Thursday, November 06, 2008

ATF Ladies Outing

Yesterday I was lucky enough to re-work my schedule so that I could take a vacation day and attend the Apple Tree Farm Ladies Outing. Alison organized the outing for the adult women of the barn so that we could go off-site to try some cross-country jumping at a different location, do some trail riding, have a nice lunch and socialize and get to know each other a little better in a relaxed and non-rushed environment. Because of weather, the outing had been postponed and rescheduled twice, before they managed to hit on a day where the conditions were favorable. That turned out to be lucky for me as I couldn't have gotten the time off for any of the other dates, so it really worked out well.

We all arrived at the barn around 8:30 AM and managed to get the horses groomed, wrapped and on the trailers and ready to go by around 9 AM or so. Not sure how we managed all that so fast, but we pulled it off. We did the short drive down to Groton, MA, unloaded, tacked up, mounted and hit the trails pretty quickly. I had never trail ridden Lulu before and so I didn't know what to expect from her. Horse personalities can change dramatically from ring, to trail, to field, or whatever. The calmest, slowest, most sedate animal in the ring can become a spooky nutjob on the trail. But Lulu was great. She was excited, while everyone walked, she liked to do an excited jogging dance. But the whole way listened to me and kept very nicely on the bit. Even though a sedate ride, she made things a little more interesting. Such personality.

Anyway, after we got back from the trail, we moved over to the big cross-country jumping field. We all spread out and started trotting and circling the area to check out the footing and to allow the horses to take a good look at everything. Lulu was very interested in everything around her, attentive and alert, but not spooky. She also was a bit strong, excited to be out in the open and so moving very forward, much more fresh and quick than she usually is in the ring.

Once we had warmed up around the field. Alison told me that I could jump one of a series of jumps nearby as a warm-up. I picked the medium-ish one in the middle and Alison had to laugh that I picked one of the "bigger" choices as a warm-up. Hey, it was still pretty small! Anyway, after trying out a few jumps here and there, she started putting together courses for people. She had warned me at the beginning that Lulu was still pretty green cross-country and might try to run out or stop on me, but she was actually jumping nicely for me (or I was able to ride her balanced and confidently enough to keep her steady and going well over everything). So, I was happy to realize that she felt confident enough in me and in Lulu and me together to give us some of the more advanced courses to do. Nothing was really all that intimidating, so I wouldn't call anything we did truly "advanced" (and nothing in that field is beyond Beginning Novice level anyway), but still, I did feel like I had made some progress in her eyes, or she saw some potential in me or something.

Anyway, we did a few different courses and then at the end Alison had me do one last one. I started Lulu out slow and steady, breaking into a collected canter as we rode into the first fence. It had been my intention to trot in between the various jumps because Lulu can get fast and strong with jumping, and especially out cross-country where things are more exciting for her. And then you add the greenness factor and whatever, so I wanted to keep her organized and under maximum control. However, after that first fence, I slowed her, slowed her, slowed her to bring her down to trot, and she just slowed down her canter to the point where she was just cantering so lovely and collectedly & slow, round, on the bit, the nicest canter I've ever had out of her. Maybe out of any horse, I don't know. Anyway, it was so nice, I kept it there and we did the nicest, most collected jumping round that I have done in many, many years (in decades really, I had actually forgotten what it feels like). I managed to balance her over every fence, she would get a little strong after the jump, but I would bring back, down, down, down, almost wanting to come back to trot, but not quite and she would give me that nice, lovely, round, on the bit canter again. It was really, really lovely and just such a fantastic feeling. The feeling you get when pretty much everything seems to go right. I really loved her for that, she showed me a side of her that I had only seen little glimpses of before now. She also showed me a little bit of the rider that I used to be too, and I'm thankful for that.

Afterwards, Alison told me that my body position was much better and that the round went well. I also over-heard a number of other people comment to Alison that Lulu seems to have come a long way. I like to think that part of it might have been my riding (or ability to ride her to her potential) and part our partnership. But maybe I'm flattering myself again. Anyway, the ride over-all was wonderful and a lot of fun and I ended it extremely satisfied with myself and very happy with Lulu. I have to say that I like her a little more every time I ride her.

After the riding we had a wonderful lunch of chili & corn bread and mac & cheese and apple cider and other stuff. And we got to all chat and get to know each other better. Turns out one of the women used to live on Martha's Vineyard (where my family used to have a Summer home and where I spent many years riding all over the island). Turns out she had ridden at many of the same places that I had and knew a lot of people who I had known. It was a real kick to talk about "the old days" with someone who knew the places and people from my past.

What a wonderful day. I so rarely take a vacation day and actually end up going somewhere or doing something other than just loafing around, so it really was very nice to have such a day. I ended it exhausted of course, but it was so much fun and so satisfying. I just love this horsey life.

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