"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Zoom Zoom Zoom

On Friday I arrived at the barn in the afternoon despite having woken up way too early to start the day after a 12 hour shift that resulted in me going to bed at 5:00 am...but it's been cooler in the afternoons than the mornings so I figured it would be easier on the horses to wait until later in the day to ride. Charles was working so I was on my own.

I'm really enjoying the layout of the barn building in relation to the mare field at this farm. The horses see cars arrive, as the parking lot is between the mare and gelding fields. I walk straight into the feed storage area, from where I can see the mare field, fill the girls' pans with their grain, grab their halters, and then walk outside with everything in tow to the hitching post by the mare field fence and call their names. They can see all of this from the field.

Lily and Gracie now always look up when they hear me call them and will often start walking over of their own accord before I've opened the gate. I've been getting nickers of greeting too. :) Sure it's all food motivated but I don't care. It's the first time where I've received consistent vocal hellos from either of them!

Lytha, now they do come up to meet me. :)
Sometimes. Because mares are like cats: it's what they want when they want it.
I think geldings are much more likely to give us the exuberant greetings, whereas with a mare you kind of have to work much, much, MUCH harder to get that same sort of hello...and even then it's going to depend on their mood on a given day. I could be over-generalizing, but this is what I've noticed so far observing my horses and other people's interactions with theirs.
I fed and groomed both of them and started tacking up Gracie while Lily finished her grain. I finished tapering her omeprazole last week and she is eating SO much better. She even scarfed a full alfalfa flake while I tacked up.

I turned Lily back out and mounted up on Gracie. This was her last 30 minute ride before I could start slowly bumping up either ride time or intensity and I initially wanted to make it an arena ride so I did not ace her.

Gracie offered up her gait the second I asked her to move out. She was happy and willing so I allowed it. We gaited up to the arena, where we did about 5 minutes of work. It's been raining pretty much every night lately (Florida summer, anyone? Seriously) and the previous night had been no exception. The awesome wonderful fluffy textile footing was deep and soggy when wet and ultimately G-Mare was sort of struggling with it: she would gait a circle and then slow to a walk, "This SUCKS," she said. I didn't want her to strain anything so after said 5 minutes I called it quits. I dismounted and took her over to the round pen since I honestly haven't watched her move from the side faster than a walk since her injections.

The footing in the round pen wasn't better than in the arena. Gracie put her head down and snorted loudly at it, finding herself in a completely unfamiliar environment (this was her first time in this round pen), but she trotted out when asked and stopped when asked. I had her do only 2 laps in each direction just to watch her move and she did a lovely swinging trot despite the awful footing. I led her back out and re-mounted. She immediately wanted to take off before I had settled in the saddle so I made her wait: no bad habits! She's always been the better one about waiting however long the rider wants after said rider is in the saddle.

We gaited around the cross country course. G-Mare was very forward and very excited about being out in the wide open spaces. She was never out of control, but she was gaiting at her fastest rack and even going sideways when I wouldn't allow her to surge forwards. She was still going in the desired direction, just sideways in said direction in a beautiful lateral leg yield of her own accord that I never fathomed she could do. I never felt frightened nor unsafe; she is still a green horse that was feeling good after basically two weeks in light work and 3 days of rest. There was one instant, however, where she became just a little too bargy for my liking, coming just one notch from realizing that she could run through the hackamore if she really wanted to. And since we don't EVER want her to learn that, I did a half-halt with my seat and one rein and then asked her to stop. And she did. And then stood quietly for several seconds with the reins draped on her neck until I asked her to move out again.

For the next 10 minutes of our session, I had her work at the gait but focused on letting her move out with slack in the reins: if she was at my desired speed, I would push my hands forward as a reward to disengage the hackamore pressure on her nose. I like my horses to be in self-carriage on the trail. Not in the dressage sense necessarily but in the sense that I like to be able to point them where I want them to go and just have them go at whatever speed I want for however long I want without having to repeat myself or nag or fight with them constantly. (Unless the footing is iffy: I train them to also slow down of their own accord and let me know when they are not sure about the footing! They're the ones actually moving through it, not me, so I trust them to do their job safely as well.) The reason for this: I'm already doing my fair share of the work to stay out of their way and ride efficiently so as to make their job easier. Adding having to ride every single stride is exhausting when you're trying to go for long distances.

Gracie was a locomotive, surging upwards and forwards in front of my leg, but she was very responsive to half-halts if she exceeded the desired speed: I sat deeper and squeezed the reins if she speeded up too much. Each time she responded. Each time there was an instant release of pressure in reward. The first few times, though, she would only respond for a couple of strides before accelerating again. So then I asked her to stop and wait for a few seconds before resuming the gait. After doing that 2 or 3 times, she understood what the goal was and basically stayed where I put her in terms of gait and speed.

I tend to get more horse when I ride her vs Charles both because I ride her alone and because I ask for more precision in terms of pace and gait. She is a tremendously fun horse to ride, being the perfect combination of mind of her own + sensitivity, especially now as her brain has continued to mature and she has realized that she is ours.

I rode her back towards the mare field and partway around the mowed hay field next to the mare pasture. She had never been out that way by herself and wanted to turn her head to stare at the treeline (there are so many deer on property and they are pretty bold too) but she continued. She was excellent. A rock star.

We walked back to the barn to cool off. Despite the short session at mostly gait with a little walking, she was covered in sweat: it's continued to be relentlessly hot and muggy around these parts. Gracie is a great sweater, which is a huge advantage in the cooling department. By the time I dismounted at the barn 5 minutes later, she was breathing normally.

She was hosed off, given an electrolyte mash, and set free. Lily saw her come out and whinnied and whinnied at her in greeting, then came over to me so I could catch her.

The first thing Gracie does after being released is roll...:)

...and shake!

Walking up towards me.

There is something immensely flattering about a horse that still wants to hang out with you after being ridden.
Walking next to me as I went over to meet Lily halfway. :)
Lily had another flake of alfalfa while I tacked up (we are continuing with the ulcer preventive measures now). I put the Woolback and Alta on her, as it is honestly so much more comfortable than the Wintec for me and this combination fits her so well anyway. The Wintec fits her well too, except without the Woolback.

I swung up and we headed out. Lily picked up a trot of her own accord as we followed the bridle path up the top part of the mare field, which surprised me: this is something she'll do when riding with Gracie but not on her own. She was even doing her "happy trot" where she sort of relaxes the base of her neck as she propels herself along, which adds this extra sideways swing to her shoulders. You can't really see it unless you're on her, but it gives the impression that she's moving along to music. She only does that trot when she is super happy and having fun. I laughed at her and stroked her neck.

Since the hay field over by the mare field was mowed, I had Lily make a sharp right as we came to the end of the fence line and we trotted up the hay field rise.

This hay field. This was right after the hay had been cut, before being baled. The rise continues up to the far right of this photo, where there is a partial treeline + fence paralleling the bridle path. We are allowed to ride on the hay fields if we want to, but there can be gopher holes, which is why I prefer to just stick to their perimeters after the hay has been cut and baled: much easier to see any issues in the ground.
Lily trotted on up the hill while I scanned the footing in front of her for any gopher holes. Ever since our sinkhole episode last summer, she is actually really good about pointing out possible holes, though most often she is pointing out changes in terrain that are ultimately not holes. I realized on this particular ride that the one with the advantage for spotting holes is myself because I'm looking from a point higher up in the air than Lily herself. I always appreciate her caution, though, because she might feel give in the terrain that I'm unaware of, since she is the one actually stepping on it.

No gopher holes on this track, though! We made it all the way to the top of the rise and proceeded to climb down the other side of the hill. It was quite steep going down and I made a mental note for the future to do this hill in the opposite direction, as it would be quite the hill workout going up. As it was, Lily proceeded slowly forwards at a walk so she could sit on her haunches on the downward climb.

We picked up a trot at the bottom and came back up the path around the other side of the hay field, then veered off into the tree tunnel.

You can see the treeline at the far right that I mentioned in the previous photo. We went down that way, away from the camera, to start. We came back up this path, coming towards the camera, as we finished our turn around this field. It is a full mile in length.

The tunnel. Photo obviously taken on a different ride with Charles. The horses often hesitate over the light-dark-light combo going through here. The section of earth between the trees is actually a bridge: a tiny creek flows underneath it.

Going through the tunnel.
The tree tunnel leads to the bridle path that goes around the draft horse field and from there into the woods.

Bridle path around draft horse field.
Going down towards the woods.
You have to make a left to follow the trail into the woods. Once in the woods, you can turn right to head towards the river or continue straight through the forest in the general direction of the airstrip.

After turning left into the woods.
The trail towards the river is on Charles's and Gracie's right in this photo.

I let Lily choose and to my surprise she chose to take the path towards the river! I keep saying this but it never ceases to amaze me: this horse was SO TERRIFIED of water at one point in her life.

Trail towards the river.
She went down the little bank into the water and trudged confidently through it. We took the small path up the other side of the river that Charles and I discovered recently onto the new-to-us trails over by the train tracks.

That trail leading up the bank on the far side.
These are all photos that I've already shown you in past posts, but this was our first ride putting together all the loops we've discovered with Charles, and it's a good way of illustrating what we did on this day. :)

We then turned left onto this section of trail:

Lily trotted on down through here.
And then at the end, we turned right to go up this hill that I had told you guys about:

Lily galloped up, ears pricked, grunting happily with every stride (yes, she grunts when she gallops. It cracks me up.) Neither of the two other options leading back down this hill would take us back to the river but I knew another alternate route that took us through the trees down a much easier incline, and back down towards the water.

See that trail through the trees straight ahead? We came out through there.
We splashed through the water and up a tiny deer trail on the opposite bank, spooking a young stag that had been dozing in the shadows. Lily startled but headed straight through the chest-high grass back towards the river trail. We turned right, in the direction of the airstrip.

We galloped up the next incline and came out onto the path next to the airstrip. Lily and I continued straight on, through the hayfields and back into the woods, galloping up every hill and incline, moving out at her race-pace trot on the flats.

As I unleashed up yet another hill and watched the earth disappear under her thundering hooves, I couldn't help getting goosebumps: there is something amazing about galloping a confident horse over a familiar trail. Lily was having an absolute BLAST on this outing and I was grinning from ear to ear.

We went back through the woods, past the mare field and around the big hay field across the driveway from our barn building. It's another mile around. This leads onto the airstrip and the landfill site.

I yearn to gallop over the flat hardpack around the landfill area but Lily HATES this site.

Landfill site. Up close it looks like you've landed in the desert. Or Mars.
Note Mareface's question mark ears. 
Let me explain why I'm drawn to it:

Back on the island, in our little neck of the woods, at the boarding barn near our house where I kept my horses, I had access to a small arena. A very small arena. And a very small pasture that doubled as a turnout. I can't tell you how incredibly BORING it is to go around and around in circles in a tiny arena that likes to flood at one end every time it rains (which was EVERY. SINGLE. DAY because this was the tropics.) Which is how I started riding on the streets. On weekends only because there was far less traffic (I stuck to the arena on weekdays). Especially on Sundays, because on Sundays the drivers of the huge construction Mack trucks that liked to fly around our winding 1.5 lane back country roads at 65 mph were off.

And what did that mean? It meant that all of the construction sites were closed. Empty. Devoid of people working in them.

What did that mean? That if you could find a way to sneak in, they were the only places where it was safe (as in no cars, no pavement) to do fun stuff. Like pace all over creation at 30 mph. And gallop. And just have an absolute ball with your horse because you had all of this LAND to run around on that had been previously flattened and packed down by trucks and cranes and stuff.

Hence why every time we ride past the landfill site, I find myself studying all of the lanes created by the trucks bringing in earth to fill the site. And checking out that long strip straight ahead that you can see in the photo above, where you could pretty much gallop flat-out for a good half mile if you really, really wanted to.

If you could convince your horse, that is. ;) Lily thinks the landfill site, with its changing earth colors and textures, is full of landmines and deathtraps. I don't blame her: for a horse who has never seen anything like that before, it really is like landing on Mars.

So I've been making a point of taking her through there every time we head out and trying to convince her, "Lily this is AWESOME! Check it out!"
And Lily is all, "But-but...there's a rock SHADOW! It could be a HOLE! And what is that blackness? Another hole? It's an ocean of blackness! Why are you making me trot towards it? AAAHH..."
Me: "It's just asphalt that has been ground into the dirt! See? It's basically black-colored dirt! You can CANTER on it!" [There is a section of dirt that is currently black from asphalt residue or something. It really is just black earth]
Lily: "I CANNOT."
Me: "Yes you can! You can at least trot on it!"
Lily: "I can walk on it. Very carefully. Because this could turn into lava at any moment."
Me: *Rolls eyes*

I was actually able to get her to trot most of the way down the earth straightaway, with TONS of praise and neck pats and "Good girl"s.

Once we reached the end of the black dirt, I cued a canter and, in a fit of sudden bravery, pointed her at a tiny 2' bank of earth on our right. There was grass and good footing at the top of it, plus the trail was beyond.

This bank.
Lily pricked her ears and went, "I go up 10' banks. This ain't nothing!" And owned that little bank.

We trotted on, back down through the woods, and we walked the rest of the way home from there.

Lily was sweaty and lathery but happy and she actually wanted to continue trotting. I was beyond thrilled with her. We had completed 7 miles in an hour.

This is what negative splits looks like. :)
Not a huge elevation gain, but you can see how hilly these trails are.

Happy Mareface after 7 fast miles!
Lily had a well-deserved bath, an electrolyte mash, and the next day off to rest. :)


  1. Hell yeah ladies! You're doing such an outstanding job with both mares. Truly.

  2. What awesome trails you have at that farm. And Lily looks awesome at the end of a fast ride!

    1. Lily wanted to keep going! She was fantastic. Definitely can't complain about the trails at this barn. :)

  3. Great ride!! Lily looks great. I think it would take a lot of time for me to get Gem to trot that stretch. If we followed another horse it would be ok, but not solo.

    1. That's how we did it the first time, actually: Gracie was game to take the lead so we let her, and Lily trotted on behind her without a second thought for the footing. Silly mare.

  4. one of these days you'll have to take Lily xc schooling just for the heck of it ;)

    1. The more I read your blog, the more likely this seems! ;)

  5. This entry made me miss my gallops with Ozzy back in the day. You are right there is nothing like the feel of thundering hooves on well known paths. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. You know what's funny? I thought of you and Ozzy during this ride on Lily. Those photos of you galloping your boy are just spectacular. You were the inspiration that motivated me to try moving faster than a trot outside of the arena. Thank you for helping this happen. <3

  6. I am awestruck by the number of trails you find to ride wherever you go! Sounds like heaven on earth! Down here we are forced to ride the roads to get anywhere....even to fields and trails we are allowed on lol. And that is one fast ride! You have done wonders with both the girls!

    1. I think part of it is that MD is not only horse country, it is event country and there are a lot of trail riders here. TROT is one of the big state-wide trail rider organizations and they do a lot of work to help maintain trails in general and to keep them open for riders. Barns with trails on property or next to parks with horse trails advertise it well, and I guess we have enough parks that allow horses that there is a huge selection of barns with trails to choose from nearby? I agree it is unusual though: it was *not* like this in FL! We too had to ride on roads to get to the nearest parks and fields.