With the weekend's rain, the arena was just a tad bit too wet for a ride on Saturday. No worries! I saddled Speedy and rode the neighborhood thinking that a change of scenery would be good for his brain anyway.
Not more than a hundred yards from the barn, the neighbor's horse saw his chance to show off. He gave a good snort, bucked, and galloped across his small paddock. Speedy flipped his tail over his back, as only Arabs can do, and gave an answering snort. Well crap ... there went any kind of relaxing trail ride that I might have been planning.
It was all good though as I took the opportunity to work on my sitting trot (which is really weak). I also worked on moving his haunches around a little and did some serious pulley halts. As we neared the go home or go on point, I decided that Speedy's shenanigans had earned him a few more minutes on the trail so we turned left.
He was stiff to the left, as usual, so I used the trail to work on counter bending; I tipped his nose left but pushed him forward. As the dirt road widened, I planted my left hand on my knee and pushed him out, out, out around in a circle until I felt some give in his neck. We continued on down the trail.
The neighbors have kindly given me permission to ride through their 10 acres (?) which leads to the Kern River. Down where we are, the river is fairly quiet with lots of sandy beaches. This particular stretch of beach is quite large and flat. It's large enough that I realized I could easily put together several 20 meter circles.
Since the footing is sandy, the wet sand actually provided the best footing that nature can provide; it was perfect. We set to work.
Since he was still resistant to the left (someday he won't be; I just know it), I planted my hand and asked him to move his haunches. I could feel his energy building so I knew he really needed to just burn off some steam. With our recent weather, it had been several days since he'd been turned out.
So we cantered ... a lot. The whole time I focused on maintaing that left bend while pushing his rib cage out. I also focused on lifting his shoulders with the outside rein and leg. My feel in that department has really improved. I can now feel how the outside knee can almost pick up the shoulder.
After our work to the left, I changed directions and picked up the right lead canter. The first thing that I caught myself thinking was, wow, we're cantering with no bucking! Our canter departures have improved at least 100%.
Speedy was still quite excited about the cantering on the beach thing so he was pretty strong in my hand. Instead of asking for a bend, of which he has plenty tracking right, I worked on keeping him straight, almost riding the circle with straight lines. This really helped me get control of the outside shoulder. Tracking right with a "racey" horse really helped me feel when I needed to rock that outside rein and "lift" his shoulder with my knee.
By the time we were finished, I had developed quite a lovely track on the beach. No one came out of the house to shoo me away, but I wonder what they were thinking as I ripped around that circle on their smooth, sandy beach. As an aside, the weeds grow fast on that section which requires mowing all summer so I like to think I was helping with weed control!
We had worked on the beach for at least 20 minutes. It was quite humid and Speedy's coat is still thick. I decided we'd both had enough. The next section of the trail is a spooky one for Speedy as the sprinklers have popped up on us more than once. Now, whenever we travel through there, he's on high alert listening for the phssst of the sprinkler. I used his energy to leg yield him to the property edge.
By the time we made it back to the dirt road, Speedy was thrilled to take a small break and graze the winter grass that has finally exploded out of nowhere. I rode the last quarter mile home on a horse who seemed happily tired.
That truly was Dressage on the Trail!
As Cha Ching's mom says, I am so over this. This being the hot weather. Seriously. On Friday afternoon, I saddled up at 4:30 p.m.; it was 102℉ (39℃). When I unsaddled, it was 103℉. Good thing I didn't ride longer as it might have hit 105!
Don't worry. I didn't ask Sydney to work very hard. I am pretty tough, but 103 is hard even for me. Instead of continuing with our 10-meter turns, I decided to work on the "off the property" issue. I am a little bit anxious about riding him in the warm up area and dressage court at next weekend's show. I am not 100% sure how he'll behave. Given that he's been rather good the few times I've taken him somewhere, I am somewhat confident of a good outcome. We wouldn't be going if I thought he was going to totally nut up.
Sydney hasn't been very many places since I've owned him, but he was on the track in New Zealand, and he does hold his USHJA card where I assume he was shown. It's not like he's never been anywhere. Just to practice being somewhere new, we rode past one neighbor's property and down the road of another's. The loop is probably a mile roundtrip. We pass by two, large barking labs, go out of sight of any other horses, walk down a dirt road that has a bit of a whoop-de-do, and then we see horses in pens.
We did this little ride a week or so ago. Last time, he spooked at the dogs. This time he was tense as we passed the dogs, but he held his ground. As we left sight of the other horses, a GIANT lawnmower roared ahead of us; he didn't even see it. Our walk down the whoop-de-do was uneventful as was the walk down the neighbor's road. His head was pretty high for most of the journey, but I just sat deep and alternately rocked each rein. Every few strides he would soften his neck and relax for a bit, but then up his head would pop.
What I liked about his behavior was that he was thoughtful about the scariness. He tensed up, but he didn't pull the run and ask questions later bit. SInce he kept it together and seemed relaxed by the end, I dropped his reins at the edge of our barn's property and let him snack on the grass. He earned the snack. When we do that loop in a few days, I am hoping that he remembers that a quiet hack around the neighborhood means green grass at the end.
Before hopping off, I looked around for someone to snap our photo - no such luck. It's been a long time since I've had a picture of me up on him. Hopefully I can get a photo today.
Dorkiest expression ever ...
Speedy has been working hard. It's hot. Really hot, so while Sydney got ridden on Saturday, Speedy got turned out. On Sunday, still really hot, I decided to hack out down to the river. If all goes well and there are no issues, the ride takes a bit under 30 minutes.
You would think that with all of Speedy's conditioning miles as an endurance horse that he would no longer have issues with things on the trail. I think he's out of practice. What a wuss!
He has crossed the river at least 4 million times. Admittedly it's been a while, like at least a year. We did get in about three weeks ago, but it's not like we've been doing it consistently. It's a good thing that we've been practicing a serious inside bend with a strong outside whoa! rein. He did get in and he did walk around, but it was tense and scary. For him. I was laughing.
When we did that loop a few weeks ago, the sprinklers popped up all around us giving my boy a good scare. Wouldn't you know it, but the exact same thing happened again! This time, while Speedy spooked, he knew that I wasn't about to tolerate any bolting. He danced around a bit, but then he let me do the navigating.
We ended up being out there a little longer than a half hour, but there was a lot of shade and we finished early enough that the heat was manageable. I included the dorky photo to show the traffic-stopping vest that I use when I ride off property. Believe it or not, cars pass us much more slowly with the vest than without. It's ugly, but it serves a purpose.
I am done with summer by the way. Let's get Fall going.
I don't ride on the trail very often anymore, and the "trail" that I do ride is just the dirt shoulder of the neighborhood where my boys are stabled. There are a few short sections of dirt road, enough to canter a bit, but the whole thing is not really trail. I could toss Speedy into the trailer and drive the five minutes it would take to get to a decent amount of trail, but I just don't. In fact, Speedy hasn't done a real trail ride in at least six months. I often wonder if he misses it.
I moved to this barn at the end of August just as school was getting back into gear. One reason, among many, that I haven't done much trail riding is that my long time trail riding pal, Taz's Mom, has been MIA for quite some time. She's expecting some grand babies this summer so her focus has been on the mommy-to-be. Now that summer vacation is nearly here, I plan to head out on the trail more.
Saturday's lesson was a pretty rigorous one. I knew Speedy would have a follow up on Monday, so it seemed only right to do our version of a trail ride on Sunday. I am pretty sure Speedy appreciated it. He was more than happy to amble along snatching mouthfuls of green grass here and there. Most of you are probably horrified at the graze and ride strategy, but it's a well-honed skill for endurance horses. And once taught, it seems a bit mean to change the rules.
As we ambled however, Saturday's lesson kept coming to mind, and I realized that even while plodding along I could practice some of the skills JL was teaching me. When I felt Speedy plod along too slowly, I gave him a wake up! squeeze and was quite pleased with how well he sharpened up. Hmm, Saturday's lesson must have been remembered.
As we made the turn that takes us back toward home, Speedy's pace quickened. What I felt was that he was running on the forehand (in less polite terms, ass over teakettle) and his hind end didn't match the hustle of the front. Aha! Just like in the previous day's lesson, I slowed the front end and squeezed to engage his hind end. It worked like a charm. All of a sudden we were covering the ground, and I could feel that he was matched front to back. Success!
I love the opinions shared about yesterday's post,
and I have more to say, but I just have to post about yesterday's ride first. Warm-up shenanigans can wait one more day. That talking point isn't going anywhere!
It rained cats and dogs yesterday (over half an inch which is HUGE for this part of California) so working in the arena just wasn't gonna happen. Eyeballing the black sky, I saddled Speedy G up for a hack around the neighborhood. He was a jerk from the git-go: a P.I.T.A. while bridling (How many times have I used this bit? A lot buster - open up!
), while tightening the girth (it is NOT too tight!
), and while mounting (get back here!
). I knew that a quick ride might be a disaster in the making, and it really wouldn't be Speedy's fault. The weather was questionable, and the route was slick black top with extremely muddy shoulders.
I threw caution to the wind and headed out anyway. Speedy will be eight years old in two days and is approaching the status of d-e-p-e-n-d-a-b-l-e. He behaved as expected. The entire time he had his tail over his back and he jigged and bounced and snorted at every perceived it's gonna eat me, Mom!
sound. I did lots of sit-back-hards to stop his building momentum, but tried to give him the rein when he relaxed. Yeah, he was wiggly, but we were communicating.
And then it happened ...
Now I know what walk, trot, and canter feel like. I know what an extended trot looks like, and I can get a wee bit of extension from Speedy when he's really working well. I know what a piaffe
looks like and have seen Speedy execute that particular movement many times in hand. So when I tell you what he did, I KNOW you're going to pphhttt!!!
me. No way, he didn't do it. You just aren't in the know.
In the know or not, I know what Speedy G volunteered, and it was the most awesome PASSAGE
Yup. Passage. Paaaa - ssss - aaaaaa -ge! It was FAB-U-LOUS! I know I didn't ask for it, and I have no way to repeat the movement, but I don't care. It was like we were trotting on a trampoline. That's the only way I can describe it.
I felt Speedy coil himself up and I KNEW that if I asked for a halt, he was going to explode. Instead, I just sat deep and asked for forward. I felt the reins go slack and suddenly we were bouncing forward. On black top. With no pounding. I burst out laughing and urged him on. Go, Speedy, go!
It lasted for at least six strides before he fell into a jiggy trot, but during those half a dozen strides, I laughed out loud with glee and let him carry us both down that road. It was the most incredible feeling I have ever experienced on horseback.
Thanks, rainy day, I owe you one!
A week ago Saturday, RM and I headed out for a walk around the neighborhood. Since these properties are several acres in size, it doesn't really look like your typical neighborhood. We enjoyed an hour of October sunshine under a brilliant blue sky. It's still in the mid-80s here, but at least our mornings have begun to cool.
Bounder and Speedy G enjoyed leaving the arena for a walk "on the buckle". We even stopped at a row of apple trees and picked a snack for everybody. The ponies really seemed to enjoy the unexpected treat. Here's a clip from our first few minutes out. Enjoy!
It is freakishly cool as I write this. Our temperatures have been oh, I don't know, hotter than the surface of the sun. Okay not really, but close. It's been 105 - 108 pretty much daily. At 5:00 a.m., it's been 80 degrees. So when it was predicted that our high would be 20 degrees lower than 108, Taz's mom and I loaded up the horses for a ride up Rancheria Road.
I know you don't know where that is, but it's our go-to spot on hottish summer days or foggy winter days. It's a wide, dirt road that climbs out of the valley up to 4,000ish feet. It's lined with oak trees and later, fir and pine. On hot days the temperatures are slightly cooler, and in the winter, the road takes us up out of the dense valley fog for sunshine and blue sky. The footing is excellent, especially in the winter months when the valley floor can get a bit soggy. It had been at least a year since last we made the trek.
Things didn't go quite the way we planned, but it was a lovely ride anyway. You see, after schooling Speedy G the day before, I pulled his saddle in the arena and turned him loose. I do this all the time and he knows the drill. He waits quietly as I pull the saddle, and later the bridle. He ambles to his roll spot, does his thing, and IF he feels like it, he gets out some bucks and wiggles. He has a bad habit of overreaching with his hinds when he does a full gallop and tends to nick his coronet bands in front if I don't add bell boots. Didn't add the bell boots. Coronet band got nicked. Except it's worse than a nick. It's actually a pretty good slice. I scrubbed it clean, added some scarlet oil, and put him in his stall. NOTE TO SELF: Do not forget bell boots EVER again!
I looked it over before riding, and thought it looked fine. He was walking out happily and nothing seemed amiss. After a nice long warm up, he came up a bit ouchy at the trot. He would trot with some wincey steps, then trot on nicely for a bit, but every time we stopped to walk he gave some clear OUCH steps, especially on the downhill. When we got back to the trailer, I scrubbed it again and saw that the slice actually goes behind the very tippy-top of the hoof wall. The skin was bulging ever so slightly, and it was tender to the touch (sorry no photo). Even so, he did an amazing job the two hours we rode and had a lovely, long-strided walk that covered a ton of ground. He wasn't too sore to walk, and he actually seemed to quite enjoy the change of scenery.
But how is this dressage on the trail? With nowhere to go but forward, it's easy to work on leg yielding, softening, etc. And that's what we did. I was riding in my endurance saddle and Mikmar combination bit, which looks NOTHING like an approved dressage bit, but that didn't stop us. As we ambled up the road, I got a good rhythm going in my legs and sent him forward at a nice marching walk. Once we passed Taz, he dropped his neck low, and REALLY started reaching under himself to power walk. And when Taz would pass us, Speedy would tuck in behind and let Taz try to pull him along. Nope, no can do.
I put my leg on and gave him a push, push, push all the way across the road to the other side. When he tried to drift back, I just legged him again. And since we were always heading forward along the road, it was all about staying straight. Taz's mom gave an approving nod at how round he was as he marched along. He was genuinely reaching for the contact and working from his rear end over his back. I think it's been a while since we've done so much walking.
And so even though he had an ouchy wound, it didn't preclude him from some excellent power walking. We did some slow trot work and even some canter stretches until he said ouch one too many times. After that it was all walk.
It was a great day for working on the free walk. Dressage on the trail ... fun and practical.
This is not what I had intended for today's post. If you want to read that, scroll down and find the read more link and you can see what I was about to complain about. Instead, I want to, no, I NEED to write about Friday's ride. In short? It was AWESOME!!!!!!!
With a show on Sunday and this horrible heat, I decided to get to the barn early and just hit the trail. We haven't left the barn in at least five weeks (EHV-1/vacation), so I was eager to do something besides ride in the arena.
Going back a bit ... dear friend Taz's mom, who looked after Speedy while I was on vacation, had nothing but wonderful things to say about Speedy when I got home. She was so impressed with how friendly and polite he was and how willing to do whatever was asked of him. She's known him since day 1, and frankly, he was a bit of a stinker as a three and four-year-old. Even during his five and six-year-old years he was known to pull a few naughty tricks. But now, as a blooming seven-year-old, he appears to have turned into a right nice fellow.
So as I headed out onto the trail, I kept her words in my mind and realized that I am no longer riding that undependable four-year-old. I quit worrying that he was going to fall down or flip out. A few cars roared by which in the past would have sent him straight up into the air. He flicked an eye and stiffened his neck a bit, but onward and forward he went. The only thing he had real reason to freak out about, which he didn't, was a LARGE, YELLOW school bus that pulled up behind us pretty quietly and released its air brakes. That would scare ANY seasoned pony. Speedy did stop, tense his whole body, and step quickly away, but he did it with control. I was so proud of him!
That's all real nice, but it's not even what I wanted to write about. What I want to scream and shout and dance about is that on the way home, while Speedy was moving very nicely forward, we had some of the absolutely best strides of back to front connection that we have yet managed. I felt his back come up under me, my legs turned into melted ice cream as I gently hugged his barrel, I felt the most wonderful connection from the bit to my hands, and I RODE MY HORSE WITH MY SEAT! Can I get an AMEN sister?!
I had a really great trail ride on Saturday morning with dear friend and pony pal, Taz and his mom. She's been flu-bug ridden off and on the last month so we haven't ridden together in at least six weeks.
Neither of us had an agenda for the day so after some "where do you want to go" and more "where do YOU want to go" we ending up going east toward the park on a loop that's about 11 miles long. Since she hadn't been in the saddle for a while, she pleaded with me to take it easy on her. Well the joke turned out to be on me as we nearly flew threw the first seven or so miles. When I say "flew," what I mean is that it wasn't too far off an endurance conditioning pace. We were cruising right along at a good 5.5 mph pace. Not too shabby for two ponies who haven't done an endurance race in 10 months or so.
That particular loop includes some nice good climbs through the hills with very trot-friendly flat roads. I don't know what she and Taz were doing, but I was working my butt off to maintain a rhythmic trot and keep my contact steady at the same time. Not easy to do on twisting, turning dirt roads that have dips and sharp bends followed by uphill bursts! Taz's mom is great about letting me lead when she knows I'm trying to work on a particular dressage element. She kept Taz behind us so that I could really focus on getting Speedy G together.
Dressage on the trail is a lot of fun because my usually laid-back, behind-the-leg pony loves the trail. When we get into a good working trot, he really pushes off from behind and works nicely through his back. I don't have to keep asking for impulsion - he volunteers it readily. So when I "capture" that energy, I feel him really lift up through his back and shoulders and we float down the trail.
What better way to spend a Saturday morning?
Taz is enjoying the view (post ride) and Speedy G is watching Taz's mom get some horse treats from the trailer!
I had a pretty crappy work day on Tuesday. You know the kind where you come home and you can hear yourself snarling at the doorknob, the dishwasher that needs to be emptied, and even at the salad that needs to be made for dinner? I HAD to get out of the house and the barn was calling my name. It didn't hurt that even after a rainy night and cold morning it was close to 70 degrees.
I wore breeches and boots even though I was pretty sure I wouldn't ride. I just felt so pissy and didn't want to subject Speedy to a nit-picky ride. His warm whicker upon seeing me changed my entire outlook on the day. I gave him a nice, thorough brush down while he worked on his dinner and then decided to use my endurance saddle to hit the trail afterall, especially since the arena resembled Lake Superior.
I don't know what has happened over the last week or two, but something has literally clicked into place in Speedy's training. He marched himself out onto that trail with a new found confidence, maybe even a swagger! I don't think it hurts that there is lush grass EVERYWHERE that he gets to nibble on when he does something right that I've asked for. Following along the road, loud car approaches, I think forward ... forward while using my seat to push him. He goes forward instead of sucking back with the car ... I say, as though he's won Olympic gold, GOOD BOY! and point his nose to the tallest grass blades I can find. Repeat.
The loop that I did on Wednesday winds through the oil fields but then climbs up over three short, but rather steep hills before heading straight back for the barn. I use the hills for a variety of things, sometimes a light canter, other times I ask for collected trot work. Wednesday I tried something different. I approached the bend toward the first climb in a counter-bend. Speedy knows the climbs are ahead and usually gets "racey" as he approaches. The counter-bend kept him focused and soft. Then I went way off the charts and for the first time EVER, voluntarily did a BIG hand gallop up the first hill. Amazing.
In between each climb is a small downhill and a short flat. I organized him on the downhills, walked the flat, galloped the second hill, and then threw his brain a curve ball by asking him to WALK the third climb. WHAT!!!!??? he wailed.
The 3/4 of a mile home went just as well. He put on his old "I am gonna be jacked-up routine" as we made the final turn for the howmeward stretch, but I politely asked him to put it away. He did. We finished up with some nice working trot, superb marching walk, and one last little slow working trot to the barn's entrance road as a reward. We wrapped it all up with an on-the-buckle free walk to the tack room.
Horses are amazing therapy.