On Sunday I decided to do a thing with Rio. I wanted to go on a trail ride semi-spur of the moment, and instead of rallying my usual riding troops I decided to attempt it on my own. I grew up riding the various trails near my parents’ property, and typically rode them solo through all my high schools years.
One time I was doing trot sets on Pal (my former event horse) and I was totally zoning out. We were trotting out of a wooded area into a more open part of the trail right as a bird flew out of a bush right into Pal’s face. He obviously shied quickly to the other side, and me, who was in a 2 point off in La-La Land, fell off. I landed firmly with the reins in my hand, but Pal had other idea and after being dragged a bit on my belly I let go. When Pal showed up on the lawn of my parents’ house sans me my parents understandably freaked. I was jogging back, and had just made it to the head of the trail by the time they zoomed up in a car.
I laugh about it now of course, since no one was any worse for the wear. But, that long ago memory does still have me slightly on edge when it comes to solo trail rides. Pal was/is a SAINT of a horse, but we all know how unpredictable every horse can be. Rio has never been on a trail ride by himself. Although he has about 5-6 under his belt in a group with his pasture mates, going solo is a lot different. I could definitely tell that while in a group there were times he was a little nervous or unsure, and only proceeded calmly by following his friends closely. I wasn’t too sure how a solo ride would go, but I was willing to try it.
Rio is a really good boy at heart, so I trusted him to not do anything I couldn’t handle. His typical spook style is to just stop, which I really appreciate being the weeny adult ammy that I am. I decided to go to the trails at the end of the street, versus the farther away ones where you have to cross a main road. Not going into traffic our first time solo felt like the smarter choice. That being said, Rio is always weirdly looky going to the head of the trails on my street. It’s a paved road with plenty of green space to walk on as well. It is flanked by a low-key boarding barn on one side and empty woods on the other. I don’t know what it is about this pathway that he doesn’t like, but his nervousness was definitely exacerbated by being alone. I had to be be very clear with him that I wanted him to keep walking forward, as he tried to plant his feet several times.
Rio’s reaction when I kept telling him nothing was going to eat him, and he really could walk forward.
Finally, we made it down the road to the head of the trail. One problem- you have to cross a large concrete bridge. Usually, he walks over just fine. Solo Rio is not as brave though, and he didn’t even want to go NEAR it. He firmly slammed on the breaks a good 50 ft away.
It was as if he had NEVER seen the bridge before. Because I am an idiot, I did not come prepared and had zero weapons. No spurs, and no crop. When I TRULY insisted he go forward with some hefty kicks, we went backwards instead. Honestly was laughing though. I gave him a little time to chill and breath and then approached again. This time I went full on cowgirl and started slapping his fat butt with the palm of my hind. This work decently well and got us within about 10 feet of the bridge.
At this point I was letting him chill again, before INSISTING he go over the bridge. A biker and his son approached. They stopped to say hi and snag a pic of the “giant horse” and I saw my opportunity. As soon as they crossed the bridge I booted Rio forward as if we were following them. MAGIC. Rio walked right over the bridge with zero resistance. Once we go onto the actual trail he heaved a sigh of relief and walked along very happily and calmly. I thought that all the scaredy-cat nonsense was behind us.
After about 5 minutes of walking on the trail Rio turned around. When I say turned around, I don’t mean suddenly changed direction in a way that would potentially unbalance I rider. I mean that he just took advantage of a long loose rein and did a tidy turn in the opposite direction. I guess he had had enough walking. Obviously, that behavior wouldn’t fly, so I redirected and picked up a livelier walk. He made a few more half-hearted attemptes to redirect as we went along, but I just applied a firmer leg and keep up going.
As we began to approach another smaller bridge I thought it might be better to turn back then tackle it. Since I didn’t have any weapons, I didn’t want to risk “presenting” the bridge and allowing him to say no and ultimately win. As I considered turning he must have read my mind and he started to insist we turn. WELL NO. Now I knew we had to cross the bridge since I couldn’t allow him to make the decision to turn around.
Lady Luck must have been on our side because before he could throw too much of a backing-up fit bikers passed us and I used them as a lead. It worked again like a charm. Once we got over bridge #2 and down the trail a bit I decided that the experience had been a good one and that it was time to head back before Rio had any other chances to protest. He was perfect the whole way home and easily crossed all the bridges.
Long story short, he is kind of a wussy, but not in a dangerous way and I definitely see more solo trail rides in our future!