Sunday, May 22, 2011

Road Work Ahead

Continuing my plan to make road riding a smaller deal, I rode Sofie out late in the afternoon last week. The weather was being mildly threatening so I walked her a tiny bit in the yard and then went past the mailbox and onto the road. She seemed quite calm, so I figured we could get right to it before possibly being rained on.

There was no activity on the road, and we were both pretty relaxed and nonchalant. We got to the end of the road with no issues, and I decided to push it a little and take the next step on our road work improvement plan. I kept her going and turned onto the next road, which is just a short, straight road before the highway. I had avoided it because the shoulder looked pretty much nonexistent, and I don’t like the sensation of riding on pavement. It’s just a less inviting road than the one we usually ride on. But I was ready to try it.

I discovered, pleasantly enough, that the shoulder was actually sufficient enough to ride on (it helps that Sofie’s base narrow). We didn’t really have wiggle room, but at least we weren’t on pavement. I could tell that Sofie was nervous, but she was really being good for me.

We got a good way down the road before she started to get really edgy. It wasn’t so much being within sight of the highway that bothered her (she gave it a look, but it didn’t stop her in her tracks or anything). The houses are closer together (and closer to the road) on this road, and I think that was a little intimidating for her. She started giving the houses a hard look, and then she went into her “stop and stare” routine. I got her to go forward a little at a time, but she was really rigid and preoccupied with something ahead. I realized there were two kids playing in their yard (throwing a Frisbee and shrieking). Sofie doesn’t really approve of kids, and she definitely does not approve of people in yards (that’s our main issue, not traffic or anything). So I sat there on her, trying to figure out the best way to handle this. I decided not to try to get her past the house with the kids (possibly leading to a major freakout), so, satisfied that she had at least paid attention to me and gone further than she wanted to, I carefully turned her around. Of course, she immediately got really anxious and tried to rush home, so I had to pull quite a bit on the outside rein to keep her from taking off. It was a little tense getting back down that road, but fortunately she did listen to my (shall we say “pronounced”) rein aids and she did not go faster than a jiggy trot/walk. I released when I could but I had to hold her back most of the way. Fortunately she’s gotten more comfortable with contact and I can actually hold her back when I need to without her getting angry.

Once we turned onto our road, she was fine, and I let out the reins and patted her a lot. We made it back and did a little sitting trot in the yard, then quit for the night. I’m proud of us for being able to go further and cope with scary eeeevil playing children (well, I’m not sure how well she coped, but she didn’t kill me so WIN!) and while we are definitely NOT ready to ride down the highway or anything, I think we’ll continue working on this.

The next time I went out it was raining, the yard was squishy, and I figured I had already made enough divots in the barn owner’s yard (as evidenced by her super tactful, way-too-nice hints to that effect). So, back to the indoor it was. Blargh. I was really not thrilled to have to put us back in the box, but it turned out to be a good opportunity to figure some stuff out. Sometimes arena rides are good for that.

Sofie was on a bit of a tear that day and even though I free schooled her she still had too much energy. As a result she wasn’t into flexing, and when I tried to move her off my leg she just went faster. I felt like I was fighting with her, and it seemed like we had absolutely nothing. The only good thing was that she picked up the canter with minimal resentment. I was getting myself into a bad place mentally when my mom showed up. I complained that I couldn’t get her to move off my leg, and she commented that I should try it in walk first. Then she left, and after I thought about it for a minute I brought Sofie down to a walk and tried to teach her how to leg yield. She got it in no time and was moving off my leg in both directions, no problem. I was delighted to have moved past negativity and actually achieved something. By the end of the ride I’d gotten Sofie to move off my leg in all three gaits.

Next time we rode the ground was still a bit too soft, and although the sun was out, the wind was brutal, so we returned to the indoor. I felt like I had been overusing my hands a bit, so I decided to keep my hands quiet and communicate more with leg aids. Sofie, being a smart mare, had really figured out the leg yielding thing, so instead of trying to mess with flexion I just turned her with leg aids and let my hands stay quiet. She did really well with this, and I worked on using leg for turning as well as moving over (both onto and off the rail). I was actually able to move her all the way from the centerline to the rail. I don’t know if we were doing a correct leg yield at any point, but I think there was some crossing over. She wasn’t quite straight, but she lead with her front end, which I think is fairly acceptable at this stage.

At the trot she was quite soft and relaxed, and moved off my leg when I asked her to. She went along in a nice, long frame, and she pretty much went to the contact. I didn’t do any canter work, I just focused on softness and leg yielding. I also was able to ride without stirrups the entire 45 minutes which pleased me. It was just a very nice, relaxed, satisfying ride.

When we ventured back out into the yard I tried to retain some of that feeling, and mainly use my legs for steering. Sofie was more inverted outside, but she wasn’t too bad. I didn’t have to use my hands overly much, and she listened well to my leg which really helped keep her drifting in check. She felt pretty straight much of the time. She seemed in a good mood that day and I really enjoyed our ride.

I asked her to canter several times, and she listened great, only needing a touch of whip once. She only bucked once and her attitude was greatly improved. She was quite responsive and willing. It was so nice! It’s great to have the confidence to ask for the canter, and she’s finally starting to let go of her bad attitude.

I had thought about chickening out and not going on the road, but when I was done in the yard I decided to ride down the road after all. But I turned right at the end of the driveway instead of left, which is the way I usually go. I thought it would be good practice to ride her in a place she’d never seen before, and I wanted to try something new. Sofie was a little apprehensive once we left the border of the yard behind and she had a brief startle (which really helped me stay calm) but we got past the first house without incident (that’s another reason I hadn’t gone that way before…another boarder had a bad experience when she rode past that house and a dog started barking and jumping against the door, but the dog didn’t make a peep when we rode past). She was really good as we went further, although I could tell she was a little like “This isn’t where we ride. Are you sure about this?”

The road wasn’t too bad to ride on, and the shoulder was decent. We went a good ways down before I elected to turn around. I could hear guys working on a car up ahead and they weren’t easily visible due to thick tree growth. What with Sofie’s propensity to wig out at people in yards, I didn’t feel like riding her through a freakout on our first time down that part of the road. In the future I know I will have to deal, but I want to get a little more road mileage first.

The ride back was uneventful. Once back in the yard I congratulated us on another accomplishment. All the variety made those rides very fulfilling and I’m glad we’ve been able to expand our trails. I hope to keep doing so. It makes our time together much more interesting, and “interesting” is kind of our thing.

No comments:

Post a Comment