Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

Trolls and jaguars and jumps, oh my!

So a couple days ago I had this as my status message on FB:

"riding... teaching... teaching... riding... teaching... Is there any better way to spend a sunny fall day?"

which received this comment:

"You remind me of a Chinese proverb I live by 'if you love the job you do, you'll never work a day in your life'"

N I thought that was pretty kewl. And reasonably accurate. Lessons all went well and I had two great rides - and at that point, it really doesn't seem so much like work :)

Today was equally good, ending with an amazing xc school!

So I took Sienna out on her own (oooohhhhh, ahhhhhh) hahaha. She's hacked alone a few times -- always super high when we do, but reasonable. Has never schooled XC alone, so I wasn't sure how it was going to go. Took her to a farm she's been to several times and she was kewl with it. Quiet while I tacked up and headed out. Went for a walk around our usual walk w/u field. A little looky, but still super quiet. The world is good.

Go into the middle field and trot around, up and down some hills, she's alert, but paying attention. And we had a power trot and a half. Soooooo much fun. Jump over a few things, she lands cantering, nice and forward and ridable. And the best part -- she was actually taking me to the jumps. Not running at all but clearly had her job figured out and was all for it :) The kind of feeling you *want* going up to a XC fence!

So we jump this one PT fence out of a nice power trot. She's focused, knows where she's going and what she's doing, but jumps the fence with a little more enthusiasm than is technically necessary and takes "land and go" to a bit of a new level. WHEEEEEE. hahaha She's getting the hang of trotting down hills, but cantering isn't really solid yet so I didn't *really* want her to gallop down. Fortunately I still had steering installed so I suggested we go UP the hill instead and she was kewl with that. And by the top was willing to come back. hahaha all good. I might've been a *little* bit run-away with but not bad :) Couldn't stop but could still steer so tis all good.

Decided at this point perhaps some hill work would be a good idea. To get to the hills have to go through a tree line. Suggested trotting through but she wasn't entirely confident about that, so we took a mini walk-break to get us through the trail (that is guarded by fierce horse-eating TROLLS!!!! -- ummm these'd be rocks to the rest of us :) Once we got in the field though, the hill work actually went really well. Nice connected power trot up and reasonably balanced trot down. So we hop up the little bank back into the other field and trot around some more and I decide to try the pass-through in a trot again. Second time we did *technically* do it in a trot, albeit the slowest, most collected trot you've ever seen, while giving the trolls the evil-eye stare :)

Now the bank that we'd already gone up once is actually part of a combo. A small (2'6" if you stretch your imagination) skinny, bending line to the bank. So since from this direction both the skinny and the bank are on our way back to where I want to be, I figure why not try it? No problem right?

Ok well we landed from the skinny in a forward canter. But a nice rideable forward canter. And I know how the striding works having ridden this particular combo several hundred times on a dozen horses over the past few years, so I keep said canter to the bank... And it was lovely. Balanced. Rocked back on her hocks. Just what you want coming up to a bank. But I could feel the sheer power coiled there.

hmmmm remember the land and go theory? And remember we've been *only* jumping out of a trot? There's a reason for that.

The bank? No problem. Jumped it like an old pro. Then tucked her butt underneath her and was gone. *Very* proud of herself. Even tried to throw a buck of joy or two (still not a strength of hers, which is not a bad thing :). But she's flying -- and flying right towards the baby-bank. Ummmm less of a good plan. Got enough steering to get her beside it instead of off it which could *not* have ended well. But at this point we're now heading downhill in racehorse mode on slightly slippery grass with no studs in. hmmmmm that whole not galloping downhill thing? Yeah no longer negotiable.

hahaha so this time definitely run away with and it was too funny to hear the "coach voice" in my head rhyming off basic instructions one second *after* my body had already done them (soften your hands, use your body to balance, leave her mouth alone, look where you'd like her to go, etc) A huge opening rein got the turn so we didn't crash into the trees or fall over and then w/ that immediate issue resolved we could play a bit. A few strides later she settled into the most amazing gallop rhythm, totally connected and through and just... Wow. But still a little ummm quick shall we say for the footing and terrain, so since by that point she was listening to me again, I was gradually able to bring her back and a lap and a half after we jumped into the field we were back in a trot. hahaha

So we jump around a few more very quietly. She's pretty high now, but listening. So we're walking and I figure we'll go into the other final field, jump a handful of fences and then cool out. No problem right?

Yeah you know better by now :) Well you see, there were cows turned out right beside that field. N Sienna had been able to see them from the second field, but hadn't really cared. So we walk through the treeline n I'm kinda thinking how nice it is to have a city horse who doesn't actually care about cows (esp after some of the others I've ridden!). Except that immediately on the other side of the scary treeline was a big black cow. And it was looking right at her.

Well in Sienna's world, that's not a cow, it's a jaguar. And it's about to pounce. She spun and put her previous gallop to shame. And to make matters worse, I lost my balance on the spin which scared her even more. AND I knew that the direction she was heading ended in a dead-end very quickly. This would be a more serious version of being run away with. Managed to regain my balance, reorg my reins, get off her mouth, and get my body far enough back so that if we hit the dead end and she somehow *didn't* fall, I'd still be on. There are a few careers that require you to appear and speak calmly outwardly when inwardly your mind is going a million miles a minute and your heart is racing. Cops. Paramedics. ER doctors. These are all really important careers where that skillset is necessary and worth ingraining. Horseback riding? Yeah probably not worth the time or effort it took to train. But in moments like that I'm forever grateful I have. Because my horse knows and understands both "woah" and "steady" (and also "wait" but that one didn't come into play today) when said in the right tone. And despite the fact that at that instant that was as far from my little mind as it could possibly be (I was still working on staying on and trying to think through a plan for if I couldn't get her stopped in time), it came out in a way that meant something to her. And we stopped. Less than a stride before the dead-end.

Of course the second we stopped she spun to check on the jaguar situation, but this not being the *first* scared horse I've sat on, I fully expected that. hahaha. She grew an extra hand or two and her ears tickled my nose. Her whole body was quivering. The second time that day I was sitting on her thinking "there's an awful lot of power here ready to explode." I guess that means I've finally got her strong :) But, to her credit, she didn't lose it. It took me probably 15 minutes to get her back to roughly were we started. The jaguars had clearly already feasted for the day since they were not the least bit interested in us. But WAIT. One is cutting through the other field to stalk us from behind! Poor Si was just about spinning. The new jaguar? A rather large black *horse* that had been ridden the whole time Si and I were out -- always in another field (we shared one field for about 10 seconds). The whole ride she'd been aware of the horse, but not concerned about it. But now. Now that she knew about the horrible black monsters plotting to EAT her, now it was scary. *sigh*

Eventually I got her to walk a few circles in the vicinity of the jaguars; I decided at that point that more XC was not going to help the situation but I did take her into the sandring for some baby stadium. Now from here she could still see the scary monsters, but there was now a fence between us (well two technically, but the wire one she couldn't see very well clearly wasn't sufficient before :). So we trotted a couple fences in there -- the ones away from the cows were barely sufficient speedbumps. The ones toward were complete slow-motion jumps followed by an attempt to spin and run on the landing side. On the plus side, not once did she hesitate at a fence or consider not jumping it. YEAH!!!!! So when I got two quiet jumps in each direction with holding the line on the landing (and splashing through the "water obstacle" - aka large puddle), I deemed us done for the day and we went for a walk hack around our original w/u field.

Except that when we were there she was now seriously stressed about the treelines. After all, jaguars could be lurking on the other side! *sigh* And since I can't have her stressing about treelines, this meant we couldn't quite be done. Headed back to the second field and walked along that treeline (it's ok, but she was actively searching for the monsters on the other side of the field). Up around our giant hill again. She started to relax somewhere near the top. Down the hill, through the treeline. Actually no problem. So we're back in the second field, nearing the pathway that had been so exciting again, and she saw them. But she just stopped and raised her head. Ok, progress. I got her to walk quietly and round and asked her for a square halt (our thing at home -- no dismounting till she's reasonably square). And to be fair to her, while one eye was definitely on the cows, she did listen to me. So I dismounted there, loosened the girth and took off her flash. Then took her over to let her graze by the monsters. Now by this point they had meandered slightly farther away then they had been originally and none of them were paying her the slightest amount of interest. But even still, she watched them with all systems on alert for a good five minutes before deeming it safe enough to take a 1/2 second break to grab the fastest mouthful of grass ever and then go back to watching them. We did this for a while till she would sort-of graze. Still tense but better. Then walked through the treeline to the other side and repeated the process.

And then, finally, we could go home :)

I have to say though that other than the rather unfortunate timing of the jaguars at the end of our ride, it was by far the most fun I've had with my pony this summer. And most importantly *she* was enjoying it too!

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