Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Winter Riding

Technically, spring arrived almost a week ago, but tell that to the blizzard raging outside. 
Since we moved here, I’ve been doing less and less winter riding.  I don’t have an indoor riding ring, so there are valid reasons for not hopping on the horses’ backs:  too much ice, too much snow, too much cold, too much wind.   But if I’m completely honest with myself, those are just excuses.  The real reason I’m not riding as much in the winter is that I’ve lost my nerve. 

When we first moved here, I jumped on a barely-broke Maggie, bareback, in the middle of the winter, with just a halter and leadline, and we hacked pleasantly up and down the road.  Despite the fact that she’d only been ridden 5 or 6 times, I didn’t think twice about it. 

During our second winter here, a week or so after adding Jaava to our little herd, I did the same thing with her—though in the ring, not on the road.  I even took Murray out a few times (fully saddled and bridled).   During those first few winters, I rode at least once or twice a week, except in the iciest of conditions.  Last winter, I rode less.  This winter, I’ve only ridden Maggie once or twice since November.  I haven’t ridden Murray or Jaava at all.

Now, Mr Florida-born Murray finds it highly distasteful that I would even consider riding him outside in the snow, where the footing is questionable, anyway.  So, I don’t mind giving him the winter off.   As for Jaava, she’s having some hoof problems, and I don’t want to ride her until her feet improve, so I have no guilt about giving her this winter off either.  But, I could be riding Maggie more.  We had lots of snow this year, and much less ice than usual—good conditions for winter riding.  Mind you, it’s also been extremely cold, which has given me a good excuse to huddle indoors, but that wouldn’t have stopped me a few years ago.  I know the real reason I’ve stayed off her back.  It’s because she’s managed to intimidate me. 

In the four years since we got Maggie, her health has really improved, and so has her confidence, and her strength.  Now, when she’s not worked regularly, she gets pretty exuberant.  And, with 1300 pounds of horsepower, exuberance isn’t always a good quality.  

December 2012

This was when I realized that Maggie, in an exuberant mood, might be a tad more than I want to handle.   

It’s early December.  It’s a brisk, but calm fall day. Due to a combination of circumstances, Miss Maggie hasn’t been ridden in several weeks.  I feel bad that I’ve been neglecting her and I decide it's time we go for a ride.  I consider lungeing her, but sometimes, on the lunge line, she tries to make a beeline for the gate, and I worry that someday she’ll yank the line from my hands and run free back to the barn.  I worry she’ll somehow maim herself in the process. I also consider riding her in the ring, but it’s a bit muddy, and I’d rather not ruin the footing. So, I decide we’d both be better off if we just go for a ride down the road.

I use the concrete crock that covers our well as a mounting block, and Maggie and I head peacefully down the driveway.  We have a pleasant outing, until we get to the bottom of the hill, and I turn her around to come home.  As we turn, I feel Maggie gather herself underneath me, then I hear the high-pitched squeal she sends out as a warning that she’s about to explode.  The next thing I know, we’re careening out-of-control up the hill, with her still squealing.  After a few strides, I manage to pull her up, but that only frustrates her.  Angry now, she tosses her head from side to side, and starts rearing and bucking on the spot.  I’ve sat to a lot of horses’ bucks, but hers are definitely among the most violent….and powerful.  I make a few attempts to walk her in circles in the road to settle her, but each time her nose points uphill, she squeals and bucks, then tries to bolt again.

I keep readjusting my seat in the saddle, but I worry that if this onslaught keeps up, I might hit the ground.  I’m even more worried that if I do fall, Maggie will hurt herself on the way back up to the barn (I am not foolish enough to think for a moment that she would stick around and wait for me to get up).  Somewhere between bucks, I intentionally hop off.  Maggie huffs indignantly, and tries to tear the reins from my fingers.  I manage to hold on, but every few steps, she squeals, kicks her hind legs up in teh air, and tugs again at the reins.   About halfway up the hill toward home, I finally feel like I have her tentatively under control.  She’s still practically vibrating with energy, but she grudgingly manages to contain herself.  When we get back home, we’re both a little breathless.  I take her to the riding ring, get on, and mud-be-damned, I trot around on her until I feel that excess energy start to drain away. Then, I ride her back down the driveway and out into the road.  She walks cooperatively down the hill, and with no further shenanigans we turn around and head for home.  

 When it was all over, I laughed at Maggie’s “freshness”.  Our neighbour, who was sitting in his tractor, in the field by the road, and who likely witnessed the whole scene, probably had a few chuckles too.  Since then, Maggie and I have had lots of great, non-eventful rides together, rides where she is her usual, lazy self.  But, there have been a few cold days, riding out on the road, where I’ve felt the fire-breathing dragon begin to emerge again. She’s never acted with quite as much fury as she did during that ride in December, but as much as I hate to admit it, the memories of those out-of-control moments have stayed with me.  I’m genuinely anxious for spring to arrive, so I can start riding regularly again.  But in the meantime, I know I’ve been making excuses to avoid anymore wild, winter rides.  Instead, I’ve taken advantage of the nicer days to hand-walk her up and down the road.  Of course, those walks don’t always work out so well either…but that’s a whole other story.

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