I got out today on one of those rare rides with the husband. That doesn’t happen very often anymore, so it was unique in that aspect. I wanted to try to do something a bit different and expose Dharla to some deep water crossings if at all possible. When I ride with Aldo and Bullet I like to take on stuff that I typically can’t or don’t choose to do on a green horse when I’m alone or with someone else. I try to use having a ‘babysitter” horse to my full advantage when Aldo goes along because he’s so experienced and I don’t have to worry about whoever is on Bullet at the same time that I’m working with my own horse. Nothing worse than that!
So we did a nice loop that had a bunch of slightly more challenging stuff for Dharla and in most cases she rode lead. I typically put her in the lead fairly often since she tends to lean a bit toward being spooky and I want her to learn to cope with things instead of finding comfort in the company of another horse. I do switch to following too because she needs to learn not to rush into the horse ahead when she gets nervous or revved up. So while it may seem like there’s no real strategy to what position I ride, there usually is.
We started off riding from our house down the dirt road that runs past the arena. We only pass three houses on this road and it was pretty quiet that late in the day, but one neighbor was out mowing his lawn. That was good to go by and Dharla was fine with it. Of course, she had Bullet’s company, so it’s hard to tell how OK she would have been had he not been with us. We continued down the road until we came to the place where the trail starts. We’re used to this part since we ride it often, but I put Dharla out front anyway. We didn’t go far before we came to a place where the trail split and I decided to take a branch that I’ve never ridden with her. Soon, her true colors came out and she was hesitant and actually balked at a very small, shallow creek crossing. I let her think about things a bit before I encouraged her forward and she then crossed without too much trepidation. A few moments later we came up on what, for lack of a better description, I’ll call a car and truck graveyard. It’s a corner of a friend’s property where he’s amassed several ancient cars and old trucks in various stages of decay. They’re not especially spooky to me, but Dharla had a different opinion. She was a wee bit freaked out and wanted to turn around and head in the opposite direction.
At this point I asked Aldo to pass us and lead on, the idea being that I didn’t want to give Dharla an opportunity to balk. He did, and Dharla quickly tucked in behind him and we moved past the vehicles without any further emotion or fuss. The trail widened there for a bit, so we rode side-by-side until it started to get tight again, and I pulled ahead. This being a new section of trail for Dharla she was still a little wide-eyed and a bit blowy, but overall she handled it quite well. There was nothing on that section of trail that should be all that scary, it was just “new” and that’s all a green Arab needs to be on high alert. But before we knew it we were back on a trail that she knows quite well and I felt her relax.
A few weeks back there was a big brush fire off to one side of the trail we rode next. I hadn’t been up there to see it until now and I was shocked at the size of the area that was burned. We don’t do “open burns” in this state and our woods are very old and overgrown. It looks like the fire fighters got the fire under control just in time because the down side of the trail is the start of a HUGE forest that has tons of Hemlocks that are in various stages of health. Hemlocks suffer from wooly aphid disease which kills the trees slowly over a period of several years. Large stands of Hemlocks are slowly dying and sometimes they can be a major fire hazard. Fortunately, this part of the country isn’t known for having droughts, but this spring was the exception. Had that brush fire jumped the trail it would have had disastrous results. Years ago the state tried culling the Hemlocks to prevent the spread of the aphids, but that was in the early 90’s and I don’t think it did the trick. Too many Hemlocks and too little manpower, no doubt.
Anyhow, with Dharla still in the lead we rode past the big burn. I was pleased that Dharla didn’t hesitate although the area was very odd looking and still smelled quite strongly of burnt wood. This section of trail is one of my all-time favorites as it winds its way down through a large stand of White Pines. Here, the floor of the woods is covered with oceans of bright green ferns that sway gently to and fro in the breeze. You could hear a pin drop if you listened carefully, it’s so peaceful and serene.
This trail empties out into a sluice that puts us at a deep stream crossing. There’s an old wooden bridge that crosses the stream, but it’s been deemed unsafe for equine use for several years. So to continue on our way we must cross the river here. Unfortunately, the crossing spot is a challenge. We have to descend the face of a rock ledge that is at least (if not slightly greater) than 45 degrees and is always slick with seeping water. The descent is short … maybe all of 10-15 yards, but it ends in some knee-high water that precedes the actual crossing. So once you commit to the descent, there’s nowhere to go except down and into the water. LOL! I’m laughing because it probably sounds much harder than it is, but I’ve never ridden with anybody (who doesn’t know this trail already) who doesn’t look at this next section and go, “Shit! We’re going down THERE? Are you kiddin’ me?”
Nope! When we entered the sluice I had Bullet and Aldo take the lead. My only objective was to get Dharla down the chute and into the first pool of water without hesitating. Now bear in mind, it’s not as simple as just pushing her forward. I had to time this right. In other words, this teaching moment was about more than just getting the job done. What I really wanted Dharla to learn was to wait to go when I said go, not go when she wanted. I knew she would be nervous, and I also knew her MO when she’s really nervous is to do one of two things: If she’s alone, she balks, but if she’s with another horse then she’ll usually just try to rush through whatever is making her nervous as quickly as possible. Well this isn’t a challenge that can or should be done quickly. My goal is to teach my horse how to take her time and trust me that: 1. I won’t ask her to do anything I don’t think she CAN do, and 2. to do it when and how I ask it to be done.
Was I nervous? Yeah, kinda. My biggest concern was that Bullet is a slow and determined horse. We don’t call him the Lumber Wagon for nothing. So I knew he’d start down that ledge and I was going to have to time my descent just right. If I held back too long, Dharla might lose her confidence and say “Screw it, I’m going home!” and try some evasive stuff. But if I jumped the gun and started her down the ledge too soon, chances were pretty good she’d have little-to-no speed control (this being her first time down it and all) and she’d end up right on top of poor Bullet. The idea was NOT to get into a sticky situation or become part of a road jam. Fortunately, I’ve done this crossing so many times, I could do it in my sleep. Also in my favor was the fact that Dharla and I have done this crossing from the reverse direction, which had us going up this ledge instead of down, so it wasn’t 100% new to her either.
Bullet started down in his usual steadfast pace while I held Dharla back and waited until he cleared the pool below. Dharla didn’t hesitate one bit and when I sent her forward she shimmied down that ledge like she’s done it every day of her life. She stepped right into the shallow pool and up onto the small sandy island on the other side. We still had the deep water to cross, but Bullet was already half way through it and Dharla didn’t hesitate at all when I asked her to begin to cross. The water was freakin’ DEEP!!! I almost got wet and it was up to the top of Dharla’s legs, but she handled it well. Our only glitch was that as we came up on the other side Dharla wanted to exit on one side of a bush and I wanted her to exit on the other. We ended up with a compromise: She stood still (in the water) to let me make the choice and since she did that I choose to exit on her side of the bush.
We continued on and did some nice extended side-by-side trotting until the trail narrowed and I put Dharla in the lead again. Since this was the first time she’d ridden this trail in reverse I wanted her out front so she could process things. We then picked up a trail that led to a dirt road that runs along Salmon River. Fishing season has started and I knew there would be some light traffic on the road, which I thought would be good for Dharla to experience. For the most part people navigate this road very slowly, but you never know what you’re going to encounter. Better to do this a few times with another experienced horse and rider along for support. The road is very narrow in places and one side of the road has a very steep bank and the other side drops off into the river. In some places the shoulder of the road drops 15 or 20 feet into fast moving water and in other places there isn’t any shoulder at all! So it’s a bit of a challenge when you do meet a truck or car, depending upon where you are! But as we rode along we were passed by about five trucks or cars (in total) and Dharla didn’t bat an eyelash at any of them.
Eventually the dirt road put us on a short trail that led up to the Airline Trail. I ride this trail with Dharla all the time, so from there on it was pretty straightforward. We did some nice canters and extended trots on the way home and soon arrived at the barn with some seriously hungry horses. Neither horse had much of a sweat by then, so we stripped their gear, wiped the horses down and fed. We were both starving too, so I fired up the grill and we had a nice Sunday dinner. I’m not a mother and my own mother is deceased, which tends to make this a bit of a gloomy day for me, what with all the frigging emphasis on moms. But a nice long ride ended up being a good way to spend this Hallmark “holiday.”
Distance: Guessing maybe 7-8 miles? Hard to tell!
Time: 2.75 hours