Double or Nothing

IMG_0812(Early spring pasture)

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Weather permitting, I’m trying to ride one, or sometimes both horses daily. I know it’s unrealistic to think I’ll be able to ride two horses a day once the heat and humidity arrive, but until then I’m going to do my best to try. The way I’ve been doing this is to school one horse in the arena, then ride the other horse out on the trail. Then I reverse the routine the next time I ride. That way nobody gets trail-slighted or ring-sour. Unfortunately, the gnats have been HORRIBLE, but yesterday the temperature suddenly shot up and they didn’t seem quite as bad. It was predicted to be unseasonably hot again today, which meant I’d only get to ride one horse, provided I rode early in the morning.

It was Rascal’s turn in the queue, but he still has a fair amount of winter coat that’s trying to shed out. So I made sure we got out on the trail early and we didn’t do anything too strenuous. Rascal is doing quite well with our trail riding. He readily accepts stream crossings now and he picks his way through even the most the rocky spots fairly well. He’s beginning to really “tune in” to me and vice verse. Overall, I think Rascal’s an uncomplicated horse who wants to please, but who also likes to think a little bit for himself. He’s also grown more interested in having some casual interaction with me in the paddock, as opposed to just wanting to be left alone. I’m finding that he’ll soak up any personal attention like a sponge. I usually spend some time brushing and grooming all the horses every day and Rascal is finally starting to respond to being pampered. At some point I’d really like to give him a bath because he’s pretty crusty, but I’m going to wait until we have a string of nice weather in the forecast. No point in bathing him just to have him go and lay in the mud!

Then There Were Three

IMG_0692(Bullet, near the end of winter, intent on his pile of hay)

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The ride home with Dharla was 100% uneventful. In fact, given she’d only been out on the trail once in six months, I was thrilled to see she didn’t lose her trail feet or trail sense one bit. She seemed happy to see Bully and they rode back to our farm like it’s something they’ve been doing every day.

The introduction with Rascal was a bit of a show. While none of the horses seemed to have truly bad intent, there was lots of front foot strikes and squealing … mostly on Dharla’s part. Pretty typical mare behavior I suspect. Bully more of less just tried to stay out of the line of fire and when all else failed, he munched on hay. It really helped that Bully is calm and sensible about most things and not given to hysterics or drama. After about an hour all three horses were eating their own hay and minding their own business for the most part. There was still the occasional squeal and faked attempt to lash out, but nobody was really serious about hurting anyone. Thank God! Rascal has turned out to be more pushy than I expected and though he’s small, he considers himself a contender! He’s still not sure if he want’s to keep Dharla from being too close to Bully or keep Bully from being too close to Dharla! He’s a funny one, that little stinker!

The day after Dharla arrived I was up and on her the next morning. We had a really great ride down the Airline Trail. While that’s not the most challenging ride, regular readers might recall that even after three years of consistent riding I was struggling with an over abundance of spookiness and skittishness on this trail. I don’t know if Dharla was just totally flummoxed to be out on the trail again (after 6 months of arena riding) or what, but she was like a totally different horse. Things I expected to spook her didn’t even get a rise out of her and the one or two times she kind of hesitated were so understated, they were barely noticeable. We did some nice long, slow, collected jogs and a couple of easy lopes all without any shenanigans what so ever. I was VERY pleased!

Later that afternoon I took Rascal out. We also had a nice loop through the woods together. Unfortunately, that night the weather turned back into crap. The temperatures dropped significantly and heavy rain moved in. After much discussion and debate, I finally decided to put Dharla in a stall for the night. It’s a wee bit too soon to expect the horses to have worked out all their hierarchy issues enough to share a small run-in on a cold, rainy night. Right now Dharla has the least amount of coat among the three, and she’s leaner than she’s ever been, so it was kind of an easy decision. Again, I was pleasantly surprised at how she didn’t fuss or stress at all at being shut inside. Normally this isn’t our usual MO, but since that’s what she’s been used to doing at the boarding barn I guess it didn’t bother her very much. I’m not sure if my horse has really matured in the six months she’s been gone or if I’m just seeing the effects of the time she spent in training, but either way I’m very pleased and I hope it lasts!

Spring Fling

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It’s been a LONG time since I’ve posted. yes, I’ve been busy. Yes, I’ve been riding. But it was a long, cold winter with lots of snow and bitter temperatures. Heck, it’s the second week of April and it’s STILL cold. And very windy. But at least the snow has melted, or pretty much so.

I’ve spent the better part of the last few months just letting Rascal settle in. It took about two months before I started to see his true personality, and I’m still making new discoveries every week. He was pretty shut down for awhile. That’s totally normal, I think. After all, Rascal had to endure some pretty major changes in his daily life. Mostly, I think he missed his owner. Given she had been the main presence in his life since he was two, they had a very special bond. I didn’t try to replace her, but simply gave Rascal time to process his loss and get acquainted with me. He’s a bit of a wary boy. Shy, and not overtly affectionate with strangers. But as the weeks wore on Rascal started to come out of his shell. I got fewer sidelong glances and the distance between us began to close. At some point he actually started to show a real interest in me and then I knew he’d turned the corner. He was settling in.

Inclement weather and/or lousy footing kept the opportunity to ride just out of my grasp. All told, I managed to sneak in three rides on Rascal before giving up and deciding to wait for the conditions to improve. What I observed on those few rides was a little horse with a lot of try and a few subtle quirks under the hood. Nothing I didn’t expect! I figured it would take some time for us to learn how to read each other and know what was expected. Rascal seemed a little wary about the trail and his surroundings, but with steady support he was willing to trust my judgement.

I’m not exactly sure how much trail experience Rascal has, so I plan to treat him as though he has none. That means giving him lots of time to get accustomed to and process the variety of things we’ll be seeing regularly out on our rides. Water, huge boulders and rocks, joggers running toward (and up behind) us, bicycles (most which will approach and pass us at high speeds), dogs, both loose (illegal, but a frequent occurrence) and leashed, and eventually cars, when we do a little dirt road riding. That’s a lot of things to condition a new horse to. And not knowing how Rascal will react to each new thing and in different settings, it’s a bit stressful for me. But so far Rascal has been taking most things in stride. He’s got Tia and Dharla’s distrust of large rocks and he’s not quite sure he likes crossing small streams. (Shallow puddles are fine.) We have yet to have a bicycle come up behind us, but when passed head-on he seems to handle it pretty well as long as we can move well off the side of the trail. (Not always feasible) It would appear he’s not thrilled about dogs. Even leashed dogs give him a bit of trepidation, but he doesn’t lose his marbles. He just kind of skitters sideways.

Rascal’s whoa needs a little refresher, and once stopped he doesn’t like to stand still. I’ll find lots of ways to work that practice into our rides. He has a wonderful little western jog, but his lope is a bit choppy and tentative. I think he has a nice comfortable lope in him, but he’s rusty, out of condition and a tad anxious. My plan is to do LOTS of walking, jogging and some hill work to get him back into shape before worrying about his lope. I can find plenty of things to work on while we wait for the arena dry up enough to use. Every now and then Rascal gets the idea in his head that he ought to turn around and go back the way we came. When that happens he does a bit of backing and scooting sideways. I’m not exactly sure what that’s all about, but we’ll work it out. I’m pretty sure I’m (inadvertently) miscuing him for something that I’ve yet to figure out. He’s sensitive and sometimes a tad willful, but not in a bad way. I have to chuckle at how quickly he’s learned his way around here. I’ve already noticed that his “going out” walk is half the speed of his “coming home” pace! He’s a smart boy!

I’ve been riding Dharla over at the “big barn” as often as possible, which translates into about 4-5 rides a week. She’s transitioned from full to partial training, which also has her getting ridden by the trainer three times a week. My progress with her (and consequently, my emotions) have been all over the map. But more about Dharla another time.

Twice Blessed

untitled--23(New Amigos! Click on photo for best resolution)

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Things have been up and down with Dharla. Basically, she’s doing great. Me? Not so much. I worry. I fret. I get impatient, mad and frustrated … mostly with myself. The negative-speak in my head often overtakes rational thought and I’m embarrassed to admit that I hit an all-time low last week when my trainer caught me quietly riding my horse in tears. Yeah. Just a combo of being worn out and tired of trying to be patient with my inexperienced and very forward horse and my own stupidity and incompetence.

That moment aside, Dharla is making progress. She’s not the same horse she was when I put her in the trainer’s hands two months ago. That’s not to say she’s turned into a push-button, totally compliant mount. She’s still feisty, stubborn and apt to turn downright pissy when things don’t quite go her way. But she’s not nutty or dangerous or willing to go to battle just to prove her point. She never has been. Basically, she’s just a horse who hasn’t been properly asked to work, and the idea of having to do so now rubs her somewhat the wrong way. So she throws a few hissy fits and looks for any opportunity to squirt forward or move faster, even when she knows that’s not what’s being asked.

But Dharla’s momentary fits of indigence are often intermingled with moments of breathtaking brilliance, strength and beauty. When I watch the trainer put her through her paces I’m literally mesmerized. This horse can (and will) be pretty amazing some day. And she’s still the most sweet, compliant horse to work around when she’s not worried about being ridden or the trolls hiding in the corners of the indoor arena.

Problem is, I miss riding. Oh, I ride Dharla almost every day, but that’s not the kind of riding I’m used to doing. That’s schooling, and for now schooling isn’t FUN, it’s work for both Dharla and me. And most schooling sessions last only about 45 minutes or so because it’s  mentally and physically exhausting for us both. What I miss is spending a couple of hours a day out on the trail and not thinking every minute of my ride about what me or my horse are doing and if we’re doing it right. I miss having that quality time with my horse. Consequently, I end up going over to the barn and riding, then finding any excuse I can to just hang around and be with my horse. Which is kind of strange. I mean, she just wants to go back out to her paddock and eat or take a snooze.

This conundrum has led me to explore other avenues to scratch my horsey itch. Avenues such as taking additional lessons or half-leasing a horse from the barn, neither of which I’m particularly excited about. I mean, one can only absorb so much instructional information at a time. Enter, Facebook. I joined a couple of regional and local horse pages about a year ago and I freely confess that I’ve been scanning the postings about horses for sale or lease with a growing interest. While I’m not particularly interested in buying another horse, the idea of leasing one has definitely grabbed my attention.

A week or so before Thanksgiving I read a post about a Quarter Horse that was in need of a new home. The owner was in college and in a difficult bind. This was her first and only horse. To give you a little back story, at age seven and after much pestering, her father agreed to buy the girl some riding lessons for her birthday. She took to horses like a duck to water and it wasn’t long before she was mucking stalls and doing odd jobs at the stable to pay for more saddle time. Naturally, the girl begged her father relentlessly for a horse of her own, but it wasn’t until she had shown considerable commitment that her father caved. When the girl turned ten the father bought his daughter a very young, predominantly unbroken Quarter Horse. She called him Rascal.

I know you’re wondering what on earth was the dad was thinking when he bought such an inexperienced, young horse for his daughter? Let’s just forget that for a moment. The girl was tough. She’d spent several years fighting tooth and nail to have a horse of her own and she wasn’t going to give up the chance to have her own horse just because she had to start from scratch with it. And so she did.

Can I relate to that? Yes. If you go and read about my early history with horses you’ll see this young lady and I have much in common. We both learned via the school of hard knocks. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! Flying by the seat of your pants and learning things the hard way can impart a certain amount of confidence and a rapport with horses that many people spend a fortune and a lifetime to get.

So the young horse and girl grew up together. They did things that fearless young horses and girls will do, like go everywhere and anywhere together and just have fun. Life is never simple, but the horse helped the young girl weather all kinds of storms, including her parents divorce and her mother’s remarriage. Through it all they rode on beaches. They went camping. They entered some horse shows. You name it, they did it. I saw the photos. But I saw more than that. I saw a young girl who morphed into a young lady who simply adored her horse, and the father who made all her dreams come true when he bought his daughter this horse.

Unfortunately, children grow up. When the girl reached college age she chose to attend a university that was only about an hour away from home, but the distance between school and her horse grew worrisome. Too many weeks began to pass between visits and so she pleaded her case with her father. Although her father wasn’t a horse person he knew the importance of a strong bond, so he agreed to help his daughter move the horse closer to school and he picked up the boarding tab to boot. Thank goodness for loving fathers!

All went well until June 2013. Suddenly, without warning, tragedy struck. While changing a tire on a tractor trailer that was stranded on a major highway (his job) the girl’s father was stuck by another truck and killed instantly.

Gone.

And if that wasn’t enough, four months later the girl’s step-father was killed in an auto accident.

Gone again.

I can’t imagine being 20 and losing two fathers in four months. The emotional and financial implications of both these losses were huge and they had an immediate ripple effect on everyone in the family. I saw the first posting on Face Book the week before Thanksgiving. No mention of the tragedy, it simply stated that the poster was looking to free-lease her horse in exchange for it’s care. The post was accompanied by a photo of a little bay horse with a soft eye and a cute face.

I was instantly drawn to the photo. After all, Beanie was a bay and the similarities between the two horses were striking. I went on to read a bit more about the horse. It was small (a plus), it was a Quarter Horse (a plus), a gelding (perfect!) and he had been there, done that. (HUGE plus!) I kept reading, thinking I’d eventually come across something that would rule out this horse as a possible candidate for our farm. Much to my surprise, the post didn’t mention anything that sounded the least bit iffy. I shot off a response hoping I might be able to contact the owner before the holidays kicked in and the weather went south.

The girl sent a quick reply to my inquiry and we decided to talk on the phone. It was only then that I learned the sad story of the reason behind her need to place the horse. Her composure while telling the story was nothing short of amazing. She wasn’t going to beg anyone for sympathy or use her sad loss as a means to find a quick fix to her problem. That said, she was in an incredibly tight jam. Not only did she not have the funds to pay for room and board for the horse, but the small private farm had recently changed hands and the owners wanted her horse out immediately, if not sooner!

With the holiday right around the corner it was tough to set a date to see the horse. The girl didn’t put any pressure on me to do so and much to my discredit, I kind of let things slide. I dunno. It’s easy to get all excited about something, but another thing entirely to work out all the details and make it happen. I got a bit overwhelmed thinking about what it would take to actually bring another horse to our farm. Would my husband even get on board with the idea? We’d gotten used to the simplicity of having only one, sometimes two horses, instead of three. Days slipped by until another week or two had passed when I saw the post again. Pleading. Begging for someone to take this horse. Not buy the horse, but lease it for free.

I contacted the girl (again) and this time I actually made a date to drive out to meet her horse. The weather forecast was awful so we chose the only day that it wasn’t supposed to rain or snow. I think I was prepared to discover something majorly wrong with this horse, something the girl had either overlooked or had purposely left out of the description in hopes of placing him. But I was wrong. What I found was an adorably kind, patient, gentle little gelding with gaits as smooth as butter and an owner whose humble strength moved me to tears. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes as I watched the girl ride her horse around in the semi-frozen, greasy pasture. He was obedient and willing in spite of not having been ridden in a couple of months. No buck. No head tossing. No fussing. Just a cute-as-a-button ride. I hopped on, got the same response, and in that instant I was totally and thoroughly sold on taking this boy home with me!

We only had one problem. Well, maybe two or three. First of all, I had to convince my husband that we needed a third horse and second, neither the girl nor I owned a trailer. I pretty much figured we could find (read as: hire) a means of transportation, but I wasn’t so sure that I could (sight-unseen) sell this horse to my husband. What did know was that time was of essence. The clock was ticking and this girl had to get her horse rehomed as quickly as possible or risk his getting kicked off the property. The girl had literally been driving around with two bales of hay and a bag of grain in her car because the farm owner refused to let her bring any more feed or supplies to the barn. I’d like to think they were ignorant of how difficult it is to rehome a horse at the start of a New England winter, but even that said their cruelty and lack of compassion was totally uncalled for. They made it pretty clear that time was of essence.

I won’t bore you with the details, but obviously we overcame all our obstacles. It was an incredibly challenging and stressful week of pulling strings and calling in favors, but in the end Rascal was delivered to our farm the afternoon of Friday, December 13th. (Thanks Dawne!)  Rascal’s introduction to Bullet was uneventful and relatively calm and both boys settled into an uncomplicated partnership. The weather took an immediate turn for the worst and we got several inches of snow the day after Rascal arrived. It would have been nice if the new horse had a few days to get the lay of the land first, but it wasn’t in the cards. However, Rascal has turned out to be the easiest horse we’ve ever had. Nothing phases him.

A week later I did a maiden, 2 hour ride on Rascal. First time out on the trail and he just took everything we saw and did in stride! He has a champagne jog and super light mouth. Nothing bothers him … not the huge icicles hanging off rock ledges, not seeing frozen Salmon River up close, not being lunged at by an out of control German Shepherd on the Airline Trail, not being passed by several cars on a short segment of road, not having my riding partners go off on a different trail leaving us to finish the last 1.5 hour of our ride alone. Even when snow suddenly came crashing down from the ledges along the trail this boy just stood still for a second or two, then went on his merry way like it was just another day in the woods for him! Rascal’s going to be a great little trail partner for sure!

 

I’m feeling twice blessed: Once with the arrival of this amazing little horse and twice with the new friendship of his mom. I can’t thank Danielle enough for trusting me with her Little Rascal. It’s somewhat bittersweet to feel so good at the expense of Danielle’s loss, but I know she’s happy that we’ll be taking good care of her boy. So I’m going to let myself enjoy this giddy feeling for a while. I think I deserve that much.

Take Three

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Yesterday’s attempt to do a trial ride on the second alternate route to the barn didn’t quite work out as planned. It was another beautiful, albeit warm fall day. The leaves were gently dropping from the trees and the woods were just cool enough to be a welcome reprieve from the sun. I got a slightly later start than I’d planned and I didn’t actually leave my barn until shortly after 10:30. Not that it really mattered, but I usually like to get an early start if possible. Less people out and about.

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I hadn’t ridden five minutes when I came upon a vehicle parked on the Rails-To-Trails, better known in this neck of the woods as the Airline Trail. The SUV had a Department of Environmental Protection insignia on the door and there were three men and a woman milling around the car. (Technically, the DEP is in charge of managing the Airline trail since the land it uses is under their jurisdiction.. However, the word “manage” is probably a gross overstatement, but that’s a story for another time.) Since Dharla has only one speed when she’s alarmed, we approached with caution. Turns out, they had a bunch of video equipment set up and were shooting a promo video of the trail.

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The DEP folks asked if I’d be willing to be in their video and my response to them was only if they were willing to listen to my list of complaints about the problems equestrians encounter on the trail. They agreed. I put Dharla into “park” and spent the next few minutes telling them how rude bikers are and how dangerous the trail has become for most horse users. After we talked I consented to them filming Dharla and I as we walked on down the trial.

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This set my departure back another half hour or more, but I finally got underway. The route I planned to follow involved riding through the woods until the trail opened up into two large expansive fields that once upon a time, used to be a tree nursery. This large tract of land is affectionately called the Peach Orchards, though the tree business has long since been abandoned. A local sportsman’s club has been leasing this parcel for the last two decades and it’s used for field trials and training bird dogs. The sportsman’s club posted the land years ago, but we’ve more or less been given a  verbal OK to ride our horses across the fields during off-season. Bird hunting officially kicks off the third Saturday in October, so there was a 50% chance that my riding through the fields was still going to be OK.

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I listened carefully for gun shots as we rode along the brush-hogged lane that led to the first field. I didn’t hear any indication of other inhabitants, so we continued according to the plan. Years ago we dubbed the first field the “landing strip” because it was formally used for that by someone who owned a small private airplane. Twenty years ago when we first started riding up in the orchards the only thing that remained of the airport was a few wind socks and the long, smooth strip that ran down the center of the entire length of field. It was a great place for racing our horses, which we did with abandon. Well, mostly the guys raced and I loped along after them. This landing strip still remains and the club keeps the waist-high weeds cut back, but it’s surrounded by an expanse of fields that have become choked with small invasive trees and weeds. In other words, visibility is fairly limited to the landing strip and yet you have the feeling of being out in the wide open spaces. Except you’re surrounded by four foot tall golden rod and an assortment of long grasses and weeds.

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I knew Dharla would be somewhat spooky up in the Peach Orchard. We’ve ridden up there several times, but always with another horse and rider. It’s an intimidating place to be when you’re all alone. I’m not the least bit worried or bothered about being up there, but I sensed Dharla’s nervousness; she was wound up tighter than a bottle rocket. With hunting season coming up in a few weeks I had to assume the sportsman’s club had stocked the fields with pheasants and I fully expected that at some point we’d flush a pheasant up from the nearby brush. I also knew that might cause Dharla to totally lose her cool, but I didn’t dwell on it. I figured we’d deal with it if/when it happened. (It never did.)

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As we continued to walk down the center of the landing strip I listened carefully, straining to hear if there was any hint of anyone hunting or working their dogs up ahead. At the end of the strip the path bends sharply to the right and winds around a large stand of fully mature maple trees. I’ve been riding up in the Peach Orchard for so long that I can remember when the nursery planted those maple trees. They were barely knee-high sticks then. Now those trees are several stories tall. At the end of the strip I stopped and let Dharla munch some nice green grass; a reward for keeping her cool as we rode down the landing strip. She was still quite nervous and spooky, but in a controlled sort of way.

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We moved on and headed toward the part of the path that would lead us around a road barrier, then dump us out onto the dead-end of a paved road. From there we would need to ride along the shoulder of this back road for about ten or fifteen minutes. I didn’t expect much (if any) car traffic and we wouldn’t have to pass any cow farms, but I still wasn’t sure if there might come upon any issues that I hadn’t seen when I drove the route a few days before. Unfortunately, I never found out. As we approached the dead-end I saw two trucks parked there. My heart sunk. Seconds later I saw two men dressed in full cammo. They waved. I waved back, dismounted and walked toward them. We exchanged greetings and moments later I found out they were there to work their hunting dogs.

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We chat for awhile. Both men were friendly and not upset in the least that I had crossed their hunting fields, but when they heard my hopes to repeat this ride in a few days they were concerned for my safety. With hunting season about to go into full swing, there was no guarantee that I might not run into other club members working their dogs. That could prove to be disastrous as the dogs are not necessarily trained to ignore horses. (Some do, but the young ones? Not so much) I agreed and after a couple of minutes I remounted and returned home the way I’d come. Had I continued on toward the barn then I’d have to wait until these guys were done training their dogs  before I could return and cross the fields for home. That wasn’t a good plan.

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So back we went. Funny, how a horse can be so nervous on the ride out, but not the least bit concerned when going home! I was feeling pretty down. It’s starting to look like the only option left is to try to get my horse past the cow farm. It’s not the best route, but it’s the quickest. Perhaps with a halter and lead rope I’ll be able to get off and lead her past the cow pasture? From what I can tell, the fence-line is very overgrown and for all I know, we won’t even see any cows. But you can smell them, and that’s a foreign (read as: scary!) thing to Dharla.

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Today’s ride will be back to the first route. Oh, I could ride all the way around the Peach Orchard and access the other approach that way, but that’s a LONG ride and I’m just not up for it. No, I need to see if we can get past the cows. If not, then my plans to board Dharla will have to go on hold. I’m saddened and frustrated by this possibility, but that’s all I can do until I can come up with another plan.

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(Tia, above.)

Getting There

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About a week from now I’ll be moving Dharla to the “new” barn where I’ll board her for a month or so. I’ve chosen this barn based on several criteria, one being that I’m hoping I can ride her there. I actually have two routes to pick from, but both will involve slightly different stretches of riding along a back road.

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I haven’t done a lot of road riding and admittedly, I’m very nervous about it in spite of the fact that the roads on either route will be very low traffic at the time of day I plan to ride them. One route has a road that has more houses along it, which means possibly more cars and …. well, stuff. Like garbage cans, basketball hoop/stands (why people put those things at the end of their driveway I’ll never know. I guess it’s  a testament to how little traffic there really is and how cautious they expect the drivers will be … which is a good thing, right?), and people doing things like mowing lawns and building additions.

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I wouldn’t have to ride along this road very far and most of the things I’ve listed are doable, albeit with patience, great caution and the right timing. However, there is one thing at the very end of this road that gives me reason to pause: a small dairy farm. Yup, cows. I’ve heard from other riders at the barn that some of them have had a tough time getting their horses past the small group of Holsteins that reside on this farm, and that’s when riding in a group. So I tend to have my doubts that Miss Scared of Everything is going to saunter past a herd of cows without having some serious trepidation.

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It was with this potential hurdle in mind that I set out to try to ride this route yesterday. The trip started out with a beautiful ride down an old abandoned dirt road that I haven’t ridden since my days with Tia. Needless to say, I felt a bit nostalgic and teary. There was a light gentle breeze and golden leaves rained down all around us. I could feel Tia’s presence with me and it was peaceful and quiet. Well, except for the occasional loud snort from Dharla’s nostrils. I spoke to Dharla softly, told her stories about Tia and all the times we rode this way together, back when the road was just a footpath through the woods. Dharla listened, held the course and we continued to make good progress.

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The dirt road becomes a long uphill climb that ends at the start of the paved road. At this point there are houses on both side of the street, but it’s still fairly rural and the houses are set farther apart and well back off the road. Unfortunately, I discovered that Tuesday is garbage day and as a result, every driveway had not one, but two cans at the curb. (Garbage and recycling) At the first few houses Dharla was a bit dramatic about passing the cans. Not horribly so, but enough that I was glad I didn’t have to worry about cars or traffic. Apparently someone had a construction project in progress and the noise from that prompted a high alert response too. Throughout all this I tried to keep Dharla moving forward, albeit at times slowly and cautiously.

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The next big eye opener was the basketball stand at the end of a driveway. We got past that with a bit of side-stepping, snorting and wide eyes, only to discover that the next house up the road was a small Christmas tree farm and they had a small potting-type shed near the end of their drive. That too, sparked great fear and trepidation. *Sigh* I suppose now would be a good time to mention that a few days earlier I drove this road myself, checking to see what sort of obstacles we might encounter. Just to be forewarned. But I guess there’s nothing that can really prepare you for the way the equine mind works.

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We got past the driveway with the shed just in time for a car to approach from the rear. They were slow and cautious, but they didn’t really have much of a choice as Dharla and I had certainly claimed more than our fair share of space on our side of the road. I have the sense that the people who live in this neighborhood are fairly horse-savvy and as a result, will give me all the time and space I need. I can only hope.

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We continued on down the road. I could see the corner stop sign looming in the distance, which meant we were almost half done with the road part of the ride. I want to feel relieved, but I knew that the cow farm was coming up on our left. Less than a minute later Dharla suddenly froze and took several deep sniffs of the air. Yup, cows. We couldn’t see them (and in all fairness, they might not have even been turned out to pasture), but we could sure smell them and they smelled ..

S-C-A-R-Y!

I let Dharla think about the strange smell for a few seconds, then tried to urge her forward. No dice. Eyes wide, head up, I could feel her begin to tremble and so I made the executive decision to end the ride there. (I had not kept her halter on or brought a lead rope or I might have dismounted and tried leading her past) We turned around and started to go back in the direction we’d come and immediately encountered two cars. Thankfully, both drivers came to a near halt and gave us plenty of room. As we rode back toward the dirt road all the obstacles we’d passed only moments before seemed a lot less worrisome than the cows!

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The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful. We retraced our steps toward home, taking a slight detour at the end to ride along another nice trail for awhile. It was too nice of a day not to enjoy it to the fullest and I wanted to make sure Dharla didn’t think freezing up on the cows meant she could just turn around and go home. Um, no.

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My plan for our ride today is to test the other route. I’ve driven this route too and it has it’s own challenges. For one, the road section is longer, but it’s more rural and the shoulders are grassy and much wider. That’s a plus. I honestly thought this would probably end up being the chosen route, but I wanted to try the cow route first because it’s the most direct way there.  I will get there, I’m just not 100% certain how yet. If I have to enlist someone to ride with me then I will, but I’d like to try to do it on our own. The barn is only 3 miles from my house by car and probably half that as the crow flies, but right now it kind of feels like the longest ride in the world.

This too, shall pass!

There and Back

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Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about riding, age and safety. Apparently I’m not alone. I echo Kate’s thoughts when I admit that I often picture myself riding well into my mid-to-late 70’s. After all, when I was in my 30’s I rode for about a decade with an older gentleman who was in his 70’s. So God willing and if my health holds out, the idea of having another fifteen years of riding left in me seems pretty rational.

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Which brings me to the place where I start to think about how those rides might look. At this point, when weather cooperates I try to ride 4-5 times a week. I almost always trail ride alone, and sometimes I do a little arena riding, but not much. Either way, it’s always just me and my horse. I always wear a helmet and pack a pocket knife, and I try to remember to carry a (charged) cell phone. But I’m usually not riding in places where I can get a cell signal. This doesn’t particularly worry me … yet. It’s just part and parcel of where I ride and where I live. Even in my own back yard a decent cell signal can be sketchy at best.

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I don’t see the facts that I’ve outlined above changing very much. It’s only when I start to think about my horse that the picture begins to get a bit blurry. I’ve grown quite fond of Dharla. She has her strengths and her weaknesses, but overall she’s a very honest horse. If I look back I can see that although she’s made good progress and matured some, she’s still very much the same horse she was when she arrived 2.5 years ago. She’s sane, but very reactive. High energy, but not hot. Smart, but somewhat independent-minded. I always try to look for the plus factor, not focus on or obsess about the opposite, because I like to believe that if you keep your eye on the good, the other traits will eventually become less and less of a habit until they eventually fade away. Or so I’d like to think.

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That said, there are some traits that you can’t always ignore, or continue to ignore. Especially if those traits begin to rub up against your own weaknesses or worries. In spite of constant exposure to the same trails and routes, Dharla continues to be a very spooky ride. I can’t deny or ignore this any more, nor do I know how to address it. I don’t mind when a horse has one or two things they’re consistently worried about. Even Tia had her issues with certain things that she perceived were a threat. The difference is that I knew what those things were and I could be prepared to support her through or past them. Dharla’s different in that her list of Big Scary Things changes by the moment. And it’s a LONG list.

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Part of me wants to try to understand why a horse with a ton of trail miles is still afraid of the same old things we see every single ride, and the other part of me just wants to move on. While I’m sick of this behavior and my patience is wearing thin, I get that my timetable and Dharla’s timetable is probably quite different. I want to give Dharla all the time she needs to be OK with her fears, but on the other hand it’s hard to be patient when I feel like we’re moving at a snail’s pace. I often tell myself that if it takes five years for Dharla to gain more confidence then so be it. The problem is, I’ll be five years older and those five years will get subtracted from the total years I have left to ride.

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I guess it comes back to the age old question: Are you riding the right horse for the rider you are right now?

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I don’t know the answer, but I think about it constantly. I do know the answer has nothing to do with liking my horse enough. I love Dharla. She’s a sweetie. But I’m really not doing the things with her that I’d like to be doing right now, and the things that we are doing don’t seem to be helping me gain any ground in that direction. There’s a saying that states: The definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That sounds logical … except when it comes to training animals. Repetition is a key element of training any animal! So maybe I’m doing things right, but I’m just not seeing our progress? Or maybe I just need help?

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I’ve decided to move Dharla to the barn where I’ve been taking lessons. Not forever, but I want the trainer to work with us for a month or two, see if we can tweak our teamwork a little and re-evaluate how we’re doing things. I know I can use some help and I think Dharla will benefit from the experience too. Naturally, I’m a nervous wreck. Excited, but really nervous. But I think it’s time to pull out all the stops because eventually, I’m going to have to decide if I’ve got the right horse for the rider I am right now. And I can’t do that unless I’m certain I’ve given Dharla every opportunity to be the best she can be. Her weaknesses are most likely my fault and it wouldn’t be fair to judge her without trying to fix myself first. So I’m looking at this next adventure as an opportunity for us both to learn more about life and about each other. I’ll keep you posted!

Y(R)ear End!

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I haven’t posted much here lately. Between the eye problems and the bad weather I haven’t ridden much in weeks. Dharla has been getting out on the weekends with Aldo. I finally decided he ought to ride her a little since he’ll expose her to things I normally won’t do with her. My days of risky stuff or super challenging rides are over. He reports that a little initial “feel good” buck aside, she’s been taking things in stride.

I’ll look forward to better weather and the opportunity to resume riding in the warmer months to come!

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Happy trails!

Trail

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Got out for another really short, quick ride today. This time I spent most of the ride in the woods, but I still think I see a nice change in my horse. It’s like she’s less spooky and more settled or something. I don’t know why and I can only attribute it to having taken some time off this summer. Maybe Dharla grew up or passed that point where she isn’t quite so immature anymore. Whatever it is, I like it a lot and I hope it sticks. I haven’t done any ring work with her in a LONG time. I might give that a try soon and see what I’ve got. I get the sense that she’s not real big on ring work. That doesn’t surprise me much. Some horses just like trail riding more and are better suited to it. Still, there are a couple of things I’d like to work on with her, so it might be worth the time and effort to put in a little ring time. We’ll see. I’m not big on it either, so it’s kind of easy to talk myself out of it on a nice day like today!

Elusive

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It was a long, hot, humid summer. I didn’t get a ride in for almost seven long weeks. When the temperature finally broke early last week I couldn’t wait to get out on Dharla. I contemplated lunging her, but decided it would be a good test of how well behaved she is if I skipped it. I guess I was feeling edgy and I so wanted to do what I was used to doing with Tia, which is just tack up and ride. No matter how long it had been, I just got back on Tia like it had been yesterday. No fuss, no lunging, just gear-up and ride! I liked that and I want Dharla to have the same work ethic. I figured the only way to know if she’s capable of that is to try it out and see.

I grabbed my helmet and cell phone (something I have to remind myself to take on rides) and headed out to the barn. Dharla was unsuspecting and walked right up to me. Not that she’s ever all that hard to catch. Usually she’s curious and friendly and wants to interact with me. As is my habit, I’d groomed her at breakfast, so I started piling on the gear. She was quiet and cooperative, bored with the whole process almost! We walked through the gate together, listening to Bullet who, though his head was buried in a fresh pile of hay, was already lamenting Dharla’s absence. I made a few adjustments to our gear, swung up into the saddle and off we went.

The first thing I noticed was that Dharla seemed to be walking at a slightly faster pace than normal. I liked that. Nothing irks me more than a plodding walk, and sometimes Dharla can really drag at the walk. That’s something Arabians are not usually noted for and I don’t appreciate it when she does that. (She’s quite capable of a faster moving walk!) The second thing I noticed was that Dharla was a lot less spooky than she’s been in the past. That’s not to say she didn’t spook at anything … she did. But she didn’t seem to anticipate the scary spots on the trail like she usually does. All I can think is that the seven weeks we took off was good for her mentally and apparently she needed a break. A lot of the little issues we get into at certain places on the trail were gone. Non-existent. At first I thought it was just a fluke, but as the ride progressed it became more and more genuine. I was tickled pink, but not thoroughly convinced it would stick. That remained to be seen.

A couple days passed before I could get out again. This time I rode with my husband, so I didn’t expect any of the occasional wariness that I get when I ride alone. Overall we had a great ride and both horses seemed happy to be out together. Then a few more days passed before I could get back out for another ride, but my second ride alone was as pleasant and unencumbered as my first. All I can say is that Dharla feels more “grown up” if that makes any sense? She’s just not giving me the kind of resistance we’ve struggled with in the past. I’m really not sure what changed or if it will stick, but I’m liking what I’m seeing. I do wonder if she just needed a break? We’ve been riding very consistently since I brought her home over a year ago. Maybe she just needed to digest some of what we’ve done? I dunno. I do know the seasons are changing again and that means the trails will start to look different. She could find new things to spook at …. or not! Only time will tell.

My eye surgery date is fast approaching. I know that will mean at least a week, if not more of no riding. I can only hope and pray my vision is improved by this procedure. If not, I’ll be up against some big problems. If nothing else I’ve learned how much we take our vision for granted and how valuable our sight really is. I’ve been impacted by this journey in ways I’d never imagined. But I’m tired of not seeing well. I’d like to have my life back now, thank you very much!