Monday, February 22, 2016

Another Horse-Filled Weekend

Shar and I had the plan to, once again, ride both weekend days.  It had been cold and windy all week, so we hadn't done any mid-week riding at all.  Nathan was with me for the weekend, so I told him the tentative plan for both days and asked if he wanted to come with me Saturday, and he did.  We arrived to find almost all of the horses laying flat-out, basking in the sun.  Arya's a behemoth, but seems even bigger when she's laying down and you can really see how wide her barrel is!

We were originally thinking of riding down to the river, either on the same route I took on my solo ride the prior week, or possibly lengthening one leg of it to make a longer loop.  We headed out the driveway to the left.  Then Shar proposed that we actually head down the road we'd done in the dark a few weeks prior.  Coming back up would be good cardio for the horses, especially if we trotted some of it, and we could explore in the daylight to see if there was any way to hook up to the trails on the other side of the golf course.

To get to that road with the least amount of travel on busier roads, we needed to backtrack.  We decided rather than retracing our steps and then passing the house, especially with Dalai who has some naughty behavior when it comes to trying to return home (Arya too, but Dalai actually hops and spins a little more animated-ly than Arya), we'd just keep going, then go all the way around the block to where we wanted to be.  So we got to the first intersection and turned left, as everyone expected.  Then we got to the next intersection, where we almost always turn right, and we turned left.  This takes us toward home, so the horses were fine with this decision.  Next corner of the block, there's not really an intersection there, so we have no choice but to turn left, which turns us toward home again, so happy ponies.  Then it's a quick right onto the road we wanted to take, and the first turn that takes us in a not-so-pleasant (according to the bitchy mares) direction.  We were careful (well, Shar was--I often kept forgetting my role) to flank Dalai closely to prevent her getting much steam in the wrong direction.  She actually didn't try very hard, so it was pretty good.  And since Arya was pulling up the rear, she didn't mind following her buddies as much as she would have minded the turn if we were leading or solo.  So it went well.

Then we decided to trot, and Dalai thought maybe a combo of cantering and/or turning for home would get the better of Nathan, but he stuck with her, brought her back to a trot and got her back on track without too much trouble.  We turned at the next corner and walked and trotted that road without too much incident, though Arya (and I'm sure Dalai) were trying to inform us which direction home was from there.

We crossed the busy road without incident (and approaching it, there was a ton of traffic going both directions, but right as we got there, we had a nice big gap in which to cross--yay!), and proceeded along it a bit, then were back onto a quiet dirt road again.  We did a bit more trotting, including "pass and be passed."  We walked down the hill, Dalai and a pretty good pace, and Arya and Flash following a little more slowly.  At the bottom, we continued on the road past where Shar and I had turned around in the dark.  From the satellite view, it looked possible that the road petered out into a trail, and then it was hard to tell whether it went around the golf course or just kind of ended there, so that's what we wanted to check out.  We came to a gate, but since it only said "controlled access" and not "no tresspassing," and had a nice wide area for horses or people on foot to get around it, it definitely seemed they only cared about keeping vehicular traffic out, so we proceeded.  After the rough gravel leading up to the gate, it was nice footing after it, and I think we trotted a little bit more.  Then the horses spied the golfers and went on high alert, and we walked, watching for the best trail to follow without getting too close to the golf course.  The trail took a right, but then it got to the golf cart path and said No Tresspassing, so we were stuck.  I'm pretty sure the only other option would have been to cut through private property of individuals, so we turned around and retraced our steps again.  No biggie.  We'd extend the ride another way, since this had been a very short out-and-back so far.

As we got onto the uphill section, we took up a trot.  Arya wanted to go faster, possibly canter, but I wanted to hold her back to a slow trot as we had a LONG uphill slog, and I was hoping to trot at least most of it, if it didn't tire her out too much.  I'd just been telling Shar how annoying it is when she tosses her head in the trot (partially because of my nervousness issues, but also because I'm pretty sure she's not watching her feet at all when she does it, so while it's not so scary on a nice flat road, it can be pretty dangerous on singletrack with hazards like rocks and roots and holes), and Shar had suggested I let one rein go loose while keeping the other one taut when she does that, so she doesn't have the satisfaction of feeling like she might be able to get the reins out of my hands, but neither does she get the satisfaction of zero rein pressure, either.  When I tried to contain her at the bottom of the hill, sure enough, she started her head tossing, and after a couple back-and-forths, tried the one rein trick, and sure enough--she quit pretty quickly.  Ha!  Gotta remember that trick!  We trotted up the hill at a slowish but still hard-working pace, and then I decided to give it one good gusto and go for a canter when it flattened out a bit and the spacing between horses seemed right (we were getting a bit behind Flash, but not so much so she'd try to race to catch up, either).  I tried to get my weight a little further back in preparation, urged her on, and she did it!  At first, she seemed ready to break back to a trot after only a couple strides, but I squeezed her on, and we even passed flash a bit, probably doing only five or six strides of canter.  But I stayed calm, wasn't worried, and didn't bounce out of the saddle too much.  Yay!  When we came back to a trot, I let out a huge WOO HOO, as did Shar.  Nathan wondered what all the commotion was about.  :-)  But it's huge for me to canter these days, so it was a good moment to not only canter successfully, but without fear.  We walked the rest of the way up the hill, as Arya was breathing pretty hard by this point, and deserved a bit of a reward for her good behavior, too.

We retraced our steps a ways, crossing the busy road without incident again, and I was getting warm, so I removed my jacket (while still wearing my safety vest, though unzipped--basically like removing a bra while still wearing a shirt).  I needed to tie it to the saddle, but while I can't really steer Arya one-handed, I REALLY can't steer her zero-handed, and needed both hands to do the ties, of course.  Just after we turned left (away from home), I finally decided to just stop her rather than letting her get way off course while I tried to tie, then steering her back on track and having to start all over again.  Problem was, since we had JUST turned the "wrong" direction, this was really just about the worst time to actually stop rather than keep going and trying to do it later, either while moving, or stopping much further from the problem intersection.  Oops.  Bad trail buddy.  Luckily, I got the jacket tied on right about when Shar was miffed enough to just get going without us, so we all proceeded along together.  Another couple trot sessions, including one in which Arya spooked pretty hard at nothing I could identify, and kind of went it the ditch, but I managed to stay seated.

Then we came to where the road dead ends, and we all dismounted.  I re-adjusted my jacket a little more securely, and also removed Arya's bridle so she could graze while we moseyed around.  Shar thought she remembered there being a safe-ish trail to proceed down off what is, in most places along there, a sheer cliff, but has occasional places where it's more of a bouldering expedition instead.  She found such a spot, though I think "safe-ish" is even a little optimistic.  She and Flash led the way, and watching him stumble a bit and nearly get his foot caught between two large rocks (though he didn't), I was more than a bit concerned, as Arya's not the most graceful under normal conditions.  This could end up being a disaster.  I tried to stay a bit out ahead of her, so if she had to lunge a bit, she wouldn't have to choose between trampling me and crashing straight down the hill or something, and she actually did REALLY well.  She chose her foot placement carefully, and while a bit hesitant (and constantly stopping to eat), she willingly followed me down the not-trail over some pretty big rocks.  Good girl!  Then Nathan and Dalai followed in our steps, and did as well as we had done.  So yay for us!

Once down on the flat, we were back on familiar territory (for me and Shar, anyway--Nathan hadn't been there before).  We all took a potty break before mounting back up, but just as we were about to climb back on, a ranger (BLM) appeared, and asked if we'd seen any transient camps.  We hadn't, but he gave us his card and we told him we'd report them if we saw them.  And with that, we finally mounted back up and headed for home.  Nathan led the way on Dalai, with a few instructions from the peanut gallery who had actually ridden the trail before.  :-)  One more road crossing (where a hot pink trailer waited for us, holding back traffic, which was nice, though it's traffic from the OTHER direction, with a blind curve, that we really needed to worry about), and we were done with those for the ride.

Shar asked if we wanted to pick up a trot again.  This was a stretch where Arya has gotten pretty nasty about me holding her back in the past, especially on solo rides, though we weren't solo today.  We also haven't ridden it in probably close to six months, so maybe it was worth a shot.  Though I was behind Dalai but in front of Flash, which is the worst position for controlling her.  Dalai has a fast trot, especially when starting off (and with Nathan aboard--Shar can control it), and Arya wants to keep up, of course.  If Flash were in front of us (in either position), Shar would control the speed.  If Arya was in the very front, she wouldn't be too likely to trot very fast, and I could probably just ride it out until she naturally slowed down a bit anyway.  But I steeled myself mentally and physically, and agreed to trot.  Gotta work on stuff like this.  Sure enough, Dalai took off like a rocket, and I clenched the reins, and Arya put her head down and broke into a canter to catch up.  The first few strides felt VERY up and down, and the old me might have even called it a buck, but I had been prepared, both mentally and physically (leaning back), so I stuck with it, looked ahead not down, and reminded myself I can ride a canter.  After the initial "bucky" strides, she wasn't as adamant about having her head down, and it smoothed out into a more normal canter, and I was able to use my weight and reins to bring her back to a trot (plus we'd pretty much caught up to Dalai).  Shar was hollering for Nathan to slow Dalai down, but either he doesn't know how to effectively, or she figures he doesn't and therefore doesn't listen, as he was having a heck of a time getting her to slow down.  I mean, it wasn't a SUPER fast trot, by any stretch.  Just fast enough that Arya felt a canter would help her catch up and keep up, especially on that stretch of trail where she feels like she ought to be able to run for home.

But...I stuck with it, stayed calm, and while it wasn't what I wanted her to do, we all lived through the experience.  We trotted a little longer in that same session, then came back to a walk for pretty much the rest of the ride, I think.  We made it up the hill where Arya and Noelle and I had all been spooked by a flock of birds in both directions on our solo ride without incident.  On a couple of the last stretches before home, Shar warned Nathan and me first, then did a couple of canter sessions with Flash, both toward and away from home (he doesn't have the issues the girls do, so they can do that sort of thing--we need to reinforce walking CALMLY home with the mares, plus they're both in worse shape and sweated more than him, so benefited from walking home in that way, too).  The girls were apparently tired enough, or well-behaved enough, anyway, that that wasn't a problem, and they did some nice cantering, away from us out ahead, then back past us going the opposite way, then past us again.  Good ponies all the way around on that!

We got back, and Aschere (the baby) was very excited to see his buddies come home, and it was fun to watch him running along side us in his pasture.  I think it was while we were untacking and relaxing a bit after the ride that I remembered Aarene's recent post about whorls on horses faces, and checked Arya to see what she had going on.  She has double whorls (swirling the opposite directions RIGHT next to each other) at what is apparently considered a "low" point.  A bit of googling tells me that the personality associated with the placement of the whorls is probably fairly accurate--the higher they are, the higher-strung the horse, and the lower, the more laid-back.  She's definitely laid back.  However, double whorls are supposed to indicate a double personality, or two sides to her in some respect, and I just can't think of anything about which that applies.  Not that I believe in that kind of stuff anyway, but it's just interesting to read and consider, and in her case, it doesn't really match up (just like my horoscope often doesn't on a day-to-day basis, but I do usually see both sides of any given issue, as a Gemini probably ought to).  Anyway, so that was interesting but pointless.  :-)

After our ride, we gave all the horses who got ridden a little "mash."  Except the alfalfa pellets don't really dissolve, so Arya once again made a huge mess with hers, trying to get the pellets off the bottom without actually ingesting any of the water.  Ugh.  We went inside, watched a bit of TV while waiting for Richard to get home, then all four of us went to the Pump House for dinner.  We asked Nathan whether he'd be likely to ride with us on Sunday, and while apparently the only soreness he experienced afterward was on his seat bones from sitting in the saddle, and not really muscle soreness or chafing or anything, he said he'd stick with just the one day per weekend of riding.

Sunday, I arrived at Shar's house pretty early so we'd have time to load up and get to Henderson by 10:00, which is the time we'd planned to ride.  It was hovering right around freezing, maybe a little above, so while Arya was blanket-free out in the pasture, I figured that being confined in a very breezy box whizzing down the highway at 65 mph, she might prefer a little protection.  I threw the fleece cooler on her (for simplicity and because she probably didn't really need the heavy winter blanket).  She was NOT amused.  I'm pretty sure her train of thought was somewhere along the lines of "I'm a MUSTANG.  I should be running wild and free, not wearing these dumb purple jammies."

We also fetched Flash and he got a blankie for the ride.  And guess who else got to go!  After his awesome outing to the trail course last weekend, Shar was inspired (actually, she'd been talking about doing this for a while), and she decided to bring Aschere along!  If the group had been very large, she wouldn't have brought him at all, and if the group was large-ish, she'd probably have kept him on the lead line the whole time, but since it ended up being just Lianne who came, she figured maybe he'd get to roam free.  He'd come along with us (both free, and then eventually tethered when Arya started getting pissy with him) on a VERY short "trail ride" on the "poop trail" at Julie's place (a few loops of trail where they spread their shavings and manure to make some pretty good footing, and he'd done the trail obstacles at the event the prior week, but this would be his first real trail ride, and definitely his longest.  Woo hoo!

Julie had told me the night before that she wouldn't be able to go, and we messaged the other people we'd invited, and none of them were able to make it, so it was just going to be Lianne.  And Shar realized, after texting her that we were running a little late, that she might've actually told her 11:00.  She checked back through her messages, and sure enough.  Oops!  So now Lianne probably felt rushed to leave the house when she saw our messages, even though since she was the only other person coming, it really didn't matter.  Oops!  Oh well.  We arrived before her, since even though we were running late, we were much closer to the location than her (and had planned to be there a full hour before her), so we took our time tacking up, and goofed around doing other stuff.  I listened to heart rates and gut sounds on all the horses, Shar trimmed bridle paths on her boys...  But we didn't have to wait too long, and especially didn't have to wait long once Lianne arrived, since she had trailered with the saddle on.  Soon enough, we were mounted up and ready to go.

Lianne and Rascal (and Noelle and Arya's ears) at the trailhead

Shar, Flash, and Aschere at the trailhead, plus Noelle and a tiny piece of Arya's year

Setting off--Lianne and Rascal leading the way (that boy walks FAST!), then Shar, Flash, and Aschere, then me and Arya.
 Apparently Arya had rubbed her head on the trailer and some of the white paint rubbed off on her ears, as she had white-tipped ears the entire ride.  Heh.

Shar kept Aschere on the lead for a little bit, to make sure he was with the program, then after checking that Lianne and I were okay with it, she let him off the "leash."  He stayed close for a few seconds, then quickly realized he was free and began scampering around a little further afield from the group, but never wandering too far.

We headed out on the main road that leaves the trailhead we parked at, and passed the staging area for the OHVs.  Noted that they have a restroom there, though we didn't hop off to see if it's unlocked.  It's a bit far from where we park to be useful, but I suppose if it is unlocked, it might be something to keep in mind during the wanderings...

The road slogged up a LONG uphill section.  Steep-ish at first, then flattening out a bit while still being a bit of a hike.  The horses were not amused, and Arya was breathing hard by the end of the steeper portion.  Even the baby was getting tired and breathing kind of hard.  He was so funny!  He'd trit-trot along side us for a bit, but then he'd go scampering off to one side or the other, maybe tripping over some bushes, then he'd come galloping and crashing through the bushes to get back to us again, before taking off some other direction.  The bigger horses weren't super amused with his antics, but they took it pretty well.  Arya's been pastured with him on and off, so she's used to his baby-like antics, and he's used to reading her "back off" body language.  :-)  Rascal was less amused, but still did really well with it.  Luckily, while Aschere did threaten to bite the rump of a couple horses a couple times, he never really got up to any truly naughty behavior.  And it was impressive the stuff that DIDN'T trip him up while he was galavanting out there.  If Shar keeps up with these trails rides for him, he'll be really sure-footed. not to mention well conditioned, when he starts packing a human around.

When we got to the top of the hill, we saw a cattle guard so Shar put a rope on the baby, but we figured there was a way to go around it with the horses (you do NOT let a horse go over a cattle guard, as their foot will likely be trapped and they'll break one or more legs; cattle guards in horse-friendly areas will often have a gate, or even a gap in the fence with appropriate cattle-proofing to let riders go around the cattle guard), but there didn't appear to be.  It had fencing on both sides, and no gates within sight.  Hmm...Shar knows the area and Lianne and I do not, so we followed her lead and we all turned left.  There was a wide trail (the OHV area is for both dirt bikes, which have some narrower trails dedicated to them, and quads, so a lot of the trails are about a horse-and-a-half wide.  Not quite suitable for riding two abreast, but nice and wide.

However, soon the trail we were one, which had been pretty level up to this point, dropped off down a STEEP hillside.  Shar warned us it was steep and suggested we all dismount and walk down it.  We did so, and when we got to the bottom, the trail headed UP and equally steep hill, so we stayed on foot and hiked up it.  Poor Lianne was getting over a bad cold and probably didn't envision her horseback riding outing going like this.  But she passed me up when I took a break during the uphill hike, and I had the idea of trying to "tail" Arya.  Long-distance riders use this technique to save their horse's back, and strength and energy, from having to haul them up hills while mounted, but also to save their own human strength and energy a bit by using the horse to essentially tow them up the hill. While there can be a bit more technique to it, the basic idea is you just hang onto the tail and use your own feet plus a bit of a boost from the horse to go up the hill.  I'd tried it before with Arya, but on a downhill section, just to see how she'd do with having me behind her, hanging onto her tail.  She didn't mind then.  I tried it once some other time, on level ground, solo, and she didn't get the concept and wouldn't go forward.  But this time she had the other horses in front of her for motivation, so I gave it a shot.  I held onto the end of the rope, let her go on past me, and grabbed her tail.  She barely noticed, so I hitched a ride the rest of the way up the hill.  Nice!

We went down one more hill, then Shar (in the lead) got to a junction that indicated we'd been on a "most difficult" trail, but were now intersecting with an "easiest" trail.  Whew!  So after a brief potty break for me, we mounted back up and headed out.  Except while it seemed a bit easier, it still had a couple steep hills.  Luckily the steepest ones were uphill for us, so we stayed mounted.  One was bare crunchy rock.  Oops.  I just kind of grabbed mane and the wither strap of the breastcollar and hung on, letting her trot if she felt that was best, and letting her have enough rein to use her head to balance and lunge her way up the hill.  Poor thing, lugging my weight around.  But we made it.

Luckily, there were just the one or two more mounted uphills before we finally found our way to much flatter ground with much more normal hills.  But hey, both the riding horses AND the baby were definitely getting their workouts this ride!  Once on the flatter, less tree-sheltered land, we started getting hit with a bit of rain/snow mix.  I decided to put my rain shell on before it started coming down in earnest, since I was wearing a cotton sweatshirt that would be miserable when wet.  The shell was tied to the back of the saddle, and I got it untied without much issue, but between Achere running up behind Arya and the jacket unfurling and flapping in the breeze a bit, she got a bit jumpy.  So I just draped it over the front of the saddle for a couple minutes, until she got used to it and the baby was off in front of us (in sight), then tried again.  Managed to put it on (over the vest, not under this time!) without her minding much at all.  Good girl.

We found our way to the water trough we'd found on the ride when Shar and Nathan and I were out there, but none of the horses wanted to drink from it, even though they'd probably worked up a bit of a thirst.  The "trough" is actually an old truck or tractor tire turned inside out, so you kinda can't blame them for not wanting to drink from it.  Oh well.  We weren't going to be out for long enough, or working hard enough, that it was imperative that they drink.

From there, we wound around taking the same route back to the trailer that we'd taken with Nathan two weeks earlier, with one detour to avoid a truck parked out there that definitely had dogs and may or may not have been shooting from it, so that none of us disturbed the other.  We did a couple more trot sessions, then walked the last mile or so back.  At one point, Aschere was getting braver and braver about wandering farther away from the group, and Arya would make sure to keep an eye on him so he wouldn't surprise her when he came back.  :-)  And another interesting point was at a junction in the trail.  We were last in line (except Aschere was still behind us, I think), and the other two horses both turned right and headed back toward the trailer.  I was messing with something on the saddle, or drinking water or something, and wasn't steering Arya, and she actually turned left.  Not only away from her buddies, but away from the trailer!  Weird!  In retrospect, I probably should've let Shar know what I was doing and seen how long she wanted to do that, but I just turned her around and followed the group.  Hopefully it wasn't just a momentary lapse, but an actual sign that maybe she likes riding out and exploring, and will be willing to leave her buddies to do so.  We'll see...

Anyway, the rest of the ride was uneventful, we got back to the trailer, untacked, I put Arya's "jammies" back on her, much to her consternation, and we let the ponies graze on the grass there for a bit before loading up and heading home.  Back home, I decided to give Arya water with electrolytes and plain salt rather than adding any pellets.  She stuck her nose in, rooted around for pellets, found none, jostled the bucket a little with her muzzle, searched again, and dumped the bucket over.  Sheesh.  Gotta get to the feed store and get some Special Blend, since it dissolves to mush nearly instantly.  Then she'll have no choice but to slurp it up, electrolytes and all.

So, two days of riding.  First day 9.5 miles with one big hill and one small one, second day only 5 miles, but I think much more of a workout for Arya.  Both days were GOOD days.

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