Happy Trails… well… mostly…

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Khaleesi is on the trail, on the trailer, and on the road to her first LD ride. She trailers well, has been camping, goes out with me alone, crosses bridges, rivers and any kind of terrain I can imagine we’d find in nature… she basically gets along with others on the trail, and her longest ride so far was a nice 16 mile loop on a pretty hot day that included a big climb and some rocky terrain (though nothing like the OD trails yet!). 

I am happy with her renegade boots program. The more we use them the more reliable they are- after about 15 miles on our last ride a velcro came loose and since we were back on the farm already I pulled the boot off instead of fixing it, but through swamps, rocks, rivers, walk, trot and canter they stayed on over 4 hours and 15 miles.

rest stop for a bite at mile 8 on our long ride
rest stop for a bite at mile 8 on our long ride

Challenges we’ve been working on are coming along:

Bitting– I started her in a bit without realizing she had wolf teeth (do mares get those??? apparently they do and that was a learning curve for me… I thought somewhere I was told mares don’t have wolf teeth) this didn’t help her aversion to the bit and she would dance around the barn with her head in the air when I even picked up the bridle/bit. After removing her wolf teeth (which I’m sure you’ve all read about months ago) the habit stayed and she’s been tough to bridle though she was getting very marginally better.

One of my mentor friends Nancy mentioned reading an article where the trainer worked with someone and a hard to bit horse and told the rider that his hands were too tense, that you have to put in the bit from your heart each time. The next time I relaxed, assumed she would be fine with the bit and imagined doing it from my heartand voila- she takes the bit with no fuss now.

What I learned: even if your experience tells you the situation calls for a ‘fight’, try to approach the situation ‘from your heart’ and you may end the conflict before it starts. Even if it’s still a struggle, you are more relaxed and that always helps!

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Refusing to go forward on the trail– this annoying habit I had hoped was inexperience and stemmed from her lack of hours on the trail. I try to remember in her first 10 trail rides or so that she probably thought after about an hour of working for me that This is enough… I’m ready to go home and eat grass and I just have to get her used to the fact that she was out until she gets home. On my schedule. I loved Madison’s advice of backing her up… down the trail… and I’ve used that with a little prodding. I also assume she will do what I ask, and insist she does it, but I try to always keep my calm and breathe. She still does this but the duration is shorter now… with a couple kicks or a slap on the saddle with my leather strings she moves on forward again.

What I learned: Get creative when you need to solve a problem- sometimes you need to back your way into it!  And if you know the way forward is right, you can insist, but always keep adrenaline down and stay calm but firm.

Khaleesi tied to a tree during a rest break...
Khaleesi tied to a tree during a rest break…

Bad manner on the trail– I would call this kicking, but I don’t think she really has a kicking issue now and that’s the end result of the more subtle plain old bad trail manners. Bad manners include trail-hogging, pinning her ears when another horse passes or gets too close, crowding, not wanting to stand and wait for another horse to drink etc… I still think it’s likely much of this stems from her not respecting enough that when I’m riding her, I’m the boss of our team and she is not in charge of our response to the other horse-rider teams. I try to keep my eyes open for small signals that she thinks she is the boss of me- in the field, when I’m leading her, and especially when I ride her. She’s a pretty strong headed and confident mare which I love. I want a strong confident horse to be my endurance partner, but she needs good leadership. I have to be a stronger-headed, more confident mare!

How is it going? She is fantastic with one other horse at a time, especially (as most of my friends have) geldings. I am getting more control over weaving around the trail and crowding and asking her to ride to one side or another. We can ride side-by-side with one other horse pretty well. She does ok with groups of three or more but it spreads her focus more and takes a little more managing from me. Our biggest challenge right now however  is another mare (what a surprise right!?) and they have seemed to have gotten off on the wrong hoof. Since our “no kicking” post, Khaleesi hasn’t tried to kick a horse, and her ear pinning has improved as well……

With one exception: on our previous ride, as we were working on riding almost side-by-side with the other mare, I was watching closely how Khaleesi was doing, her ears were forward and I was thinking “Yeah! how great is this! She’s not bothered at all” BAM I felt a kick to my shin from the other mare. That I was not expecting, and I hadn’t been really watching her  as I was more concerned about my horse being the one who would kick. Khaleesi immediately spun around and put two back feet up toward the other mare and we all pulled ourselves together… (we lost a boot in that acrobatic moment). One step forward, two steps back (or maybe three!).

two mares separated by the gelding… ears tell the real story!

The girls are going to have to get it sorted out (and hopefully not in a kicking match!) so we rode them again leaving safe distances and kept an eye out. The ride went without incident, but the girls are not entirely happy with one another. We will be taking them on a camping trip next week and decided to put the two girls on the trailer together for the ride over. They will be spending a lot of trail time together as we are good friends- so I’m sure this too shall pass.

What I am learning? Get on top of small problems quickly to avoid bigger ones… and it’s a long process! Be patient and keep taking small steps. Don’t give up! And sometimes the thing you aren’t expecting is the thing that gets you!

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I am enjoying getting to know my girl and lucky to have some horse-savvy friends willing to babysit us in our first group trail rides who help me get experience with her around other horses – which for this horse has been more challenge than riding her alone! This summer of riding has been really rewarding, and I have some wonderful people to share it with.

Khaleesi rolls and takes a break after her longest trail ride thus far
Khaleesi rolls and takes a break after her longest trail ride thus far

Next post will be about our first “riding lesson”… stay tuned!

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