Summer is my favorite trail riding season. The long, hot days of summer seem to stretch out endlessly, and it’s difficult to find the motivation required for an intense dressage school or jumping session. Even when I’m saddling up to ride in the evening, when it’s theoretically cooler, I find myself dallying in the barn as my horse stands patiently in the crossties, neither of us really looking forward another sweaty ride in the humid evening air.
Trail riding is my summer activity of choice. Shady trails and cool lakes beckon; something about loading the horse in the trailer while the air is still morning-crisp and driving an hour seems less onerous than saddling up at home. My horse and I can relax on the trail, ambling along on a loose rein and occasionally trotting or cantering for a stretch. There are creeks and lakes in which to splash and swim. I can chat and laugh with friends who are along for the ride. There’s no pressure to get something just right or practice something again and again. Leave the hard work for cooler seasons. Summer is a time for fun.
Last week, my neighbor and I took several of her students on our first trail ride of the season. We drove down to Keystone Lake; while it’s not my favorite trail area, it does offer a sandy-bottomed area for the horses to get in the water. (The trails surrounding our usual swimming spot at Oologah Lake are a mess due to all the rain northeastern Oklahoma received this spring.) I took Candy to ride and brought Gina for one of the children.
Keystone’s trail area was much greener and more attractive than it was when I rode there in March. The lake itself was much higher, too, which meant that several areas we’d previously been able to cross were now totally underwater. Candy was a brave trail horse, though! At one point, she gamely scrambled up a steep levee embankment and jumped a downed tree atop the levee as we searched for a less exciting route for everyone else to take.
Our search for alternate routes to the swimming hole led us to a flat field with tree limbs scattered around it. After an intrepid rider dismounted and dragged a few limbs to more favorable positions, we took turns jumping the horses over the downed branches. I stuck to asking Candy to canter over the ground-pole parts of the branches, which she did without hesitation. She stuck to a very reasonable canter post-jump, too.
We eventually found our way to the swimming area, where the horses gladly waded in to cool off. Candy pawed and pawed, splashing herself and her neighbors with murky lake water. A couple of horses found the combination of water and sand irresistible and laid down and rolled as their riders squealed and jumped for safety.
We spent about two hours on the trail, which was the perfect length of ride on such a humid day. I was very happy with Candy’s performance on the ride. She didn’t attempt to kick anyone, even when a couple of horses were crowded around her. (She pinned her ears a couple of times, but that’s okay.) She was happy to lead or follow. She wasn’t glued to Gina’s side. She trotted with the group with no shenanigans. She was reasonably brave, too. Candy’s confidence continues to grow, and I’m cautiously optimistic she’ll make a good hunt horse.
Our next official outing will be at the Harvard Fox Hounds trivia trail ride on July 8. I’m eager to get Candy over some little cross country jumps at that ride!