This last week was a little different, what with it being the week before Christmas and the start of winter break (which means the 4-H kids that make up a big portion of Ready to Ride‘s client base were out of school during the day). Unbeknownst to me there was a series of Winter Break Clinics being held by Trainer A, so Ezhno and I ended up joining in on those throughout the week in place of our normally scheduled lessons with Trainer M.
Day One was the chillest of the clinic days. Outside of a short jaunt at the canter just to check in after the weekend, Ezhno and I spent the entire two hours at the walk and the trot. The other girls in the clinic had done trail courses with their horses before, so while they were busy perfecting their maneuvers to show quality levels, I knew that my goal for Ezhno was “functional, not pretty”. Trainer A had barely finished her speech and I already had my eye on some of the trickier obstacles…
We kicked things off with one of the “easier” obstacles: the Box. The box looks deceptively simple (it’s literally a box made out of ground rails)—it’s what you do in the Box that makes it a challenge. Typically the way I do the box is I line my horse up with a corner, reverse to the next corner, perform a turn on the hindquarters, walk forward to the next corner, perform a turn on the forehand, reverse to the next corner… etc., etc. (Check out my awesome diagram to the left if you’re confused.) It practices both directions of turning on the hind/fore (something we’re really bad at), and can involve incorporating sidepassing for added aggravation, too. Trainer A also had a tight back through L set up on the outside of the box—a frustrating endeavor for my laterally challenged horse. We made it through the L twice before I let him call it quits (though it wasn’t pretty, lol).
We moved on to one of the more daunting obstacles: the Bridge! On top of being aesthetically concerning from an equine perspective, the wooden palette bridge also had a raised ground rail over it, which required any horse daring to cross it to navigate over the rail while on top of the bridge. I’ve definitely seen bigger, badder bridges (we’ve got an impressive one out on the cross country course that I intend to tackle when the weather turns), but this tiny, flower-lined bridge was a good introduction for Ezhno (who admittedly has probably seen bridges before during his time as a trail horse). Big Horse handled the bridge like a champ. He paused at the edge of the bridge, then I squeezed with my calves and he went right over (with only a small trip over the rail, bless his uncoordinated soul). We turned a short loop and then went right back over the other way, no fuss. The whole thing was so nonchalant that we only went over one more time (to check for brakes in the middle of the bridge) before we moved on so that another rider whose horse was less nonplussed about the whole thing could keep working on it without us there hogging the obstacle.
Big Horse and I took a few minutes to practice our sidepassing between sets of tightly spaced cones, then we meandered our way over to a group of trot poles. They were set up very close together for something like a collected trot/western jog, so I lined Ezhno up and let him take responsibility for watching his feet while I regulated his pace. This was an easy obstacle for us—and in all truth, I was actually using it as a way to casually take him past the real challenge of the day: the Tarp.
Ezhno had started eying the tarp right when we originally entered the arena. Not only was the tarp very blue and very crinkly, but it was also decked out with flowers and pool noodles for added visual terror. He’d avoided it during our warm up and I’d intentionally eased him into some of the less suspicious obstacles before steering him in that direction. Even so, he very quickly decided that this was a Bad Idea (caps required). It took a lot of coaxing to get him to go near the darn thing, only to have him startle himself when he pawed at the tarp and sent a pool noodle flying. We had to have a couple more talks before he’d set a tentative foot on top of the tarp (though I’m happy to say I never had to dismount during our discussions). From there it was just a matter of some well-timed prodding to get him to walk across the tarp, and then a couple more passes to convince him to walk on the middle of the tarp instead of the very edge. It didn’t take long before we could walk, trot, and back over the tarp without even the slightest hesitation—proof that it pays to purchase a horse with a steadfast personality. 🙂
Soon we were opening/closing gates, mounting from the ground, dragging logs, carrying giant stuffed unicorns… anything I asked for, Big Horse would do, no questions asked.
We were on fire, which of course meant that a disaster was imminent.
From the get go, Big Horse has been cool with pool noodles. Back during the barn’s Halloween party we even played an aggressive game of combative tag with them. He’s been smacked with them from head to toe (both by me and by opponents in the heat of battle), and his only response has been disgruntled apathy (imagine an older brother forced to participate in his sibling’s shenanigans and you’ll have his disposition towards impromptu pool noodle jousts). In short: pool noodles ≠ scary.
What is terrifying is backing into unexpected pool noodles. Ezhno and I were backing figure 8’s between the barrels (think the barrel racing pattern, but tiny and backwards) when his butt smacked into one of the barrels and he jumped a good foot into the air (while I was in a weird, compromising position, because BACK UP ALREADY DAMN IT). Needless to say, I ate dirt—for the first time off of my cute new horse, which is very exciting (even if it was at a standstill, lol)!
All in all, the trail day of the clinic was a good experience for us (dirt meet and greet included). It was just another reminder of what I already knew: that my horse is awesome and can be trusted to handle 99.9% of situations with a calm, level-head—and the 0.1% he doesn’t handle only ends poorly if I’m sitting wonky. 😀