Friday, February 1, 2013
A Ride on the Trails
I thought, "What's she gonna do? My horse can take off way faster than she can grab him. It's really all up to me to remember what to do and have the right timing."
With that thought, I realized that it almost doesn't matter if I have someone with me or not, but still I feel better having someone with me in these initial test runs with each horse. Plus my husband likes his exercise and it gives me someone to talk to.
With each ride, I try to do something outside of my horse's and/or my comfort zone. I know that in horse time we are making a lot of progress, but in my time progress feels painfully slow. Everything involves such tiny baby steps, but once we are past a hurdle I know that each day forward that hurdle will get easier to jump.
One thing that's been on my mind is whether or not to do extensive groundwork right before a trail ride. When I was taking equitation lessons, my instructor showed up early one day and watched me from his car. I didn't have a wristwatch, so I wasn't aware of what time it was. I didn't want to make him wait while I lunged my horse a long time, so I cut it short after about five minutes and then mounted. He got out of his car and started yelling at me for not lunging my horse long enough. He said that for safety's sake, I should lunge him for at least 20 minutes, preferably half an hour before riding.
Then when I sent Gabbrielle off to a dressage trainer, she told me not to waste time lunging, because the horse needs to learn to be ready to take you where you need to go when you need to go. Doing all that preparatory work just sets the horse up with expectations and makes it more difficult for both of you should you not have all that extra time to spare some day. I knew that in reality the horse trainer had so many horses to train and not enough people on her staff, so she literally didn't have the time to do groundwork and lunge a horse before riding.
Out here in Arizona, I never see people lunging their horses. They just saddle up and go. I love that.
The ride out was extremely pleasant. He walked at a nice pace on a loose rein. My husband suggested that we cross the street and go further out into the desert. Up until this point I have only ridden within the one by half mile rectangle of desert in front of our house. Since Bombay was doing so well, I thought we should give it a try. He was willing to walk through the gate, but we found that this gate's bottom bar was about six-inches higher than the one by our house. Bombay got his front hoof caught on the rubber. That made him nervous and he backed up.
I was working on trying to get him to stand and wait for cars before proceeding, and then trying to get him lined up so that he'd go straight through the gate, but he kept walking sideways into it and by the time I'd get him straightened out again, more cars would come and we'd have to wait. With each minute that ticked by, he got increasingly nervous and just wanted to get the hell away from that gate. When I circled him to get him lined up, he'd trot toward home and balk toward the gate, so I had to do really tight circles.
The traffic was worse than I expected. Cars were coming and going from the school parking lot, so I suspected that kindergarten was letting out. I decided not to push it. I haven't even hand-walked Bombay through that taller gate across the street into that unfamiliar part of the desert yet. It's right next to an elementary school and a middle school, so there were a lot of new sights and sounds my horse would have to get used to. I'd rather he get used to them with me not in the saddle, at least until I'm a stronger rider.
Unfortunately, my nice, pleasant ride was over. Bombay's nerves got the best of him and he started jigging his way home, which meant circling bushes, stopping, backing, and going everywhere but home. You should have seen him when I made him pass the main trail to home. He was like, "Whaaaaat? This isn't the way home..." and all of the sudden the jigging stopped and he started staggering like a drunken sailor away from the house. At least it gave my arms a break from working the reins, but my legs got cramped up from all the squeezing I did to keep him moving forward.
When we reached the other end of the mile stretch of desert we turned back and the jigging started all over again. I had him circle bushes and he trotted as soon as he faced home and walked as soon as we faced away from home. I realized how little control I really did have over his speed because these were tight little circles and he still did what he wanted with his feet. I'm good at getting a horse to back, so I worked on standing and backing, but then Bombay started swishing his tail and stomping his hind legs. Then I felt the telltale jerk of a buck as we were backing up. I realized that's why circling is better. A horse can't buck as easily with its head pulled around.
With me not letting him go home, I had crossed into his anger zone and he got pissy. I knew it was more important than ever to hang in there and keep on him. Just then a man came trotting his horse and dog along a trail that crossed ours in front of us. He greeted us while Bombay did his best giraffe imitation. I could feel that Bombay wanted to run with the other horse, so I made him stand and watch it disappear in the distance. After that his jigging progressed to busts of energy as he threatened to run home. His attitude was, "If that horse can run home, why can't I?"
The bush circling turned into one-rein stops. My husband is trying to wean me and Bombay off of him, so he kept either hanging way back or walking way ahead of us. When he'd get ahead of us, Bombay wanted to chase after him, so I made Bombay stand and watch my husband walk off. Still, as soon as I cued him forward, he could not contain himself and started to take off at the speed he chose. It was frustrating, because I felt like I wasn't getting through to him. When he got like that when my trainer walked beside us, she'd grab the lead rope and jerked him all over the place. I don't like to jerk a horse around with the reins when he has a bit in his mouth, so I used my threatening voice to capture his attention. I wondered if I should dismount and start doing some more aggressive ground work with him using the lead rope.
All I had to do was make him walk around the final bend to home and I knew he would relax once we made that turn, but those last few yards were a bitch. Would he have been better behaved if I took the time to lunge him and ride him in the arena first? I don't know. What do you think?