My solution was to attempt a trail ride and try to stick to the less sandy paths. There were many cars parked at the barn when I drove up, but no one in sight and several empty halters in the aisle. This was a sure sign that I had missed the boat on an impromptu group trail ride. No problem. I like to take Harley out by myself once in a while and we had learned of a few new trails recently, so I was interested in doing some exploring. I strapped my cell phone to my boot and headed out with Harley. He marched off with a spring in his step. He loves trail rides.
|A must for venturing outside the arena.|
The feeling of partnership elicited by riding your horse out without company is difficult to describe. The feeling is a combination of mutual dependence and trust. I need you and you need me. We have to stay together and stay safe. I can get an idea why endurance riders become enamored with their sport.
Riding solo also gives an opportunity to be closer to nature. When we ride in a group, nature usually runs away. When Harley and I rode alone, we saw many animals: a lizard darting into the leaves, a herd of deer that watched vigilantly but did not run as we passed them, a woodpecker, squirrels, and countless other birds. On occasion we have seen a hawk perched in the tree tops, watching us casually as we walked below. I think that animals are less likely to run away if they do not feel that you are sneaking up on them or trying to conceal your presence. When I saw the deer up ahead, I starting talking to them and telling them that we were just passing through. I did not make any fast or unpredictable movements and Harley's ears flicked and swiveled, mirroring the movements of the deer's ears. He likes to stop and look at them, but then he is fine to just walk by. I tried to give the impression that we are just another herbivore, no need to worry. I wonder if having a deer-colored horse helps to convince them?
We rediscovered the new paths that I had learned of a couple weeks ago. I was glad to see that they were not yet overgrown, but that time is fast approaching. The wild blueberry bushes are starting to regain their foliage and soon our view will be blocked by the broad leaves of deciduous trees. For the time being, I can see deep into the woods, which allows me to spot deer or other riders on horseback long before we meet up with them. It also makes us more visible to people on dirt bikes or four-wheelers, something that I wish that I did not have to worry about.
I was relieved to find that the new paths were lined by pine needles and leaves instead of sand. This seemed like a good place to move out without worrying to much about dust. Of course, the nice thing about trail riding is that you leave the dust behind you, unlike in the arena where you inevitably circle back around into your own dust cloud. We trotted off and Harley demonstrated his happiness with several enthusiastic snorts. He tossed his head a couple times, indicating that he would be more than willing to move up a gear, but I wanted to keep our pace moderate to accommodate the winding path and trees. Harley powered along, lifting his back and arching his neck just like we were in the dressage ring. He has definitely learned how to use his balance for the better. He used to dive forward, throwing his weight onto the forehand during trail rides. It was a matter of muscle memory. He carried his previous owner on trails before he really knew how to balance under saddle. Occasionally, he reverts back to this, but a few half-halts serve as effective reminders. I made sure to widen and soften my seat as I half-halted on the outside rein.
"Remember you are with me, Harley. Stay with me."
He shifted his weight back to where it belonged and pushed off his hind legs to steer around a tree. Another half-halt on the new outside rein had him back on the new outside hind and around the next tree. It was exhilarating.
Harley snuck in a canter depart during a short straight section of trail and I allowed it. His canter was slow and collected. I felt like I was riding a knight's horse in the movies. He did not lean on the reins at all, as if he knew that would be taking too many liberties.
It was too soon when we ran out of trail and found ourselves just behind the farm. I dropped the reins and let Harley do his quarter horse saunter back to the barn. With a new plan, we had avoided dust and enjoyed a change of scenery. Mission accomplished!