April 18, 2010

*

Had a long trail ride this morning. A friend came over (an hour earlier than planned, no less) and we were out by 9 AM. Both horses were great and it was the first time L. said she thought Bullet actually seemed happy. Now lots has happened since the last time she rode him, but truthfully, I just think she’s in a better place and she fussed with him less. With Bullet, that makes a world of difference in his attitude. He did seem to be moving very freely and with a lightness that I haven’t seen in him since she started riding him off and on with me.

I planned our ride to include riding down the dirt road that runs parallel to Salmon River. Fishing season opens this Saturday and for the next few weeks River Road will be busy with folks looking for that perfect fishing hole. Not that I still can’t ride there, but it’s always a much nicer trip before the cars and trucks invade the peace and quiet. Usually it’s pretty dead during the weekdays, but since the road is closed to vehicular traffic several months out of the year, it makes sense to ride it then.

So we walked and trotted our way down the AL trail towards the river. When were were almost to the path that cuts down to River Road, both horses suddenly spooked. We were approaching the last rocky ledge cut-though and the trail up ahead was shadowed by the steep rock ledges. With my eye issues I certainly couldn’t see what the horses were bugged by and initially my friend couldn’t either. We both gave the horses a few seconds to collect their thoughts, then urged them forward. They both took about three steps, then suddenly spun around and lunged several feet in the opposite direction!

Now I was perplexed. First of all, Bullet rarely spooks. He occasionally will react to something new or strange, but he’s pretty Even Steven when it comes to seeing something on the trail. He tends to be more curious than afraid. And unlike Dharla, Bullet’s not the least bit prone to making up stuff in his head to spook at. He simply can’t be bothered. The fact that Dharla was spooked didn’t phase me at all, given her dislike of the rocky cut-though areas to begin with, but often she just spooks at shadows. Yup, she still has young, green Arab syndrome! We turned the horses around and began to approach the passage again, but neither horse would go any farther than before. Suddenly my friend said, “Snake!”

Well I couldn’t have seen that snake if my life depended upon it, but I took my friend’s word that there was (what she through was hopefully) a very large Black snake slithering toward us at the base of the rock ledge. I say hopefully because we DO have Timber Rattler and Copperhead snakes here, though they are not as common as our other native, non-venomous snakes. I tried for several minutes to see the snake, but alas, my vision is still too impaired to see it at our distance. (About 10 yards away) Neither horse was going to go past that snake and frankly, I wasn’t too willing either. So we turned around and walked a bit in the opposite direction, then cut into the woods. I knew there was a path somewhere nearby that ran parallel to the trail we were on, it was just a matter of bushwhacking until we found it. We didn’t have to go too far before the trail suddenly materialized and we followed it down to the river road.

As we approached the dirt road we saw a dark green pickup truck parked off to one side. There was a middle-aged man standing beside the truck with what we assumed was probably his dog. The dog was a medium-sized, cute, but unleashed bully breed. We approached with caution, more or less assuming the man would reach out and grab his dog as we slowly approached. We were wrong. Suddenly, the dog started barking and darted in our direction. Thankfully, both horses didn’t over-react, but when the dog sidled up a bit too close for comfort behind Dharla and she started dancing a bit, the owner casually said, “Don’t worry if your horse kicks the dog.” Huh? Once again, I was totally dumbfounded by the stupidity and ignorance of yet another dog owner. (Ironically, my riding partner is a professional dog trainer!)

Dharla managed to keep her cool as we continued on and the dog stayed behind with his owner. I turned and said to the moron, “I wouldn’t want my horse to kick your dog any more than I want your dog to go after my horse. Neither would be a good thing!” Suddenly, the man got nasty and shot back, “Yeah, well it would be nice if you horse people would pick up after your horses when they crap on the trail.” Huh? Well now I was pissed off because it just so happens that every time my horse poops I stop, dismount and kick the manure off the trail. EVERY time. I’ve been doing this for over 15 years and I’ve got the crap-caked riding boots to prove it.  I also do this for anyone I happen to be riding with if they are using our horse. Sometimes, I’ll even dismount and boot poop off the trail that other riders have left because I know this is a sensitive issue and I don’t want people to start lobbying against equestrian use on our trails because of a little horse manure. (Yes, this HAS happened here a LOT, even though most of these trails were used and maintained as horse trails for over half a century before bikers and hikers started using them!) I stopped my horse and turned around.

“I DO clean up after my horse and always have!” I said.

“Oh yeah. Right. Like I’m gonna believe that!” He shot back.

Screw you, buddy, and your little dog too, I thought as I shrugged my shoulders and moved on. You can’t fix stupid.

The rest of the ride was pleasant and uneventful. We rode down under the AL trestle to see the work that was done on the culverts last fall. For the time and fuss it took to repair the culverts it doesn’t look like they did much of anything. You could drive a Sherman tank back there now, though. Both horses were a bit leery about the plastic erosion guards and the change in the landscape, but they coped.

We did a deep water crossing down by the broken bridge. Dharla was pretty animated crossing and ended up getting much wetter than necessary. This has only been her third deep water river crossing, so I’m sure she’ll get better with practice. She kept her head, she was just a wee bit “anxious” and hurried, but I expected that.

Snakes and morons aside, it was a great day and a fun ride and both horses did great!

Time 3+ hours

Distance: Guestimate; 8 miles.

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March 3, 2012

 

*

I got out for a little toot on Dharla yesterday. Aldo and his buddy were planning to go for a ride mid-afternoon, but I figured they’d head for the woods which I knew would be much too slick for my taste. So I waited until they left, then headed out to get Dharla ready to go. To say she was worked up at Bullet’s having left already would be a bit of an understatement. I slipped her rope halter on then clipped a lead rope to it. Her MO is much like Tia’s used to be when she was agitated: she circles in her stall and moves from one stall door to the other, looking (and hollering) for her buddy. Ultimately, this has the potential for me to get knocked around and I won’t stand for it. I grabbed a hold of the lead rope as I brushed her and every time she tried to swing around and move to the other stall door I gave a short tug on her halter. It took about three tugs before Dharla realized I meant business and the wild look in her eyes started to subside. I looped the lead rope around her neck and went to get my saddle, then stood next to her for a few seconds before I swung it up on her back. I unwound the lead rope and held it in one hand as I finished tacking up, which I do in gradual stages. By the time we were ready to head down to the ring Dharla was relaxed and ready to go to work.

We did our usual ground work routine in the ring. I’d carried Dharla’s bridle down with me and when I felt she was sufficiently warmed up and paying attention to me I slipped it over her head, opened the gate and mounted up. We started our ride by going down the dirt road (past lots of big puddles) to the trail that winds through the woods and empties out on the AL trail. Dharla was alert, but not spooky. When we arrived at the rock ledges where she usually gives me a hard time, I noticed a new large branch had fallen to the direct right of the trail and lay alongside the base of the rock ledges. I figured Dharla would be apprehensive of that and we didn’t get very close before she stopped and locked up. I gave her some time to look and think about it before asking her to move forward. Brush isn’t anything new, but she quickly tried to turn and avoid moving forward in the direction I’d asked. I backed her up about ten yards, then turned her around. Again, she stood stock still and stared at the large branch. When I asked her to move forward she repeated the same routine, turning and trying to walk away in the opposite direction. I stopped her (again) and backed her up double the previous distance. When I stopped and turned her around and asked her to move on, she complied. She gave the branch the evil eye as we passed, but she didn’t fall apart. She continued to be a bit edgy as we walked the rest of the way through the rock ledge area, but she never shied at anything else. (Yay!)

The rest of our ride was fairly uneventful. We encountered at least five different groups of people out hiking with various unleashed dogs. Nearly all of the people and dogs we met were clueless about horse and trail etiquette and two of the dogs were downright threatening. Dharla held it together beautifully but I wanted to throttle them. (The dogs AND their people.) Get a clue, folks!

I felt Dharla moved very well and responded quite well to all my cues with the only exception being the little tug of wills that we got into at the rock ledges. But even that is getting better every ride. What is really important to note here is that I didn’t ride Dharla once the last week, but I was able to get right on her and go after just a very brief session of ground work and a few short circles (at a walk, no less) on a short lead rope. This makes me very pleased considering it’s spring and I know Dharla’s feeling quite good and full of herself! Generally speaking, this girl gets right down to business once a saddle is put on her back. I so love that about her. I also think the Clam Mare Ultra is helping her feel a bit less skittish and spooky. Or maybe it’s just the fact that I’ve been riding her consistently on the same trails for the last several months? I don’t know, but I do feel like we’re making some nice progress. I can’t wait for the ground to start to dry up a bit so we can get out on some different trails!

Time: 2.5 hrs

Distance: 6 mi.

Feb 23, 2012

*

I’m glad I got out for a ride (yesterday)  because this is what we woke up to today. Ug. It IS February, but we haven’t had snow in so long that it feels like an early spring storm. It’s really NOT spring …. yet, so I can’t complain. Besides, it’s already turned into drizzle and the temps are supposed to rise again. By tomorrow this snow will all be gone. Meanwhile though, it’s a lot of mess. Bullet makes me laugh, with his little dollop of snow right in the middle of his forehead. He’s such a character, that boy!

*

Dharla and I did another easy ride down the AL trail. Worked on getting a nice relaxed trot. It was VERY windy again, so I give Dharla a lot of credit for being so calm. Every now and then a really strong gust would make her a bit goosey, but overall she held it together very well. She was a bit sticky at the first rocky ledges area, but I used my legs to cue her forward and when she tried to turn the opposite way, a light tap at the girth with the stick helped reenforce my request and she complied with little fuss. (Yay!)

At the second rock ledge area where she’s given some resistance, she proceeded to walk on, albeit with great caution. I gave her lots of encouragement and praise and made sure I was using a slightly animated forward motion with my seat. That really seems to help. Looking back, when we come to this spot I think I anticipate a battle and I probably tense up in my lower back and brace in the ankles a bit too. Making sure I’m ultra relaxed and using my seat to strongly encourage forward motions helps a bunch. It’s probably safe to say that Dharla and I have gotten into a bit of a tense vicious cycle at these two spots and focusing on relaxing and using the stick to reenforce my cue should help clear this up.

The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful and pleasant. Dharla is such a good girl and I’ve had a couple of very nice rides the last week or so.

Feb 22, 2012

Winter Sunbath

*

Much warmer temps today and a decent amount of sun. It’s still very windy, but it’s February. It’s easy to forget that winter and spring is usually a bit more windy when the temps are in the low 50’s!

I got out for a nice jaunt along the AL trail today. Dharla was feeling good and gave me a bit of attitude as we approached the first rocky ledges. I dismounted and found a nice stick to use as a whip as I do think at this point that she’s just pushing my buttons. The icicles are gone and last year she wasn’t giving me any issues walking through the ledges. (She was nervous, which is OK, but she wasn’t blowing off my cues) I think she just remembers this area as being the “sticky, scary” spot and is willfully refusing my cues. I decided to test that with the light encouragement of the stick. Lo and behold, that worked pretty nicely. Hm. From now, until we get this issue resolved, I’ll carry a stick. She’ll get a couple of chances to respond to my cues, then if she outright refuses I’ll use the stick to reinforce my cue a little bit more. I know she’ll soon be walking forward as asked, just fine.

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful. We did stop twice to chat with hikers and the guy I met on a ride before who was out taking pictures. Dharla was a perfect lady and stood stock still as we talked. I so love that about her!! We had a very nice ride … actually the first time I’ve really been able to relax and let my mind wander a bit. We did a few nice walk/trot transitions, but mostly we just ambled along and enjoyed the nice day. The sun finally came out to stay and the sky was bright blue … it was great to be out together and get some fresh air!

Time: 2.5 hours

Distance: 4 easy miles

Feb 9, 2011

A Good Finish!

*

I took the picture above just a few weeks after getting my new camera. It was my very first attempt to photograph horses and action. I was using a large zoom lens and a tripod, both for the first time too. Needless to say, I’m lucky I got any photos that were worth keeping and even the two or three that I kept were not all that great. I’d pick them apart in a heartbeat today.

But here’s the thing. In spite of all the flaws I can see, I still LOVE this photo. (And a similar photo that I posted on my photography blog a while back.) Why? Because the joy and adoration on this little girl’s face reminds me how unconditional love looks. The way I like to see it, this young lady doesn’t care if the horse she’s riding on won or lost, she’s just thrilled to be sitting up on his back. With all the fussing and perfecting we do with our horses we tend to lose touch with that attitude. So yeah, while the photographer in me wishes I’d known enough to pull back a bit and try to include both horses and not chop the legs off the subjects, the little girl in me doesn’t really care. I kept this picture because I smile every time I look at it. It helps me remember the unfiltered thrill of being up on a horse and not worrying about what’s going right or what’s going wrong, but just being where I want most in the whole wide world to be: on a horse!

*

Dharla and I got out for a nice loop in the woods. She handled everything quite well (water crossing, mucky deep mud, etc.) and it was relaxing and quiet. Gosh, she has the makings of an awesome trail horse! Smart, observant, willing, super surefooted. We emptied out onto the AL trail by the viaduct, crossed, then looped around at BH and headed home. No real issues at the ledges, but when we got to the last “scary area” she was a bit spooky and amped. Now granted, this area is very close to home and I’m sure she knows exactly where she is in relation to home by now, but I decided to turn her around and walk her through the area several times before calling it a ride. That uncovered a bit of a sticky spot. We ended up passing through various parts of that outcrop about 15 or 20 times … at least until she was more compliant. I wouldn’t say she was totally relaxed, but at least she wasn’t spooking or refusing to go where asked. I don’t get the sense that this is truly a fear problem. Perhaps it was at first, on the first few passes. But after that I do sense that it’s a disrespect issue: she simply doesn’t want to go where I’m asking her to go. I’m sure that’s partly because she’s been afraid in that area, so we’ll just keep treating it as a fear issue and give her lots of time and exposure to help her understand that nothing’s going to happen to her in that spot.

I think it’s important to pick your battles. Because the rocky outcrops are always going to be a part of our rides, I don’t want to make a bigger deal out of them than necessary. I think if you do that you risk getting into an attitude loop where the horse starts to associate that location as “The Spot Where Shit Happens.” Unfortunately, due to the nature of their presence the ledges will always present some teaching moments that I don’t get a lot of choice about using. In other words, if I want to go anywhere then my horse is going to have to learn to cope with the ledges and the conditions they present. My goal is to get my horse to walk through these areas with me no matter what we encounter there.

Some seasons that means there will be puddles or water on the trail at the base of the rock ledges. Other seasons (like now) that water will turn into ice and scary icicles. Because water almost always weeps from the face of the ledge, on some days the sun reflects off the wetness and makes them appear quite shiny. On other days our shadow appears on rocks as we pass by them. Again, this all depends upon the sun, it’s location and the time of day that we’re riding. I can’t ride “around” these issues and Dharla must learn to cope with them as they crop up. Because these things occur naturally, I can’t pre-arrange a specific event for us to practice. Instead, I’ll just have to grab these teaching moments on the fly.

I had the same problem when we first brought Dharla home last April and we started trail riding. Dharla had the typical Arabian aversion to water. ANY kind of water. A small puddle, a two-inch wide trickle across a path or a bubbling book … it didn’t matter. Dharla was NOT going to get her feet anywhere near water. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single place I can ride around here that we won’t encounter water in some form. I will admit however, that I was not surprised by Dharla’s dislike of water; The Bean had been outrageously melodramatic about water in his youth. Good grief, he wouldn’t even approach a dark spot on the ground long after a puddle had dried up! So after having watched The Bean do everything but stand on his head to avoid touching water, I wasn’t all that fazed by Dharla’s apparent distaste for anything wet. While she wasn’t nearly as dramatic or emphatic as Beanie, she did do her best to put the kabbash on any water crossings.

All it took was patience and LOTS of practice. I’m sure somewhere there are horses that are just naturally made to be great trail horses; horses who seem to take everything they encounter in nature with stride. But I do think that’s the exception, not the norm. My horse has the makings of a great trail horse, but some things are going to take more work than others. That’s OK.

On another note. Friday (Feb 10) is the end of the first week that Dharla has been on a few new supplements. Can I say I see any difference? Yes, a little. I did feel that during our ride today those times when she did spook were not nearly as bombastic as they were prior. While Dharla isn’t a spook and run kind of horse, she can really dig deep when she spooks, sometimes dropping her head and shoulders to what almost feels like her knees or the ground, while scooting sideways several feet simultaneously. Kind of like what I’d imagine riding a cutting horse feels like. This is why I call her the “Bottle Rocket.” It’s quite a roller coaster ride! But on our last ride her spooks seemed less frequent and less animated, which is really all that I’m hoping to achieve for now. I’m not looking for a bomb-proof horse, I’d just like to see her level of reactivity come down a notch or two. That would greatly improve things for my back.

As for the supplement I’m giving her for her heat cycle … hm. I can’t say I know for sure yet. Heck, if I’m being really honest, I’m not even 100% sure what I’m looking for. I suspect when she goes into heat I’ll know. Less nasty antics with Bullet prior and less teasing/squirting when she’s in standing heat maybe? Time will tell. I will say that I’ve FINALLY succeeded in getting Dharla to eat the supplement pellets very well and it seems she’s now acquired a taste for the herbal liquid. Yay! Persistence and smaller doses paid off and I’m very glad not to be throwing my money down the tubes.

Snow coming in for the weekend …. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it won’t put too much of a dent in our riding. But hey, it IS winter for crying out loud!  🙂

Feb 6, 2012

Ever the chow hound

 

 

*

I got out on Dharla yesterday. It was a sunny, not-a-cloud-in-the-sky, warm day. Perfect for a nice easy walk/trot down the AL trail. Our nighttime temps have been in the low to mid-twenties, so the icicles were back. We didn’t get very far before we had to confront that issue. We probably worked about ten or fifteen minutes before I could get Dharla to move through the first Big Scary Place. If she decided to back up, then we backed. If she tried to turn around and go the other way, we circled. We stood our ground and thought about it …. a lot. Eventually, she determined that nothing was going to kill her and we made our way forward very carefully. *Shrug*

We encountered the second Big Scary Place about five minutes up the trail. Wash, rinse, repeat. This time I got the sense that she knew the drill, but she had to try to avoid going forward just to see if I was going to let her get away with that. Um, no. Again, if she wanted to back up, then we backed …. and backed and backed. If she tried to circle, then we circled. Once again, it took about ten or fifteen minutes of this before she inched her way forward. Every attempt to move in the right direction was met with tons of praise and neck petting and although she remained spooky and snorty, we advanced. Naturally, once through the scary place I turned her around and we walked back and forth through the passage several times before moving on. I gave her lots and lots of “Atta girl’s”

The next few segments of the trail went very well. We just took our time and enjoyed being out. There were a few bikers and dog hikers out and as usual, she took all that in stride. We eventually came to the spot where we struggled on our last ride with the tree logging. She was alert, but moved right through the passage without any major issues. I was quite pleased. The next Big Scary Place was about ten minutes up the trail. Again, it’s a narrow passage between two steep rocky ledges that have icicles hanging off the ledge in places. Dharla did her usual song and dance: Stop. Blow and snort. Try to back up. Try to circle around to the opposite direction. Again, I followed the same drill. At one point she was fussing and as I circled her she inadvertently stepped her back feet into a shallow drainage ditch that had water in it. That made her decide that maybe it would be better to move forward than mess around there. We made our way though the passage slowly and carefully.  I gave her lots of time to think about things, letting her stop and explore if she wanted and giving her tons of encouragement and praise for her bravery. Silly girl!

Coming home was uneventful. Funny, how Dharla isn’t nearly as bothered about any of the Big Scary Places when we’re going home. She had (what I call) her “going home” walk goin’ on and we moved along at a good ground-covering pace. Actually, I’d eventually like to see her head out at this pace some day instead of dogging it so much, but all in good time. Overall, it was a good ride, longer than I actually wanted to be out, but the extra time was spent working on fear issues. It felt like Dharla really tried her best today and I was quite pleased with her efforts.

On another note, my back is REALLY uncomfortable today. Or maybe I should say it’s more uncomfortable than usual. Ug.

Feb 2, 2012

The Bean sunbathes Sept '10

 

*

I got out again yesterday on Dharla, this time alone. She was very good, albeit a bit spooky initially. We got through the rock ledges where the icicles have been such a problem, but they’ve since melted. Now there’s just a ton of water dripping down the face of the rocks. Dharla gave that the “eye,” but kept moving forward as asked. I was pleased.

When we reached the opposite side of the large viaduct I saw a man approach carrying a camera on a monopole. Hm. Since I love photography, I stopped Dharla and the man and I proceeded to gab about photography for the better part of 45 minutes. This was really great practice for Dharla and I’m always so pleased (and a tad surprised) that she will stand patiently any time I stop to talk to someone on the trail. And I do mean stand, as in stock still. No fussing. No prancing. No dancing. No pawing. Wow. That SO impresses me given she’s young and somewhat impatient at times. Then, as the conversation was drawing to a close Dharla stamped her front foot once. I laughed, and kept chatting a few minutes longer. Perhaps she sensed I was close to moving on or maybe she was just tired of waiting. I don’t know, but when I didn’t move off right away she stamped again. She didn’t fuss or dance around, she just stamped a foot. Hm. I’ve never had a horse do that! Eventually, I said goodbye and headed off down the trail.

About five minutes later we crossed a paved road and picked up the second leg of our ride. We weren’t more than a few minutes along when we started to hear the sound of a chain saw off in the distance. I couldn’t see what was being cut or where they were, so we  proceeded with caution as I tried to locate where the sound was coming from. A few seconds later there was a loud crash as a large tree fell to the ground up ahead. This was not boding well. We tried to keep moving forward, start and stop style, but the chain saw started up again and continued to buzz loudly. We were fast approaching another rock ledge passage and it sounded like the logging was taking place up on the ridge above the ledge. Dharla stopped, head high, eyes wide. I dismounted and urged her forward a few feet more, then suddenly we heard another crash! This was not good.

The loggers couldn’t see me nor I them, but Dharla and I could see the tops of the trees they were dropping. There was no way I was going to get Dharla through the rock cut- through and chance getting “stuck” on the other side, unable to convince Dharla to walk through the passage again to get home. And that’s assuming I could coax her through in the first place. If I could see the loggers and they could see me, I might have signaled them to hold off for a few minutes while we tried to pass by. Even then I’m not sure I could have convinced Dharla to pass. She was pretty spooked. It looked to me like too big of a risk to undertake and so we turned around and headed home.

It took Dharla a good fifteen minutes for her adrenaline rush to subside. She held it together, but she was pretty blowy and snorty. I didn’t blame her and I thought she handled the situation as best she could. I was pretty bummed that our ride had been cut significantly short, but it’s always better to make the safe choice. I can only hope whoever is doing the cutting gets the job done, and soon! I’ve waited to patiently for better riding conditions and I would be seriously discouraged if this turns out to be a long-range project for someone. It would mean I’m seriously running out of safe places to ride.

Time: 1.75 hrs.

Distance: 3 miles

Jan 25, 2012

*

I got out on Dharla today. To say I’m missing Tia is an understatement for sure. The last few rides haven’t been exactly what I’d call fun or relaxing, not to mention that I basically dislike winter riding. But I feel like I don’t have much of a choice in the matter right now.

We started down in the ring because I’m not dumb enough to think I can just jump right on my horse after not riding in almost a week. So we worked on basic stuff like moving her haunches, backing, then some light lunging. Her attitude was very good throughout and she responded very well. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to ride so I tacked her up before we started just in case I thought I was up for it. Since she was working well and not being a jerk I decided I should do something more with her. I’d like to say I thought a nice walk up on the AL trail would be fun, but I knew there would be almost immediate issues with the rocky icicle spots. I can’t go very far without encountering something that she treats like it’s the big Boogie Monster. Still, I didn’t want to end with just a simple ground work session, so off we went.

As usual, she was wound tighter than a top. I mean, she started spooking at things before we even got off the lane that led to the ring. I just stayed calm and encouraged her forward. We rode past our lane to the barn where Bullet stood sentry at the gate, whinnying. She passed by without hesitating, which pleased me greatly. When we reached the AL trail it was deserted. We started walking in the direction that we usually go and she was moving at a crawl. I let her pokey her way along. I could feel how tightly wound she was, but I wasn’t playing into it. She spooked several times and invisible ghosts, but I just kept her moving. I don’t make a big deal out of make believe stuff.

It was only a minute or two before we reached the spot where she starts giving me crap about going forward, at which point we couldn’t even see the rock ledges or icicles yet. She stopped twice and tried to avoid moving forward by turning to the right. I countered and got her to move a couple of steps forward again before he hit the brakes. At that point I hopped off and grabbed the lead rope that I had coiled up on my saddle. I removed the reins from her bridle, clipped the lead onto her rope halter and led her forward. As we approached the icicles, I started circling her around me, forcing her to go past the rock ledge and icicles on both sides. Bear in mind that the trail is only about 6 feet wide here, so our “circles” were very small and our movement was limited. She wasn’t very worried about the icicles, but gave them the evil eye a few times as she went past. I just kept her moving.

We continued to do circles in the narrow lane between the rock outcrop. The ledge area extends for about 100 yards, with icicles hanging down in random spots along the way. We worked our way down the trail doing circles (both directions) until we reached the end. I stopped, rubbed her head and then started the same procedure going back the way we came. I used lots of verbal encouragement and praise. At any point if she seemed overly spooky I focused on that spot, sometimes stopping and letting her investigate the source of her fear. Actually, she didn’t seem all that afraid as we worked our way along. When we got back to the starting point I turned her around and led her forward again. When she seemed spooked at any point we either circled there for a bit and/or I let her investigate the issue more closely. Overall I ground worked her in that area for a good solid hour or more.

When I thought Dharla was acting relaxed and not bugged … I wouldn’t say she was licking her lips or really looking ho-hum relaxed, but she wasn’t freaked out by any means … I took her to the starting point, reattached the reins, removed the lead rope and remounted. I cued her forward was really stunned when she took 2 steps forward then stiffened up and tried to turn around and go home …. again. Huh? So what gives? Is this NOT a fear issue, but just a pissy mare thing we’ve got going on? She certainly didn’t seem frightened.

I circled her several times, then cued her forward again. She took one step and locked up. I circled her more, then cued her again. She took another step and locked up. This went on for about five minutes until we were finally standing about five feet into the rocky area. I let her put her head down and sniff the ice … same ice, Dharla, same ice! She took another step, then tried to turn for home again. I circled her more, then cued her forward. Slowly, we inched our way through the rocky area, one blasted step at a time. She stopped several times. I waited, then cued again and she would take one or two steps forward, then stop again. When we had almost reached the end I turned her around and we proceeded back through the same area the same way … one spooky step at a time. As we neared the other end I stopped her again and we did the whole routine again. She got a bit more willing and forward, but not much.

Finally, I decided to continue on a bit. As I rode along the AL trail I kept asking myself what the heck I was going to do next. I mean, there’s only so much I can do to get my horse comfortable with passing through this spot and there isn’t a whole lot of other places I can ride if I don’t. So it’s either conquer this hurdle or I can’t ride. Period. As I pondered this issue we approached the second rock outcrop with ice. I decided to turn her around and head back toward home before she had the chance to start refusing to go forward again. I simply didn’t have the time or gusto to go through another 60 minute dance of wills.

Heading for home she certainly had her “goin’ home” walk on. I slowed her down and made her move off my leg from one side of the trail to the other. (Our tracks look like we were drunk) I practiced one rein stops. I made her turn around and walk back the other way. Anything to keep her mind on ME and not on “whoopie, I’m going home!” As we approached the rocky outcrop she was very head-up, but not all that spooked. About halfway through the passage she suddenly spooked hard. I followed her gaze up and there on top of the rock ledges was a mountain biker riding his bike. I wished I had an Uzi. Thanks buddy. I just spent the better part of two hours trying to convince my horse that nothing scary is going to leap down off those ledges and eat her, and you have to happen along when I think I’ve made some progress and we’re on our way home. Great timing.

The rest of the ride was uneventful. I mean, we really didn’t go anywhere. All we did was work on being OK in the big scary place. I honestly don’t think I accomplished a damn thing and I know the next time I saddle up and head out she’s going to give me the same reaction there all over again.

I’m really discouraged. Between the shitty weather and the spooking horse, I’m a bit frazzled. I forget what it’s like to go for a ride just to relax and have fun. I’ve been riding a “project” for almost a year and I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere.

Time 1.45

Distance: crap

Dec 19, 2011

After a weekend of not getting out at all, I decided that in spite of bitter cold temps and blustery winds, I’d better ride Dharla. The ground has started to freeze and with the high water content in the soil, the ring is too iffy in places to ride there. I knew this would probably happen … it’s been the wettest year on record here since rainfall records have been recorded. Over 100 years, or so I’ve been told. We broke the crappy weather record during the first year I own a young new horse. Good timing … NOT!

I’m kinda proud of myself for layering on the clothes and getting out there. It was sunny, but nasty. A front was moving in and the wind was really howling …. never a great thing when riding a young Arab, Wind seems to put a lot of energy and spook into them. But I didn’t have a choice, I feel I need to ride every chance I can as long as the footing is safe.

I knew the dripping water on the rock ledges would be frozen, which means icicles. Last time Dharla encountered icicles it was a real test of wills … hers against mine. I won, but I’m by no means convinced that’s going to be the last she’ll have to say about the matter. I had no idea what the icy areas would look like, but we weren’t out on the trail more than five minutes before we approached the first icicles hanging from rock ledge.

Dharla was terrified, to the point where I didn’t even try to urge her forward more than a few steps. My thought is that I want to do everything I can to avoid stressing her to the point where she wants to default to “turn and flee” mode, which is a strong response that comes naturally to her. Instead, I dismounted and slowly coaxed her forward one slow step at a time. She is a formidable creature when she’s terrified, that’s for sure. And her reaction wasn’t just stubbornness or outright refusal, she was literally trembling with fear.

So we took our time. I inched her one slow step forward, then let her stop. It WAS scary … lots of wind whipping up the leaves, and we were standing at the beginning of a rock ledge “tunnel” that has two-story stone walls that feel like they’re closing in from both sides. In this particular spot there are icicles only on one side of the walls, but that doesn’t really help since Dharla isn’t thrilled with the closed-in feeling of the rock walls. So if the icicles fail to set her on edge, the closeness of the rock walls will. Our mantra is “We have to face our fears.” I gently said that to Dharla every time her head whipped up and her nostrils flared. She snorted and blew, but one thing I’ll say for this girl, she tends to hold her ground when she’s scared. I like that about her. I know “Flee! Run!” was coursing through her veins, but she held her ground by my side and trembled.

We slowly made progress. It took about fifteen minutes, but we inched to the end of the rocky ledges, where I turned her around and walked her back. Oh boy, other side of the brain! I followed the same steady routine, slowly inching her forward, gently coaxing, petting, rewarding every step. Finally she relaxed enough to become curious about the thing that was scaring her so badly. I led her closer to the dripping ice and she s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d her neck out, keeping her feet and body as far away as possible from the scary monsters. She sniffed. Hm. Not so bad!

All toll, we spent about 30 minutes just traversing the same 25 yards or so. Back and forth, until I thought Dharla was looking more relaxed about this encounter. I knew we’d have another encounter with icicles about .25 miles up the trail, so I decided it was time to remount and move on. When we approached the next trouble spot I could see the sheen of ice on the trail between the two rocky ledges. Deeming the footing unsafe for a potential icicle challenge, I chose to take a detour and we continued on our way. There would be other places where we would encounter and conquer icicles further down the trail.

Our second icicle challenge was even more difficult than the first. The path is more narrow and the alley is dark and damp. All that makes this a scary spot without even having to cope with huge dripping monsters. As we approached, Dharla came to a halt. I just let her stand and look. A few minutes passed and I gently squeezed her sides. To my surprise, she took a few steps forward before stopping again! I let her stand and look as I talked to her quietly. “You have to face your fears, Dharla. We all do.” After a minute or so I squeezed her again, and she moved forward several steps. It went on like this until we were slowly inching through the first few feet of the icy ledge tunnel. Then, she committed and didn’t stop once the rest of the way through!

Holy crap, was I thrilled! Of course, my biggest fear is that we’ll pass through or by something going one way, then not be able to pass through or by on the way back, stranding us far from home. So once we reached the 3/4 mark in the tunnel I turned her and started back the way we came. Obviously, Dharla has been with me long enough to know this doesn’t mean we’re going home, but I do think that knowledge sometimes helps move them forward with a ‘false’ sense of security. (“We’re going HOME! I can do this!) She seemed to have less resistance heading back even though the ice was on her right, which is always her more hesitant side. When we reached the end I turned her around again, and we repeated the whole procedure several times. Not once did she spook or shy or hesitate to move forward when asked. This was HUGE progress and I was delighted!

However, we were not through yet. Although we had passed through the most challenging areas (tight walls, lots of icicles) I decided we would continue to the place where we usually turn and head for home. There were a few other icicle encounters, but they seemed to go pretty well. Once or twice Dharla tried to use a little avoidance tactic only to discover she really did have to face her fears and move on when asked.

The return ride home was mostly uneventful. By that time Dharla was relaxed and we worked on walk/trot transitions. We practiced random stopping and just standing still, which she does so well. At one point we were just walking along and all of a sudden she schooched and bolted forward a few steps. A bicyclist came charging past us from behind. I wanted to ‘effing stomp the living crap out of the guy. WTF? Do people think I have eyes in the back of my head? Normally, Dharla warns me when she hears someone coming up behind us on a bike and she’s pretty darn good about it, but yesterday the wind was literally howling and we couldn’t hear a thing. I guess what pisses me off so much is that this biker had us in his line of vision for at least a good two minutes before he came up on our ass, yet he couldn’t call out to warn us that he was there and going to pass? I had a menopausal moment and pictured us kicking him off his bike and watching his limp body tumble down the steep banks of the trail. How’s that for trail etiquette, buddy?

Dharla walked back through all the icy scary spots with little trouble. She was cautiously alarmed, but not outright fearful or panicky. I was thrilled with her response and progress. Really, I didn’t expect things to go half that well. When we got home I was frozen and she was hungry. Not the best of days to ride, but we got ‘er done!

Ride time: 2.5 hrs.

Distance: 6 miles