Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mastering our fancy side pass on the trail.... in a halter

After some good soaking rain last weekend, on Tuesday we trailered out to the southeast entrance to Briones Regional Park in search of reliably dry trails. And we found some.... along with a herd of grazing goats. Oh you should have seen our ponies ears. Pricked high to the sky and super attentive. Sweet!

But I must back track a moment to the trailering out part. I have to give my horse Dove a hugh compliment on her progress on trailering. She has come along way in 6 years.... from an "oh no not the trailer" pony to a "hurry up or I am jumping in with my saddle on" kind of horse. This is the best my friends, to know your horse is truly happy to get inside the trailer.... saddle and all! THE BEST!

Ok back to our trail riding story! So the first part of our ride was focused on the wild and wooley goats that were in the staging area (near the parking lot). In addition there was a human goat herder and boarder collie dog, both of which added more interest for our ponies. Thinking they went left and we were traveling right we relaxed and proceeded to the trail head. Surprise the goats seemed to be following us as they appeared on the hillside above. Oh Boy! Needless to say I had to postpone videoing our ride until we passed the wild goat herd. Dove needed my full attention and leadership and I was there for her. She would take a few steps and then tilt her head up toward the goats and then freeze still for a moment. We had about half a dozen more of these goat thresholds before they disappeared over the hill. However Dove was still ready for their return. That is until a man on a bicycle came zooming over the next hill. Our ponies being quite familiar with bikes were startled but not bothered. The biker on the other hand froze in the middle of the trail until we passed. I think we spooked him more! Oh dear. And just like that the goats were forgotten. Now that is truly living in the moment! I took note.

We continued on this lovely dry trail and enjoyed seeing hawks and other birds enjoying the break in the rain. As we rode to the crest we had a lovely view of the valley below.

Since the wind was quite chilly we postponed our "pony picnic" and proceeded down the trail.
Here's a little video of the Crest to Deer Trail part of our ride:

Once we were back on level ground and heading toward the trailers Dove picked up her pace. So instead of holding her back we practised our fancy side passing on the trail in a halter. What fun. I must add that it certainly helped that the trail had two distinct tracks to pass between. Thank you park maintenance! Soon our friend was joining us first right and then left. It did not take long at all before Dove was ready to relax into a more casual, head held lower and slower walk. As we approached the staging area where the trailer was parked we met a funny hiker who insisted on sitting down along the narrowest part of the trail. LOL I asked if he was ok if we passed him and he stood up to pet our ponies as we walked by. Our ponies were unfazed as they had survived goats, speedy bikers and a steep trail. This silly hiker was no match for our super equines!

Note to self: I need to pin a big "S" for Super Pony on Dove's chest next trip.

Next week we have more sunshine forecast so we will certainly have more trail adventures to share. In the meantime we are practising our freestyle routine in our covered arena. I dare say that we have both improved our confidence and trust in each other and have already seen improvements.

ttfn, ~kim

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What a difference a little bushwacking makes....

Last week we had some challenging trail riding. Ok it was challenging because we had a string of 5, I kid you not, bikers, hikers and dogs (some carrying LOGS) in a row, zooming around a blind corner on a narrow barely 2 track trail. Miss Dovely wanted to turn tail and run when she saw the fast trotting dog with the LOG in his mouth. Never mind that he was on a mission and didn't even break gait or bat an eyelash at us, Miss Dove was on full alert. Then a biker came zipping around the corner only to skid to a mighty stop when he saw us.

LOL good thing I had backed her precious hindquarters up to the hill. All I had to do was ask her to turn the OTHER way and face the demon. You know Miss Dove like it is a COW. Yeah baby herd that cow, show him who's Boss Mare. By the 3rd rider/hiker combo Dove was mastering the art of Equine Intimidation on the narrow (to the bikers/hikers) trail. hee hee hee I think we made an impression that day.

OK I must admit I enjoyed that a wee tad. It worked out so well.

Big sigh and we were back on the trail ride and enjoying the lovely weather and beautiful scenery of our lovely Alhambra Valley.

Day 2 of last week's trail riding found us sojourning from the barn to my house! Yes my HOUSE! Because we are heading into our wet weather season and do not want to stop trail riding we thought it might be fun and dry to ride from my house into the park. So of course being the good girlscouts that we are (be prepared) we road the track in reverse first. Why not!
Here is the proof that we made it.

Along the way our ponies traversed uneven ground like no other. Instead of taking the designated paths we tried a little bushwacking - aka taking the deer trails or road less traveled. First we traveled a path near the backside of my neighbors house. Then we followed along the creek bed until we could cross and then high-tailed it up the little deer foot path to a small hill. Next we continued on second deer path and found ourselves with a decision- to double back or go straight up in true bushwacking style. You KNOW what decision we made. LOL like two young girls on our ponies we rode our steady steads straight up the soft but steep hill to the crest. Yeehaw our ponies were most excellent! They both had thoughts of cantering up the steep incline but at our slightest suggestion they dug their hindquarters in for a good slower climb instead.

So how did this make a difference you ask? Well prior to the bushwacking our ponies were plodding along in ho hum style. Like this was BORING them. Really now... boring? After a bit of bushwacking our ponies came back to life and were very interested in EVERYTHING TRAIL. Gotta love it.

The last little piece before we hit the road that leads to my house had this funky style mounting block that both our ponies were quite leary of. We played with it a bit and soon both of them wanted to step on it. Ok time to move on. Next we had a rickety gate with a tight squeeze and then a narrow path along a culvert. Lions and Tigers and Bears Oh My! Once we got to the road Miss Dove kicked in to Overdrive. Welcome my Rockstar!

She had a magnet attached to her nose because EVERY new thing HAD to be sniffed and investigated. Laughing all the way down the road I was. Guard rails- oh gotta sniff that..... big square gray utility covers - oh gotta sniff that.... drain covers- well kinda gotta sniff that.... logs oh SO have to go up and over those. OK 3 of of 4 types ain't bad my friends. My friend Laurie's horse being young wasn't so sure until she saw Dove sail over and around these things. I would have high fived you if you were there I was THAT proud of my pony.

So yes this was a great example that our horses need 80% consistency (same trail to start) and THEN the 20% variety (change it up in the middle or end) will be FUN for ALL!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Logging more trail miles

We were able to get in 2 more trail rides this week despite the rather warm temperatures. Today we started out much earlier and enjoyed a different energy in the woods. It is usually quiet in the afternoons as perhaps the little critters are resting. This morning they seemed to have an agenda. I took a little video as I was fascinated by how busy Dove's ears were. She is a great trail horse as she is quite aware and alert to everything - like an early warning system. She was slow to move out but did not hesitate to continue when I asked..... and then had to ask again in a few steps.... and again in a few steps. LOL. My friend asked me what I was giggling about so I explained I was playing with the 4 phases to "go." Miss Dove you are quite the persistent teacher!

We have certainly had a leisurely, fun time taking a break from our freestyle audition routine these past few weeks. However it does not mean my learning has been on hold. Quite the opposite really. Dove has been teaching me about the left brained introverted side of her. As I mentioned above, I am focusing on my phases and consistency. Oh Boy! While my friend's young horse is eager to move on our way out on the trail, Dove saves her energy for the trip home. :) She doesn't rush but she has a bigger walk and focus about her. So my lessons have been to NOT push her going out and NOT hold her back going home. Thank goodness for my friend Laurie and her horse Faith. They are super patient with us and have an ample sense of humor!

Next week we'll log some more trail miles in between audition routine practise. I am interested to see what I have learned and how it will improve my freestyle riding. Perhaps we'll trailer to the southwest park entrance for a new view?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Goofing off with great rewards!

So Thursday found me taking a break from trail riding with Dove. What should I do I asked myself? Cherokee my gelding gave me the answer. He had his head hanging over his gate with this "please pick me" look on his face. He really knows how to look pathetic. Smart little pony boy he is!

So I took him out for some fun! We saddled up and started with some passenger/guided riding in the round pen. It did not take long for him to start his displaced behavior of lowering his head and chewing the air with is mouth. He was a bit frustrated that our ranch hand & I were chatting about a broken fence. So I had Chero continue our trotting passenger lessons while I finished our chat. That gave Chero just enough change to enjoy moving about. But soon he was back to chewing again. Time for another change of scenery.

We played with opening the gate. Since we were in the round pen that is within a larger arena we had 2 gates to play with. We spent about 10 minutes getting our gate pattern worked out on the gate to the round pen and then about 20 minutes on the arena gate. He knew that the arena gate opened to the "world" so he was more anxious about just getting through it and OUT. Ahem Cherokee did you not view Pat's latest DVD on gates ... slow down and "take the time it takes...." LOL I was patiently persistent and soon he was in the proper position. Of course we backed out of the gate to avoid a hurry scurry exit. :) He offered a very nice low headed meandering back to his "hay bar." Th
e hay bar is a tack box filled with hay. My horses love to dive their noses into the hay and you can almost hear them sigh.

After I unsaddled him I spent about 20 minutes just sitting on him bareback while he munched out of the hay bar. Sort of some undemanding time. I say sort of because I found myself thinking of a "Can You" and then having to try it.

So Can You spin 360 degrees while sitting on your horse?

Today Dove & I joined my friend Laurie & her horse Faith for another trail ride in beautiful Briones Regional Park. Dove was so funny today as she kept stopping on our way up the steep hills. She basically had no go. At one point my friend asked me why I was giggling so I had to tell her that Dove used to be such a go-go pony that this whoa-whoa pony was a delight to be riding.

My challenge today was to NOT push her to continue but wait for her to stop and then ask her to go again... even if it was for only ONE step. LOL. With that I knew she'd make for an excellent videographer horse today. A great trade off if you ask me. ;)

We had a lovely 3 hour ride on the Toyon Canyon to Pine Tree Trail loop, stopping midway to dismount and have a quick picnic of power bars, tangerines, grapes and of course Dove's favorite - a pear. How she loves pears!

Here is a short video of our ride:

Along the way we met some other riders traveling in the opposite direction. At one point one of the riders noticed Dove was wearing a halter. She said "How nice to be able to ride in just a halter. Your horse must be real broke." To which I just smiled. :) At the end of the ride as we parted from our friend to head home Dove was happy to walk quietly back to the barn. A nice change after only the 5th trail ride session. The amazing power of patterns!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Trail riding F*U*N!

This week my steady eddy Dove & I have been enjoying the nearby trails. We took a much needed break from practising our Freestyle audition routine. All work and no play makes for dull partners. So last Sunday a small group from our barn took a walk together down the little bridle trail while I took video from atop my horse...... for the FIRST time! That was so much fun that I was giggly and silly most of the way. My horse realized quickly that her job was to focus on the trail because I was focused on figuring out how to hold the camera, get a good shot and still be attentive to my horse. By the end of the ride my shoulder and arm muscles were a bit tired and mind you I have a very small camera. LOL.

Here's a small clip of the pretty trail just down the lane.

On Monday Dove & I tried the same trail by ourselves. This is another FIRST and one I have prepared us for over several years. At times I thought perhaps it would be too much to even think of riding alone. The trail is short, safe and beautiful, however the canopy of trees makes it feel more like a tunnel. So for Dove it was a big confidence threshold. As I felt her relax more each trip with our friends, I realized she was ready to "try" going it just us two. My plan was to see how far she wanted to go and then turn around. Well folks we made it to the end of this little 1 mile trail. AWESOME! I really enjoy riding with friends, but there is something very special when it is just me and my horse. Something intimate and peaceful. Along the way we'd stop, relax, look around and take the trail in small sections. You know- eat the elephant one bite at at time. When a jogger and her dog came along, Dove sighed and wanted to move forward and follow them. Ah so that is what she was worried about.... something coming up from behind her. Her Zone 5 is very important to her. :) Now that it was over she could relax. How interesting!

Yesterday we rode the same trail with some friends (creating a nice trail pattern) and again my horse was very alert and aware but responsive and felt like a partner. There was alot of activity along the trail this day. Tractors moving big mounds of dirt, helicopters flying overhead, deer running about, and even men using saws to cut boards behind a large green container smack dab in the middle of the trail end. Bring it on! After reading Linda Parelli's lastest blog about how she helps her new horse West Point when he spooks, I did the same with Dove. Thank you Linda for this timely post!! Staying very present in the moment, doing what my horse needed me to do, give her nothing to brace against and spook with her. It became an Oh Boy moment for me.... oh boy I can help you. Empowering really. We all felt so good that my friend & I continued across the street to the regional park and rode the Orchard Trail loop. Again more helicopters, birds, deer, oh and this big wind had come up causing the trees to come alive. Dove was nervous and kept looking toward home, but she was responding to me and able to stand still and nibble the grass now and then. My athletic rockstar was still with me.

As we parted with our friend to head home Dove wanted to jog so we circled the orchard trees, practised our backup and sideways and soon she could walk home. I was thinking "You want to move your feet- me too! Let me help you move your feet more creatively Miss Dove." Again thank you Linda Parelli for the great post and ideas. Dove's walk was still lively, but once we crossed the road she relaxed. Nice! As we approached the barn there were about 1 dozen deer in the neighbors yard behind the slatted fence. Really I am not exaggerating I could not count all the deer. I thought perhaps the neighbor was getting into the deer rescue business. LOL. With the fence obscuring the view Dove was a bit jumpy so together we practised our herding patterns to move those deer who were hiding behind the fence. A little arc toward their Zone 1 and they'd stop. A little more toward Zone 1 and they'd turn. This little game helped Dove relax and soon she lowered her head and was ready to pass them and go home. Sweet! As part of our trail ride pattern we do a few minutes of precision work in the arena before unsaddling. This time Dove pushed the gate open! WOW she usually balks and braces as she'd rather get to her pen and eat some hay. Inside we played with a bit of shoulder-in along the fence and upon leaving once again Dove was helping me by pushing the gate. The really cool part was that this time as we were closing it she side passed back to it herself! She even waited for me to "pet the gate" which is part of our gate pattern. WOW this response from my horse was incredible. I felt like I had a glimpse of understanding what her idea was in that moment. This was the highlight of my day.

This morning my friend & I will hit the trails again with our pretty ponies. Mother Nature held back the showers and is affording us one more play day in her back yard.