Although I have been looking forward to rolling the year, I did not have the foresight to predict that there would be fireworks exploding in both Denver and our neighborhood which would jerk us out of a sound sleep (yes, we were in bed asleep by 9:30) to the shaking, panting mess of two dogs who think the world is ending in large banging noises and flashing lights. It was the work of an hour to get them settled again in shaking heaps sandwiched between J and I and the cats in our bed. (Really, really need a king sized bed). I really hope this is not foreshadowing for 2017.
We did our final ride of 2016. J and A brought their bikes and Ashke and I worked to keep up with them (have no doubt that bikes can kick the crap out of a horse for sustained, consistent speed). We hauled to the East-West regional trail, which A hasn't ridden yet, and had a wonderful unexpected gift in the shape of two falconers and three beaters hunting a pair of Redtail hawks at Spring Gulch Equestrian Center (there were no other horse and riders there). The man was flying his female first, while the three beaters whacked the hell out of the rabbit brush with what looked like long ski poles to flush the rabbits hiding inside. The female hawk flew from the man's raised fist as the first sign of movement (she obviously knew what the game was) and pounced in a flurry of flashing wings. After her third (?) rabbit, they brought her back to her perch, fed her fresh rabbit innards and pulled out the male. The Redtail Hawk is my spirit animal and watching her fly to bring down a rabbit was such a hope-filled sight for me, that my heart did the grinch thing and expanded at least three sizes inside my chest. (Ashke was a bit nervous at the noise of the hawks, though).
It is a long climb to the top of this hill.
I saddled up with a new pad under the saddle, but I wasn't as impressed as I had hoped. About three months ago, I purchased a new BOT dressage pad (had an AP one that was beginning to fray out the material) for Ashke. In the course of a couple of long rides it friction rubbed the hair short at the back of the pad. I had my saddle fitter check the fit of the saddle, which is good, and showed her the issue I was seeing with the new pad. She talked to another fitter who said she was also seeing signs of friction rubbing from the new dressage pads. I have since stopped using it and am going to try and find a sheepskin fitted pad that matches the shape of my saddle. The pad I used yesterday does not really fit the shape of my saddle and I was not as fond of it. I plan to go back to the pad I have been using until I can get a sheepskin one.
I also got a black fleece girth cover for my TSF girth. I love it and I think Ashke liked it as well. It is a little wider and much softer at the edges than the regular girth. I have a boy with sensitive skin and have been worried about the rolled edge of the girth causing a gall (it hasn't happened yet, but . . . ). I decided to be proactive and get it for the holidays. Ashke seemed to enjoy it and it worked very well. I love sheepskin on him, hence why I am looking for a saddle pad made of the stuff.
It has been an interesting endeavor to ride solo (without another horse) again. It is something that we did when N and I stopped riding together two and a half years ago, but hasn't happened with consistency in the past two years. I find there is a lot less fighting and better communication between Ashke and I when we are solo, plus he interacts with the bike riders a lot more when he is alone. He's not as happy to load onto the trailer by himself and I'm sure he would rather have the companionship of another horse, but overall he is doing okay. I am happier and more at ease, no longer feeling like the "trail boss" and responsible for everything that might go wrong. We can move at whatever pace we desire, without the added stress of worrying about all of the things. There is something special about interacting with just him, on all of the levels, without being out there entirely alone.
I did discover that he does not get tense or uptight, with pinned ears and snorting, when cantering on trail, which tells me I need to be more subtle when asking in the arena. He also flips leads easily on trail, usually when one side or the other is becoming fatigued, so we just need to learn how to communicate that need in the arena as well. You can see him change leads at the very end of the gallop in the video below.
A hand gallop up the hill, with a slight slowing about the middle, then letting him really open up.
We were both quite winded after.
Need Moar Canter
We cantered about half the singletrack rollers in the backcountry on this trail. Ashke was light and collected and we moved like one being at the canter. I think he does so well with visual obstacles because they make sense of the exercises we've been practicing. We were about five miles out - not quite to the oak forest - when we picked up a goat head in a tire. They got the tire patched and were putting it back together when the tube got pinched and the tire went flat again. Again, they patched the tire, got it inflated and back on the bike, but it went flat again within about thirty seconds of getting on the bike. This time, they replaced the flat. That took over an hour and it was getting late, so we headed back to the trailer.
Heading back to the trailer as the sun was sinking in the western sky. I am actually stretching in the saddle here - my hip flexors were tight and my calves were tweaking out.
By the time we got back to the trailer, it was in the low thirties and the wind was very brisk. We got Ashke wrapped in two blankets, stuffed him with food while he was untacked, then drove home in the dark. We were wiped out by the time we got to the barn and ended up just unloading A's bike and Ashke, leaving the tack to be moved the next time I'm out. It was a wonderful way to finish the year and I hope it bodes well for 2017.