So away we went. East over the mountains, to where the sunshine lives. We got a slightly late start, but we still pulled into the park by 11ish which left plenty of daylight to play with.
The Washington State Horse Park is a pretty amazing facility. It's been open for a couple years, but the development is ongoing. Right now it's got three big arenas (like 250'x250' big), with one stock pen and miles and miles and miles of trails. A cross country course (through Intermediate) is under construction and permanent barns, covered rings, a derby field and other goodies are all part of the master plan.
As it stands, it is a fabulous place to go hack where you can use any ring (and their jumps!) then head out on the trail for a nice cool down... the place is obscenely horse friendly, plenty of wash racks, grazing areas, water hoses by the portable stalls and multiple manure dump sites. Those sound like small things, but it makes it so much easier to "set up camp" when those basics are readily accessible. They also have lots of RV hookups for overnights and when we pulled in, the campground was dotted with folks making a weekend of a casual trip out with their ponies.
Prairie came off the trailer like a champ (no broken halters, no sweat, no trying to destroy her wraps..) and calmly walked around the grounds before I stuck her in a stall with snacks.
Our game plan for the day was as following:
1) tack up immediately and hack around the rings for a quick ride.
2) put horses away and go eat delicious Mexican food for lunch in town.
3) come back and ride again in the arena.
4) venture out on the trails?
5) pack up and get home before dinner.
I'm proud to say we accomplished everything except #5 (Oops, never on time with horses..) but that's ok since really #2, #1 and #4 were the most important items for the day. Mostly #2, but that's probably for a different blog.
The first ride was great. We had already walked over to check out our arena options and decided that the (mostly) fenced 250'x250' jumper ring was our best bet. The footing was packed pretty hard since it had poured rain and the park crew hadn't had a chance to drag it, but we figured for some light hacking it shouldn't be too much of an issue.
|meandering over to the rings|
|Prairie (insisting that she could graze on the gravel) and her buddy Sterling|
We started by just circling the perimeter a few times at the walk, mostly on a long rein until we were reasonably sure that the horses had seen all the trees/bushes/logs from all necessary angles. Then we worked up into a trot together and eventually started splitting off and working on our own.
|Not a crowded ring.. (sit UP)|
(oh, I forgot to mention that Friday evening I had the biggest spook ever on P2 thus far. We were working in the far end of the arena (yay!) and spooked as we came across the diagonal coming home. BIG HUGE SPOOK. Complete with bucks. The bad news is that I'm pretty sure Prairie doesn't "spook," she "bolts." The good news is her bucks are nothing compared to P1 and very ride-able.Because of Friday's performance, I opted for a bit more "brake" and switched P2 back to the mullen mouth (she schooled all week in her KK D-ring), but honestly I can't even tell if it makes a difference. When she's good, she's obedient in both bits. When she's scared, she just runs through whatever is in her mouth and it doesn't seem to make much of a difference... But, aside from a few small scoots when another horse perked an ear, P2 kept her wits and we had a nice little WTC session in the big ring.
But still, even though I didn't feel like I was being unseated, I do NOT like the whole bolt thing going on)
I do enjoy that P2 seems to be pretty chill in new places on the ground. She eats, drinks and dozes without much concern for why her human dragged her someplace new. She does get attached to her neighbors for support, but so far that seems like mostly productive socializing and not horrid herd-boundness.
We took a break for lunch (complete with mojitos) and gave the ponies about 90 minutes off between rides.
Our second ride was supposed to be more-work/less-play, but P2 was decidedly more looky the second time around. The really high point was when a rider came out of the woods (on the big, wide, easy to see trail) and P2 saw them. She saw them, and then trotted by. Then got nervous, then got panicked, and then BOLTED.
No bucking, no malicious anything, but she is damn near impossible to stop. Having woken from his NPR induced nap, The Boy was actively taking pictures and managed to get the whole minute long ordeal on video. I'm glad that his instinct when I am on a runaway horse is to keep filming. Those instincts have to be good for something.. maybe guerrilla journalism? At first I was horrified that he filmed it, then embarrassed, and finally curious about what it looks like. So, much like the video of P tossing me into a wall, here's a clip of P2's bolt tendency. (for the record this is where a 250'x250' massive open arena does not help matters).
I really don't know what to do to reel her in any better. She spooks more when she feels off balanced which negates any attempt to really wrench her around in tight turns.... but she'll run for days if you let her... Currently my strategy is to "surf" her down. I try to get her to bring her head down, balance and come back to me. She's so big that it's impossible to muscle her anywhere.. believe me I've tried. Mostly I try to keep from creeping up her neck, and actually sit down, but it's really hard when she's going mach 3 around the ring... Anyone else ever had a bolter? any tips? I really never feel like I"m going to come off, but I also recognize that so far she's only bolted in a confined, safe space. The scary part is knowing that I lack any sort of tool to make her stop....
After that little gem of a ride, S supported me as I walked P2 calmly around the arena at a walk and trot. P2 was fine, but I was a little rattled and it took me a few minutes to stop riding ridiculously defensively. But when I felt like I had her attention I decided to run through my two tests and see what happened.
Even without a measured court (or letters) when we had a "job" to do, our ride was better. the transitions were crappy which I blame on my defensive inside rein and not keeping the big girl balanced, but we got through both tests without any blowups or huge issues. I couldn't quite remember the tests and S had never called one before so I threw in a few extra circles while we figured it out, but I did get a video of our "first level" test in whatever form you would call it.
Take away from the video:
1) SIT UP (I'm very ready for a saddle that balances me on P2..)
2) shorten my reins
3) school 10m serpentine
4) canter transitions (up & down)
5) more jump in my canter
6) stronger half-halt before all lengthenings
Things that are better than I thought:
1) our bend/straightness
2) contact is staying a bit more even
3) canter lengthening isn't as explosive as I feared
It was oddly difficult to balance without the mental crutch of a fence or letters. I kept forgetting what my mental markers were for the arena boundaries and that made it oddly hard to set the mare up for circles/turns/etc. But we are on track. I don't think that we'll get crazy fantastic scores this weekend, but I'm pretty sure we have a good shot of completing both tests without being dismissed by the judge. So that's great. That's what we're aiming for. A calm, accurate test would just be icing on the cake.
After I finished the tests we rode out onto one of the trails, but my fear of a bolt (with no containing arena walls) on the trail combined with the rocky terrain and Prairie's bare feet meant that I opted to hand walk her instead of staying in the tack. It was a gorgeous day, the flowers were all blooming and all three horses were curious, forward and wonderful.
|Prairie enjoyed the trail.|
|this is her "coyotes are running at us response." It's good to know she only bolts at stupid things, and not at actual predators.... argh.|
|loading up to head home|
|P2 hates the paparazzi, but loves her new rig.|