Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pleasant company

I answered the phone this morning and received a cheerful invitation to tag along on a 4-H trail ride. Hmmmm....

The plan was to do a big swing through the pheasant ranch, passing right by the farm coming and going, so all I had to do was be ready at noon.

The main question for me, given the wind gusting along from 15-30 mph, was what kind of ride would I have. I finally decided that given a group of calm Quarter Horses, I probably wouldn't die. So I said yes. And proceeded to sweat my way through the next several hours, coming very close to not going.
I don't know why, but trail rides someplace strange and new don't freak me out. Trail rides moving along at a good steady trot - not a problem. Riding where I have a job to do (moving cows, etc.) seldom bothers me.

Trail rides close to home, and walk-walk-walking seriously bother me.
And a good stiff wind didn't help matters any.

I caught Sunny, who was taking a nap, and saddled his sleepy self. Then I debated...
  • Option A: Ride down the road to meet everyone - and somebody's always late, so I'd inevitably wind up down at the starting point next to a bunch of strange horses and trailers, trying to get an antsy horse to stand still...
  • Option B: Wait at the end of the driveway and get on a snorty, blowy, excited pony when they got there...
  • Option C: Ride around until I could see they'd started, and ride to meet them.
I elected to go with C. And Sunny in the driveway was for 15 minutes or so contentedly plodding around, ignoring the wind and all of the tiny little seedpods blowing down out of the cottonwood trees - between the seeds and the fluff, it looked like snow and felt like sleet. Eventually, I could see bodies moving in my direction, so we moseyed their way.

It's taken me a while, but I've worked out a strategy that most of the time keeps us out of trouble. One, find a spot where Sunny's not going to be crowded inviting him to kick someone. Two, make sure that spot is near horses that completely ignore him; if they ignore him, he reciprocates. Three, let him look at whatever he wants on a loose rein, as long as he's going the speed I want, and isn't fussing. And four, try to breath.

He was a bit jiggy as soon as I turned him to join the group, but I solved that by sticking him alongside the two lead horses and letting him walk without grabbing at him. The illusion of being in front usually slows him down just slightly, and up there all I have to worry about is being run into from behind or having him spook at something and jump into the horse next to him.

Thankfully, Sunny is not, in general, a spook. And even with the wind blowing at us so hard it was difficult to hear, he walked along without doing a single one of those horrid slidey skating stops some of them are so good at.

For the most part, it was a good ride - he wanted to go fast a couple of times, and got snotty when I made him bend instead of letting him go charging away across country. One crowhop got him one swift whack on the shoulder with the flat of my hand - he knows better! and that was the worst of it.

By far my biggest worries were having him start something and cause a wreck with one of the kids - there were three grade school kids riding, one just out of kindergarten, and the other two probably in mid-elementary somewhere, as well as a couple of older teens, one of whom is NOT a rider - or having one of the others spook, and being part of a chain reaction. (I should say, all of the kids had one or more adult accompanying except the two teenagers, and everyone, horses included, had excellent trail manners.)

Anyway, we rode for about an hour and a half, and other than that one snorty bit, and the occasional jig, Sunny behaved himself very well. We passed or crossed the following potentially scary things: 2 kennels full of barking dogs, 7 running deer (multiple times, as we kept spooking them out in front of us), a large expanse of bright white gravel surrounding two large white tanks making funny noises in the wind, a black plastic bag flapping away industriously, and multiple large rocks, badger holes, rabbits, pheasants, etc. All of which have been known to terrify horses I've ridden at one time or another.

Yes, he looked around more than the QHs. And yes, the bit of jigging was more than any of them did. However, he didn't spook at anything, including the plastic bag - which was next to us and less than four feet away when we passed it. And although he was part of a group, he was the only horse in the bunch that did not have a known companion along to provide reassurance.

Sorry - no pictures. I wanted both hands free just in case.


Kate said...

Sounds to me like you were more nervous than Sunny was, and that he managed by the end of the ride to work with you so you calmed down! Like all the details in your post of your plan and how you made it work.

Thanks for the comment on my blog on the maze - I left you an answer there.

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

Isn't it nice when they act better than you anticipated?

Good for you for going ahead with joining the group.

SunnySD said...

Definitely true on all counts!! :)

Denise- LessIsMore17 said...

I wouldn't have brought my camera either! Both hands needed on a ride like that... you sound like me, LOL, thinking SO FAR in advance and what's the best option to not get a reaction out of Lester- should I go wide, short, around or not at all? LOL I know exactly where you come from.... I'm glad the ride turned out well and Sunny behaved!