Spring is on its way, the time when horse shows, trail rides and obstacle challenges get going for the season. I finally have a sane, safe horse and I want to do a lot with him this year, hopefully some short competitive trail rides and obstacle challenges to start. I’ve got to build up his fitness, and mine too, so we trailered up to one of my favorite spots yesterday for a short ride.
Olaf trailers like a champ, although he did manage to break his hay bag. Last week he broke the metal thing that holds the tack room door open on the trailer. Draft horses break things. I’m learning this. But he hops right on the trailer with no fuss, which is such a blessing. Anyone who has had horses for any length of time can tell you stories of horses taking HOURS to load, or not loading at all. Luckily that’s not an issue we have.
Olaf lacks confidence when ridden alone, which means that he starts out nervous and spooky and not much fun to ride. In the past few years, after riding some nutty horses and getting dumped more times than I care to remember, I’ve become more of a Nervous Nelly myself. Olaf and I need to build trust in each other, and I have to be the brave one and push back my own fears to give him confidence. Yesterday I was able to do that really well, and we ended up having a great ride.
We started out on the trail and turned around once when he didn’t want to pass a park bench, the Park Bench of Doom in his mind. We were at a narrow spot where it was hard to turn him in circles and get him going forward again, so I let him turn around and head down another trail. He wanted to trot, but not in a nice, easy, controlled manner. It was a jolting, jackhammer, “I’m trying to run away” sort of trot. I made him walk for a while until he calmed down and turned his brain on.
It’s really important to me to be able to slow him down and stop him when needed. I like a horse with brakes. This becomes very important when riding in a big group, like an endurance ride or competitive trail ride, where people are going FAST. Some horses will get race brain and try to keep up with the front runners, when they are not fit enough to do so (or when the rider isn’t fit enough to trot or canter for long periods). Olaf is a BIG horse who does not release heat as efficiently as smaller horses and that can turn into metabolic issues if he overdoes it. I need to be able to rate his speed and take care of him by preventing him from overheating.
Even when he’s amped up, he still listens to me and tries to obey, even when I can tell he’s internally freaking out. What we need to do is build our relationship so that he trusts me to take care of him. Solo trail riding is great for that. Olaf is a kind horse and he tries hard to be good, and I am thankful for that. That’s the raw material I need to build a solid partnership.
Next up on our ride we came to a creek, all of 2 feet wide and 2 inches deep. It may as well have been a rushing river. We discussed it for a while. He turned around, I turned him back to face the creek, we stood still looking at the creek, and finally we crossed the creek. The next creek was about 6 feet wide, but still only 2 inches deep. This crossing took longer, but we did make it across without too much fuss. On the way back, we had zero problems with either creek.
Once he was listening and thinking, I let him trot as much as he wanted, knowing that he’s out of shape and would run out of gas pretty quick. I had hoped to ride 5 miles, mostly walking, but we only ended up only doing 3 because we trotted so much. It was 60 degrees and he has a wooly mammoth winter coat right now, so he was sweating up a storm.
On the way back to the parking lot at this particular trail, there’s a long, sloping hill. It isn’t steep, but it’s long and it just keeps climbing gradually up and up. We started off trotting it, his choice, then walking, and then he finally sputtered out completely and came to a complete stop. After a minute of rest, we continued up. By this time, we had gone about 3 miles and I decided to call it a day. He’s out of shape, he had done a lot of trotting, and he was sweaty and hot. He was also calm and riding on a totally loose rein, exactly how I wanted to end the ride.
At the trailhead there is an obstacle course for horses with a gate to practice opening and closing while mounted, a giant tire to step up on, and a bridge to cross. I hopped off and led him over the bridge and even got him to put two feet up on the tire.
Back at the trailer, he had a snack and I ran into an old friend of mine who was riding with a couple other friends. We all chatted for about 30 minutes, and it was a good opportunity for Olaf to stand tied at the trailer and learn some patience. He tends to paw when tied, which is a bad habit because it’s destructive, especially with his big ole clodhoppers. Standing around for 30 minutes nibbling his hay was a good chance for him to practice patience. He’s in his mid to late teens, but in a lot of ways he is still a big baby.
Overall it was a great day out for both of us. We both need to learn confidence and trust in each other, and putting in miles out on the trail is the best way to do it. After riding some unpredictable and downright obstinate horses, and fearing for my life every time I got on, it’s hard to express how thankful I am to Olaf for being so good. We’re a little rough around the edges, but we have potential!