Ashke had his head out of his stall when I walked in. He whinnied, a brassy bugle. Then, when I didn't walk fast enough, he whinnied again. As I walked into his stall, Nicole saw me and said hi. I turned around to talk to her and Ashke started lipping at my hair, the back of my shirt, my butt pocket. He slobbered the back of my neck. It was so sweet.
Nicole decided that we weren't going to warm up, but instead head right out onto the mesa. I was game. We headed out and did just over a two mile loop. Ashke started out a little up and when we came to the first rise, he asked if he could canter. I agreed and we went up the first hill at a slow canter. At the top, he was perfectly willing to stand and look out over the rolling hills and wait for Cali. We headed out across the dirt path at the bottom of the mesa toward the wooden bridge.
Ashke was spooking at the rocks. Still. I decided to try a Mark Rashid suggestion and ignored the rocks, asking Ashke to continue on his path without deviation. Every time he tried to move sideways away from the rock, I tightened my outside leg and asked him to continue on the pathway, without stepping out. I focused on the trail in front of us and continuing on our journey. By the third or so rock, he stopped stepping out and by the end of the trail ride, he wasn't paying any attention to the rocks at all. I was pretty proud of myself for being able to implement the concept of degrees of separation and have it actually work.
It's all about the energy, I swear.
At one point, riding across the lower edge of the mesa, Nicole was struggling with Cali moving forward. She told me she was going to ask Cali to trot to try and bring her energy up. As Cali trotted up behind Ashke, he began to try and move faster to stay ahead of her. I did mention he wants to race, right? As she came up next to me, Ashke was cantering in place at the speed of a walk. It is an amazing gait. I got him settled back to a walk and Nicole said, you need to do dressage. And I laughed and said, because of that canter? She said, yes, because of that canter. There are riders that work for ten years to try and teach a gait that Ashke does naturally. I figure as long as I can do the dressage on the trail, we would be up for it.
When we got to the wooden bridge, I was hesitant to walk Ashke across it. Nicole volunteered to go first and I decided to dismount and walk him across. I needed to check the cinch any way. After I tightened the cinch, Ashke and I followed Nicole and Cali (who was a trooper) across the bridge. On the far side I swung back up into the saddle and then moved Ashke off the path because Nicole said there was a bike coming down the hillside. Then the bike hit the bridge, something fell off of it and made an ungodly noise, and both horses tried to turn themselves inside out. It sounded like a freaking bomb went off.
Nicole and I both stayed on and neither horse was hurt. Cali jumped a couple of times and tried to back into the ditch. Ashke and I got turned to face the biker and Ashke snorted really loudly, that blowing, defiant snort Arabs love. It was his WTF? I totally agreed.
The biker stopped and picked up the piece of his bike that had fallen off. That was part of the reason it was loud, but the other reason was the construction of the bridge enhanced the noise and the bikes flying down the hill hit it at full speed. Even at a distance, the noise was abrupt enough to startle the horses. Cali and Ashke were both pretty sure they were about to be eaten. They both, however, handled their imminent demise fairly well. We kept going on.
After the bridge, the lower path rises to meet the main trail. At that point, we turned and headed back to the ranch. This is the view from the main trail. I love how Colorado goes on forever and then crashes up against the Rockies.
Nicole and Cali coming up behind me. Isn't it magnificent? Cali was starting to tire. I asked Nicole how Ashke's butt looked and she said he was moving very well. I felt like he had warmed up and stretched out his right hammie really well, considering we hadn't done any walking before mounting up. I felt like he was moving really well, with only the slightest hitch. His right leg has gotten so much stronger and he is bringing it up underneath him when we go.
Ashke made the trip with his ears up and his tail arched. He wasn't even winded when we made it back to the barn, so I decided to ride in the arena for a bit.
There was a rider and a trainer in the barn working on some kind of equitation class. The horse is either a Morgan or a TWH, and they had him completely worked up, blowing with effort as he gaited around the arena. I don't know if it was the horse or the trainer or the fact that Cali got to go back to the barn, but Ashke went really up and tried to take off. We worked for another twenty minutes or so to get him calmed down. We even needed to do a couple of one rein stops to bring him back under control. Once the horse and trainer left, Ashke settled. We did two turns around at a canter in each direction, although he didn't pick up his right lead. He was pretty tired by that time and I think it was too much on his right hammie.
I finally stopped overthinking my riding and just rode him. I refused to be afraid when he started acting up, and instead was consistent in my ask for his gait. I didn't immediately think he was going to try and throw me, instead I understood he was reacting to what was going on around me. I think he felt like he needed to stay out in front of the horse that was in the arena - that whole race thing - because he became so much more amped up when the horse came up behind him. Even at the canter I felt like it had finally come together for me. I was finally just riding.
Boy does my butt hurt tonight. It and my legs got quite a workout. I can feel it helping with the muscles in my lower back and instead of being afraid of the pain, I am relishing what it means about my body.
Ashke was pretty sweaty when we were done. It's the first time I've ridden him to a sweat, that I can recall. I took him into the wash stall and rinsed the sweat off of him. Then spent about an hour walking him outside in the sun to help him dry, covered with a cooler sheet. He was still a little damp when I had to go, so I through his blanket on him and gave him a good bran mash with carrots to eat. Before I put him in his stall, I grabbed a handful of treats and asked him to bow. He did it perfectly the first time, even moving his foot forward and bringing his muzzle to his ankle. It was amazing.
All in all, it was a good way to release some of my grief. Life goes on. It was good to let go of the sorrow for a little bit and just exist in the now. Riding without thinking about anything but the moment is a wonderful experience. I was really sad when I left the barn, however.