Saturday, April 12, 2008

Trail riding success!

We took Lena and Bar out today, for the first time since the beach incident, and despite my apprehension before-hand, it all went really well.

And, yes, there was a lot of apprehension before-hand, folks. I kept telling myself to relax and take things as they happened, but talk - as they say - is cheap. Finally, I resorted to a mantra of "Just let him be a horse" and that seemed to help a little.

Odd as it may sound, what actually helped even more was the minor difficulties we had loading them both in the trailer. We got Lena loaded, though there was some additional coaxing needed because she didn't want to be the first horse in. Bar actually seemed to load very easily, and I fastened the tie-down to his halter - not noticing that his back legs were still outside the trailer. He tried to back out, pulling hard on the tie-down, and I felt my panic level rise along with his when I couldn't get the clasp to release.

Then I looked him in the eye, reached out and stroked his cheek, and in that instant, the two of us silently agreed that he would trust me to get him out of this and I would trust him not to go berserk. Instantly, things were calmer. I started breathing again and he stopped pulling back, even coming forward enough for me to unlatch the tie from his halter. We backed out, circled, and he got right back in - all the way this time - and we were off.

Woo hoo!

They were very quiet on the way to our destination - a small park with a nice loop around a lake. It has a trail that is wide enough to circle a horse if the need arises, and still offers normal distractions like bike riders, children, and dogs - all good things for horses to learn to deal with.

I kept a really loose rein on Bar and did my best to let him just be a horse and explore his surroundings. He reminded me a lot of Lena when we first started taking her out with Doc - Bar would be in front, swinging along in his long-legged walk, until he came to something he wasn't sure about. Then he'd let Lena go past him and he'd follow that spotty rear end until he felt a little safer, then take the lead again. He was relaxed and curious most of the ride, really paying attention to footing and the surfaces we were walking on. He did seem to think rocks and gravel on the trail - usually in drainage areas - were a little weird, though.

He only really balked one time, crossing a tiny stream. Lena went through it, though with much snorting and dainty side-steps; Bar was torn between wanting to back the other way and wanting to follow Lena. I remembered some advice we got from Steve Ybarra during our mule/trail training and got off to lead Bar through the dribble of water. He only hesitated for a moment, then followed me through slowly and politely, without rushing or getting pushy.

Steve wants me to take credit for my own ability to finally relax and be calm with Bar, to let go and trust him and not over-correct or under-estimate this very sensitive and intelligent brown horse. Peter told Steve that more encouragement will go further with Bar than most anything else, and yesterday's outing seems to back that up pretty decisively.

Not to mention that a trail ride is a lot more fun than circles in the arena any day.

Here he is at the end of the ride, relaxed and standing quietly with Lena by the trailer. He kept looking out over the nearby vineyards, like he was wondering just how far he could go out towards that horizon.

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