Happy Trails (kind of)

Derby and I tagged along with Liz and Cloud today for a trail ride.  It was a beautiful day and Liz’s hard work with Cloud has really paid off – he was a relaxed lead horse and she was able to give him a loopy rein.  Derby was really good too, navigating the little ditch behind the paddocks, narrow alleys between trees, a swale with tall grass and the rocky edge of a cornfield with no problem.  However, as we approached the road – a small country highway that we need to walk along for about a quarter mile to reach the trailhead – things started to fall apart.  The dual culverts we have to face drew a look, a sidestep and a snort.  A fleet of motorcycles passing didn’t help matters.  Derby became very tense. Up until that moment he had been perfect, but now I felt like I was sitting on a powder keg.

Sheepishly I asked Liz if we might turn back.  I will admit to having a bit of a phobia about the road and between Derby’s tenseness and my own trepidation, I didn’t want to push it.  Even though Cloud was being totally perfect, Liz indulged me and back we went. Completely uneventfully.

We went into the indoor for some real work – the trail excursion had really been just a warm up – but when I asked Derby to trot, he felt significantly off and was very unwilling – swishing his tail and humping his back , neither of which are normal for him.  I hopped off, felt his legs, and picked his feet.  I didn’t find any real heat, nor did I find a stone.

I waffled back and forth between the vet’s assurances that the horse was fine and just needed to be worked through the muscle stiffness and lingering effects of the abscess (and the lameness that caused)  and the fact that the horse had been nice and forward for the most part, but not so on Thursday, fine on Saturday, and not great today.  I decided to listen to the horse.    We’ll see what we have tomorrow.


Me & my buddy Frank

We had another up and down week, Derby and me,  as his back got sore again after my ride on Sunday. I *did* try another shim in my Mattes pad, which could have caused the soreness. Or, maybe after his winter off,  we’re asking too much too soon with multiple trot sets and stretching.  Who knows.

So he had a few days off,  just longing, and after discussing it with Christy, I decided that I’m going back to square one in terms of building fitness.  Hour long rides at a walk for a week.  Then introducing a couple short trot segments of no more than five minutes each, and then gradually increasing the trot, and adding short canters in about a month. And – hand to God – I swear on a stack of Bibles that I won’t mess with the shims and padding.

So on Wednesday we walked,  in hand, in the outdoor arena.  Walked and walked, in the deeper footing, over poles.  Derby signaled his boredom with sighs but plodded along next to me.  Because we weren’t mounted, and because I also needed to get a workout in, we also jogged a bit – the two of us, me in my big Wellies – around the outdoor.  As I was putting Derby away, Kim arrived, running late, and asked me of I could ride Frank, as she needed to get on Prior but both needed some work.  I was more than happy to hop on my old pal, and spent the ride doing penance for Derby, trotting around in two-point, and posting from a half-seat, keeping my butt out of the saddle as much as I could.  Gaahh.  I need to do more of that kind of work.  It kills.

On Thursday,  I tacked up Derby for one of our walking rides.  I had asked Christy if we could hack out off the property a short way, just so I could see how Derby would be.  He’s done lots of trails and schooled XC – and as expected, he was fine.  I was a little trepidatious – I generally am with most “first time” moments – but he was a good boy – even when we had to weave through pine trees and wade through belly-high grass.  We got out a little way – having tackled the parts of the trail I don’t love (pine trees, a drainage ditch, the tall grass) and Derby started acting a bit nervous.  Not bad, at all – just a leeetle looky and snorty.  Because a good experience was important to me – I am putting my own confidence back together and am frankly managing my experiences by setting myself up for success –  I asked Christy to turn around.  She was surprised but I wanted to get back before I had any issues.  A successful maiden voyage was the desired outcome.

We headed back, and Derby felt tense and was a little spooky.  This was all manageable – on the spookiness Richter scale, where 1 is a look and 10 is eating dirt while your horse flees into the next county, this was a 1.5.  No biggie.  And that was the point.   Getting out and back successfully and quietly is the first step I needed.  And it worked – I’m eager to take Derby back out, and am certain that he’ll be fantastic on the trails.  And we learned later that three was another rider in amongst the pine trees, and she had flushed a deer, so Derby’s avid interest in what was going on elsewhere was legit.

We ended the ride schooling bend in the outdoor.  I need to work on establishing a more forward, marching walk with Derby, who tends to get slow.  Anyway, it was a good night.  However,  I still find myself riding defensively.  I have to get it through my head – and into my instinctive reflexes – that this horse isn’t Maddie.  I can trust this boy. I *need* to trust this boy.