11 miles in 1.5 hours. Didn't break 12mph - which considering how big her trot is, and how forward she was today, is actually quite good.
Did the entire ride barefoot with no boots. In the past I've put boots on for this, but in reality there's only a small section of rock that can be walked on. I really shouldn't worry - coming back I heard some dirt bikes so instead of riding the trails, I stayed on top of the levee for a mile or too and she trotted WONDERFULLY SOUND on GRAVEL.
But really, that wasn't the best part of the ride.
The best part of the ride was this: I finally figured out how to fix the tense, rushing Farley. And it has to do with not pushing her buttons. Because there's one thing she REALLY hates above all else - loss of rhythm.
Here's Farley after the ride. She was quite foamy, but not too bad. She's a good weight right now. She's lost a lot of muscle tone in her hindquarters, but it isn't as bad as it was before I started dressage. She moves quite nicely uphill undersaddle - I think her hocks are feeling pretty darn good with the extra room in pasture to move around in.
Rhythm. I'm more conscious of things like "rhythm", "relaxation", and "submission" because of my dressage lessons. Although she had a tendency to rush in the dressage ring, rhythm was my biggest concern in jumping. It wasn't until I starting counting strides and really getting into the rhythm of cantering 3 jumps on a 20 meter circle that I understood how important rhythm is. I really hadn't given rhythm much thought on the endurance trail. However today......I discovered that a loss of rhythm is what pushes Farley's buttons - and not in a good way.
When I turn around on the trail, Farley's reaction is to become tense, try to rush, and then become really pissed off when I check her. She immediately becomes worse, throws her head in the air and more likely than not there is a bit of a temper tantrum, that may or may not result in a one rein stop when she tries to throw in a couple of bucks.
Today, for some reason, I started counting strides - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.......And Farley immediately became more relaxed. I noticed that when I try to half halt, or I'm tense because I'm trying to anticipate a trail obstacle, or I'm trying to micro manage her - I change rhythm.
It's not a big deal going out - she gets tense, but because the corrections or fewer and not as strong, it's OK because the change in rhythm is less noticeable. It's when she's tense, and I'm tense, and I'm having to make a lot of corrections (rating speed, for example) - I tend to brace in my stirrups and get behind the motion.
This distracts and pisses Farley off and makes her really anxious. It might be because she can't navigate the trail as well because it changes her balance - or it could just be a pet peeve of her's. Either way, if rhythm is important to her, it's something I can be better at.
Every time I got the rhythm right, Farley would stretch her head and neck down and stretch her back and make happy horse noises.
One thing I noticed is that it's easier for me to keep rhythm on one diagonal than the other. So, I would get on the easier diagonal and get a good rhythm going. Then, I would change my diagonal and try to make that one as good as the other one. Once I got my rhythm on both diaganols on a flat, non technical ground, I switched back to single track near the river and tried to maintain rhythm around turns and over obstacles.
I have no idea why this is coming up now, instead of a 1000 miles ago. Maybe having a year off has made her more sensitive to my balance. Maybe it's the saddle I'm using and it's changed my riding enough that she's more sensitive. Maybe I'm a little uncertain about tackling the trails again and that uncertainty is showing up in my position and translating to rhythm (very likely, as I've noticed I have a tendency to get a little more forward in the saddle than in the past, something that is definitely linked to how secure I feel).
Looking back, I can see that most of our "naughtiness" under saddle moments were related to a loss of rhythm - including her bucking while jumping.
A couple other quick updates.
1. I have a test on Friday. You know what that means. I dissapear for a while. There's enough new posts here and on Tess's blog that it should keep you happy until Friday :)
2. I rode in my barefoot shoes with the stirrups one hole shorter for today's ride. Zero issues with the shoes. However.....my lower leg is still not very stable. I need to monkey around with the leather length and perhaps put a spacer on the stirrup bar? I get behind the motion and feel the back of the saddle (cantle) on my bum more than I should. I may need someone to video tape me to help me figure out what I need to change. It's a saddle I don't have THAT many rides in, and I think I'm still trying to find my "place" in it. I may go back to a more traditional riding shoe, just to try and get my "feel" back, and then switch back to the barefoot shoes. I may need to hop into my dressage saddle for a couple of short trips up and down the road, and then see if I can tell what's different in this saddle. I think a lot has to do with only getting in the saddle once a week or so - with relatively few hours and reptitions it's just taking me longer to get it right.