hunts. A very nice woman said she'd do some networking for me and see if anyone passes by the barn to pick me up for some. It's a long shot but hey, doesn't hurt to try!
Let me just say, it was SO NICE to do something normal. I'm now fully vaccinated, as are many of us in NC, and I was able to give Amanda a huge hug for the first time in over a year. We've gone places together in the past year but always carefully and following COVID protocol. We were not masked since we were fully outside, and it was a day that was entirely normal. FINALLY a tiny glimmer of normal!
We tacked up right on time and headed out at 10:10. It was already pretty warm, but much of the ride was wooded and it was early enough we wouldn't melt. Hannah and Kalyn led for the first loop, but after she spooked at a few shadows we decided it was time to let Goose lead the way. We joke often how he is everyone's emotional support Goose, and honestly it's true. He's a good dude for these things and the mares can bounce off him if needed, but for the most part they'll follow his big white butt anywhere he decides to go.
Goose hasn't led in a long time. He's usually content to hang at the back and follow at his own pace, but he's definitely brave enough to lead. It took a few minutes for him to get the hang of it this time, however. He kept sucking back like, um excuse me this is NOT my place, but after some encouragement he had a nice swinging walk and happily led us along. The first loop on one side of the road took us about 15 minutes, we mostly walked and trotted a bit at the end, and then we had to cross the road to the other side.
The trail was marked with red tape tied up to the trees, and I have to say it was not always easy to follow. Also, when we had to cross the road all they said was, "go on across the road now!" with no one pointing us in the right direction. We followed the logical path, which was literally straight across the road to what was a trail but came to a dead end with a locked gate. When we circled back for help, they said, "oh go to the right up the road about 100 yards and there will be a horse gate you can open from the saddle, go through that and it picks back up." Excuse me but where were those directions ten minutes ago?!
At that point, Kalyn and Amanda agreed that it was no big deal, we were just riding for fun anyway. In my mind I was seething because I am secretly a super competitive person and wanted to try to win. I knew we'd be riding slow and I hoped this wouldn't mess up our chances. In the end, it really didn't matter because we were riding to have fun, BUT STILL.
The ground down here is like concrete right now with lack of rain. Carolina clay packs in way harder than any other footing I've ridden on, and in order to keep all three of our lovely horses sound and happy, we opted to walk the woods and the super hard ground, and move out in the fields when we could. We had a nice time chatting and trying to find the next flags, and I was fairly impressed with myself for finding most of them. There were a few times we had to turn around and go back to find the flags, but we got there in the end!
About halfway through the ride, we came up on a little wooden bridge and had to cross the creek over it. Goose has done bridges before so I wasn't worried. I was still in front and encouraged him over, knowing he was the best chance of leading everyone over without issue. He was not having it at first and tried to run backwards, but after a very brief discussing he walked over like the good boy he is. The mares followed and not far behind us a woman had caught up to us on her Polish Arabian. He was a gorgeous, rich bay, and looked like he was thrilled to be moseying down the trail with his person. She asked if we could wait until she safely crossed so we paused to make sure she was okay over the bridge, and then we let her pass. She walked just ahead of us for awhile and we chatted. Her horse is 22 and spry as ever. Of course I have no photos of the bridge or the cute Arabian. Oops.
We started moving out whenever possible. We'd been out for an hour or more and all our joints were starting to get frustrated with us. The woods were still too hard in our opinion to move out in, so we trotted and cantered the fields, inevitably coming back to the walk to duck back into the lush trees. It was a gorgeous day for a ride. Overall it was over 90 degrees but felt lovely in the shade and the horses were handling it well.
We came out of the woods one last time and were able to catch quite a bit of cantering before we arrived back at the gate. The woman on the Arabian was just ahead of us again (we had lost her for awhile) and yelled that we had missed part of the trail, there's no way we had caught her that quickly. She did not provide any information on where we might have gone wrong and I'm pretty convinced she had simply done an extra part of the trail. We followed the flags and there was nowhere at the very end we had questioned where to go, it brought us back to the gate just as it was supposed to. We hemmed and hawed and decided we were done and it wasn't worth worrying over. We definitely did not miss trail, and checked back in to the starters for our time.
|Walking up the road back to the start.|
We ended up doing the first loop again to cool the horses out before untacking at the trailers. There was a lunch set up, so once the horses were squared away we headed over for a hot dog and some chit chat. One of the organizers began to announce the winners, first for second flight, then for third, and lo and behold we won!
|Hannah's face wins|
Of course, we took the opportunity to take a few other pictures of the horses and their ribbons too.
|I should have made this picture into an "expectation vs. reality" one but instead you can have this photo me, Goose, and Hannah in all our glory. |
All in all we had an excellent day. Kalyn and I got the horses back to our farm, just as Amanda called us that she had a flat trailer tire and could we come help and/or rescue Zena so she didn't have to stand on the hot trailer. We ended up able to change the tire pretty quickly, though the assholes FLYING down the road without slowing to pass us really pissed me off. I ended up semi directing traffic for awhile and when a mini van honked at us when I yelled at them to slow down I was THAT lunatic screaming at them and flipping them the bird as they drove off. I hope I ruined their day, assholes. All in all we got Zena home with the spare tire and all was well by mid afternoon. There's another hunter pace on June 12 run by the hounds but at a different farm so hopefully we're able to go to that one too!