Monday, November 21, 2011

Start Of Winter Rides

The winter has been mild so far, with cold temperatures but little snow. I’ve been riding mostly in the indoor, but I did get out on one clear, cold, slightly blustery day. Sofie was a little silly and spooky on the trail, but we wandered around the valley and the surrounding area. I did a little dressage work in the valley, which went nicely, and once again I had her canter for a short distance. I also stayed on her back when we rode down the hill to the valley, and she managed. By the end of the ride I felt that I’d tested her and definitely stretched her, but not to the point of overkill. I wanted to give her a definite workout that day as I didn’t anticipate getting out again for three days.

The weather turned out not to be hideous that week, so after giving her the customary day off I enlisted my dad to take me out there again. I had been on the fence about going, but I was glad I did. It was a cold day, but I felt happy being at the barn and when I walked out into the field to catch her she looked up and started walking up to me. We met halfway and she was very sweet, sniffing my hands and definitely warming the atmosphere. I don’t know if she just wanted to go in the barn for a while, but it was still very touching.

I needed to be efficient with my time that day, so I did a quick grooming and made it a bareback ride. I feel very comfortable on her bareback by now, and we did our usual walk-trot work without a problem, occupying the indoor with the 17-hand Fourth Level horse and looking very scruffy and lighthearted in comparison. I only had time for a half hour ride, but Sofie did everything I asked and remained pretty agreeable, only showing a little reluctance when cued to trot. I’ve learned how to post bareback, which is helpful, but my butt bones landing on her spine will probably never make her react with glee. It was a productive ride, at least enough to get her creaky self moving, and I enjoyed seeing her that day.

She had two days off before our next ride. The day was nice enough that I would’ve ridden outside, but burning brush piles were making the air smoky and I didn’t particularly want either of us breathing that in. So, back to the indoor it was. I saddled her this time, wanting to have more freedom with speed and the ride’s duration. I did ride without stirrups for almost the whole hour, though, and I felt quite balanced (and not fatigued).

The ride started out quite well. She stayed on the rail nicely without needing too many reminders, and she was far better tracking left, not trying to dive off the rail. Our straightness was good (for us) and when I practiced picking up the reins she stayed steadier. At the start of trot work, she was a little inverted (better tracking left, worse on the right) and she wasn’t paying attention in the down transitions (and was definitely inverting during them). I did some fairly rapid walk-trot-walk transitions, and tried to keep her connected, and she improved. We had some nice transitions, and she was rounder in the trot.

Once I got her all warmed up and going nicely, I decided to test the canter. I knew it would ruin what we had, but I was curious to see if she would pick it up in the indoor (and if it affected her soundness). So I rode her a bit more forward and asked for the canter. She did an almost-depart, so I praised her and tried again. On the third try, she picked up the canter and kept going for several strides before breaking to the trot. I was satisfied with that effort, so I began attempting to relax her again. She settled down pretty well right after she came back to the trot, but for a while afterward she intermittently inverted, rushed and became defensive. I had trouble settling her and getting her to really relax. She would come round and then start anticipating the canter and throw her head up. Her back would be stiff as a board, too. It was frustrating, and I did get a little grabby with my hands a couple times (and grumble to her also). I’m not entirely happy with how I reacted, but I wasn’t too unkind to her and I did eventually get her settled. It’s annoying when she gets so tense and anticipates like that, but it’s just something we need to work on and we will probably get past it in time. Next time I will not succumb to frustration, and I’ll try to remember to relax her by patting her neck.

As I wrapped up the ride, Sofie gradually regained her relaxation and roundness. She did have some crabby, defensive moments, particularly through this one corner, tracking left. It’s possible that her shoulder was a little ouchy at that point. I don’t know if she’s ready to canter at this point, but that’s why we test these things out. I will have to see how she is next time, and we may stick to walk-trot work for a while longer. I’m definitely encouraged by how we started and ended the ride, though. I finished up with some nice transitions and halts. She was reaching nicely into my hand, and she trotted through the “crabby places” without a fuss.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Winter Wonderland Trail Ride

I have fallen behind on updates, mainly due to recently finishing up my novel (328 pages and three years later, it is done!), a huge accomplishment for me that will hopefully lead to very good things. With nothing too exciting happening in Sofieland, I focused my writing time on wrapping up that extensive project.

Winter has commenced here, and we’re holding up well. I was out at the barn on the day of the first snow storm, a truly nasty weather event. En route to the barn we began to see snow-covered vehicles and over the next hour the sleet snow fell harder and harder. Knowing we needed to get back on the road ASAP in order to hopefully make it home, I made it quick. Happily, Sofie was snug and happy in the back of the run-in shed, sharing a section of it with her buddy Nakota, who protected her from drafts. She seemed happy to see me but hated walking through the sleet, pinning her ears and tucking her head into her chest as it hit her in the face. We hurried to the barn.

Once there, I quickly threw on her cooler, picked out her feet and bridled her. I then went for a half-hour bareback ride in the indoor, just enough to get her moving. My bareback capabilities have definitely improved, and I was able to do my typical walk/trot work and feel quite secure. The only other souls at the barn that day were a rider with a horse at Fourth Level and her trainer who are preparing for a Steffen Peters symposium, which somewhat underscored our dedication to our pony.

Sofie has been a little off lately, somewhat stiff and maybe a little sore. No head-bobbing, real resistance or serious short-striding, so we’ve just kept bobbling along. It appears to be a left shoulder issue, which is unsurprising given her recent hematoma. When I stretched her front legs recently she had less range of motion on the left. Also, when I ride her she has been bending and going round better to the right. Tracking left, she wants to fall in off the rail and has a harder time relaxing and stretching. She seems to be doing better lately.

A few days after the snowstorm, it was beautiful, sunny and in the mid-fifties. There was a few inches of snow on the ground at the barn, making everything very pretty. We were fortunate enough to be able to ride with Cathy and Nakota and I looked forward to a pleasant ride. We started out in the indoor, and I slowly warmed up Sofie while Nakota moved around quite energetically. Sofie was still a bit off but she was willing and reasonably forward. After just a bit of trot work we ended with a nice, connected transition, and then we headed for the trails.

I took a moment to test our straightness in the fresh snow (confirming that yes, we do not have straightness), after which Cathy caught up to us and we rode over to her property. We were sure to encounter broken branches and keeled-over trees, which did not concern me at all since Sofie loves to bulldoze her way through trees. We soon came to a down branch on the trail. Psssh. We walked right through the thing.

I only had to dismount on the hill down into the valley. Sofie seemed to handle it fine when my additional weight was out of the saddle, and I remounted and we carried on. The valley was gorgeous as usual, but we had plans to check out a new trail, recently finished by Cathy’s husband, who is responsible for our awesome trails.

At the start of the new trail we passed a huge, lovely maple and continued on into the woods. The trail rose up and we rode along the slightly rolling terrain, looking all around at the surrounding forested peaks and valleys. It was really stunning, the perfect spot for such a trail. I absolutely loved it from the start. I was especially happy that there were no steep hills, and Sofie seemed happy too, given the many little trees that had bowed under the weight of the snow and were just waiting for her to walk through. We dislodged a lot of the trees, which popped right up, fortunately not striking Cathy or her horse (Sofie walks fast, so Nakota usually trails behind a bit).

At the end of the trail, with no leaves on the trees, Lake Superior is visible on the horizon. We took that sight in then backtracked to check out another new trail loop. Foiled by trees that were a little bigger than I wanted Sofie crashing through (though she undoubtedly would’ve done it anyway), we turned around and began to head home. In the valley, I could not resist doing a little dashing through the snow, and Cathy was not in a rush to end the ride so I trotted around for a bit. Sofie’s balance was decent, but I didn’t worry about doing any training. I just wanted to ride and enjoy myself. Trotting through a nice stretch of openness, I encouraged Sofie to pick up a canter, and she did. We enjoyed a lovely canter through the snow, and then, satisfied with the fun we’d had, we finished walking home. Once there, Sofie got an apple (definitely her favorite part of the day) and went back outside to enjoy the rest of the sunny weather. I’m so glad we got another trail ride in! It’s wonderful to get out there and ride, especially with friends.