Well I actually did get out and do a little something with Dharla yesterday. About mid day I went down to the arena to throw the Frisbee and ball for the dogs. The back yard was still too icy to have them chasing after things and they were dying to burn off a little energy. Not wanting to invite an ACL injury, I thought perhaps the riding ring might have slightly better footing. Three quarters of it sits in full sun at least half the day and it’s flat, which is more than I can say for my back yard! So we ventured down and found it to be in fairly decent shape. A good portion of it was still frozen hard and a bit lumpy, but the sunny side had defrosted some and was perfectly usable. As I tossed the Frisbee and ball for the two canine maniacs the sun felt marvelously warm and inviting. Having just given the horses their afternoon hay, I decided I would bring Dharla down in about an hour or so and do a little ground work and maybe even ride a bit.
When I went out to the barn an hour later the skies were beginning to cloud over. Determined not to be dissuaded, I tacked Dharla up, stuffed a strand of bailing twine in my pocked, grabbed my stick and gathered up my helmet. It was about 34 degrees, but the steady wind that has been so prevalent (and such a pain) was absent. Only the occasional light gust of winter air rustled the branches overhead as Dharla and I started our walk down to the ring. She was her usual blowy and snorty self, but her overall demeanor was one of energy, not fear.
When we got to the ring we did our usual routine, which is to walk the perimeter of the arena several times in both directions. I do this partly for my own mental warm-up as well as to allow Dharla to thoroughly scope out the area and reassure her that there aren’t any arena ghosts hiding in any of the corners. I have a strong suspicion that our arena is an energy “hot spot” on our property and it’s location and setting tends to contribute to my horse’s spookiness. There isn’t much I can do about that except follow a very distinct routine, give her plenty of time to check everything out and reassure her a lot. Nothing “bad” has ever happened in the arena so my expectations are for Dharla to do her best to get on board with the business at hand.
After circling the arena several times I picked up my training stick and we started working on our ground exercises: moving the haunches both directions, backing, moving the shoulders/forequarters. Dharla is doing quite well with these and although she doesn’t show signs of compliance to the degree that I would like (head-dropping, lip-licking) she does seem to relax and performs very well. It’s not that she doesn’t lick her lips or drop her head … she does. But she doesn’t do it as overtly as I’d like to see.
We reviewed ground work for about twenty minutes, but as we did so the weather began to deteriorate. The gusts of wind got stronger and ominous clouds began to fill the sky overhead. It was my original thought that I’d mount up and use the ring a bit to work more on some specific (mounted) exercises, then maybe venture down the dirt road, pick up a short woodsy trail and ride home from a different direction. It wasn’t a lengthy route, but it would be a change of pace.
I didn’t plan to do anything fancy in the ring as the footing wasn’t the best, but about half of the area was suitable to use as long as we just walked. I checked Dharla’s girth, attached my reins and mounted. I could immediately feel Dharla bunch up with tension. I wasn’t particularly buying it. We walked around the arena quietly. I simply asked her to move forward and nothing else. Given our ring isn’t huge, we traversed the area several times, making small circles at both ends and practicing our one rein halts at random. Dharla was still tense, but cooperative. Twice I felt her hunch up as a strong gust of wind blew, and I knew she was thinking about bucking. But I kept her moving forward and the moment passed. Unfortunately, even though we didn’t have any sort of incident, the fact she thought about it bugged me. I’m not used to riding a horse that thinks about giving me crap every time I get on it. Or maybe I’m wrong and reading too much into this? I dunno. I’m prone to dwell too much on the negative.
About fifteen minutes into our ride (still in the arena) I could hear a large truck rumbling up our road. I stopped Dharla and listened. Was it going to come down the dirt road and pass the arena? There’s only one place in the arena where we can see the dirt road and anything that’s on it. Sometimes that has been known to freak Dharla out because she hears something, but can’t see it. Our ears followed the rattling, belching truck up the road, then heard it slow down at the corner. Yes, it was certainly going to come our way. I walked Dharla toward the spot where she could see the truck and dismounted. We stood and watched together as the noisy truck rumbled past. Dharla was alert, but in control of herself. I was pleased.
After the town dump truck passed and rounded the bend I remounted and continued to walk Dharla around the arena. We could still hear the truck off in the distance. Unfortunately, the truck had driven in the direction I was hoping to ride after I finished in the arena. The dirt road is very narrow and not in the greatest shape and I was concerned that perhaps the town truck was going to be working somewhere over the next ridge. It probably wouldn’t be a very good idea to ride that way if that was the case. As we walked around and I pondered the choices, a sudden snow squall began to erupt. Discouraged, I decided we’d had enough. So far things had been a bit tense, but I’d accomplished everything I set out to do and I know that’s a good way to end things. As I thought this I started to hear the rumbling of the dump truck.. Good grief … it was coming back up the road toward us again!
I walked Dharla to the center of the ring and dismounted. We watched the truck approach, then as it vanished out of sight I listened and heard it take a turn toward my house. *Sigh* Being our only route home, I remounted and we worked a bit more on neck reining, halts and turns. (All at a walk) Eventually, we heard the rattling truck drive past our farm and back down the road toward town. I dismounted again, gathered up my things and we headed up the road to the barn.
Overall, not a bad ride or work session. I struggle with feelings of inadequacy and worry that I’m not skilled enough to get my horse where I’d like her to go. I really don’t have the foggiest idea what I’m doing or whether or not what I’m doing is even what I ought to be doing for her. I think I know her weaknesses, but I’m not sure how to help her strengthen them. I’m just kind of plowing through life hoping that at some point we’ll default our way into improving. I still fantasize a lot about sending her back to her trainer for a couple of months this spring, but I’m afraid that’s probably just wishful thinking. We’ll see.