I've been suffering from a little health issue that's kept my exercise program on hold for about a week, so today was the first riding I've done in at least that long.
The weather was lovely and the lack of any real rain around here has kept the woodland trails in top condition. Ireland Brook Park, which runs behind the farm where Christina keeps her horses has numerous stream crossings and some very varied terrain to both entertain and challenge any keen trail horse.
I have to laugh every time I ride JJ because with me in the saddle, he loves to lag behind Nordisk, Christina's youngster, and let them face all the "horse eating monsters" first. Nordisk is proving to be quite brave about most everything, but every now and then he scares himself a little and needs some extra encouragement from Chris. She rides with a bag of treats in a velcro closed bag, and for Nordie that bag is kind of his signal to stop and get a treat. Today he earned dozens just for being a really good boy.
But the ride was not without incident. It started when Chris tried to close the gate while she was aboard Nordisk. While he was certainly quiet about it, he's not yet enough on the aids to quite manage some of the close quarter maneuvering required. I ended up doing it aboard JJ, but even I was a klutz about it. I haven't quite figured out what combination of leg, seat, and hand it takes to get JJ in the proper place either. Fortunately, he's done it before, so we eventually managed although it was far from pretty. I could just hear JJ muttering, "Just what is this idiot trying to get me to do now? Huh?"
Gate closed, we headed off across the field and into the woods. The first section of trail passes right along and below the NJ Turnpike, so it's really noisy with all the traffic noise. It's really pretty in there but loud.
Fortunately, it doesn't take long to escape the ruckus to ride along a ridge above a nice little lake. Then we headed back down into the woods and soon had a stream crossing. The water was nearly up to the horses's bellies. All was going well--Nordisk has gotten really good about water crossings--when Nordie stepped into a hole or something. All of a sudden he was nearly down in the water with poor Chris just hanging on for dear life, giving him his head so he had all the room in the world to find his footing to get back up. Luckily, he did--saved Chris a dunking for sure. I think I felt JJ step down at one point too, so we think there may have been some kind of depression in the stream bed. We got across OK and moved along.
At one point, as I was leaning sideways to pass a low hanging tree, someone in one of the houses up from the woods shot off a gun. Good old JJ startled a little, but graciously did not smash me into the tree. (Thanks JJ!!!) But after that, he was up and alert and suddenly read to take the lead on the ride. For a horse who generally, when I ride him chooses the "slow as molasses in February" pace, he transformed into "alert Arab ready to conquer the world." At this point, I led the trail for quite a while.
After another stream crossing and two paved roads, we encountered the "dead deer obstacle," along the trail. Chris had seen it on a ride the day before, so I was well warned to keep JJ's attention as we passed. I think Nordie was fine with it too, mostly because JJ had not balked and because the deer was kind of behind us instead of in head on position.
Up a hill and back into the woods, our next obstacle was more formidable. Apparently, someone had been cleaning the woods and there were 5- 6 big plastic bags of garbage on either side of a 4' wide trail. We had to pass through.
Again, the ride the day before had prepared JJ, so, although he did arch his neck and snort a little at the bags, he went on through. Nordisk did not follow. To him, those bags looked a lot more suspicious. Despite JJ's going on up the trail he stopped and balked, his eyes wide and focused on those most "dangerous" bags.
Chris cajoled and assured him, even adding a few treats for each step forward. Then, when I used JJ as a lure by walking him back to the bags and then turning back to head up the trail again, Nordisk decided that if JJ had managed to get through without being eaten, then probably he could too. Good, Nordie!!!
Shortly after, we looped around and headed back for home along the same trail we'd come. Nordie passed the bags just perfectly as did JJ.
We cut more to the right on the problematic water crossing. I kept JJ moving then, and although it was clear he was a little uncertain about it, Nordisk came through just fine.
Altogether, we were out for about two hours. Back at the farm, Chris managed to get the gate open while staying in the saddle marking another successful "trail horse in the making" challenge for Nordisk.
I had a great time on the master horse and Chris taught Nordisk some new and valuable lessons about conquering the trails. He is going to make one fine endurance horse.