Friday, October 2, 2009

Riding with Our Niece

Riding with Our Niece

After a break of three weeks, we found ourselves riding with our youngest niece, again. It was the most perfect September morning. Fortunately, she remembered everything we taught her. She saddled and bridled Ranger with no trouble, and we were off.

Little does she know that we carefully plan ahead of time everything we are going to do with her on the ride. We were determined to get some good cantering in. The last few weeks, we had been practicing cantering Cruiser and Ranger together to reinforce good manners. The last thing we needed was for the horses to decide they were going to go on a race. Mingo, well, he is not a problem. Ellen hasn’t been able to get him to canter for her in years, which is weird, because he loves to canter with me.

We got to our favorite section of trail to canter. It is so suitable for cantering that we call it “The Canter Stretch.” We didn’t start cantering at the beginning of it, because that is what we call ”The Trigger Point.” They get so excited there that they tend to just take off flying down the trail. We don’t mind, ourselves, but we wanted a positive experience for our niece.

When we got to a good spot of the trail and the horses seemed to be in the right frame of mind, I warned my niece, and asked Cruiser to canter. He went into a quiet canter just behind Ranger. He slowly started to pass Ranger, and I told my niece to ask him to canter.

He went into the most perfect canter—not too fast—not too slow. After a bit, I brought Cruiser down to a trot so he wouldn’t encourage Ranger to speed up, and we traveled along the trail as happy as could be.

At the end of it, where we had to stop for the river, we waited for Ellen on Mingo. We saw them trotting around the corner. Ellen said she gave him a clear cue to canter twice, but he said he preferred to trot. Maybe next time…

We met our goal, but we still planned to ride on. The next section of trail is one I love to ride on, but Ranger tends to be a little spooky. We got to a good place to start trotting. Now, for some reason, Mingo thinks this is a fun trail—could it be because I usually canter here with him when I ride by myself? Well, once we started trotting, Mingo felt he should be in the lead. Ranger thought that was wrong, very wrong. He charged forward and did a couple “kitten bucks.” We call them “kitten bucks” because they are very tiny, but since they are usually without warning and actually quite jarring, they can be bad news.

I watched as my niece braced herself on Ranger’s neck so she wouldn’t fall off, and then, as he surged forward at a canter, she shortened the reins and told him to trot. The crisis was over, and all was well. We stopped all the horses, put Mingo in the back where he belonged and trotted on with Ranger in the lead.

Our niece certainly had something to be proud of. It was Ranger’s kitten bucks that threw her older sister off a few months ago. She did great by staying on.

She instinctively handled the problem correctly. We told her the only other thing she should have done was warn us that she was having a problem. That way, we could have stopped our horses to help diffuse the situation. As it was, I saw what was happening and warned Ellen. We did explain that if she was riding a real buck, like the ones that Mingo does in the spring, her first response should be to pull the reins up to keep his head from getting low. Low head means high buck—and possibly multiple bucks. Doing that with Ranger when he was doing his kitten bucks would have made him buck more. He needed to go forward. The faster a horse goes, the smaller the buck.

We had no other incidents. On the last stretch of trail before turning home, she was trotting on in the lead. Mingo was keeping up, and I pointed out to Ellen the way that our niece was posting. Her timing was beautiful—it was the best posting she’s ever done.

We walked most of the way home. At one point, we optimistically tried to trot, but the group dynamics weren’t working, so we went back to a walk. Our niece is learning a lot about herd dynamics and horse behavior—a very important lesson for a trail rider.

We all celebrated the great ride at Taco Bell.

A week later, Ellen had a revelation. She figured out why Mingo wasn’t cantering for her. She knew he wanted to, and he was ready—he just didn’t. When she rides Ranger, she just tells him to go faster and he goes into a canter—usually on the right lead. She just doesn’t worry about leads on the trail. I do, and I will always tell my horses which lead I want. Poor little Mingo—he was simply waiting for her to tell him which lead he should take! Since Ellen didn’t squeeze with one of her legs, like I do, Mingo figured she just wanted to trot, so he did.

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