Let's start at the beginning. When I showed up to Shar's house, this was the view from the living room window:
|Um, Shar? When did you get a BISON?|
She lifted her head up and looked a little more like herself, but she always looks so HUGE laying down.
It was a lazy morning. As you can see, Jag is also laying down, behind Arya. Dalai was standing, but only so she could reach the hay. Flash was laying down, too, and I think that Aschere had just gotten up. So we took our time getting ready to go pull them out of their naps to go ride.
We tacked up, mounted up, and headed out the driveway and down the road. We'd barely gotten past the property line when I realized I wasn't wearing my helmet. I'd brought my helmet and bridle out together, since I hang them from the same hook, and put the helmet down to put on after the bridle, then completely spaced it. I ALWAYS wear my helmet. It doesn't annoy me to wear it, and much better to wear it hundreds of times without needing it than to be without it the one time you do need it.
Since we were so close to home, I told Shar I needed to turn around to go get it. I felt bad, as she was riding Dalai, who has a bit of a barn sourness problem, though she's been getting better lately. And really, so does Arya, though she's gotten a LOT better lately. I told Shar if she wanted to either stop there or keep going without me, I could go back alone and meet her when I got back, but she decided it'd be better to bring Dalai back with Arya than add the stress of her buddy leaving her to the stress of leaving home.
So we turned around and headed back. I figured Arya would be eager to return home, but she actually got MORE sluggish. Go figure! I had to urge her forward to even maintain 1 mph, it felt like. We finally got back to the barn and I dismounted to grab my helmet. Amazing how much easier and less awkward it is to dismount after less than 1/4 mile of riding instead of 5, 10, or 15. :-) I put my helmet on and mounted back up. Arya was an angel for all of this. We headed back out, and yeah, Arya was actually MORE eager to head out on our ride than she had been to head back to the barn. Wow. Maybe she's starting to like our rides! Dalai was pretty good, too.
We proceeded on, picked up a trot, and Arya was lagging behind. My GPS started beeping in my pack, so I was fumbling around to get it rather than trying to get Arya to catch up to Dalai. Then apparently Dalai started balking at the intersection, attempting to head home, and Shar hollered that she wanted to trot in order to get Dalai moving, and I misunderstood her, and it was kind of an awkward mess for a second, but I caught up, we trotted, and Dalai gave in. :-)
We made our way to the singletrack that heads down the hill to Rainbow. Arya was kind of lagging and slogging along, and even stumbled over her own feet a couple times while we were on the smooth road, so I was beginning to worry that she was really going to trip and stumble her way down the hill, but she did fine. Slowly (Shar and Dalai had to wait for us), but fine. Weird.
At the bottom of the hill, we rode past the cage full of rocks standing in as a fencepost without issue for the first time, like, EVER. (Arya always gives it a wide berth), rode along the rode a bit, then headed into the singletrack that parallels the road. We were on a mission to hide some geocaches today. The intention would be that these would all be easier to find/retrieve/re-stash from horseback, and much more difficult on foot. Just something fun to do. Maybe we'll do some all over Central Oregon as we ride this summer. So we rode along, looking for a good place to stash a cache. We spotted a cool snag that just happened to have a surface that would hopefully hold the cache. Unless there's a deluge... We'll have to check on it periodically to make sure, but it should work. So I sidled Arya up to the snag, and she had to stand still on a bit of a slope while I placed the cache and took a bunch of GPS readings I could average to make sure the listing is as accurate as possible. Good practice for her, and likely wouldn't have been possible a few months ago! Good girl!
Can you spot the cache?
How about now?
We rode along some more, then spotted another good hiding spot. This one was in a tree, so involved getting Arya to walk under a branch, but not so far she decapitated me. It took a little lateral maneuvering, too, something we're only just learning together. Then she had to stand still under the branch, then finally back out. She did great!
We motored along, trotting when we could, walking when we needed to. We passed a tall rock wall at someone's house, and wished we could stash a cache there, as we could just plop it right on top and non-horse-riders wouldn't be able to see it. :-)
We trotted a lot of the length of the next road, mostly one long trot stretch. I went ahead and pushed Arya up into the canter, and we cantered probably ten or so strides. It felt so good to do it and not get any bad feedback from her and not be afraid. I brought her back to a trot, and she assumed we'd go all the way down to a walk, as we usually do after we canter even a couple of strides, but I kept her trotting. Then pushed her into the canter again a bit later, this time I made the effort to cue for a right lead, but then forgot to notice whether she picked up that lead or not. Whoops. Need to start paying attention now, instead of just being thrilled we're doing it at all. :-) This time we did come back down to a walk shortly after, as she had done a GREAT job and was breathing pretty hard (as was I!).
This ride was going SO great so far! We headed down, down, down the long hill toward the river, and Arya felt like she was moving out pretty well for some of it (she's normally very slow when going downhill, picking her way along slowly, and really swaying her hips; but a couple of sessions this ride, she felt much smoother and moved a bit faster, like she was really getting the hang of going downhill; I have no idea, of course, if she was actually using herself effectively or what, not being able to see her, but it FELT nice!). We got to where we'd turn off if we were going to the river, and decided that other than checking for a metal sign we might be able to place a magnetic cache on (there wasn't, they're all backed with wood), we didn't need to go to the river. It wasn't a hot day and the horses weren't working very hard, so the horses didn't need the drink, and it was just going to add a mile or two to our already long-enough ride, some of which was a steepish and rocky hill, so we just kept going in order to make it a loop ride.
We took a little break shortly beyond there, though, to let the horses graze a minute and for us to have a "rest stop" ourselves. Then we mounted back up and headed out again.
Soon, we spotted a little cliff looming over the trail, and we had the idea to hide a cache somewhere along there where a horse would be able to sidle up to it. We spotted a good place, and it took a minute to get Arya to sidle up to it when Dalai got to eat instead, but eventually I lodged a cache up behind the base of a bush growing out of the cliff. Perfect!
We moseyed on down the trail, trotting occasionally. Shar knew we needed to take a small dirt road that went off to the right, and we headed down one but it didn't look quite right so we turned around and proceeded down the main road again. Then we turned onto the next one, and it seemed more promising so we went a little further. Soon, she realized this wasn't the right road, either, but we spotted a good spot for a cache, so took a few minutes to hide another and take its coordinates. We turned around and headed back to the main road, when I notice Dalai spooked out of the corner of my eye. Then (and we're talking split seconds, not enough time to actually DO anything, and only separated in time in retrospect) Arya spooked--she spun sideways enough to get me off balance. I'm not sure, but I THINK if she had then stopped or even gotten back under me by stepping the opposite direction from her initial spook, I might've been able to save it. But Dalai started running from something that scared her (only a few steps, but still...) so Arya ran a couple steps, too, still going in the same direction she'd spooked, so getting me further off balance, and down I went. Luckily, the step or two that she took before I came off brought us into softer dirt off the side of the hard packed road. And REALLY luckily, those steps brought us to a clear area in soft dirt, without any rocks or branches. It knocked the wind out of me a bit, and I gasped like a fish out of water a few times, but it just took a couple seconds until I was breathing normally and could sit up. I'm not sure how much was due to the softer dirt, how much due to the crash vest I always wear, and how much due to the way I landed, but I really wasn't hurt. I sat up, and saw that Shar had also hit the dirt. Whoa! First time I've actually SEEN her fall, actually--all her "unplanned dismounts" since we've been friends have been when I wasn't with her. She was not so lucky, and fell RIGHT in the hard-packed road. And landed phone-side down (where it was in her thigh pocket). Luckily, the case protected the phone. Not so luckily, she has a giant and very colorful bruise where the phone was. But we were all safe and mobile, so as pilots say about airplane landings, "any landing you walk away from is a good landing," so we were alright.
I'd been assuming they'd spooked at a deer or something, and realize in piecing it together in retrospect that I'm pretty sure Arya spooked at Dalai spooking, and not from seeing anything first-hand, but who knows. But when we stood up and dusted ourselves off, it became clear what Dalai had spooked at, at least. After we'd reached the spot we hid the geocache at, someone had come along behind us and parked in an even smaller off-shoot of the road we were on, mostly out of sight. As we were riding back that way, the guy essentially came out of the bushes right ahead of us. At least, we assume that's what Dalai spooked at. And as we were walking it off, leading the horses back out toward the main road, he kept walking toward us. Shar was both pissed off at having come off the horse in general, and creeped out by this guy in particular and told him to back off, but he either didn't hear or pretended not to. I wanted to NOT piss him off, since he could have a gun or be insane or both. And he did have a dog with him. So when he asked if the river was right there (just beyond where we had been) I answered him that yeah, it was. And could you get to it? I doubt it, since there's a cliff down to it. He wouldn't take that for an answer, though, and kept kind of insisting that there was a trail, yet asking if there was a trail. Dude, we don't know, check it out yourself, but leave us alone. I guess he thought we'd come from the river and were lying to him about being able to get there? But we'd just been a few yards further down the road than him then turned around. Whatever. Creepy guy was creepy in at LEAST a clueless-he-was-making-us-uncomfortable way, if not more, so we hurried past him and his dog and got to the main road and started looking for a spot to mount back up again.
We found a suitable rock for mounting up shortly after, and did so. I think we both had a FEW nerves, but were surprisingly okay getting back on. We made it about 20 feet down the road when I spotted a pair of alpacas dead ahead (well, they were on the side of the road, but the road curved, so yeah, dead ahead). Awesome. Arya's seen them before, at a different property, and always gets REALLY slow and "sticky feet," but willingly goes past them eventually. But we didn't know how Dalai would do. She quickly showed us that she would much prefer to spin and head home, probably at a fast pace. Shar stuck the spin, which prompted a bit of a turn from Arya which luckily didn't unseat me, either. Long-term, in an ideal world, and especially if we hadn't JUST come off, we would have stuck with it, put Arya (as the slightly more experienced with Alapacas and visibly more okay in the moment) in front, and taken the time it takes to make our way past them. But I told Shar I was calling it, and getting off the horse. She agreed that discretion was the better part of valor in this case, and bailed too. Better to climb off voluntarily than get dislodged involuntarily a few seconds later. I took Arya in front and walked her up to the alpacas. She was in high alert mode, but barely hesitated in her actual steps once I was on the ground and we were ahead of Dalai and less subject to her influence. I think Dalai got a little braver, too, with Shar on the ground and Arya in the lead, though I don't think she was ever thrilled to be there. :-) We walked toward, then stood near the alpacas for a bit. Arya got ALMOST close enough to sniff noses, and I figured that was good enough. We led them for a bit longer, until we were far enough past that Dalai wouldn't try to bolt AND we could find another rock to use to mount up.
We mounted back up, and I can't speak for Shar, but my nerves were okay in the moment, but on edge in general. Like if Arya made even the tiniest bobble, my nerves assumed it was a spook and reacted accordingly (and inappropriately, by hunching forward), but I wasn't actually nervous when things were proceeding along nicely, if that makes any sense. We walked for quite a while, finally finding the correct road and going from very rural neighborhood to actual boonies. We were following tracks of both a horse and a person on foot, so I was a little on edge that we might meet either of them out there, by having them "pop out" from behind a tree or bush from one or both horse's perspective, and set us all off again. Then we noticed that the human tracks, anyway, went both directions, so hopefully they came from the same direction we did and were long gone.
We were walking only at this point, because I was a bit nervous about trotting again quite yet, but then Arya spotted a person with a baby stroller. Great. Something neither horse has probably seen before. So we trotted. Heh. It went fine, of course. The horses had probably long since forgotten the spook, but it's a little harder for us humans. I didn't do any more cantering, but we did trot a bit off and on.
We found our way to a region we were both a little more familiar with (I'd never been to the portion of trail between the river turn-off and where we were now, and Shar hadn't been in ages except for one time a few weeks prior), but by now my left foot was going numb. My toes were numb in their entirety, and the ball of my foot was getting there. It was rather annoying, and I worried could get painful if and when the feeling ever came back. Oddly, my left foot was the one going numb, even though my right hip was feeling more nerve pain than the left. Whatever. I asked if Shar minded if I got off and hiked for a bit, and she did as well. She was starting to stiffen up a bit after falling, so a bit of a walk helped loosen things up. But of course it meant a bit slower pace than when only the horses were walking, especially when we hit an uphill stretch. We'd been making sure to keep to the left so we'd be close to civilization when we got to where we were heading, rather than too far out in the boonies and having to backtrack more mileage to get to the road, but turns out we'd stayed a little too far left and ended up in someone's yard. Oops! Sorry! They waved at us from their back deck, so it didn't look like they minded much. We consulted a map on our phone real quick to make sure we went the most efficient way with the least exposure to fast traffic, and then found a spot to mount up again, for the what...fourth time? Fifth for me because of my helmet. Oh, and fifth for Shar, too, because she got off to adjust stirrups at one of the geocache stops. Wow. Yeah, interesting ride.
Anyway, we found our way to the paved road. Rode on the shoulder of it for more distance than I really like doing, though at least we were fairly visible for most of it. We got passed by a couple of cars and one motorcycle. I worried when I heard the motorcycle coming because they look and sound a lot different and might get a reaction from the horses, but it was fine. I think they were both more than happy to get home as soon as possible, no matter what might go past us on the road.
We finally got back to trail again, trotted a bit more, then looked for the trail that goes up a rather steep rocky hillside but then lets out onto a flat straight stretch home without backtracking quite as much as the other option. The trail, such as it has been even in the past, had pretty much grown over and become invisible, so we just kind of headed up the hillside until we spotted the "trail" right near the top. Yay for horses that aren't afraid to bushwhack cross country up and over some rocks. :-)
We moseyed on home at a pretty leisurely pace. Shar trotted Dalai a couple times to catch up to us, but I kept Arya at a walk (though a very determined one), both to give her a chance to cool a bit (she sweated most of the ride, though Dalai was actually sweatier!) and to reinforce good manners as far as barn-sour-ness goes. A mile or less from home, Shar decided to hop off and walk the rest of the way to stretch her sore muscles out again. I thought that sounded like a good idea, but decided to wait until we were a little closer to home in my case. :-) When we got more like a quarter mile from home, I joined her.
So, we did have one unfortunate incident (hitting the ground), and a potential training moment we theoretically could have handled better in an ideal situation, but I think we handled as we should have for the situation we DID have (the alpacas), but amidst all of that, I was actually really proud of Arya. We cantered. We did some lateral and backing up stuff. We stood still while placing geocaches. We had the rider get off and on and off and on SO many times. We hand-walked quite a bit overall, and she had EXCELLENT ground manners the entire time (except the last turn for home, she crowded me a little bit. But seriously, the rest of the time, she respected my bubble without any reminders at all!). It was overall a VERY good day, that would have been quite a bit better if not for the one incident, but if you ignore those five minutes, it was a great ride overall. Hopefully my nerves won't be too shot for the next few rides, as those will either be solo, on our own with just Nathan and Dalai, or possibly (hopefully!) with Shawn or anyone else willing to haul to Shar's to ride with me. Because Shar's going to HAWAII, and I'm not. :-)