Sunday, April 13, 2014

Awesome Day!

So, my friend Julie invited me to ride with her this weekend.  That isn't all that unusual, she's been generous enough to let me ride one of her horses pretty frequently lately.  The plan was to meet up at her barn at noon, catch, groom, and partially tack the horses, then load up and meet our friend Shar at her (new!) house and ride out from there.  However, Julie texted me just as I was leaving to say that the farrier wasn't even there yet, so don't hurry.  Well, I was literally already out the door, so I took my time trying to rig my sunglasses to stay on better (tip:  stickers with a little thickness to them stuck where the two pieces meet when unfolded, to cause the temple pieces to press onto my head better), then got gas before heading up to her place.
Even with the little bit of stalling, I still got to her place right around noon, as originally planned.  Oops.  I guess I hadn't really realized that she wasn't just waiting for him to ARRIVE, but that he would be shoing the horses we would be riding before we could ride.  Oh well.  The farrier pulled in about when I did, but first he showed one of his horses to a potential buyer, then he wanted to ride one of his other horses in the arena (he doesn't have a large arena at his place).  

Finally he seemed ready to start on shoeing, but first he had to do something else...I swear that guy dawdles more than Nathan.  Finally, he got the hints we were giving about wanting to go riding, and he actually started and quickly got both horses done.  We loaded the horses and gathered our other supplies (water, helmet, etc.) and headed out.  Unfortunately, in the meantime, Shar had invited some other people over and so when we realized we'd be running late, she and her other friends went without us and Julie and I decided we'd end up riding on our own.  No biggie.

Oh, after loading up all the horses and other gear, we started to pull out down the driveway, but realized we'd left behind the mounting block.  We COULD use a bumper (or one of the big boulders at the trailhead), and Julie can actually get on from the ground when necessary, but I really can't, so I hopped out to go fetch it, and promptly turned my ankle in a pothole in the driveway and fell to the ground on my hands and knees.  I think my jeans are unhurt, but my hands took a little bit of damage.  But I chalked it up as insurance against a worse fall later on, and got up and fetched the mounting block.  :-)

So yeah, we loaded up then drove to the nearest trailhead.  We were the only ones, so Julie had an easy time of circling the parking area and parking facing back out to the exit, no backing required.  :-)  We unloaded the horses, added bridles on top of their halters, and I hopped up first because we weren't sure the stirrups were adjusted correctly, but they were perfect.  Julie mounted, and we were off.  

The day could not have been more beautiful, nor more perfect for outdoor activities, including horseback riding.  Gorgeous blue sky, and the temperature was perfect--warm when standing still in the sun (in fact, my dark wash jeans got ridiculously hot), but a nice breeze to keep it from being too hot.  At one point I even commented that we should soak up the perfect weather because it'll soon be too hot (and I won't rule out one more snowstorm before it becomes summer, either).

Anyway...this was my first trail ride in FOREVER, and after the bad experiences I had with Trigger, I've been nervous at each "first" since then--first time back on a horse, first time on a new horse, first time in the outdoor arena, first time outside the arena.  So I was understandably (IMO) nervous getting on at the trailer, but honestly not really very nervous at all, compared to the first few "firsts."   

Julie had warned me that about the only "vice" this horse had on the trail was that if she saw something that made her nervous, she would "spin."  Well, that made me nervous anyway because I'm unbalanced enough (and top heavy!) that a spin would unseat me just fine, and a spin plus a bolt would leave me stunned on the ground for sure.  So the first couple minutes on the trail, when the horse kept feeling "humped" up under me, I was a bit concerned.  It turns out it was less from being ready to buck (or do anything else problematic), but more because she was in a shanked bit for the first time in a while, and was really rounding not just her neck, but her whole back.  She settled into it after a few minutes and did just fine, and I was careful to stay off the reins as much as possible.

I relaxed significantly, and then we approached some signs posted alongside the trail that Julie warned me she would spook at.  Well, she definitely didn't want to be near them, but I was hugely relieved to see that Julie's definition of "spin" was much different than the spin and bolt I'd been afraid of.  I later commented that Julie's comment had me thinking she (the horse) would be saying, "Aw, HELL no.  NO no no no no no no!"  But really what she "said" was, "Nah, I think I'm gonna just walk over heeeeere a little bit instead.  Okay?"  So I went along with her desires out of concern for my own hide, and we gave the evil horse-eating signs a wide berth.

We moseyed on down the trail, throwing in a few trots when the trail cooperated.  Speaking of which, this trail is also frequented by motorized vehicles (mainly ATVs and dirt bikes), and has lots of "whoops" in it (the little hills and gulleys that build up from such traffic).  It's kinda fun riding them on horseback, too.  At the walk, you're already moving your hips to follow the horse's movement, and going up and down hills that are only a horselength apart means it's like doing pelvic tilts while also moving your hips to follow the horse's movement.

Julie navigated us through a few turns, and told me she was hoping to take me somewhere special.  We found ourselves at a gate, but a gate you're allowed to open as long as you close it again.  Julie did me the favor of hopping off to open it, then hopping back on using a rock as a mounting block.  I'd already been commenting to her on how cool the view was, with cliffs looming above us, and she said, "Just wait!"  Sure enough, we entered a canyon, with cliffs above us on both sides, and some really cool rock formations, lichen-covered snags, etc.  However, cliffs looming above on both sides go against a horse's natural instincts, which tells them that those cliffs would be the perfect spot for a cougar (or whatever predator) to lie in wait to pounce.

So we'd head down the trail, and the lead horse would be on high alert (ears forward, body tensed up) and might even start trying to turn around back the way we'd come.  So we'd pull the other one into lead position to coerce the other down the trail a little further, and then at one point both horses refused to go any further.  Neither Julie nor I are the bravest horsepeople, and it is entirely possible that they were spooking because of something totally harmless, or even just to convince us to head back to the trailer.  But we decided to play it safe and assume the horses knew better than we did, so we turned around.

When we got back to a junction, we explored a different direction for a bit, and again the horses refused to go forward after a certain point, so we called it a day and headed back. 

On our final pass by the supposedly horse-eating signs, I circled the horse back around them at what she felt was a safe distance but with much protesting.  Then I got her to get a little closer, but again with much protesting.  Then all of a sudden, she just walked right up to the signs, as if to convince me that they were okay after all.  Then spooked again walking away and a few times again even though we were heading TOWARD the trail.  But again, her form of spooking is totally doable, even by me, so whatever.  

We eventually ended up back at the trailer, where the horses loaded up very nicely, and we all headed back toward food, water, and shade.

As we pulled up to the barn, Julie commented that the farrier was STILL there, as evidenced by his truck out front.  Then we saw WHY he was still there--he was on his horse he was so anxious to ride in the arena, but not in the arena this time--he was at a full-out gallop on the trail on the property.  We unloaded the horses, took them to their paddock so they could roll and eat and drink, and then watched the farrier and Julie's husband (a horse trainer) goofing around on horses.  At one point, the farrier put away that horse and grabbed another, who had apparently only been ridden twice before, so they careened around a while, then attempted a water crossing.  The horse wanted NO part of that, but after a few minutes, he gave in and was soon splashing around enjoying himself.

All in all, a successful day for all of us, and lots of fun.  Thanks again, Julie!

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