Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Indoor Riding

Okay, so first I just have to mention a little training thing I dealt with the other day.  I'd gone out to Shar's house to take a look at her new saddle with her, and R needed to put a new large bale of hay into the pasture, so I locked up two of the horses into a little paddock and pulled Arya out just to spend a little non-riding time with her.  I tied her up for a bit, while we looked at the saddle. then untied her, picked her feet, and brushed her a bit.  She was moving around a TON in the barn.  She's been in there before, but not a lot, and there were lots of things for her to be curious about, so she kept moving.  She'd get weirded out by the floor mats and start pawing at them, etc.

So after I was done grooming her, I decided to work on standing still.  Shar had Flash back inside the barn, so we stood just outside.  I set Arya up, told her to "stay" and stepped back a couple feet from her, then pretended like I wasn't paying any attention to her, but watched her out of the corner of my eye, waiting for her to move just ONE foot, so I could scold her and put her back where I started, and so on.  She stood stock still for close to FIVE minutes, with me just waiting for her to move so I could teach her how to stand still.  Sheesh!  She couldn't stop moving a few minutes prior, but as soon as I decided to make a lesson out of it, she held perfectly still.  She finally did move a couple times, and I put her back, etc.  Doubt it'll stick much.

Anyway, we had decided to try riding indoors this weekend, in anticipation of the weather not being good enough to want to trail ride, and hoping that the weather WOULD be good enough to trailer (roads not icy).  It turns out the weather actually was quite nice, though cool, but we stuck with our plans to ride indoors anyway.  My friend Julie has a huge indoor arena, plus some good outdoor riding on the property, so I snagged Nathan from his dad's since he hadn't been riding in a while, and we hauled Dalai, Flash, and Arya out there.

We took our time tacking up, as both saddles Shar was using on her horses were new to her and new to the horses, so there were adjustments to be made.  But I had brought my impression pad (basically a plastic pouch filled with colored clay, though a little more technical than that, but you put it between the horse and the saddle while you ride for a bit, then look for thin spots in the clay to check saddle fit), so it was going to basically be a tack-fitting session, with various changes of tack on the horses.

I started out with the impression pad under both the saddle and pad I've been using for a while.  Even when doing 10-mile rides, she's never shown a sign of being sore, so I wanted to check what the impression pad showed with my regular setup and then with a different pad.  And since I was assessing the pad, I had to put the impression pad between the saddle pad and the horse.  It's a vinyl-y plastic, so riding a horse with summer coat for very long probably wouldn't be pleasant for the horse, but I rode Arya for 10-15 minutes per session, and she has a THICK coat of hair, so she didn't sweat a bit.

We warmed up walking for a bit, then alternated trotting and walking for a while.  Heaven forbid that girl trot for more than half a circle at a time.  Ha!  I swear I remember her being a bit gate-sour (i.e. gravitating toward the gate in hopes of being done and leaving the arena) the last time we rode at Julie's, but this time, on one of our first passes past the gate, a black cat was lurking there.  Arya's seen cats around the property at Shar's, but she was very suspicious of this black cat (she must be superstitious--note to self not to ask her to walk under any ladders), and every time we went past the gate after that, she shied away from the gate.

She was fine on our first couple passes past the (closed) roll-up door at one end of the arena, but it must've made a noise one time we passed it, plus I heard woodpeckers outside at some point, with the sound coming from roughly that direction, so she started acting really spooky at that end.

I was SO proud of myself for NOT freaking out at her tiny spooks and shies.  Or her (non-spooky, just stubborn) head-tossing when I asked her to trot.  I mean, I didn't LOVE any of it.  But I never thought to myself "oh sh!t, I'm totally coming off) or anything, just sat deep and kept leg on and made her work through it.  The first time or two, I'd let her shy as far away from the "scary" spot, but then I started asking her to stick with it.  Shar did remind me that I need to remember to either not bother steering her head at all, or actually steer it away from the scary spot and use LEG to ask her to move toward the scary thing, but yeah.  I didn't freak out, and I asked her to work closer and closer to the scary thing.  Yay me!

Nathan also made some progress.  His first couple of passes of trotting were kind of sloppy, so Shar and I gave him some pointers, especially working on independent hands by putting one hand on the pommel of the saddle, and focusing on his posture as well, and he started posting much better almost instantly.  Yay!

So anyway, after 10 minutes or so of work, I pulled the tack off Arya and checked the impression pad.  It looked a little thin in the shoulder/wither area, which is where we've had issues with other saddles, so not surprising.  It wasn't scary thin, like it was pinching, but definitely tighter there than in the rest of the saddle, and the pad I'm using is thick memory foam, so not too surprising that when you put that under a saddle that otherwise fits pretty well, that it would have a tighter fit.  So I swapped that pad out for a thinner fleece pad (no memory foam), with the impression pad under it, and rode in that setup for a while.  It actually looked a lot better on the impression pad, so when finances allow and I find one I like (shape, color, quality), I'll probably switch.  The memory foam tends to retain heat, which will be fine for the winter, but can overheat and even cause heat rash in the summer in a hard-working horse, plus the felt underside is starting to pill, and there's only so much you can do before it just completely wears out.  But I got a good deal on it, and it's working for now, so I'm in no hurry.

So once I was done using the impression pad with my two different setups, it was Shar's turn.  She had new saddles on both horses, actually, but just tried the impression pad with Flash for now.  She was riding him in an SR (same brand I have), but hers has more English-style flaps and a couple other features a bit different.  I think she tried the impression pad with three different thicknesses of pads, and decided the medium one (my pad I'll likely be switching away from, actually) would probably be the best.  The pad she currently has with THICK inserts (inserts plus shims, actually) is a bit too much, but if she gets thinner inserts, the shell of it will work out great.

We were all pretty tired of trotting in circles by this point, so we dismounted, headed outside, and re-mounted to ride the "poop trail."  I've talked about it on here, but Julie's place used to have a cross-country jumping course, complete with pond, drop-off jumps, and large relatively immovable jumps around the property.  They take their well-composted poop (and shavings) and spread it out onto a trail that loops around and through the property.  There a multiple loops, but I think a loop all around the longest configuration is about half a mile.  With the funky weather and peppy horses and slippery footing (still snow and ice in spots, and frozen mud even if it wasn't visibly icy), we stuck to a walk, but it was good to get outside, and it wasn't actually very cold, so it turned out to be a nice little ride.  We went up a hill through a wooded-ish portion of the property, back down the hill, rode BESIDE what would normally be a drop-down jump, but instead was just a small downhill (though Shar had a BAD wreck on a cross country course and mentioned that it was rough on her to be near all these jumps--deep breaths!), back over to the area with more jumps and newer trail course type obstacles, too.  Skipped doing the gate (kind of a hassle for two of us to wait while one person tried it out) and the bridge (risk of it being slippery), but we did cross the ground poles a few times.  A set of four, and even at a pretty sedate walk, Arya managed to step OVER and not ON all four!  Woo hoo!  Maybe she's learning that walking is better than tripping.  We continued on around the property, and then Shar pointed out that we could just shortcut to the trailer, so we did.  Turned out to be a little muddy there, and both Flash and Arya kind of went "eek" at the mud and tried to rush through it (Arya by plowing into Flash's butt, which luckily he doesn't mind), and Dalai didn't even care.  We got back to the trailer and untacked the ponies.  We were about to go say our goodbyes and clean up our poop, when Julie came out and asked if we wanted to take any of the horses in to see the cattle--she's got three steers and a heifer, and brought them in from their muddy pen to the arena for a bit so they could dry off.  (They've installed panels in the configuration of a cattle sorting pen at one end of their HUGE arena--you don't really miss the space for regular riding, and it comes in very handy for them to practice in, since they do sorting.)

Yes, I wanted to expose Arya to cattle in a somewhat controlled environment!  She'd heard them mooing outside the arena while we were riding, and didn't seem to mind NEARLY as much as she minded the big giant cows on the trail a couple months ago, but yes, exposure to random things (especially things we're actually likely to see while out and about) is a good thing!  So we took her back into the arena.  Poor girl had already thought she was done for the day so many times, with all the un-tacking and dismounting!  But I had one more thing to throw at her.  She looked at them, and they ignored her.  We walked closer to the pen, and her ears were forward and she was curious, but she never seemed too anxious about it.  We stood outside the pen for a bit, then Julie said it was okay to take her in.  I led her in the pen, and was trying to both encourage her forward and keep myself out of her likely path of escape if she freaked out.

Then duh, Julie and/or Shar suggested I just let her loose.  Heh.  So I took the rope off and stepped back and just let her explore.  She'd move closer and closer to a cow, and it would just stand there, then eventually move away.  She'd stop, watch it, then realize that hey, maybe she can MAKE them move by getting closer again.  Sure enough!  She isn't so cowy that she thought this was great fun or anything, but at least she hopefully won't totally freak out next time we see a bovine in or near a trail.  :-)  At one point, she was kind of looking outside the arena at their outdoor pen, and I have no idea what happened, but she totally spooked.  Clearly, she was on edge.  She bucked a couple times, but calmed down quickly and went back to checking out the cows.  At one point, it looked like she was actually going to lay down and roll, but she didn't.  But yeah, the introduction went well.  Might want to give her another session without a rider before trying to ride her in and amongst cows, but she did good.

After all that excitement, we cleaned up our poo piles, loaded up the horses, and hit the road.  Any day spent with horses is a good one, but I think we all felt like we accomplished something and had an especially good day.  :-)

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