Monday, September 12, 2011

Trail time!

In my intro post, I briefly touched on the subject matter of my horse at home. What I didn’t mention was that I have a pony here at the farm I’m interning at (a real pony, not a horse sized animal that I fondly call “pony”). She is my training project and not intended for keeps. At the moment, I’m trying to expose her to a little bit of everything, so when I got the chance to take her on a trail ride, I jumped at it. The only incident of the otherwise perfect day was that I forgot that little Sadie didn’t know how to back out of a straight load trailer.

The only other time I unloaded her was when I bought her in freezing cold February and we just opened the partition and let her turn around so we could get her out and go back to the warmth of the house. Anyways, I watched the other horse unload like a pro, undid the butt bar and untied Sadie, expecting her to do the same. She did what she had been taught, turn around and walk out. Or at least she tried to. The trailer shook only slightly (she’s not big enough to rock it very much) then stopped as she realized even she was not small enough to turn around in the slot. It was then that I remembered that she didn’t know how to back out of a trailer. Oops. I took my time and showed Sadie how to unload.

Once that was dealt with, everything went smoothly. We tacked up, covered the horses and ourselves in bug spray (Sadie handled the aerosol spray can without batting an eyelash) and headed for the trails! The park was well cared for and very pretty. I was thrilled when I discovered that 95% of our riding was done in the shade. The trail was only wide enough for a single file line in most places, so we took turns leading and following. Mecca, the Clydesdale/Thoroughbred cross whose owner is the one that invited us to trail ride with her, took the lead when we were unsure of our way back to the trailer and she picked the correct and most direct way each time. It was cool watching her figure it out and I felt very confident in her bloodhound skills.

While Sadie and Mecca didn’t talk much (Or at all really, other than their telepathic messages… just kidding!), their riders chatted almost the whole time. One of the things we briefly talked and agreed upon was the headset that we find acceptable on the trail versus what we expect when we are working on our dressage in the ring. When riding at home in the arenas, we work at making our horses supple (bending in whatever direction we ask for during any movement or gait we are doing) and round (not just a headset here, roundness comes from behind, remember my recycling post). When on the trail, although we often have a light connection on the reins to the bit, we allow our horses to look around and observe their surroundings. We do not, however, allow them to become so intently focused on something that they lose their attentiveness to their rider and the trail that we are traveling (it is like Sally Swift’s concept of having soft, not hard, eyes while riding. We do not want our horse to get hard eyes while trail riding). We also expect our horses to remain bendable. I feel strongly that if your horse is bendable and attentive to you, you will be able to practice safe trail riding.

On the other hand, if your horse keeps zoning in on potentially scary things and has a neck as stiff as a board… let's just say that I hope you’re wearing a helmet! What are your expectations of your horse’s body and mind while trail riding?

After almost two hours of walking, trotting, and cantering, we came back to the trailer, grinning and gushing about how wonderful the weather was and how we had the best trail mounts. The horses enjoyed some hay while we riders had a lovely picnic. Altogether it was a completely enjoyable experience and I look forward to going out and about with the pony again.

Here’s a handy trail riding tip for you. When rising/posting the trot on the trail, make sure to alternate posting on either diagonal. I did this without thinking because of my very slight OCD (if you even want to call it that), but it was pointed out to me that your horse may become sore if you post the whole ride on just one diagonal. So switch it up!

P.S. When we returned to the barn, Sadie unloaded like she’d been backing out of trailers for years ..what a smart pony ;)

Monday, September 5, 2011

New surroundings

I’d like to introduce you to a new randomly occurring feature here at Rounder! I have dubbed it “A Photo With A Story”, which I think that is fairly self-explanatory. For now, I plan to use it as an outlet for eventually getting to tell the story in bits and pieces of my first  and lifer horse. But who knows where we’re rowing or which way the river’s flowing, wait, wrong movie, sorry! Haha, okay so onto the real content, I promise.

For a long time, (I’m not sure how long, but for years okay) I wanted to ride in an indoor arena, just to experience it. Since Hawaii does not have seasons in the traditional sense, an indoor is not eminent to riding in the wintertime. Until I came to Indiana, I rode outside or not at all. There was no try. I mean, no middle ground. I’ve even ridden on days that were supposed to have a hurricane and tsunami (not the same day, thankfully). My point is, weather on my island is mild. The most people will do is have a covered arena. In my mind that was second best next to an actual indoor arena with walls. Once I bought my horse, my dream to ride in an indoor expanded into specifically riding her in an indoor arena. Yeah, I reach for the sky.

I knew of only one covered arena on the island. I looked at it intently every time we drove out of town. It is located on the “wet side” where it rains so often that mold discolors the sides of houses. (My town has a “wet side” and "dry side” and we refer to it as such. But that’s off the topic of horses, so I’ll let it go.) I suppose the owners wanted to be able to ride and hold events without getting wet. Makes sense. I did not realize that the community college had built a newer covered arena for their budding equestrian team. I found out about it when my barn owner told me that she was going to do a vaulting demonstration there with the vaulting team she had organized. I quickly peeped up “Can I come along and bring Miss Take to keep Roxy company?” Roxy was the Shire/Percheron that the kids did their vaulting maneuvers on and was not as versed in travel as my horse was. I was super excited when I got the okay and started imagining how my horse would react to being ridden in a covered arena.

Although I had taken my horse to the two venues on our island that held dressage shows, it did not count as going to a “new place” because she had already been to one of those places in the past and had actually lived at the other place before coming to my barn. So I had never experienced how my horse reacted to new surroundings. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Miss Take, or Miss T as we fondly call her, had begun to develop a certain degree of trust in me. She only spooked with me if there was a plastic bag whipping in the wind or a sheaf of papers blew at her feet (or that one time that she thought a lone calf was running straight for us). And even those spooks were getting smaller and smaller. Despite her placid nature, I knew that she also had more of a timid side as opposed to being naturally brave and confident. I wasn’t sure if I should expect my usual saint of a horse, a frightened mare, or something in between.

Covered arena? Meh. Give me more carrots!
How does your horse react to new environments and surroundings?!
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