Shar had a friend in from out of town along with her teenage daughter, so the three of them headed up mid-day on Friday, and I joined them later in the the afternoon after I got off work. The plan was to just relax on Saturday, then both Shar and I would ride on Sunday.
Friday, we hung out for a while waiting for the ride meeting, then we went to the meeting to announce our green bean (i.e. new to the sport folks) party at Shar's campsite, and we hosted that and got to put some faces to names from Facebook.
I had decided to stay at home Friday night, so I drove home. I was afraid it was going to be over an hour and a half drive, but it was just an hour and ten minutes. Not too bad! I went straight to bed, with my alarm set for pretty early the next morning.
I arrived at camp Saturday morning and joined Shar and the gang for breakfast. Then we each got ready for our separate days--Brenda and her daughter to go drive around the area enjoying the scenery, and Shar and me to tack up our horses to enjoy the trail challenge. We rode down to the vet check area, Arya checking out all the "scary" sights along the way, like porta-potties and trucks and trailers and horses and stumps and rocks--oh my! Flash, of course, was as steady as always, so that helped. The ladies running the trail challenge had stepped away but would be back in 20 minutes or so, so Shar and I rode out of camp a bit and back again. Arya did pretty well, considering it was a new environment.
We got back to camp and the ladies were there to sign us up for the ride. We stayed on horseback so didn't sign the waivers yet (ha!), but they handed us a guide to the four different levels so we could choose which level to ride at. It was all the same obstacles either way, but what you had to DO with them would be different. For example, if there was a log to step over, level 1 might be just to walk over the log, level 2 might be to step over the log with the front feet, stop for a few seconds, and continue on, level 3 might be to step over with the front feet, back off so all four feet are back on the same side, then walk across, and level 4 might be to step over the log with the front feet, sidepass along it for a few feet, step over with the hind feet, then back over it with all four feet. Or whatever.
Mentally, I was thinking I should just do level 1, as this is all new to Arya. She's done some obstacles, of course, especially at Celena's either in our lessons or in the weekend clinic we did, but doing them in a new environment would add a little pressure. And I figured Shar would be doing level 3 or 4 with her talented pony. But when she said she'd do level 2, I figured why not--let's do level 2, too, so we'd have an example doing the exact same thing we'd be doing. We made a friendly bet that whoever lost would have to scoop the poo from the paddock. Since either of us would have likely been doing it solo while the other held the bag the poo had to go into (has to be hauled out of the area instead of left there), and neither of us particularly minds doing it, this was VERY low stakes. :-)
We walked (riding) on up to the trail course area, which was actually right next to our campsite. One of the ladies started explaining the first obstacle: "See those two trees over there?" [Points to two trees that are about two feet apart.] "Ride your horse around this way, then between the trees..." Um, WHAT? My horse wouldn't fit between those two trees naked and lubed up, let alone with the saddle and my LEGS! "No, just their head and neck. Ha ha ha! Then back out." Oh, okay. I can try that, at least. Shar and Flash did it first, and there were a bunch of low-hanging branches that were in the way. Uh oh. I'm taller than Shar, and Arya's taller than Flash, putting my head at least 8 inches higher than Shar's, where the branches got even denser. When she was done, I approached the obstacle, and tried to avoid as many branches as I could. Arya took a wrong turn or mis-step (counted as a refusal, and deducted from my score) a time or two, but eventually did put her head into the gap and we got counted as completing it.
The next obstacle was also two trees, but spaced further apart. We had to do a figure eight--go between the trees, loop to the left, between the trees, loop to the right, then just as the horse's shoulders got between the trees for the third time, stop and back up. Arya actually did really well at that one--I think that was one of our perfect scores.
Next was a BIG log that we were supposed to get right beside, then dismount, then remount while the horse stood still. Shar did it with Flash, no problem. Then they stood off to the side for us to have our turn. And all of a sudden, even though she'd been fine with it on the first two obstacles, apparently Arya decided she'd rather be near Flash than near the big log. So we got one refusal, then two, three, and four, and got a zero on that obstacle without even giving it a very good try (every time she took a step away from the log, basically, counted as a refusal).
Next, we had to go into the woods (through a curtain of tree branches), step the front feet over a log, stop and wait for a few seconds, then proceed across the log and out of the forest through an even denser curtain of branches (I really wish they'd trimmed the branches for this course, though at least they were relatively soft pine branches and not stiff and stabby juniper branches!). Flash and Shar went first, and did just fine. Meanwhile, Arya and I are outside the curtain of branches, and she's kind of freaking out that her buddy left. He emerged from a different area, and then I made her go into the deep dark woods. She did great at this obstacle, too, though, even though she was distracted by her buddy being behind the forested curtain. We plunged through the branches back to the daylight again, though, and she was fine.
The next obstacle was to pick up a 6- or 8-foot bamboo pole, sidestep away from where we picked it up, and carry it around in a wide circle around the tree, then back to where we got it from to replace it. Flash neck-reins, so Shar was able to carry it one-handed with the reins in her other hand, like she was jousting, and it went just fine. We sidled up to the pole, and Arya didn't mind me picking it up at all. However, since she does NOT neck rein, I had to hold the reins in both hands and hold the pole more like one holds a whip or crop, except it's MUCH longer, so one end was going across her withers and up toward her head while the other went back across my thigh and toward her rump. Fun times. I got some semblance of a side pass, though it wasn't graceful at all, then moseyed around the tree and put the pole back. Ta da!
That concluded the forest portion of the trail challenge, and now we moved into the meadow. Uh oh. Arya's favorite thing to do it EAT. And a meadow is fully of tasty, tasty grass. And of course she can't spent all her time under saddle eating said grass, so if I were to let her eat, I'd have to stop her eventually, and that is her LEAST favorite thing to do--stop eating tasty, tasty grass. So yeah. I don't love riding her in food to begin with, and if we must cross through, I like to keep her moving and prevent her from eating to begin with. As pissy as she gets at me NOT letting her eat, she gets WAY pissier if I stop her from eating after she's started (plus sometimes she bites off more than she can chew, literally, with the bit in her mouth, which frustrates her, too). So yeah, as soon as they said we were heading to the meadow, I knew our scores were about to get WAY worse.
The first obstacle we were supposed to tackle was a ditch. We were supposed to enter the ditch at an angle, stop calmly in the bottom, pause a bit, then proceed back up the other side of the ditch, still at an angle and still calm. Flash and Shar did it first while I got to wrestle Arya and attempt to keep her from eating all the lovely grass that was not only at her feet, but coming up to tickle her nostrils. Flash and Shar did great and stopped on the other side of the ditch for us to take our turn. Well, now Flash was on the other side of the ditch, of course, so Arya thought it made WAY more sense to just plow right across it, disregarding the "diagonal," "pause," and "calmly" part of the instructions, and of course my cues to that effect. Ugh. I think we flunked that obstacle completely.
Then there was a piece of carpet on the ground, and we were supposed to stop with the horse's front feet standing on it. It was a long narrow rug like you'd use in a hallway, and it was dark brown, and it was nestled down in the grass. Flash, who's usually pretty easy-going about stuff like this, wasn't a fan. I forget what score they got on it, but they eventually got his front feet on the rug, but maybe didn't pause as long as they were supposed to or something. But he DID it.
Arya wanted NOTHING to do with this strange-looking patch of ground in the middle of the meadow full of FOOD. Maybe if it had been in the middle of a boring arena, she might have taken a few good sniffs at it, stepped across it (without stepping on it) a couple times, and then maybe given in and stepped on it. But it was in a meadow, so I'm sure she thought it involved (*GASP!!*) water, and of course it was surrounded by food, so why should she bother? So yeah, we flunked that one, too.
Next was a challenge that was done on foot, so we both dismounted. I attempted to get Arya to cross the carpet while Flash and Shar did the next obstacle. Yeah, still not so much, though she did get closer with me controlling her from the ground than from the saddle. Anyway, for the next obstacle, you had to put a big pannier bag over the saddle, then trot the horse in a big circle (still on foot), with the bag flapping around. I believe Arya and I got a perfect score on that one. She was easier to control and keep from eating, plus she didn't care at all about the bag flapping around on the saddle.
Next, they had a folded-up camping chair tied to the end of a lasso. The chair was on the ground and the loop of rope was hanging from a tree branch. You had to sidle up to the rope, grab it, and walk around the tree, dragging the chair behind. I actually thought Arya might do okay at this one--she's dragged stuff before, but just never with me in the saddle. But Shar and Flash went first. Shar hasn't dragged anything from Flash in FOREVER, so she was worried how it would go. Flash was a trooper, but was very concerned about this thing following him through the grass. He kept his neck bent and his eye on the chair the entire time, but they went around the tree and hung the rope back up, no problem. However, by this point Arya was being a total BRAT, and no longer obeying me at all. So we got a zero on that one, and I hopped off in order to get better control of her and try to keep her from eating and get her brain back on me.
So the final obstacle was a hula hoop hanging in a tree about 20 feet away from a parcel hanging in the tree. The parcel was to be used at the higher levels, so was just a landmark for level 2 riders. Shar had to ride up to the parcel, then BACK up to the hula hoop and grab it. Then toss it onto the ground, attempting to do a ring toss over a bucket on the ground. She was worried Flash would freak out when she tossed the hoop, so she spent some time playing with the hoop, getting him used to the idea of it moving around near his head. When she tossed it, though, he didn't move a muscle. Not bothered in the slightest. I decided to at least try that obstacle from the ground, which of course decreased the difficulty level quite a bit (and the danger to my person as well). I flipped the hula hoop around near Arya's head, and even on top of her head like a halo, and she barely cared. Well, she wanted to EAT, but she didn't care about the hoop. So I tossed it, and that was that.
We spent a bit more time in the meadow, talking to the ladies running the trail challenge about what the harder levels would have entailed for each obstacle, and Arya quit fighting to get a bite to eat, and eventually just stood still and even dozed off. Aargh!!! So frustrating that she was SUCH a brat while I was riding, then a perfect angel once I was standing next to her head. Ugh.
Shar decided to go for a little ride, but I was frustrated with Arya and just wanted to take a bit of a break, so she went alone. I put Arya into the pen and started to clean some poop up, since I knew I'd lost the "bet," but Arya was tearing around inside the small area hollering for Flash, so it didn't feel safe to be in there with her. Somewhere around this time, Brenda and her daughter came back from their adventures, so we hung out in the camper together chatting and watching Arya go crazy in her pen. She quickly worked the manure into the mud she was creating by pacing, prancing, and dancing, so I guess I didn't need to worry about picking any up right now anyway.
Apparently Flash acted up a bit too, at leaving Arya, but Shar whipped him into shape (not literally) and got his mind back on their ride and they did okay. Though the rain started up while they were gone, so they got a bit wet. :-) However, Flash did his "shoulder thing" again during their ride and walk back to the camper, so Shar was debating whether to downgrade from the LD (25 miles) to a 10-mile "intro" ride, or not ride at all. Of course selfishly I would have voted for her to ride 10 miles with me, but with the slippery trails, it was probably best if she didn't ride at all. At first she left the option open, but as the afternoon and evening wore on, it sounded more and more like she decided not to ride at all. :-(
Brenda decided to leave--kind of pointless to hang out in a tiny camper hiding from the rain when she could pack up and head home via the scenic route and enjoy scenery while also avoiding the rain. So when Shar got back, they said their goodbyes. Holly arrived soon after that, and we invited her and Graham to hang out in the camper with us and wait out the rain. We got to hear about Holly's ride, which between the vets showing up late to the vet check (extra long hold for the riders!) and the torrential rains making the trails a slick muddy mess, was pretty interesting.
At some point, Shar and I each went to the trail challenge booth to pay for our rides (we'd forgotten to bring our checkbooks or cash when we went to actually DO it, and they were nice enough to take an IOU) and find out how we did. I got a score of 48%, which didn't shock me, especially as they went through each of the obstacles and gave me my score for each. :-) Shar got 98%!!! Go Shar and Flash!
Eventually, we wandered down to the vet area where we got to see friends completing the 50-mile ride, and attend the meeting for the awards from Saturday's ride and the ride meeting for Sunday's ride, and brought the car with its goodies for a continuation of the green bean party. During the meeting, riders for the 100-mile ride were coming and going--man, that must suck. To see everyone hanging out and eating (there was a potluck including a hot pot of homemade jambalaya) and drinking and huddling under canopies and such, and be heading back out on your horse in the rain and heading onto muddy trails. But you know what? They wouldn't be doing it if they didn't love it, so maybe they thought they were the lucky ones and WE were the suckers. :-) After the meetings were over, I headed home--it was chilly and I wanted to get to bed.
Here's a photo I actually took Sunday, but represents what the afternoon/evening of all three days looked like. It's a gorgeous area, and the dark clouds actually make it look even better. The resulting rain, however, is less pleasant, especially to those trying to ride their horses out on the trails.
Well. We took the first few steps away from the trailer, and she was fine. Super well-behaved even. Woo! We took a few more steps, and Flash started nickering, like "wait, are you leaving me?" Arya didn't respond, just kept marching along next to me, though her ears flicked back to him. Flash neighed a little louder, and Arya may have turned her head a bit, though she still kept toodling along with me. But as we got farther and farther away, Flash got louder and more insistent and Arya got more and more worried about leaving him. Probably if he'd been calm and quiet, she would have been too, but she must have read his whinnying as panic or something, and started worrying about what was wrong. By the time we got to camp, she was a MESS and not paying any attention to me whatsoever. So I found a big open space and worked on circling her around me. She was already rather sassy, and seemed ready to kick out at me in pissy-ness, and was cantering in circles when all I wanted her to do was walk calmly, and then one of the water bottles fell out of the saddle bag and she completely lost it. She was bucking and cantering at the end of the line. Sheesh. So I decided I would NOT be riding today, and dumped her bridle and my vest and helmet over near Shar and really started putting her to work.
We did circles, with lots of changing directions. We backed up. Then we hit the road out of camp, with me still on foot. We sniffed at scary looking (and sounding) things. We backed up. We walked calmly across a pole, then backed over that pole. We lunged up and down a steep but short hill (fail, since she literally LUNGED up it rather than walking calmly), and lunged up a down a much less steep but still hard-working hill, and that went much better. We stopped and stood. We backed up. We backed up a LOT. We trotted, we walked. We backed up some MORE. We sniffed at the scary manure trailer. We stopped and stood. We backed up. We went less than a mile (and unfortunately could still hear some horses, but probably not Flash, hollering), but her feet and BRAIN got a workout just the same. I brought her back to the vet check area, then the camp area, without many shenanigans.
Shar got some bodywork done on Flash, and it definitely doesn't seem to be a huge issue, so hopefully with a few months of time off, whatever is going wrong inside the tissues of his shoulder will restore itself and he'll be able to get back into work. Meanwhile, Shar is looking for another horse to borrow or buy since Goodwin didn't work out and the baby is much too young. But in the meantime, I guess I'll be riding solo. Hope it goes better from Shar's place than it did at ride camp.
Total saddle miles and saddle time for the weekend: Under a mile in a little over an hour on the trail course. I didn't use a tracker for our little "hike" on Sunday, but I'm guessing my phone went a half mile or so, though Arya's feet did a little more mileage than that. But it was a great weekend spent with great people, and other than the rain making the trails so slick, it's a gorgeous location. Hopefully we'll be able to ride there much more successfully next year.