I convinced a couple of other boarders at my barn to join me this year, and the three of us headed over a little before 11 am. Like last year, the start time of the ride was a bit fluid, so we ended up getting out on the trail at around 11:30. Unlike last year, the footing was fairly firm, so our pace was a little faster. We still mostly walked, but we did get a few good solid trot/canter sections in, which I was happy about. I only let Nimo canter in one section for a short time because I was still a little gun shy after The Incident a few weeks ago, which resulted in me parting company with my horse at a speed other than zero miles per hour. Nimo did well at the canter, though, with no sign of wanting to crow-hop or buck.
There was one section of the trail where we went through a small ditch (no water) while turning a corner where Nimo would normally have slowed from our brisk trot to a careful walk, but he decided to keep moving through it, and he did give a little hop coming up from the ditch. I was expecting that, though, because it was a new-to-him maneuver, and I suspected he would be a little uncomfortable. He did just fine with his balance and I stayed on too, so that ended up working out well. I'm trying to get in the habit of letting him choose his pace whenever possible, unless it feels unsafe to me or I think he's rushing because he's anxious about being left behind. In this case, he was motivated (but not out of control) to keep up with the 5 or 6 horses in front of us, but I felt like that motivation was a good thing and helped him get through an obstacle that normally would have intimidated him a bit. He didn't feel panicked, just determined, so I wanted to let him move out.
About 3 miles in to the ride, the trail went not only through a creek, but stayed in the creek for about 100 feet. The creek wasn't too deep, although it probably did get to about 3 feet deep at one point. Last year, I was pretty sure Nimo was going to roll in it, although I got him through it without ending up in the water. This year, he did still paw a bit, but his desire to lay down was much more muted and he seemed happy to just slowly wander through it. It was a nice way to cool the horses down because the temperature was probably at about 90 by that point and the humidity wasn't doing us any favors either. We stopped just after the creek in a lovely little meadow to wait for our 4-wheeler escort to get in front of us to open a gate. (We were riding through many different pieces of private property with permission, and part of the coordination of the ride involved sending people ahead to open and close gates.)
|Grassy/shady field where we stopped for a break|
At this point, we were about halfway through the ride, and there were volunteers with water, soda, Gatorade, and snacks. We took about a 15 minute break, and then headed out. I should mention that I found the two breaks we took completely unnecessary, and the endurance rider in me was chafing at waiting, but it was good to teach Nimo to wait and many of the horses on the trail were not endurance horses and probably needed a short rest, particularly because of the heat.
The rest of the ride went faster, particularly when Nimo took the lead. We'd been trotting down a private driveway and approached a small, regional airport. Last year, Nimo really took off at this point in the ride (perhaps sensing we were nearing the end and also he was desperate to catch the 4-wheeler in the lead). This year, the ladies I was riding with actually slowed to a walk. Nimo wanted to keep trotting, though, so I let him. I knew the way from that point and Nimo was asking to trot, not pulling or demanding it, so I wanted to see what he would do.
He trotted slowly (for him, anyway), and after being well in front for several minutes, a couple of other riders cantered/galloped up and past us. Their horses couldn't handle being behind, I guess. I loved that Nimo let himself be passed by a galloping horse without any change in pace. I realize that passing like that is poor trail etiquette, but I welcomed the opportunity to test Nimo, and he did great. Ideally, I want Nimo to be the kind of horse who can handle any terrain and any pace and any ill-mannered idiots out on the trail because it is going to happen. He's still not there yet, but it is moments like this one where I couldn't be happier with how he is doing.
We did a couple more trot sets, including one that was on a wide, mowed path through a field with woods on one side. The path wound around, so there were blind corners, which made it seem more challenging (and more fun!). And there were 2-3 horses in front of and next to or just behind us, but Nimo kept a nice steady, brisk trot through the whole trotting session, again even as other horses changed position around us and cantered or even galloped. It was a nice way to finish the ride. The group I was with ended up cutting off the last 2 miles of the ride because no one wanted to wait for a gate to be opened, and honestly, it was just plain hot and miserable outside. We certainly could have done the extra 2 miles, but finishing up with 10 miles was fine with me because I was done with being outside. We've been having unusually hot and humid weather almost all of May and my body is completely rejecting acclimating to it.
So Nimo redeemed himself after our last organized ride and behaved just like I expected and hoped for. He was motivated to keep up with the group, but not out of control, and he handled the change of position and pace of the horses around us very well. I don't think we've ever been passed by a galloping horse before, and it happened maybe 3 times on this ride, with Nimo never batting an eye, so I'm thrilled with that response.
What I'm not thrilled about is the heat. I'll admit that I haven't been riding as much as I should have been because of the heat these past few weeks. I just wasn't prepared for the 90 plus degree days and increase in humidity. We've been having July/August weather, and I don't like it. In fact, I ended up feeling pretty ill for several hours after this ride, despite drinking even more water than I usually would. It looks like temps are going to cool down a bit this week, but otherwise I may have to get some kind of portable AC unit in order to keep riding this summer...or possibly I am going to move some place cooler, like the equator...