I have to steal the title that Funder used, because it was exactly that. We took Diego and her horse Dixie to the NEDA (National Endurance Driving Assoc) ride this past Saturday and just had a highly successful day, even if our mileage ended up a bit under the original goal. We had originally planned on riding the 20-mile ride, but the fact that Silver Springs still had a FOOT of snow off the trails, and that 90% of the ride was along back-country roads that were packed snow and prone to icy conditions if you weren't along the berm, settling for 12 miles was the perfect solution.
I left early and went out to pick up Funder and we trailered over to Silver Springs. I was thankful for the 4wd on the truck as we turned off the dry roads and onto packed snow for the last 1/2 mile to the house where the ride was being hosted. We were the second trailer there, I wanted to have plenty of time to get Diego saddled and settled before the ride started. Both horses were calm and relaxed for the most part while we were getting ready. I took Diego over to the unplowed driveway across the street (the ride site had been scraped with a tractor blade and was a thin layer of snow/ice) and lunged him for a while before the ride started. He was a little rushy but relaxed and not to worried for the most part. The Arab tail was less than perpendicular to the ground, so things looked good.
He got a little snorty when the carts (3 in total) left, they're similar to homemade chariots and I'm pretty positive he had never seen a cart before, but really he was very brave and stood his ground as they went by. Then the bigger pack of riders (I think there was about 20) left and as I set off on foot (per my original plan), I found that I had a Macy's Balloon attached to the end of my reins rather than a horse. He was prancing along barely touching the ground, snorting, blowing, and his tail was flipped up somewhere between his ears. Thankfully all our groundwork has paid off and he was respectful of my space and wasn't pulling on me too bad, getting a bit ahead at times but a sharp jerk on the lead had him stopping and backing up - only to start again. Once we went 100 yards down the trail and turned a corner, there was a nice fresh patch of deep snow that I decided would be perfect to work off some of this excess energy. So we went off the trail and proceeded to trot and run in circles for a little while. I did try to be respectful of the other riders and have Diego stop and stand when I noticed that he was working up the other horses trying to pass. It was a little difficult in that there wasn't really a good place to do that in camp, so finding a spot along the trail was my best option. Either way, we all survived and after a short while I was able to continue leading him down the trail.
In less than a mile (thankfully, walking through snow is a good work-out), Dig was doing a pretty respectable job of paying more attention to me than to the other horses, so I decided it was safe to get on. We continued down to the next intersection where the trail turned right and I mounted up in the big four-way stop. I was so thankful that F and Dixie were still with us, I appreciated her being patient and putting up with "young, green horse with no brain". Dixie was being a model citizen and setting a good example for Diego. I mounted with no issues and rode the opposite way of the main pack, did a few circles, turns, checked the brakes, and then we headed off the correct direction since all systems were go at that point. Diego was still tense, but he was listening.
After another mile or so, things were going well so I asked Dig to trot a few steps for me. He did well and didn't get too rushy or try to take off. So then I was able to ask for a few more, and eventually we worked into longer and longer sections of trotting. As we were riding along back roads and passing various houses, this was an excellent experience for both horses. We had to ride past mailboxes, garbage cans, creative yard decorations, barking dogs, burned out trailers, abandoned cars, and even a couple of pigs (which I don't think Diego SAW, although I did). Dig was a very brave boy and him and Dixie were able to take equal turns leading. Often, when one was "stuck" looking at something, the other one would be able to bravely continue onward.
Dixie and Diego actually did a pretty good job together. They both had a buddy, but are also both independent enough that we were able to leap frog each other very effectively. Unfortunately, we really need to work on our pacing. Although at the walk we were able to stay together pretty well (Dix walks a little faster), anything faster than a walk just wasn't working out that well. Surprisingly, Diego hasn't realized he can TROT like a real horse under saddle, instead offering more of a 6-7 mph jog for the most part. Dixie would normally probably be able to do a slow rack at this speed, but couldn't on the ice that well (poor thing did have one good "Bambi on ice" slip that she's thankfully no worse for). Her trot was in the 9 mph range, which Diego just couldn't keep up with. So Dig and I would jog ahead, then Dixie would trot to catch up, or pass us and then walk, and then we would jog by - wash, rinse, repeat. Hopefully things will work out as we ride together more and on better footing.
One thing that riding on the snowy roads allowed me to do was to really work with Diego on our lateral work, leg yields, and steering. There's nothing like trying to ride in an 18" deeper snow path next to a more packed tire track along the side of the road, or stay in the deeper portion in the middle of the road, to find out how well your directional signals work. I was very pleased to notice that Dig's are installed fairly well and that he does listen to them most of the time. We did have a little debate about if his hind end was indeed connected to his front end, and he realized that I would boot him to remind him that it was. =)
Once we finished the 10-mile loop and got back to the trailer, we offered them water. Diego swished more than drank I think, but the weather was very cold and he wasn't that sweaty. I think the HIGH for the day out there was around 33* F. We gave them have a small snack, left their saddles on, and after 30 minutes or so, mounted back up and rode back down the trail aways. F had this most excellent idea, that way they wouldn't think that just because they were back at the trailer, they were done. While Diego had been starting to drag a little coming back, offering to stop randomly, he perked right up and trotted out of camp like a champ. They both were very forward and no one had any issues about leaving (although Dixie's "camp-dar" was in full effect she was wondering exactly WHY we were leaving). We rode out of camp for a little over a mile and then turned around and came back. All-in-all, while we probably could have repeated the loop with no issues, we ended the day with happy, healthy horses that weren't stressed or overtired by their experience. An Epic Win for sure!
P.S. Oh - and Diego survived having velcro open behind him with no issues. His only real spook (which resulted in a tuck and scoot forward and made me laugh at him) was when F got off of Dix as we finished the first loop. Dork.