Usually I ride on trails in the canyon, but since hunting season started this fall, I've been riding on the roads. I find that when I ride on the road, I tend to focus on doing more training things...like leg yeilds and nice circles and stuff. On the trail I tend to just ride and maybe trot and canter some. So, even though I've lost the ability to ride in the canyon, I've been having lots of fun riding on the roads. Plus I've also started riding to new places I've never been to before, simply because I haven't focused on travelling the road so much before. I already know all the trails in the canyon, even though there are lots of different routes to take, I've been on just about all of them. Going down a road I never had a reason to travel before, it's so easy to just keep riding to see what is over the next hill or around the next corner.
Today, I only rode Catlow, but our ride ended up being 9.5 miles long. We crossed Hwy 8 and rode north toward the mountains (never got there, but did hit the forest). She was a lot calmer today, than the weekend before when we only rode to Hwy 8 but did not cross (it was new territory for her). Catlow gets nervous in new places. When she's nervous, she really speeds up her walk, sneezes very forcefully, and sometimes does the blow alarm snort (when she's REALLY nervous). She also gets very stiff throughout her body...she will listen to my aids, but she will tend to overreact a bit (if I ask her to flex, she will do it very fast and pull her head back straight forcefully...but she's getting so much better about staying soft even when she's a little nervous now...only REALLY scary things get her that uptight now).
We started out walking slowly away from home with Catlow constantly looking back and trying to turn around if I let her (this is normal when she's out by herself), but today I focused on getting her to keep her body straight (used reins and leg, asked her to accept contact on the bit and drop her head). If I did this while walking, she tried to sidepass (will go back and forth between my legs). At first I wondered if she was just confused. I usually ride on a loose rein, unless I am asking her to pivot, turn, or back, so rein contact means I will be asking her to do something. But I have been working with her tucking her nose and accepting rein contact while walking straight, so I think the problem was that she had too much time to be distracted and come up with ways to slow her forward advance away from home (by weaving back and forth down the road instead of staying straight). And indeed, when I asked her to tuck her nose, soften and stay straight while trotting, she did much better. I asked her to trot quite a bit away from home because she was walking so slowly otherwise, I felt like we weren't getting anywhere. Eventually, we got far enough away from home, that she wasn't as comfortable anymore and sped up her walk. Even then I still focused on keeping her straight, and focusing on me. I was very pleased with how well she responded and really did seem to focus on what I was asking, but as soon as I'd give her loose rein back as a reward, she'd raise her head back up and start ducking it out side to side (Catlow always seems to be convinced that whatever is going to eat her on the trail, will be coming from behind her...or maybe she just can't stand having a blind spot, so is constantly swinging her head out side to side to see everything).
After today, I've decided that I think Catlow does best if I am constantly there for her...always on the rein telling her what she should be doing. If I don't, then she becomes insecure and quite nervous (and just wants to go back home). She'd prefer that I'm not constantly asking her to tuck her nose (so I only do that intermittently), but she does stay much more focused if I shorten up on the reins rather than leaving a big drape. Catlow is a different horse when I ride with a friend on Cody, though. She is completely relaxed as long as she doesn't have to be watching out for herself (Cody is supposed to do that because she's the boss mare). My friend who rides with me on Cody has never truly seen Catlow nervous because she only gets that way alone.
We saw lots of scary things today. We saw an elk carcass dumped on the side of the road (not really that scary, according to Catlow...the dogs loved it though). We saw a field full of cows. This was pretty scary. Her heart was just pounding in her chest. I could feel it through the saddle. Catlow needed to stand and stare at them for a long time before she could break her gaze with them...the cows just stared right back; they weren't really all that close to us...maybe 150ft. We saw a large bay horse clopping down the road at a trot pulling a woman riding in a small two wheeled buggy (never would have expect that). I dismounted for this one because I had my dogs with me, and I wasn't sure that they wouldn't run up to the horse, and of course I didn't want them to cause problems. Plus I wasn't entirely sure how Catlow would handle passing a strange horse pulling something behind it. The dogs were good; they stood next to me with my hand on their collars. Catlow was alert, and as soon as the horse drew alongside us, she realized it was a horse, and nickered in welcome and excitement. After they had passed, she wanted to turn around and go with them (they were going toward home, afterall), but she settled down quickly and we continued on our ride. We saw a pack of three dogs that were hanging out on the road at an intersection (as though they did this all day everyday). They were well behaved though and the dogs greeted and we moved on. On the way home though, we were only a mile away from home and passed a farm that we've ridden past many times before. This time was different though because the cows were in the pasture next to the road and there was one cow only about 25 feet away from the fence (although we were on the other side of the road riding in the field). Catlow was very worried by this. She stared really hard at them, her heart started pounding, she did the alarm snort. She really wanted to leave, but I kept her staring at them. Then I asked her to cross the road and approach the fence. She did, but wanted to wheel and leave. I kept her facing the cow, then pulled her back and walking her in tight circles (she was very nervous and didn't want to let the cows out of her sight, so her turns were super fast, then slower when she saw the cows again, then super fast...). Then I had her stand and face them again (super alert mustang with head high and ears pricked). By this time, the calf had come closer and all the rest of the cows started to amble over to see what was so interesting (for some reason, these cows were fascinated by my shepherd mix dog, but didn't even look at my border collie/corgy mix). There we were, Catlow standing in the middle of the road staring at a lineup of about 15 cows and calves with a dog on either side of us. Catlow's heart still pounded, she alarm snorted, and the cows all spooked, but only jumped back a few feet. This actually seemed to make Catlow feel a little better. The cows advanced again, and we just watched them. I think that as she watched their movements (just like a horse, but with a square body and no neck...and very slimy noses), she decided that they were not so scary. I asked her to advance further to the fenceline. She did, and dropped her head and started eating grass. One of the calves came right up to the fence to try to sniff noses with her. At this point Catlow was not scared anymore and she just continued eating, completely ignoring the calf. The rest of our ride was uneventful, and Catlow got to be sprayed down when we got back, since she had gotten very sweaty and it was still warm out.
Yesterday, I rode all three horses and it was a bareback day. I had never ridden Catlow or Chico bareback, except for a bit the week before, I had led Catlow down to the feild across the road to graze a bit, then hopped on bareback with halter and lead and rode her back, and the night before, I hopped on Chico in the driveway just to see how he'd react...both were fine with it. I did the same 2 mile loop for all three. I started on Cody (she has a nice wide round back with lots of cushion). We did some trotting and cantering. Cody has the most amazing jog trot, that is the easiest thing to sit in the world. She also has a smooth canter, but she's kind of lazy, so she tends to need urging to keep her there...the frequent breaks into half trot/half canter aren't so comfortable, but the ride was run. Then I rode Catlow. She is much more angular and narrow, and I had to work to keep my seat bones from digging into her back and hitting her spine. She was her usual slow weaving walk away from home, wanting to go back, but got better after we lost site of home. I also trotted with her, and she was very good...she maintained a smooth slow trot. So, I asked her to canter. Catlow is a lot more forward and has a wonderful big stride with lots of power...you can feel her using her hindquarters when she canters (unlike Cody, who is quite lazy). Cantering bareback on Catlow was so thrilling...she was smooth, and the power! She cantered slowly and in control, but her strides were so powerful that she really covered ground. By the time I got back and it was Chico's turn, my legs were too tired to do another round of bareback, so I had to use the saddle with Chico. I think that Chico might be stiff in his right hind (the one that has had two injuries this year), but not enough to really alter his gait; just enough to make him sometimes more reluctant to move out and tire quickly.
When we got back, the sun was just setting and it was beautiful, so I grabbed my camera and took a few pictures.
Chico was very patient while I snapped lots of photos from his back.