Monday, March 18, 2019

A Dry Spell

Since the beginning of last May, the state of Virginia has been inundated with rain.  We've seldom gone more than 2 or 3 days without it for over 10 months.  At first, it wasn't so bad, but over time, the massive amounts of rainfall (we set a new record for most rainfall ever received in recorded history in 2018), got to be too much and mud was everywhere.  Plus a warm winter meant that the ground rarely froze and we lived with the mud through the winter.  Nimo has spent the majority of his time basically coated in mud.  I couldn't bathe him because he would just go back out in it and even if he didn't roll in it, it would splash all over his legs and tail.

Finally this past weekend was rain free and the entire week going forward is projected to be rain free.  <insert celebratory cheering>  Warm temperatures in the upper 60s and low 70s also meant that the ground started to dry out.

Nimo and I haven't been out on the trails for weeks because of the weather, the footing, and my schedule.  So yesterday, I cleared my schedule and retrieved Nimo for a much-needed trip down the trails.  We went to the Phelps Wildlife Management Area that is near where I board, so I could spend less time on the road and more time riding.  Also, the trails there were well-suited to what I wanted to accomplish.

Nimo's collected trot in the arena has been getting better and better.  And easier and easier.  So I really wanted to try it out on the trails.  I've been using the Pignot jog on the trails up to this point, and that has been working, but I admit to being a bit tired of two gaits - medium walk and Pignot jog.  I'm hoping to add canter into this mix soon, and if I want to ride with other people, I need to make sure Nimo's trot is very adjustable.

My instructor said that what she typically does is trot her horse very slowly while the horses she is riding with are walking.  I definitely ride with people who have horses that walk quickly and Nimo had a hard time keeping up before our Science of Motion work.  Now, his walk is too slow for all but the most pokey of cow ponies.  So, we need to be able to trot while others walk in order for the pacing to work out reasonably well.

The first step is to get Nimo used to using collected trot out on the trail.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I figured we would never get the hang of it if we didn't try.

I made it to Phelps at around 10:30 in the morning and was surprised to find myself all alone in the parking lot.  I had parked at one of the more frequently-used lots because it has a good 6-mile out-and-back trail that I thought would work best for my little experiment.  I couldn't believe that a sunny, 50-degree day wouldn't bring out every equestrian within a 20-mile radius, so I checked the board to make sure that horse-riding hadn't suddenly been banned without my knowledge (there has been some drama between the horse riders and hunters that use the park and I'm not sure how it will end).  But horse riding was still a clearly marked use and no signs indicated an event, so I decided I was just lucky and got Nimo tacked up.

When we first headed out on the trail, I could tell Nimo was lacking some confidence, probably because it has been a while since he's been out on the trail by himself.  So I decided we would walk for awhile and I didn't ask for anything specific.  I just let him walk and chill and get used to the trail again.
We passed the gorgeous pond that is typically stocked for fishing.  But no one was fishing today!
Then I asked for a little Pignot jog for a few short stretches and he was doing well, but still quite alert.  I wasn't sure he would have the focus we needed for collected trot, but I found a fairly level section of trail and decided to ask for it and see what happened.  He did give me the collection I asked for but he was definitely a bit more animated than in the arena.  It wasn't quite the ultra smooth movement I've gotten used to, but it wasn't bad.

This was much prettier in person.  The tops of the trees in the distance look red and orange because they are starting to bud out.  And the Blue Ridge Mountains are just barely visible in the far center.
We kept going and I alternated between asking for Pignot jog and collected trot for short stretches.  Nimo's brain was not as focused as I would have liked, but I chalked it up to being out on the trail for the first time in a while and decided we would walk to the end of the trail and try trotting again when we turned around.

That worked much better.  Once we'd turned around, Nimo stopped seeing potential threats in every shadow and behind every bush and focused on Returning to the Trailer.  Now I was able to get trotting for longer stretches of trail and we could focus a bit more on the quality of movement.  And I was surprised to discover that Nimo started offering collected trot without me even asking.  It was a bit too strong and animated in many cases, but there was enough there to work with and I was able to get some really nice collection from him without a lot of pressure on the "bit."

I was actually riding in my trusty hackamore, another thing I haven't used in awhile.  We've been using the double bridle almost exclusively for a couple of months because I've finally gotten to the point where I can feel the difference between the double bridle and using the Baucher snaffle alone.  It's not really anything that I can put my finger on, but I feel like collection is a bit easier with the double bridle even though I think I use less pressure with it.  I'm not really sure how simply carrying two bits instead of one would make that difference (especially because I'm convinced I am still not nuanced enough with the use of my hands and reins to fully utilize the two bits), but it seems to.

Anyway, I am not interested in using a double bridle out on the trail at this point.  I can't imagine how Nimo would eat and drink.  For short rides, it probably isn't a big deal, but anything over an hour, and I want Nimo to be able to eat grass on the trail and drink if he wants to.  And I was curious to see how things worked with the hackamore.

My conclusion:  I didn't notice a big difference between the hackamore and the Baucher.  Nimo is working primarily off of my body language now, so I think any kind of pressure on his head, whether it is through a noseband or bit is enough to convey the message that I need more lift from his withers or more collection.  I used probably 1-2 pounds of pressure on the reins when I was asking for collection at the trot or asking him to improve his coordination during the walk.  That is not much different than what I would use with a snaffle.  It is a little heavier than what I would use with a double bridle, but I also think that over time, I will need less pressure when Nimo understands what I'm looking for.  And we even did have a few moments of what I consider "lightness" when my reins have no pressure at all and Nimo is holding himself together.

We worked on collected trot for probably about a 2-mile stretch of trail.  Nimo trotted most of it, slowing to a walk only for creek crossings and obstacles.  And the tractor.  That's right.  We encountered a full-sized tractor hauling a trailer with either a fertilizer or water container on it.  We were unfortunately on a section of trail that doesn't have a lot of room on either side, either due to trees or dense brush.  The last time we saw a tractor in this type of situation was when Nimo was four years old and I was out riding him around the immense facility that I boarded him at. (It was an old Thoroughbred breeding farm that had eleven different boarding facilities contained within it.)  Back then, when Nimo saw the tractor, he did a 180-degree spin and bolted.  He galloped for over a half mile before I was able to get him slowed down.

So I had a little bit of an unpleasant sensation when I saw the tractor.  But Nimo simply slowed to a walk and then a halt while the tractor slowed to a stop and the operator cut the engine.  Nimo took his time to pass it, but he never tried to spin or bolt and we passed it with probably 5 feet of clearance.  I was so proud of him.  I'm sure it's because the farm I keep him at now uses big tractors a lot for moving hay and manure, so he sees them around.  But none have ever been as close to him as this one was, and while the collected trot work was cool, going by this tractor was the highlight of the ride for me.  I love seeing how far this horse has come!

We finished the ride in about an hour and forty five minutes and I could tell Nimo was a bit tired.  Had I let him do the distance in his own haphazard and uncoordinated way like I used to, I'm certain he would have sailed through it like it was nothing.  But asking for collection for a big part of the ride was apparently a lot of work!  I'm excited to see what we can do on future rides now.  And I'm doubly excited that we might be able to reconnect with some of our riding buddies at some point later this year and be able to use correct movement for us and still maintain pace that works with other horses:)

1 comment:

  1. You have a beautiful countryside to ride in, thank you for sharing the photos. Please keep blogging, these breaks are hard on me.