Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Looking to Spring

Looking to Spring

Having an indoor arena is great. We are able to advance our horses’ training and keep them in shape. There was a time when we went a number of years without an arena, and we did miss it in the deep dark parts of winter.

The disadvantage of being at a large stable like ours in the winter is that the driveway and the first part of the trail often get very icy. Between that and the inclement weather, it could be weeks and even several months of not getting the horses outside. Last winter wasn’t that bad, and they were only stuck inside a few weeks at a time. I even remember some January and February trail rides on the opposite side of the river. This year is so much different.

I was taking Cole out on the hill a few times in January, but once the deep freeze moved in, it was over. We were inside. Dante went even longer because he’s not reliable on the hill at all.

So here is where the big problem rears its ugly head. If a horse doesn’t get outside often in the winter, when they do, they get very, very excited. What our younger guys need right now is a good turnout in the outdoor arena to blow some steam off. Unfortunately, it is an ice rink—not the place you want your horse careening about. They do get play time in the indoor arena, but that is no substitute for being outside.

When we had our February thaw last weekend, I was able to ride Cole out on the loop a couple of rides after we worked in the arena. Ellen walked with us, and Cole being Cole, he was mostly interested in showing off his “silly walk” to her. On the second day, he felt very relaxed. This gives me hope that his transition to outdoor riding won’t be that difficult this year. He is, after all, 7 years old, and we have gone through this before. A few good turnouts may be all he needs.

This will be our first spring with Dante. Now, he is a much calmer horse, by nature, than Cole, Cruiser and Ranger ever were. But even my most quiet, little Mingo, could get very rambunctious on his first few trail rides. We have very realistic expectations for Dante. I suppose if we waited until June, it would be very easy, but we have never been like that.

So, we started last weekend during the thaw. After his ride on Saturday, Ellen took him outside and walked him around a little bit and asked him to stand. He wasn’t what I would call relaxed. She clicked him for putting his head down and for standing quietly just like she does in the arena after her ride. After about 5 minutes, she brought him in.

On Sunday, she tried it again. This time, she walked him further, and he definitely looked like he was getting uptight about it. He did have one little outburst, and Ellen calmly held him in place. After that, she had enough and gave him to me. I took him walking on a larger oval, and when we got to the end of the barn and he saw the piece of flapping plastic, he went airborne. He settled down pretty quick—not like Cole in the old days—and we continued walking around.

In 10 minutes, he had many outbursts of dancing, bucking, prancing and general excitement. He also had some quiet moments. He wasn’t bad, under the circumstances, but there was one thing that really bothered me. Ellen, the one who tends towards anxieties, the one who had her ankle broken while leading Dante, saw it all. I was so worried that her confidence would fall to pieces.

She must have figured that out, because when I got home, she had left a message on my answering machine. She said not to worry that she wasn’t afraid, that what he was doing was normal. She was just thrilled to see him jumping around because she got the opportunity to see how beautiful he was, and she was just amazed.

In fact, a couple days later, she had him out for a little bit after his indoor arena ride when I wasn’t there. We are looking towards spring…

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