Despite Panama's recent injury, we just went on our second trail ride of the season this morning. (The injury is healing up nicely and doesn't bother him when I ride, but I decided to keep him out of any creek crossings until it heals... I don't know if it would actually cause any problems, but the thought of creek germs in there creeps me out.)
Our first was about two weeks ago, before the weather got quite so fall-like. It was our first trail ride in a little over a year, so this was a big deal for us. I was really concerned about how he would handle being back out again. He loves trail rides, but he can get kind of amped up about it at times.
I needn't have worried, as it turned out. He was perfectly relaxed the entire time -- we even led for the majority of the ride. (Panama really likes leading. I think part of it is because he walks out pretty fast compared to many horses, and he gets tired of tailgaiting!) He did give a few boulders a wide berth (some of which were new additions to the trail), so apparently in the interim big rocks have grown teeth -- you never know when those things are going to attack!
I think a big part of it is how much Panama has matured in the last couple of years, but one of my old trail buddies (someone I've been riding with since I moved to this barn) said I ought to give myself credit, and a big part of it is that I've become a better, more confident rider.
That was put to the test this week.
On Monday I actually declined to go on a trail ride with everyone else -- whether that is because of a lack of confidence or a smart decision on my part, I'll leave you to decide. It was taking one of our trail buddies a while to tack up, so the rest of us were mounted and waiting, and Panama wasn't handling the wait very well. He was impatient and extremely excitable, anxious to stand next to Savvy (a former pasture-mate whose owner still trailers in periodically for trail rides with the "gang"), and doing his best giraffe impression whenever I tried to rein him in. I took him into the arena and rode him a little, and he calmed down and worked, so we went back out to wait with the others... and he quickly grew impatient and antsy again. At that point I decided that the last thing I wanted to do was to reward that kind of behavior by taking him out on the trail -- especially if he was that amped up -- so I decided to stay back and ride in the arena. We worked through the distraction and disappointment of everyone else leaving, and ended up having a pretty good ride.
Today I wasn't actually planning on riding -- I was just going to pull Panama's rain sheet (it poured last night) and return home to get some work done. But a couple of my trail buddies were getting ready to go out, and I couldn't resist the temptation! There was a little bit of waiting around, but Panama handled it better -- whether it was because it wasn't for as long, or because Savvy wasn't there, or for some other reason, I don't know. He was still a bit excited as we headed out, and I was doubting the wisdom of going, especially with the cooler weather (because we all know how that affects our horses!).
But I stuck with it, and I am glad I did. Panama led the entire time, and was really striding out initially. We stopped periodically to graze and let everyone else catch up. He was very looky, and I could feel him practically zinging underneath me, he was so excited. I had to keep reminding myself: Heels down, sit back, and breathe. (I often forget to breathe when I am nervous, and since I know Panama feeds off of my body language, I've been trying to work on that when I catch myself not breathing.)
As we passed the riding stables in the park -- where he dumped me early last summer -- I made Panama lead past the farm equipment and other scary stuff there. This was the first time we'd led past that section since that incident, so this was a big deal for both of us: for him because he didn't have another horse's indifference to tell him what to do, and for me because I knew I would have to handle his uncertainty. I could feel in the way that his shoulder kept twitching to the left that he wanted to blow to the side to get away from the farm equipment, but I chose a path that was not too far and not too close, and kept my left rein taut and my left leg on every time his shoulder twitched. When I wouldn't let him, he tried to jig past it, and I said no to that too. I told him, "It's okay; you can do this," and he said, "I don't know... but okay." He passed the scary object -- and then we did it all again twenty feet later when he spotted a trough on the ground on the other side of the fence.
It was a confidence booster for both of us -- for him that he could trust me to lead, and for me that I could lead. (I don't mean lead in a physical sense here, but in the sense of a leader.) Once we accomplished that, Panama relaxed quite a bit (though he usually does there -- that's where the first leg of the trail, the leg with all the most intense stimuli, ends). We worked through another scary place with the boulders -- he again wanted to blow to the side or give them a wide berth. His shoulder twitched out: "Can I --?" I answered with a leg to keep him straight and a taut left rein. He did it again: "Should I --?" I again told him no with my reins and legs, and then he walked right by those boulders without any further concern. Such a good boy!
Heaven knows what works one time doesn't always work the next, and so perhaps next time he'll be frightened enough that my cues won't make a difference. But I think it was a huge step today: Panama being willing to ask for my leadership, and me having the confidence to give it. At one time he might not have asked, or even if he did, I would have frozen up, or missed the signs completely until he did blow to the side. As I told my friends today, I am so very happy with the horse he is becoming as he matures -- and also with the way our relationship is developing as we log more hours together. He is my soul horse and a partner for life, and I am so very lucky to have him!
Labels: trail riding