Madigan and I survived our second trail ride this weekend! ‘Survived’ is a little dramatic- he was weird for maybe five minutes total and didn’t leap at all.
We hitched a ride with my neighbor and Madigan’s baby school rider to a friend’s ranch, where we met up with a couple of foxhunting friends. Madigan’s baby school rider was back on my neighbor’s half-Arabian homebred, while my neighbor brought one of her dressage horses.
Madigan was a little bug-eyed while I tacked him up. I don’t blame him- there was a lot going on! My neighbor’s horse bumped himself in the trailer and unloaded lame, so our hostess offered to let him hang out in a spare paddock while my neighbor rode a squat mare aptly named Piggy. This distressed the half-Arabian, who neighed and danced around on his tiptoes for a bit. There were other horses standing at other trailers. There were horses in paddocks. A totally new horse (Piggy) appeared at our trailer. On top of all that, Madigan was in an unfamiliar place.
So I did the sensible thing and stuck him on a longe line for five minutes. It’s funny- I used to think it was silly to longe a horse before you got on. Now I use it as a vibe check if I think Madigan needs one. It’s a useful tool for assessing his mood (which ranges from “feral” to “asleep”) and gently bringing his attention back to me. I don’t longe him every time I ride, but it’s a nice tool to have in the bag.
Madigan mostly settled down after a little walking and trotting. I mounted a little nervously, but my neighbor assured me that everything would be fine. (It’s so nice to have supportive friends!) And wouldn’t you know, everything was fine!
The first stretch of trail at my friend’s ranch is a long descent down a winding farm road. It’s wide enough for trucks to drive down it, but because it’s built into the side of the hill, it’s a little scary. Well, it is on a young green horse, anyway. I’ve ridden here on both Moe and Gina and never thought they were going to accidentally send us both somersaulting over the side of a cliff. To be fair, Madigan wasn’t actually doing anything to make me think we would fall off the road. You know, other than walking close to the edge and occasionally tripping on a rock or his own feet. I had visions of us tripping and sliding off the edge anyway.
Once we made it to the bottom of the hill, we rode a long loop around some of the ranch’s vacant cattle pastures. It’s a beautiful trail that weaves through densely wooded areas and open fields. The trail is well maintained, mostly flat, and has soft dirt footing. Our group consisted of the two green horses (Madigan and the half-Arabian) and five very experienced trail horses, and everyone made sure it was a positive outing for the youngsters.
For the most part, Madigan was very relaxed and walked along on a loose rein. He stayed toward the front of the group this time and seemed content. He stood quietly when we stopped to let slower horses catch up and walked off confidently when the group moved again.
Around the 80-minute mark, Madigan got antsy. He didn’t leap, but he jigged and threw his head. I kept him moving forward and he settled back down pretty quickly. I suspect this behavior stems from tiredness- either physical or mental. His baby school rides are usually between 45 and 60 minutes long, so this ride (and the previous trail ride) was longer than he is used to being ridden. Trail riding can be a mental challenge too, what with the group of horses, varying terrain, and changing scenery.
Fortunately, we were almost back to the parking area. We climbed back up the big hill (less scary going up because he was not fixated on staying on the edge of the road) and I fed him a very large handful of cookies when we got back to the trailer. He ate hay, drank water, and napped while we ate lunch, then loaded right up to go home.
I’m super proud of him and cannot shut up about how good and smart he is to anyone who will listen. (My neighbor, his baby school rider, my spouse, my friends, and my mom all received the “Madigan is sooooo good!” speech. Some of them more than once.) He is good and smart and a total joy to ride. I can’t wait for more trail riding adventures!