We met at the barn before 1:00 pm-I had arrived early because I wanted to do a bit of groundwork with Lily before tacking up, and I'm so glad I did...Goober Brains is still in heat after our 1 day "heat" wave last week (temps soared to almost 70 degrees for 24 hours, which made ALL of the mares go into heat!), so she was "up" again and flighty just coming out of the field. A great mindset for a trail ride... I took her into the barn, brushed her, put her rope halter on and took her down to the outdoor. One of the ladies was turning her pony out into the field as Lily and I walked to the arena, and the pony took off at a mad gallop as soon as she was released. This caused Lily to snort, attempt to spin around, and then proceed to prance in place while I opened the arena gate. Piaffe, anyone?
I took her to the far end of the arena, and let her blow off steam on the lunge in both directions-she bucked and did bicycles in the air with her front legs, then tore around as fast as she could go. After 2 minutes of this, I started to ask her to pay attention. Bow, and she'd stop almost instantly. Good girl! Change direction. More galloping; only allowed her to do this twice around, then bow again. She stopped and took a couple of steps towards me. We did this several times, until suddenly, when asking her to stop, she halted then walked all the way up to me. I had her stand, then asked her to disengage hindquarters and front end. Mind you, I did not have a whip in my hands. I simply pointed a finger silently at her butt or her shoulder, and she moved the appropriate body part away from me. It was like a dance. After this, I sent her on the lunge again, and she trotted off calmly. I had her circle once one way at the trot, then the other, then I bowed and she came all the way up to me. Her whole demeanor had changed after less than 10 minutes of ground work.
We walked back up to the barn, where I tacked her up (I put her back in the halter bridle with the low port pelham, but only a single set of reins on the shanks-this has always worked better for both of us on the trails than the double reins), and met Tina and Houdan outside.
We had been warned by other boarders that the ditches have only gotten worse since the last time I had seen them a couple of days ago, so we decided to go the bridge route. As it turns out, I had the actual trail all wrong: you get to the trail by crossing the road straight ahead (vs going down the little road to the bridge) and going through an area where a reforestation project is going on. There is no marked trail through here-just ride between the baby trees, cross through an opening in the brush, and there is your trail.
The trail winds through the woods, following Rock Creek (this is the little stream that has been our nemesis so many times-I finally found out its name!) Our first obstacle was a bridge crossing a little branch of the creek. It looks like it flooded with the recent rains and partially dislodged the bridge-it's basically a trail obstacle-type bridge (no rails) like the one back in the outdoor arena. Except it was partially tilted to the side and looked very unstable. I held Lily back so we could watch Houdan tackle it-he went right over, but one of his hinds slipped when the bridge shifted under his weight. Lily had already been giving a firm "NO" at the mere suggestion of going over it, so I didn't even attempt to ride her for this one-I was afraid of the thing myself and figured we'd both do better balance-wise if each of us walked over it ourselves. It was fine this way-it did not shift underneath us as I led Lily, and Lily was able to walk calmly on it without trying to rush in fear - she followed behind me without ANY hesitation. I remounted on the other side, and we continued on our way. The trail was pretty, looping right next to the creek, where Lily had another opportunity to become desensitized to the sound of running water. She gave the creek the one-eye-one-ear look but walked on calmly. Eventually, we had to cross the creek again. The banks were very shallow, and rocky rather than muddy. I let Lily get up close to Houdan's hind end (I won't do this when the banks are muddy/steep for fear of either of the horses slipping/bumping each other) and she followed right behind him without hesitation. Shortly after, the woods opened up onto meadow, some of it planted with more baby trees. The trail became a track, similar to the one that goes around the cornfield, except this one goes past people's front yards, and two of those yards had dogs barking. The horses didn't care, though. The track looped around, doing a 180 turn, then leading over to the right through another meadow planted with trees. It came to a dead end at a fence. Tina had come this way before, and had not been able to find a place to cross, as the trail is supposed to do a full circle back to the barn. We found a break in the fence and carefully rode the horses through it, watching for barbed wire on the ground, then found a place by the banks of the creek where there was an actual shore. The creek was shallow here, so you could ride through it 2 walk strides to go up the opposite bank. Tina asked if I wanted to try it, and I said sure. I got off again for this when I saw Houdan's legs sink to the fetlocks in the mud on the shore. I unclipped Lily's reins from the bit, clipping one end to the halter and holding the other end-it's a 10 foot lead line this way-, had Lily stay, carefully crossed halfway through the creek myself, then went on up the other side. Lily followed, again without faltering. I had expected to feel her hesitation as a pull on the rein, but the slack remained on the rein as we went up the bank-I didn't even look back at her because I was watching the footing! Tina was very, very impressed-she had thought I would have to argue with Lily to get her to follow, like what had happened on our first trail ride here.
I remounted, and we found where the track continued through another field, letting the horses trot for a bit. A herd of deer had been in front of us all of this time, maybe 8 of them, silently leaping through the trees bordering the fields as we continued forwards.
The trail led into the woods, and here I was able to get pics with my cell.
Houdan is an adorable Arab/Morgan cross, 26 years old, who is fully sound after foundering a year ago! These photos do not do him justice at all-he grows a very fuzzy winter coat (he doesn't get blanketed-his coat is that thick), but for some reason it looks thin along his croup in these pics. It is not like that at all in real life.
A sharp bend in the trail.
The twin cowlicks on either side of her mane, just behind the crown strap of the bridle, are especially visible with her longer winter coat
She was especially calm on this ride, despite having been such a hellion coming out of the field. I wouldn't have been able to take these otherwise!
Up a slope, following the trail along the forest border.
If you enlarge this photo, you can see the road up ahead, just in front of the tree line.
Eventually, we ended up by a road, and here both Tina and I gave a simultaneous "Oh!" in surprise: we were back to the original road with the bridge, but on the opposite side of the bridge! Tina had never gone all the way through. We crossed the bridge uneventfully-Lily followed right behind Houdan- and made our way home.
It was an awesome ride. Tina and I have officially declared Tuesdays trail-riding days. :)