We did it! Hooray, hooray!! Buckshot and I did it! We went on the trail alone, all the way through the woods, and out to the reining arena located in the hay field, and worked there, and then back through the woods again! Alone! No other horses or riders. And Buckshot didn’t become worried or anxious or balk! What a good, good horse!
Many of you who read this blog know that I have been working on this for months with Buckshot- to get him to comfortably walk to the arena located about a half mile from the main barn and main arena. We have tried taking the route down the farm road, but without getting very far before Buckshot balked and quietly argued. But on Sunday- success!
Let me start with Saturday, for that laid the groundwork for what occurred on Sunday. On Saturday, a beautiful sunny, mild day, we started our walking warm up, about a half hour before our riding class was to start. He was in good spirits and showed an interest in walking outside of the arena. So I headed him to the trailhead and we walked happily on the trail alone, for a ways. No worries or anxiety by him. Then I turned us around and headed back to the main arena, continued riding and did our riding lesson. I was so proud of him!!
Later, I analyzed why the short trail ride was successful. I concluded that maybe, just maybe, it was because of when I asked him to go onto the trail. I asked him early in our ride, when we were still in our phase one warmup. And I asked him after I saw evidence that he wanted to walk out of the arena. I wondered if early in our ride, his confidence level was high. I don’t know the opposite effect, or why his confidence level would be lower at the end of our ride, unless it is caused by being a bit tired. But he seemed enthusiastic early in the ride, and I noted that.
On Sunday, the weather was perfect- sunny and mild with temperatures in the sixties. The farm was quiet as the BO and her husband took two horses away to go to a trail ride at a distant location. I got Buckshot – my new thing with him is to call him “pardner” and tell him that we are great work pardners together! – and groomed him, then tacked him up. We headed out into the main arena, which had lovely, soft footing. We began our walking warm up. I didn’t have any definitive plans in mind; I planned to play it by ear. After getting off of him to tighten his cinch, and remounting we started walking, and I just decided on a whim, to go for it. I headed him out of the arena and toward the trailhead, saying “let’s go see the trail for a while.” Secretly, I was excited but I acted cool and composed. Buckshot didn’t miss a beat, he just headed into the trail and we were off!
This is the point that my mind veered off into three different directions. As we walked through the woods, one third of my mind started saying “Oh-oh, be hyper vigilant – you are alone out here- if anything happens, you’re on your own. Keep watch of the woods, scan everything, and at the first and I mean first sign of a problem, you hop off of Buckshot in a flash! Stay aware, stay focused, you have to look out for anything and everything, and again, you dismount immediately if anything, and I mean anything, comes up. I’m hyper vigilant, hyper vigilant, hyper vigilant, you’re riding alone, you’re riding alone, hyper vigilant…”
And, another third part of my brain started saying “Now act relaxed, stay calm, don’t act like this is the first time you and Buckshot have done this, stay ever so cool, talk to him so he knows you are very relaxed about this – at which point I said some gibberish about 'okay, so now we’re on the magical tree avenue of the trail, cause this is where the trees are so pretty…. And now this section is called well I don’t know but I’ll just call it anything lane so I keep talking….' – yes, just act relaxed, like you have been doing this for a long, long time and it is no big deal. Just stay so cool and relaxed through all of this….”
And, as if those two threads of constant thought weren’t enough, the third part of my mind was saying “Yippee- -we’re doing it!! Hooray – I can’t believe it – we’re actually farther than ever on the trail alone!! Oh my gosh, this is wonderful!!!” Then, be hyper vigilant, stay alert, watch your surroundings. And stay relaxed, pretend this is old hat.
And, well, my brain was so muddled trying to handle all three trains of thought! In the midst of all these thoughts, I somehow had the brain cells to even think this: this must be how mothers of newborns are –ever vigilant to protect their child, yet finding some small bits of being relaxed through something, and yet holding both in their mind at the same time. I wonder if mothers ever get to actually relax at all….
Oh my. What a mental case I was. I did have the presence of mind to stop him halfway on the trail and give him a treat from the saddle. I thought his accomplishment deserved giving him a treat. And then we got to the reining arena, out in the farm’s hay field.
I walked Buckshot into the arena and we started trotting. He did great – always responding to my aids and never showing any signs of anxiety or worry. We did patterns and cantering and trotting and walking. We work on rating the trot, and he listened well as I changed from working trot, to extended trot to collected trot. After twenty minutes I took him over to some grass he had been showing me, and I let him nibble a few bites. Then we went back to work, for another ten minutes.
I was trying to act cool and collected, but in my mind I kept saying “We’re here – we made it to the reining arena!! And we are doing fine!! Oh, Buckshot is wonderful!! But stay vigilant, and act calm.” I was grinning from ear to ear! After thirty minutes of working, I walked him to cool down, and then we headed down the road to head back. The trail can be reached from the road, so when we reached the fork – to take the trail back or the road back- I asked Buckshot, which way? And he turned decisively into the woods. So we walked back through the woods again.
The minute we were out of the woods I stopped him, and reached in my pocket to give him another treat. Unfortunately I dropped it, so I dismounted, retrieved the treat and hugged and praised him so enthusiastically! What a good, good boy he was!! I was grinning from ear to ear, shamelessly happy with my wonderful horse and not caring who saw the weird lady with the huge grin!!
When the BO returned I politely asked how the trail ride had gone, and then shared our accomplishment with her! How giddy and excited and proud I felt. Thank you, my brave, courageous, confident Buckshot!!
This week will be Buckshot’s annual physical and teeth floating. I hope it goes well; I really hope he doesn’t have to have any more teeth removed (he’s had three removed in the last two years) as I want him to be able to eat as easily as possible. And the vet is sending his new assistant, so I will meet her. I am feeling fiercely territorial right now; I will let her know that Buckshot is my precious horse and I want the best for him, and all of his teeth intact if at all possible, and you better not hurt him, and …. Well, you get the picture. I’m sure she’ll be just fine, and competent. I trust the vet, so I trust his assistant.
I hope you had a great weekend and are having nice autumn weather!