Subject: The Value of a Trail Ride and Good Friends

You feel and listen to your horse.  The experience of the results of his response helps you understand for the next time.
-Tom Dorrance
What we think about when we ride will make all the difference.  Believe in both yourself and your horse, for greatness is always there, just waiting to flow freely.
The Value of a Trail Ride and Good Friends

Sunday Robert and I invited friends up to ride out to Lake Longhorn. Its name came about from Robert's mom who used to raise them on this property. The gentleman that now owns the property is also taken with Longhorns and has a few impressive steers.
I rode Smokie, the five-year-old wonder horse, who is here to experience more of life's challenges. Young horses need to be able to move their feet to respond to their environment, and as the rider, I need to move Smokie's feet in a direction that provided us safety and Smokie relief from what he thought was uncomfortable. Smokie is quite laid back by nature, and sometimes I am unaware that he has not fully accepted the energy of the situation which means it can build and show up later unexpectedly. For the most part, Smokie stays where I ask him to be. I am very thankful for this.

We enjoyed visiting with our friends as we traveled down roads and through fields, then down a gentle hill to the lake.

As we headed towards home up a steep hill, a bit of high energy filled Smokie as well as the other young horse and they really needed to go. This energy felt as if it came out of nowhere, but I am sure I just missed the signs, and by the time we were headed up the hill, I felt it was a little too late to do a one-rein stop or to ask the others to wait as their horses were already headed up the steep slope. I was also a little bit behind, probably not the best spot to be in, so I decided to direct him forward and up and let him go as fast as he needed. It didn't take long for him to calm a little and put his nervous energy into climbing the hill. I am sure if I had tried to stop him or hold him back I could have created a problem out of just normal nervous energy that finally dissipated by just going forward. I think it ended up being a great experience since at the bottom of the hill he was a little troubled, yet about 2/3rds up the hill he really wanted to stop and rest. I thought he had a great idea, and let him rest. As we continued, he walked calmly.

Our next experience was riding through a field that had been worked and ready for seeding so the footing was deep. Robert and I were aware that somewhere on this property three large mules and a horse resided. We hoped that they were elsewhere. Over halfway through the field, we saw them off in the distance, and one of them was watching us. The last thing we wanted was for them to come galloping up to us expecting our horses to play. Robert and I walked up to our friends and asked them if they would like to trot, and they said they would rather walk so Robert said, "I think it would be a really good idea to trot...Now". So off we all went with a little bit of high energy. I was in the middle of the group, and Smokie was looking to me to decide how to feel about all this. I quickly checked him back, then offered the soft feel while focusing on a very forward, rhythmic, and enjoyable trot. He moved into the lope, so I appreciated that, rode it for a short while then asked him to trot again. These little transitions increased his focus on me, and mine on him. We both relaxed and thankfully the mules did not decide to come and check us out. We made it to the gate successfully with another new experience of high energy to calmness for Smokie.

As we came around the corner after exiting the field with the mules, there were the Longhorns in our path, and they were slowly moving our way. It wasn't until Smokie was alongside them about 50 feet away that he decided the energy from these steers were too much for him, and he needed more space between him and them...Now. I am always amazed at the power of a horse yet at the same time the willingness to be soft and responsive. Horses truly are amazing animals, and Smokie is no exception. We moved a short distance and then he was ready to check the steers out cautiously. I do not think I had felt Smokie so prepared to move ever, yet he was also so prepared to stay with me. The owner of the Longhorns asked us to herd them back into their field. Robert and David, whose horses were not bothered, began to move them, and I followed behind. Once the Longhorns started to move Smokie was a bit relieved and wanted to follow too. We moved them back into their pasture and watched them walk away behind a closed gate. Whew, I am glad they are gone, thought Smokie. We all turned back towards home and Smokie lowered his head and walked out in a relaxed posture. And just then, the owner's cow dog snuck up on us, and Smokie thought it was one of those longhorns, and he went from a head-down-relaxed walk to here is a picture of me moving in less than one second. I didn't have time to think, only to respond, and luckily my response was to go with Smokie. Smokie moved out only three big strides until he realized it was a dog, and then he settled right back into a walk. I love to be reminded of the truth that once a horse moves his feet and accepts the situation, the fear is GONE.

Having these experiences with Smokie built trust between the two of us. Trust can only be developed through experiences and patience. I trust that he will come back to me and allow me to direct his feet, and he is more confident that energy can come up and he will be able to move his feet to safety.

I am very thankful for the ride with the wonderful friends and the circumstances which provided the experiences that created the newfound trust.

Happy Trails,
Smokie just before he realized those steers were different.
Smokie at the end of the ride, calm and content.
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The Horse Fellowship LLC
Robert and Janet Phinney

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