Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony. ~ Thomas Merton

Monday, November 16, 2009

Day 26-28: Over the River and Through the Woods

This picture was taken during our ride on Saturday. We paused to let the horses blow out a bit. I had enough composure to pull out my camera and take a quick picture. More about the ride in a bit . . .

Friday was day 26 and I just had to write it off as a "missed day." I had dinner in town with a dear friend and thus did not make it out to the barn until nearly 8:00. I fed the horses and gathered some things for the next day. I petted on Cricket, kissed her nose and turned her out for the night.

Saturday, day 27 of my grand adventure, was our first ACTHA competitive trail challenge. My dear friend Margenia and I decided this would be a wonderful opportunity to put some of our Parelli Principles to a Practical Purpose.

The ride consisted of ten judged obstacles along a six mile course that covered every kind of South Tennessee terrain imaginable. Until this ride Cricket had three official trail rides under her girth. All three were at a local rails-to-trails. She'd been out of the arena, down the roads and through the neighboring property, but all her adventures were on groomed trails or flat areas. Nothing prepared us for what we encountered.

Not even a mile into the ride, we had our first challenge. Cricket stopped and refused to go on. It took two dismounts, a change in headgear and Margenia's encouragement for me to get back on and to continue the ride.

About halfway into the ride, our path took us into the woods and up a fairly steep hill. It wasn't until we reached the crest of the hill that two things dawned on me:
  1. Going up a hill means coming back down.
  2. I've never ridden down a hill and I didn't think Cricket had either (in retrospect, the friend who trained her for two months lived on hills and may have ridden her up and down but I don't know for sure)
We were not riding on groomed trails. We were going up a hill, through new growth woods, picking our way through leaves, soft dirt and smooth rocks. On the way up, Cricket's shoes slid on the rocks and she lost her confidence and refused to continue. I waited until she agreed that we couldn't live on the hill and we continued.

The beginning of the descent was okay. Cricket and I managed to muddle our way down the hill. As we approached the bottom, the grade became steeper. At one point, I had my reins too long, a death grip on the cantle and we began to pick up speed as Cricket fell onto her forehand. I was near terrified. I could feel Cricket slipping out of my control and I was so afraid she would loose what little balance she had and end up somersaulting down the hill. Margenia was stopped across our path and I just aimed Cricket at her hoping everything would be okay. Cricket sort of slid into Margenia's mare and Crystal, the most wonderful TWH mare in the entire universe, held her ground and allowed my little mare to softly body slam her.

It wasn't until after the next judged obstacle that we learned we had taken a wrong turn up the hill and we actually had to repeat that adventure. As scared as I was at the time, I now realize it was the most fortunate of mistakes. Coming down the hill the second time, I was more mentally prepared and thus was able to better support Cricket as she made her way down the hill. We picked places to stop and regroup. For the rest of the ride, we had much more collected ups and downs and I left that experience with more positive thoughts.

The judged obstacles were a cake walk compared to our adventure in the woods. We didn't execute them perfectly but we tried every one of them. Maybe if we had studied the criteria more, our scores would have been better. I really don't care. This was Cricket's fourth trail ride. It was the first time I had ever ridden that kind of terrain. To top it all off, I was in an English saddle!

I learned so much about myself and my horse during this ride. So much of what we encountered forced Cricket and I to push the boundaries of our partnership. I had to trust her and she had to trust me. By the time we were working our way back to camp, she was relaxed and obedient. She was calm and patient. She started listening to me and doing as I asked. I started listening to her and trusting her judgement. Despite her periodic protests, Cricket was willing and she took such good care of me.

I cannot wait to get out and start trail riding on more demanding trails. Margenia and I plan to continue to participate in competitive trail challenges. It's just one way to get our good better and our better best.

Oh, yesterday was day 28 and we just played at liberty in the arena. I had intended to try and tape but Cricket and I had some leadership issues to work out. I was worried, after our ride on Saturday, she wouldn't want to see me. She nickered when she saw me and was eager to put her head in the halter. I tried to be more playful with her during our session. She left a few times and I changed my approach. Previously I've allowed her to find her own way back. This time I used a "don't you dare leave" attitude. I made sure I didn't scare her but I was pretty strong with her. This yielded much better results. Hmm, how interesting. We finished with some great circles, transitions and changes of direction. Then lots of dwell time and a juicy apple.


Tina said...

How fun!! We have some people within a couple hours who do orienteering, and some who do extreme cowboy races, both of which I'd like to learn more about. Your trail challenge sounds like great fun, and the prefect complement to a Parelli education!

Lisa said...

In retrospect, it was. I couldn't have done it without Margenia's support. I truly was terrified on that hill. Cricket was one mis-step away from somersaulting down the hill.

I liked the CTC (competitive trail challenge) because it wasn't so much that we competed against each other but rather matched our skills to a set of criteria. It really flowed nicely with what we've studied in Parelli.