Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Play Day

While I have been working my horse of late, it has been mostly boring work.  Transitions, serpentines, etc... It's the meat of training, but it can also get absolutely mind numbing.

Today when I got on Spider I could tell he was just not feeling up to the work.  He was sluggish and, while compliant, there was none of his usual willingness.  His "spark" was gone.  I thought maybe he was sore, since we worked on collection yesterday, so I chalked his resistance up to that and decided we would have an easy day.

At the east end of my arena there is an entrance to a trail that winds through the woods behind my house.  It isn't very long or interesting, but it leads to the neighbor's hay field, where I take Spider for gallops sometimes.  As soon as we turned onto that little trail, Spider perked right up.  By the tilt of his ears and the spring in his step, I surmised that his sluggishness had little to do with soreness.  We went down the little trail and into the neighbor's hayfield, where Spider volunteered an exuberant hand gallop up and down the fence line.  No soreness there, he just needed a break!

I brought him back to the arena, but our hearts weren't in arena work.  I took him for another little gallop alongside the driveway.  My driveway runs straight out from the arena and is pretty long, with a nice grassy easement alongside of it.  At the end is a big tree.

We galloped down the grassy easement to the end, then I pulled him up into a nice little collected canter around the tree, then let 'er rip back up!   When we got to the end, I collected him up and cantered him through the bushes and back into the arena.

We were quite pleased with ourselves after that little romp, but now we were back in the arena.  Luckily, I realized (being the conscientious horseman that I am) that we had only gone around the tree in left lead.  Obviously, we needed to gallop back down the driveway and go around the tree again in right lead.  So as to properly work our muscles and all.  We repeated our gallop down the driveway and around the tree in right lead, and ended up in the arena again.  Now what?

Well, there is another little trail at the other end of my arena, but it's really boring so we never take it.  It just leads straight out to the road and, after Hurricane Irene, it's mostly blocked by downed trees.  But, we were just having so much fun, I decided to take it anyway.  The first downed tree is in the beginning of the trail, but it's fairly easy to negotiate. 

On a lark, I decided to see if Spider would jump it.  I kicked him up to trot and pointed him at the tree....

Now, let me just say here that my jumping education is rather lacking.  I have had a few jumping lessons, but they were many years (and many, many beers) ago.  Also, today I was riding in my dressage saddle.  Oh, and I was riding in my super stiff dressage boots and in a double bridle.  In short, we were not really set up for jumping.  But, we were having a "play day", and we were having some fun, so I gave it a try!  I figured he would probably just refuse.

Spider trotted right up to that log as brave as can be.  Then, in a feat of athleticism that I honestly did not know he was capable of, he snapped his legs up and trotted right over the log.   Seriously.  He never hesitated or missed a beat.  That log is 18 inches high.  I measured it.  And he trotted over it.  Oh, he is a dressage horse!

We continued down the path until we got to a tree we could not safely cross.  Then we turned around.  As we approached the first log, the one Spider trotted over the first time, Spider picked up the trot and pricked his ears forward.  I allowed it, since we were having a fun day.  But then he was aiming for the highest part of the log,  which I rather doubted he could trot over.  I started to correct him, but he resisted.  Not in a defiant or nasty way.  He was just like, "Relax, I got this."  I decided to trust him, and I went with it.  As we approached the highest part of the log (nearly 2 ft, I measured!),  I stood up in my stirrups, stretched myself over his neck and took a nice, light grip on my reins.  And my boy tucked up his legs and popped me over that log like it wasn't even there.   We landed on the other side gently (so gently that this dressage rider's seat was not ruffled in the least) and cantered off down the trail. 

Spider was quite pleased with himself.  I could feel that in his demeanor: swinging back, lofty legs, collected even on a loose rein.  And he had reason to be pleased with himself!  He had hauled me, a novice jumper at best, over that 2 ft log like it was nothing.  He trucked me over it like it was his job!

Of course, at one time jumping was Spider's job.  Spider was a jumper before I bought him.  I'm told he went up to 4 ft.  But, he hasn't jumped anything in nearly seven years because, well... I'm a dressage rider.   I don't jump.  I don't even own the correct equipment.

I must say, Spider surprised me today.  We spend a lot of our time in the arena, I didn't know he had it in him to leap over trees in a single bound!  I'm glad I decided to trust him today, and let him show me what he could do.

I think maybe I'll even take him to one of the local Hunter Paces this spring and see if he likes it.

Trust is a two way street.  I ask for his trust every day, but how often do I give him my trust?  How often do any of us let go and give our horses our trust?  We spend countless hours training them, instilling the cues and obedience in them... but do we ever just let go and let them show us that they're listening?


  1. Sounds like you and Spider really enjoyed yourselves!!
    He must really enjoy jumping.

  2. Wonderful!! I know what you mean about needing a play day every now and then and you two sure know how to play! We don't have a good place to gallop like you did -- I'm envious. If it works out with Winston, maybe some day I'll pop over a log since he started as a jumper. Like you, I haven't done it in years but you sure made me want to!

  3. That sounds like an excellent day. I think taking a break is good for horses and riders! I remember last summer, after I did some jumping, I went and chased cows (english saddle and everything) just for something different.

  4. Gotta love a horse the knows how to enjoy himself, and a rider who will let him. Play days are great fun.

    Hunter paces are great and most of them have a "way around" the jumps just in case you meet something a little too challenging. I'm sure Spider would have a grand time.

  5. Your post makes me smile and inspires me. What a fun ride you had ^-^
    I enjoy your talk with Spider too.

    Perhaps now that he has forgotten about bad jumping, he is keen to jump again????

    I do not know what is Hunter Paces, I am waiting for the pics ^-^
    I laughed when I read that you measured teh log heigth (sp?)

  6. Love that post! I completely understand the arena boredom. Glad you and Spider resolved it together- sounds like you are bff's!

  7. Good point about trusting your horse. And what fun to read about Spider enjoying his jumps so much.

  8. What an awesome post! Spider is such a good boy. I'm glad you enjoyed your play day. :)


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