Last year at this time, I tried riding Cole out on the loop—a small track that is about a quarter mile long that is behind the barn—and it was a disaster. I ended up riding him in the arena when it got too dark in the evenings to go on the trail. This year, I decided to try it again.
I began a few weeks ago by going on a short trail ride with the remaining daylight and then working on the loop when I got back to round out the ride. Since we made sure our short trail rides were vigorous, walking the loop was a way for Cole to wind down. Last year, he was explosive when I tried this. This year he was only a little explosive the first time, and he has done well ever since.
As would be expected, he would walk a lot faster on the way facing the barn than he did when he went away from the barn. Consequently, I clicked him for sensible walking when we were going away and for whoas when we were going towards the barn. This kept him focused on me and made it more fun for both of us. When we would make the turn at the intersection of the trail that goes toward the barn and the trail that starts the lap over again, I clicked him, too.
A few rides ago, I had to stop doing the mini trail ride because there wasn’t enough time. Now, we were working on the loop only. It started to get a little boring, so I started reviewing our arena exercises. We were fairly successful with shoulder-in in one direction and not so good in the other—something to work on. I added leg yielding, and he was much better than in the arena—where he wants to morph it into side passing. Since he wants to go forward down the path, it eliminates his temptation to go sideways—into the ditch, woods or fence that go along the trail. Every now and then, we would stop and do some turn-on-the-haunches or backing up.
Last night, I decided it was time to add trotting. This was his 6th ride in a row, and it was a very warm night for a horse with his full winter coat. It was also quiet at the barn, so there were no distractions. In other words, all the planets were in alignment. When we got to the side of the loop that goes directly away from the barn, I asked for a trot and got the most lovely, forward going but sane trot that I could have dreamed of. We stopped at the next corner, walked all the way around the loop and did it again. We repeated it 5 times and he was perfect. I gave him lots of verbal praise. We walked one more lap and then I headed to the driveway and went to the front of the barn where it is wide enough to practice small circles and then called it a day.
At least I now know that if it is a warm night and Cole isn’t in a feisty mood, we can do some trotting on the loop in the dark. Mission accomplished.