Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Dalai, Dalai, Dalai

So, between the cold and dark, we haven't been doing the evening rides we told ourselves we would.  I'm a chicken, and don't really love starting out in the pitch dark.  I mean, it's dark by the time I leave work, let alone drive to Shar's, so we're tacking up in full dark, and setting off in the full dark.  Horses see in the dark, Arya's not that spooky, blah blah blah, but MY nerves don't love it.  So I've taken full advantage of any excuse not to go.  However, when it snowed a foot and a half just prior to the long Thanksgiving weekend, it meant even when my plans to go out of town were canceled due to the dangerous driving conditions, those same driving conditions meant I didn't go visit my horse at all during the long weekend, either.  Bummer.

So I definitely wanted to ride this weekend, even though it still wasn't very warm, because it had been two weeks since I'd ridden.  I think there's only been one other time I've gone that long without riding Arya since I got her.  I got out to Shar's place, and the wind was blowing harder than I'd heard was predicted, but at least it wasn't snowing or raining.  Got my horse out, and her pasture still had some completely ice-covered spots, and I could see her steel-clad feet slipping even with her ginger steps.  Fun!  Luckily, the roads were pretty bare when I'd driven in, so riding should be fine.

I took Arya straight to the arena for a little "round-penning."  (The arena had no snow, whereas the round pen was completely covered.  Plus it's good to change spots once in a while, and I use the rope rather than free lunging anyway.)  Asked her to head out in a circle, and she thought about bucking and snorting, but thought better of it.  Then she kept trying to break back to a walk when I'd asked her to trot, but eventually realized this was gonna happen and she might as well suck it up and do what I asked, and she did so.  After a few circles each direction at a trot, in which she was listening well, halted and re-circled willingly, we headed back to tack up.

Meanwhile, Shar had gotten Dalai out and was working on fitting a new saddle to her, so I wasn't too far behind them in the process.  I had to pick the ice balls out from Arya's feet.  Horse's feet are concave, so snow and ice normally wants to accumulate there, but if they're barefoot, the hoof flexes enough and the concavity is shallow enough to pop the snowball out every once in a while, usually.  But with steel shoes around the rim of their hoof, now the concavity is deeper and the hoof doesn't flex quite as much, possibly, and the snow and ice are much more likely to build up and get stuck.  People who keep their horses shod throughout the winter usually put on some type of snow pad to deal with it.  Shar put some on Flash.  But for Dalai and Arya, they weren't due for new shoes in time for this big snow storm, so they're still waiting.  (Gonna try barefoot with Arya since she went all last winter barefoot.)  Anyway, so I bent the "blade" part of the hoof pick a bit getting the ice out of her feet.  It gets pretty hard when a 1200 pound beast is standing on it!

We eventually got all tacked up and mounted up and headed out.  As we moseyed down the road away from home, Dalai decided she would prefer to be home.  She spun around, picking both front feet up in the process.  I would have freaked out if the horse I was riding did that, but Shar just calmly said "oh no you don't" and urged her to go in the chosen direction.  Arya stayed pretty calm through Dalai's antics, but someone had pushed up a berm of dirt in front of their driveway, and she (and a lot of horses, actually) have this thing about disturbed dirt being scary, so she kind of shied away from it and gave it a heavy stink-eye, but never fully spooked.  However, she did "ask" a few times if maybe we could just head home, if I didn't mind?  She turned her head toward home, but a tug of the reins and a prod of leg pressure kept her pointed in the right direction--I never had to get the whip out to bonk her with it.

We got to the first corner, and there were a few patches of ice.  Arya ducked and pivoted.  Not sure about what--there was a dog that appeared (silently) across the street, but it really seemed to me that her focus was downward, on the ice.  Regardless, I stayed seated (YAY!) and while I crouched forward in my usual defensive mode, I came to my senses rather quickly and sat up/back, just in time to worry she was going to jump a ditch that was right in front of her.  She didn't.  Deep breaths, everything's okay.  She didn't blink or twitch at the dogs that charged the fence barking like maniacs a few minutes later.  Weirdo.

At the second intersection, Dalai threw a bit more of a fit, and Shar dealt with it admirably.  We continued on.  As we continued down the road, which is a dead end, it had seen less and less traffic, and there was some snow and ice.  I tried letting Arya pick her own path for a while, but she clearly wasn't very good at it, and kept slipping, once slipping with both back feet at once.  Yikes!  So then I steered her toward the melted tire ruts instead of the icy strips in between and on both sides.  Surprisingly, she willingly walked in the rushing torrents, ahem, I mean trickling rivulets, without a single complaint.  We passed a few larger puddles, and I noticed Shar asked Dalai to walk through one, but I didn't want to have to fight her over it on the icy ground, so just didn't even ask Arya to go through the bigger puddles.  I was just proud of her for willingly walking through, across, and diagonally along the little stream.  Good girl!

I did NOT love riding on the ice (fluffy snow is one thing, slippery ice is another!), so was glad when that ended and we hit the trail.  However, it's normally soft dirt there, but of course with the freezing temperatures, now it was patches of hard dirt and patches of soft dirt, all covered in pristine snow.  I'm pretty sure Arya didn't love that footing any more than I did--frustrating and tiring to walk in, never knowing when you foot is going to sink, slip, or actually find good purchase.  Toward the end of that stretch, I had the feeling Arya was now walking on snowballs, she just felt wobbly.  In a different way than our last trail ride.

We got back onto a road, which was thankfully fairly free from ice, and checked each other's horse's feet out.  Hard to see your own horse's feet, but I could clearly see that at least one of Dalai's feet had an iceball, possibly more.  Luckily, I carry a hoof pick in my pommel pack, so we both dismounted.  Arya had three snowballs.  I'm pretty sure I bent this hoofpick, too.  Oh well.  Easily bent back with a vice, I'm sure, and not likely to be an issue except for ice balls in the future.  Time to mount back up.  I tried mounting solo, but pulled the saddle over, so Shar held the other stirrup while I heaved myself into the saddle.  Then she got on Dalai with my help being to block Dalai from moving forward with Arya's body.  We all got safely on, stood for a minute so the horses didn't think they got to rush off toward home, and we set off.

Dalai was pretty good, and Arya was very good.  Until we saw a big old ribbon blowing in the wind.  She was pretty sure that ribbon had some nasty things on its agenda, involving torturing horses.  She really really wanted to trot past it (that's a bolt, for her), but I kept her to a relatively sane walk, and nothing bad happened.  To either of us.

We got into a bit of bushwhacking, which is always a little sketchy with snow, since you can't see the ground, and of course have the same footing issues we had on the trail.  But Arya was starting to get the hang of it, and did great.  Dalai was faster than us, though, so they waited for us where our path took us back onto a road.  However, Dalai knew we were getting closer to home, and was getting more and more antsy to get going, much to Shar's frustration.  They'd done great (or at least any struggles they had weren't visible to me) on the stretch toward the bushwhacking, but now that we had really turned toward home in earnest, Dalai wanted to trot on home.  Probably at a very fast trot, if she were to get her way.  Even if Shar wanted to trot home (which she doesn't on a good day, but especially in the ice), Dalai wanting to, and trying to MAKE it happen meant that it was very much NOT going to happen.  Shar was trying to deal with it by having her halt, and bending her neck until she gave to the pressure, then releasing the pressure and walking on.  After a few times of that, it seemed it wasn't really working to refocus Dalai at all, and Shar was getting more and more frustrated.  At one point, she got off to lunge Dalai in circles.

Arya had been SO great through all of these shenanigans, not "joining the party" at all.  (That's a phrase I've heard Celena use, more in relation to the riders not joining in the party the horse is trying to throw, but also appropriate for this situation, I think.)  So when Shar hopped off to lunge Dalai, I debated whether to stay on or hop off myself.  We were close to home, so I decided to just hop off, let Arya relax, and that I'd walk home the rest of the way.  So I hopped off, pulled Arya's bridle off, and let her eat.  Her favorite thing!

Shar and Dalai did quite a few circles, both directions, then Shar mounted up again.  Dalai was much more compliant, but still thought she ought to be heading home at her preferred speed.  I recommended that Shar try what Celena had worked on with Arya--circles upon circles upon circles.  That way, the horse gets to keep their feet moving, but not in their preferred direction (for long).  And when their attitude improves, they get rewarded by getting to go in their preferred direction, but that's easily changed back into circles again when their attitude degrades again.  Shar gave it a shot, and it took a few minutes for Dalai's attitude to show improvement, but then it definitely did.  Meanwhile, Arya got to munch away on weeds on the shoulder of the road, where we were well out of the way.  She thought that was a pretty good arrangement.  Eventually Dalai decided that walking calmly was better than doing a bunch of boring circles, and we set off toward home at a sedate pace.  I was now on foot, and wearing snow boots (kept my feet snug and warm while riding, though, much better than the trail running tennies I'd worn on our last cold weather), and couldn't walk very fast because they slop around on my feet and hurt my toes.  So they quickly got ahead of me and Arya, but it was good practice for Dalai, because they stopped and waited a bit, and Dalai did GREAT.  So it took some "discussion," but in the end, Dalai walked home on a loose rein.  And Arya got to practice staying out of my "bubble" while we walked and halted and backed our way back home.  (No trotting, stupid boots.)

When we got home, Arya got to graze the green grass for a little while as a reward for her good behavior.  Dalai did not face any consequences for her naughty behavior, since she had shaped up on the trail, and we put away two pretty happy ponies before settling in for a little movie-watching in the warm cozy house.

So, it was really interesting to have MY horse not being the one acting up, and MY horse not being the one holding up the other rider while we do interminable circles.  It was good to see it from the outside, and watch/help Shar deal with it.  And I was SO proud of Arya for showing me that what WE'VE gone through has been worth it, and that she HAS improved.  I'm sure she'll still try something on our next few solo rides, but she's getting better, and so am I, and that's awesome.  Oh, and my whip stayed holstered this entire ride.  Didn't use it once.  Woo!

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