Monday, November 26, 2012

Trail Mix

I hope my U.S. blogger friends enjoyed a lovely Thanksgiving!

Well, Gem and I are back in weekly lessons.  So far, so good!  I think we both needed a break from the running around in circles routine.   I feel so much better about my riding!  I think this year is going to be our year.  :-)

The weird weather of late has made the terrain for our trail rides interesting....lots of mud one day and completely dry the next.   High winds have ripped all remaining leaves from the trees, changing how everything looks.  Some large branches and a tree have fallen in the forest, forcing a change in the route we normally would take.  Gem and I now regularly lead the trail rides.  His strides are so much larger than the other horses, I would always be adjusting his speed and in spite of that, he would end up with his nose where it shouldn't be.  :-)  It's more relaxed with him leading.

The Sunday before last was a gorgeous day.   A few others joined DH's Mom and I out on the trails.  It was muddy!  I will say that my anxiety level raised a bit when I saw just how muddy it was in places.  But, I took deep breaths and focused on where we were going.  Gem was great.  I am not going to say that he didn't try to go into the shrubs to avoid the mud, but I did gently restrict him from going too wide around the mud. :-)  He and I have got to learn to deal with the dreaded mud, right?

DH's Mom and I were leading the group, with DH in front of Gem and the others quite a ways back, gabbing.  Gem, DH and I saw the mature buck at the same time - if my ears could have stood forward and erect, they would have!  :-)  The buck bounded across the trail in front of us.   As he did, DH and Gem did a little tuck of their butts and stopped; equivalent to a little teensy tiny sliding stop kind of motion, I'd say.   DH's Mom, who did not see the buck, turned around and asked me what DH slipped on!   The buck stood a little ways away from us, watching.  He was so well camouflaged, that only one of the others in our group could see him!  I was very thankful that neither DH, Gem or I freaked out.  :-)

That same ride, we met up with a few of the young ladies on their horses playing tag in the field.  Gem and I were leading and coming up to the opening of another field when all of a sudden I heard thundering hooves coming up from behind me.  One of the young ladies horses appeared to my right about 30 feet away at a gallop and jumped over a crumpled portion of the rock wall to join the herd at the feeding station.  I could feel Gem start to power up.  You know what I did??  I actually sat back in my seat, created a slight tension on the reins and told him "easy".  I then turned him towards the wall bordering the golf course, did a 1/2 circle and walked back to my group.  I was so pleased with myself!!  Apparently, one of the young ladies was riding bareback and decided she had had enough; she dismounted, pulled the headstall off and then smacked her horse's butt with one of the reins to get her to move.  WTH?!  Geez.  Apparently, Gem wasn't the only horse that reacted to the crazy galloping.  DH's Mom explained to me later that when a horse takes off like that, other horses interpret it as danger and that they should run, too.  I am glad that Gem didn't.  :-)

Gem eating my helmet after our ride.
Yesterday was windy and bitter cold. I wore my winter jacket and tights for the first time.  We decided to go through the "swamp" for something different because it appeared frozen.  Well a lot of it was, but there were big patches that had frozen mud on top, but mush underneath. Gulp.  Again, I took deep breaths...and, at DH's Mom's suggestion, I hummed....a lot!  Gem led us, cracking through ice and sinking up over his hooves.  I tried hard to concentrate on what trail we would take next and not the sucking noises as hooves were pulled out of the black goo.  While the other horses were having issues with the ice and mud and had to be kept calm, Gem was pretty darn good!   And, frankly, so was I!  In fact, we stopped to give the others a chance to get it together and he stood in mud eating some remnant leaves off of trees!  Yay!  DH's Mom congratulated Gem on being the only horse that remained fairly calm during this episode and me for not screaming like a girl.  :-)  A little further on the trails, Gem stopped, ears forward.  Two Bambi deer bounded out of the bushes in front of us, white tails flashing.   Gem watched them for a few seconds as they made their way deeper into the bush and then he walked on.  No fuss.  Whew!

These experiences over the last couple of weeks have helped me realize how trustworthy Gem is.   Instead of approaching trail riding as an accident waiting to happen, I have started to relax.   Each time he reacts in a sane way to a "different" situation, my confidence grows in him....and in me.  I like it!!  My goal of loping in the small field and perhaps going out on my own is within reach....I can feel it!  :-)


Thursday, November 1, 2012


 Hope my blogger friends on the east coast have not been impacted too much by Sandy and that everyone is safe!

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I can't believe how time has flown.  My beautiful boy turned 12 on October 17th.   We have been partners for over 3 years now.  This past weekend, I hosted his annual birthday trail ride.  Seven brave souls rode in some rather nasty weather (Sandy was just starting to make her presence known to us).  It was cold and raining, with high winds at times, but the weather did not dampen our spirits.  I did wear my Confidence Vest over my 3 layers of clothing, topped by my waterproof windbreaker.  I looked like the Michelin Man.  :-)    I love my has two pull tabs.  Once you zip it up you can unzip it from the bottom, allowing the bottom of the jacket to spread out around you so that when you are sitting the jacket doesn't end up all bunched up around your midriff.  

Adjusting my reins.  Doesn't the birthday boy look great?!

 The horses have lost their shiny sleek summer coats.  Gem's velvety winter coat is coming in nicely.  At this point though, it doesn't seem as fuzzy as last year and I wonder, based on our drought conditions this past summer, if that is a sign that our winter is going to be mild.

We mostly just poked along, gabbing.  There was the occasional trot through some of the wider paths in the old orchard.  Now that I am not micro-managing Gem (as much!) out on the trails and learning to let him do his job, he is more relaxed and is enjoying the trails more.   I have had time to really observe Gem and have found out some cool stuff about my boy.

  • I have found out that he actually like to be up front, leading if he can.  This does not surprise me.  When he has been tried out with the herd, he becomes quite dominate.  He likes to be the leader.....and perhaps have a job?  He's OK if someone is in front of him, although I do have to keep him in check from pushing them and walking right up their butt.  The only horse that he is really comfortable with having in front of him is DH, who is the boss of him when they are turned out together.

Gem and I leading the others to the next field.
  • He is quite content walking, which he does with purpose.  I swear he could walk forever, which is characteristic of his breed.  He never seems to tire.  Sometimes we end up ahead of everyone else because his strides are so much bigger.  :-)   
  • He really likes to look around.  With having a tight grip on the reins all the time in the past, I guess he really didn't have a chance to see what was going.  Now he takes an interest in his surroundings and I like seeing his ears perk up.   He does not spook when a chipmunk or squirrel run in front of him.   Wild turkeys?  Doesn't bat an eye.   I think he likes the forest.  I find it fascinating how acute his hearing and sight are.  He heard a horse from the herd in the forest minutes before we actually came upon him.  I am not sure why, but he particularly likes watching the golfers play through or drive around on their carts on the course next to LA's property.   
In the forest, golf course on the left and DH in front of us.
  • He's getting way better in mud!  In fact, I am the one that has to learn to calm down.  :-)  DH's Mom has reminded me to hum when she sees me start to tense up.
At one point during the trail ride, my friends decided to lope across a field.  I knew this was eventually going to happen (hence the Confidence Vest) and my anxiety shot up through the roof.  Every time I have fallen off, it's been out on the trails at a lope.  I held back.  One of the young ladies asked if I needed her to stay with me  (God bless her!)...yes, please!  
Gem started to get a bit antsy obviously, seeing everyone take off in front of him.  I did my best to calm him and get my heart rate down.  :-)  In retrospect, what I should have done was walk him in small circles to get his brain back instead of trying to make him wait.  The young lady's horse got just a bit too familiar with Gem and he bucked.  It was a straight up and down buck.  Luckily, I had my free hand positioned palm down on the horn instead of gripping it.  LA told me about this little trick.  With your palm on top of the horn, you simply push down on the horn to help keep your balance in the saddle.  If you position your hand around the horn and grip it, your arm will follow the movement of the saddle and you can actually be pulled out of it.  Her trick worked; my butt wasn't far from the seat during the buck and my feet did not leave the stirrups.  :-)

After our trail ride, we retired to the lounge in the arena.  A couple of other riders, who had opted not go out on the trails because of the rain, joined us along with LA and her mother.  We all chowed down on awesome chili, bread, chips, cookies and cake, with beer and soft drinks to wash it all down.  Gem got special homemade sweet feed treats.  :-)   I had everyone who actually went out on the trails put their names against a number (1 to 10) on the whiteboard.  I had a bag of horse treats in my car that I had written a number on prior to coming to the barn and whoever matched that number got the bag.  It just so happened that it was DH's Mom who won!   It was a great afternoon.  

I needed a hot bath when I got home to warm me up.  After that, I threw a blanket in the dryer on high heat for 5 minutes and then wrapped myself in its warmth as I stretched out on the couch and settled in for an episode of Murdoch Mysteries.  What a great way to end the day.   :-)   Thanks for having a birthday, Gem!