Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Night Ride!

So, some of my friends are crazy enough to ride at night.  Back when I first heard of this practice, I thought it sounded interesting.  I've done some night hiking when I was a teenager, so it's not a completely foreign concept, but I'd never really thought about the practicalities of it.  And now that I have a horse to ride but it's nearly winter and Daylight Savings Time is about to end, I realized it's more a matter of being able to RIDE than just a novelty.  If I want to be able to ride on weekdays, I'll HAVE to ride in the dark.

I'd recently bought a couple of reflective armbands for me to wear when running in the evenings, but with a horse in my life, I also bought some other reflective gear.  Here, let's take a look:

Leg bands for all four.  I was afraid they wouldn't fit her and I'd have to outfit just two legs, but they fit!  (and they're stretchy, so they accommodate movement as well)

And a tail wrap, too.  You can also see Shar's gorgeous but highly visible jacket on the left, and Flash's front leg wraps.

We should probably have something more for the front (nose/brow bands, breastcollar or something), and it might not hurt for me to have something more reflective than just the armbands on my person, but as long as drivers are paying attention, they can't say we weren't visible, even with our current gear.

Anyway, so as you can see in the photos, it was pretty much full daylight as we were tacking up.  I did do some roundpen work--mostly changing directions and working on focusing on me, sometimes trotting, sometimes walking.  Definitely NOT trying to wear her out, just focus.  I mounted up without incident, and we headed off.

At first, Elk was very "looky," making sure there was nothing lurking in the bushes or culverts, so I was a little nervous about how she'd act when it got darker and darker, but she settled right in behind Flash (she'd put her chin on his butt if I'd let her) and let him lead the way.  We headed down a dirt road, across a paved road (including the dreaded WHITE LINE that doesn't often give you a place to go around it, so you have to go OVER it, horror of horrors!), on the shoulder of a paved road (and sometimes along the road itself), back across a paved road, and onto gravel roads for the majority of the rest of the ride, though we did more shoulder riding along a paved road, and also a couple pieces of trail.

It is pretty weird to ride in the dark!  Luckily, we eased into it, starting out in daylight, but by the end of the ride, I could pretty much only see the silhouette of Elk's ears against the slightly lighter road, and the difference between the road and slightly lighter ditch/shoulder, and that's about it.  At one point, we were looking for the trail home and knew it came after a certain fence ended.  I could only make out the white tips of the T-posts one or two at a time--I couldn't see any further ahead than that.

But it was totally amazing to be out there with just Elk, Shar, Flash, and Noelle, and the big starry sky.  

What was weird was that while you can get used to walking along at a steady pace on the predictable surface of the gravel road, riding on the trail was a totally different experience.  Because the horse is stepping over and around things, you can't get used to any certain rhythm.  So you just have to stay loose and go with the motion as much as you can.  I can see how people say they get nauseated riding in the dark (though that's usually on 100-mile endurance rides, which brings in a whole lot of other factors like exhaustion, dehydration, and hunger, etc.).  Plus they're usually trotting.

Speaking of trotting, Shar asked if I wanted to try trotting while we were on a nice straight, flat dirt road.  I said I was game to try, but might want to stop right away.  We did it!  We trotted!  And even kept going.  I was mildly concerned about Elk tripping (or less likely but still possibly darting sideways if something spooked her), plus my thighs are so weak that I held onto the horn most of the time, but we trotted for a minute or two.  Woo!  And only stopped because of my thighs, not because I didn't like it.  :-)  Though as I said at the time, it was exhilarating in a "close your eyes while you're driving" sort of way.  :-)

It was funny--Elk had been wanting to stay right behind Flash the whole way.  Until we did our stint of trotting, when I pulled her up even with him and we went side-by-side.  It's like that broke her out of her shell or something--she pulled ahead of him at the trot, and even when we slowed to a walk, was ready to be the leader for a while.  So we went alongside the aforementioned T-post fenceline, looking for the trail, and Elk definitely knew when she found it--she made a sharp left and hit the trail, even though she'd only been there once before.  And we motored right up the hill in the dark.  So cool.

I didn't take any pictures in the dark, of course, but here's what it might've looked like if I was an awesome photographer and my horse stood perfectly still:

I'll need to get some warmer riding pants and find my gloves before the weather cools down TOO much more, but how awesome to know we can go riding even after work when it's dark before I even leave the office.

Other near-future goals of mine with Elk while we're still in the trial period:

Cantering on the trail (I don't have any hopes of this going well in the arena)
Trailering somewhere (doing this on Sunday!)
Riding alone (I also just need to see how she does riding out ahead of the "group" (or one other horse), staying behind when the "group" takes off, etc.)

But you know what?  This horse is AWESOME.  She is perfect for me in every way.  Seriously.  I couldn't be happier with her so far.  I can't believe how lucky I am.

And you know what else?  The very first day, when Alanna brought her out to Shar's property, and I eventually got on her and rode her for three minutes in the round pen was ALREADY more success than I ever had with Trigger.  And still, I've only had her for 10 days and we've had so much success.  Yay yay yay!!  Can you tell I'm thrilled?

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