Once home from “the Ride”, following unpacking and straightening trailer, resting horses and myself a day or two, I take out my score sheet and decide on 2-3 things to on which to concentrate and try to improve.
I use the score sheet as a reference and guide, as every ride is different and the parts of the obstacle that are judged can vary from ride to ride. Josie is not a “drill it and kill it” type of horse, so I am careful to keep things interesting. I may pick one in-hand and several mounted obstacles to practice. I then think how I can use what I have at home and out on my local trails to practice and reinforce the training. I have no problem recreating most obstacles as they were, but I also try to expand on them and develop specific objectives. For example: foot control, smooth flow, and of course “stop and settle”. What is it as soon as I start an obstacle that I get in a hurry?
I have several plastic barrels, landscape timbers, cones and Jim has made me a square pedestal from a plywood covered pallet. I have an old rope that I use to drag and swing around Josie. To quote Greg Dial, “4-6 cones or barrels and some landscape timbers should be sufficient to create an endless supply of practice obstacles”. A canvas tarp far outlasts a blue poly, which eventually disintegrates.
On my local trails I look out for flat rocks to put a foot on, a downed tree to step or back over or side pass, and small hills to practice speed control, turning, stopping and side passing in tight spots. I can practice forward laterals and transitions on straight trails. Trees in clearings are good for backing practice in circles. I never let just the trail we are on be Josie’s guide, I engage my body and legs on turns and sometimes intentionally go off trail to check our communication at that moment. Sometimes we are in such harmony that I can disregard reins for 10, 20 or even 30 minutes at a time. During this time, I can turn, stop (hard for us to do reinless), back, transition and yield. If I do pick up a rein, I try to use it as a reminder that she missed a quiet cue.
Another way to practice for rides is with lessons and clinics. Jim, Emily and I also practice together at home on weekends. Finding a good instructor is valuable, as they are eyes on the ground that can watch for improvement, offer suggestions, and help me focus on a few things to work on at a time. I love doing clinics because usually we work specifically on one focus, and I see improvement by the end of the session.
A little back story on Josie. I got her 3 years ago this fall, and it took me two days to load her in my straight load. Her past included toting cowboys/husbands/pasture pony/camp horse reject and then she landed in the care of an older lady. She was an 18-year-old grouch, didn’t want to be caught, be with me, nor be saddled or ridden, and especially did not want to trot or canter. Sour and shut down would describe her to a “T” back then. My first year and a half with her was building our relationship, and once she became more trusting and willing, things started to blossom. She now hangs out with me by choice, and is first in from the pasture when I call them in. She has arthritis and is long of tooth, but her heart is pure gold, and I am grateful for every ride with her.
I do love the rides and the evaluations I receive, but, for me, there is nothing better than riding my little red mare and watching her ears pay attention to the trail ahead. She has given me so much confidence and reminded me that the journey is the goal! See you on the trail! Kim and Josie