Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mountain Trail Clinic: Day 2

Friday started off with some seriously socked in fog.  The sort of fog that managed to block out all hints of a sunrise which encouraged my whiskey addled brain to stayed firmly snuggled under the hotel bed covers (shudder).

But, the notion of ponies with kicked over water buckets (I was the only one to hang my buckets) and empty tummies roused up with more vigor than I usually have on a weekday.  The Boy eventually responded to my prodding, and shortly thereafter we were rolling down the road headed to the barn.

True to my worries, almost all the buckets had been flipped, tipped or strewn about the stalls, so we got to work right away re-hydrating and tossing hay at the beasts.  After that we spent some time observing the first session of the clinic watching the clinic which led to me scratching P from our class.  The groups were large (20 or so horses) and everyone seemed to stand around waiting for their turn to approach the obstacles one at a time.  That much standing didn't really seem like something we needed plus the verbal "coaching" included such helpful phrases as "if you want to control your horse's hindquarters, try moving your leg cue farther back."

Uh... yeah, we'll wait for the "open gym" time between classes, thanks.

I think I'd get more out of the classes if we were a) under saddle b) working the more complex obstacles that have very specific routes through them or c) totally unaware that moving our leg back would *gasp* help control our horses' hindquarters...

I didn't really mean to be a snobby brat, but my goals for P were more about exposure to lots of new things, and less about 3 hours discussing the merits of crossing a bridge... but I digress.

That meant that after watching a bit of the first session, we grabbed the horses and took them for a walk around the grounds.  After a night confined in a stall (and a strange one at that..) I expected P to be a bit puffed up when I took her out, but she wasn't.  In fact, she was totally calm.  neck relaxed, ears soft, and eyes alert but not anxious. (whaaaa?)

We walked through the crazy barn, around a big giant field, then went to go try to step through some puddles.  Cowboy Man had spent some time the previous evening telling me that the biggest thing to reinforce with P and "things she doesn't like" is that she may look at them, and dance around a bit, but she is never (ever), under any circumstance allowed to push her shoulder into my space.

Makes sense.

So, I watched him whack her a couple times with the lead rope to reestablish his "space" when P was figuring out the teeter-totter.  They weren't hard whacks, and it only took a couple for her to move off, but he was probably more consistent with that effort than with anything else.  I made a note, and deliberately whacked at P's shoulder with the lead rope if she encroached on my space during our walk.

For the most part she respected me, but when there were things like PUDDLES, she would forget that coming into my space wasn't an option and she'd bulldoze a bit in her efforts to avoid her toes getting wet.

It took a couple minutes to convince her that the puddles wouldn't swallow her whole, but we splashed through them all eventually without alarm.  Most importantly, we got to that splashing without any drama or tension.
May wasn't certain she liked the puddles either, but her buddy Aspen just dragged her in..
After our walk, I returned the mare to her stall for some lunch while we watched the clinic sessions a bit more.  Once the sessions broke out, and the sun made an appearance, we tacked up the beasts and decided to take them to the gorgeous 80 acre hay field behind the barns.  Cowboy man said he wanted to breeze P out and let her really run a bit.  Naturally, the concept of someone (anyone) hopping on P sans lunging and just goin' for it out in a huge field had me somewhat intrigued and maybe a little bit worried.

She's been great on trails for sure, but still needing a lot of feathering to keep her focused, forward and not exploding.  Things that seemed extra tricky in such a large open space..

Once we were out there I had a "oh my god I love this" moment as I took in the gorgeous field, gorgeous weather and happy, gorgeous horses.  It sounds trite, but it was one of those "god I'm happy to be alive" moments.  Love that...

I know I already posted this, but P is so damn CUTE getting ready for her ride
Cowboy Man breezed Aspen out a bit, then he grabbed P and took her down the field in a nice big trot, returning at a nice big hand gallop.  P looked squiggly and a bit hunchy, but she was a good girl.  He paused, waited for her to calm down enough to grab a bite of grass, then headed off again...

The second time they cantered down, and breezed back, with P staying totally straight.

The third time... there were a few little bucks and wiggles, but Cowboy Man kept her forward, happy and running. I snagged a video of her biggest antics, which on the scale of zero to crazy, is way damn closer to zero if you ask me.. or at least, nearly zero if we consider her behavior this time last year "crazy."

I was happy to see that none of the bucks P was throwing were her big "EFF YOU GET OFF" bucks, they were more her "wheeeeeee! look at MEEEEEE

Honestly, if back in May you had told me this mare would go for a gallop in a huge field, then come back with soft ears and a soft eye, I would have told you to stop saying such obviously crazy things.  But here she is, galloping like a crazy woman, then coming right back to cool, calm and collected...
Brand new beast.
LOOK at that mare!  I still can't get over it.

After a successful romp, I talked the group into finding some greasy mexican food and some margaritas to celebrate with.  They seemed only fitting.

The tequila led directly to a nap, which ate up a majority of the gorgeous afternoon, but was also totally necessary.  Once I roused from my slumber, it was back to the barn in order to take advantage of the open rings when the classes stopped for the day.

The ring was decently crowded (mostly due to some permanent boarders who were eager to get their normal rides in during this event) which definitely perked P up a bit more.  I figured out that perhaps some of her totally uncharacteristic chill attitude from the previous evening might have been due to 7 hours in the trailer.. since even with her gallop and long walks, P seemed significantly more interested in all the new and fabulous horses swarming around.  In order to tune her up a bit, Cowboy Man set up some "snacks" in her grain bins along the arena wall and asked P to really focus on her ability to lead like a grown-up horse and follow our feet in terms of stopping and starting.  She was tuned in.. mostly, but every once in a while she'd just have to whip her head around and see who was throwing a fit at the water/bridge/ditch.  It took a few correction to get her shoulder back where it belonged, but she figured it out right quick.

After the tuneup/tune in, CM took P to the small little ditch with mounds going in and out of it.  P was totally baffled as to why we would ask her to step into such a ridiculous ditch when she could so clearly step around/over/behind it.  Some carrots and asking her to put her nose down in the bottom of the thing worked wonders to erase the anxiety associated with such a terror, and after a few short minutes P walked happily through the whole series of ditches/mounds.

this nose down move totally neutralized her instinct to short and puff up..

I know this thing doesn't look scary, but P was convinced it was not to be trusted.  However, after 2 minutes... this was her first walk through:

What was really cool to see was the fact that after P walked through one of those things, she pretty boldly stepped into every other version of that obstacle in the ring.  It was neat to see her gain confidence in answering the "question" as opposed to needing to relearn at every. single. instance.

Clever girl.

I followed that success up with some work over some tarps, a few bridges and negotiating some large log piles that required P to walk in slowly and not scamper out like a lunatic.  She was a gem.

Then we watched May get worked by the really big "L" ditch.  Honestly, I wouldn't have walked into it.  The thing ramped down to a depth of about 5'6" feet and rounded a sharp 90 degree corner before ramping back out.  The horses couldn't see the exit as they walked into it, which seems like a reasonable reason not to follow your stupid human into a deep ditch.  May was pretty convinced she'd die if she walked into the thing, so she kept jumping out about half way down.

The lesson there for May wasn't that she had to go into the ditch, but rather that she absolutely could not jump out toward her people.  She figured it out, and once she rounded the corner and saw the exit you could tell she was like "oh, well why didn't you say there was a way out...."  She's a sweet little thing.

In spite of our attempts to get out of the barn at a decent dinner hour, it was well past 11 when we finally left the horses to their dinners, so we headed back to the same pub we found on Friday for more burgers, more tots (duh) and more whiskey...

Such a good Friday.


  1. This is SO different to anything I've ever heard of or seen done with horses before - I'm really loving this series of posts. I want to try these things with my horses now. I'm not sure they'd be such a star as Pia though :)

  2. Yeah, the level of general horse ignorance among trail riders can be staggering. ;-) A good chuck of those people had probably never even thought of moving their legs to control their horses before.

    So it goes.

    P looks amazing... So glad she's doing well. It almost makes me want to send Izzy to cowboy sleep away camp.

  3. That's so incredibly cool! I love how relaxed but curious P's face is throughout the ditch exercise. She is clearly trying to figure it out but not all that worried. Such good experience for her!

  4. How awesome!! That looks like so much fun. I want to do that someday with Chrome. :D I'm glad Pia did so well.


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