Flying

Week of July 20, 2015

I am heading out of town next week to teach at a wonderful music camp in Charleston, SC so I’ve tried to pack two weeks of riding into one. I’ve made a valiant effort and we had a great week.

Monday I wrote about our anniversary ride, then Tuesday I took Khaleesi in the trailer to Hidden Valley for an easy, fun, fast ride. Hidden Valley is about 20 minutes drive away and is a beautiful underutilized park along the Jackson River – this means no mountains to climb and no jungles to fight, and the footing is great.

Pretty spot along the River trail
Pretty woods along the River trail

We hit the trail alone and she was ready to go. We walked a very short warm up and she begged to trot out- I agreed. [that was a question… which ties in to the end of the blog!] The weather was cool for July and we had a mix of clouds and sun. We had a time limit so I decided on a simple out and back going by time instead of distance. We had about 90 minutes.

About 4 miles in we turned around and the rain finally came through (I knew it was possible). With the cool rain on us and heading back to the trailer she picked up a nice quick trot and we sustained it almost the entire way back. It wasn’t super-fast but we started to get in sync and the extended trotting session helped me to relax into the rhythm and work with her movement.

Wet from the rain on the way home along the Jackson River
Wet from the rain on the way home along the Jackson River

The rain didn’t matter at all! Trotting through the light drizzle, it felt like we were flying along together, not because we were going so fast, but because we were moving together along the trail like one being. The title of this blog takes us once again to the music theme as I hummed the “Flying” theme from E.T. as we sailed along together. (I’m humming it right now too).

Unfortunately before this ride I’d noticed some girth sores, I used a different girth for the ride, and it was actually worse. We came in from the ride with worse sores than we went out with.

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I did a little asking, a little research, a little treatment and I think we’re on our way out of it as quickly as we went in, but time will tell. I have moved her saddle back slightly (I had it too far forward), lubricated the girth area, pulled her front legs out after tightening the girth, and for now have cut up two extra soft fleece socks and made a quick girth cover to help not irritate the spot.

I gave her Wednesday off and rode Faygo with Kate for a ride & tie practice (I’ll blog more about that too!).

Thursday we were at it again and I took her to Carrington’s barn for a 18 mile beautiful loop.

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The day was perfect, the horses were fantastic. Even Khaleesi and Nancy’s mare Mireyah seemed to get along better. The first section of the ride to Nancy’s barn was a bit overgrown, then through a paved ‘urban’ area briefly, then picking through some hunt camp roads up and down the mountain. We weren’t in a big hurry and enjoyed each other’s company and the scenery. The second part of the loop was through Hidden Valley along the Jackson River, through Meadow Lane and Facifern Farm’s (both gorgeous properties along the Jackson River).

Khaleesi and Mireyah make friends finally!
Khaleesi and Mireyah make friends finally!
Khaleesi and Tex riding side by side happily!
Khaleesi and Tex riding side by side happily!

We picked up speed and trotted much of that stretch for an ending average speed of about 5mph for the entire 19 miles. Her girth sores were no worse for the long ride and that is great news.

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BOOT UPDATE: the boots are still doing well overall, but aren’t perfect. On Thursday’s ride I lost a boot twice, but on the positive side I knew it both times. It was cantering, up a decently steep hill, with ‘fancy footwork’ involved- mostly a change of direction as we got started. I’m still on the fence if we’ll consider going to shoes next year, but I won’t change at this point for this season. She has never been shoed and I don’t want to do something so drastically new with our first event a month away and heading into fall when I tend to pull shoes anyway. Upon further reflection I have thought about the fact that we don’t usually canter in endurance rides, and for what I’m trying to do, she still is probably better off with the boots. Iron Mountain will be the true test!

Warm Springs Run Water break
Warm Springs Run Water break

Friday I picked her up early for our third trip to visit Pam and get some riding lessons. Pam offered for us to try her dressage saddle and really helped me work on my own seat today. She is so positive in her comments to us and always makes us feel (ok… makes ME feel) like I am improving.

We were better at walking together and doing circles. Our communication is stronger each time we ride! Stepping over was still a challenge but when I got a small incremental part of her back leg crossing over I felt it huge and it was groundbreaking!

Was that it?? Did she do it? (It felt big to me)

Um, kind of… she started to…

Well… it’s something!

We were even able to trot and go in a circle!

Pam took a turn riding her a bit to see if she could get her to do a few things with more clear instruction- and so I could see what it would look like from the ground. Before getting on, she went to the mounting block and stood on it and patiently helped Khaleesi realize that she was supposed to move herself over so the saddle was lined up with Pam. She clucked a bit and gently pressed or pulled here or there with big rubs when she’d just move a tiny bit in the right direction until Khaleesi had quietly lined up for Pam to get on. Then she stood still while she mounted. She hadn’t even gotten on her and I was blown away by such a simple thing that she got so quickly in one try.

Khaleesi did understand a bit better what Pam was asking and after a couple tries was practically dancing around the arena side stepping with Pam. I was taken aback how beautiful and easy they were. Pam was impressed with how light and sensitive Khaleesi was to her. I have often thought of ring work, dressage, hunter/jumper and other “English” style riding disciplines as almost torture to a horse. Having to do the same boring movement to perfection, double bridles, whips, broken bits… but my horse was obviously loving this work. And so was I.

We finally did some cantering in the ring- great fun!

We also used a dressage whip today. Never to actually “whip” her, but to help answer her question.

That by the way is the lesson of the week for me.

The whip just touches behind the leg if after two tries of communicating she doesn’t respond then it’s a louder tool to make sure she gets the answer. So if she always slows down or tries to stop in one corner she is saying “Can I stop here?” the answer is “No.” I tell her that with pressure from my leg as she starts to slow down in the corner. If she doesn’t listen to my answer “No- keep going, same speed” she gets a tap from the whip by my leg to say a little more clearly “Answer is No. Keep going.”

I used it a couple times, but always to clarify her questions.

“Do you mean…?”

“This is what I mean.”

She is so smart, and so willing to do the right thing. My lesson is that when she does what I don’t want her to do, what she is really doing is asking a question. There are lots of ways to answer- the whip is just one of a million.

Do you want me to pick up my speed in the trot?

No.

Are you asking me to pull in my nose more?

Yes.

Can I look over at what the boys are doing in that field when I’m on this fence?

No.

Do you want me to canter now?

Yes!

This ride is too long, can we turn around here and go home?

Nope.

Can I get a drink at this pool?

Definitely Yes. Take as long as you want.

Can I kick other horses on the trail if I don’t like how closer they are to me?

No WAY.

Are you sure you want me to cross the river here?

Yes.

I don’t like Faygo near me when I come back in the field, can I kick her while you are still holding my lead rope?

DEFINITELY NOT!

All these things she does are a question to me. If I let her do something, I’ve just told her “Yes. That is appropriate.” What I love most about this way of thinking is that it makes issues very easy to solve. Give a clear answer, but one without heightened adrenaline or emotion. No matter what she’s doing, or how stressful it may seem at the time- it is merely a question she is posing to me.

I’ve tried my best to answer her thus far very clearly and always as calmly as possible and I’ve seen her behavior reflect her new understanding.

She doesn’t kick at Faygo now when I have one of them on lead.

She hasn’t kicked at another horse on the trail in many many many miles.

She rarely stops and refuses to move forward on the trail, even on long rides.

Many things she’s asked me over time, and once I’ve answered clearly and she understands that I meant it- she doesn’t ask again.

How can I use this in my everyday life? Would it help my own story if I assumed other people’s behavior toward me sometimes were questions? I could get better at keeping my reactions calmer, and at least try to answer clearly with the belief that others have as good of intentions as my horse does?

There is no doubt few people are as pure of heart as most horses are. Horses don’t have the motivational baggage and self-interest the way humans do.

But trying to at least give people a chance to have that respectful communication can’t hurt. Then there’s the other side of the coin- can I attempt to live with a heart more pure as well? Can I ask respectfully and try to listen to the answers clearly?

I don’t think this week’s lesson is as easy to put into practice in all human to human relationships, but there are nuggets in there that are incredibly valuable to take away.

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Meanwhile, I will relish that we flew this week. Together.

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