Monday, January 26, 2015

Somewhere Near the Rainbow

So, I know there's a blizzard headed toward the east coast, but it was GORGEOUS here over the weekend.  Shar and I made arrangements to ride on Saturday afternoon.

I got there, swapped the stirrups back to my "old" saddle so the stirrups that came with the Tucker go with it to its new owner.  And I attached my brand new PURPLE pommel pack to the saddle.  Yay!

Arya stood fairly still through all this (and was GREAT about me picking up her feet--she's a smart one--only took a few "training" sessions for her to realize she could stand on three feet and allow me to pick her feet for a few minutes).  But it had been over a week since I'd ridden, so I wanted to lunge her first, for sure.  We headed off to the round pen.

We did a few circles at the trot, and I asked her to change direction.  She spun around and headed off.  Good girl.  Another direction change, and this time she kicked her hind feet out in my direction.  NOT a good girl.  So I asked her to canter a bit, turn, canter, turn, trot, turn, trot.  She kicked out again a couple more times, then seemed to settle in some, but still seemed to have a TON of energy, which she couldn't really expend in the round pen, so I took her to the arena.  She got some good canters in down the long side, and didn't buck at all.  I lunged her in semi-respectable circles again using the lead rope (I have a pretty long one) to get back to the "focused on me" purpose of lunging, and headed to the mounting block.

She stood nicely for mounting, then proceeded to walk off and would NOT stand still.  She'd stop when I asked, then immediately walk again.  So that didn't thrill me.  We headed out the driveway, and Arya was on HIGH alert--head held high (for her), ears forward.  But her tail wasn't swishing like it did the day she bucked me off right near the driveway.  But still...I have to admit I was a bit nervous.  I worked on my posture--when it's right, it feels like my lower back is really slouchy while my upper back is pretty upright, but the instructor showed me by pressing on my chest bone that it's actually a very stable position as opposed to what feels "proper."  And I was trying to keep my seat relaxed (not tensing my butt cheeks, basically) and my legs loose and gently wrapped around her (like a gentle hug).  Even before the instructor mentioned it, I've realized on my own that making sure my legs are wrapped around her does seem to help when she worries about something she sees.  I guess the unseasonable warmth affected Arya, too, and she had the spring wiggles!

So anyway, I was concentrating on those things, and took a deep breath, and SO DID SHE.  She heaved a big sigh, relaxed her whole body, and while her ears were still pricked forward (she was checking out the kids swinging on a swingset--haven't seen that before!), her body was much more relaxed.  Shar (riding behind us) commented on it, too.  Amazing the difference our posture and attitude can have on the horse we're riding, huh?

We walked down the dirt roads to a trail that goes down a hill.  Arya always feels stiff going downhill (well, every horse does, but she seems especially so, though going uphill she's smoother than on the flats), but she actually motored right down the hill with her back swinging.  It felt really good.  Then when the trail leveled out, we trotted for a bit.  Arya was behind Flash, and apparently wanted to plow right THROUGH him to get down the trail a little faster, so when Shar asked how the speed was, I said a little faster wouldn't hurt.  :-)  We settled into a good rhythm and trotted one of the longest stretches I've trotted in a while, and Arya did just fine.

We were theoretically heading toward a geocache, but knew we were fighting the sunset.  We headed down Rainbow (hence the blog post title--I'm trying not to have them be TOO boring), but eventually realized we weren't going to make it to the cache, be able to find it, AND get back before it got very dark, and we weren't wearing our reflective gear (and it's hard to find a cache in the dark).  Oh well.  Some other time...

Anyway, we alternated walking and trotting.  There was a gentle uphill section we were trotting where it really felt like Arya wanted to break into a canter, but I reminder her with a little check of the reins that we were trotting, and she obeyed.  :-)  On the way home, we tried trotting in front of Flash and Shar, and Arya did great.  She didn't go as fast, but she also didn't stop dead in her tracks to let Flash take the lead, either.  We didn't trot very long stretches at a time, though, partly because I'm not sure she would while in the lead, but also because my legs were tiring out and I could tell my posting was getting a lot sloppier (and therefore rougher on Arya as I flopped all over the place).  Having upcoming trees with low-hanging branches kept making good excuses to slow to a walk, too.

We climbed up a pretty steep and rocky hill, and Flash had a few moments of struggling--a rock would roll underfoot or whatever, but Arya motored right up it, taking a bite every couple steps (something she tries on the flats and downhills, too, but being on an uphill slope puts the food RIGHT under her nose, literally).

Can you imagine what it's like to be a horse being ridden through food sources but yet NOT allowed to eat?  That's gotta suck.  And most horses probably have an issue with nice green grass, but to Arya, ALL vegetation is potential food.  She's a mustang.  She eats thorny woody things like they're candy.  She crunches even the thickest stems of tumbleweed with impunity.  So yeah, she sometimes starts out a ride being good, but there always comes a point where she's like "but WHY can't I eat?  I can eat and walk, see?"  Except then she ends up with grass sticking out of her mouth and she tosses her head because it's all stuck around the bit or whatever, and it's just annoying for both of us.  So yeah, she needs to stick with only eating when I say so.  :-)

When we got back on the dirt roads near "home," we decided to try leapfrogging.  This is an exercise where two (or more) riders split up.  One rides ahead, away from the other (or group).  The other catches up and passes.  And so forth.  So Flash was lagging behind, since his walk is slower, so Shar checked with me first, then rode past Arya at a trot.  She broke into a trot for a few strides, but I slowed her back down and she seemed okay with the fact that Flash was pulling ahead.  Shar slowed Flash to a walk, and I got Arya to trot.  No problem catching up to Flash, but she did hesitate to pass him.  But I urged her on, and she kept trotting (though a lot slower).  We slowed to a walk, and Shar and Flash passed us again.  This time, Arya was like "Oh, this is a game!  I get it!" and didn't mind a bit.  We caught up and passed without issue.  We did a couple rounds, each time getting a little further ahead of the other.  She did great with it.  Of course we'll need to try it in other situations (this was near home, on familiar turf, pointed TOWARD home) and with other horses eventually, too, but it's good to know that with more practice and exposure, Arya likely won't mind passing and being passed out on the trail of an endurance ride.

Which, from what I gather, is basically constant--even if a group of riders have a loop all to themselves, people and horses vary their speed on different terrain in different ways.  Some people trot uphill and walk down.  Others might canter a flat stretch and pass a bunch of people only to be passed later one when they slow to walk an uphill section.  Then add in the fact that a lot of trails are shared between different distances (the 10-mile loop will be used by newbies like me as their only loop, but might make up part of the longer rides as well, and therefore the newbies might get passed by 25, 50, or even 100-mile horses and riders doing a faster pace)...passing and being passed is a very important skill.  So again, one we still need to work on, but good to know we're not starting out with much of an issue in that regard.

Anyway, we got back home without incident, untacked the horses (both were sweaty, but Arya especially so since she got the workout beforehand plus isn't in quite the same shape Flash is), and I let Arya roll in the pasture.  Do you know what's better to a hot sweaty horse than a good roll in a sandy arena?  Just about nothing, I'm pretty sure.

Then, just to top off her day a little further (she really was a VERY good horsie), I let her graze in the front yard area while I did a few chores.  She moved all of about five feet in 30 minutes or so, such was her concentration on the food underfoot!

Good girl.  I wasn't brave enough to canter (especially on the HARD dirt of the roads!), but once I relaxed at the beginning of the ride, wasn't very nervous, and had a great afternoon enjoying the sunshine.  I think Arya did, too.

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