Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ahhhh, finally spring has arrived

What a week this has been! Mostly good, packed with duties and desires, and lots of out of the ordinary activities.

But first, in one of my previous entries I think I may have given the impression that Duke is traveling to Reno with me, but he is not. When I asked should we, I was contemplating a purchase option between regular tickets priced under $100 a piece, or Gold Savvy Club tickets loaded with lots of benefits but priced at $350 a piece; after thinking it over for several weeks, I decided on Gold. :) Why not?
Last Saturday I had 3 ton of hay delivered after finding a local farmer selling his hay at a very competive price, $150 a ton, delivered from his farm 70 miles away. I've been buying hay from a local feed store at $9 a bale...thats $297 a ton!!! The average weight of a bale of grass hay is 55 pounds, Duke eats about 18 pounds a day so one bale lasts about 3 days. I can get a half a ton of hay in Duke's tack room, but lacking a place to store a ton or more limited my feed options to the local supplier. When I learned the owners of the boarding facility allow us to use unoccupied box stalls in one of the arenas for hay storage, at no extra cost, I jumped on it!! Then I found the farmers ad, gave him a call and after a few weather delays ( April...whaaaa?) finally got Duke's hay delivered. Now instead of paying $9 a bale, I paid $3.94 a bale. And this supply should last about 10 months.

Not having to haul hay for almost a year is a huge bonus for Sam, as he has hay fever...or maybe that should be suffers from hay fever. Bad...real bad. Love knows no boundaries like that of a man who willingly hauls and stacks hay for his woman, hay fever and all; he steps up every time, without hesitation. No complaints, barring the sound of sneezing and nose blowing.

Duke and I have finally started cantering, or should I say I finally found the bravery to canter Duke. Fear has kept us at a walk and trot up to now. The third time I rode Duke last year I was nervous and kept him on a very tight rein, which he responded to by breaking gait into a trot, especially when pointed toward the gate of the outdoor arena. I kept pulling on his mouth and doing everything wrong, until finally he decided he had enough and he bolted into a gallop. I kept my seat (somehow!) and stopped him with a gentle one rein stop. Right then I decided I wasn't getting off just yet, I needed to stay with him and work on the relationship. After that ride, he didn't bolt again, but the question of would he do it often entered my mind. That's when I realized it was time to sharpen not only my riding skills, but my equine psychology skills as well. That decision proved to further enhance my relationship with Duke as I learn to better understand the nature of his complicated mind.

At times I can't believe I used to canter and gallop horses all the time as a teen, back then I only knew two gaits, walk and canter. I rarely trotted a horse (too jarring!). In late March, Duke and I took the plunge and cantered (aka loped) a short but controlled circle for the first time. We've done it several times since and each time we improve our balance a bit; he getting used to cantering with my weight and the tack, and me getting my mind and body in sync with his. I never realized how much is going on during a canter, as a kid I just did it. I have since learned better!

Duke play races with a young colt in an adjacent pasture. Notice how they mirror each other?

When we canter, my favorite part is the rocking horse feel of Duke beneath me. Then there's that split second moment when I first ask him to go into the canter; when I feel him making that first stride I also feel my heart stop momentarily as he shifts his weight in order to lift his front legs and then reach under his belly with his hind legs. It is such a thrill! But we only canter after we properly warm up, spending the first 15 minutes of our ride at a walk reviewing cues and aides, then on to a nice soft jog (trot) for a few minutes. Then, if we are in tune with one another, and Duke is listening to my leg cues and responding to my hands, we will go into a short canter for about a minute. We're taking baby steps here, working to build up Duke's body condition and my riding skills. Slowly we are working toward the goal of total collection (mental as well as physical). He's such a patient and forgiving teacher.
On Sunday, Duke and I embarked on our first riding adventure of the year outside the confines of the arenas. We participated in the annual Sheriff's Mounted Posse Poker Run at Hell's Gate State Park on the Snake River. I've been wanting to get Duke on a trail ride since I brought him home, but again the fear kept me back. Riding him at the cabin last Labor Day was a huge step for us, and that went so well, I was never scared or fearful that he would spook or bolt on me.

Our trail partners Sunday, Ember with Leigh Ann up, Martina with Cary up (hidden) and Elvira with Barb up. I need to remember to hand my camera to other people so I get in a few photos when I'm on Duke.

200 riders turned out with their horses and trailers for the ride. There's a lot of money tied up down there.
On our trail ride Sunday at Hell's Gate Duke took very good care of me. He was in his element and loved the trails! He steps right out and sets a nice easy pace; the only trouble I had with him is he wants to be the leader and out in front, at all times. I few times I put him behind the other three horses we were with, and he wanted to pass them every time; at one time he saw some horses ahead of us and for a moment I thought perhaps he'd try to get a head of them. Fortunately he didn't, because the three in our group were having a time keeping up with him. We had to stop, circle back, slow down (ha!) many times to allow them to catch up. Duke didn't like waiting for the other horses, until we hit a very steep, deep sand hill and he had to stop halfway up to momentarily 'blow' (catch his breath). All in all we had a great ride and a wonderful day, and I can't wait for our next trek to Hell's Gate SP. The only bad thing that happened is I lost my watch; we back tracked most of the way we came, but never saw it. Oh well, I had been thinking about getting a new one anyway.

Untacking Duke after the ride. The weather was perfect, an exceptional day! Like my new Aussie hat? It's an early birthday present from Sam, that I found at a recent Back Country Horse event.

Riders returning from a day on the trails.

I'm a huge fan of George Strait and I have most of his CD's from 1989 on. I love his new song 'Troubadour.' Click this link to watch the video. ->