This was Baron’s third trip to the beach, and the first time that I rode him for any distance. The first time I took him, I just walked along beside him because I didn’t know how freaked out he would be. He was pretty freaked out about the water. He’s actually still pretty freaked out about the water.
The second time I took him, I rode him onto the beach and rode just a short distance before I went back onto the dirt road that parallels the beach. He was really excited that day and there was a lot going on, with dogs loose and people fishing and trucks parked on the beach. He held it together pretty well, but I wasn’t ready to try to do a whole ride with that much going on.
On Black Friday, I had the day off from work, so I trailered to a part of the island where the beach is really wide. I knew I would have plenty of room to ride him away from the water. He’s still totally weirded out about the water. It’s not calm. It’s usually pretty rough and it makes a lot of noise. Next summer on a really calm day, I’ll try and get him to go swimming. He actually really enjoys swimming in the lake, so I don’t think it’ll be hard to get him used to it. It’ll just take a couple times of going out there on a calm day and letting him see that the water isn’t going to attack him.
Anyway, on Black Friday we rode from a little parking area on a dirt road over the hill to the beach. The island is really wide at that spot, and the beach is wide, and we spent the entire time at the edge of the dune, nowhere near the ocean.
Baron has been pretty amped up since we’ve been here, because we’ve been riding in new places and we’ve been riding alone, just me and him with no other horses. I gave him a lot of credit for riding out alone like that, and I try not to overwhelm him. The way that he deals with his nervous energy is by going faster. I would honestly prefer to walk the entire way with a bit of trot thrown in for fun. I really like to ride slowly and relax and take in the view. But I’m cognizant of the fact that my horse is a little nervous, and I try to let him work out some of his nervous energy by trotting, as long as he doesn’t get out of control. That’s what we’ve been working on for the past couple rides. As long as he’s giving me a nice, steady trot and not rushing and throwing his head in the air, I let him trot it out.
We had one ride in the woods alone where he got a little out of control and I actually had to get off because he was so amped. If you ride, you know that feeling when the horse is about to lose it, and at that point it was safer for me to just get off and let him calm down. Since then, I’ve been making an effort to be sensitive to what he needs to do to feel comfortable. That means we do a whole lot of trotting when I would rather walk.
This is where I feel like a lot of people get into a needless pissing match with their horses. Some people would tell you that you should make the horse walk because you should always be in charge and be the one deciding the speed. And yes, overall that’s true. The rider definitely needs to be in control. But there is some room for negotiation, and when you’re writing a hot-blooded sensitive horse, you have to use some common sense. If I tried to make him walk the entire time, we would just end up in a fight. He would be pissed off at me and not having a good time, and it would set the tone for the whole ride. There’s no need for that.
That’s why our first beach ride was mostly trotting. I was riding in a bareback pad because I feel like I’m able to slow him down more effectively when I can use my seat. I know it’s weird and that most people feel more secure in a saddle, but I don’t anymore. I can bail off way easier as well if I don’t have to drop stirrups first. And I am not too proud to bail if things get sketchy!
From the moment I got on him, he was excited and he wanted to go. He wasn’t out of control at all, just excited about the new smells and sounds. We rode up near the dune, where the sand is pretty deep. It’s not the hard packed sand down by the water. I figured he would tire himself out soon enough, if I just let him work out his nervousness on his own. That’s what we did, and it worked really well. Eventually he got tired of trotting in deep sand, and he slowed down to a nice walk. He was doing a lot of blowing and snorting and when he finally slowed down, he took a few deep breaths and exhaled really deeply, finally relaxing. We were able to finish out the ride on a completely loose rein. To me, that’s a really big accomplishment. He’s a very athletic and energetic horse, and be able to ride him in a new place, alone, on a loose rein is all I can ask for.
On the way back to the trailer, we got caught in a downpour. Baron really hates getting wet, to the point that it’s comical considering that he lives outside. He was not pleased with me for letting him get wet, and for putting him in the trailer while it was raining. That was like adding insult to injury.
But when we got back to the barn, I fed him a second round of breakfast and let him dry off in the warm sunshine, which came back out on our way home. At that point, all was forgiven.
Many times I have thought to myself that I wish I had a dead broke quarter horse that plodded along and took an act of Congress to get it to canter. But having that kind of horse wouldn’t make me a better rider the way Baron has. Riding sensitive horses really forces you to up your game. I definitely don’t prefer them, but I recognize what a service Baron has done me in forcing me to ride more thoughtfully and competently.