Funder and I had a good adventure with the ponies on Friday. I picked her up and we trailered over the hill to the Indian Reservation, with plans to ride out from there and across the valley to do some hillwork on the other side. Most of the footing is very sandy in that area, so we were hoping to avoid most of the slop created by our recent pattern of wet weather. After getting tacked up, we encountered our first, and perhaps most challenging obstacle, not 200 yards from the trailer. The reservation had installed a cattle guard across the road since the last time I had been out that direction. I used to park just on the other side of the boundary fence (a barbed wire affair), but due to a deep and sloppy mud puddle, and no desire to mud-bog with the horse trailer, had instead chosen to park along the gravel road. This left us on the wrong side of the fence and cattle guard, with no gate in sight. After hemming and hawing, and looking around for a few minutes, I decided to see if we couldn't convince the horses to squeeze through the 18"-24" wide opening that was between the end fence post and a shorter, perhaps 2 ft high post that was the anchor point for the cattle guard. This meant that in reality, there was plenty of room for their bodies to fit, but they would have to be careful and negotiate the narrow space with their feet/legs.
Diego was first up to bat, and while he did try, he just couldn't convince himself that he indeed could go through that spot. The matter was a bit further complicated by having a small granite slab directly across from the opening, so they had to step through in one step, and then immediately turn toward the larger fence post to avoid the rock. Dig tried once, but when he rubbed the stirrup on the fence post, that pressure sent him back unsuccessfully. After a few minutes, F and Dixie decided to show us how it was done. Dixie gallantly bulldozed through the obstacle, knocking down the end fence post with a loud crack that left it supported at a 45-degree angle to the ground. Thanks Dix!!! ;) Diego realized he could fit through the newly improved larger opening and we were on our way.
The going was pretty sloppy, slippy clay mud on top of a firmer sandy base. So there wasn't a lot of suction, but there was a fair amount of slide. Certainly not ideal footing, but I was hopeful we would get to the more sandy terrain pretty quickly. At one point, I heard some warnings and cussing behind me and turned around in time to watch Dixie navigate down the road bank, slip with her front hooves, and then just gracefully fold up under herself and come to a rest laying on her belly, with F still up top. I was riding Diego at this point and he only jumped around a tiny bit. I started laughing at the whole situation, not just the identical expressions of "WTF?!?" on F and Dixie's faces, but that this is the second time in as many rides that the horse I've been riding with has gone down and ended up on the ground. What are the odds? Dixie got right back up without issue and we continued down and onto a lovely sandy road.
Knowing these roads and trails from living out this direction, the plan was the head southwest and ride a couple of the big long hills in the Lemmon Valley area. Once we made the turn onto the south bound road, it wasn't long until we encountered the herd of 20-30 cattle that winter in this area. Now, I know that Diego has seen cows before, but they were still cause for much excitement. I was on foot and we snorted and pranced our way toward the cows. Unfortunately, cows being cows, instead of merely parting like the Red Sea at our approach, they turned and continued down the road in front of us, the same direction we were heading (sigh). I tried to be positive about getting some miles in under my own feet and just continued down the road. After a bit, Diego seemed to be less afraid of the cows, and more interested in them, but I was starting to realize how much this past couple of weeks of work+school were weighing on me, and I was **TIRED** and just didn't feel like trying to deal with it while mounted. Once the cows finally exited the stage, we continued on toward the next road (a trail I use for my Moonshine Ride). I went to mount up and just had to take a moment to breathe and gather myself. At that point, all I wanted to do was lay down and take a nap in the sand. I didn't WANT to ride my stupid, jumpy, green horse. =( I just wanted to be able to sit on my butt and relax. I was tired and suddenly the whole idea just seemed a lot more like work than fun. Bummer.
But swing my leg over I did. With the philosophy that a tired horse is a less jumpy horse, we pointed them up the hill and started to trot. At one point, F and Dixie were in front of us and Diego tucked his head and cantered for a couple of strides. I pulled him back down the second his tail disappeared underneath him in a big tuck, and thankfully he was a good polite boy and complied with my request. F asked me how it was, since we had recently been talking about "is it time to canter" and really, it wasn't too bad. Diego seems to be exceptionally smooth in all of his gaits. We'll still stick with short uphill bits for now though. ;) Diego went in front for a while and again I was impressed with how non-spooky and bold he could be. He almost seems to do BETTER in the front, since his big spooky monsters still tend to attack from behind. Perhaps having another horse behind him is his confidence booster, rather than needing to follow? This thought is a BIG breakthrough for me. All of a sudden the light bulb just came on!!! This does seem to follow his reaction pattern when riding with other horses.
We made it up to the main intersection of the trail and then headed south downhill. DIEGO HAS THE MOST AWESOME DOWNHILL WALK!!! He was just FLOWING, so fast and so smooth. It was just a hair under a trot, and he would try to put in a little jog step every now and then but just lifting my reins was enough to slow him down. At one point, they spooked up a jackrabbit and Diego cut his front feet to the right, a la reining horse, but didn't even budge with his hind end. As we were starting to get near the bottom of the hill, my cell phone rang and it was my hubby wondering where I was. When he told me what time it was, I was flabbergasted! Time had just flown by and we needed to get headed back toward the trailer, not continuing away from it. So we did an about-face and started the horses up the long climb to the top of the mountain. This is the hill that's about 5 miles in on the old Rides of March trail for those that have done that ride. It's about a 1,000 ft climb in about a mile or a mile and a half. A good, strong workout for the horses. They did great, only having to stop a few times to catch their breath. I was most impressed with Diego, he did much better than I would have expected, lucky Arab genes (I'll have to do a post about conditioning a non-Arab vs. Arab once I have a couple of AERC rides on Diego).
This hill has several false summits, but eventually we made it to the top and turned onto the correct side trail down into the adjacent sandy wash. It had been a couple of years since I had ridden that trail (at least two), so I had to look around a bit since it was wider than I remembered and had a new trail on the opposite side of a facing hill. After looking around for a bit, and assuring F (who wasn't worried) that everything connects anyways, we continued on down. It was the correct turn off and we dismounted and handwalked the horses down the back side and almost back down to the road where the cows were. Along this stretch, F got to see the less lovely side of the Nevada desert as we encountered an old dead fridge (with the door still on, a lovely fake cherrywood affair that was a death trap for sure), several old TV's and other assorted junk. I hate that people feel the need to dump their trash on our trails. =(
After getting toward the bottom of the wash and mounting back up, we discussed whether to take the sandy road where all the cows were, or perhaps take the other main road, which had no cows but I suspected would be a lot muddier. We ended up just heading cross ways diagonal across the open plains. And they were open plains, F said she was reminded of scenes of riding in Africa and half suspected to see zebra's any minute. It DID look a lot like that. Very low lying sage, but other than that, just a couple random juniper trees dotted the landscape. Diego was on cow-alert, and just couldn't bring himself to relax, instead having to continually sweep the horizon to spot the random cows that were scattered (a LONG ways away) on both sides. Other than tensing up and doing his now characteristic "one-stride bolt" (he humps his back up and hops forward one step), he wasn't really misbehaving per se. But it's so hard to RELAX when the horse is tense, and I was really having to TRY to relax, which is an oxymoron to say the least. At one point, we rode down into a more low-lying area, and he couldn't SEE the stinkin' cows, but was convinced they were rushing in to surround us for a blood-thirsty attack. After much eye-rolling and circles on my part, we survived to discover that no, the cows were actually NOT plotting diabolical schemes, had barely moved at all, and were more interested in eating.
The remaining trip back to the trailer was pretty low-key. I rode Diego through his first big puddle, which was a non-issue since he seems to love playing in the water. We rode through most of the more slippery mud this time. He was getting a bit tense having to balance himself, plus Dixie was on the opposite side of the road (their friend's but not totally attached, but he is still aware of where she is). Getting back through the Gate of Death was much easier headed this direction. We stood the post back up after we were both through to at least fake it looking normal (and it pretty much does).
During the ride, I was very much having a low-spot mentally. I was fatigued from the past couple of weeks and just not prepared to deal with green horse antics. I was depressed about how long it had taken us to ride a relatively short distance (9.64 miles in 3:04). I wasn't thinking that Diego would be mentally ready/able to deal with doing an actual ride by Rides of March. Just more focused on the negative. After sleeping a large part of this weekend, and now writing this entry, I have a more positive outlook on things. We did walk nearly 90% of this ride, and I was on foot for at least a couple of miles. The poor footing in portions and dealing with the cows really slowed us down. Diego settled much more at the NEDA ride after we were able to trot out a couple of miles, we didn't really have that opportunity during this ride. He hadn't even been out of the paddock for two weeks due to poor weather conditions. My breakthrough on putting him in the front (or at least middle) is a big key element as well. For now, we'll continue to plug along towards our goals and take things one ride at a time.