We have followed the social distancing rules to the letter. We wear a mask when we go out which has been limited to the grocery store, bank, pharmacy, and gas station. Same thing for going to work, the feed store, and the post office. We keep six feet apart. I haven't touched another human being besides my husband since mid-March. I may not agree with every decision that's being made, but we're doing our part to limit our social interactions.
So this past weekend, when Wendy and I found that our schedules had finally lined up, we decided to get together for a trail ride. We knew it would be easy to maintain social distance while still interacting safely. I also invited my friend Edyta to come and ride Speedy. It was the most fun I have had in a really long time.
My friend Wendy lives on the other side of the Tehachapi Mountains in Rosamond, a small town on the very western edge of the Mojave Desert. She brought her mare, Beanie, who was an absolute rockstar of a three-year old.
Edyta is an old friend who has ridden all of her life but who now finds herself horseless as she raises her two girls. When I asked her if she wanted to join us, she was hesitant about riding Speedy. She's known him since his endurance days and has heard plenty about his shenanigans. I laughed and told her that he's only difficult for me. She agreed that it would be fun and met us at the park.
Because it's a trail I like and know well, we repeated the same loop I had done a few days before. Beanie is only three and Edyta hadn't ridden in nearly two years, so I wanted the trail to be fun and easy for everyone, and that included Izzy. This time I remembered to start my activity app as we headed out, but then I forgot to turn it off until we were well into lunch - sheesh. The mileage, at nearly eight miles, was actually a wee bit farther than I had thought.
We averaged four miles an hour more or less - mostly because we stopped a lot, but the last nine tenths of a mile really lowered our average as I had forgotten to end the workout. The whole loop took us a little less than two and a half hours. I think we spent that long eating lunch in the shade.
Our mile split times times weren't helped by the numerous places we stopped to take pictures. It was such a perfect day though that all of us wanted to take photos, especially once we got to my favorite lookout point over Lake Ming. I have a million shots of that view from between Izzy's ears, but this time, Edyta got a shot of his whole body!
Throughout the ride, we laughed, told stories, and just generally took a few hours to relax and let go of all of the stress and anxiety that is plaguing all of us. When we got back to the trailers, we hosed the horses off, made sure they had hay and water, and then we dragged out some chairs and the cooler.
We feasted on pasta salads, guacamole and chips, salami and cheese, flavored mineral water, and some delicious custom made desserts that Edyta thoughtfully brought with her. (We sat at a distance from one another, used Clorox wipes, plastic silverware, paper plates, and avoided touching anything that someone else might touch.)
For many people, including myself, the social distancing is causing its own set of mental and health issues. Connecting with friends face-to-face really helped me feel more balanced and centered. I missed the goodbye hugs that we would have given each other under other circumstances, but we made sure to give air hugs.
Of all the societal norms that may be abandoned when this passes, I sure hope that hugs amongst friends isn't one of them.
Over the weekend, I wondered why I hadn't taken Izzy back out to Hart Park. It's not like my work schedule is jam packed or anything, and the weather is suddenly gorgeous. We've been working hard to prepare for this show season, but with that on hold, I realized I still needed to get him out and about. Hart Park was the perfect destination.
The drive from the ranch to Hart Park with a trailer is 15 minutes if you drive conservatively, less if you step on it. There isn't even a stop sign. I always park at Horseman's Barn which has hitching posts, a wash rack, and pipe corrals. There are also picnic tables, shade trees, and very nice views.
I didn't even warn Izzy that we were going. I showed up, hooked up my trailer, and threw my tack in the back. I gave him a spritz of fly spray and told him to load up. He didn't bat an eye; he self-loaded, and once I was parked, he backed out quietly, albeit with a bit of a confused look. There were plenty of people at the park, so there were a lot of bodiless voices. Izzy craned his neck for a few minutes trying to figure out where everyone was, but there were no theatrics. I saddled up and was on the trail within 15 minutes.
I thought Izzy was good the last time we did this loop. Just two months later, he was even better. At the walk, he was immediately on the buckle. He wasn't bored, but he was happy to listen and let me make the decisions. I did the loop the same way as we had done it in February.
At 15 minutes into the ride, I remembered that I had my phone and that I had recently downloaded an activity app. I turned it on where the map is marked with a green dot. The red dot is where we finished which was an extra mile.
Any time the trail was free of gravel, we trotted. Back when I was endurance training, I would have trotted and cantered nearly the entire thing and then added another 10 miles by heading out into the foothills. Izzy's not an endurance horse though, and his fear-meter has a much higher setting than that of my endurance horses. Sometimes, it was just prudent to walk.
We passed by one freakishly weird object that deserved a much bigger spook than Izzy offered. Right next to the trail there was a pipe about 18 inches in diameter that rose around 8 feet into the air. I have no idea what it was for, but it sounded as if it were breathing. Moaning even. It might have even been a death rattle. In fact, I am sure of it. Izzy gave it a very, very long stare and contorted his body in such a way as to put as much distance between it and himself.
I couldn't blame him. Even I didn't know what it was, and of course, it was on the section of the trail that we had to repeat. It sounded no more friendly on the way back. I have to give Izzy lots of credit; he walked by it even though he was certain it was a harbinger of the apocalypse.
Since the park and trail system are still open to the public, there were quite a few other visitors. We saw a smattering of cyclists - one who was the most polite cyclist I've ever come across, and I've seen plenty. He cheerfully warned us, "I am on your right on a bicycle." I'll share the trail with that dude any day. There were also plenty of fishermen, hikers, and families out for a stroll. Everyone was courteous and practicing social distancing.
Izzy was really happy to walk, but for the trotting I had to work to keep him soft and forward. The first time I asked for a canter, he just couldn't. His back was simply too tight. After three or four miles, we came to a slight downhill that was wide open. He agreed to canter. A few minutes later, we came to a narrower stretch of trail, so I asked for the other lead. I got in two-point and rode him with LEG ON, so he managed to keep it together through some trail that had bushes over our heads.
I wasn't just pleased with Izzy because we didn't die. He was as solid as most "arena" horses could be. He hasn't had nearly the experience that Speedy has, but even so, I felt perfectly safe on him. Even when he was nervous, he slowed down or simply stopped. He never actually spooked. Now that the park loop is back on my radar, I'm going to have to try getting out there a little more frequently. It's nice to have a dressage horse who can also do trails.
Now I have two of them.
In February, I set a new goal to get Izzy off the property at least twice each month. I started riding out on the old golf course and around the neighborhood pretty regularly. I did the same thing in March. About that time, I was battling Izzy's excessive energy which I now know was due to too much alfalfa in his diet. The work out on the trail helped dissipate some of the energy.
By April, the restrictions around COVID-19 were firmly in place, and frankly, I kind of forgot about going anywhere. We also realized what the alfalfa was doing, so leaving the property didn't seem quite so important.
Instead of leaving the ranch, I started doing short trail rides around the property after every arena ride. We've been able to get a lot of miles out of those eleven acres. I know every spooky spot, so that's where we head. We circle trees and bushes and old piles of junk until Izzy softens and walks forward freely. We do it from the left eye and then from the right eye. We have lots of little roads that crisscross the ranch, so it's easy to keep it varied.
The trail rides out on the property are definitely helping to improve the work we do in the arena. When Izzy gets tense or braced, I treat him like I would if he were tense about a spooky bush out on the property. We circle, and I ask him to step up into my hand. As soon he softens, we move on. Every time I "win," he seems to breathe a sigh of relief. Izzy's a somewhat dominant horse, but he's also fearful which makes him a pretty poor leader.
Me being the leader is something relatively new. It's not an argument we have on the ground, it's a given that I am in charge there. Convincing him that I am also in charge when he's under saddle has taken a long, long, LONG time. When we work now, his ears are on a swivel as he listens to me. For so long, they were nearly always pricked forward as he tried to work and monitor his surroundings.
Yesterday, instead of working in the arena, I saddled up to ride around the ranch. Izzy's been so good lately that I decided to risk shooting video of part of our ride. Normally, I need both hands on the reins. He was still a bit look-y, but just my voice was enough to keep him feeling safe.
Speedy would be bored out of his mind if I asked him to ride these same trails over and over, but Izzy needs it. He doesn't seem to remember that we've circled that stump twenty times or passed by that pile of roofing shingles thirty-two times; he always sees something new. So until he gets bored, we'll keep doing it. Besides the fact that he needs the work, I think we both enjoy the walk without the need to perform.
This past weekend was definitely a difficult one. Sorry to be so melancholy about the whole thing. It's not like anybody died. Yet. The Cushing's Disease combined with the abscesses and Speedy's insistence on getting old too fast have really forced me to contemplate his eventual passing. It wasn't a conversation I was ready to have.
I never stay angry for long. Or sad. Or bitter. I move on. After riding Izzy three days in a row out in the neighborhood and out on the old golf course, I decided to do something even more productive. After three months of owning Newt, my new truck, I still hadn't hauled either horse anywhere. Instead of hauling Speedy to a show, I decided to take Izzy to Hart Park on Monday. Alone. It would be the first time to take him somewhere where there wouldn't be any horses to greet him.
Izzy has been to the barn at Hart Park more than several times. My friend Kathy and I like going there. The parking is good, there are water faucets, the shade in the summer is much appreciated, but best of all, there is excellent access to trails. I've taken Speedy there by himself many times, but I'd never felt that Izzy was reliable enough to handle the trip alone. You never know until you try though.
My plan was to ride for two hours, heading east to Lake Ming and then circling back. You can easily ride this loop as a figure eight, which is what I did. The small circle on the left side of the photo is the barn where I parked. The dotted arrow lines show the route and direction we took.
We ended up finishing in less than two hours, but that was because I decided to trot everything that wasn't rocky or covered in asphalt. After the initial surprise of being out there all alone, Izzy settled right in. He trot when asked and came back to a walk when asked, happy to march along without any jigging.
Izzy's done a fair amount of trail work already. I've spent every summer since I first bought him doing boot camp trail rides. This was the first time I felt confident enough to head out alone though. Did he disappoint? Nope! Instead, he handled everything like a seasoned pro.
There was no jigging, no flinching, no flying backwards. Instead, he approached each obstacle with a thinking brain. He stood politely to the side as joggers bounded by with their dogs trotting alongside. He stood calmly as ladies with strollers rolled on by. Even their toddler on a bicycle didn't phase him. I got off to drink from a drinking fountain and then pushed him alongside a park bench to remount. No big deal.
While he wasn't perfect, I enjoyed every minute of the ride. He stayed focused the entire time and never lost his marbles. He spooked once or twice, but they were of the gone weak in the knees sort. He was so well behaved that I rode with a pretty loose rein during all of the long trots.
About a quarter mile from the trailer, he started to plod. In the five and a half years that I've owned him, I've never really seen him tired. Relaxed yes, but not actually tired. I was glad to see him tired; that's when endurance horses really start to learn. While he's not an endurance horse, he has that same go-go-go mentality that keeps him from listening.
Having ridden a lot of tired endurance horses, I wasn't worried about how exhausted he thought he was. I knew he was going to be just fine, but I let him plod anyway. I did find it funny that he never has been all that good with directions though.
I don't know if it's just an Arabian thing or maybe a sixth sense that endurance horses develop, but all of my Arabs have had incredibly accurate homing beacons. They all knew exactly where the trailer was at all times no matter how far out in BFE we found ourselves. We were AT the trailer, and Izzy still didn't realize he was done for the day.
After a quick shower, Izzy walked right onto the trailer as though he does it every day. He unloaded just as calmly. After nipping at Speedy, taking a long pee, and grinding out a good roll in the sand, he settled in to finish his breakfast without ever wondering why I had made him work so hard.
Sometimes, I kind of like that he's more brawn than brain.
Before I write today's post, I would like to thank the many riders who reached out to me privately yesterday. It meant a lot that so many of you took the time to commiserate or just offer a virtual hug. I wish I could say I am over it and moving on, but I am not there yet. If anything, I feel even more pressure to get that bronze medal for Speedy. I know it's sounds selfish, but I really need the world to see how amazing my little Arabian really is. Big sigh ...
Seeing that Speedy was lame with my own eyes literally knocked the wind out of me. After confirming that it was yet another abscess, I wanted to just get back in my truck and go home. I wanted to grab the remote control and stare blindly at the TV for the rest of the day. But I didn't.
Instead, I started unloading my truck. I did it sluggishly, without the enthusiasm of the afternoon before. I figured that once everything was back in its place, I could then go home and find the remote. But again, I didn't. I moved on to the trailer, unloading my tack and the rest of Speedy's weekend wear. I kept thinking about the TV remote as I fought back angry tears.
When everything was hanging in its place or back on its shelf, I paused in the warm sunshine and contemplated what I should do for the rest of the day. It seemed such a waste to park myself in front of the TV, but I knew I wasn't in a healthy frame of mind to give Izzy a good schooling ride. More than any horse I've ever owned, Izzy reads my emotions and responds in kind. It makes him very anxious if I am not present and mentally centered.
Then I remembered my monthly goal of getting Izzy off the property at least twice a month. We were half-way through the month, and I hadn't even thought about going anywhere. Feeling angry was actually just the right attitude I needed to leave the property. Normally, I don't have the energy to deal with his away from home anxiety. With anger and resentment running through my veins, I needed to fight something. Izzy's anxiety was the perfect opponent. I saddled up.
Since I hadn't planned on riding, I was wearing jeans and tennis shoes. I didn't care, I kicked off my tennies and slipped into my muck boots. I grabbed Izzy's correction bit and sent him walking down the driveway.
That ride was just what we both needed. Over the past few weeks, Izzy had gotten so far behind my leg that every ride had become a battle between crazy and lazy. I just couldn't get him stepping up to the bridle, and when i did, it was balls to the wall with no softness or give. Heading out of the arena gave him a reason to go forward without me needing to kick, kick, kick.
For three days I repeated the same ride. I varied the loop just a bit, but each ride took us past the ducks and turkeys of the Haner farm and then out onto the old golf course. The third day we walked by, Izzy was very stoic about Tom turkey's gobbles. He gave him the stink eye, but he marched past without all of the theatrics of the days before.
The "golf course," now a field that is just kept mowed, is the perfect place for a big gallop. Usually I ask Izzy to keep his marbles in his head and just canter politely. That first day out on the course, I got in two point and let him just blast around. For 15 minutes. I rode it like it was a cross country course. We didn't jump anything, but we galloped all of it - the little hills, through the trees, and even over the old greens.
The second day, Izzy knew what was up so I checked in with him a lot more frequently asking for bigger half halts. We still galloped, but I added a lot more changes of direction and pushed him through the narrow openings between the trees.
Its hard to see the undulating nature of the old course, but it made for some fun obstacles. Sometimes we galloped the rim of the hills, and other times, we blasted straight down them. I used the shape of the land to school simple changes of lead. Galloping from the grass straight onto the turf of the greens showed real courage on Izzy's part. I know I had fun, and I am pretty sure Izzy enjoyed the change of pace.
While I am still bitterly disappointed about the weekend, I managed to be productive and give Izzy some much needed time out of the arena. I can't change what is, but I can try and cope with a bit more grace. I am not going to apologize or feel remorseful for my initial outburst of rage, but I am going to try and get back on a more even keel.
Both Speedy and Izzy need that from me.
If I had to write a sale ad for Izzy this week, I might start off with Awesome trail horse, goes where you point him. No, I am not kidding.
As before, I met up on Saturday with my friend Marci at her house along with her Arab gelding Gem. As we first walked out, Izzy wanted to be a giraffe, but that really only lasted a few minutes. Once we were actually out on the trail, he was relaxed and happy no matter which direction we went.
For this outing, we decided to ride the trails that lie north of the river. Since Gem is now working at more of an endurance pace, which means a lot more trotting, I told Marci that we were good trotting the wider, level trails. I didn't want Gem to get too frustrated at having to wait for his much slower friend.
Gem already has a really efficient, ground-covering trot. Izzy doesn't. He had to work really hard to stay balanced without running on his forehand. When Gem would start to put some distance between us, Izzy would try to quicken his pace but hollow his back. Instead of doing that, I half halted to remind him to sit on his hind end, and then I asked him to push forward. We did some fairly long trot sets so Izzy got some excellent practice at lengthening his stride and using his back more effectively.
Izzy was foot perfect on the trails. Hard packed or sandy, he picked up his feet and was careful where he put them. We took a trail that was quite overgrown with low hanging branches, not a problem for shorter Gem, but definitely a problem for my big brown horse. I slid off the side and led Izzy under the limbs. Even though he had to duck, he never batted an eye. And when I finally found a small berm tall enough to use as a mounting block, Izzy stood patiently while I hopped back up in the saddle.
There was only one area where Izzy tried to exit stage right. As we passed through Rancho Rio, a neighboring stable, he gave an emphatic heck no! at the hissing, grinding pump that resides in the middle of the road. Having ridden other horses past, I should have remembered that it's a bit of a bug -a-boo for most horses the first few times they pass by, especially since it starts and stops intermittently.
I don't mind if my horses want to stop and do a safety check. I get it, stuff is scary. Whirling and slamming on the breaks exceeds what I call a safety check though. It also says that my horse has no confidence in my decision-making skills. I started carrying a long thin rope as a "whacker" for moments just like these. I grabbed the line and popped Izzy behind my leg until he shot past the offensive pump.
Stopping and checking in with me is allowed. Taking matters into your hands is not. When we passed by it later, I was quite pleased that he didn't even look at it. It might have helped that it was being quiet, but whatever, I'll take the win.
Other than that one moment, Izzy was quite the confident trail pony. we crossed the weir again, this time with him in the lead. He was tense, but he did it without too much urging. The bicycle bridges have also been a bit scary, but he crossed those again as well without issue. The second time, he even led.
My friend Marci has been an amazing resource. Even though she and Gem are now working at a beginning endurance pace, she's been willing to slow it down so that Izzy and I can join her. At least occasionally.
If we never get to show, at least I know Izzy can always be a trail horse. And we all know that doing different things with our horses gives them broader experience and challenges their minds and bodies in new and often refreshing ways.
And besides that, I think he actually enjoys going out on the trail!
Well, not like Tevis technical, but it was the most challenging trail that Izzy has seen. On Saturday, Izzy and I met up yet again with my longtime endurance partner Marci and her Arabian gelding Gem. And this time, I was able to get some photos!
Since last riding with Marci, she has started developing Gem's trot. An endurance trot and a dressage trot are two very different things. To be able to trot for 10 or more hours, an endurance horse learns to carry himself in a much longer frame with free use of his head and neck. It takes a different kind of balance to be steady on your feet while carrying a quarter of your body weight over uneven and ever-changing terrain.
It also takes a long time to build up the kind of muscle that can handle that workload. Endurance horses need bone and soft tissue that are like iron. Their legs and feet need to be conditioned enough to withstand the constant torque put on their joints and tendons. It's not just about cardio fitness. The longer you spend slowly building up your horse's systems - cardio, bone, and soft tissue, the better prepared he'll be to withstand injury and fatigue.
Gem is in the early stages of his training. Endurance riders call it long, slow distance. It starts with a lot of walking over varied terrain for longer and longer rides. Little by little the rider starts asking for more speed by introducing trotting and later cantering. Marci plans to spend 6 months legging Gem up for his first endurance ride which will be later this fall. By then, his cardio fitness will be well developed as well.
Luckily for me, Izzy is well conditioned and able to keep pace with Gem during the early phase of his endurance training. Eventually, Gem will need to do far more trotting than Izzy will need. But for now, they're a good match. Both horses are learning where to put their feet when the trail is more technical and how to deal with scary obstacles.
I couldn't have been more pleased with Izzy over the two and a quarter hours we were on the trail. He started the ride a little above the bit, but within 15 minutes he was walking with a low slung neck and droopy ears. The last few times he's been out, he has insisted on leading. For this ride, he was quite happy to look at Gem's butt. It was almost as though he's realized that the lead horse has to do all the work.
With Gem finally sporting steel shoes, we were able to tackle some new parts of the trail. As before, we rode up the bluff trail, but instead of doubling back, we continued along the top of the bluffs and dropped back down to the river bottom via a narrow gorge with fetlock-twisting rocks and ruts carved by this winter's heavy rains. Izzy tried to just rest on Gem's "laurels," but when I asked for a small half halt, he realized I needed his attention to be on his feet and where he was putting them. From then on, he kept a respectful distance and never took a misstep.
With Izzy being so relaxed on the trail and Gem needing to start toughening his own legs, we took the opportunity to do some trotting where the footing was flat and level. Izzy picked up the most lovely trot, carrying his own head and neck without balancing on my hands. Every once in a while I asked for a bit of lateral flexion to remind him to rebalance himself, but for the most part, he did the work all on his own.
We plodded through spots with deeper sand, stepped over fallen logs, squeezed though overgrown brush, and again crossed the bicycle bridges. Izzy took some urging when he was in the lead, but for a later crossing of a different bridge, he followed Gem without missing a beat.
Late in the ride, we crossed over the weir, one of the many low dams built across the Kern River to regulate and redirect its flow into irrigation canals. We crossed it only for the experience. When we reached the other side, we rode up to the dirt road and then turned around to recross it. The noise of the rushing water is what is so scary for most horses. You'll notice that Izzy hardly bat an eye. Here's a quick video.
I've never doubted that trail riding is good for our horses, but the first summer I tackled it with Izzy, it was just too stressful for him. Even with trail riding twice a week one summer, he found no relaxation or joy in being out of the arena. This summer, he is showing a much greater sense of relaxation and enjoyment. And it's finally paying off in our dressage work. Izzy is much more willing to carry himself without leaning on my hands, and he is much less reactive to the "make-believe" stuff.
I only hope Gem doesn't develop his endurance legs too quickly. I need him to be a bit of a slow poke for the rest of the summer. Happy trails!
As hoped, Izzy and I hit the trail on Saturday with my friend Marci and her Arabian gelding Gem. I am over the moon happy with how much progress Izzy has made over the past few weeks. Just one month ago, I told my husband that I had had it with Izzy and that he was officially for sale. I just couldn't get through to him. We had great days, great months even, but then the jackassery would begin anew.
In desperation, I had a clandestine lesson in April with a trainer who I knew would be honest with me. I needed someone who had no personal relationship with me to critically evaluate my riding. I needed to know if I was the right rider for Izzy. Since that lesson, everything about our relationship has changed. A few things clicked into place giving me some new strategies for deescalating Izzy's tension.
One thing that Sean Cunningham, the trainer with whom I met, observed was that under saddle, Izzy wasn't really looking to me for security or guidance. While there are a lot of ways to gain your horse's trust, it happens best for me on the trail. With Sean's words fresh in my mind, I took Izzy to Summer Lane Farm's annual trail ride in early May. The next weekend I met up with Marci and Gem for a trail ride along the river bottom. And when Sunday's show got cancelled, I hastily emailed Marci and asked if she had plans for Saturday. Izzy has done more traveling in a month than he has over the past two years. I think I've been a little remiss.
We didn't take pictures, so it's hard to show you the kind of trail we rode, but it presented both of our horses with plenty of challenges. To my utter delight, Izzy tackled them like a seasoned pro. We started out by climbing the bluffs which look just like you would imagine - a mostly vertical wall with trails carved along its face.
When green horses are first asked to go downhill, they often lean forward, threatening to go ass over tea kettle. When we turned around to head back to the river bottom, I prepared for the ubiquitous nose dive that was sure to come. Instead, Izzy rocked back on his haunches, got light on his front end, and carefully picked his way down to level ground. I am not going to lie, my jaw might have hit the ground in total surprise. Who was this horse and where has he been hiding?
We rode for a solid two hours climbing whoop-dee-dos, stepping over logs, squeezing through narrow channels, crossing the bike bridges (again), and even splashing in the Kern River. Izzy never jigged, choosing instead to plod along (mostly) willing to go where I pointed him.
The only "issue" he had was staying focused on such a busy day. The trails were filled with hikers, runners, other horses, cyclists, and dogs. HIs head was on a swivel. I insisted he keep his poll loose though. That was the purpose of these trail rides: learning to stay relaxed even when things are distracting.
With school ending on Friday, I'll have a lot more free time to do more away-from-home things. On the agenda are more Saturday rides with Marci, at least one more lesson with STC Dressage, and maybe even another trail ride back at Summer Lane Farm. While my main goal for the summer is to get my Bronze Medal with Speedy, getting Izzy to a show is also on the list.
All we can do is try!
My friend Marci and I have spent many, MANY hours on the trail together. She was my second endurance partner, and the one I rode with the longest. We traveled all over California and even into Nevada doing endurance rides. Together, we completed grueling 100-milers, cruised the deserts of southern California, and even conquered valleys carved by glaciers in the Sierra Nevada. We rode together for 16 years. I recently asked her how many endurance miles she has now. Her answer? Over 21,000. She's in the top 50 of all endurance riders for total miles ridden. She knows her stuff.
We met up at the Summer Lane Farm trail ride the weekend before last where she brought her brand new horse - she'd only had him a few days. When I realized that her more seasoned horses were all getting some time off, I quickly asked if she'd like a trail buddy for Gem, her new horse. We joked that the pair of Gem and Izzy would be like the blind leading the blind, but neither of us was willing to pass up having a buddy.
She sent me an email during the week and asked if I would be game for a trail ride over the weekend. I immediately replied with a heck yeah! I am 100% committed to getting Izzy out and about this summer; he's ready. Having a friend out there on the trail, even one as green as Gem, is still better than heading out alone.
Riding with a pro like Marci makes bringing along an insecure horse so much easier. Like me, nothing phases Marci on the trail other than outright rudeness. We follow the same trail courtesy: no one trots or canters off until everyone is ready, everyone waits at water until each horse has had his fill, horses who prefer the front take the lead, and everyone waits until each horse has navigated the obstacle safely.
Over the years, we've ridden so many miles together that Saturday's ride was filled with giggles and outright laughter as each horse took his turn worrying about one thing or the other. Gem wasn't thrilled with the muddy puddles while Izzy plodded on through. Izzy wasn't excited with the human contraptions lying around the busy equestrian center we rode though. Gem didn't bat an eye.
Rancho Rio was having a family style barrel racing event that we decided to crash. It was an excellent opportunity to give both boys a look at a "show," or in Gem's case, an "endurance base camp." Marci jokingly called us Mutt and Jeff. Izzy towers over Arabian-sized Gem. With Marci on her Arab in her endurance tack and me in my dressage tack on the monster-sized Izzy, we got more than a few comments and questions. How tall is he? was the most common one.
Izzy had another really great experience. Besides the barrel race, we asked the horses to walk through narrow single track trail closed in with dense brush. We also rode by the canal's weir where water was rushing past. We plodded over the narrow bike bridges made of steel and concrete that echo and vibrate as the horses move across them. We rode alongside the canal and even asked them to step over logs. This is the kind of stuff that turns an insecure horse into one brimming with confidence.
It just might take a few more rides. Or years. Or however long. It's worth it though. You can bet we'll be doing more rides with Gem and Marci.
There are some days when it takes everything that I have to climb up in the saddle. I know I am not unique in that feeling. Working full time while keeping two horses fit can be a real challenge. For the past two afternoons I've had parent and staff meetings that kept me at work an extra 45 minutes. On top of that, I had to run and pick up my team's t-shirts for tomorrow's Battle of the Books. With all of that, I didn't even make it to the barn until long after I've normally saddled.
Instead of saddling, I decided to forego the leather and ride in a halter. My plan was to just get Speedy out for his mental health. While he has 12 hours of turnout, he really enjoys his job and gets anxious when he feels ignored.
I decided to mosey around the neighborhood loop which takes about a half an hour. If I add every nook and cranny, I can get closer to an hour. I didn't really have the time or energy for that, so I opted for the shorter loop.
Speedy had other plans though. As we passed the Haner Family Farm's gobbling turkeys, honking geese, and barking dogs, Speedy flung his tail over and his back and grew ten inches. We made it past, but as we approached the little drop down to the next road, it's actually pretty steep, a backhoe on the next property dropped its load. I hopped off. Even I have enough sense not to bareback it down a steep hill onto a road when my horse has just grown pogo sticks for legs.
I led him down the hill and turned him toward the backhoe which kept doing its job. I let him look at while his brain slid back into place. When Speedy's blood gets boiling though, it takes him quite a while to cool off. I didn't really want to walk home, so I pushed him into a ditch and hopped back on - 42 pounds ago, I wouldn't have been to do that, so go me.
Speedy pranced and jigged and sassed his bad boy self the rest of the way home. While he was a bit naughty, it's just his way of showing off. Some day I'll miss those spicy rides, but since he had so much energy, I decided to use it. Instead of walking back to the tack room, I turned toward the arena instead.
For a long time, Speedy refused to trot or canter when I rode bareback. I was positive that he was unsure of my ability to stay balanced on his back. Eventually, my seat got better, and I could coax a trot from him. It's been quite a while since I've asked him to do anything but walk bareback, so I wasn't sure what I would get.
Since he was tight and bouncy, I decided to work on the leg yield across the diagonal. When those went well, I changed the bend and asked for the half pass across the diagonal. If you can ride your horse bareback, I strongly recommend both of those movements for showing you where your balance lies and how (in)effective your aids might be. It took a few kicks with my MUDS (I hadn't even worn proper boots!), but I actually got a half pass while bareback in a halter. Not too shabby.
Then I decided to push it a little further and work on some simple changes. His patience had grown a bit thin by then, but that's when I can get some of Speedy's best work. When his emotions run higher, he gets even more determined. Since his canter was so collected, I bent him through the corner and asked for a canter half pass. The first few efforts were anything but a half pass, but eventually, he gave up the fight and gave me some strides that were correct.
What started out as a quick hack around the neighborhood bareback in a halter turned into a full dressage school. So much for short on time and energy. Where there's a will, there's usually a way.