Last Great Ride of the Year
I had the Monday after Christmas off from work. The weather gods were looking down kindly at us, and furnished the best sort of weather for a winter ride. It was sunny and about 40 degrees F. Bliss… We had ridden the last 3 days on the hill because the river was too high, but even that cooperated with us and was low enough by Monday. We were going on a Christmas trail ride.
Unfortunately, my sister had to go into work. She rode with me and Cruiser for about an hour. It was so nice to get the old guys out for a ride. It was a shame that my sister then left us for her job.
That meant I was on my own with Cole Train. It had been a while since I had him across the river and on a ride by myself. Winter riding on the trail is new for us. Last year, winter came so early and so sudden that we were shut down in early December. Besides, he was still getting very hyper in the cooler weather. I even gave up riding him on the hill to the river because he was too much of a handful. Horses can get silly in the cold weather. Back when Cruiser was Cole’s age, I wasn’t able to take him on a cold weather ride at all because he got so wild! I didn’t know what to expect from Cole.
My plan was to cross the river and trot him right away to take off the edge of his high spirits. I doubted if I would canter. I figured I would probably turn at the next river crossing and head home.
Well, he trotted quite nicely. When I got to the spot where we have been cantering, he tried to canter. I made him stay at a trot. When I got to the end of that short section, I decided to do it again at a canter. We turned back to the beginning. I asked for a canter from a walk, and he leapt straight into it. What a strange canter it was. I think it was my first experience, ever of a collected canter. He was all round and under himself. Maybe he was actually bucking. I decided to ride back and try it again. That time, he gave me a very impulsive trot. I was frustrated and decided to try another time. I got another impulsive trot. I gave up.
(I guess I should mention that I have failed miserably with cantering in the arena. I only succeeded twice. Since then, we have back tracked and I decided to teach him something I omitted last winter due to his wildness. I am now teaching him to canter on the lounge line with the help of clicker. My hope is that he will learn the word command and also learn how to balance himself in the smaller confines of the arena.)
We headed back down the trail. After the sharp corner and little hill that I always walk down, I asked him for a trot. It didn’t take him long to suggest a canter. I told him to trot, and he came back down. Once we got around the next bend, I suggested the canter, and I got it right away. It was fast and getting faster. Once he was starting to feel out of control, I asked him to trot. He did it readily, so I clicked him for it. After stopping for the treat, I asked for a trot and then a canter. Once again, he gave me a lovely transition. We went about 20 strides and he came down to a trot on his own. I asked him to canter again, and he did! After a bit, I asked him to trot and he did! Successful canter!
I was having so much fun. When I got to the next river crossing, I decided not to turn home. The river was on the high side, so I decided to lead him across the river ford. I found myself riding, instead. We headed up the hill to the next section of trail. Since he was so hyped up from the cantering, I decided to walk the rest of the way. After about a minute of walking, I decided trotting would be more fun. We did a bunch of walk/trot/walk transitions. He was hyper, so when I was getting fairly close to the end of that section, I decided to walk. I would skip the last section of trail because it is right out in the open and goes along the street. Horses tend to get a bit spooky and fast there.
I don’t know what was happening with me, but the whole ride, I wasn’t listening to myself. I didn’t turn around. I just kept going. I was going to stay at a walk. A short way down the trail, I decided to trot. He did really well, so I clicked him a few times for it. When I got to the end, I said “whoa” and he immediately halted from the trot. I thought I would give him one of the horse treats that was in his stocking instead of the carrot slivers I had been giving him. He loved it.
Of course, I was going to walk all the way home—particularly this trail that is all out in the open and next to the road—but soon I asked him to trot. Instead of giving me his trail trot, he gave me his big, beautiful, impulsive show trot. I laughed and clicked and gave him another of those tasty horse treats. I then asked for another trot, and he did it again. Click, treat, trot again. This time I let him keep going and wondered why no one was driving by on the street to see this as he did his lovely show trot down the trail. At the end of the trail, I clicked him for it and gave him the last of the horse treats. All I had left, now, was carrot slivers.
Now, I finally did stick with one of my decisions and walked all the way home. It was too pretty of a day to shorten the ride by trotting. I had a few problems. He rushed down the steep slope. He did try to trot a few times, too. Once we crossed the river to go up the hill to go home, he started to get a bit anxious to get there. I had him stand until he settled down, and then I dismounted and lead him up. After all the cookies and candy that I’ve eaten in the last few days, this was good for me.
It was a tremendous ride and a brisk, but beautiful winter day. I got just exactly what I wanted for Christmas.