So I went to her house, we gathered up the ponies, and loaded them into the trailer. I'd already put my tack into her truck the night before, so that was a step saved.
We arrived at the trailhead, unloaded the ponies, and tacked up. I got done before Shar, which might have been a first, so I went ahead and mounted up. For once, Arya just stood still. I adjusted my stirrups, stretched a little. etc. She did want to graze (the hazards of parking near the grass!), but mostly she was very, very good.
We set off, walking for the first 10 minutes, then we started trotting, even on the slight downhills. Arya did pretty well. She let Flash get ahead a little bit, but not as much as she had last time. If anything, I had to slow her to a walk to rest MY legs.
We got to a spot that was a nice uphill section, and Shar asked if we wanted to try a canter. I agreed, and we cantered. I wasn't even nervous to start the canter, not nervous when she sped up just a bit, and not nervous after it was over. Woo hoo!
We did great at trotting all the flat and gently-graded stuff, walking just on the steeper uphills and downhills. Here's a video from a section where we walked down a long hill, including the views from the trail.
Here's a video from a trotting section, so it's VERY shaky, but if you can stomach it, it also has some good views, plus the trail itself is just really pretty.
As this trail breaks out of the trees, it's also about to head up a long steep hill, so we stopped and let the dog drink from the river and the horses graze a bit.
Of course we walked up the long hot hill. Arya seemed to chug up it a little faster and steadier (no break) than last time, but it's hard to say, of course.
Then we got to a relatively flat section with mostly sandy trails (though there are a few rocky spots). This would have been a great spot to trot a bunch, but Arya kept stopping (usually in the shade) and not wanting to go. We were pretty sure it was just a normal-tired kind of stopping, and not a scary-tired kind of stopping, but we didn't want to hurt her or push her too hard, and there was still a ways to go until the water trough, including a long rocky slog uphill in the canyon. So we only trotted a little on that whole section. Arya had gotten into a big head-tossing snit in this area the prior time, so maybe she just hits a wall at this distance, or maybe it was just a coincidence.
We got to the gate, and Shar did me the favor of opening it again. This time we DIDN'T make the wrong turn up the crazy steep hill.
I didn't think to take many photos (or videos) in the canyon, and maybe it's for the best, as they wouldn't be all that scenic anyway. But it's cool to ride through anyway. Here's one photo:
No sooner were we clear of the little tiny creek when we came upon a mountain biker. Shar was ahead of us, so he saw her and Flash and stopped and got off his bike, which we let him know we really appreciated. Arya was a bit curious, especially as he started moving, but she didn't freak out at all. Letting her sniff all over a bike at Maston the prior week paid off. :-) Plus, she's just easy-going that way.
Soon, we arrived at the water trough. Arya and Flash drank their fill, then I had to pee, then we let the horses graze a minute. I took Arya back over to the trough to see if she needed any more water before we hit the trail again, and the funny thing is, she stepped RIGHT into the puddle/mud around the trough. So water only bothers her when there's no motivation to get into it. Sheesh. I also gave her a splash with some water from my water bottle, to see whether she minded, and she was totally fine with that. Next step, sponging, first with me on the ground, then from the saddle...
We hit the trail again, and this time picked back up with trotting wherever the terrain allowed, including a few downhill spots. She doesn't do very well trotting downhill, and in fact, refused to even trot downhill the last ride. I asked Shar to help me with my technique (I'd been using the saddle horn to help me stand in the saddle so I didn't bank down onto her back, which meant I was kind of hunched forward, but Shar recommended I try leaning back more). Sure enough, when I leaned back a bit more (probably really just vertical) and posted (but forward-back, not up-down, so I didn't bang down onto her back). The trail alternates between winding through sparse trees and breaking out into the wide open.
There's one particular switchback with very steep, sharp corners at both ends. Here's Flash and Shar on the second corner:
And a video of us going down it, including a bit of a slip of Arya's hind feet.
The first time we did this trail, I was scared to death, especially when her feet got kind of close to the edge. The second time, I didn't love it when her hind feet actually slipped over the edge, but otherwise was pretty okay. This time, I was comfortable enough to take photos and video while we did one of the scariest parts. :-) However, Arya's feet were just trimmed the other day, and this whole section is really rocky, so her feet were getting kind of ouchy by this point. So her little pea brain told her that getting off onto the edge of the trail would feel better, not realizing that not only were the rocks bigger and pointier there, but that there was a HUGE drop-off into the valley if she were to slip. Her hind feet slipped a bit over the edge at one point, and at another, her front feet did, too. Yikes! But mostly, it was absolutely fine and I wasn't scared. Woo!
When the trail flattened out a bit (but still downhill) and got sandier instead of so rocky, we started working on trotting again. But my thighs were KILLING me, and I could barely trot for a minute before needing a rest break. Shar said trotting downhill is harder, so we're going with that. :-) Well, and all the trotting the night before, and all the trotting in the first part of today's ride. So yeah, I guess it makes sense that my legs were exhausted.
On the home stretch, Arya and I were both pretty tired, so when Flash trotted out ahead of us, and Arya didn't seem in any hurry to catch up, I let her keep walking and let them get ahead of us a bit. Then I asked her to trot, hoping she didn't bolt to catch up. Her ears were very forward and she was looking intently for the glimpses we caught of Flash through the trees. But even though I encouraged her to canter, she was tired enough that she just stuck with the fast trot she was doing. (Oh, I left them out of the stuff above, but we did a few other canters in the ride, including one I hadn't really asked for, but I didn't freak out.)
Anyway, so Flash was way ahead, and Arya didn't even want to canter. We caught up, then let him get ahead again, and this time she did canter. Woo! She was a perfect lady about it, too.
I realized that the entire ride, the absolute "worst" behavior/issue she had was a little bit of head-tossing (which I've learned to mitigate by not letting her eat the dry, stiff bunch grass that gets all stuck horizontally next to the bit and she can't swallow it, which frustrates her) and the stopping at about halfway through, which was probably warranted after all the trotting we'd done. She'd seriously been SO great. And I felt absolutely confident. Which meant I was relaxed and not holding a death grip on the reins. Which meant she felt free to be relaxed and confident, too. It was SUCH a good ride.
In anticipation of doing a "real" endurance ride (well, the 10-mile ride won't really count, no matter how many times I ride it), I'd made a mash with her breakfast pellets, water, and a bit of salt. I was curious whether she'd even eat it, and if not, wanted a chance to buy/try other stuff. Well, I needn't have worried. She TORE INTO it. And WOW, she's a messy eater! She and Flash took turns, and it was funny, because she slurped the stuff up like it was food, while Flash daintily stuck his lips in and sucked the liquid up like it was water.
When the ponies had pretty well emptied the bucket, we set them to work cleaning up the fender:
As if that wasn't enough of a treat, we also let them graze a bit before taking them home and turning them loose in their pasture full of grass. :-) The Shar and I treated ourselves to dinner out--we earned those calories fair and square! SUCH a good day. I felt really good riding my horse, and other than the initial butterflies I've just come to expect, I was never once worried about anything she did. She was GREAT.