This Summer I have been enjoying riding outside of the ring and off of the barn property. Last year I didn’t do nearly enough of this, Ruby & I were just getting to know each other, I was still getting my riding legs (and seat) back and I just did not take nearly as much advantage as I should have.
This season I was off to a shaky start with my riding. First there was the unfortunate fall at the Pine Top HT in March, and then in April (or maybe it was early May) Ruby managed to buck me off during a ride. I think this shook my confidence more than anything, the other fall was an accident, sort of a freak thing, so I don’t think it left as lingering an effect as the bucking incident did. The bucking was the type of thing that I had been able to ride through before, so it had me a bit shaken up. I wasn’t hurt at all, but it had me worried that my horse really could dump me whenever she wanted to. I went out on a trail ride shortly after my fall with a couple of the more advanced riders at the barn and I can honestly say that I was a bit shaky. We spent most of the ride doing a very athletic trot, to canter, to galloping and that did help take a bit of an edge off of my fear once it was all said and done (although I was slightly freaked out about it during the ride). After that ride I managed to suck it up and take Ruby out on the trails on my own a good number of times and each ride (especially each ride I did alone, just Ruby & I) restored my confidence in leaps and bounds.
Once I got over the bit of nervousness that I had, I really started to enjoy these hacks out on the trails. I like to talk to Ruby the whole way, I never mind being alone (some people hate that) and I take it as my opportunity to commune with my horse, go at the pace we want that day and to take the direction that we decide in the moment. As an event horse, I think it is good for Ruby’s brain to go out alone sometimes. I think it’s good for her brain to hack out in general (it’s too easy to become ring sour or dull from 100% ring work), but it’s also good for her to feel confident getting out there without another horse along for company. I think the hacking out in general also helps to install a good “forward” feeling in the horse as well, no kicking along required outside the ring! And it’s good for my own bravery and confidence. Once I got over my initial post-fall shakiness, I really relaxed and felt completely comfortable to trot, canter and gallop with Ruby on the trails on my own.
And then the deer flies set in. This pretty much ended our trail riding excursions for most of the month of July. They are too numerous and too miserable for the horse during these weeks, I just couldn’t subject her to that. Luckily there is a big field over on the next road that we are welcome to ride in when we want and so I started going over there once or twice each week. The field is a different experience than the trails. The huge, open area definitely makes for a more firey, “up” horse. Last year the one time I took Ruby to this field, she was a bit crazier than I’m comfortable with. This year she has been more settled. I’m not sure if it’s because I introduced the field riding during a real hot spell, or because I’ve been riding her a lot in general (maybe a combination of factors) but she has been, while still prance-y and excited with a spook here & there, much easier to deal with overall. When we’ve gone, I usually do a good solid trot for three circuits of the field and then will walk a lap and then will introduce a canter and do a couple of laps of that (usually with a walk lap in between). If I’m feeling particularly adventurous we will then gallop up one long side or another. And then I will change directions and do the same in the other direction. If I really got my act together and put a plan together, I would map out some kind of regular trot & canter repeat plan, but for right now I’ve just been enjoying going out there and winging it.
The deer flies have abated somewhat, so we are now back to regular trail riding. There are a couple of people in the barn who recently have been inviting me to ride out with them on the weekends and I have been enjoying that a lot, but I still need to find a way to keep a hack alone once or twice a week in the rotation. Ideally we would have about three hacks during the week. One to the field, and two trails (or one trail and two field rides, maybe alternating the ratio week to week), with one or two of those hacks being out on our own. It very rarely works out this way, work or weather or laziness or something usually eliminates at least one of the rides, but that is what I’m striving for anyway. This is the plan in general:
• Two lessons per week.
• One-two dressage schools (no lesson) on farm property – on a dressage lesson week, one dressage school should be enough.
• Three hacks a week: some combination of 2 trails / 1 field, 2 fields / 1 trail, one or two of the weekly hacks being in company.
• One day off a week. (In real life however, it’s really worked out to be two days off a week, sometimes three).
This is what I’m striving for anyway. I’m still trying to figure out how to work in a little jumping on dressage weeks. On the jumping weeks, since I have two lessons during the week, I think that’s enough. But I find that on the dressage weeks I’m not jumping at all. And, while I don’t really think Ruby needs it (although she LOVES it), I think that I do somewhat, if for no other reason than I need to it to keep up my nerves. Too much time between jumping and I start to get nervous about it all over again. I need to jump enough so that I am not so freaked out about it. So, I still have to figure that out. Of course, the season is going to be over in about two seconds so I may need to start working on my plan for NEXT year at this point!