Tuesday, February 24, 2009

On the Trail Again - Ride the Horse You Have Today

Today it was actually in the mid-30sF, although a bit windy.  Since it was the nicest day we're likely to have for the rest of the week, I took Maisie for a trail ride.  This was her first trail ride alone since last year.  My goal for the ride was relaxation - to have her move at a regular walk, on a loose rein, and remain relaxed.  As things turned out, that goal was a bit too ambitious for today.

Here we are starting across the field behind the barn.

And here we are on the trail heading away from home.

For each of these photos, we stopped and Maisie stood on a loose rein while I took the photo.  So far, so good.  She was forward, but relaxed, and we were able to walk on a loose rein.  

As we turned for home, Maisie stayed relaxed for a while.  Then she wanted to pick up the pace, so I asked her to soften and slow, which she did.  We did this several times.  Then we got closer to home and she wanted to jig, so we did serpentines, which sometimes helps to relax her.  She got more tense, and, although she continued to soften when I asked her, her hind end wanted to go faster than we were going.  When this happens, she is inclined to start doing leaps and small round-backed bucks.  I can ride through this sort of thing, but I don't have anything to prove and think that if a horse gets to the point of a meltdown it's a bad experience and doesn't teach the horse anything useful.

Mark Rashid has a saying that applies to this - "ride the horse you have today".  While it's important to have a plan for what you want to accomplish, if the horse's mental or physical condition or other circumstances make that impossible without a fight, change your plans and work with what the horse presents you.

So, as Maisie was thinking about beginning to buck and leap, I had at least two choices - turn in tight circles or get off and work from the ground.  I generally try to avoid tight circles with Maisie, as she has some stifle issues, and in addition the footing was slippery.  So I asked her to stand still, and got off.

She was very nervous, so we worked on leading up and down the trail, stopping, standing and backing softly.  By the end of our session, she was still nervous but walking quietly on a loose rein just even with my shoulder.  Maisie is big enough (16.2) and I'm old enough that I can't easily remount from the ground, so we continued to work until we got back to the barn.

When one of my horses has an issue where I decide to dismount, I always try to get back on at some point during my ride.  I took Maisie back to the mounting block and we worked for a few minutes on our mounting.  I ask my horses to come up to the mounting block, stop at the correct place and stand on a loose rein, without my needing to direct or hold them.  Maisie did a good job on this.  Then we went back on the trail in a different direction, with my goal of relaxation back in operation.  She was walking nicely on a loose rein, and about 100 yards from the barn she gave a deep sigh - relaxation!  We went a few more yards, turned and walked calmly back to the barn on a loose rein.

That's what I consider a successful ride, where we took advantage of what happened to work on an issue, with a successful resolution - not necessarily the original plan, but still a success.  I learned that I need to be more gradual in my goals for our going on the trail again, but I know that very soon Maisie will be back to being comfortable trail-riding alone wherever I take her.

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