Note: I am still working on my ride story from Blackwater Swamp Stomp. I promise it will be up soon! There is so much to remember and record. I honestly don’t want to forget any of it! For the meantime, I am offering up this little post…

I had a really tough week in the hospital when Kolton was born (I had a bowel blockage, which resulted in me being held for 6 days). Aside from that, my recovery was actually faster this time around than with my daughter, which I attribute to being in much better shape throughout my second pregnancy (hello – I rode until I was 32 weeks!) However, as with anything else, I faced a new set of challenges. Depression runs in my family, and although I had no symptoms after my daughter was born, I have been struggling with mild postpartum depression this time around. A lot of it has to do, I think, with the fact that I am no longer working (except at the barn), and I am practically a hermit and single mother all at once. My boyfriend works 3rd shift, so he is only awake/around a few hours in the mornings and those hours are when typically when I’m working at SStables.

A typical day involves me rising at 6:20 to get my daughter ready for school, feeding and changing Kolton and then rushing out the door with Grace the minute Joe arrives home. From school I head to the barn, which generally takes me til about 11am. Once I get home, I have to fix lunch (dinner basically for my bf) before he heads to bed. From there I have the kids by myself until the next morning, when I do it all over again.

My sister and I used to be very close, but these days we barely speak anymore. She recently completed her BLET (Basic Law Enforcement Training), and got a job with the local sheriff’s department. Suddenly she has very different priorities and views of life than myself (which sadly include political views as well), and there is an undercurrent of tension between us. Outwardly we still get along – in fact we have a trip together coming up (pray for me!) But things are very very different from the way they used to be, and in many ways I’m still very much grieving that.

Anyway, the point of this post is not to make you feel sorry for me, but rather to give a look into my life so you better understand where I’m coming from.

It all culminated yesterday, when I received an invite from my Dad. My family is of Irish  descent, so Saint Patrick’s day is always celebrated. Anyway, Dad and his girlfriend were headed to an Irish pub for the holiday, and invited my siblings and myself to join them. I haven’t been anywhere but the barn or the house in SO long – I wanted to go SO bad, and I may have fought back a tear or two before I replied. It just wasn’t possible. I had the baby by myself.You know. Like always. (Although as it turned out….my siblings didn’t go…they had their own party at my Mom’s. And apparently forgot to invite me. But whatevs.)

Don’t get me wrong. I love my little lumberjack more than life. But, well, I need to take care of me too. Because THIS is what I’m dealing with on a daily basis right now…

So when my boyfriend offered to let me ride Friday morning, I jumped at the opportunity. To be honest, conditioning hasn’t been that fun for me lately (it’s more of something I’ve been forcing myself to do), but the last time we went to Umstead State Park in Raleigh, I quite enjoyed our ride. I’m so tired of winding, single track technical trails, and the multi-use trails at Umstead are wide and inviting.

I went ahead and subscribed to IHeartRadio the night before so I could listen offline and ride with my earphones in the whole time. I was determined to make the most of the day, and the hours I did have.

As I said, I have been to Umstead once before. Actually the last time I went was also a holiday – Valentine’s Day. Riding there is free, but equestrians are REQUIRED to check in at the vistor’s center and present their coggins. They actually photocopy it and put it in a huge binder. Which is a little odd, but okay. I’ve got nothing to hide, lol.

I headed to the SStables immediately after dropping my daughter off at school at 7:30 am. I really needed to be back by noon and it’s an hour drive to Raleigh. Once at the barn I ended up getting delayed because the BM wasn’t there yet and of course ALL the horses hollered for their breakfast upon seeing me, as I am typically the one who feeds during the week. So, I dumped all their feed before loading my saddle and preparing electrolytes. I have NEVER gotten Pearl to drink on the trail while on a solo ride before, so that was one of my goals for the day. I dosed her after she finished eating her grain, following by rinsing her mouth with lukewarm water and offering treats by way of apology.

By the time I finished all that, the BM had arrived and I was running behind schedule. I threw Pearl’s sheet on over her Rambo blanket before taking off.

The drive was uneventful. I had worried about traffic but by the time we got to Raleigh, most of the rush hour traffic had dissipated.

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Headed east, into the sun.
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Umstead is literally in the middle of the city, and right by the airport. News flash – I HATE Raleigh. So much traffic – too many people! But when you pull into the park entrance, you leave it all behind. The only thing you can hear is the occasional commercial flight taking off and/or landing at the nearby airport. And even then, it’s more of a gentle “whoosh” than loud or obnoxious drone.

After checking in, I unloaded Pearl and began tacking up. Hoof protection is a must at Umstead. Just too much coarse gravel to go barefoot. So I booted Pearl on the front. I would’ve booted her behind too, but I only have 3 boots her size.

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Her left front is significantly larger than her right now for some reason, and I struggled a little getting her boot on that foot. Also, she wears a fly mask pretty much all the time now except when riding. It provides some sun protection, and guards against debris that might otherwise get into and/or irritate her eyes. One can never be too careful or proactive when you’re dealing with ERU.
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It was still pretty dang cold, so I kept her cooler on until the last minute.

I’d hoped to electrolyte Pearl again about 5 or 6 miles into our ride, but when I went to tack up I realized I’d removed the only “saddlebag” I use with the Stubben, meaning I had nowhere to put the syringe. She wasn’t interested in drinking yet, and I was unsure if I should dose her again but ultimately made the executive decision to do so anyway before heading out.

It was 10am before I mounted up. I wasn’t too thrilled. I’d hoped to be in the saddle by 9:30 at the latest. My goal was to complete 10 miles in 2 hours, making our average 5mph. We have never accomplished that in a training ride before. Pearl can be a little lazy at home, and our average pace tends to range more around 4.5mph, which for us is about 50% trotting – maybe a little more.

It was still very cold, and there was no one else to be seen. Pearl’s boots clunked loudly on the hard packed road in the stillness of the morning. Most people here hate the cold with a passion. I guess that’s why they live here. But it doesn’t bother me. I love the peacefulness of a brisk, chilly morning. For some reason the birdsong seems that much louder when the temperature is around freezing.

We decided to do the loop backwards, and took the first (3rd) left. (From studying trail maps I knew that the other two dead end). After 5 minutes of walking, I asked her to pick up a trot. But there we hit a bit of a snag. First off, Pearl said she was fine with just walking, and to make matters worse, the trail made it almost impossible to do so. On that side of the park, there is a lot of coarse gravel – basically like a well maintained gravel road. Pearl was barefoot behind, and I refused to trot over that stuff and risk her getting a stone bruise.

So we did a lot of stop and go. Trot ten steps, walk over the rough stuff. Trot again when it’s smooth.

As you can see, half blind or not, Pearl is pretty solid. She still startles at silly things sometimes, but she has come a long way in trusting me.

Right after the above video ended, Pearl turned back to the puddle and tanked up. As she drank and drank, I heard voices. I looked up the hill, but didn’t see anyone. I glanced back at Pearl, and realized the voices were quickly getting louder. Suddenly 3 cyclists shot around the corner farther up the hill, careening down toward us.

As you can see from the video, we were in a little chute of sorts and there was no room for them to go around. I shouted “HORSE!” and whirled Pearl, urging her back down the hill. I looked over my shoulder at the cyclists and was irritated to realize they hadn’t slowed. Not even a little bit. I kicked Pearl, urging her into a trot. At that moment, she realized what was behind us and spooked, sprinting forward a good 3 strides. You would think they would’ve gotten the message then, but nope! Pearl and I made it out of The Chute with no time to spare and I pulled her off on the shoulder against the bank just in time for them to whiz past us.

“Thank you!” The man in front called, and the other two  greeted me with big smiles and “Good morning!” I just pursed my lips and nodded. Were they really that oblivious?! F’real. They are lucky Pearl is so good and didn’t spook again and/or bolt or leap into the trail in front of them!

At any rate within seconds they were gone. But I wasn’t taking any chances.

“Ready girl? We are going to trot this hill,” I informed her. I wanted to get through this death trap as quickly as possible. Pearl flicked her ears, clearly convinced I was overreacting but she obliged like a good pony.

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Back up “The Chute” again…

After we emerged on the other side of The Chute, the footing became less rocky and we were able to trot. I put in my earbuds at that point, and Kenny Chesney’s “Bar at the End of the World” was the first song to play. I smiled widely.

Pearl did take a couple more sips of water from the creek and a couple other puddles, but she had pretty much drank her fill earlier. Suddenly, she OFFERED to trot…and trotted, and trotted, and trotted!

^ Clip from that part of our ride. You can hear me praising her because this was ALL HER IDEA! She never once hesitated and truly seemed as happy as I was to be out in the sunshine and crisp morning air. And suddenly my heart swelled with joy and pride. It’s hard to explain but ever since Blackwater Swamp Stomp, it’s like a lightbulb switched on. It’s as if she is saying, “Oh, I get it! THIS is my job! Why didn’t you say so?”

And so we trotted – ears up, reins in one hand, loose and swinging.

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I really like this setup they have at Umstead. A tall fountain for people, a small one for dogs. and a spicket and bucket are provided for the horses! (Oh yes and that is her new tack set, which I am going to review shortly!)

Things were going swimmingly until we got to “The Farm”, which is located at the west side of the park near the Reedy Fork Entrance. As one might deduce from the name, there is a small farm there and although I have not seen any animals whatsoever either time I have passed, there is a small pasture, a couple sheds and a horse trailer sitting in the driveway. Each time we have passed it, Pearl wants to stop and is CONVINCED I am insane to ride away from it. It takes a good couple miles to get her going again as she zigs and zags and continues to stop, looking back over her shoulder. There is really nothing to do, but clamp my legs and urge her forward. Still, it makes the next 2 miles a lot of work and a lot less fun.

A young man – a runner – caught up to us and passed us. I was able to see him coming from a good distance and was impressed. He was going fast, yet as he approached seemed barely out of breath. He asked to pass and then told us, “Have a good ride!”

I chided Pearl, “Now this is sad! Even the runners are moving faster than us!”

Pearl flicked an ear. “Then YOU get off and run!” She seemed to say.

Ok, point taken.

Flogging Molly and “Drunken Lullabies” came on (appropriate for the day!) and I urged Pearl back into a trot.

And then “Don Omar” and Danza Kuduro (and I immediately thought of Saiph!) I can honestly say I listen to just about every type of music imaginable (except R&B and Jazz!)

At this point in our ride, we crested a hill and I looked over and saw a cemetery off in the woods to our right.

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^ Info on the family. I found it ironic because we were technically on the African American side of the park. That’s right, back in the day Umstead was actually two parks – “Reedy Fork” was designated for African Americans, and the Crabapple side was for everyone else.

We headed back toward the parking area, noting that I had 20 minutes to complete our ride. We rode past Reedy Fork Lake, and a tractor that was grading part of the trail. The operator cut the engine as soon as she spotted us and waited for us to pass. Pearl, of course, had to stop and snort loudly at the tractor. I explained to the park employee that she about about 70% blind and was probably puzzled as to what it actually was.

We continued up the hill, and after seeing scores of hikers and cyclists, we were suddenly alone again. Rob Zombie popped up on my playlist, and I grinned as we began to trot again. Not gonna lie, he is one of my favorites.

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🙂
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Pearl drank again. E-lytes for the win!

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In the end we made it pretty damn close to our goal. I’m happy with it!

We might’ve done better but during the last few miles, Pearl really did NOT want to trot. It got to the point where I would ask her, and she would take maybe 3 strides and then stop. She can be lazy at times, but this was uncharacteristic even for her. I decided not to push it, and worried that the boots might be chafing her. It was just a gut feeling I had. Something wasn’t quite right.

Moral of the story? Listen to your gut. When I removed the boots there was no chafing but buried in her left hoof was a small screw that had somehow come loose inside the boot and embedded itself in the sole of her foot. Because it fortunately was small and close to the hoof wall it hadn’t been enough to lame her, but it no doubt was causing some discomfort. I trotted her out a few times, and thought I saw something one or two strides, but I couldn’t be sure. Overall she still looked sound. Thank goodness.

I offered her water again and she drank most of the bucket. Very, very good.

Of course, immediately after this Pearl didn’t want to load on the trailer (she never wants to go home for some reason!) And then I discovered I’d lost my phone. I retraced my steps and eventually found it over by the water spicket on the other side of the parking lot. I was a little frustrated by the time I was finally able to pull out of there, but I checked myself.

Yes, life is hard. It’s cruel, and maddening, and unkind and unfair. All you can do is grab at the little moments of happiness as they come, and hold onto them for dear life.

We can’t predict the future, nor can we control it. Really, it’s a wild ride and all we can do is shut up and hold on and take it as it comes. The good, the bad, the ugly – all of it. I saw this thing on Facebook this morning (I shared it btw). It showed these little kids in Africa laughing and dancing and the caption read, “The happiest people don’t have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything they have.” So, so true.

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I got home super late, and of course, Kolton was crying. But it’s ok, because a few hours later I took this picture. Enjoy the ride, folks. Because we only get one shot at this thing called life.
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