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The Rider’s Inner Monologue: Attempted Trail Ride

Well, here we are, back again at the barn with a nervous knot in my stomach. If this seems familiar, it may be that you’re remembering the last time we hung out on ‘Vet Check Day’. (If you weren’t with me on that adventure, you’re welcome to check it out, here, but I’d highly recommend some calming herbal tea beforehand.) If this is your first time meeting me here, my name is Jenna, I’m a SmartPaker, and you’ve found your way into my inner-monologue of rehabbing my 20-year-old former-eq-horse-turned-dragon, Hershey. Please be forewarned I’m a bit of a hot mess, but my stress-coping mechanism is humor, so welcome and enjoy!

Since Vet Check Day I’m happy to report that Hersh and I have been walking under saddle and it’s even been mostly under control! After a lot of snorting, some impromptu acrobatics, and maybe a few hidden cookies in my pocket, Hershey has accepted the fact that right now we’re just walking. We’ve kept our walks to strolls around the barns, arenas, and stalls mostly, trying to keep it safe and comfortable. In between rides, we’ve been trying to venture farther and farther on foot, too. Hersh is a well-known pansy when we leave the security of the sandbox, but he’s been so darn good that today we’re going for it! We’re going for a trail ride. Well, we’re going for a trail ride after we walk around the security of our indoor arena to be sure all four feet are landing calmly one after the other.

And now we’ve arrived at the point where my heart is in my throat. We’re saddled up, my helmet is on, we’ve done our indoor walking, and we’re going to try and walk quietly up the very safe lane between the grass paddocks. Are you ready? I’m not sure I am. I am sure that I should not have had that snack before coming to the barn today. The good news is that all four feet are still following one after another, but the bad news is that the snorting has started, and the rhythm of those four feet is already a little erratic. Amidst the sounds of birds chirping and trees blowing in the wind there’s also a weird metallic sound. What is that? Why is it coming from my horse? Oh dang it, Hersh, please stop chomping.

Do you ever just feel your horse’s entire spine tense underneath you? If you haven’t, just know it’s fairly unnerving. If you have, then you know exactly how my breath caught in my throat just now. Deep breaths. Please don’t bolt. Please don’t bolt. Please don’t bolt. Why do I ride you in a snaffle? We’re only allowed to walk. Please don’t bolt. Thankfully the Gods of Bolting (or Gods of Not Bolting?) seem to have heart my silent prayer. Amidst lots of ‘whoa’ and ‘such a brave boy, good man, Hersh’ we seem to be okay with just standing and looking around like a giraffe. Still snorting, still chomping, but not bolting. I’ll take it. Can we take a few more ste- nope. That was a bounce onto our back legs. Message received, Hersh. We put in some good time and I think we’ve gone far enough for this ex-show-horse’s comfort level and I’m so proud of our- good grief, we’ve made it about 1/3 of the way down the lane, the barn behind us is still in sight. Oh well, you can’t win them all, right? While we’re here, though, hold tight, photo op.

To all you folks out there who can do relaxing trail rides – I envy you. But for now, I guess I’ll just keep telling Hersh how brilliant and wonderful he is and turn around and head back to the – HERSH WHAT ARE YOU DOING? It’s been at least four years since we’ve done lateral work, but this has to be the most brilliant half pass I’ve ever felt. Half pass? Side pass? Leg yield? Why am I so useless at dressage? Wow, has he always been capable of this? This is, oh gosh, this is trotting. Hersh, WHOA. Whoa? Please stop. Or don’t stop I guess, just don’t go faster? Okay, that seems to be a good truce. I’m not sure which of us will be more sore tomorrow. Not too much farther now, can we try going straight? NOPE. NOPE we cannot handle that. Back to half-leg-side-yield-passing to the left and then again to the right. I wonder if I could ever actually get this in an area? … Sigh. Unlikely. Okay, there it is, the opening back to the barn. We made it, the sound of hooves on concrete has never sounded so good! Okay. How soon can I dismount? Oh gosh, bad idea, legs are jelly. Pats for Hersh, though. Even through all that he’s still ridiculously cute, so we have that going for us.

Well, that was a good lesson- no attempted trail rides until we’re at least cleared to trot. I guess we won’t go chasing trail rides, we’ll stick to the indoor and outdoor arenas that we’re used to. (That’s a throwback for all my fellow 90s kids reading this.) For now, cold hosing, wrapping, and lots of liniment. If you can keep your fingers crossed that we didn’t do any damage to our rehabbing with our impromptu lateral work that would be awesome- though he felt super sound which I think is kind of encouraging? If you have made it through this horrifying ride with me, you have my thanks, your moral support was much appreciated. Also, I’m taking all tips and tricks on how you keep your horse calm and happy on adventures! If you’ve had a nervous or anxious horse outside of the ring, let me know what’s worked best for you guys.

I’ll look forward to your thoughts and help- and maybe we’ll see you again soon! I promise next time I’ll try to make our time together less harrowing, you deserve that much for sticking with me through Vet Check Day and now Trail Ride Attempt. Okay, I’m going to go finish putting Hersh up aka feeding carrots and fluffing his stall. I hope you make it out to the barn, too, and have a more successful day than I did! #HaveAGreatRide

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12 comments on “The Rider’s Inner Monologue: Attempted Trail Ride
  1. Anne Paquin says:

    Next time take a friend with a dead broke horse with you 🙂

    • Laurel a. Clifford says:

      Hi, and oh how I’ve been there on a new horse. I’ve found that circles are a relaxing “thing” to do which keeps my horse focused more on right brain than staring down the trail looking for “monsters”. Keeping his mind busy on you, serpentines and small circles moving his feet in different directions on the trail, changing directions, YOU’RE being a good leader. The ride doesn’t have to go long, just ending in a relaxing happy note. Best of rides to you and Hersh. And speedy recovery .

    • Jo says:

      Or ride the dead broke horse and pony the anxiety-ridden scaredy cat so he gets the exercise without weight on his back and learns that leaves blowing are not exciting because sensible friend horse thinks nothing of it.

  2. Suzanne says:

    OMG I can sooo relate. I have just started to rehab by tbx. He really damaged a tendon last fall. Saddled him last month after 10 months of stall/small paddock rest.
    He defiantly has happy feet. He wants to be naughty sooo bad.
    Pretty scary whenever we go out.
    Good luck to you !!

  3. Jen says:

    I have a 10 1/2 year old Missouri Foxtrotter. I give him 4 scoops of Vita B1 Crumbles an hour before we work. It’s made a huge difference in his level of calm even when he’s having a moment. We trail ride alone more than with company so he needs to stay calm.

  4. Elle says:

    Sympathies! Bringing a horse back into work after six months of stall rest and hand walk only, vet wanted him under saddle walk/trot before we looked at introducing turn-out. Talk about heart in the throat. He’s a pretty high-energy TB who needs a job. My tried and true adage: I don’t need to be a hero! If my brain (or his!) isn’t in the right place, there’s no shame in being conservative. That said, I’ve also found monumental success giving him a job. Transitioning (walk to halt or walk to a shorter walk, or a longer walk) off the seat, some light shoulder fore (depending on injury), patterns (setting up cones or poles on the ground to navigate), really light leg yield. These seem to help him keep his brain on “work” and less likely to get “creative” on his own.

  5. LIZ Holden says:

    Great posting…just remember to exhale….helps…trust me. Take baby steps…next time hand walk him down the lane. When he sees you are not being eaten he will figure he is safe!

  6. Carol says:

    I have a mule with anxiety issues (stemming from her youth, before I got her), so riding outside of the arenas is a scary proposition. Although she has given me a ride in the pasture a couple of times – it’s just not a regular thing. But this fall we are going to work on that! So I sympathize! And I agree with Elle – there is definitely no shame in being conservative. If there is a day that I feel we should try some outdoor activities, but she has a very “up” energy, then I will scrap that idea and stick with the arena. That’s ok! Plus, the older she gets the calmer she gets, and we have a great bond. That helps a lot!

  7. Connie says:

    My daughter so wants to take her OTTB out for a hack, but the poor thing still gets nervous in the middle of the arena away from the security of the rail. So, for the time being she takes her for walks with me & my horse, down the road, like we’re walking a couple of big dogs. Hopefully confidence built in the arena & familiarity of the area will, one day, lead to a great first hack!

  8. Margaret Boling says:

    How could you be reading my mind and putting my thoughts down word for word when we’ve never met! Your trail ride attempt is step for step like mine and my adopted 17-year-old pony mare’s. At 67 I’m back in the saddle after 25 years. Every snort, jig, and possible bolt makes me wonder why I’m doing this! Your humor is delicious, and your blog reminds me I’m not alone!

  9. Diane S. says:

    Ride with a friend!! (And her calm horse) Also you need to work on your mind, believe me I understand your thoughts but they will kill all your attempts. Try singing, yes I said sing!! When you sing you have to BREATHE! Your horse feels your tension. If you can’t remember a song, make one up as you go.(Silly is good!) Then if you make it a third of the way down the lane, the next time it may be half…keep going, 1 step at a time!! God bless.

  10. Sue Grossmann says:

    I will say that there is a time for a bit of ace. Riding horses that have been cooped up for extended periods of time is challenging and not worth getting you or your horse hurt. Horses can learn with ace and is a much better way to start them out than prayers alone. (still use the prayers)

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