Monday, February 8, 2016

Riding-filled Weekend!

Yay, what a weekend!

So, Shar and I rode Tuesday night, four miles in the pitch black (moon didn't come up until the middle of the night), on a new-to-me and new-to-Arya route.  She did SO well, I was so proud of her!  The only spooky moments we had were when cars were coming behind us on the main road, making ALL the shadows move every which way, which freaked her out, and probably disoriented her a bit, and then at a random driveway.  Not sure what the last one was about, but it was back on familiar turf.  Whatever.  She did so awesome.  About a mile or so of the ride was down and then back up a long hill, so that was good for her.

But yeah, weekend.  The weather forecast was for nice weather both days, so we decided we'd probably go ahead and ride both days.  Saturday, we hauled to the Trail Crossing trailhead, where we've done a decent loop up behind Smith Rock and back down, but this time we went the other way, into an OHV area that's supposed to be closed to motorized traffic this time of year.  We saw a couple of road-worthy vehicles on what were actual dirt roads where it was probably allowed (they were polite), and saw a couple of quads from a distance that were most decidedly NOT supposed to be there, but luckily didn't get close to us.

The footing was mostly awesome, with a few patches where it got kind of sloppy, and only a couple places with rocks.  The ponies did awesome, but Arya does NOT like it when it gets sloppy, and she tries to rush through it (which duh, is only going to be worse in the short term, but she doesn't have that kind of reasoning capability, obviously).  It was kind of overcast, but I wore short sleeves and was fine.  So awesome to be wearing short sleeves in February!

Here are some photos from that ride:

Nathan on Dalai, during a section we were kind of bushwhacking, sometimes following cow trails

Selfie with Nathan behind me

Photo op at the top of a hill--got a photo of Shar's two ponies together, plus Noelle, too

Arya staring at Noelle

Ane one more, 'cause it's too cute, with Noelle looking up at her mom so admiringly

We rode about seven miles.  A lot of it was up and down.  Nothing TOO steep, for the most part, but the fatties (Arya and Dalai) were breathing pretty hard a LOT of the day.  Poor gals need to get into shape!  We trotted a couple times, but mostly just walking up and down the hills.  We got back to the trailer, I did more measurements for Arya's rump rug I'm custom ordering, and we let the ponies graze for a little bit on the very short grass before we loaded up and headed home.

Sunday, we headed to the Maston Trailhead.  This is a GREAT place to ride, especially in winter.  It's kind of in a banana belt, getting a bit less snow than other areas, plus the soil is really sandy, so it seems to dry out faster than most other places in the area even after it snows and melts.  Similar to Henderson, it had a couple moist spots, but unlike Henderson, they were never slippery, just...damp.  So that was even nicer.  And while there are a few "rock garden" areas, they almost always have enough clear areas of the trail that the horses can easily avoid the rocks.  Of the nine miles we rode, there were only a few linear feet of trail with unavoidable rocks.  Such nice winter riding, especially for those of us who have our horses barefoot for the winter but usually wear shoes.

Anyway, it was SUCH a gorgeous day, with bluebird skies, that the entirety of Central Oregon seemed to be at Maston.  The car lot was so full that mountain bikers were parking in the horse trailer area, and there were already a lot of horse trailers there, too.  But our group (four trailers, six riders, seven horses) found spots to park and unloaded and tacked up.

Arya, waiting patiently for the rest of the party to mount up

Shawna, about to mount up on Touche, Lianne was already up on Rascal

There's no overlap in the horse trailers shown in those two photos above, so you can see how busy it was.  Surprisingly, we didn't see many other people out there.  We heard voices that I THINK we horseback riders, but we never got a good look at them because they were so far away, and we saw some bicycles and a couple hikers on foot.  But considering how many people were clearly in the area, I was surprised we didn't see more.  But then, there's a pretty good network of trails that criss-cross each other, and the bike trails are separate from the horse/hiker trails, so it's a testament to the trail designing that we didn't see many people.

You can ALMOST see everyone in this photo.  Back to front, you can see my shadow and Arya's ears at the bottom of the photo, then Nathan on Dalai, then Shar on Flash.  In front of her were Wendy on Melody, ponying her new-to-trails pony, Darling (can't really see the pony, but she was stinkin' cute!), then Lianne (in purple) on Rascal, and at the very front, Shawn on Touche.  Quite a group, so we stuck to a walk to keep it saner with that many horses, including a green pony.

At some point, Wendy realized the pony was getting tired, plus she had to pick her daughter up from a party, so they headed back to the trailers, while we kept going, now just a party of five horses and riders, still a decent-sized group.

We tried posing for photos.  This is the only one that got all the critters in it.  Noelle and Arya have just their ears representing, though.  ;-)  Love the mountain views we kept getting glimpses of throughout the day!

A couple miles from the end of the ride, Arya was getting obnoxious about putting her head down to eat, so I un-holstered the whip and whapped her with it once.  She got better about not trying to eat; in fact, I don't think she tried any more after that.  However, she kept plodding along the trail with her head down nearly to ground level.  It was kind of weird.  I worried she'd try dropping down to the ground again (she was clearly very itchy, and kept trying to rub her head on her leg), but she seemed to be moving along well enough to keep up with the others, just with her head down the whole time.  However, when we got back to the trailer, I untacked her as quickly as I good and led her back to the mounting-up area, where there was a wide area of nice soft dirt, as nice as any arena.  I didn't have to ask her twice, she didn't even try to sneak off to the edges of the dirt to snatch a bite of grass, she sniffed the dirt then immediately dropped down and rolled.  And rolled.  And rolled.  She flipped over a couple times and thoroughly rubbed her head around in the dirt and on her leg a few times.  She was in total heaven.  Poor girl is just starting to shed (mostly on her face, not on the rest of her), and it was so warm that she'd been sweating all day.  (In fact, when we got home, she had lots of white crusty areas where the salt had dried.)  So yeah, I'm pretty sure all that hang-dog walking was because she wished she could roll, but at least she was a good girl and DIDN'T drop down.

Anyway, it was an absolutely gorgeous couple of days.  We put in 16 miles over two days, definitely a maximum for Nathan (so far!), and the most mileage I've done in a while as well.  Poor Shar had ridden 15+ miles on Friday as well, so she was really hurting by the end of the day, especially since a lot of those miles were spent walking (not so much bumping for your bum, but a LOT of sitting on the saddle plus a lot of the same motions, instead of switching it up, is still hard on a person, and the horse too).  Flash's back was getting a bit sore after the third straight day of riding, but Shar's about to have the saddle fit perfected by the original saddle maker.  Arya didn't seem sore at all after her two days and 16 miles, so that's good.  Hope it stays that way as we start increasing the mileage and speed.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Tales from the Workplace, Trucking Edition, Part XXVIII

I am posting stories from my job, because I think they're funny.  I've done my best to disguise my company name, even the industry, and to keep the people I write about and even some details of the situation anonymous.  If you know me, and know where I work, please don't include details in your comments.  I'll have to delete your comment and reconsider posting these stories.

We had a truck driver scheduled to pick up at 8:00 this morning.  She showed up at 7:10.  No problem.  The boss told her I'd be in around 8:00 to do her paperwork and he'd have her go across the scale, etc., then, but she was welcome to hook on to the trailer (which was ready) now.  She said that wouldn't work--by 8:00 she'd be out of hours, and she needed to get to the truck stop ~70 miles from here.  The boss told her she was more than welcome to rest here as soon as she got the paperwork--drivers often spend the night on our property, and as long as they are out of the way of other trucks coming and going during business hours, we don't mind.  Nope, that wasn't going to work for her.  She said she was going to that truck stop regardless, and she'd be back to pick up the load around 7:00 p.m.  Well, that doesn't work for US, since her load is due in southern California in about as many hours after 7:00 p.m. as it takes to drive there, so that wouldn't allow for any rest time (or fuel stops or anything!) along the way.  She swore she'd get it there in time.  Yeah, right.

So the boss called the trucking company to give them the heads up that this load needed to deliver on time, and if the driver wasn't going to be able to make it, they needed to plan for a relay (driver drops the trailer near the end of her hours, a different (and fresher) driver picks up the trailer and continues on so it can keep moving without much delay).  They swore it would deliver on time.

Guess when it delivered?  I'll give you one guess.  Nope, wasn't on time.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Horse-filled weekend, without much horse time

So, in endurance riding there is a national organization, AERC (American Endurance Ride Conference), and then various regional organizations.  For the northwest, it's PNER (Pacific Northwest Endurance Riders), and the PNER convention was this past weekend, in Portland.  It was my first time attending, but between having a ride (Shar) and sharing a hotel room (with Shar and Kirstin), it was a relatively inexpensive way to get together with a bunch of like-minded (and much more seriously-minded) folks and talk, learn, and shop endurance all weekend.

Shar was going to be representing her company (a printing company, including promotional products), so she needed to head over Thursday night.  I also had the option of riding with Kirstin on Friday morning, but if I was going to miss work anyway, figured I'd head over Thursday night with Shar, especially since we'd be spending that night at her parents' house, and I've met them and their dogs before and liked them all.  :-)

So I packed up Wednesday night, and Thursday morning I loaded up the car, fed and watered the kitties for the next few days, and went to work.  Worked all day, then headed to Shar's.  I beat her there by a few minutes, and it was still a bit light out, and I had a bunch of apples with me, so the horses got one.  :-)  Then when she got home, we loaded up her car and headed out.  It was dark, but luckily the pass was only bare and wet (unlike the next morning, when a lot of Central Oregonians were driving over, from what I heard!).  We stopped at the summit for dinner, and the place was inundated with teens finishing up their day of skiing at Mt. Hood.  Wow.  Were we ever like that?

We finished the rest of the drive uneventfully and pulled up at her parents' house.  They'd already gone to bed, so we quietly did, too.  In the morning, we got to chat with both her parents a bit, and I got to pet the beast Simba (huge, sweet dog with some behavior issues Shar's parents are trying to work through), then we took off for the convention.  Yay!

The traffic was not so "yay" though...
We arrived at the hotel, oriented ourselves to where some of the meetings and tack sale stuff would be, and brought her promo stuff in for the first meeting she was presenting at--the ride managers meeting.  The promotional stuff her company does would make great ride prizes, so she was pitching that to them.  Meanwhile, I checked us in to the hotel, got keys and wifi password, etc.  Kirstin arrived, the meeting ended, and in some order, we had lunch and got settled into our room.

I had told myself (and actually told Shar aloud, as well) that I didn't need any new tack, but boy is it hard to attend an event like that without buying ANYthing.  There was a booth selling custom-sewn items like rump rugs (goes over the rear end of the horse while riding when it's cold out, so their muscles can warm up nicely and cool down more slowly when the horse stops exercising) and fleece helmet covers (like a hat, but large enough and shaped to go over a riding helmet).  Shar bought a helmet cover, and I strongly considered buying a rump rug.  They didn't have a fabric that really spoke to me, but the woman running the booth gave me the link to their fabric supplier so I could check out all the options.  There were some really cute fabrics in colors that aren't "my" color, and some patterns that didn't really speak to me in colors I did like (like owls--cute, but not really my thing, especially for tack), so I ended up going with a print that looks like a photo from the Hubble telescope or something, with purple as a main color.  Kind of abstract, kind of not, with some hints of purple.  Whatever.

The one thing I had given myself permission to buy was new reins.  The ones I currently use are lightweight rope reins (they don't have the heft and feel that some do).  I like them fine, except when I fall off or otherwise have them slipping through my fingers rapidly--I've gotten rope burned from them a couple times.  Plus since they don't have much weight to them, they don't have a lot of "feel."  I rode in Shar's nubby reins once (very rubberized, and they have a LOT of "feel"), and loved the feel of them.  But hers are yellow.  I need purple, of course.  :-)  They had all-purple (no nubbies) reins, and they had nubby reins in a lot of colors, but not purple.  They also had two kinds of nubbies, and one definitely DID not feel like what I wanted.  So I custom ordered some reins with the right nubbies, and purple biothane on the ends (toward the horse's mouth).  So yay!  Two fun packages should be coming for me in the next few weeks!

The ONE other thing I was seriously contemplating purchasing (after I got there, not before) was this beautiful purple jacket I saw.  It was lovely.  And the arms were long enough, even though it was a women's jacket!  (It was made for riding, by Kerrits, a riding clothing brand.)  I was totally in love, but the largest size they had there at the show didn't QUITE fit me, so I asked if it came any larger from the manufacturer, and it didn't.  SO bummed.  I'm not sure I'll ever find a purple jacket (women's or men's) that fits me.  :-(

Anyway, I won't bore you with a play-by-play of the WHOLE weekend, but it was really awesome.  It was fun to hang out with friends, meet people I'd only "met" on Facebook, see folks in street clothes that you usually only see in stretch pants, a helmet, and a coating of dust.  It was also really bizarre, after going to business-related trade shows and/or conferences, to be in a hotel conference room, sitting in a conference room chair, watching a PowerPoint that was not only interesting, but a relatable topic with valuable information to ME.  :-)  And trade show booths full of tempting goodies instead of random corporate software or (once the novelty wears off, no pun intended) literally miles upon miles of candy).  So that was fun, for sure.  We heard talks about nutrition and hydration, and talks about working on training, and it was all very motivating.  Throughout the weekend, I was hoping we'd be home in time to do a bit of riding on Sunday.

One of the vendor demonstrations was a veterinarian and certified (veterinary) chiropractor and acupuncturist, who brought not only her also well-qualified husband, but their miniature horse.  It was the funniest thing--a hotel conference room full of people who all own and ride horses, all GASPED and exclaimed "he's adorable!" "can I pet him?" "what's his name" etc. when this little guy walked in:

Sterling, the well-behave mini

He was TOO stinkin' cute.  And very well-behaved.  And so calm.  Such a cutie-pie!  She demoed stretches and things you can do on your horses, and showed where some acupuncture points are, etc.  

Oh, there was a raffle, too.  I had assumed going in that it was just one raffle, but there were two types of tickets.  The general tickets that went into a big raffle drum and were drawn out nearly constantly, from the looks of things, for various prizes.  Some small trinkets, some big-ticket items, and everything in between.  LOTS of prizes in that pool, but as I perused the table, not anything I really needed to have.  The other tickets were for just certain special prizes, and even with those, there wasn't one big pool, but rather a bucket for each prize, so you had to choose which prize(s) you wanted to win and deposit your tickets accordingly.  I bought four "special" tickets and put two in for a saddle pad, and two in for a set of portable corral panels (to contain your horse at a ride).  All weekend long, a friend of ours, Kristen, kept winning more and more stuff.  It was really getting kind of ridiculous.  However, Kirstin, who had put in a few tickets, I think, never won anything, and the only thing Shar won all weekend was a VERY small jacket she ended up giving to Kirstin's daughter.  I didn't win anything in the general raffle, of course, because I hadn't put tickets into that one.  But it was funny how not only our group, but ALSO some other friends of hers, kept fetching Kristen's stuff off the winners table to bring back to her (she wasn't there).  Crazy.

Saturday night was the banquet, where people who have earned awards throughout the year receive them.  Things like being in the top however-many for miles ridden, achieving decade team (same horse and rider completing at least 50 mile rides for 10 different seasons), etc.  Throughout, they were also doing more raffle drawings for a few more prizes as well as free or half-off fees for rides in the coming season.  None of us won anything, still.  None of us were receiving any awards, either, but it was cool to see friends and acquaintances receive some.  I'm not sure Arya and I will ever achieve any of the awards, since she's not exactly built for endurance, but who knows...I'm just hoping this coming season goes better for us than the last one did.

The dress code for the banquet ranges from stretch pants and maybe a dressier top (me and my friends) to fancy sparkly jeans and a sparkly top, to a really nice dress, to thrift store prom dresses.  So that's fun, to see the variety.  One girl was even dressed as a southern belle, hoop skirts and all.  At the end of the banquet, they drew for the prizes I'd actually entered to win, but unfortunately, neither Kirstin, Shar, nor I won any of them.  However, the corral panels went to a new friend I made this past year, who had her horse in training with Celena over the summer, so that was cool.  Lucky her!!  Jealous, but in a good way.  :-)

After the banquet was dancing.  We three ladies went back up to our room for a bit, and I tried to convince them we should just hang out up there, but they dragged me back downstairs.  They couldn't drag me onto the dance floor, though.  :-)  I watched them, until they'd had enough dancing, and we all headed back to the room and to bed.

Sunday morning, Shar had to present again (she presented more than these two times, but this second one was to the board, so that was important!), so I wandered into a round-table discussion about non-Arabs in endurance (Arabs are the predominant breed and really are genetically suited to it, but plenty of other horses do well at it), then wandered out again when she was about ready to go.  We hit the road, and luckily the pass had mostly melted, and was only icy for a very brief stretch.  We actually caravanned with Kirstin, so we followed her the entire drive back, which was nice for us to know someone would be watching out for us if one of us DID slide off the road, but like I said, the roads were actually pretty good, so it was fine.  :-)

There was still a bit of daylight left when we got home, plus I had to get Arya out AND put the saddle on her in order to measure for the rump rug I'd ordered, so at that point, I might as well ride, right?  Well, unfortunately Shar had work she had to get done, so she couldn't come with me, so I saddled up to do a quick solo ride.  I told myself that if she was pretty well behaved, I'd keep it short so she didn't feel like it was torture.  :-)

As we headed out the driveway (and Arya begged to head to some grazing instead of the driveway), I realized something.  Normally, I have butterflies in my stomach as I'm getting dressed and/or driving to Shar's to go riding.  Today, none.  I often have butterflies when tacking up to go riding.  Today, none.  I sometimes have butterflies when mounting up.  Today, none.  I rarely anymore, but still occasionally get butterflies when heading out on a ride (and a solo ride would be more likely than not to have a few butterflies).  Today, none.  I realized I was probably jinxing myself by noticing this, and would likely GET butterflies just by thinking about it, but nope.  I just sat deep and waited for whatever she was going to throw at me.

She did throw a few shenanigans my way--kept trying to turn for home, then would overcorrect when I'd steer her back on track.  Rather than wait it out as she got more and more sluggish and drunken-sailor-y, I just prompted her into a trot.  Apparently she has a hard time dodging and trotting (lucky for me, as I'd have a lot harder time sticking it!), as that got her onto a straight track.  You're supposed to warm up in the walk before trotting, but whatever.  She's not likely to hurt herself in her pokey little trot, and this definitely helped her brain a LOT.  We walked and trotted our way around the block.  At the second intersection, I made her do a few circles, and when they didn't become super "even" (see prior posts, but I'm looking for her circle to basically look and feel the same all the way around, not pulling toward home), I made her walk in the direction she LEAST preferred.  A circle there, then head back in the direction she did like, another few circles, and they were much more even now.  We proceeded around the block.  When I asked for a trot, she gave me a very energetic trot at first.  I tried not to hold her back out of my own nervousness, and sure enough, she slowed way down to her usual pace rather quickly.  Eventually, we actually need to both become more comfortable with a faster trot if we're ever going to finish an endurance ride in time, but we don't need to push it on one of our first few solo rides back in the game.

The next corner is just a 90-degree turn, no intersection, but we took it wide rather than cutting straight for home.  She was pretty amenable to that, so I didn't ask for a circle that time.  Then, right away, there was an intersection (if you go "straight" on Steelhead, it actually jogs a bit), so I turned her the "wrong" way (away from home).  She was NOT impressed with my decision-making, and tried to make it very clear to me that we were going the wrong way.  I waited until she settled down into a nice (albeit VERY slow) walk in a straight line to circle her then head back the "right" way.  It was here that I remembered that we need to work on some lateral work (hoping to go to a trail course in a couple weeks, and that'll require some precision!), and considered for a brief second adding that in.  Then realized that in "heading for home" mode, she was going to take ANY leg, even just one leg, as a cue to head home, faster, rather than yielding in the direction indicated, so I didn't bother.

We did a few more circles at that same intersection before proceeding toward home.  When we got to the intersection to make the final turn for home (before the driveway), I acted like I was going to go straight.  She leaned VERY hard to the left.  We did more circles.  She actually behaved very well in those circles, and they were nice and even.  She's learning how this works.  :-)  So we got to turn for home.  Once more, I went straight past the driveway instead of turning in, and she was once more NOT impressed.  More circles and passing the driveway by going straight, until she seemed less obstinate about it, and we finally turned in.  Finally, just before hopping off, I asked her to yield laterally while walking (I'm not sure the difference between half pass and leg yield and whatnot), and it felt like her legs actually crossed over--good girl!).  Then we did a sidepass and a haunches yield (turn on the forehand--front legs stay still-ish, while hind legs move around them) from a standstill, and called it a day.  It was still light out, and we hadn't had to venture TOO far off course, so that's a win.  I really would have liked to have ridden longer, but we did what we set out to do, so I wanted to keep it short and sweet for her sake.  

Now maybe a night ride this week, then hopefully a nice long trail ride this weekend...

Friday, January 22, 2016

So Proud of Us!!!

Last night, Shar and I planned to finally do another night ride.  Only our second this winter, and probably only number 5-10 or so for me and Arya.  In the past, I've only grudgingly gone along with them, at least after the one where Arya spooked on a VERY dark night and really freaked me out.  I'll play along when Shar suggests it, but privately hope that other things come up or the weather sucks and we end up canceling.  And often we do, and I secretly rejoice.  But lately, something has shifted, and I'm actually feeling a bit more confident, and this time I was actually genuinely looking forward to doing a night ride again.

Shar and I both work till five, but in an odd twist, she works in the town I live in, and I work in the town between there and where SHE lives.  So when 5:00 comes, I'm actually closer to her house than she is, and I would beat her there by about 20 minutes.  However, yesterday she messaged me that she was getting off work 20 minutes late or so, so I was going to end up having quite a head start.  THEN, due to a couple oddities too boring to go into here, I ended up getting off work about 20 minutes early, and had about an hour head start on her now.

Remember this past summer, when Arya got HORRIBLY barn/buddy sour?  She was horrible solo, and even a bit obnoxious when riding with a buddy, about trying to go back to the barn, hollering at her buddies, etc.  I paid Celena both lesson time AND drive time for her to come all the way out to Shar's place to work with us on that, and I do think that lesson helped a TON, both with her showing Arya that her snit fits were not going to work and her installing some confidence in me.  Then we had that clinic out at Celena's place in the fall, which added a bit more confidence, plus we've had a bunch of good experiences and hardly any bad for the past few months, so even more confidence.  Arya's put in a few half-hearted tries to go home as we leave on rides with other horses (including new-to-her horses like when I rode with someone new when Shar wasn't around on Christmas day), but nothing major in a while.  So it's been in the back of my mind that I'm probably ready to try a solo ride out from home now.

Well, I decided that with the head start I had, I'd rather go ahead and try that solo ride and leave while it was still a bit light out rather than kill time waiting for Shar and leaving in the full dark.  Possibly not the brightest idea I've ever had, but I figured if she was obnoxious but I wasn't fearing for my life, we'd just ride a whole bunch of very small circles right near home.  If I feared for my life, I'd get off, make her work, and we'd STILL ride out when Shar got home, so she would still end up learning that throwing a fit didn't keep her from having to leave home.  So I decided to go for it.

I still, to this day, always get butterflies as I'm getting dressed in my riding clothes and as I'm driving to Shar's.  The usually dissipate with the distraction of tacking up, and usually by the time I mount up, I'm not ACTUALLY nervous, so they go away.  Just something about the anticipation of it, even after so many happy successful months of not hitting the ground.  ;-)  Yesterday, it was awful.  So many butterflies.  But I tried to keep my actual thoughts positive.  While tacking up, I tried some visualization.  I'm not sure if I actually believe in that sort of thing or not, but figured it couldn't hurt.  I imagined what was likely to happen.  She'd try to turn for home, I'd straighten her out, she'd try again, I'd straighten her out, and eventually it would stop and we'd just proceed along.  I imagined a worst-case-but-still-quite-possible scenario.  She got so opinionated about heading home that she started tossing her head and rooting to try to get the control of the reins away from me, she spun quickly, maybe even did a tiny little buck of protest.  That'd likely be the worst behavior she'd try.  I pictured myself handling it successfully.  If she rooted, spun, AND bucked all at once, I'd be screwed, but I could probably handle one of those things at a time, so I stuck with that.  I tried to visualize it going perfectly, but knew that wasn't likely.  :-)

Soon enough, she was tacked up, even with the extra reflective gear we wear for night rides (four bands around her four legs, plus a band in her tail and one on her chest, and I wear a vest).  I mounted up, took a deep breath, started my Endomondo tracker, and messaged Shar to let her know we were heading out.

Before we even got to the narrow part of the driveway, Arya tried to dive right (where there's "grazing" of dead tumbleweeds to be had), but it wasn't hard to get her on track.  She even seemed kind of eager to go, and broke into a tiny bit of a trot right there in the driveway.  THEN the small, dim solar lights flanking the driveway came into view (they're hidden behind posts at first, until you get far enough out the driveway) and she spooked a bit, but soon realized they were harmless.  Then we turned the corner.

She DID start dodging toward home, so I kept my hands wide and kept her on as straight a path as possible.  I did get a tiny bit frustrated, until I reminded myself how she was before the lesson with Celena.  This was NOTHING, and I could handle it.  She really wasn't bad.  We just did a drunken-sailor walk for a quarter mile or so.  Every once in a while, she slowed down so much she started to feel like she was slogging through molasses (and we'd never get anywhere), and I'd pop her with the whip to remind her that "squeeze meant go."  The first time or two I did that, she broke into a trot, but I just calmly sat it and waited for her to walk again.  No biggie.  She could trot if she wanted to, but it wasn't me asking her to.  She soon realized I just wanted a faster walk.  By the time we got about a quarter mile down the road, she realized this wasn't really working out for her, and she calmed down.  Oddly, this was the part of the road where there are mini donkey and/or dogs she could pretend to spook at, but she didn't bother.  She motored right around the corner.  A car came up behind us, and she didn't mind the bright lights or the weird shadows, until they actually passed us and it got suddenly dark and there was a car with red tail lights in front of her where a car with white headlights had been behind her.  Or something.  We actually had cars pass us a couple times throughout the night, and it seemed to weird her out every time, though she's not bothered by them in daylight.  But we survived.  And the dogs.  And a bush or two "jumped out" at her and she shied sideways.  But overall, she did great.  I remember her being spookier on our solo rides, even before she started getting barn sour, than she was with other horses around, so it was hard to sort out how much was just due to being solo, how much was due to dusk, and how much was due to my nerves putting her on edge.  But she seemed to be genuinely but only gently spooking, not trying to pull one over on me, and not completely freaking out, so I'd rub her withers and we'd go on.

We got to the second corner, and one of the two she used to really act up at when being bratty about wanting to go home.  As we were about halfway through the process of turning the corner, she made one dodge for home, ducking her head as if to dart that direction, but I don't think her feet ever really left the track we were on.  I corrected her, and we finished the corner and headed onto the straightaway.  She made one more try, by pretending she had an itch and putting her head down to scratch on her foreleg (her favorite tactic for both evasion AND snatching a bite on the trail!).  I bopped her with the whip (non-horse-people probably think I'm cruel by this point, with so many mentions of whip-popping, but I promise it is not cruel and she gets worse from her fellow horses out in the pasture), and she got back down to business and we had no further attempts at heading home.

Between the fact that I wasn't in my usual riding bra and it was getting ever darker, and she was spooking at something at least once a minute (usually just a small shy of swerving around a sketchy bush or puddle, nothing big), I wasn't brave enough to trot.  But I was pleasantly surprised at how forward she was walking, at least.  She is the type that even with other horses, she walks much more slowly away from home, then much more quickly toward home.  But she was moving out pretty well for being solo, heading away, AND it getting dark.  What a good girl!  I was so proud of her!

We got to a property that has horses.  They sometimes come running up to the fenceline.  They didn't today, but Arya clearly remembered them, and knew that they MIGHT, and she actually stopped dead in her tracks.  She didn't try turning for home, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't a barn-sour move, just a "what if they charge the fence" or "hmmm...wonder how those horses are doing today and if Mom will let me go talk to them" thing.  Who knows.  But I'd squeeze her forward, and she'd take a step, so I'd bop her with the whip.  She'd walk forward normally for a couple steps, then sllooooowwww down and stop.  Repeat a couple times, and we were past them and got moving normally again.  She didn't bat an eye at the weird rock pillars (wire "cages" filled with lava rock, often used as fence posts around here) like she used to back when we rode solo more often.  Whatever.  I paused at a corner to update Shar on our whereabouts, and she waited patiently.  Boy, it's hard to operate a cell phone to sent a message, with its bright screen (even on the dimmest setting still visible), then put it away and go back to the dark world again.  Arya didn't seem to mind the flashing light and weird shadows it must've cast, though.  We set off down the road again, no biggie.  We got to where the road (now down to a single lane, but still a wide swath of nice firm dirt) ended and we had to take a single-track trail through a bit of juniper trees.  I debated a bit, and decided I'd rather have the light I'd brought to better see the trail, so I attempted to turn it on while it was still in my pocket so I could bring it out slowly and not blind Arya with it.  Hm.  Didn't turn on.  Pulled it out, and the batteries had all fallen out.  Ugh.  I wasn't going to attempt to get them aligned correctly and inserted in the dark. so I guess we were navigating the trail in the dark after all.

I'm pretty sure I successfully located the beginning of the trail, but it was so dark I could only tell clearings between trees (and luckily made out a couple of tree branches before they hit me in the face), but not discern an actual trail.  Arya started kind of veering right, and I assumed she was making an attempt at heading home, so I steered her left, through clear-ish swaths.  We came out to the road, and we were not where I expected to be.  In hindsight, I suspect she was actually following the trail, not attempting to head home, and I led her astray.  Oops.

So, as we got close to the road and there were only a couple trees left between us and the road, there was a guy who had just arrived home.  Truck running, he was out messing with the gate, which was clanging, and the 4-5 dogs were all excited and running the fenceline and barking.  Can't blame Arya for startling a bit and wanting to just stop and wait it out.  So we did wait for a half a minute or so, then I urged her forward to the clearing.  Then another car came by, so we waited that one out, too.  Finally, we stepped onto the edge of the road.  I could tell (and remembered from past times we've ridden there) that there's a bit of a ditch along the road, but Arya clearly didn't remember.  I had her parallel to the road and had her gradually go diagonally, but she wanted to get to the road NOW, and ended up kinda bobbling a bit when the footing disappeared then reappeared under her feet.  Heh.  We paused to re-combobulate ourselves now that we were back on wide open solid footing again, then proceeded down the road.  There wasn't much road left before we hit a paved road that again has a ditch, then a single-track trail alongside it.  Trail is a much better option than paved road, especially when said road is curvy right there.  Arya did great.  Didn't balk at the speed limit sign we passed very close to, and actually didn't trip at all on any of the singletrack (and non-trail) stuff we'd done, surprisingly.  She always seems to be tripping, but I guess either being solo and not having a butt in front of us to watch instead of the trail, or being in the dark, had her paying better attention.  We crossed the paved road and headed down another nice wide dirt road.  Arya saw a real estate for sale sign that concerned her and gave it a wide berth, but by this point she was feeling pretty confident, and I guess I was too.  We just moseyed on down the trail.  I still wasn't ready to just give her a loose rein, just in case, and kept both hands on the reins, without much slack (though I tried not to be hanging onto her face the whole time, either).

By this point, I was starting to weigh my options.  Shar had just barely gotten started on her ride (we'd been touching base with each other), and while they'd be doing some trotting and would catch up with us eventually, if we kept moving forward, it would take a while.  And the way we were heading, we had two realistic options for making a loop--one would take us past some alpacas we hadn't ridden by in a while.  We HAVE ridden past them solo, but only in the daylight, headed the other direction, and months and months ago.  She was getting pretty good about only getting "sticky" and not actually stopping or spooking at them, but still...didn't really feel like taking my chances.  The other option would be a slightly longer loop, so there was a chance Shar would catch up to us by then, but there's a property where they have a Great Dane that likes to charge the fence, which Arya doesn't LOVE in the daytime, but handles with relative aplomb.  And there are multiple properties with horses along that way, which is always a crapshoot as to whether they'll start running and spook Arya or whatever.  And she did spook last time, even with another horse along and in the daylight.  Though of course that doesn't mean it would happen this time, and Shar would have been VERY likely to have caught up to us by the time we got there.  You can tell I way overthink things, but that was my thought process.  So I decided I'd rather just turn around and retrace our steps on the safer route (no dogs OR horses on the equivalent stretch of road), and meet Shar when she got out of the singletrack (so we didn't have to repeat it solo) and take it from there, either going BACK to do one of those loops, or just heading home from there.  So.  Then I had to guesstimate when to turn around.  I kept trying to stop so I could message Shar, but Arya was starting to get more antsy about the potential to turn around for home.  Prior to this, she'd been patient whenever I would stop, get out my phone, read the latest from Shar, and update her on our location.  But by now, Arya was done with all of that, and kept trying to turn from home while I was trying to operate the phone.  Boy, talk about disorienting!  When looking at the screen, not only was the rest of the world now out of focus on the periphery as it normally would be, but the rest of the world, including the horse RIGHT under me, was literally blackness because the screen was blinding me.  So when she'd move, I'd get really...dizzy isn't quite the right word, but vertigo-y isn't really a word at all...but something like that.  It was just disorienting and weird.  So I'd put the phone away, move a little further down the road (AWAY from home, not letting her get away with that!), and try again.  She'd start wiggling, I'd put the phone away, make a few circles, and head away from home again.  FINALLY I was able to convey the plans to Shar and put the phone away for good (for a few more minutes anyway).  I walked Arya a little further down the road (away from home still) before making that final turn that screamed "yes, we're heading home!" to her.  :-)

So now, of course my overactive brain worried about the fact that we were now headed toward home, on a horse that LOVES to head toward home, on a stretch of road we often do a fast trot and I let her break into a canter if she wants.  But what my brain forgot is that she is, over all, a lazy horse.  :-)  She plodded up that hill like she was on a mission to get home as fast as possible while not breaking out of a walk.  :-)  What a good girl.  My brain really needs to catch up to reality!

I still didn't totally relax, though, and noticed that I was so on edge, that the fabric of my jacket was starting to annoy my bare arms inside the jacket.  I was pretty much over this whole riding solo in the dark thing by now, but luckily we'd at least be back with Shar and Flash soon...

She was huffing and puffing a little bit, and had slowed down a bit, by the time we got to the end of the steepest section of hill (NOT a long hill--maybe a few hundred yards?  I'm terrible at guesstimating distances), but charged on without asking to stop.  We re-crossed the paved road, re-rode the trail that parallels the paved road, and made the turn onto the dirt road.  When we got to the spot where the singletrack would be popping out onto the road, I attempted to contact Shar to find out where she was.  Arya did NOT want to stop.  After a few failed attempts, we did some earnest circling to remind her that being antsy would just mean working harder, NOT getting home faster.  I finally got her to stand still enough I could navigate to actually just call Shar instead of text messaging.  She was just getting to the singletrack, so I decided we'd wait for her.  I'd rather have the "oh dear, there's other critters out there!" situation in the wide open than where there were trees (and branches Arya could get under but I couldn't!) to dodge.  So we did circles.  Circle, circle, circle, head away from home.  I was actually surprised that Arya moved out pretty well when I asked her to head away from home.  Of course, it's where we'd JUST come from, and she knows as well as I do that we'd be able to loop around and still head home even if we went that direction now, but still.  She was pretty good, while making it VERY clear to me what her preferences were.  Heh.  Circle, circle, circle, head toward home a bit.  Circle, circle, circle, then I thought I started to hear Shar.  So we just stood still, and I talked VERY LOUDLY so she and Flash would hear me, and I knew she'd do the same for me if and when she was close enough.  And sure enough, I soon heard her for sure, and we exchanged a few loud "hello"s and hoots and hollers.  Arya was on HIGH alert, equivalent to only when we saw the guy getting home and wrestling with his gate while the dogs barked.  Shar said Flash was the same.  We had the added bonus of a white dog popping out of the bushes, but Arya seemed to quickly recognize all of the critters approaching us, and relaxed.

And I relaxed SO MUCH.  My mouth was going a mile a minute, but my body physically relaxed SO much.  And you know what?  For the first time all night, I loosened the reins right up, and just held onto the middle with one hand.

And you know what really impressed me?  Even though we finally hooked up with another horse and Arya could have relaxed and fallen in behind him, she was on a mission to get home, and she charged into the lead and kept it most of the night.  She DID tuck in behind him a couple times, but most of the time, she was confidently in the lead or just trucking along beside Flash (which he did NOT enjoy, and gave her pissy mare years (yes, he's a gelding, but whatever) every time one of them passed the other.  Weird.).  So proud of my girl!

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful.  Arya tried to eat the couple times we crossed desert instead of being on the road, and I tried to prevent it.  One time toward the end, she thought she was so sneaky--she moseyed past a prime bush, and I was kind of surprised she didn't try to take a bit, but then at the LAST second, as it was passing by her shoulder, she tucked her chin back and to the side and tried to grab a bite.  Ha!  Good try, though!  She stopped dead for a second when some horses in their pasture came charging up.  But basically, it was uneventful.

When we first met up with Shar I told her that between the lack of riding bra and the fact I had to pee, not to mention my jangled nerves, I wasn't really feeling up to trotting tonight.  She said that was fine.  However, as we were getting close to home, and Arya was being SO good, I decided to give her one more test.  Flash was out in front, so we trotted a bit, and she didn't try to speed up faster than a slow jog, and just motored along on a loose rein happily.  So we did a bit of leap-frogging with Flash, even on the final stretch toward home, without incident.  SUCH a good girl!  My bladder and boobs both survived as well.  :-)

We got back home, I'd like to say I hopped off, but it was not nearly so graceful, and I had some definite wobbly-leg going on, and I untacked Arya.  Then she got a nice big reward of carrots for her EXCELLENT behavior all evening.  Seriously, I took her through dusk into the dark, past scary things, made her stop when she was sure she was heading home, etc., and she did it all with relative aplomb.  Sure, she stopped and balked occasionally.  She spooked once or twice.  She shied more than a few times.  And she was antsy when we stopped.  But considering she's not even six, and she hasn't been on many night rides OR solo rides, and neither in quite a while, and this was the first time combining the two, she did AWESOME.  And I'm proud of me, too.  I could've chickened out at so many different stages of planning and executing, and I not only rode my plan, I exceeded the original plan by riding solo for FOUR miles (and therefore well over an hour, because our average was less than that).  So I'm proud of myself too.  So proud of both of us.

Now I just hope I can keep on riding this "high" for a while longer, and while I know there WILL be setbacks of some kind or another, I hope they don't come for a while so I can enjoy this.  I really feel like my "bond" with her (as cheesy as it sounds, it's a real thing) and her with me was strengthened by last night's ride.

Tomorrow, Nathan and I are going to help a friend desensitize her horse to bikes, and Arya may or may not get a little bike-desensitizing-action herself, we'll see.  Then Sunday it's off for lessons for hopefully Shar, Nathan, AND me, but again, we'll see.  If that many people at that many different abilities of riding are too much for Celena to deal with at once, either Shar or I will step aside.  We'll see.  But yeah.  Looking forward to spending both weekend days with my girlie.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Indoor Riding

Okay, so first I just have to mention a little training thing I dealt with the other day.  I'd gone out to Shar's house to take a look at her new saddle with her, and R needed to put a new large bale of hay into the pasture, so I locked up two of the horses into a little paddock and pulled Arya out just to spend a little non-riding time with her.  I tied her up for a bit, while we looked at the saddle. then untied her, picked her feet, and brushed her a bit.  She was moving around a TON in the barn.  She's been in there before, but not a lot, and there were lots of things for her to be curious about, so she kept moving.  She'd get weirded out by the floor mats and start pawing at them, etc.

So after I was done grooming her, I decided to work on standing still.  Shar had Flash back inside the barn, so we stood just outside.  I set Arya up, told her to "stay" and stepped back a couple feet from her, then pretended like I wasn't paying any attention to her, but watched her out of the corner of my eye, waiting for her to move just ONE foot, so I could scold her and put her back where I started, and so on.  She stood stock still for close to FIVE minutes, with me just waiting for her to move so I could teach her how to stand still.  Sheesh!  She couldn't stop moving a few minutes prior, but as soon as I decided to make a lesson out of it, she held perfectly still.  She finally did move a couple times, and I put her back, etc.  Doubt it'll stick much.

Anyway, we had decided to try riding indoors this weekend, in anticipation of the weather not being good enough to want to trail ride, and hoping that the weather WOULD be good enough to trailer (roads not icy).  It turns out the weather actually was quite nice, though cool, but we stuck with our plans to ride indoors anyway.  My friend Julie has a huge indoor arena, plus some good outdoor riding on the property, so I snagged Nathan from his dad's since he hadn't been riding in a while, and we hauled Dalai, Flash, and Arya out there.

We took our time tacking up, as both saddles Shar was using on her horses were new to her and new to the horses, so there were adjustments to be made.  But I had brought my impression pad (basically a plastic pouch filled with colored clay, though a little more technical than that, but you put it between the horse and the saddle while you ride for a bit, then look for thin spots in the clay to check saddle fit), so it was going to basically be a tack-fitting session, with various changes of tack on the horses.

I started out with the impression pad under both the saddle and pad I've been using for a while.  Even when doing 10-mile rides, she's never shown a sign of being sore, so I wanted to check what the impression pad showed with my regular setup and then with a different pad.  And since I was assessing the pad, I had to put the impression pad between the saddle pad and the horse.  It's a vinyl-y plastic, so riding a horse with summer coat for very long probably wouldn't be pleasant for the horse, but I rode Arya for 10-15 minutes per session, and she has a THICK coat of hair, so she didn't sweat a bit.

We warmed up walking for a bit, then alternated trotting and walking for a while.  Heaven forbid that girl trot for more than half a circle at a time.  Ha!  I swear I remember her being a bit gate-sour (i.e. gravitating toward the gate in hopes of being done and leaving the arena) the last time we rode at Julie's, but this time, on one of our first passes past the gate, a black cat was lurking there.  Arya's seen cats around the property at Shar's, but she was very suspicious of this black cat (she must be superstitious--note to self not to ask her to walk under any ladders), and every time we went past the gate after that, she shied away from the gate.

She was fine on our first couple passes past the (closed) roll-up door at one end of the arena, but it must've made a noise one time we passed it, plus I heard woodpeckers outside at some point, with the sound coming from roughly that direction, so she started acting really spooky at that end.

I was SO proud of myself for NOT freaking out at her tiny spooks and shies.  Or her (non-spooky, just stubborn) head-tossing when I asked her to trot.  I mean, I didn't LOVE any of it.  But I never thought to myself "oh sh!t, I'm totally coming off) or anything, just sat deep and kept leg on and made her work through it.  The first time or two, I'd let her shy as far away from the "scary" spot, but then I started asking her to stick with it.  Shar did remind me that I need to remember to either not bother steering her head at all, or actually steer it away from the scary spot and use LEG to ask her to move toward the scary thing, but yeah.  I didn't freak out, and I asked her to work closer and closer to the scary thing.  Yay me!

Nathan also made some progress.  His first couple of passes of trotting were kind of sloppy, so Shar and I gave him some pointers, especially working on independent hands by putting one hand on the pommel of the saddle, and focusing on his posture as well, and he started posting much better almost instantly.  Yay!

So anyway, after 10 minutes or so of work, I pulled the tack off Arya and checked the impression pad.  It looked a little thin in the shoulder/wither area, which is where we've had issues with other saddles, so not surprising.  It wasn't scary thin, like it was pinching, but definitely tighter there than in the rest of the saddle, and the pad I'm using is thick memory foam, so not too surprising that when you put that under a saddle that otherwise fits pretty well, that it would have a tighter fit.  So I swapped that pad out for a thinner fleece pad (no memory foam), with the impression pad under it, and rode in that setup for a while.  It actually looked a lot better on the impression pad, so when finances allow and I find one I like (shape, color, quality), I'll probably switch.  The memory foam tends to retain heat, which will be fine for the winter, but can overheat and even cause heat rash in the summer in a hard-working horse, plus the felt underside is starting to pill, and there's only so much you can do before it just completely wears out.  But I got a good deal on it, and it's working for now, so I'm in no hurry.

So once I was done using the impression pad with my two different setups, it was Shar's turn.  She had new saddles on both horses, actually, but just tried the impression pad with Flash for now.  She was riding him in an SR (same brand I have), but hers has more English-style flaps and a couple other features a bit different.  I think she tried the impression pad with three different thicknesses of pads, and decided the medium one (my pad I'll likely be switching away from, actually) would probably be the best.  The pad she currently has with THICK inserts (inserts plus shims, actually) is a bit too much, but if she gets thinner inserts, the shell of it will work out great.

We were all pretty tired of trotting in circles by this point, so we dismounted, headed outside, and re-mounted to ride the "poop trail."  I've talked about it on here, but Julie's place used to have a cross-country jumping course, complete with pond, drop-off jumps, and large relatively immovable jumps around the property.  They take their well-composted poop (and shavings) and spread it out onto a trail that loops around and through the property.  There a multiple loops, but I think a loop all around the longest configuration is about half a mile.  With the funky weather and peppy horses and slippery footing (still snow and ice in spots, and frozen mud even if it wasn't visibly icy), we stuck to a walk, but it was good to get outside, and it wasn't actually very cold, so it turned out to be a nice little ride.  We went up a hill through a wooded-ish portion of the property, back down the hill, rode BESIDE what would normally be a drop-down jump, but instead was just a small downhill (though Shar had a BAD wreck on a cross country course and mentioned that it was rough on her to be near all these jumps--deep breaths!), back over to the area with more jumps and newer trail course type obstacles, too.  Skipped doing the gate (kind of a hassle for two of us to wait while one person tried it out) and the bridge (risk of it being slippery), but we did cross the ground poles a few times.  A set of four, and even at a pretty sedate walk, Arya managed to step OVER and not ON all four!  Woo hoo!  Maybe she's learning that walking is better than tripping.  We continued on around the property, and then Shar pointed out that we could just shortcut to the trailer, so we did.  Turned out to be a little muddy there, and both Flash and Arya kind of went "eek" at the mud and tried to rush through it (Arya by plowing into Flash's butt, which luckily he doesn't mind), and Dalai didn't even care.  We got back to the trailer and untacked the ponies.  We were about to go say our goodbyes and clean up our poop, when Julie came out and asked if we wanted to take any of the horses in to see the cattle--she's got three steers and a heifer, and brought them in from their muddy pen to the arena for a bit so they could dry off.  (They've installed panels in the configuration of a cattle sorting pen at one end of their HUGE arena--you don't really miss the space for regular riding, and it comes in very handy for them to practice in, since they do sorting.)

Yes, I wanted to expose Arya to cattle in a somewhat controlled environment!  She'd heard them mooing outside the arena while we were riding, and didn't seem to mind NEARLY as much as she minded the big giant cows on the trail a couple months ago, but yes, exposure to random things (especially things we're actually likely to see while out and about) is a good thing!  So we took her back into the arena.  Poor girl had already thought she was done for the day so many times, with all the un-tacking and dismounting!  But I had one more thing to throw at her.  She looked at them, and they ignored her.  We walked closer to the pen, and her ears were forward and she was curious, but she never seemed too anxious about it.  We stood outside the pen for a bit, then Julie said it was okay to take her in.  I led her in the pen, and was trying to both encourage her forward and keep myself out of her likely path of escape if she freaked out.

Then duh, Julie and/or Shar suggested I just let her loose.  Heh.  So I took the rope off and stepped back and just let her explore.  She'd move closer and closer to a cow, and it would just stand there, then eventually move away.  She'd stop, watch it, then realize that hey, maybe she can MAKE them move by getting closer again.  Sure enough!  She isn't so cowy that she thought this was great fun or anything, but at least she hopefully won't totally freak out next time we see a bovine in or near a trail.  :-)  At one point, she was kind of looking outside the arena at their outdoor pen, and I have no idea what happened, but she totally spooked.  Clearly, she was on edge.  She bucked a couple times, but calmed down quickly and went back to checking out the cows.  At one point, it looked like she was actually going to lay down and roll, but she didn't.  But yeah, the introduction went well.  Might want to give her another session without a rider before trying to ride her in and amongst cows, but she did good.

After all that excitement, we cleaned up our poo piles, loaded up the horses, and hit the road.  Any day spent with horses is a good one, but I think we all felt like we accomplished something and had an especially good day.  :-)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Dalai, Dalai, Dalai

So, between the cold and dark, we haven't been doing the evening rides we told ourselves we would.  I'm a chicken, and don't really love starting out in the pitch dark.  I mean, it's dark by the time I leave work, let alone drive to Shar's, so we're tacking up in full dark, and setting off in the full dark.  Horses see in the dark, Arya's not that spooky, blah blah blah, but MY nerves don't love it.  So I've taken full advantage of any excuse not to go.  However, when it snowed a foot and a half just prior to the long Thanksgiving weekend, it meant even when my plans to go out of town were canceled due to the dangerous driving conditions, those same driving conditions meant I didn't go visit my horse at all during the long weekend, either.  Bummer.

So I definitely wanted to ride this weekend, even though it still wasn't very warm, because it had been two weeks since I'd ridden.  I think there's only been one other time I've gone that long without riding Arya since I got her.  I got out to Shar's place, and the wind was blowing harder than I'd heard was predicted, but at least it wasn't snowing or raining.  Got my horse out, and her pasture still had some completely ice-covered spots, and I could see her steel-clad feet slipping even with her ginger steps.  Fun!  Luckily, the roads were pretty bare when I'd driven in, so riding should be fine.

I took Arya straight to the arena for a little "round-penning."  (The arena had no snow, whereas the round pen was completely covered.  Plus it's good to change spots once in a while, and I use the rope rather than free lunging anyway.)  Asked her to head out in a circle, and she thought about bucking and snorting, but thought better of it.  Then she kept trying to break back to a walk when I'd asked her to trot, but eventually realized this was gonna happen and she might as well suck it up and do what I asked, and she did so.  After a few circles each direction at a trot, in which she was listening well, halted and re-circled willingly, we headed back to tack up.

Meanwhile, Shar had gotten Dalai out and was working on fitting a new saddle to her, so I wasn't too far behind them in the process.  I had to pick the ice balls out from Arya's feet.  Horse's feet are concave, so snow and ice normally wants to accumulate there, but if they're barefoot, the hoof flexes enough and the concavity is shallow enough to pop the snowball out every once in a while, usually.  But with steel shoes around the rim of their hoof, now the concavity is deeper and the hoof doesn't flex quite as much, possibly, and the snow and ice are much more likely to build up and get stuck.  People who keep their horses shod throughout the winter usually put on some type of snow pad to deal with it.  Shar put some on Flash.  But for Dalai and Arya, they weren't due for new shoes in time for this big snow storm, so they're still waiting.  (Gonna try barefoot with Arya since she went all last winter barefoot.)  Anyway, so I bent the "blade" part of the hoof pick a bit getting the ice out of her feet.  It gets pretty hard when a 1200 pound beast is standing on it!

We eventually got all tacked up and mounted up and headed out.  As we moseyed down the road away from home, Dalai decided she would prefer to be home.  She spun around, picking both front feet up in the process.  I would have freaked out if the horse I was riding did that, but Shar just calmly said "oh no you don't" and urged her to go in the chosen direction.  Arya stayed pretty calm through Dalai's antics, but someone had pushed up a berm of dirt in front of their driveway, and she (and a lot of horses, actually) have this thing about disturbed dirt being scary, so she kind of shied away from it and gave it a heavy stink-eye, but never fully spooked.  However, she did "ask" a few times if maybe we could just head home, if I didn't mind?  She turned her head toward home, but a tug of the reins and a prod of leg pressure kept her pointed in the right direction--I never had to get the whip out to bonk her with it.

We got to the first corner, and there were a few patches of ice.  Arya ducked and pivoted.  Not sure about what--there was a dog that appeared (silently) across the street, but it really seemed to me that her focus was downward, on the ice.  Regardless, I stayed seated (YAY!) and while I crouched forward in my usual defensive mode, I came to my senses rather quickly and sat up/back, just in time to worry she was going to jump a ditch that was right in front of her.  She didn't.  Deep breaths, everything's okay.  She didn't blink or twitch at the dogs that charged the fence barking like maniacs a few minutes later.  Weirdo.

At the second intersection, Dalai threw a bit more of a fit, and Shar dealt with it admirably.  We continued on.  As we continued down the road, which is a dead end, it had seen less and less traffic, and there was some snow and ice.  I tried letting Arya pick her own path for a while, but she clearly wasn't very good at it, and kept slipping, once slipping with both back feet at once.  Yikes!  So then I steered her toward the melted tire ruts instead of the icy strips in between and on both sides.  Surprisingly, she willingly walked in the rushing torrents, ahem, I mean trickling rivulets, without a single complaint.  We passed a few larger puddles, and I noticed Shar asked Dalai to walk through one, but I didn't want to have to fight her over it on the icy ground, so just didn't even ask Arya to go through the bigger puddles.  I was just proud of her for willingly walking through, across, and diagonally along the little stream.  Good girl!

I did NOT love riding on the ice (fluffy snow is one thing, slippery ice is another!), so was glad when that ended and we hit the trail.  However, it's normally soft dirt there, but of course with the freezing temperatures, now it was patches of hard dirt and patches of soft dirt, all covered in pristine snow.  I'm pretty sure Arya didn't love that footing any more than I did--frustrating and tiring to walk in, never knowing when you foot is going to sink, slip, or actually find good purchase.  Toward the end of that stretch, I had the feeling Arya was now walking on snowballs, she just felt wobbly.  In a different way than our last trail ride.

We got back onto a road, which was thankfully fairly free from ice, and checked each other's horse's feet out.  Hard to see your own horse's feet, but I could clearly see that at least one of Dalai's feet had an iceball, possibly more.  Luckily, I carry a hoof pick in my pommel pack, so we both dismounted.  Arya had three snowballs.  I'm pretty sure I bent this hoofpick, too.  Oh well.  Easily bent back with a vice, I'm sure, and not likely to be an issue except for ice balls in the future.  Time to mount back up.  I tried mounting solo, but pulled the saddle over, so Shar held the other stirrup while I heaved myself into the saddle.  Then she got on Dalai with my help being to block Dalai from moving forward with Arya's body.  We all got safely on, stood for a minute so the horses didn't think they got to rush off toward home, and we set off.

Dalai was pretty good, and Arya was very good.  Until we saw a big old ribbon blowing in the wind.  She was pretty sure that ribbon had some nasty things on its agenda, involving torturing horses.  She really really wanted to trot past it (that's a bolt, for her), but I kept her to a relatively sane walk, and nothing bad happened.  To either of us.

We got into a bit of bushwhacking, which is always a little sketchy with snow, since you can't see the ground, and of course have the same footing issues we had on the trail.  But Arya was starting to get the hang of it, and did great.  Dalai was faster than us, though, so they waited for us where our path took us back onto a road.  However, Dalai knew we were getting closer to home, and was getting more and more antsy to get going, much to Shar's frustration.  They'd done great (or at least any struggles they had weren't visible to me) on the stretch toward the bushwhacking, but now that we had really turned toward home in earnest, Dalai wanted to trot on home.  Probably at a very fast trot, if she were to get her way.  Even if Shar wanted to trot home (which she doesn't on a good day, but especially in the ice), Dalai wanting to, and trying to MAKE it happen meant that it was very much NOT going to happen.  Shar was trying to deal with it by having her halt, and bending her neck until she gave to the pressure, then releasing the pressure and walking on.  After a few times of that, it seemed it wasn't really working to refocus Dalai at all, and Shar was getting more and more frustrated.  At one point, she got off to lunge Dalai in circles.

Arya had been SO great through all of these shenanigans, not "joining the party" at all.  (That's a phrase I've heard Celena use, more in relation to the riders not joining in the party the horse is trying to throw, but also appropriate for this situation, I think.)  So when Shar hopped off to lunge Dalai, I debated whether to stay on or hop off myself.  We were close to home, so I decided to just hop off, let Arya relax, and that I'd walk home the rest of the way.  So I hopped off, pulled Arya's bridle off, and let her eat.  Her favorite thing!

Shar and Dalai did quite a few circles, both directions, then Shar mounted up again.  Dalai was much more compliant, but still thought she ought to be heading home at her preferred speed.  I recommended that Shar try what Celena had worked on with Arya--circles upon circles upon circles.  That way, the horse gets to keep their feet moving, but not in their preferred direction (for long).  And when their attitude improves, they get rewarded by getting to go in their preferred direction, but that's easily changed back into circles again when their attitude degrades again.  Shar gave it a shot, and it took a few minutes for Dalai's attitude to show improvement, but then it definitely did.  Meanwhile, Arya got to munch away on weeds on the shoulder of the road, where we were well out of the way.  She thought that was a pretty good arrangement.  Eventually Dalai decided that walking calmly was better than doing a bunch of boring circles, and we set off toward home at a sedate pace.  I was now on foot, and wearing snow boots (kept my feet snug and warm while riding, though, much better than the trail running tennies I'd worn on our last cold weather), and couldn't walk very fast because they slop around on my feet and hurt my toes.  So they quickly got ahead of me and Arya, but it was good practice for Dalai, because they stopped and waited a bit, and Dalai did GREAT.  So it took some "discussion," but in the end, Dalai walked home on a loose rein.  And Arya got to practice staying out of my "bubble" while we walked and halted and backed our way back home.  (No trotting, stupid boots.)

When we got home, Arya got to graze the green grass for a little while as a reward for her good behavior.  Dalai did not face any consequences for her naughty behavior, since she had shaped up on the trail, and we put away two pretty happy ponies before settling in for a little movie-watching in the warm cozy house.

So, it was really interesting to have MY horse not being the one acting up, and MY horse not being the one holding up the other rider while we do interminable circles.  It was good to see it from the outside, and watch/help Shar deal with it.  And I was SO proud of Arya for showing me that what WE'VE gone through has been worth it, and that she HAS improved.  I'm sure she'll still try something on our next few solo rides, but she's getting better, and so am I, and that's awesome.  Oh, and my whip stayed holstered this entire ride.  Didn't use it once.  Woo!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tales from the Workplace, Part XXVIII

I am posting stories from my job, because I think they're funny.  I've done my best to disguise my company name, even the industry, and to keep the people I write about and even some details of the situation anonymous.  If you know me, and know where I work, please don't include details in your comments.  I'll have to delete your comment and reconsider posting these stories.

A walk-in customer came in, towing a rather large flatbed considering he was buying just one pallet of product.  But whatever--maybe he was buying other stuff later.  He backed up to our loading dock area and we loaded his pallet on for him.  Five minutes later or so, the owner of the company, who had been outside, came in and said the poor guy had locked his keys in his truck.  That sucks.  Sucks for us, too, if any other customers come while he's in the way, but mostly I was sympathetic.  :-)  Figured he'd call roadside assistance or whatever, so we went about our business.

Another ten minutes or so, and the guy came in.  He just kind of stood in front of my desk.  Silently.

I asked if I could help him, and he kind of mumbled something.  I obviously looked at him like "Huh?" so he said he'd locked his keys in his truck.  Except he only used about every other word from that sentence.  If my boss hadn't already said as much, I still would have had no clue what he was saying.  Anyway, I said that yeah, I'd heard that, and it sucks.  I asked if there was anything I could to do help.  He just kind of stood there.  I asked if he needed a phone.  He didn't know who he would call.  Um, do you have AAA or roadside assistance?  Something sparked in his brain and he started rummaging through his wallet.  He came up with a AAA card.  Great!  He handed it to me.  Uh, not gonna do me any good.  I again offered him a phone.  He looked at me like I had three heads.  "You know, to call AAA?"  Ah!  Yes, he'd like to call them.  But what number should he call?  I pointed to the 800 number at the bottom of the card.  Oh.  Okay.  He continued staring at me.  I gave him my business card and pointed to our address so he'd know where to tell them to go.  And again offered the phone.  "No, I have a cell phone."  Okay, then.  He wandered back out the door.

Another customer did come, but we manged to get them loaded where they parked, without them having to navigate around the pickup and trailer taking up most of the loading area.  Then next time I looked outside, the guy with the keys locked in was gone.  I don't know if AAA came in record time, or if one of our employees ended up helping him break into his truck or what.  But wow.  That was one of the weirdest encounters I've had in a while.  And I see quite a few truck drivers every week.  :-)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Ridin' on the Ranch

Nathan and I got to ride together again, this time with Shar along too, on Flash.  We just rode out from her house, so we fetched the horses and tacked up pretty leisurely.  Shar had a new saddle she was trying, so she had adjustments to make, and mounted up first so I could help with stirrup adjustments if they were needed, and eventually we set off.  Oddly, Arya acted all weird as we left the driveway, even though there was nothing out of the ordinary that I could sense, and she hadn't batted an eye at the garage sale signs a few weeks okay.

She was a little "up" for her--perky and ready to trot at a moment's notice, and very ears-forward even when she was following other horses, but she didn't do anything naughty or ACTUALLY spooky.  Just had me on high alert along with her, just in case.

For her part, Dalai did GREAT on the stretch riding away from the house.  Shar had Nathan keep the lead rope attached, just in case, and even held it as they rode out the driveway, but soon turned the rope back over to Nathan and he was on his own, and they did great together.  I don't think she even tried to turn back toward home, but if she did, he nipped it in the bud, as she never DID actually turn toward home.

We moseyed on down the road, did a little trotting (and Shar did end up needing to adjust the stirrups on her new saddle after all), and so forth.  There was a big plastic tub along the side of the road, and Flash and Dalai both sniffed it (Arya and I were further away, and she didn't even give it the side-eye), and it was a non-event.  Then we got to the place that has turkeys.  They also have horses and random wooden structures (soon-to-be chicken coops?  they were just frames, though).  Flash didn't bat an eye at any of it.  Arya's been by the place enough not to care about the turkeys, but she was pretty sure some of the wooden structures were new, and kind of craned her neck at them as we walked by.  But Dalai heard the turkeys gobbling away and was like "Oh NO I don't!" and tried to spin around for home.

Nathan was having a hard time getting her to obey him, so Shar grabbed the rope to keep her from being able to spin around, and ponied him past the turkeys.  Once Dalai was calmer, she had Nathan practice a couple tight tuns (rein to hip, horse's head to rider's knee/foot).  We took a little singletrack trail uneventfully, and then back on the next section of gravel road, I was riding alongside Nathan and Dalai, and noticed the slack part of the rope between the saddle and halter was getting pretty long, so was trying to coach Nathan through shortening it and tying it to the horn.  He wasn't understanding what I was saying, so we both halted, and I was reaching over to get the rope, but he still had the reins in his hands as well as the rope, so I had him drop the reins onto her neck so I could grab just the rope, and she put her head down to rub it on her legs, and then the reins were up around her ears.  Oh SH*T.  Shar hopped off, and I tried to snatch the reins as she turned toward home right next to me, but missed, so I cut her off with Arya to block her path toward home, which paused her long enough for Shar to catch her.  She got the rope secured and everything, and we set off again.  Crisis averted, but sheesh!  I was kind of frustrated with Nathan for not grokking what I was trying to tell him about the rope in the first place, and kind of irritated with myself for not having him clip the breastcollar through the reins, at least, to keep them from getting up around her head.  All's well that ends well, though.

We continued on our ride, mostly moseying, occasionally trotting.  When we headed north on a pretty exposed chunk of road/trail (not much windbreak from trees), it was COLD.  There was a slight breeze we hadn't noticed when not headed directly into it and/or with better protection, and the socked-in clouds had never really burned off, and it was just COLD.  I was only wearing a sweatshirt (though with my crash vest over top, it was fine for most of the ride), so my arms were getting pretty chilly and my feet were cold throughout the ride.  I had gloves to keep my hands warm, though.  But Nathan, even WITH gloves and a fairly windproof (though not very insulated) jacket, was FROZEN.  Poor kiddo.  At one point, Shar asked whether we wanted to take the scenic route back home or the more direct route, and Nathan voted very hard for the direct route.  Shar had fingerless gloves, so her hands were cold, but she has a very well-trained horse who DIDN'T try to dart for home, so she would just rest the reins on his neck and put her hands in her pocket.  I'm not that brave!

Once we turned toward home, of course Arya picked up the pace, though she wasn't as sluggish as usual, maybe due to the cold weather.  On all the singletrack we traveled, we practiced the "stop and let the others get ahead of you" thing.  For one thing, it's good to work on leaving plenty of space between us and the horse in front of us.  For another, it's good for Arya to learn that the world doesn't end when the other horses get out ahead of us, even if they're briefly out of sight behind a tree.  And of course it's good for her to learn to stand still even as others are walking away from her.  So I'd halt, maybe ask her to back up a few steps (depending on the terrain), and then we'd stand for a few seconds.  If she stood quietly, I'd ask her to walk and we'd catch back up to the others pretty quickly.  A couple times, she was antsy to go again, NOT standing quietly, so I'd remind her with the reins and my seat that NO, we were standing still now, then release the reins and give her a chance to "make a mistake."  Eventually she stood still.  One time, though, it took a few tries and we got pretty far behind.  She apparently decided to catch up by trotting (which she NEVER does, she just walks fairly fast until we catch up) while we were going downhill and between/under some trees I would have rather not been trotting between/under.  But we survived, and I got her back to a walk without much ado.  Sheesh, though.  The ONE time she decides to trot without me asking her to!

Then we got back to the road and did some more trotting.  Arya wasn't in a huge hurry, so the others got a bit ahead of us, and THEN she decided she'd prefer to close the gap.  Something about her gait told me she wanted to canter, but I wasn't totally comfortable with the idea of her cantering, possibly galloping, etc., to catch up to the others, so I kept reminding her with the reins that we weren't going to canter.  She tossed her head a bit, and kept "asking" to canter, but was pretty good about just trotting quickly.  We got a little closer to the others, plus hit a steeper uphill section, so I went ahead and sat a little deeper and let her canter.  We did 8 or 10 strides or so.  Her gait felt coordinated (the trainer was worried about her potentially cross-firing based on a really amped-up round pen session), but it was very UP.  Her energy went a lot into the upward direction, and not as much into the forward direction as you would expect based on her exuberance.  Our top speed the entire ride was 9.9 mph, so NOT super fast, even though it sounded/felt fast at the time.  Ha!  We caught up to the others and she broke into a trot without me even asking, so that was another successful canter.  Woo!

Arya and I led most of the way back, since she'd got a pretty fast walk when she's headed home.  :-)  And she can use the experience of leading, though of course it's not as beneficial on "home turf."  Or at least you would think it wouldn't be.  On a piece of singletrack, she stopped and stared off to her right.  I have no idea what she thinks she saw, but I didn't see anything, so I let her look for a few seconds, and gathered my courage as well, and squeezed her on.  She wouldn't go, so I whapped her with the whip.  She went, but kept her eyes and ears trained to the right for quite a few strides.  Weird.  But she eventually got over it.  We passed the turkeys without incident (yes, we retraced some of our steps on the exact same stretch of road we'd headed out on), and then Arya spooked somewhat big for her (still pretty much stopping and staring, then proceeding while giving a WIDE berth to the scary thing) at some random farm machinery that had BEEN THERE when we'd passed it 90 minutes earlier.  Silly girl!  We survived passing that equipment, and she was pretty good the rest of the way home.

Our last trot session of the ride, before walking the rest of the way home for both training and sweat (at least for Arya) reasons, Arya was lagging behind the others, and in no hurry to catch up.  Then she tossed her head like I was holding her back (silly girl, I wasn't!).  She's so confused--I don't care about catching up to the others, but you better not be trying to stop me from going faster!

We walked the rest of the way home on a nice loose rein, all three horses, put the ponies away, and headed inside to warm up.  Shar made us hot cocoa and remedied the fact that neither Nathan nor I had seen National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and Richard went and fetched pizza for all of us from town.  Wow, spoiled much?  It was a great day, and a great ride.  Poor Nathan was frozen through and through, but I think he had a good time, and he claims he isn't sore today (the day after), so clearly we need to increase the mileage.  :-)

All photos are courtesy of Shar, with the fingerless gloves.  I was too lazy to take off gloves, take phone out of pouch, take photos, put phone back, put gloves on.  Thanks, Shar!!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Riding in a Shooting Range

Shar and I needed to go riding.  Not just wanted, needed.  And needed a good trail ride after riding from home and in lessons the last few rides.  So we trailered to a new spot for us--not far from the Henderson Flats OHV area--a little further north and west from where we park to ride there.  We just drove till we found a dirt road off to the side that had decent trailer parking.  I unloaded the horses before Shar jockeyed the trailer around too much on the bumpy land, so that was a bit of an adventure, handling both horses myself while she stayed in the truck (no good parking brake on it), but it worked out fine.  The two mares get along fine.

So yeah, got the girls unloaded, Shar got parked while I stayed out of the way, and we tacked up.  We had seen what looked like a "cowboy" gate (barbed wire and a post, not an actual gate with a hinge, so you have to be on foot, with the horse well out of the way, to maneuver it) in the fence not far off, so our original plan was to ride through it and explore east of it.  So I mounted up while Shar stayed on foot, since she can mount from the ground better than I can.  However, when we got closer, we realized that while there were posts that strongly resembled a spot where you'd put a gate, they had steps going over the fence instead, and no way to get horses through.  So we decided to ride north along the fenceline instead, and see where that took us.  There was even a deer/cow trail there to follow somewhat.

The view from the trailer as we were tacking up

Same spot, panorama covering the western horizon

As we crested the hill, we saw a vehicle parked on another side road, and soon realized they were there for target shooting.  I hoped they either started shooting while we were still far enough away that it wouldn't make too loud of a bank and startle Arya, or that they wouldn't shoot at all while we were nearby.  Thankfully, it was the latter.  I'm not sure whether they saw us soon after we appeared (we were behind where they were aiming) or if they just coincidentally took a break in shooting, but they didn't shoot.  We went ahead and approached them to talk to them (if they were actively shooting, we just would've given them a wide berth without approaching them), and they were very nice.  It was a few adults and a couple kids.  The kids wanted to pet the horses, so we sat around for a bit to let them.  A dog popped out of the back of their pickup, and it had ear protection on (earmuff style)!  So cute, and safety-conscious, too!  So we communicated with them on which direction they were shooting, where we were heading, and they said they wouldn't start shooting until we were well out of range of it being super loud.  They were so nice, and I really appreciated their consideration for our flighty animals.  Then, as we were riding away, I heard one of the adults tell the kids that since they weren't going to be shooting for a bit, they were going to pick up litter.  Wow--really great folks!

Eventually we came to an L in the fence that sent us headed in the "wrong" direction, but with still plenty of room before the busy highway, so we went ahead and went west.  No biggie--we were just out exploring, and as long as we were with our horses, and safe from shooters and/or highway traffic, we were happy to be out exploring.  We came to a less-busy road (the one we'd driven in on ourselves), and considered riding along it, but decided to cross it and continue bush-whacking and finding sort-of trails to follow rather than deal with potential traffic (I'd seen a couple cattle trucks on that road going rather fast while we were tacking up).  We kept our eyes open for random holes (gopher holes to wells to possibly lava tubes--you never know around here!) and wire strewn about.

We were both kind of dealing with slightly problematic horses--Dalai wanted to go, go, go, and Arya was incredibly frustrated by walking through all this food and me not letting her eat.  She'd try to put her head down, I'd prevent it, and she'd get pissy and toss her head.  She'd give up for a minute, then try again, getting a little bit pissier each time, it seemed.  We were thoroughly bushwhacking at one point, but with pretty clear spaces between lots of bushes that were spaced apart, so I purposefully wound her all around the bushes in random patterns, making general progress following along behind Shar and Dalai, but doing LOTS of turns.  That did distract her from eating, so that was good.

Soon we saw that the fence was retreating away from where we were riding, plus there was a dirt road alongside it we could ride on.  I was happy to be able to relax on a loose rein without having to keep Arya from eating at every step, so we took that option.  We trotted for a bit, and Shar asked if I wanted to try a canter.  Now, if you've been reading this blog for long, you know I have huge fear/nervous nelly issues.  So I tried really hard to think about whether my gut reaction of "no" was justified or just me being scared.  But I think it was justified--it was a rutted dirt road, so I really REALLY didn't want her to trip (and didn't want to have to worry about tripping), so I opted for no.

We came to a fork in the road, and Shar told me to pick which way we went.  I chose left, which took us up a hill.  Good views from the top, though there was quite a bit of litter on the ground.

Cool rock formations to our right

And good views to the left

And a picture of Shar taking a picture, for good measure.  She was leaning back in order to get Dalai's ears in the shot 

We came to another junction, and took the option to the right.  It soon came to the crest of a hill that descended VERY steeply.  Shar actually remembered having been there before, and how steep it was to drive up.  So yeah, we took some pictures there, since you could see Haystack Reservoir in the distance, but didn't attempt to go down the hill.

You can see the water of Haystack Reservoir to the left of Shar's helmet, off in the distance.  Maybe.
We skirted around the top of the hill to another road that descended, which was less steep, but still steep enough.  We dismounted and led the horses down, which also made for an opportune time for a potty break before mounting back up.  At the bottom of the hill, we came to a nice smooth dirt road, which we suspected was the road that came in from the highway to Haystack Reservoir.  The road was nice and smooth, not rutted at all, so we were trotting along, and Dalai trots quite fast.  In, fact, I was nervous at first about going so fast, but then realized, "So what if we're going fast?  What's the worst that will happen?  Arya breaks into a canter?  Fine!  Or we just trot really fast?  What's wrong with that?  Actually, we're going pretty fast right now and this is actually a really nice rhythm, and the posting is practically effortless.  This is actually pretty nice."  Ha!  And at one point, I went ahead and asked for a little more speed and she DID canter.  For all of a stride or so, not long enough to even tell if she was being organized about it or discombobulated or what.  But yeah, she cantered and I didn't freak out.  Yay, us!  Shar was ahead of us, but could hear the footfalls and also congratulated me on cantering.  Woo!

It was mostly downhill, so we did a lot of walking, too.  Eventually we came to a cattle guard, and at first we worried there might not be a way around.  There actually was, but we decided to turn around anyway.  Maybe if it was hotter we would've felt like trying to make it to the reservoir to give the horses a drink, but it looked like we would've had to ride along roads without much shoulder space (though granted, also without any traffic currently), so we just called it and turned around.

Of course the way back was mostly uphill.  We trotted quite a bit.  At one point, I was out in front of Shar and Dalai, and trotting Arya.  She'd slow down more and more, and I'd urge her faster.  I was kind of curious if she'd canter.  She would not, at least not while we were in the lead.  She'd get a pretty fast trot going, then slow down as soon as I quit asking her to speed up.  Dalai and Shar cantered past us, though, and Dalai has a big problem with cross-firing (cantering with one lead in her front pair of legs, but the opposite lead with the back pair), but she was cantering properly.  Yay, Dalai!  Now, with Dalai in the lead, I asked for the canter again, and this time Arya cantered TWO whole strides before slowing back down.  That's fine.  She's young and I'm a scaredy cat, so teeny tiny baby steps are absolutely fine.  We walked and trotted our way back, this time veering off at a road that took us to the bottom of the steepest option from before, but we skirted the hill instead, and ended up at the junction where we'd chosen to go up the hill before.

This whole time, we were hearing gunshots coming from a couple different directions, but always pretty distant.  (We're pretty sure we heard when the family we talked to started up again, but were over the hill and far enough away it wasn't TOO loud.)  As we were walking along this stretch of road, we heard a fairly loud, fairly close gunshot.  Arya got startled, and my heartbeat and breathing rate increased, too, and I'm sure my posture reflected my startled-ness, too.  So she startled for a second, then checked in with me, and since I was startled too, she kind of did a secondary startle/spook.  Luckily in place or without breaking stride or whatever, and we both recovered.  Shar said Dalai didn't even flinch.

We continued back mostly retracing our steps, except instead of the bushwhacking leg that roughly followed the road, we actually rode on the shoulder.  Only a couple of trucks passed us, and they were fairly polite.  As we topped a bit of a grade, it started feeling like Arya was "wobbly."  Not like she'd actually fall over, but like that feeling you get at the end of a long hike, like your legs are jiggly?  We had done a bit of steep downhill, and most of the ride was either uphill or downhill instead of flat, but it wasn't SUPER intense.  I mentioned it to Shar, and she watched her move and didn't notice anything too obvious.  I was worried Shar would think I was just making stuff up, but she believed me.  :-)  At one point it did feel kind of like Arya was thinking of letting her legs buckle and dropping down to the ground (as she did once before while I was riding her!), but she didn't.  I thought of getting off and walking her, but that would have taken longer, but vowed to do so on the downhill part if she still seemed wobbly by then.  But she ended up feeling better, or I just got used to it or something, so I rode her all the way back to the non-gate just before the trailer.  The only other weird incident that happened the rest of the ride back was that she broke into a trot for no reason I could discern, but she slowed down again right away too.  Just unlike my lazy pony, especially given how tired she seemed.

But yeah, it was a nice ride.  When we got back, I made sure Arya drank well before turning her loose to eat her food, and while she was drinking, I did my best to get some pitch/sap out of her mane so it wouldn't become a giant dreadlock.  Then Shar and I soaked in her hot tub for a while (I stashed a swimsuit in her spare bathroom a long time ago for just such an event, or a last-minute decision to swim in her community pool, but hadn't used it until now), and I went home and crashed.  And became VERY sore for the next two days.  The fronts of my thighs, so either from posting (and we didn't trot THAT much more than I'm used to) or the short but steep downhill hike.  I suspect the latter.

Oh, and for mid-November, it was very warm, and not too windy or anything--VERY nice weather for a ride.  I was wearing a long-sleeved but not particularly warm shirt under my safety vest, and actually felt too warm a few times.  Yay for unseasonably awesome weather, as well as good friends and good horses.  :-)