Story Goes Trail Riding

I’ve had Story for about a month, and the closest I’ve come to a trail ride on her is hacking around the hay meadow with one of our friends. She was very good, which I thought was a promising sign. But there’s no better way to see how a horse will be on trails than to, you know, actually take them somewhere and see how it goes.

Story and I headed out to Flint Creek to ride with Harvard Fox Hounds on a lowkey trail ride on Saturday. Harvard hunts hundreds of acres in the area, which is the one of the most beautiful places in the state. It’s close to the Arkansas border; the terrain is very hilly and densely forested. It reminds of the area of Tennessee where I grew up, which is probably why I like it so much! The terrain can be tough since many trails are steep and the soil is loose and rocky in some areas.

Headed to climb those hills in the distance.

Story was an absolute hag about loading. I’m not sure if it’s the ramp or trailering in general that she doesn’t like, but we have to address it either way! That, combined with unexpected road construction, meant I pulled in exactly at 10 AM- when the ride was supposed to start. Luckily, a few friends didn’t mind waiting for me to throw tack and hoof boots on Story, and by 10:20 AM I climbed aboard and we set out.

Our leader chose to go east, which meant the very first thing we did was cross Flint Creek. The crossing is very wide and relatively shallow, and the water is crystal clear all the way to the creek’s rocky bottom. I’m not sure Story realized the water was there until her hooves were in it! She seemed surprised and stepped sideways a few times, then followed our friends across. On the other side, she was a little wide-eyed but generally calm, curious, and obedient.

Leading the group down the trail.

We rode for about an hour and half and Story was absolutely perfect! She was happy to be anywhere in the group – front, back, or middle. She didn’t mind horses close to her. She trotted and cantered quietly with the group and was easily rated in the D-ring snaffle she usually goes in. Nothing spooked her. For most of the ride I let her hack on the buckle, and she was relaxed and happy. You’d think this horse had been on a hundred trail rides, not that she’d spent her life competing as a fancy show hunter.

Hanging out in the middle of the group

I couldn’t be happier with how Story’s first trail ride went! While trail riding isn’t a perfect analogue to foxhunting, I do think Story will make a terrific hunt horse. She’s enrolled in baby school with my trainer to work on loading and standing quietly at the mounting block, but those things are fairly minor and fixable issues. We continue to work on her ring sour behavior- it’s too early to say if that will improve or resolve. Now that hay season is over, I can take her for conditioning work in the hay meadow. The goal is to have her ready for Opening Hunt in November!

On My List

You’d think after a lifetime of owning horses and seven years of working at a tack shop, I would have every possible piece of tack and apparel an equestrian could need or want. You’d be right, for the most part. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing on my to-buy list. Here’s what I’ve got my eye on:

Kerrits Groundwork Waterproof Sneaker: I don’t like wearing my regular sneakers to horse shows (or around the barn). My feet always feel unpleasantly moist after walking through damp grass or rinsing off a horse. I also don’t like wearing my waterproof Bean boots because they’re heavy and hot when worn all day. I’ve been thinking of buying Ariat’s waterproof sneaker for months, but was put off by reviews complaining about poor fit and durability. I was excited to see this offering from Kerrits; the price point is a bit better than Ariat’s and I’ve had a lot of success with Kerrits products over the years.

Ecogold Secure Hunter Pad: I own exactly one shaped saddle pad, and boy does it get a workout during foxhunting season. My hunt isn’t so traditional they’ll ask someone to leave over a square pad, but I like to look the part. Story is shaped like a whiskey barrel, so investing in a quality non-slip pad might be in my best interest!

Ride iQ Subscription: Ride iQ is an app that offers audio lessons for equestrians. Last winter, I won a six-week subscription, which of course coincided with a weekend I was out of town followed by a couple of weeks of dreadful weather. I didn’t get to use it as much as I would have liked, but I did find the lessons useful for having more structured and productive rides. I didn’t subscribe at the time because I wasn’t riding more than a couple of times a week. Now that I’m riding Madigan more often and working toward goals other than “remember the test” and “make sure horse doesn’t do anything real weird”, I think I’d utilize this app more!

Mikmar Dressage Comfort Girth: My only regret from my time at the tack shop is not buying this girth with my employee discount. It was the only girth the store’s saddle fitter recommended, and customers raved about how much better their horses went while wearing it. Madigan has nearly outgrown my largest dressage girth, so this is on my birthday wishlist!

I’d love to hear if you have experience with any of these products, or if you have other options you like!

ODS Summer Oasis Recap

In a fit of optimism, I entered Madigan in last weekend’s dressage show, despite him having had June, July, and half of August off due to headshaking (June), travel (July), and heat (August). I signed us up for two Training Level tests, figuring that it would at least be a fun day and a learning experience. And it was! It was not, however, our best or highest scoring outing. (I think it might have been our lowest scoring outing?)

Snacking outside the warmup ring

A couple of weeks ago, Madigan turned up with a small spur rub after our lesson. I didn’t want to make it worse, so I elected to ride without spurs last week while preparing for the show. He was surprisingly good, so I left my spurs at home on Saturday. This turned out to be a mistake! He plodded around T-2 at turtle speed while I kicked him every two strides to keep him going. It felt like the longest test of my life!

I had 45 minutes between my first and second tests, so I opted to stay on Madigan so he wouldn’t think we were finished for the day. (You may recall that he was not enthused about a second test way back in March at the Cowtown Classic.) One of the barn rats retrieved a pair of spurs for me while I looked over T-3.

We got off to a bad start with a crooked, above-the-bit halt and things didn’t improve much from there. We had some really nice moments (mostly at the canter) but had some very ugly ones, too (like missing our right lead twice before picking it up). The judge was fair but not generous- she rewarded us with several 7s and one 8, but dinged us heavily on movements that weren’t executed well.

While this certainly wasn’t our best show, I felt it had a lot of positive takeaways. Madigan was well behaved at a new venue and handled competing in an outdoor ring just fine. (All of his shows have been in indoors, though we do ride in an outdoor ring at home when weather permits.) He continues to be unfazed by anything anyone does in the warmup, doesn’t get upset when horses come or go, and eats and drinks well throughout the show. The things we struggled with at the show are some of the same things we struggle with at home- impulsion, keeping a lid on change attempts, reaching into the contact. Really, for a 5 year old who had the summer off, Madigan was pretty good.

There are no more rated shows on the calendar until 2024, so we have all winter to work on our problems!