Monday, September 14, 2015

Ride to the River 9/13/15

I'm pretty sure it's been since the 4th of July that I've been on a "real" ride.  I've ridden Arya solo a time or two, which resulted in the lesson where Celena came to Shar's to help us through THAT obstacle, and a few groundwork-only sessions and a "boring" training ride of circles upon circles right near home, but haven't left the property and done a trail ride in FOREVER.  Finally Shar's and my schedules worked out that we could ride, and ride we did.  :-)

We fetched our ponies, and while Shar was tracking Dalai down (she'd already grabbed Arya for me), I took Arya to the round pen.  Her first "go" was awesome--I pointed, she went.  Asked for a trot and got it, had to remind her about "responsibility" a couple time, and had to remind her how the starting is supposed to go, but mostly she did okay.  Not QUITE as good as the last few times, but still PRETTY good.

I tacked her up and tried out a new girth.  My old one had elastic at both ends and this one doesn't, so it took a bit of fiddling, and then I had Shar tighten it one more hole after I got on.  Not sure if I'll like this one better than the old one.  Also intended to buy a longer one and it turns out this one is shorter (possibly just due to the elastic making the old one stretchy and the new one isn't), so it's kind of a pain to have to put it on the first holes, then adjust on both sides.  Oh well.

So yeah, got situated including slathering on sunscreen, then hopped on.  Worked on standing still a moment, though we then walked over to Shar for the aforementioned girth adjustment.  But both Shar and I want to work on that with our ponies, so there was a bit of standing, stretching, and backing before we set off for real.

I knew I needed/wanted to work on the stuff Celena had taught us for this trail ride, and Celena always stresses the importance of having every ride be a training ride and not just plodding down the trail without the horse OR human having to think, but I also didn't want to put in 5 miles of circling on the first mile of "trail," either.  So I decided the plan would be to check in with Arya every so often by doing a circle.  If she was nice and soft and even (not stalling out when headed away from home or rushing when headed toward home, or cutting through the circle, etc.), we'd do just that one circle, then continue on for quite a while before checking in again.  Of course, if she did prove to need the exercises, we'd do a lot more circles, which would suck for all five of us (me and Arya, Shar and Dalai, plus Noelle the dog).  Luckily, the first circle we did right near home was PERFECT.  I mean, not perfect as in dressage score perfect, I'm sure.  But she was soft and kept the same pace throughout.  Go, Arya!!  So we both were rewarded by continuing on down the road.

At the first intersection, we did another check in, followed by a pass close to the tires that she'd been skeptical of before.  Perfect again, and didn't even blink at the tires.  Ha.

I was going to circle again at the problem intersection, but the goats were right near the intersection and I wanted to see how she'd do if I pretended it wasn't a trouble spot and just kept going.  She gave the goats her full attention, so whether it was a training thing and she's learning to behave herself, or it was just a matter of "I don't care which direction we go as long as it gets me away from those freakish critters," she plodded right along without putting up a bit of a fuss at the intersection.  Woo hoo!

We did a few passes into and out of the ditch along the next stretch of road, then did some leapfrogging with Dalai (not the distances we've done with Flash, since he's the expert and was helping to train Arya, and now Dalai's the one that needs training with this game), trotting past her, then slowing to let her catch up and pass us, etc.  Shar says Dalai needs work, but she seemed pretty good at it to me.  Of course, I wasn't riding her to see how she FELT.  Arya, for her part, did AWESOME, especially since it's been a while since we played this game.  She got almost imperceptibly slower as we trotted past Dalai the first few times, but after that, not even a problem, as she realized we weren't actually going very far without her.  One time, though, she did reach out to try to bite Dalai's butt, so I made sure to keep our distance from her.  Sheesh--mares.  And of course, lazy Arya didn't mind being passed by Dalai in the slightest.  In fact, sometimes it'd be nice if she felt a little more incentive to keep up with her buddies when we're trotting on the trail, but as soon as she decides she's tired and would rather walk, she's more than happy to let them trot on out ahead.  I mean, overall, that's a good thing, but means *I* have to be the one to keep her going when she feels like slowing down instead of relying on that herd instinct.

Arya led the way down the single track trail that goes downhill and is kind of rocky.  She went ridiculously slowly, though she finally sped up a bit when the trail leveled out and wasn't so rocky.  I was worried she was walking tenderly, but Shar was pretty sure she was just being obnoxious.  :-)

We did some solid trotting on the nice smooth gravel roads, some more leapfrogging, and at one point, Shar and Dalai went over to a single track off the road a ways while Arya and I stayed on the road, and neither horse seemed to mind the slight separation (they were always within sight/sound of each other though).

I took a few photos when we were probably halfway to the river or so:

Hey, a selfie WITH my horse in it that actually worked out!  Bonus that it includes Shar and Dalai, too!

Better one of Shar from the front.  Dalai doesn't look too pleased, though I'm sure she was just flicking her ears back to listen, not 'cause she was pissed.

As we got close to the river, Shar said we'd be doing a small loop, and taking the gravel road to the river, then a trail back up.  Doesn't matter to me--I've never done either.  The road was a long stretch of downhill, and Arya is NOT fast at downhill.  She picks her way along carefully, even when it's easy going, such as this gravel road without any obstacles or anything.  So Dalai kept getting out ahead, and Arya would clearly WANT to catch up, but just couldn't make herself go any faster.  Poor girl.  :-)  But Shar would stop and wait for us every so often, and it was fine.  When we got to a much more gradual but still downhill section, I trotted Arya a few steps at a time.  Eventually, the goal is that she'll be able to trot downhill even when it's mildly steep, as long as the footing allows, so she needs practice in order to get balanced.  Right now, she just needs to be reminded that she CAN trot downhill, as she was very reluctant to even try.  But I don't want to push her, so we'd just go a couple steps, then back to walk.  No biggie.

After that long downhill on the gravel road, we got to do a section of PERFECT trail--wide enough for us to ride abreast most of the time, sandy footing for the horses, but not too deep, and flat and smooth, though it was a very slight downhill.  Just beautiful.  The breeze was blowing her mane so that you could actually see the brand, so I tried to capture it in photos.  Didn't really work.  Oh well.

Didn't get her brand very well, but you can still see the awesome trail.

Artistic selfie, or something?  Love that you can see Shar in the corner.

Again, didn't get her brand at all, but just love her ears-forward "let's go" attitude!

Of course, us humans didn't consider our ride half over yet, as we hadn't reached the river for our little break.  But the horses knew that we'd turned back toward home, and Arya picked up her pace and was more than happy to take the lead now, when she'd been a much more reluctant leader earlier.  However, we then reached a rather steep downhill section with roly-poly rocks about the size of golf balls, plus built-in rock obstacles that didn't move, so she really had to pay attention, and we let Dalai take the lead as incentive to not take FOREVER.  She still went really slowly and Shar and Dalai had to wait for us a bit, but she IS young and green, so hopefully she'll get better and better at these things with more experience.

However, when we got to the bottom of the hill, we reached horsie heaven.  We first rode the girls into the water to offer them a drink.  Neither drank very much, and Arya kept trying to invade Dalai's space, so we headed back to land and I took Arya's bridle off so she could eat, and Shar and I took off our helmets (and me, my safety vest) so we could cool off a bit, too.  I was tempted to take my shoes off and wade in the river, but didn't end up doing it, in the end.

See, horsie heaven!

I held both horses while Shar took Noelle down to the water to rinse off, and it was an arduous task, let me tell you.  The hardest part was periodically taking up the slack in Arya's rope so she wouldn't step on it (Dalai didn't move).  Then I went and found a bush to water, and Shar held both ponies, and actually had to get after Arya for trying to bite Dalai.  Seriously, what a naughty girl.  We sat in the shade and the horses gobbled up the nice green grass...

Then it was time to get going again, headed home.  This would be where normally, Arya would be very excited to be headed home.  Not uncontrollable, but definitely a faster pace at both the walk and trot, eager to get back to her buddies and her food and the safety of home.  But on THIS trail, we had to climb back out of the canyon again, so it didn't quite work out that way.  :-)

We went back up the rocky singletrack again, with Dalai leading again.  Neither horse was very excited about getting home when it involved plodding up a steep rocky trail.  :-)  Then we got to the top of that trail and rode along the wide, flat, sandy trail a bit, and even did some trotting, then it was time to head up, up, up some more, on singletrack again but not so rocky this time.  Though there was a gully that clearly becomes a creek when it rains that had a few rocks and even a log obstacle, which Arya managed to trip over with her fronts AND her back feet.  Fun times!

We had to retrace our steps on the way home, rather than taking a different route to make it more loop-like, because I'd lost my whip somewhere along the way.  (I stuck it down through my bottle holder on the pommel pack, which has a strap across the bottom to keep the bottle in but is otherwise open--I lost one whip when I pulled the bottle out to get a drink and the whip fell down, but thought that was a foolproof place to keep it as long as I didn't mess with the bottle.  Oops.  Guess not.)  So we moseyed along, trotting occasionally, but the girls were TIRED, and leapfrogging some of the time.  But mostly we moseyed.  Shar not only spotted my whip, she hopped off and grabbed it for me!  Aw...  (She does have the shorter horse, but still...)

We took the opportunity to hit the single-track that parallels the road when we got closer to home, and we were moseying along, thinking how good life was, and wasn't it nice to finally get out on a longer ride, and HOW GOOD Arya was behaving today (seriously, she was SO good!), when all of a sudden, she planted her feet and put her head down.  Granted, she'd been trying to eat occasionally, and I've been putting a stop to that as she gets OBNOXIOUS when she eats on the trail (well, she gets more obnoxious after she's eaten and then I make her STOP eating), but I was pretty sure she "just" needed to itch her face on her front leg.  Sometimes that's a tactic she uses to sneak a bite, but she'd been SO good and she WAS hot and sweaty (and dusty), so she probably really was itchy, so I actually allowed her to put her head down and rub.  Except as soon as her head went down, she also dropped to her knees and her hind end dropped, too--she'd decided to ROLL!  Right there on the trail!  With me still on her (as well as the tack, but I was more concerned about ME right then).  My first thought was that I had to get off, and get clear of her "path" if she did roll onto her back and even all the way over.  That would be very dangerous.  Luckily, my feet were now at ground level, so I just popped over onto my right foot.  I think whatever exclamation I made vocally as well as just her own little brain realizing maybe it wasn't quite the right time and place, made her realize she'd been naughty and should rectify it.  So she hopped up, but I hadn't quite gotten my right foot out of the stirrup, so I fell over onto my back, but luckily my foot popped right out of the stirrup.

She trotted over to Dalai and Shar, as if to ask them what's up and pretend like nothing had just happened.  Of course, by the time I got onto my feet and back over to her, it was too late to scold her, but hopefully she realized that was absolutely NOT COOL and doesn't try it again.  But I obviously won't be letting her put her head any lower than her withers for a very long time.

After I "caught" her, I think Shar could read my mind, which was wondering how far I wanted to walk...all the way home?  That was a long way and it was hot out.  But maybe a mile?  Half a mile?  She told me I HAD to get back on.  So I looked around for a rock or a stump, and thought to myself that I could use searching for one to kill a bit of time.  I was physically shaking.  But I decided we'd both be better off if I just got back on right away, and what were the chances she'd pull THAT again?  So I put her down on the trail and stood on a clump of grass, with about two inches of height advantage compared to level ground.  And pulled the saddle right over when I tried to mount.  So Shar hopped off (again!) and held the stirrup on the opposite side while I mounted up.  I did have to kind of haul myself up there, but it worked.

Arya did try to eat again a couple times, but I kept a tight rein on that (literally--didn't ride "on the buckle" with a super-loose rein while we were on the single-track and the eatin' was right next to the trail), and she didn't try it any more.

When it made sense to, I went back to the road (preventing the temptation to eat, and it's probably not as tempting to roll on gravel, either), but Shar and Dalai stayed on the trail, so I got some cute photos of them from a little further away than usual.  Love how the yellow in the bushes complements the yellow in Dalai's tack.

I was starting to get REALLY sore from this first "long" (my endurance friends will laugh!) ride in a long time, and really would have liked to have gotten off for the last mile or so and walked home on foot, but that wouldn't help with reinforcing the good behavior we've worked hard on, so I stayed on as we plodded home.  I circled her every so often as we got closer to home, and she did fine.  Not quite as perfect as when we were leaving, but she was walking calmly home on a loose rein without rushing at all, so she really was being a very good girl.  When we got within shouting distance of home, Emma called for her, and Arya answered back.  She started kind of gravitating toward the pasture, which we were now beside, but a little rein and a little leg kept her walking straight, and her ears weren't pulling her home, either, like they were last time.  :-)  We passed the driveway, circled back, circled again at the driveway, went in, and then stood for a bit before I dismounted.  Whew.  So glad to be out of the saddle--as glad as Arya was to have me out of it, too, I'm sure!

Shar was untacked much faster than me (I'd been desperate to both intake and offload water), and she hosed Dalai off.  They were finishing up as we got over there, and then it was Arya's turn.  I started out like a nice horse owner, wetting down a hoof, then moving up the leg.  At first Arya acted annoyed, and moved her hoof a bit, but as the water hit her skin, she realized that it felt pretty good, and she actually leaned TOWARD the water.  I hosed her off all over, even getting pretty far up her neck.  I held the hose for her to drink out of a little bit.  I even sprayed off her "boobies," and she didn't mind.

Then I let her graze for a few minutes and watched as Shar let Dalai loose in her pasture.  She dropped and rolled, as you would expect a wet horse to do, and then she hopped up and clearly wanted to buck and romp, but then decided she was too tired to bother.  She'd done about half a buck, then just walked off toward the water.

After Arya had grazed for a bit, I put her back in the pasture, still damp.  She didn't even get four steps away from me (and Flash) before she dropped to the ground to finally get that satisfying roll she'd been waiting for!  She didn't even wait to get to a sandy spot--she dropped right in a patch of prickery weeds.  She writhed on one side for a while, grunting and groaning and trying to itch every part of her face, head, neck, side, and back on that side.  Then she rolled over, still grunting of course, and repeated the process of trying to itch ALL the spots on that side.  Then she hopped up and moseyed over to the water.  She's too lazy to do much bucking at all in the pasture.  :-)

Richard had let Shar know that he wouldn't be home for dinner, so we decided to head down to the bar/restaurant down in the gorge of Crooked River Ranch.  Hot burgers (veggie for me) and cold drinks sure hit the spot after a hot day of riding!  I'd finished my water bottles about a half mile from home, so when I got back, I refilled and drank both of them again, drank from the hose while I was hosing Arya off, then drank a couple glasses of water at the restaurant as well, and was STILL thirsty when I got home.  I need to bring more water bottles even on these relatively short rides, apparently.

After we got back, when I was about to head home, I noticed a visitor.  Shar told me that they were actually welcoming her, since she looked like she could use a few calories.  She was grazing their nice green lawn, but we also gave her a few horse treats in a feed pan:

She was very curious, very appreciative, and not very shy at all.  I mean, she probably wouldn't have let us pet her, but she did let us get pretty close.

So other than the 30 seconds of freaky behavior, Arya was SO GOOD, and we had a wonderful time getting sunburned and sore.  Yes, sore.  Apparently it's been way too long since I've ridden.  Not only are my muscles sore, which doesn't surprise me, but my BUTT is sore.  I haven't had THAT happen since I was much younger and only got to ride sporadically.  Weird!  Hope it's not a problem with the saddle, and is just a function of how long it's been since I've ridden for more than an hour at a time.  I've ridden longer rides (this was 10 miles), but this was the longest one in quite a while.

But yes, all in all, it was a VERY good day, with a good friend and a couple good horses.  I SO needed that.

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