Saturday, September 24, 2011

I stayed on!!

Interesting title of this post, no?

Well, let's talk about that. Today, a Poker Ride was held. A Poker Ride is a type of event that is done either on foot, in car, or on horse, or other type of conveyance for fun. Basically you are give a playing card in a sealed envelope at different stops along a preset route and when you finish the course, you compile your cards together to create a poker hand, hopefully a good one. The person who gets the best hand wins a prize, and it's pretty much all by luck, since you don't get to see your cards until the very end. Since this poker ride was on horseback, the envelopes containing the cards were put into large bags hung from trees, so you didn't have to get off and get back on your horse.

So this morning, after grabbing coffee and a bagel, I and my barn mates headed off to this poker ride. It was on a pretty wooded trail that at some points followed a creek, and for a little bit, followed a paved bike path. I didn't get a ton of pictures, and I'll tell you why shortly.

After registration and number assignment, (I was assigned number ominous hint to turn around and go home maybe? hmmm) we tacked up and Altivo seemed very nervous. There was a road near the staging area that he didn't like, and he decided to back up in fear for a few moments. I calmed him, and after riding him around for a few minutes, he seemed ok, so we set out on the trail.

Oh! Also for funsies, along certain points of the trail, judged obstacles were set up that you could opt to take your horse through for points, and the person with the highest points would win a prize.

Now, the first bag of cards was tacked on a tree on a narrow spot on the trail, and at this point, dear Altivo decided this was not where he wanted to be. He began to back up, and not having enough time to see what was behind us, I decided to duck into his neck and turtle myself as best I could. I asked him to move forward, and he refused. I dug my heels into him, and he stood still, having been stopped by a large tree, where his butt was firmly pressed. One of my trailmates helped pull him out of the brush, and while he was still somewhat upset, he carried on, and we met up with the first obstacle, which was about 50 plastic milk jugs, the one gallon size.
The object was to walk through the milk jugs calmly and without fuss. He was panicking about something, so I fought with him for a few moments, and once I got his focus back, we walked through the milk jugs perfectly.
He likes plowing through things.

The next trail obstacle came up- a truck with a small boombox on the top of it, playing a tape of vicious sounding dogs barking.
We walked by it, like a boss.

The trail was peaceful and becoming prettier by the moment, when we saw our next hurdle. The trail led us down into a dry creek bed, over which passed a road, held up by a concrete and steel bridge. A plain, sturdy overpass to you and I.
A creaky, unsafe, untested, and certainly horse-eating monster of a contraption that should be avoided at all costs to Altivo.
He stopped and looked at the bridge with concern.

Altivo: Whoa! What the....??!?!?!?
Me: It's a bridge. We just go down there and go under it. So go.
Altivo: Hell no! It'll eat me alive! How do I know I'll come out the other side?
Me: It's just a bridge, really. Let's stand here and watch it. See? It doesn't move. We'll be fine.
Altivo: Um, I'm almost certain that it's evil! Evil bridge!! It moved!! It's gonna kill us!!!
Me: No it won't! Now, listen here!
Altivo: EVIL!! RUN AWAY!!!!!!

And he did. Run. Although first he reared up, gave a half buck, and then turned around, and took off the opposite direction of the bridge. Now, I've been taught, that when your horse spooks, you do what's called an emergency one rein stop. Here's a link to a video I found that will help explain it.
I tried that, and couldn't reach forward for enough rein to pull on one side- I wasn't prepared for his spook like I should have been. Also, I was riding him in his bosal, which I now know, wasn't giving me enough control to make his head (and focus) swing around to me.
So off he goes, with me as an unwilling copilot, and I'm frightened, sure, but most of all, during the whole thing, I was ANGRY. How dare this horse not trust me to make sure he's not being eaten by a bridge? How dare he think I would put him into a situation like that? As I was hanging on for dear life for a tour through waist high sticker bushes, I reached up to grab the bridle at his poll. (the poll is the top of his head, sort of between his ears but a teeny bit back)
I was grinding out choice profanity at him through clenched teeth as he ran, and I yanked on one side of the reins with my left hand, my right struggling to hold on to his mane and bridle. Finally, he slowed, and gave another buck. His decrease in speed gave me enough time to grab more rein and yank, which caused my right foot to fall out of the stirrup, which made me angrier. I grabbed enough for him to realize he had to stop, and he finally halted. I sat there in the saddle for a second, and what do you know? That jerk of a horse, who, 30 seconds prior had been SO worried about a murderous road fixture, started to eat the weeds he was now standing in.
Of course.
I took this moment to collect as much thought in my brain as I could, and my inner voice of reason said, ok, now get off while you can and get back to the trail, you aren't going to get him under that bridge with you on him. I dismounted, apparently very gracefully, as some onlookers noted, and walked him back to the trail, through the sticker bushes and weeds.
My trail companions, by this time, realized I was NOT on the other side of the bridge, and were waiting for me with concern. Did I fall off, everyone wanted to know? Was I injured? No fall, and the only thing injured was my confidence in my mount.

We proceeded on foot, under the bridge, which he was still not happy about, but he did it, and up the other side. A short ways ahead, we found a log that served as a good mounting block, and I got back on, not completely out of determination to "get back on the horse", but also because I didn't fancy walking the rest of the course on foot. My hands were shaking so hard I had a hard time mounting, but I did it with one of my buddies holding the beast.
I was still shaking when we arrived at the next obstacle, a water task. The challenge was to walk into a small creek, then out of it. I opted not to participate, still trying to calm my nerves.
We found more bags of cards, and the next obstacle was a large log that your horse needed to hop over, or in Altivo's case, walk over calmly. No problemo! We had to cross a busy road, over yellow handicap ramps, on pavement, and he did well.
The last obstacle was a large tarp on the ground, which he also walked calmly over.

In fact, after his freak out, he was pretty good on the trail, and I was hyper-vigilant about everything, even planning escape routes off him if he took off again. 

So what happened?

Well, for starters, he hasn't been on a trail in about a year. The last ride I went on, he was having lameness issues, so he couldn't go, and the last ride before this one today, I already had family plans, and I couldn't go. So trail time for either one of us isn't what it could have been. Also, I have always been confident that he's "bomb proof", which as I should have known, really isn't a guarantee for anything. Yes, I think, in my limited scope of things, he is pretty laid back, and not a lot fazes him, but I can't assume that he'll feel that way about everything in the world, especially since that's an unfair expecation to place on him, a prey animal. It also gives me false assurance, which can leave me unprepared for emergencies.

1: Not enough trail time.
2: Should have had him in a bit because of reason 1.
3: Not thinking ahead, assuming he'd be ok with anything thrown at him.

What did I do right?

For starters, I wore a helmet. Next, I tried to keep a clear head when he was running, and while it took me a moment, I executed a one rein stop, which stopped him. (Or maybe the realization that he was standing in a field of food. Let's go with the one rein stop idea.) Finally, I got back on him. I didn't let my nerves and new fear stop me from enjoying the rest of the ride.

So that was my day. I'm now mentally exhausted, and I'm waiting for my muscles to kick in and start complaining. I'm considering sending him to trail school, where someone with more guts and experience will ride him around trails till he's better about scary things.

Oh, and the kicker? After we got back and I untacked him, he ate lunch like nothing had ever tried to eat him.

Silly sweaty horse.

Monday, September 19, 2011

So how y'all doin?

So my sister has a niece. For her birthday, my sister and I decided to take her niece on a trail ride. She doesn't get to ride too much, so this was an event that she way waaaay excited about. (ok, I was disgustingly stoked too!) It would've been better on my horse, but hey, trail rides is trail rides, am I right?

We went to Copper Valley Trail Company, in a tiny town called Copperopolis. Yes, it's a real town!! After going over basic safety precautions, we were each assigned a horse or mule. After learning that I have a Percheron that I ride regularly, I was assigned a half Draft horse named Ocho. I'm not really sure that there was a reason for it, other than I like tall Drafties, since I'm sure that any horse on their string was completely dead broke in a windchime factory on a rainy day during an earthquake. No matter, I was just excited to be out on a horse. We rode for around an hour up and down hills, across streams and through fields. It was so relaxing, it just made me wish I were out on Altivo, on our pace and terms.

The trail boss was knowledgeable and friendly, and I have to say, if I were needing to take visitors out on a trail ride, they'd be my first choice.

So I went on a short vacation, as I'm sure you noticed, right? Anyway, during my absence, we visited South Carolina, and I ended up not riding for TWO whole weeks!! Thankfully, I asked one of the girls at the barn to ride my boy for me while I was gone.
You know, I think I read somewhere about a study of horses and their long term memory, and apparently it seemed that they DO remember people from their early stages of life, so I figured two weeks shouldn't fade the beast's memory that much.
Ok, ok, so it didn't. But my first day back to the barn, I decided just hopping on and going for a ride probably wasn't the smartest idea. I decided to round pen him
That's where you put the horse in a round fenced area, and, using a really long whip, your hands, and voice, you control which direction he runs, how fast, and when he can stop. It's not necessarily for exercise, but more for the psychological control of it. In the horse world, people say it teaches the horse to respect your cues and directions.
In Altivo's world, it's a major inconvenience, and usually he just plugs through my direction, as if to say, "Okay, stoopid human, I'll let you think you're doing something meaningful here, if only to get you to be done sooner."
However, this time he threw a few kicks as soon as I asked him to canter, which are usually interpreted as a temper tantrum. After his fits, he settled down and seemed fine.
I ordered new reins from Handmade Homestead, which is where his Bosal came from, that fancy nose piece that directs his head without a bit in his mouth. They are a perfect fit, which is good, since we are going on a trail ride this weekend!! Whooooooohooooo!!!
I'll bring pictures back, I promise!

That's it for now, but I'll return soon to tell you the Tale of the Tiniest Saddle Ever. I leave you with a picture of my niece, her friend, and yours truly in the far back!