Friday, December 13, 2013

Confidence Lost and Found

The trails that we ride are through forest, brush, swamp and open fields.  The trails are good, but some have become inaccessible because of fallen trees and overgrown bush.  LA has been busy the last couple of years with improvements to the facilities, so clearing the trails has not been a high priority.  A couple of weekends ago, one of the boarders organized a trail clean up day.  Her son has some serious chain saw equipment, so he came out in the morning and cut down encroaching trees in the forest and cut up those that had been downed over previous winters.  A few other boarders walked through and started cutting up the branches, etc. for easy hauling.  

Later in the day, a few of us tacked up and started through the forest trails, snipping at branches that were at face level or grabbing clothing.  In addition to DH's Mom, TS, SS and myself, were were joined by the tallest herd member, Martin, a Clyde-mix standing about 16.3hh, and his rider MC.  Martin and MC lead the way, which was good for me because if they made it through then Gem and I would.  :-)  

The horses were on high alert, ears forward and a little on edge.  The forest trails had been altered and looked different to them.  There was the smell of downed trees.  Deer and other wildlife had been disturbed and were making their own noises. The herd horses were actually further into the forest because they now had access. There were snapping and chopping noises in the distance as other boarders were breaking up piles of branches for those of us that would be dragging them off the trails later.

We sort of weaved our way in and out of the trails bordering the winter feeding field and came to an entrance that Gem and I hadn't used before.  We had to step over a fallen tree to gain access to the forest.  To be honest it was a bit close, but Martin and MC were crashing their way through, which meant we could.  :-)  SS, bringing up the rear, had brought a little mini saw with him and decided to saw off a branch that I had to limbo under.  Kind thought, but when Gem heard the unfamiliar sawing sound right at his butt, he didn't like it.  This coupled with the altered scenery, the tension coming off of the other horses and the lumberjack noises, started him prancing.   SS stopped sawing immediately, but then a boarder appeared out of no where, stomping through the brush and trees....another unfamiliar sight. Gem started doing a pirouette, like this only faster:

To be honest, I was starting to get nervous, which didn't help the situation.  I turned Gem around and took him back outside the forest entrance and walked him in small circles, telling him "easy".  After a bit, I thought I had it together and that I had his "head" back.  I turned him towards the opening.  In an instant, I could feel him start to power up.  Holy crap.  I didn't have any time to react.  He squared himself up, took two big trotting steps and JUMPED over the fallen tree to gain access to the trail.

It was obvious that he wanted to catch up to the group, who had continued walking through the forest.  He started trotting through the trees on a not-quite trail path.  I don't recommend this, particularly when you are on a tall horse.  Maintaining my balance, while simultaneously trying to rein him in, protect my face and body from branches and screaming like a girl was a real challenge.  

I managed to execute a half halt while telling Gem to "WHOA!!!  WHOA!!!".  It worked, but like a crazed idiot I continued pulling back so hard on his face we ended up backing up into trees and bush....snapping and breaking branches, bending small trees over....again, not something that I would recommend.  Visions of us both being impaled flashed across my mind.   DH's Mom made her way back to me and told me to stop screaming like a girl, and to stop pulling him; I was to put my butt in the saddle, move the reins up his neck, and cue him to go forward.   Yep, OK, that worked.  And when we got out of the bushes, he stopped immediately.  I took some deep breaths.  My heart was racing and I informed the group I was getting off....the first time I have EVER been that nervous on Gem.  DH's Mom vetoed me getting off.  I didn't argue......actually no one argues with DH's Mom.  :-)

We continued on.  My heart was still racing and I continued to take deep breaths.  SS was riding beside me and when I told him that was the most nervous I had ever been on Gem, he looked at me and said that if that was the worst, then Gem was a very sane horse.  :-)   All of the horses continued to be on edge.   Each horse took a turn at acting up.  TS's horse actually reared in the forest and scared her.  Gem didn't spook, but occasionally he would show us how beautiful he looked doing a side pass when he suspected that another lurking lumberjack was going to jump out and swing an axe at us.  

At one point, we left the forest and started walking across an open field.  I had had enough. I said my farewell to the group and headed back to the barn solo.

The next Sunday, I saddled Gem up and went to the arena; no trail ride for me.  We had not been to the arena in a while - I have taken a break from weekly lessons.  There were a couple of other riders there to keep us company.   I have to admit my confidence had been bruised from the previous ride.  However, as soon as I sat my butt in the saddle, I knew it was going to be a great ride.  He was attentive, his eye soft and once I saw how responsive he was, I just relaxed and went with it.  He easily adjusted his jog speed when I asked.  His trot was big and floaty and I could have posted all day.  After a while, he dropped his head and was nicely collected!  Where the heck is LA when you need her to see stuff like this?!!  We loped a few times around the arena each way, at an even pace with my butt in the saddle!   We did squares and backing up into a box.  We trotted over poles.  We attempted turns on the forehand and haunches.  We rode for well over an hour and when we were done, he had nice foam around his lips and a little bit of a sweat on.  We did all these things ON OUR OWN.  No LA, no riding buddy coaching.  On our own, communicating with each other.  It was wonderful.

My confidence was temporarily lost, but that arena ride a couple of weeks ago helped me find it.  Actually, Gem helped me find my confidence.  He gave me what I needed at the time I needed it.  He's a gentleman.  :-) I think it will be one of those rides I will recall when my confidence is being challenged, just like I refer to my first solo ride around the fields when I need a boost.  I have since been out in the snow with Gem a couple of times.  He has led the group with a purposeful walk, breaking through the snow and making the base for the trails.  He loves the winter.

 LA has asked me to participate in a western dressage clinic in January.  Perhaps word got back to her about the forest ride and Gem being a potential eventer/dressage candidate.  :-)  I may consider it....who knows!?  

Have a good weekend, everyone!!