While I've missed riding, I haven't felt guilty about not riding. If endurance has taught me anything, it's that rest is just as valuable as work, and it takes much less time to get a horse fit than most people think. So when the temperature plummeted and the winds ratcheted up a level or twenty, I kindly flipped the bird to any and all riding plans. Riding in sub-zero temperatures with added extreme windchill is not my idea of enjoyment after a mentally taxing day at the office, moreso when I know I have a 40-minute commute over five mountains through the thick of snow-country in West Virginia on curvy two-lane and one-lane roads in order to get home from work/the barn.
Fortunately, by some grand coincidence, I wasn't scheduled to work on either mountain I ski patrol at during MLK weekend. With the knowledge that I'd be working every day of my following weekend, I decided horse time was a must. Bonus? The weather even looked nice with winds less than 15 mph and temperatures above zero and the promise of some sunny periods.
Lauren's been relegated to really slow, menial work with her horse for a few months now due to a variety of circumstances, so I knew she'd probably be game to come ride one of my horses with me. As expected, she jumped on the opportunity and, bonus, was free both Saturday and Monday to put in some miles. When I offered Stan or Griffin for Lauren to ride, I was pleasantly surprised when she chose Griffin. She noted that while she loves Stan, his long back makes his canter a bit harder for her to ride and she isn't in great shape after so much time off from riding. Griffin needs the workout more than Stan, so this sounded perfect to me!
Both days, we headed to the rail trail. The minimal grade and easy footing make it great for the horses, but mostly it's about all I have access to at the moment without trailering out somewhere. I'll happily trailer out more once our world thaws, but right now, most trails I'd travel to are guaranteed to have some significantly icy sections. I have traveled a lot of gnarly terrain on horseback, but ice is something I have little desire to encounter.
On Saturday, we tackled 10¼ miles in 1 hour, 37 minutes. We trotted the majority of the time, though we did fit in some nice canter stretches in the second half of the ride before spending the final 1½ miles cooling out at a walk. Both horses were very good with lots of "go" left at the end - just the way I like it!
Each day, when we left the barn, Q led for the first mile or two. She was cautious, but forward and willing with some moments of oggling and balking, but no spooking, polite or dirty. #progress I didn't want to push her past her limit with leading and being good, so after we were officially off farm property and underway, I sent Lauren and Griffin to the front where they would remain for most of the ride. Q led again for about a mile in the middle of the ride and once more for the final 2 miles of the ride. Each time, she was looky, but very good.
On Monday, we returned and tackled 16½ miles in about 2 hours, 20 minutes (my watch died partway through). Q led a significant (for her) amount this ride and totally blew me away. She's still a total looky-loo, but her reactions to things are so subdued to what they once were! She maintained a beautiful 9.5+ mph trot for multiple sustained periods.
|In other news, I freaking love this riding skirt and will do a review|
once I've put in some more rides in varied conditions
We had some "moments" on this ride when Griffin couldn't handle some very aggressive chained GSDs that people have along the trail. Frankly, I can't blame him because the dogs' behavior chilled me to the bone as they snarled and spit and thrashed about at the end of their chains. Fortunately, Q stepped up to the plate in a remarkable way. She "saw red" as I call it when she completely loses the hamsters in her brain, but remarkably, she got her shit together and came back to me with minimal fuss. I was then able to get Q to march forward along the trail as far away as we could be from the dogs.
With Q in front, Griffin was able to muster through and get past the dogs, though he then decided to spook at about a dozen inane things afterward due to his nerves being in a tizzy. Not wanting to deal with his behavior further - or subject Lauren to it - I pushed Q into the lead....where she'd stay for a few miles!
We reached our turn around point about 1½ miles after the dogs. We turned for home, put in a couple canter sets, slowed to pass the dogs (with much less fanfare on Griffin's part), and then proceeded homeward with lots of canter sets along the way before cooling out at a walk and trot for the final 2 miles (where Q led again).
I'm so pleased that I was able to get in 26+ miles with Q and Griffin over the long weekend. I'm also happy I got to put in so much saddle time after an extended break! But more than both of those things, I'm psyched because - wait for it - I had fun riding Q.
I honestly cannot tell you the last time I had fun riding that horse. Well, actually, no, I can tell you. It was the final 6½ miles of the OD 100 in the wee morning hours on June 12, 2016. That's 582 days for those of you doing the math. 1 year, 7 months, and 3 days.
Certainly, she was out with her suspensory injury for the large majority of that time, but once she was healed I rode a fair bit. And each ride was a chore - more mental than physical - as I struggled to find the desire or joy in working with her that I once had. Her behavior and reactions and my accompanying behavior and reactions had spent so long swirling around in a bad place that it was hard to pull free of the negative feedback loops we found ourselves in. Of course, as the human with a larger, more complex brain, the burden fell on me to set things on a better path, but it wasn't easy.
But now? Now I can say - with a large amount of certainty! - that we have arrived in a better place.
The good outweighs the bad when I spend time with Q now. We've still got a ways to go, but I don't feel like the ultimatum I made to help stay sane these past few months of working with her (offer her for sale the end of the year) will come to fruition now. My little mare and I have found a good place again and while I know there will be some bobbles, I'm confident we can work through them.
And damn, it feels good to be able to say that!