However, out on the trails, I still sometimes feel a little nervous, that I am somehow not quite in control. It's no where near what it used to be, but recently everything seems to be a distraction to me; the birds, the bushes, the weather. Perhaps there is some residual nervousness as a result of my fall the end of July that currently affects the lightness of my hand and keeping my legs relaxed. It's hard to concentrate on neck reining; I experience moments of awkwardness when trying to use one hand. I feel sort of unbalanced; I don't know what to do with my left hand! And, over time, the hand holding the reins creeps over from the middle of Gem's neck and starts to straighten out beside my waist, tightening the left rein against his neck and leaving the right rein really loose. Urgh!! Will I ever get this? Once again, Gem is smarter than me and I am playing catch up.
DH's Mom is a good coach when we are out on the trails, but out there I feel a bit over-whelmed with all the nuances of learning to neck rein. The positives with neck reining is that I am not hanging on the reins; I am not pulling (as much!) on Gem's face. That's makes Gem happy. :-) Our conversations during these rides usually come back to how I am handling Gem. Her approach to these conversations are from a confident rider perspective and I appreciate her feedback because she's been there, done that and can offer some great advice. I know it will come; one day I will get on Gem and everything will just click. There have been a couple of times, when she has seen me struggling with my confidence or lack of skill, that she has asked if I ever considered getting a different horse. Nope, it has never entered my mind. Yes, there have been challenges with Gem (and I am sure he thinks the same about me!!), but he also has quite a patience level when it comes to putting up with all of my inadequacies. I am glad that he is brave when I'm not. He has never lost it with me, as I have seen other horses do.
DH's Mom has been riding her pregnant mare regularly over the last few months to keep Zippy in shape. Zippy was her mount when we went out in the rain on Sunday afternoon. The grass was a bit slippy, so we kept it to a walk. It was a lovely soft rain, but we headed into the forest area for a bit of a reprieve from it. I was leading because Zippy doesn't like Gem up her butt....who would, really... The trail started to get a bit tight. I could feel my heart starting to beat a little faster; I suffer a bit with claustrophobia. I asked Gem to stop so I could assess the situation. Suddenly, he started to back up, a little at first and then faster, right into the DH's Mom and Zippy! They were forced backwards, into a large fallen branch and trees. I could hear branches snapping, hooves pounding. To add a bit more stress to the situation, I yelled "WHOA! WHOA!, upsetting Zippy further. I eventually got it together, sort of crouched over the saddle horn and spurred Gem forward. Fortunately, he quickly walked up a few paces, allowing Zippy and DH's Mom to get themselves untangled from the branches and trees. After I made sure that no one had been stabbed by a branch and DH's Mom and Zippy were OK, I had to take a moment to calm down. Gem stood quietly as we all caught our breath. We eventually got out of our tight situation and back out to the fields.
What could I have done differently? Well, I honestly cannot remember what transpired to make Gem back up like that. Was it me pulling on his face? Maybe. Perhaps I started tightening up on the reins, reverting back to two-hands when I realized that the path was getting too close and he translated that tension on the reins into "back up". I absolutely should have focused more on moving him forward the moment I realized we were working towards a train wreck, rather than trying to look over my shoulder at DH's Mom and Zippy to see what was happening with them. Perhaps I should have stopped yelling "WHOA!" after the first 5 times when it didn't work. ;-)
Trail riding has always appealed to me. Grass, trees, wildlife. It's the main reason I took up riding in the first place. It seems that I finally have my confidence within a controlled environment (arena, paddock), but it is obvious that I need to continue building my confidence when out on the trails. Yes, I fell recently and yes this recent forest incident was a bit scary - both have taken a little bitty chunk out of my confidence, I admit. So, how do you get that confidence back? Well, most people would say you have to get back out there and trail ride as much as you can. OK, but how does that actually prepare you for potential train wrecks? Or run away horses? Or riding in amongst the herd? Getting back out there builds your confidence up and desensitize you to the "white noise" around you and let you determine what needs to be focused on so that you can recognize a train wreck before it happens.
So, I have decided to shake it up a bit and move away from working with a safety net. I have a private lesson booked on Friday. I have requested that the lesson be out in the small "loping" field, a small round field surrounded by the forest on one side and shrubs and trees on the other. While working, I will be exposed to uneven terrain, herd members grazing nearby, wildlife and the weather. So will Gem. :-) No boards outlining where the track is or an enclosure to block noise, or lights to eliminate shadows or letters to help walk a straight line. I need to build my confidence up where I lost it, out in the fields. And Gem needs to know that I can be confident out in the fields. And, you know what? LA has agreed. :-)