Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Horseback riding with friends - arena and trail

The theme of yesterday and today has been riding with friends... and still paying attention to Mom.

Both days have been gorgeous, so a lot of our friends have been out taking advantage of the good weather. Yesterday during our lesson, Panama's girlfriend Lady was being ridden in the outdoor arena at the same time as us, which was the biggest challenge we've faced yet. He's ridden in the same arena as his buddies before and been fine, but Lady is Different with a capital D. (Remember how easily he chooses Lady over his friends?)

As I expected, he was quite distracted with Lady around. Even before she and her owner made it to the arena, he could see her being tacked up, and tried to speed up every time he was heading in her direction. He continued to be very distracted once she was in the arena with him. We rode on one end and she and her owner rode on the other, and (under my trainer's tutelage) I worked on keeping his focus on me instead of Lady.

We didn't accomplish anything major yesterday, but we did reinforce the idea that when we're riding, he needs to pay attention to me, no matter who is around or what is going on. We had to work on little things like keeping a round circle at one end of the arena — his tendency was to resist turning away from the end where Lady was, so our circle was rather jagged for a little while. We spent our entire hour on paying attention in the face of the Supreme Distraction, and I think we are that much the better for it — especially since I would like to be able to trail ride with Lady's mom this year!

Today I rushed out to the barn, hoping that Zans's mom would be out there. Zans is an older Fresian/Thoroughbred cross, and although he and Panama have never played together, his mom and I are often there at the same time. Zans and Panama spend a lot of time in the tie stalls next to one another, so as far as they are concerned, that makes them buddies.

I was hoping Zans and his mom would be hitting the trail this morning, and to my delight, I got there just in time. I didn't take the time to ride Panama in the arena first, which in retrospect I probably should have done just to get him focusing on me a little better, but he was still pretty good.

Zans walks at about half the speed of Panama, so I felt like I was hanging on the reins quite a bit at first to keep Panama from crawling up Zans's butt. (Panama also liked sticking his nose under Zans's tail or nipping his butt whenever I wasn't paying enough attention. To Zans's credit, only once did he swish his tail at Panama.) Eventually Panama adapted to Zans's pace, but the mincing steps he took to keep pace with Zans cracked me up. I could totally feel through the saddle how much Panama was holding himself back in order to stay with Zans.

We did have three spooks. One was in the field before we went out onto the trail — we took a turn around the field so that I could see how Panama was doing. He was pretty excitable at first, and did a little jump at nothing. No biggie.

The next spook was a cat jump in place — the kind where they land with all four legs splayed out, like they're bracing themselves against the possibility that the ground might suddenly move out from under them. This time he spooked because Zans, who was in front of us, crow-hopped when he caught sight of the porta-potty over by the campgrounds. (Never mind that Zans has seen it plenty of times before.) He recovered quickly and didn't try to run off, so I was pleased.

The third time he spooked was also Zans's fault. We crossed the road that goes through the park, and just after we'd gotten into the grass, a couple of cyclists passed us on the road. We'd already seen several cyclists, but this time, for some reason, Zans decided to spook. I didn't see what he did, but I think he might have bucked. Whatever it was, it sent Panama into a momentary panic: He spooked sideways and then lurched forward for a stride or two before I could pull him back down.

And that was it. Oh, Panama was alert and excited — I could feel how tense he was through the saddle the entire time. I knew it was excitement and not fear or nervousness, but it still makes me nervous to feel his tension, so I was having to remind myself to breathe, sit back, etc. It didn't make for the most enjoyable ride, but we survived it and I am proud! I'm sure the next time will be easier.

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