Sunday, February 28, 2010

Stupid weathermen...

My horse rolling in the snow

Before getting a horse, I never paid much attention to the weather forecasts. I decided what to wear when I got up in the morning and looked outside. I only ever worried about the weather when it was supposed to snow in the morning, and I had somewhere to go.

Now I check the weather almost compulsively throughout the winter. And usually this works pretty well for me. This year, however, the weathermen have been wrong... a lot.

Last night they were forecasting a chance of snow overnight, with snow definitely starting around late morning. I didn't want Panama getting wet and cold, and the shelter in his corral isn't very big when you factor in a crabby old mare who has a 15 foot bubble of personal space around her (at least whenever Panama is involved). So I blanketed him last night.

And this morning it was sunny.

This is probably about the fourth time this has happened so far this year: The forecast keeps calling for snow, and we keep getting sun instead! If it weren't for having to rush up to the barn or know my horse is getting too hot under his blanket, I'd consider it a pleasant surprise. But who wants to drive all the way out to the barn to unblanket him, just to rush back again when the snow finally starts?

Today the humidity was pretty high, so it felt chillier than it actually was — and I figured that probably meant the snow could start at any time. I decided to leave the blanket. But I hate having to make decisions like that. It's times like these when keeping my horse on my own property would be so much easier.

I've been thinking about how nice it would be to have a thermometer with wifi capabilities, which I could set up at the barn and get the current temperature there from wherever I am at the time. Such a device could piggyback on the G3 network, just like the Kindle does, and send regular updates to a site the user could check online. I know horse people would love such a gadget, and I'm sure people could find other uses as well.

What about you? Do you know if such a device exists, and would you be interested in one if it did?

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Almost there...

Well, the blog itself has been migrated over to the new publishing method, but images will be slow to follow. Sorry for the crazy appearance until then!

Anyway, I had a pretty good ride this afternoon. Panama is getting much better about the indoor — there was no dripping going on today, and he was completely relaxed. (He spooked twice, but once was because I made him walk straight at a bird that was sitting on his poop in the middle of the arena, and it startled him when it flew away. Totally my fault — but it amused me to chase the bird away.) I could totally tell he was happy to be working and spending time with me. I love days like that!

Because Panama was being so good, I was able to work a lot on my two-point. My position feels more effortless now, and my legs are getting stronger. I'm also no longer leaning on his neck — or his mouth! My endurance could still use some work, but at least now I am better balanced with my butt out of the saddle.

I also decided to switch out Panama's green plaid blanket with his red plaid one. I bought both at the beginning of the winter, but he hasn't done any damage to the green one yet this year. Still, it finally got muddy enough that I thought I ought to have it washed, so on the red one went!

Pink, Mom. It's PINK.

Horse blanket

It does look kinda girly, doesn't it? But you can't be too picky when you have a little horse, as there's not much selection in the smaller sizes. I had to take what the tack store had in stock. Sorry, buddy.

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Upcoming changes to PonyTalesBlog.com

Blogger is no longer going to be offering publishing via FTP, which is how I've been publishing my blog. As a result, I am going to be switching my blog over to their Custom Domain option, sometime today or tomorrow. The blog URL will not change, but I will need to make some changes regarding the pictures. Also, when I switch the blog over, it will be down for a few hours while the DNS path updates.

As a result, you may notice some problems while this is going on: The pictures may disappear for a while, or the blog may be down altogether. That will probably be either tonight or sometime tomorrow. I'll post again and let you know when everything is put to rights.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Play-a-thon

Panama had a play-a-thon today — one scheduled playdate, followed by two unscheduled playdates. Sadly, I forgot my camera, which is too bad because there would have been some good pictures to be had.

I met Voodoo's mom at the barn just before 10am, and we turned our horses out together. It was overcast and a touch chilly, the kind of weather that makes horses frisky, so they ran around together and had a pretty good time.

Around the time Voodoo's mom had to leave, Lady's mom arrived, so Panama promptly got a replacement. He and Lady meandered around the arena as they like to (they are more interested in spending "quality time" together than frisking or playing), and experimented a bit more with mutual grooming. (Panama isn't very experienced with this, and Lady can be a bit marish about his awkward attempts, so it's taken them a while to be comfortable grooming one another. Judging by Panama's, er, level of excitement when grooming with Lady, I suspect she takes offense to his apparent priorities.)

Then Spaghetti's owner's mom showed up. His young owner recently got a part-time job, so her mom is helping out when she's at work. She came out to remove his blanket, but when she saw me there, asked if she could turn Spaghetti out with Panama and Lady.

I've mentioned before that Panama is highly possessive of Lady. Well, it seems he is feeling more comfortable in his role as Lady's protector, so he made a big show of chasing Spaghetti off at the slightest provocation. (Sometimes that meant if Lady showed interest in Spaghetti. He didn't try to herd Lady away this time, but he's faster than her, so he just made sure he got to Spaghetti first.) Poor Spaghetti seemed bewildered by the dramatic change in his relationship with his buddy — he wanted to play bitey face, and cowered helplessly when Panama galloped at him full speed across the arena.

Panama was pinning his ears when he was chasing charging Spaghetti, and I realized something surprising — that is the first time I've ever seen him pin his ears like that, flat against his skull, the you-are-dead-meat look. He is so submissive with older horses, and has NEVER pinned his ears at a human, but I guess he is socially savvy enough to realize that he can easily dominate his buddies anytime he wants to.

I also noticed, however, that although Panama charged up to Spaghetti multiple times with mouth agape and teeth bared, and appeared to take a chunk out of Spaghetti's rump every time, he never even shaved off the fur. And within a few minutes of Lady being removed from the arena, he trotted up to Spaghetti with his ears pricked, and they proceeded to play bitey face as though nothing had ever changed between them.

It's an awe-inspiring testament to horse behavior and the complexity of their relationships with one another. Panama plays differently with each of his friends — runs with Voodoo with a little bitey face mixed in, grooms and flirts with Lady (they only run now if I make them), and rears and plays bitey face with Spaghetti. And the dynamics easily change depending on whether they are two or more — a third horse is always excluded if Panama and Lady are involved, but when the three geldings are together, Voodoo and Spaghetti will exclude Panama. With all four turned out together, they pair off — Voodoo and Spaghetti play, while Panama and Lady meander around on the opposite end of the arena. I guess Panama's priorities are clearly the mares!

I've recently been reading a book about dogs, Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz. The theme is not that we overestimate them (although sometimes we do), but that they are more complicated and capable than we realize. I think the same goes for horses. Do you see examples of this watching your horses interact with one another?

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Cabin (or corral?) fever

I went out to the barn today for the first time since I blanketed Panama on Thursday — and rode for the first time since Wednesday. As I expected, he was pretty revved up from several days of standing around — it has been snowy, cold, and overcast quite a bit the last few days.

When I turned him out, he did something he rarely does: He ran away as soon as I stepped back to signal that he was "free." He cantered across the outdoor arena, and without much ado, stopped dropped and rolled. I guess he needed that, after four days of wearing a blanket.

His girlfriend, Lady, got turned out with him for a little bit, and although I knew he was restless and needing to run, instead he flirted with her until her mom put her away. Then he ran. He's like a teenage boy, with his priorities.

I had a hard time deciding whether to ride. I felt pretty lazy, not at all like putting forth the work to saddle him, and plus he was so jumpy I was worried that it wouldn't be a fun ride. But eventually I did muster the resolve to ride. As I expected, he was a bit of a basketcase in the indoor arena — the roof was dripping and snow was sliding off periodically. He has gotten better about the snow sliding off — now he doesn't spook unless it happens to sound like it's right next to him — but the dripping drives him batty. It took 15 minutes of walking — half in each direction — to convince him it was okay to walk by the rail on the drippy side.

I think, if it weren't for the dripping, he probably would have been fine in the arena. He would relax and drop his head a bit on the non-drippy side, but soon as we approached the drippy side, his head came up and his pace quickened. I was constantly having to adjust the reins — letting them out as a reward for relaxing, and taking up the slack again on the scary side so that I was prepared for anything he might pull. He did a few cat jumps and tried a little bolt once before coming back to earth, but eventually he did settle down a bit.

Once he calmed down, I trotted him and worked on my two-point — probably not as much as my trainer would have liked, but that's because I had already expended so much mental energy on keeping Panama firmly grounded until he calmed down. I'm just going to be glad I got any practice in at all, and hope that he got all his wiggles out today — we have a lesson tomorrow!

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Peek-a-boo...

...I see you, Mom!

My horse watching me

Panama has gotten to the point where, every time I show up, he goes to the gate and waits for me to come get him. If I don't, he watches me curiously and, if he's feeling particularly impatient, whinnies to me.

Yesterday, I thought I'd sit in my car and work a little bit on my laptop. Then I looked up to see this.

My horse watching me

Who could work with those cute ears staring at them?

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Coming up roses

Sorry (again) for my lack of posts lately. I've been busy, busy, busy. In fact, this afternoon I'm posting before I work because otherwise I won't, and then I'll never say what I've been wanting to say.

I can't believe how well everything has been going lately. The things I was worried about seem to be resolving themselves. Panama has been sooooo good lately; I'd almost forgotten what it's like to ride him when he's not constantly ready to explode. And things are going GREAT with my trainer, which is a relief after the concerns I had.

On Monday, I rode Panama in the indoor for the first time in a couple weeks (the last time being the perfect ride I blogged about). Michael came with me, since he had the day off. There was surprisingly not too much going on at the barn that day — one girl was blow drying her horse in the cross ties just outside the arena entrance, and another couple brought their horse in toward the end of the ride.

It was, however, quite sunny outside, so the roof was dripping from Sunday's snow. Panama was sure that the jump standards in the corner was making this strange noise. He was clearly nervous about it, and was doing his speed-walk for a while, but he eventually calmed down nicely. Unfortunately, right about the time I was thinking we could finally move on to something else, Michael was wanting to leave, so I only made a couple of passes at the trot.

Yesterday I had a session with my trainer — her day to ride. She got on Panama in the outdoor arena, and he was so good that within the first ten minutes they had walked, trotted, and cantered. She praised him like crazy, then told me that she was pretty much done. "If he's being this good, I want YOU to be on him," she said, and gave me a lesson instead of working with him herself.

She is having me practice my two-point quite a bit, in preparation for cantering (which she wants me to do in the two-point at first). She was having me trot Panama in a serpentine in the two-point, and pushing me to go longer and longer without a walk break (I'm kind of a wimp). Around one of the turns of the serpentine, I could feel that Panama was wanting to speed up. Once I was sure that he had cantered (albeit tentatively) for two strides, but my trainer said she didn't see it. But after a couple more times around, he did canter for a couple of strides. I didn't panic or lose my balance, just scolded him a little ("Hey") and pulled him back down into a trot. My trainer said I handled it very well, and said that if it happened again when she wasn't there, she knew I could handle it without her.

My trainer was really pleased, and said I could canter on him again if I felt up to it. He was getting a bit excited, though, anticipating it in that spot, so I opted instead to work on something else to get his mind off it. My trainer put me to work doing smaller circles in the two-point, and coaching me on looking (something I don't do very well).

It was an amazing lesson. If he continues behaving like this, I won't have to canter first on another horse — which, of course, would be my preference. I feel most comfortable on Panama, so if he can behave himself and keep taking good care of me like that, I'd much rather get my cantering experience on him.

As "homework," my trainer told me to keep practicing my two-point, and we scheduled my next lesson for Friday to give me some time to do so. So today, after a playdate with his buddy Voodoo, I rode Panama for a little bit in the indoor. This time he was even more relaxed than Monday (no dripping, I guess), and I was able to walk him with a loose rein from the very beginning. That's a first for riding in the indoor!

I didn't have long to ride today, but I practiced my two-point at the trot for almost the entire time. Tomorrow I'm going to try to get out there and ride again. I don't know what has caused Panama's good behavior, but I hope it means he's back to normal!

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A day of play

I went out to the barn today not sure whether I wanted to ride or not. I had a lot of work waiting for me at home, but on the other hand, I hadn't been out since Friday, and I was really missing my horse. Plus, it was a lovely day — only 30 degrees at the most, though the bright sun made it feel warmer — and after two days of constant snow, I really needed to get out.

I ended up not riding, but I think it was actually good for both of us. I turned Panama out in the outdoor arena — which was untouched since the snow had stopped last night — and let him mosey around for a bit. He has a brand-new interest in eating snow, which I haven't seen him do before. He ate half the snow on the cement mounting block in the middle of the arena!

He also made sure to roll in the snow. He found a good spot and dug it up nicely before rolling. By the time he was done, he was soaked and there was a large patch of upturned arena sand!

He's rolling in front of me more than he used to, so I'm learning his habits. I've learned that I was right that he doesn't like to roll in cold, wet sand or snow — UNLESS he is feeling nice and warm. Today I'd just taken his blanket off, and the sun was deliciously warm for a 30-degree day, which meant rolling in the snow was okay.

I hadn't had breakfast and started feeling a bit lightheaded after ten minutes or so of standing, so I went and found a chair without too much snow on the seat. I sat next to the rail right outside the arena for a while and enjoyed the sun, and Panama stood right next to the rail inside the arena and enjoyed it too.

I was thinking about leaving when Lady's mom arrived to turn her out, so I stayed to let him have some time with his girlfriend. They necked for a little while, ate some snow together, and then I went in with my rope and chased them around a little. There were a few hair-raising moments when I thought Lady was going to run over me at top speed — she isn't as considerate about giving me plenty of space as Panama is — but she didn't! I love watching Panama run — he moves so effortlessly, even when he's really digging in to get up to speed.

After putting Panama back in his corral, I chatted with another boarder and one of my trainer's adult students. It turns out both of us like to go for trail rides, so I have another potential trail buddy to ride with once the weather improves and the trails dry out.

Anyway, I was still worrying at this point that I probably should have ridden, as both Panama and I need the practice, but then I remembered the change in him while he was on two weeks of rest. Panama seems to do better when I occasionally visit without riding; he seems to really appreciate "play time." So I decided that's what today was — a time for us to relax and spend some time together without any pressure. We'll be riding again soon enough (probably tomorrow)!

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Temple Grandin on HBO

Only a few days ago, I heard of Temple Grandin, the HBO movie, for the first time. Then today, in honor of the movie's launch, NPR reran a January interview with Ms. Grandin.

We don't have cable, so we'll have to get on Netflix's waiting list for the movie. In the meantime, I'll read a couple of her books, which I haven't read before. I'm admittedly more interested in her books about animals than her books about autism, but maybe that will change as I learn more about her.

I'm interested to hear from my readers who have read any of Temple Grandin's books. What did you think? If you've read more than one, are there any you would recommend more than others? No spoilers please, but if you see the movie I'd love to hear your thoughts on that, too.

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CAN'T-ering

Some of my readers who have been with me for a while may remember back to when I was afraid to canter. I got over it when I cantered by accident, asking for a faster trot and getting a canter instead.

That was at the old barn, though. Panama has been so goosey about the "go" button since we moved that my trainer has only cantered him a little, and I haven't at all. The last time I cantered on Panama was the time I fell after he slipped in the mud.

We started talking about cantering again during Wednesday's lesson. My trainer wants me to practice on another horse first, so that I have some recent experience (i.e., more recent than when I was 12) at the canter before trying it on Panama again. (I've only cantered on Panama a handful of times, so I'm not so sure that counts as recent experience.)

At first I was skeptical. For one thing, Panama seemed to be calming down a bit in the last week or two, which made me think maybe I'd be able to canter him again soon. Also, it has been two years since I've ridden a horse other than Panama, and I'm not sure I really want to. I ride because I love Panama, not because I particularly love riding. I guess I could say I love riding Panama, but I don't get as excited at the thought of riding another horse.

Yesterday convinced me, though. My trainer cantered Panama for a while today, pretending she was me — riding with a more uncertain seat, grabbing mane in the two-point, etc. Not only did he do his usual of getting really excited and wanting to do nothing but canter, but he was kind of freaked out by the mane-grabbing and the uncertain seat coming from my usually very competent trainer. She said she doesn't want me cantering on him until he gets a little bit more practice himself, and I (somewhat reluctantly) agreed.

So she's going to talk to one of her students about letting me try some cantering on their horse — not necessarily a full lesson every time, but just a half a dozen or so short rides, so that I become more confident at the canter. At the same time, she's going to start cantering him regularly during her training sessions with him and after my lessons, so that it stops being a Really Exciting Thing. She says as he gets used to cantering more often, he'll stop getting so revved up every time.

I'm disappointed not to be able to start out on Panama, but perhaps this will be better for the both of us in the long run. Either way, I'm looking forward to starting to canter — AGAIN!

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Concerns about saddle fit

A week or so ago, after my trainer rode my horse especially hard, we noticed that he was quite sweaty over each shoulder and hardly sweaty at all underneath the rest of the saddle pad. My trainer was concerned about saddle fit, but when we laid the saddle on his back without the pad, it sat flush, with even pressure, all along his back. So instead of panicking and running out to buy a new saddle, for now I'm keeping a close eye on things.

There are two things I suspect may have had something to do with the dramatic unevenness of the sweat that day. I saddled him (rather than my trainer), and I think I might have gotten the saddle too far forward — I'd noticed that it looked too high on his withers when my trainer was riding. It was a subtle difference, but maybe it was enough to cause the uneven sweating (something I haven't noticed in the past).

I've also been using the two frontmost straps for the cinch. So now, in addition to being much more particular about where I'm placing the saddle, I'm also using the first and last straps, in an attempt to create more even pressure across the entire tree.

I've been closely monitoring the sweat marks afterward, although I haven't yet ridden him as hard or gotten him as sweaty as my trainer did that day. I've definitely noticed that he sweats more underneath the flaps than under the parts of the pad that have no pressure on them, which makes sense to me. He sweats less under the seat, but he still does sweat a little there, so I'm not positive yet that it's reason for concern. He certainly doesn't act like it bothers him.

Here is a picture I took after riding Panama yesterday. He was moderately sweaty, but it doesn't show up in the picture well, so I've created some visuals to help you out. The green line is the edge of the saddle pad (because I have a green pad), and the red lines marks the sweatiest areas (which weren't all under the pad, as you can see). The orange lines marks where he is less sweaty, and the yellow hashing shows where he was barely sweaty or not at all.

I should note that even the sweatiest parts (in red) underneath the saddle were no sweatier than his chest and in his armpits, which is where he was the sweatiest. This also leads me to believe there isn't a problem, but has anyone else found that their horses don't sweat as much under the seat as under the flaps?

Sweat marks under my horse's saddle

If you have a hard time seeing my shading, click on the picture for a bigger version. Also, please keep in mind that it is a pretty rough estimation of what I remember from yesterday afternoon.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A riding lesson — with video!

Posting trot on my horse, Panama, during a horseback riding lesson

I had a riding lesson today, and I actually remembered for once to give my trainer my camera! It's been a while since I've had someone take pictures of me and Panama, so I hope you enjoy these as much as I did.

She also got a few videos of me trotting. In this first one, I'm practicing my post. It's a lot better than it used to be, but it still needs work. One thing I'm working on right now is sitting two beats to change my diagonal when I'm crossing the arena — I'm not very comfortable with a sitting trot, so I always feel out of control by the second beat. It doesn't look as dramatic on camera as it feels on his back, but I still would like to get better at it.

You can't really hear what I'm saying very well at the beginning — my trainer wanted me to ask Panama to trot without clucking, but he didn't respond at first, so I squeezed harder and then clucked, too. Which of course he responded to by overcompensating and launching into a faster trot than I wanted, so through that first turn, I'm coaxing him back down into a slower trot.



The next video is of me practicing my two-point at the trot. This is something I only started learning over the summer, and I haven't practiced it enough yet, so it is a lot sloppier than my posting is. My trainer pointed out that I was letting my butt get too far back and as a result, hanging on Panama's mouth in order to balance myself. Also, a few times I slipped into posting a little bit. I also find leg yields really challenging in the two-point, so obviously I need lots more practice in this department!

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Emerging playfulness

I almost forgot earlier to post about Panama's recent playfulness!

He has never been particularly playful with objects, although I think his little trick of trying to take off my hat or giving my parka's snap-on hood a good yank is his way of trying to play with me.

Lately, though, I've seen a little bit more playfulness coming out in his personality. A week or so ago, I was watching him roll a corner-shaped tub that came out of the shed. (Not sure what it's for — maybe holding a mineral block? — but that's where it was...) He startled himself once when he tipped it up and it fell back down, but after he recovered he quite happily flipped it over onto the other side. It's in a different place every day, so I suspect this is a regular thing.

Today while I had him turned out in the arena, I took off one of my gloves and started playing with him — balancing it on his head between his ears, letting it fall to the ground, etc. He tolerated my idiocy pretty well, but when that glove hit the ground, he mouthed it a little, grabbed it with his teeth, and started shaking it around!

I've never seen Panama play like that, and in fact, I've always been a bit jealous that other people's horses (such as Bombay from Nuzzling Muzzles) can be so playful. But maybe that's just something Panama had to grow into!

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A quick ride with surprising results

I had a lot of demands on my time today, so I had to reschedule my lesson, but I still managed to squeeze in a visit to the barn. I hadn't been there since Saturday, so I knew I needed to go.

I started out by turning Panama out. He promptly rolled, and then looked like he was going to sunbathe. I was pretty sure he needed to run, after being in with the "old folks" for two whole days, so I chased him a bit. He quite happily obliged, and I could tell by the flagged tail that I was right — he'd needed that.

Then I saddled him and we started out in the outdoor arena. It was a beautiful morning, sunny and clear, and it was also quiet at the barn — the makings for a nice relaxing ride. Unfortunately, Panama was a bit "up" at first, and it took ten or fifteen minutes for him to calm down. Finally he dropped his head and his walk became slower and steadier, so I trotted him for a few minutes, walked him a little bit longer, and then headed out into the field — this time alone.

I didn't want to have to dismount to leave the arena, so I opened and closed the gate from Panama's back. He was a bit startled the first time I pushed it, but he figured out very quickly what I was trying to do. He didn't try to help — I didn't expect it on our first try — but he didn't spook, which was more than good enough for me.

He kept his nice relaxed walk as we started out into the field. As we started approaching the junk pile, however, and he didn't have another horse to take his cues from, he started fretting. He gave a large section of concrete sewage tunnel a wide berth, so I turned him around and made him walk by it again. We had a couple of little spooks here, but nothing I couldn't handle.

On the third approach, he tried stopping several times, but I made him keep going. Then, when he was almost past the sewage tunnel, he spotted the rest of the junk pile, a little ways down on the other side of the path. With that he spun and bolted.

I thought I was a goner. I remember looking down at the saddle, desperately wanting to stay in it, but thinking, I'm going to fall. Then I realized I wasn't falling, hauled back on the reins, and stopped Panama. I didn't think he was going to respond at first, but he did, and as soon as he did I turned him around again and took him right back to that junk pile.

I'd obviously won that round, as Panama walked by the junk pile — with mincing steps, but in a straight line without trying to veer away from it. He got lots of praise and pats for that!

That was at about the farthest point in our loop, so we still had the return trip. As we continued on, I could feel my legs starting to tremble — a delayed reaction to the bolting incident — and I concentrated on breathing and relaxing my body. We passed some horses in a neighboring pasture, and Panama was a bit scared of their food or water troughs, which were big, round, and black and appeared to be homemade. I made him walk along the fence almost the entire way (the troughs were placed at intervals along the fence), and then we doubled back to catch the trail that cut back across the field toward "home."

I was very pleased to see that Panama kept up a slow, steady walk the entire way back to the cross ties. Of course, we didn't ride very far away from "home," but I think it was a good sign nonetheless.

In the end, I was very glad I'd made the time for this ride. It wasn't very long — maybe half an hour — but it yielded some very pleasing results. I'm particularly proud that I kept my seat through that spin-and-bolt combo, and regained control. I'm sure I looked terrible, I shouldn't have been looking down, and I forgot all about the one-rein stop — but I don't care, because I stayed on!!!

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