Trail Riiidddeee!

This is a post from my horseforum.com thread that I started when I got Max. I’m so lucky the forum is still around and I was able to go back and add it to Lipizzan Life.

I had a really rough lesson on Monday. I’ve been over extending myself in my personal life, trying to please everyone, and the stress of all of my obligations refused to go away so I could get into “dressage space”. After being tense and impatient with Max and utterly miserable, I went home and had a sit down with myself. I just couldn’t keep on stressing myself out anymore. I cancelled as many obligations as I could and told myself to let other people handle their responsibilities. 

The rest of the week has been me playing horse hooky. I’ve been at the stable every day, riding by myself, and it’s really paying off. I finally understand what it feels like to have my balance over my horse. Originally, I started off like a lot of beginners in the fetal riding position. That turned onto me trying to pull his head into my lap. Never mind that he has a long neck or anything! So now I’m straight up and down on his back, shoulders open, legs pushing his head forward into the bit (I still have to turn my thumb down to half halt and stuff and get him really on the bit), my hands just in front of the saddle (not freaking out, yanking backwards), and I’ve even started feeling his hind end engage. I’ll have to get another video 

Soo anyway, my coach comes to me yesterday and says how about a trail ride tomorrow? I’ve only gotten to go on one trail ride so far, and that was on one of the ploddy trustworthy little lesson ponies. I was like…. onnn… Max? Sure! On Max! Wow, yea, I’ll be there!

We started off warming up in the arena, because that’s just what you do before a trail ride. She commented on how nice Max looked with his head down and us both loose and relaxed. There were even some puddles in the arena from the sprinkler that Max and I walked through. I could kind of hear his thought process in my head, working out the puddle. The first time we came up to it he just wanted to sniff the air and look at it real good, with both eyes, and then after that I went to the second puddle and walked him up one step at a time until his hoof was smack dab in the middle of the water. I know he walks through puddles in the field all the time, but we’ve never done one in the arena before. 

(I’m getting to the trail ride now, if anyone’s still reading)

I opened the arena gate from Max’s back, which is also something I’ve never done before. He was so good, he side stepped right over to it and stood still while I unlatched the chain, and obediently backed up while the gate swung open in front of him. 

At first, Max and I were out front. Coach and I went back and forth on who should ride in front. On one hand, Max never spooks at anything unless another horse he can see does. Coach was riding a rehab horse that can get kind of full of himself. On the other hand, riding behind someone on my first time out on Max just seemed like a safer bet. 

I decided to tell her to go in front (added bonus, the horse and her got all the spiderwebs!) Right from the start, Max was a complete angel. I did some half halts and got him down and on the bit for the first part of the ride, just to make sure he was completely with me mentally. Once I was sure he was being a good horse and thinking about his rider, I let him put his head back into a normal over the bit kinda position so he could eyeball and sniff things. 

Once we got to the end of the pasture fence line, coach’s horse started to get a little full of it. There’s a couple houses and other distracting things in that spot that he just didn’t really trust. Since Max was being such an angel, I volunteered to go ahead. That went ok for two steps until we got to a fork in the trail. Between the fork is a really juicy triangular patch of grass. He was hesitating and asking if he could just stop and munch on the grass for awhile. I know that’s what it was, because there wasn’t a tense muscle in his body, and his eyes, nose, and ears were on the grass. Since he wasn’t going ahead without a question (which yea he should have) coach decided that just so my first ride out on Max was without any hiccups, she would get off rehab horse and walk in front of us the rest of the trail. 

Max was so great! We were walking in open fields, under huge power lines, in narrow paths through trees, everything. The only thing on his mind was what he could stuff into his mouth. (I didn’t let him at this point!) I kept testing him at random intervals to make sure he would drop his head or stop when I asked nicely. I really noticed my balance and position improving the entire ride.

The last leg of the trail back is through trees. The trail’s been there so long, and so well maintained, that it’s this really cool tunnel now. He pretty much was in the coolest horse buffet ever. Slender branches with baby leaves just hanging out in front of his face. I let him get two mouthfuls before he turned it into a silly big deal by trying to tear a mouthful, not managing to tear it free, and turning his entire body to try again. After that he had to go on buffet probation. I made him ride the rest of the way back with his head down. 

Halfway through that I felt his hind end kick in and that was really cool. I’m pretty sure that’s what it was, anyway. I felt his balance and push come from the hind end, and the entire rest of his body worked in harmony with that dynamic. If his head came up, I could feel that stop, so I’m pretty sure that’s what it was………….. (crosses fingers) I’ve felt it happen increasingly over the past week. I like it because I feel like I’m steering his butt, and that’s easier than trying to steer his head. I’ve decided that steering his head just doesn’t work. 

Coach led her horse into the stable and left Max and I out in the open for a bit. The clean bedding pile is right there by the trail entrance/exit, under a tarp. Max was tugging at his bit a little, I could tell he wanted to get a better look at the tarp. I let him walk himself over to it and he just stood there, eyeing it with one eye, turning his head, eyeing it with the other eye. He put his nose down towards the tarp and sniffed it. Completely relaxed, just being curious. 

After letting him do that, I walked him back closer to the stable and dismounted right there. 

By the way, we walked the entire trail. I’m no thrill seeker! I’m going to keep working at it though, because everyone else canters and jumps on the trails and outings, so I need to be comfortable in case Max decides to catch up with the other horses. 

First trail ride on my wonder horse complete! Now that we’ve passed the at home test, I get to take him out this summer with everyone else to the mountains, and shows, and the cross country course.

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