Tuesday, July 22, 2014
It occurred to me in retrospect that yesterday's blog post didn't dwell enough on Sunday's canter out on the trail. This is something that I'm generally somewhat uneasy about even on "normal" horses, especially since a lot of the people I tend to trail ride with like to flat-out race at a full gallop, which when your horse a half-thoroughbred can be interesting to say the least. And another thing - falling off at a controlled, 15 mph canter when you're in a soft sandy and above all closed arena is really something I've made my peace with. But falling off at 30 mph onto hard rocks and sharp woody bushes, when your spooky horse has the freedom to decide to hoof it back to the stable along and across country highways? Not so much. Don't get me wrong - some my most thrilling, enduring and enjoyable horsey memories are of amazing gallops across fields and through wooded paths. For example, the first time I realized how much I loved to ride was when my pony took off with 5-year-old me and galloped back to the stable - throughout my childhood on the few and far between trail rides I took I'd (unsuccessfully) try to secretly spook my horse into running away with me. And cross-country jumping seems to me like it must be just about the funnest thing you can do with a horse. It's just that the galloping on trails and I have a complicated relationship based on nearly equal proportions of glee and fear.
So when I was confident enough to suggest a little canter on Sunday's trail ride, I was pretty proud of myself, especially since René is someone who likes to turn any cantering into a race. But he very generously agreed to stay behind and let us stay in front, and Starbuck was behaving very well at walk and trot. So when we got to a good spot with about half a mile of clear, fairly straight trail with good footing ahead of us, I nudged her up into a canter. At first she was like "Really? You want me to go faster? Out here!?!" and mostly just stayed in a fast trot, but I gave her a little rein and kept asking for just a little more and she broke into a lovely, rhythmic and controlled canter. Then back to a trot which I used to change leads and once again there we were, at a canter again. I tried to let her have as much rein as possible especially since on the trail with all the pebbles and brush it's harder for her to balance than in the arena, and at a certain point I realized "This is it, we're cantering!" and went into two-point for a while to free up her back and just enjoy the moment. Then we got to some curves and low-overhanging trees and I slowed her down into a trot and then a walk without any trouble at all. What a feeling! I had a huge smile on my face as I gave her a good long neck rub and thanked René for his help.
We walked for 30 minutes or so and then came to another good canter spot, this time headed uphill and on the way back to the stable. Not surprisingly, this time she was a little harder to control. By this I mean she pulled a little harder on the reins and wanted to go a fair amount faster than I wanted her to, and that when it was time to slow back down to a walk it took us a little longer than before. I also lost a stirrup, which might have had something to do with it - obviously the seat aids which I rely on a lot for slowing down are not going to be as clear if I'm fishing around for the stirrup with my left foot. But still, she behaved very well with no bucking, headshaking, crowhopping, spooking or zig-zagging and I never got that "Oh my God I have no brakes" feeling you get with some horses out on the trail. Proud of myself, extremely proud of her and absolutely thrilled about all the cross-country canters we have in our future.