Seriously, with the "freeze/thaw-to-50-degrees/freeze-to-15/freeze/REALLY FREEZE-down-to-1- degree/thaw-next-day-to-60 degrees" diversity of weather we've been having here in Northern Virginia this winter, I was really torn as to whether I should shoe, boot, or go barefoot for the VVDoItAgain ride.
For reasons known only to the weather gods, they decided the weekend of the VV would be spectacular - highs in the 60's - even though the two days would be sandwiched in between two bitterly cold, snowy weeks. This meant the ground and footing was going to be just as spectacular -- in it's variety. Frozen, thawed, muddy, slick, dry, hard, soft -- take your pick. Or select them all.
Thus..the question remained -- do I shoe, boot, or go barefoot?
Well, for the sake of expediency, and the fact that I was pushing to finish work I needed to send to a client before Friday noon, and that I'd had my lifetime fill (thank you very much) of losing easy boots on the trail -- I decided that I would take Drummer on the Friday ride ...barefoot.
Now, what is unusual in this decision was ...while his trot and canter were fluid, young Drummer had a big problem last year stumbling on the right hind when he was walking. After two different vets were called in for an evaluation (both offering differing opinions), blood tests taken to see if something was amiss internally (there wasn't), special trimming and special aluminum shoes behind to make breakover as smooth and effortless as possible, and daily doses of MSM and Lubrysin -- I managed to curtail 98% of the tripping at a walk, but ...not all.
Don't know whether the cold had made me lose my mind, or I just wanted to see if my foxhunting neighbor, Laura, was right in her comment last year that it was just the fact that Drummer would "grow out of" the stumbling once he was mature. Drummer is turning 7 this May. I figured now was as good a time as any to see if the tripping was still there…or gone.
So … off came his multiple blankets, on went the Sensation saddle, and with my GPS and HR watch strapped on either wrist, we set for the 12+ miles cruise cross county through woodland trails and fields as I wanted to stay off the gravel roads as much as possible.
Can you believe that for the next two hours...HE DIDN'T TRIP ONCE!! Not even a hint. Still, I held my breath as we walked and trotted and cantered through the quiet countryside, enjoying the view of a beautiful red fox running across a field and onto the top of an old stone wall where he turned around, looked at us, then dropped silently down the opposite side to disappear into the tall winter grass. We followed the foxhunt trails, traversing the edges of endless corn fields where we passed under the dark gliding shadow of a big red-tailed hawk that had risen up from the adjacent stubble and floated over us into the tall trees nearby, clutching in it's talons some small creature that was slated to be the raptor's dinner. Down the trails we went, into the woods, over ice rimmed creeks, and out to the fields again, now passing fenced board pastures full of black Angus cows with bouncy black calves filled with joyful youth and momma's milk, dancing thither and yon, stopping only to watch us with big eyes as we trotted by. Along the edges of the fields we skirted or trampled the melting remains of the most recent snowstorm, thin flat patches of snow that lay prone in the shaded recesses of the tall grass or behind the woodland trees as if to escape death by sunlight. Sad little patches of winter that would be gone, melted, by tomorrow in the 60 degree heat.
Twice Drummer stopped to take a refreshing drink of the icy cold water in the creeks, and each time I would encourage him to nibble at the embankments where tiny bits of green blades peeked out from underneath the tired winter grass.
As the hours and miles pulled along, the temperatures continued to slowly rise. I was beginning to think seriously about unzipping my jacket when I ran, face first, into a tiny flock of teeny flying insects celebrating - albeit a bit early - the beginning of the annual February Thaw. A sure sign that Spring, and the spring peepers, weren't that far away.
By the time we reached home, hand walking in the final 1/2 mile, the sun had finished debating how long it had wanted to remain in the sky, and was slowly taking leave of the day. Not enough daylight left, or warmth for that matter because it was leaving as well, for me to saddle up and ride Libby. She'll be the first one to start tomorrow... and she'll be barefoot as well. She's the queen of losing easy boots, and I refuse to backtrack on any trails to hunt for lost boots. Besides, I want to get 25 or more miles in tomorrow, and time will be of the essence.
Must remember to bring my camera with me -- in case we meet up with Master Reynard the Fox again. I certainly wouldn't mind stopping for a few moments to take a photo of him.