Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Friday, April 15, 2011

How We Lost & Then Found Ourselves Again

Last week Gesa & I planned another long training/conditioning ride and set off to do our 11 mile loop once again.  Both Rhio and Paco were particularly lazy heading out from the farm, and this continued for a while.  It's actually pretty typical for Rhio to be unmotivated when we head out, and then we reach some unseen threshold and he is suddenly ready to GO!  I suspect it may be a certain distance from the farm - prior to hitting that magic place (I know right where the switch happens; it's pretty consistently in the same area), I can barely get anything more than a tiny jog-trot and he's dragging his feet (literally).  Once we cross that line, however, I have my forward-trotting, offering-to-canter-every-chance-he-gets Rhio, and grab mane for the ride home, because once we turn around, it's a race!  This is actually an annoying habit, and one I can't seem to conquer.  It doesn't happen at all if we trailer out somewhere else to ride, but almost always happens on rides from home.
Posing in the gravel pit.
We decided to cut through the big gravel pit to see what the footing was like in there, and for variety.  Doing something a little different always seems to perk the ponies up a little.  First, we had a nice long drink at the first icy puddle we came to, then a little canter up a hill until a big spook at the top because of the boulders lined up there.  They are the very same boulders that have always been there, and Rhio has been through this pit numerous times.  Ah, spring!  We head down into the "belly" of the pit to do a little hill work climbing back out again, and enjoy the views from the top.
Gesa & Paco at the top.
Ready to go on with our loop, we try to find the little path through the back of the pit to the trail in the woods that leads to the snowmobile trail.  This is just a trickle of beaten down ground through the aspen saplings which has been made by repeatedly cutting through, and although I had trouble getting my eye on just the right spot, Rhio remembered where he was and led us through the brush.  Once we hit the trail, we were surprised and disappointed by just how much snow was still on the ground in the woods.  It was grainy, soft, and slid around easily, making for very slippery going for the horses.  Rhio especially seemed to have trouble with his hoof boots; I have found them to be incredibly slick on snow.  We carefully picked our way along, sliding down the hills, and both horses did a good job of keeping their footing and moving cautiously.  The snowmobile trail was in slightly better shape as it had been packed & groomed all winter, but was still walking-only.  After all that walking due to the footing, our average speed for the ride was pretty slow, around 4.3 mph.  We picked up a trot down the gravel road starting the "top side" of our loop, and soon found ourselves waiting to cross the busy road.
Paco picking his way carefully down a little hill in the slippery snow.
Once across the road, we have about a 1 1/2 mile stretch along the shoulder of a fairly busy road.  The shoulder is wide & flat, but when the ground is dry we can actually ride way off the road in the ditch.  We had to stick to the shoulder now, but I am pretty comfortable riding here.  It is a long straightaway, however, and we are heading home.  Rhio & I started to argue at this point - he voted for an all-out gallop down the road towards home.  I voted for a nice controlled trot.  We were not able to compromise, and both became increasingly frustrated.  Every time a car would pass, Rhio would start to canter, sometimes in place if he was halfway listening to me and sometimes feeling like he was going to buck.  I was growling at him, yelling at him, trying to make him work (leg yields, circles) - but every time I put any leg on him at all, he took off.  Anytime I released pressure at all, he took off.  It was a very unpleasant ride, and once we got off the straightaway, we continued to argue pretty much the entire 5 miles back to the farm.

It was not a good end to our ride, though we had done the 11.6 miles with an average pace of 5.2 mph and he had done some things really well, like being careful on the bad footing.  It felt like we were really at odds with one another and not functioning like a team at all.  Part of the trouble could be the fact that I was very sleep-deprived and exhausted, and he is already starting to get bored with doing the "same" ride all the time. Also, I know that we have some saddle fit issues, and soreness will definitely make a horse out-of-sorts.  At any rate, I turned him out for the night and went to bed early!

The next day we went out for a solo ride to get our heads together again.  His back was a bit sore from the long ride (surprisingly, the saddle is not starting to fit any better on its own!) and he had little rubs from the gaiters on his hind Gloves.  So, I left him barefoot, tossed the bareback pad on, and we set off for a little wander with no purpose other than to enjoy ourselves.  A zero-pressure ride was just what the doctor ordered.

We picked our way through the trails out back, where the footing is pretty bad with alternating areas of mud and ice/snow.  The little stream which usually runs through a culvert on the trail was flooded and rushing over the trail, but a little lookie-loo at that for a bit and he walked right on through it (good boy!). We sank through snow & hit water beneath several times, which surprised him but he again stayed calm.    One section of mud was particularly deep & sucking, and that was no trouble either.  In fact, I would say the whole ride he was a model citizen and seemed happy, relaxed, and very willing.  I was happy & relaxed, too.  There was the little incident of the grouse, and then a little later the ducks - but besides a quick shudder in place at those frights, he just kept right on moving without any balking about being out alone or rushing to go faster.  We made a loop out of it, passing through the farmyard at Red's barn and home along the road.  He was so good we even cantered along the shoulder of the road, all nice & relaxed.  He didn't even break stride when we came even with the hayfield at the corner and saw a man dressed in a green sweatshirt lying prone in the grass.  Both Rhio & I did a double take at that, and I shouted "Hi!" and got a response of "Hi!" back, so at least I knew the guy wasn't dead or something.  But it was a very odd thing to see - why would you lie down in the middle of what was probably a cold, wet, muddy field?

So now you know how two rides can be so very different in tone & emotion; one was not fun at all, really, and the other was bliss.

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