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!
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.)
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!