Madigan’s Big Adventure

Madigan went on his first trail ride on Saturday. We both made it through unscathed, even if things were exciting once or twice.

My neighbor invited me and a few of our friends on the ride. She planned to ride a client’s green draft cross and her assistant trainer (Madigan’s baby school rider) planned to ride my neighbor’s green half-Arabian. Three experienced and quiet trail horses were slated to joined us, so I thought I might as well take Madigan.

He loaded and unloaded just fine and was unfazed by the change in scenery. This isn’t the first time he’s been away from home (he’s been to two horse show venues, a local park, and a farm to visit the saddle fitter) nor was it the first time he’d traveled with a group. It was, however, his first ride away from home.

At this point, Madigan is nearly 17 hands, and the two-step mounting block just doesn’t work for me. It works for young and athletic people and people on shorter horses, but I am flabby and weak and my horse is enormous. So I parked him next to a large rock and climbed aboard.

I want to take a moment here and publicly thank his trainers for instilling such impeccable mounting block manners. You can lead Madigan up to just about anything and stand on it, and he will position his body in a convenient location, stand like a statue while you crawl on, and continue to stand patiently while you fiddle with your stirrups or reins or whatever. And then he’ll walk off calmly only when you tell him to! This, my friends, is a revelation. If your horse doesn’t do that, spend some time working on it or find a trainer to help. It will improve your quality of life!

Good baby just shuffling along!

Once I was on, we joined the other two green beans in circling the parking area. Madigan tried a very minor dolphin-esque leap but put that hamster back on the wheel when he realized no one else was excited. We started down the trail at the end of the group; while he is very large with very long legs, he is not very fast. For the first few minutes of the ride, Madigan walked on his tiptoes. He settled down quickly and seemed to enjoy himself.

Our only real challenge of the day was a scary water crossing about a quarter mile from the parking area. A concrete footbridge used to cover the crossing, but repeated flooding washed away about a third of the bridge. Now the bridge abruptly ends in a short drop (maybe 6-8 inches) into a muddy pool. It’s possible to forego the bridge and cross the stream on either side of the bridge, but one side has a lot of trees that are very close together and the other side has deep, sticky mud and a few slippery rocks. None of the horses liked this- even the most experienced trail horse took a hard look. Madigan wasn’t overly disturbed- he walked right onto the bridge, looked at the water, and refused to move. He wasn’t upset or anxious. He recognized a question had been asked, but he had no idea how to answer it. So he decided to wait until someone could explain the question more clearly. I dismounted while his baby school trainer (who had also dismounted) led him across. He jumped across in a pretty organized and reasonable way.

I led him up to a steep incline and got back on. He walked happily on a loose rein through narrow trails, wooded areas, past a barking dog in a yard, and a horse in a pasture, and along the lakeshore. Given his enthusiasm for the pond in his pasture, I thought it prudent to limit his interaction with the lake. It took him a few minutes to realize it was water, but when he saw other horses splashing, he happily joined them until I made him leave. (I promised him we’d come back in the summer and swim.)

Is that…A GIANT POND?!

When everyone was finished playing and drinking, we turned around for home. Madigan let out several big dolphin leaps, which I am pleased to report I sat. I don’t know why he was leaping around. Maybe he’d hit the end of his baby attention span. Two horses were behind him, which could have made him nervous. Regardless of the reason, I booted him forward and did my best to sit quietly and not fall off. He settled back down once I maneuvered him to the back of the group and I told myself to never leave my neck strap at home again. (I looked at it before we left! I made a conscious decision to leave it at home! I don’t know why!)

When we returned to the scary water crossing, I thought I might be able to get him through without dismounting. The crossing seemed less scary from the direction we were approaching and Madigan seemed less concerned. His baby friend the half-Arabian was deeply concerned, however, and leaped onto the concrete bridge. I saw his hind legs slip and immediately thought to myself, “I am getting off.” The half-Arabian was fine- he didn’t fall down or injure himself- but I decided I didn’t want to try to ride an enormous leap that may or may not be followed by a slip or a buck or who-knows-what. I hopped off, led Madigan across, and trekked back to the parking area on foot because there wasn’t a convenient place to remount.

Overall, I think it was a great first trail ride for Madigan! He was generally pretty calm and quiet, and I am not upset about the leaping. He is young and inexperienced, and I imagine the leaping will take care of itself as he gets more mileage. I’d like to get him out a couple of times a month; luckily, this particular trail is an easy 45 minute haul away and convenient for an experienced friend to join us!


A Chaotic Afternoon

In the spirit of achieving my single goal for the year, I rode Madigan on Friday. I hesitate to ride him very often, as he has two training rides a week and is not quite four years old. His training rides are age and ability appropriate- no one is asking him for collection or jumping or tiny circles- but I don’t want to overdo it physically or mentally.

But in order to successfully show him, I have to ride him! I’m competent enough to give him a decent ride, and he’s good natured enough to go along, but we’re still getting used to each other.

The forecast for the weekend was cold and damp, so I rode on Friday afternoon. Clouds were beginning to roll in, and the north wind was blowing, but I opted to ride in the outdoor anyway. I briefly longed Madigan, who obligingly shuffled along. I hopped on and felt excited. Here I was on my nice horse out for a nice ride on a nice day!

the derp is set to “max” at all times

My optimism was short-lived. About five minutes into walking on a loose rein, a horse in a pasture adjacent to the arena started galloping around. (This horse just does that sometimes.) Madigan looked at him but wasn’t too concerned. Then the galloping horse goaded his pasturemate into galloping around, too. Madigan was a little distracted by this, but didn’t seem interested in also galloping around.

The two galloping horses upset the two cows they live with, so the cows did their own version of galloping around to get away from the horses. Of course, this alarmed the neighbors’ cows, who also live in a pasture adjacent to the outdoor arena. They began to gallop around.  Madigan walked on his tiptoes but kept an ear back at me . Then, every animal  (including Madigan) abruptly froze and stared into the distance. I briefly considered dismounting, but thought I could probably get us through this.

I couldn’t tell what caught their attention- no deer in the hay meadow, no loose horses, no dogs. Finally, way in the distance (seriously, like half a mile away), I noticed a herd of cattle chasing a feed truck in their pasture.

At this point, I became very annoyed. I was just out here minding my business and that chaos-causing, rabble-rousing horse in the pasture kicked off this entirely stupid and spooky chain of events! So I nudged Madigan with my heels to get his attention. Madigan squealed and hopped a couple of times. I stayed firm, booted him forward, and told him to put the hamsters back on the wheel.

Lo and behold, a couple of hamsters climbed back on. I persevered and gave him the easiest ride I could- lots of walking, a little trotting, emphasis on going forward. He was still distracted even after everyone settled down, but he attempted to do what I asked. I didn’t hold it against him, though. How could I? He’s young and naïve, and when I told him to get it together, he kind of did.

Madigan’s brain is easily my favorite thing about him. It’s great that he’s pretty and has good gaits. But it’s even better that he isn’t panicky and he trusts people enough to return his attention to them when asked. He always impresses me with his sensibility and willingness! I never feel like he’s going to accidentally kill us both scrambling to get away from something. Incidents like this make me think that showing and trail riding will be a lot of fun one day!

2022 Goals

Nearly every goal I set for 2022 is firmly in “personal” territory instead of “horse-related” territory. None are very exciting! They are very boring:
“exercise four times a week”, “meditate every day”, et cetera. I suspect this is because goal setting (and achieving) is not particularly motivating for me.  Maybe this means I’m a lazy cretin or I subconsciously have a paralyzing fear of inadequacy or I’m setting the wrong kind of goals. I don’t know, and at this point, I am not very interested in finding out. I’ll just accept this as a personal flaw and move on with my boring, safe, mostly-easy-to-achieve goals.

The only real horse-related goal I set is this: qualify for a year end award from my local USDF GMO on Madigan. To do so, I need to accumulate at least 7 scores at a particular level with a overall median score of at least 57% at GMO shows.

Surely he can get a 57% on cuteness alone?

Practically speaking, this means I need to be able to competently pilot Madigan around a Training Level test. I can manage two tests per show, which means I need to plan to attend at least four shows. My GMO has 13 schooling shows on the calendar this year, four of which are reasonably close. (The other nine aren’t terribly far away, but given a choice, I’d rather haul 74 miles round trip than 144.)

His trainer never looks like she’s going to fall off.

The “competently pilot Madigan” part of this equation might be tougher than I think it will. I’ve spent the last four-ish years primarily trail riding and foxhunting on Gina and surviving Candy’s anxiety-fueled meltdowns. Madigan is an easy ride because he’s had a great start and is sensible, but he’s still very green. Half the time I ride him I feel like I’m going to slide off during the canter transitions. Of course, I am not a total beginner, and know (at least in theory) how to ride a horse, so I don’t think this will go too poorly. Weekly lessons ought to help.

The first schooling show in my part of the state is in April, so I have plenty of time to memorize a couple of tests, practice, and locate the can of sticky spray hiding somewhere in my trailer.

Saddle Fitting

On Saturday, I loaded Madigan and four saddles in my trailer, drove forty minutes west, and met with a saddle fitter. While I like and respect my former employer’s fitter, I don’t want to ship saddles if I don’t have to. It’s expensive and inconvenient. The fitter I met is based in Texas but comes to Oklahoma often. She doesn’t sell saddles, is willing to work with whatever you’ve got, and has about twenty years of experience.

I have two dressage saddles (a King’s Sandringham and a Trilogy Amadeo Elite) and two jumping saddles (an Ainsley XC Pro National and a Sommer Platinum). I brought all four, even though I thought the Ainsley was a bad fit and suspected the King’s wasn’t much better.

The fitter started with my jumping saddles and confirmed my beloved Ainsley is the wrong shape. She liked the Sommer well enough and recommended using a half pad with shims to raise the back a little.

The fitter liked both dressage saddles but preferred the King’s. This surprised me- I thought it would be too narrow! It was fitted to Candy a couple of years ago, so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. She was a big-shouldered horse, too. The fitter made some adjustments to the flocking and advised me to use a half pad when I rode. She thought Madigan would eventually grow into the Trilogy.

He’s beginning to look like he knows what he’s doing.

For his part, Madigan was a superstar. Saturday was cool and windy, and he unloaded at a new place quietly despite horses zooming around in their pastures. He charmed everyone from the fitter to the farm owner. He mugged shamelessly for treats, was curious but not worried, and stood like a statue while saddles were moved around on his back.

I rode him on Sunday evening in the King’s. He went pretty well. I did not go very well and thought I would slide right off when he sprang from the trot to the canter. The combination of slippery saddle and knee patch tights was not ideal! Time to dig out the sticky spray and full seat breeches, I guess.

His trainer rode him in the dressage saddle this morning and thought he went well. He’s a real, live, almost-adult dressage horse now! I’m excited to start lessons on him and map out a show schedule. And definitely find the can of sticky spray.

Madigan’s 2021

One thing I really enjoy about having a very young horse is that I know exactly what sort of training he’s had. Another thing is that I have scads of photos and videos of that training process!

I don’t always see big changes because I see him at every twice-weekly training ride. And there aren’t a lot of big changes from ride to ride! Occasionally, he looks very balanced and fancy. Most of the time he looks pretty much like he did the last time he was ridden.

There’s a lot of difference from the beginning to the present, though!

This video was taken on March 1, 2021 and was the first time Madigan carried a rider. He’s pretty relaxed about the whole thing thanks to spending the previous year doing preparatory work on the ground.

This video was taken April 26, 2021 and is one of the first times Madigan trotted under saddle. At this point, his training rides consisted of about half an hour of groundwork and about ten minutes of riding at the walk. Early attempts to trot were very awkward- you could practically see him counting the sequence in which his legs were supposed to move. Here, he’s clearly figured out what to do.

Much like the trot, the canter took a while for Madigan to sort out. He especially struggled with picking up the right lead. This video, from July 19, 2021 was one of the first times he picked up the lead and held it for several consecutive strides.

Here, Madigan’s in the outdoor arena for the first time (August 30, 2021). He’s a little distracted by all the things he can see out there: cows next door, pastured horses on either side, construction equipment far away. I love that he’s calm and has one ear on his rider despite the excitement.

We’re back in the outdoor arena on December 8, 2021 and tackling ground poles! This wasn’t the first time Madigan saw them- he went over poles riderless several times over the last year and walked over them a time or two with a rider. I think this was the first time he trotted over some, though. He’s confident and pretty balanced! You can also see he’s wearing a bridle with reins attached to the bit. That was a gradual development with several stages: rope halter with reins attached, bridle with rope halter underneath with reins attached to halter, bridle and rope halter underneath with reins attached to both, and finally bridle with reins.

This is the most recent video I took- January 3, 2022. He looked stellar during this ride! This canter is steady, relaxed, and balanced. He’s figured out which legs go where and when, and his balance is improved from where it was even a few weeks ago.

It’s fun to look back at the progress Madigan’s made over the last year-ish, and I’m excited for what he’ll do this year!