But I'm getting ahead of myself. First I fetched Arya, and got treated to this view:
|That's the little guy (foal) in the front, then Flash, then Mesa. Arya and Goodwin are watching, but not laying down.|
Then after I groomed Arya, Shar DID take a break from the burn pile for a little while to help me with saddle fitting. We put the potential saddle back onto Arya, to check how her shoulderblade fit under it. Shar walked her around while I felt her scapula move under the saddle. Hmm...a little tight, but probably not enough to eliminate it from consideration.
I put the western saddle I've been riding in back on her for comparison (it's a bit tight in the shoulder, but she's never shown signs of being sore), while she got Flash and his saddle out for the same reason. Hmmm... Put the potential saddle back on, with the pad I'd be using this time, and that made the saddle sit back an extra inch or so, which did seem to help. I was leaning toward buying it at this point. But then I got on. My first thought was how insecure I felt with the free-swinging stirrup leathers, but I could probably get used to that. I tried to put my fingers between the saddle (pad) and her shoulderblade and couldn't. Neither could Shar, so it wasn't just the awkward angle of being on the horse. Ugh. I could tell without even walking her around that it was just going to pinch too much. Ugh. WHY does she have to be so freakin' BIG? Well, that's actually one of the things I love about her, it just makes finding a saddle so hard. Ugh.
So, I tacked her back up in the western saddle I've been using and that I KNOW doesn't bother her, and we left for a solo ride.
It was weird--not too far from Shar's house, there's a house that has 2-3 dogs, a donkey, and a horse. The dogs ALWAYS bark. Arya's used to it and barely even twitches an ear in their direction anymore. This time, they didn't bark. Not a single noise. They just sat there silently. It was SO creepy. Meanwhile, the horse was near the fence, which always freaks Arya out (any horse, not just this one), so she did her whole "I'm just gonna scratch my face on my front leg, don't mind me, oh now that I've got the reins from you, I can go where I want" thing, but I was onto her. She also stopped dead when we were as close as we were going to get to the horse, but I squeezed and she moved out, no problem.
Then we got to the corner where she gave me SO much trouble on our last solo ride (she wanted to go home, I didn't, and I ended up having to get off in order to get her past that spot). I kept my brain (and hopefully, therefore, my body and therefore my body language to Arya) focused on the NEXT corner after that one, and either that worked, or she figured it wasn't worth fighting if I was just gonna get off an make her go anyway, because she gave one half-hearted effort at turning around, I got her back on track, and she plodded right on through that corner, and the next, and so forth like it was no big deal. Good girl!!
We trotted a couple times, but mainly walked, as there are a couple spots where we get near horses, and like I said, she gets weird about that. She tried to gravitate toward a cute Arab (it looks like an Arab anyway), but I kept her on the opposite side of the road and that was the end of that. No biggie.
We got to where the road becomes a trail and heads downhill, and she balked. It IS kind of a weird spot. You're between two fenced properties, and half of the narrow strip you'd otherwise be able to ride on is all churned up--I think they dug a ditch for drainage. So we're forced to ride on the other half, in which you're limited to a fairly narrow passage between a fence and a big pile of large rocks. To top it off, some of the dirt there is disturbed, too, and of course Arya's little pea brain probably worries there's *gasp* WATER or something. :-) So she stopped dead in her tracks. I gave her a second to think about life, then asked her to walk on, and she did. Good girl!
We made it down the hill, and the trail levels out and is mostly single track, though it follows a dirt road and there's a spot or two where you either have to get on the road, or it's the easier choice for a short distance. We trotted quite a bit of the trail. Last week, I'd been so nervous about letting her get any speed going at all that I clung to the reins, which (justifiably) ticked her off. This time, I tried to contain her speed with my seat and, when necessary, my voice more, though I never dropped the reins completely. Just tried to keep them loose while still keeping my grip close so I'd be able to get contact back in a hurry if I needed to. Of course, there were still a few times where I clung on, but not as bad as last week. She did great, and we had some really nice trot sessions where I felt really in sync with her, plus felt like I was posting more off my thighs and less off the stirrups (I didn't test this theory by dropping the stirrups, but my ankles felt loose and floppy instead of clenched).
We crossed one road and rode along another without incident, though there were some cars that were going pretty fast along there--luckily only while we were off the road. Whew!
We made it to the spot where we turned around last week in what felt like no time, so we kept on going, into the area where Shar and I rode together last weekend, the day after my solo ride.
It's funny, I don't FEEL like I did anything different with my body language, but maybe I did. Or maybe Arya just felt comfortable with the trail up to that point because we'd just done it solo the week prior, but as soon as we headed into the area we'd done with Shar last week, she went into HIGH alert mode. She even tried to turn around toward home a few times, though she'd been eager (to continue away from home) a few minutes prior. I'll be curious to see how she acts on our next solo ride to that area--if one ride without Flash is enough to make her feel comfortable with a certain spot or what.
Anyway, we trotted a bunch, walked some (when either she or I got tired, and it's funny that sometimes it was me first and sometimes it was her), and I started to need to pee. So chalk up another first--had a pee break while trail riding. :-) I'd planned ahead, though, and picked a spot with a nice log for re-mounting. I also removed my jacket and tied it to the saddle--it'd been COLD at Shar's house because of a brisk wind, but down in the gully I was in, I was getting too warm, and had been for quite a while at that point.
We wound around on the trails, mostly following the track Shar and I had done the prior weekend, though we took a couple shortcuts, on single track and a tiny bit of "off-roading," and we skipped the climb up onto the plateau that Shar and I did last weekend. At one point, I told Arya "okay, you choose" and of course she chose to head home. :-) We did some more trotting, and of course her trot toward home had a bit more oomph than it had earlier. She even offered to canter a few times. I considered cantering on purpose, but just didn't feel ready--the thought of it made my stomach clench. But I didn't panic when she did canter, so that was good. (She bucked the last time we cantered on the trail.)
We trotted as much as my thighs could take on the way home, except as we approached road crossings or got close to traffic on the road itself. Once we got to the big hill near home, we walked up the hill, and then walked the rest of the way home. I think Arya was fairly tired, as she didn't mind.
I didn't think to take photos during most of the ride--here's what I took when we were almost home:
|Look Mom, I'm a unicorn!|
|Does this shadow make my horse look big?|
When we passed the house with the dogs, donkey, and horse, once again the dogs were silent. SO. WEIRD. Even weirder, Arya spooked at something as we passed that house, trying to scoot away from that house. Not sure what's up. If the dogs don't bark again some other day, maybe that means they got bark collars or something. If they DO, though, that'd be really weird.
At the corner a quarter mile or so from Shar's, I'd had enough with the walking, my hips were tired of it, and I didn't want to trot so Arya would have a chance to dry out a bit (because of the cold wind), plus I could use the exercise, so I hopped off and walked her. Well, I jogged and had her trot a few times--gotta practice for the trot-outs at vet checks, dontcha know. I also attempted to see how she'd take it if I tailed her (hold a long lead line, grab the horse's tail, used to have them help you get uphill faster than using solely your own power, but without having to actually carry your weight up the hill). She thought I was crazy. We'll have to work on that. Someday. Not a hurry.
I wondered whether Shar would worry that I was coming back on foot, but she said she knew I'd mentioned wanting to do that sometimes, so she wasn't worried. :-) We sat around their "bonfire" and chatted for a while, and I got thoroughly doused in smoke smell (some people complain, but I like smelling like a campfire), then headed home.
I was nervous at first, but really enjoyed the solo ride today. (Same with last week.) Of course I love riding with Shar, and she definitely helps me with my confidence, but riding alone helps my confidence, too, and I think it helps Arya's confidence in me and mine in her. And that's a really good thing.
This week...possibly bareback (in the arena, not off the property--I'm not that crazy!), or maybe just groundwork. I'm returning the saddle that didn't work out, and had to return the pad I've been using with my western saddle (it was borrowed), so until the new one comes (1/3 the price online as it was locally), I will be saddle-less. Or maybe I could rig up the synthetic saddle....hmm....