Yesterday afternoon it suddenly hit me that my trainer was talking about possibly riding Gabbrielle on the trails today, depending how well she does in the arena and on the property outside of the arena within sight of her buddies, and Gabbrielle has only been hand-walked off the property twice. One time my husband led her, and she pulled the entire time on the lead rope, so he kept circling her like they do with amped up race horses when loading them into the starting gate. The other time my trainer hand-walked her out to the public land gate, worked on getting her through it, and led her a short distance up the trail head. We had planned to lead her around in the desert for an entire hour lesson at some point, but never got around to it.
I didn't want Gabbrielle's unfamiliarity with the area to cause excessive spookiness and get my trainer into trouble while riding her. I also needed to re-test her on going through the gate and see if she can handle being out in the desert without her buddies. Both times she had been led out before, she had the other horses with her. It does seem ridiculous that every new factor in the equation requires training for a green horse, but that's the way it is. Horses aren't born with saddles and people on their backs. You need time, knowledge and patience to work with them, and I really haven't had those three points come together before now.
Gabbrielle balked a little at the gate and tried coming through on the high side, so I said no and tapped her shoulder over with the stick to get her lined up better. I think she was trying to get through the gate while staying as far away from the sign as possible, but there was no way she could lift her legs that high over the side of the V-shaped bar without getting a running start. She came through nicely once I got her straightened out.
There is this tight little tunnel of bushes we have to past through before we get out into the open. My other horses tend to crowd me in this section because they expect something to jump out of the bushes, and sometimes it does. Usually, it's one of my neighbors coming home from his hike. I don't know why the guy won't just stay on the trail. Maybe he stops to take a whiz in the bushes.
Anyway, Gabbrielle was arching her neck, tilting her head to the side, eyeballing everything, but she walked nicely beside me out of my space. I stopped her at the fork in the trail so that I could survey the area and check for hikers, bikers, horseback riders, snakes, coyotes, and loose dogs. While standing there, I heard this sound off in the distance getting closer and closer until it was so loud that it reverberated right through me. Though outwardly stoic for my horse, I came unglued inside. It sounded like a model rocket had blasted right past my head. I looked around to see two large birds chasing a smaller bird at a breakneck speed. They must have been dive bombing at the time I heard the noise. If anything was going to spook my horse, that would have been it, but Gabbrielle acted like she had heard nothing. She handled it better than my two old horses. Perhaps she's deaf.
She did need to stop to investigate strange objects and deep mud puddles, but she didn't panic over anything. I don't like to force my horses through those mud puddles just because they are full of bacteria and if the horse has an open wound on its leg, I'll be seeing a vet bill in the near future. I just ask them to walk up to it and look at it. If I ever come upon a puddle with no way around and have to get to the other side, I'll deal with it then.
Once she began relaxing, she occasionally forgot her manners and came in closer to hug me, so I stopped her feet, which was easy, because she automatically stopped walking the second that I stopped walking. She was very in tune to my every move. Then I pushed the air beside her poll with my hands and stick, and stepped away from me. She was good about remembering to keep that distance from me for a while, until she got engrossed in her thoughts, then I'd have to remind her again to stay out of my space.
The trainer explains this concept of keeping a horse out of your space this way: If a mountain lion were to come up from behind your horse and jump on its back, you want the horse to go around you, not into you or over you, while it is running away trying to get the mountain lion off its back. Since my area does not ban fireworks, we've got people setting them off all throughout the year, and I just can't swing my stick fast enough to prevent these horses from jumping on top of me when they hear these unexpected explosions, so I have to train them to stay out of my space on a daily basis.
There was no pulling on the lead rope on the way out, but Gabbrielle did keep the rope a little more taut on the way back toward home -- very minor compared to what Bombay and Lostine put me through when I first started walking them. I was surprised at how well-mannered Gabbrielle was after only being led by my trainer once. I suspect that now that she's being trained again, a lot of what she had been taught years ago came back to her. The trainer does think that Gabbrielle is quite smart.
The only scary moment was when my neighbor drove home and her dogs started barking in excitement to see their owner. Gabbrielle recognized the dog voices and knew we were close to home, so she pumped herself up taller, stopped, and let out a deafening whinny. Then she started jerking around, snorting and prancing. She had this wild look in her eye like she was going to take off and leave me in the dust, so I sternly said, "No!"
She immediately settled down and walked politely back home beside me. Going out through the gate was much easier. She was also good about watching where she placed her feet, avoiding rocky areas and cholla balls with spikes. When I walk and ride Bombay and Lostine, I have to steer them everywhere because they are too busy looking for things to spook at to be watching where they step, so I have high hopes for Gabbrielle at the moment. Despite her wonky shoulders and high energy, she makes good choices for a horse.