One of the reasons I blog is to keep a record of what is happening on any given day, so I can go back and review where we have been, where we are now and what has changed. To that end, I just went back and read all of my posts in January of 2014. It gives me perspective and lets me really evaluate how much or little progress we have made in the past year. I am going to evaluate the differences by the changes in what or how we are doing stuff.
1. Trail Rides
I will make no bones about it: I love to trail ride. My pony loves to trail ride. We both like to ride out on trail more than we like to ride in an arena. During the winter months at the beginning of 2014, our trail riding came to a halt, due to weather and circumstances.
Last year, in January, we rode 6.25 miles on trail, both of those rides up the mesa. This was partly due to a) not having cold weather riding gear, and b) not having anyone to ride out with. I was spending most of my time a year ago riding with N and Cali. They did not venture outside in inclement weather. Ashke and I spent all of our riding time in the indoor arena, and the two brief rides I managed up the mesa were pure luck.
So much has changed this year. We have a horse trailer, which allows us to expand the trails we ride (better chance of finding something dry and doable) and keeps it fresh and exciting. J has accepted her role in trail riding, which I think she really enjoys, and has a bike that can manage any trail Ashke and I might want to ride on. So far in January, I have ridden 28 miles on trail, although I do expect that number to go up after our ride tomorrow. I have invested in cold riding gear in the form of insulated riding boots, Berne insulated bib pants, layers of shirts, a Carhartt Sunstone Rancher coat, winter riding gloves, and a technical material beanie that fits under my helmet. J and I have ridden in mud, snow, some wind and chilly temps. We have also found a trail riding buddy that loves being out for miles/hours in all kinds of weather, with no agenda other than to get her pony safe and savvy on the trail. Additionally, Ashke is much fitter than he was a year ago. We can go farther, faster. Our average pace on trail has gone from 3.4 mph to 3.8 mph in less than ideal conditions. Before the weather changed, our average time was closer to 5 mph over distance. I'm hoping to see that number go up as we continue to ride out this year.
On trail, we are learning to canter for longer periods of time and to do
so without racing or without becoming ragged. Ashke is learning to
follow another horse at the canter without trying to race past them. I
am learning to relax and let him fuss when he needs to while
understanding its not going to escalate into something dangerous. We are
rock solid with the majority of trail obstacles, although benches and
rocks are still something to tilt an ear at when we go past. He loads
like a champ and loves it when we are exploring a new trail. He is a
great companion horse for those with less experience and can be a very
calm leader on trail.
Last year I was boarding at TMR.
This year we are at SQA. I think it is an upgrade from a quality of food perspective. Ashke loves the Barley Fodder and I can already see improvements in his mane and tail quality, plus his feet have smoothed out from his emotional turmoil over the move. He gets to see me on a daily basis, since I stop by every night after work and feed him his mash. Additionally, he has access to his run 24/7, and he is never locked in his stall. We are blanketing him when necessary, and his weight is decent again. His tail, which was always a dirty reddish brown at TMR, has stayed white for all of January, which is directly related to his digestive process.
Ashke's feet have grown and expanded in the last year. They have also toughened to the point where we have begun doing trail rides without boots. A year ago, we couldn't walk across the parking lot at TMR without wincing and flinching. I hope to continue this trend. I will boot when the trail is rocky, but I would really like to see if he can develop the tough kind of hooves necessary for trail riding sans boots. There are several trails where the footing is easy enough we can go out truly barefoot.
January of 2014, I was riding in the Trekkerland by Prestige and beginning to notice issues with Ashke's back. He was not happy with the work and I was beginning to think there was an issue with the saddle. I was riding in the Raised Rockin' S snaffle bit in a dressage bridle with a cavasson noseband.
This year, I am loving my Alta Escuela and it fits Ashke soooo very well. There are no issues with back soreness, even after a fifteen mile ride. I ride in it most frequently with a BOT saddlepad and fleece girth. Ashke is now going in a war bridle, which includes a decorative noseband not designed for keeping his jaw closed. His bit is a low, wide port curb bit and he is happier in this bit than anything we have ever tried and most importantly, it gives me what I need to control him at the canter. We have lots of bling.
5. Indoor Work
We spent a lot of time in January, 2014, riding walk and trot, working on transitions and rhythm. I was taking dressage lessons and already beginning to hate how it was changing my relationship with Ashke, how frustrated I felt, how many rides devolved into a fight because I was trying to force Ashke into a long, low frame. I also had zero control when it came to the canter, which was one of my goals for the winter.
This January, we are working all three gaits, both in the arena and on trail. Ashke is still developing his canter, but we are much more balanced and in control then we were a year ago. He is much better balanced and able to move off his haunches when he is allowed to carry his head a little bit higher than he was when we were focused on modern dressage. He is no longer on the forehand when we canter and he is able to achieve a one stride canter depart from a stand once he is warmed up.
In the arena, we are also working on rollbacks, turns on both forehand and haunches, simple lead changes, changes of direction at the canter, slowing and collecting our trot and canter (we never slow at the walk - I want a fast, smooth, swinging walk on trail and in the arena). We are working on circles and on straight lines. Additionally, Ashke is learning to slide stop from my seat. We are working poles and barrels for WE in the indoor when there is room. We've even popped over the occasional jump. We ride mostly one handed and he has learned to neck rein very well. We are currently working on proper bend and turns while neck reining.