Ride Write (2)

Back in the dressage saddle after at least six months away. A Niedersuss with a Thinline cushion, comfortable enough. I shortened the stirrups for my stumpy little legs and reluctantly tightened the flash noseband. Chip is a 15-year-old Quarter Horse who used to be a rope horse. He’s been at this barn for about the same amount of time that I’ve been out of the saddle. The 15.2 bay has a sweet eye and a habit of cribbing. He yawned long and deep after I removed the bridle at the end of our lesson. Now, I know. Tension release.
What a stumbling, bumbling trip it is to learn about calming signals and to reach into the depths of understanding where our fellow species dwell. While I was putting on my paddock boots and half chaps beside my car after I arrived this morning, Avery, the Border Collie/Great Pyrenees cross came over to say hello. I’d remembered his name and he was casually hanging out with me. I turned to him and enthusiastically made a move to grab his head between both my hands and give him a good rub. He was mortally offended and I deducted a sizable quantity of points from my trust scorecard. Mostly I laughed at myself, and gave Avery an apology, and being a highly evolved creature, he forgave me by the time my lesson began.
Chip also proved to be a forgiving soul. My instructor gave me a whip to carry. We had warmed up slowly in the desert-flanked dressage arena and worked on the walk and my seat. She was mounted on her 21-year-old Morgan mare, Pia. She asked if I’d like to try a trot and I said sure. My yeehaw days surface way too quickly and I’m prone to lean forward and throw the reins away instead of maintaining contact. Maybe I was holding too much when I asked for the trot, or maybe he just didn’t want to leave Pia. I urged him and gave a bump with the dressage whip, which likely turned out to be an uncoordinated smack right in his tender flank. Chip crouched and jumped a little. Another apology from me. Maybe I’ll forego the whip and work on my clarity and consistency. He quickly did trot easily for me, and I think I mostly posted on the proper diagonal, not that it matters that much. I thought I could feel it. My instructor talked to me about keeping my elbows by my side and allowing my shoulder blades to drop down my back. My back tends to arch, then my heels go up and my body flops forward. She reminded me to push my heels down while I was up when posting. That helped. Not that I did it consistently. There was a fun moment when she looked at me and said I looked really good and asked how I felt. I felt balanced. I wasn’t consciously thinking about it, but there I was, on his back, not perched, not collapsed, up there and in the groove of togetherness and…then it was gone because I started thinking about it. See how it goes? But I felt it.

Ride Write (1)

Snake skeleton on a parking lot that was converted to a helipad during the fires.

I pulled my little mare out of semi-retirement this morning for a short ride. Concurrent with our Covid-19 lockdown in March, I wrenched my back getting out of bed. I blame an old yoga injury. When it was almost healed, I wrenched it again doing barn chores. Then Al got a hoof abscess. Then our mountain started burning on June 5th and we prepared to evacuate, which we fortunately did not have to do. Then there was smoke resulting from the fire through late July. Did I mention that we have had a record number of triple digit days (temperatures over 100 F) and that our summer, in an already inordinately hot place, has been the hottest on record? Oh, and our monsoon rains forgot to show up.

Other than that, I just haven’t ridden much. I have a lesson scheduled for tomorrow with an instructor at another barn. She’ll have me ride one of her lesson horses. I want a little help getting back into shape and maybe some suggestions that might help me with balance in my seat in the hopes of alleviating pain in my lower back, hips and sacroiliac joint. I’ll probably be a little sore before we begin in the morning, due to today’s ride.

We started out around 9:30 am, after mucking the stalls and turnout. The crew that has been there on and off for more than a week was on the grounds, trimming trees. Oh, I did forget to mention that we also had a tree fall and demolish three stalls. No animals or humans hurt, just a few destroyed panels and some flattened formerly corrugated metal roofing. Yeah, it’s been quite the year for all of us. Back to our ride. La Roca was quite eager to see me this morning. I always give my horses a snack and try to time it as close as I can to midday so they don’t have wait from their morning feeding until their evening feeding. My husband and I took a nice overnight to The Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon on Monday and I was away from the barn for a few days. Rocky was certainly missing her snack time. Poor Al wanted to come out, too, when I went to fetch Rocky from the turnout, as this is our usual routine. Not today. Heavy equipment, chainsaws and infernal racket made it advisable to stay at the turnout end of the property. I did toss a generous scoop of pellets in a wide arc across the turnout for Al and The Barbie Girls. Rocky was happy to go straight to the hitching rail where a feeder and timothy pellets were waiting.

Once groomed and tacked up, Rocky and I walked past the aerial lift, through a silent moment while the chainsaw rested, and across the property to the site previously known as the round pen. Yes, our round pen is gone now, too. It was borrowed and it has returned to its owner. Another story for another time. In the center of the round pen area was a halved white bucket, overturned, and I used it for a mounting block since both our mounting blocks are heavy homemade wooden ones that aren’t easily moved. I’d used that bucket before, so I knew it would work and not collapse under me, though I checked. The desert has a way of disintegrating plastic and consuming car batteries and tourists that don’t drink enough water. We exercise caution. My friends were waiting on their Spanish Barb geldings, and the yearling stud colt was being ponied. La Roca isn’t in season right now and with the temperatures already starting to climb, no one seemed inclined towards shenanigans.

Our ride was peaceful and uneventful. We rode over to the abandoned property that used to house a school for troubled youths. All the buildings are gone. Some roads and a parking lot remain. The helicopters use the parking lot seasonally, or whenever there is a fire. The snake skeleton writhed on this erstwhile helipad, making it a herpetological gravestone.

We took a side route through the desert on our return. La Roca, who led the ride because, well, she is a mare, and because she is a forward moving Rocky Mountain Horse with a ground-eating stride, negotiated with me for a moment, then agreed a little jaunt through cholla and mesquite would be a fitting constitutional. The pretty little trail dips down beneath the trees through a small wash for a moment. Welcome shade. Silent desert.

Sweet Al whinnied a most enthusiastic welcome and The Barbie Girls glanced at him as he arched his neck and flagged his tail and cantered across the turnout towards the wayward riders. His antics reminded me of Minnie’s frantic Jackhuahua greeting when we returned home yesterday. We rode onto the property through the electric gate, where I then hopped off and led Rocky back to the hitching rail. The horses are used to the chainsaw at this point, and squeezing past the front of the truck that held the aerial lift was no issue. It was a big squeeze, a Covid-19 squeeze. You know. Plenty of distance. I decided to forego a visit to the wash rack today, since the heavy equipment was not in a kind place for that activity. I filled a bucket with water and sponged Rocky’s moderately sweaty back after her saddle came off. Back on went the fly mask and back out into the turnout for the little mare. Al stood while I adjusted his temporary fly mask since he’d shredded his a few days ago, and I sprayed a little fly spray on his legs and back. Rocky rolled, then stood and shook.

Endings and beginnings. So it goes.