Saturday, July 30, 2011

More cantering and the best trail ride

I did a lot of riding yesterday.  In the morning I went out to the barn to meet Spaghetti's owner — I'm a little tired of calling her "Spaghetti's owner" all the time, so for now (for her privacy) let's call her A.  Anyway, S.O. and I were going to go on the usual trail ride, but the usual trail riders didn't show up, so we decided to ride in the outdoor arena.

Like a good student, I practiced my sitting canter — I think we probably got in a good 15 minutes of cantering, which is a lot on a hot July morning in the sun.  It wasn't stellar, by any means, but I am trying to get into the habit of thinking more about keeping my heels down, my lower legs stronger, and my shoulders back.

Then Zans's owner — let's call her S — showed up, an hour later than usual.  It turned out that Savvy's owner, C, the other regular, wasn't able to go, so S was just running late (not knowing we were going). She was all for a trail ride, though, so A and I rode in the arena for a little longer until she was ready.

The woman who owns Sammy, the third horse in the corral with Savvy and Panama, was also riding, so S invited her out as well.  I was a bit nervous about this, as Sammy is 5, which meant that Zans would have 3 charges to "babysit," and I had no clue how Sammy would do.  M (his owner) said he did great last time they went out, but I think that was their only trail ride so far, so yesterday was their second time.

As it turned out, though, I needn't have worried — it was a great ride.  Perhaps it was all the cantering, or the heat, but Panama wasn't as excited as he usually is when we head out.  He was still excited, but he was content to plod along, rather than rushing the first half of the trail like he usually does.

The one thing he was, however, was very looky.  We had a minor spook when someone shot off a huge crossbow at the archery range as we were passing, but he just half-jumped, half-leaned away from the archery range.  I guess it seemed different to him than what we usually see over there.

We took the long way around the riding stables so that we wouldn't have to deal with the farm equipment and the spot where he dumped me back in May.  I know I'll have to deal with it again soon, but with 2 other young horses and only Zans providing any substantial trail experience, I thought yesterday wasn't the best time, so we went around.  This was actually good in another way, though, as it gave us some unfamiliar trail for Panama to think about — and a big hill.

Just in the last few weeks, Panama has suddenly figured out how to go down hills.  He was controlling his speed somewhat down hills when we were doing all our trail riding last year, but I didn't realize at the time (because of my inexperience) that he wasn't fully shifting his weight onto his back end.  In the last few weeks, however, he's suddenly figured this out.  Now, when we start down the hill, I can actually feel him sitting back!  It's quite an achievement, and I'm as proud as if I'd figured it out, instead of him.  But I wonder if it's partly also that he has more strength now, from all the cantering we've being doing, and therefore sitting back and controlling his speed downhill is easier on him than it used to be.

Since the trail was unfamiliar, and he was feeling rather looky, he was checking out everything — the rock at the bottom of the hill, a log off to the side of the trail, even the grasshoppers fleeing before us.  But — and this is another part where I'm really proud of him — even though I could feel that he was concerned, he didn't let it deter him.  We were leading (we led the whole way), so I just gave him a nudge whenever he required it, and he kept moving forward at a fairly constant pace.  He was clearly working through his worries, and I have to say it again: I am really proud of him for it.

We also didn't have a single disagreement about when it was time to stop grazing.  (Remember, we take periodic grazing breaks on the trail.)  Last trail ride, 2 weeks ago, we had a few incidents where he would refuse to walk forward even after I'd pulled his head up.  He does this periodically, and since I was leading last time too, I decided we'd had enough grazing.  If he tries to bully me, he doesn't get to graze, end of story, so we finished off the final third of the ride without any breaks.  I don't know if he remembered that, or if he was just being good on his own accord, but I didn't have a single problem with that yesterday.

It was, by all accounts, the best trail ride we've been on all year, and possibly one of the best ever, in terms of behavior and achievements!

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