Ride 15: We Circumnavigate a Field Section

Not a “section” section (640 acres, a square mile)  but the north half of the West Grass, from Center Walk to the treeline along the north fence, bordered on the east by the dry woods and on the west by the creek woods.  A much warmer afternoon, with a SW breeze, clear blue sky, bright sun…didn’t get started until almost 3 and were back by 3:30.   We had a few moments of “I don’t want to go any farther, Tigger’s calling me” and a few more later of “I don’t WANT to whoa! I want to hurry home!!” both handled without excessive drama and some small tight circles.   (Some horses–Molly, for instance–use wheeling and spinning as part of their resistance; for those, small tight circles may not be the best correction.  But for a horse that doesn’t offer them, they’re often a good way to end an “I won’t go” or “I won’t stop” resistance, because they force the horse to think about its own balance.  Rags isn’t hard to redirect, though if he wants to keep going through a Whoa on the way home, it may take multiple circles with a change of direction in the middle.  The bit I’m using with Rags, a moderate simple snaffle with full cheekpieces that cannot be pulled into the mouth, is ideal for the “small tight circle” correction…there’s pressure on only one rein a a time, and the full cheekpiece will not go into his mouth even if he gapes.  I think this kind of bit is called a “fulmer” in the UK.)

I mounted from a mounting block this time, not the rock.  Positioned Rags near the barn lot fence,  with the mounting block on his left side.  R- stood in front of him, and I got on with a brief hold-and-push for steadying on the top pipe of that fence, which is at five feet.  Worked very well and will work better as I get better.  No wallowing.   Made a couple of loops in the north horse lot to be sure he wasn’t all wired, as Tigger was when I did ground work with him.  Then out the gate into the Near Meadow, a couple more loops (short loops) and then across the Old Ditch, left on the mowed trail there, right onto the trail up to the Dry Woods SW corner, and left (west )on Center Walk.  Tigger let out a good long call and Rags stopped and we had our first little disagreement, but he went on down Center Walk toward the Creek Woods.  We passed the opening to the right of the Diagonal trail and kept on until we were almost at the Entrance Meadow, where Center Walk crosses the N/S trail just east of the Creek Woods.

Rags was briefly in the Entrance Meadow a little over a year ago, so he had seen the entire Center Walk trail before.  This time we turned right, north, toward the same line of trees he saw up close the day we rode the Diagonal Trail both ways from and to Center Walk.  But he had not ever been on the north end of the east Creek Woods trail.  Ears wiggled, and I could feel some tension.  I had been singing to him, a simple little tune and verses sung to the rhythm of his walk, so I started that again and felt him relax a little until the trail veered off a little…but then we got high enough he could really see where we were going…”Oh…I’ve been *there* before. Sure…”  And from that point, he felt relaxed and happy to finish that trail and arrive at the wider mowed area where several trails meet.   I had thought about which way to bring him back–by the Diagonal, or straight east to the Dry Woods on one of three trails…not, at this time, the one along the north fence (it would feel confined and is less safe because one side is a many-stranded barbed wire perimeter fence (used to be cattle across it.  Not a place to have a horse panic about something.)  I chose the trail just to the field side of the fencerow trees and bushes.  It winds around some of the growth and in a few places there are trees or clumps of brush on the field side.  We had recently trimmed it to make room for a horse and rider (as opposed to a lone person on foot.)  It’s a safe place to find out if a horse will go willingly through a narrow gap, because the narrow bit is very short.  Rags made nothing of those places

Somewhat to my surprise, Rags needed no extra reassurance or encouragement to start up that way…he may have recognized the Dry Woods edge (he’d been on that before, heading home from his first trek into the Dry Woods and Fox and up to the View Corner.)   There’s a shorter route, farther out in the grass, that runs straight, but I know I want to ride this edge trail (and the inside fence-checking one) later.   It climbs not quite steadily, because the west field was also terraced at one time, so there are berm ends to climb and runoff channels (not very deep) to come back down into.  As it’s winter, and most of the trees and brush (live oaks excepted) are leafless, it’s easy to see the field north of ours all the way to the highway there and beyond.   It’s also longer than Center Walk because the Dry Woods form a rhombus that slants toward the west from its side along the north fence.  Rags looked at traffic, and the brush we passed, but didn’t slow down or stop.  At the top end, I turned him onto the mowed trail west of the Dry Woods and he perked up with his “Oh–we’re going home now?  Cool!!” walk.

When we came to the “front” corner,  where Center Walk takes off to the right and extends along the front of the Dry Woods to the left, he made a move toward the trail we’d come up by.  I turned him onto the front trail but wanted him to stop.  “NOOOooooo stop!” he replied with stiff neck, gaping mouth, and…when I started to make a tight circle, he backed up, and backed up again.   It took a minute to straight this out, but eventually he stood still long enough, and quiet enough, reins loose, to earn a little extra reward.  Then  across the front of the Dry Woods, down the east Dry Woods trail to the Near Meadow, back up into the north horse lot, and I dismounted, but had to use R-‘s shoulder to brace on while getting my leg back over the horse.

If I can get Rags to stand still next to the horse lot fence, so I can use that top pipe to brace on, I will be able to get on (with the mounting block) and off (no mounting block needed) without R- having to be there.  That’s one goal.  The next is being able to mount from one of the mounting blocks I’d pre-positioned around the place, and finally from the ground.  At that point I’ll be able to ride out to Fox or Owl or Cloud, dismount, give Rags a drink in a bucket, work on the wildlife waterer as needed, and mount again to ride back.  Get off anywhere I want to and get back on…what a concept.   Today, everything about the ride was an advance on where Rags and I were before so it gets 5/5 stars and I’m almost as happy with myself as with him.   R- is going to widen the mowed path from Center Walk south to the area near Cloud Pavilion and the south fence trails…that area has serious tallgrass on each side of a narrow mowed path, and I don’t want Rags to encounter anything too spooky yet.  He was upset when a cat came out of the tall grass when I rode him down to Cloud back a few rides. (However, today something moved in the brush beside us when we were headed north and he stiffened but didn’t shy.  Good pony!)

Soon we should be able to do the whole of the West Grass in one ride, or the whole of the East Grass, and then start him learning sections of the place across the creek, and the route through the creek woods, between the south fence and the Entrance Meadow…and eventually get the old trail across the creek and out the creek woods on that side, into the grasses there and around the upper end  of the gully system.  I see no reason to try to cut across the gully as we’re hoping it will eventually heal all the way.  We’ve managed to stop the headward erosion there now.  (Grass is a wonderful thing.  The native prairie grasses we’ve put in have made a huge difference. )   Riding my own horse on our land, actually covering distance, is just a whale of a lot of fun.

9 thoughts on “Ride 15: We Circumnavigate a Field Section

  1. A point about circling to unstick a resistant horse: if the horse bolts, circling must be done with regard to the speed. You can’t bring a runaway into a tight circle without risking pulling it over. Not safe. Start with the turn you can make safely and keep the pressure on to spiral in. Be sure to allow more rein on the outside (but not a loose flapping rein); this is not dressage but an emergency maneuver and “inside leg to outside rein” won’t work. Your outside leg behind the girth should be firmly pressuring the horse to move to the inside around the circle, inside leg pressure on the girth for a bend if you can get it.

    At some point the horse will break from gallop to canter, then from canter to trot, and at each slowing, change from the steady pressure to move inside on the spiral to rhythmic pulses offering release and then “ask again.” If you’ve got a bend, and the horse is responding, lighten again when it comes down to trot. If no bend, and the horse is still struggling to bolt on straight, you’ve got to stay firm. A calm voice often helps, especially with praise for each slowing stride and turn. (An angry voice or fear-tinged yelling never do.)

    And when you get the horse down to a walk, and you start to feel relief (and annoyance) don’t scold the horse. It did what you wanted; it slowed down. You will have jelly legs, at least from your first runaway (unless you’re a kid who didn’t have sense enough to be scared, like me) so stay on, praising the horse for slowing down and listening to you, until you get your own breath back. Then gauge the situation before deciding to dismount (is the horse still excited and likely to freak again once you’re off? Also how far will you have to walk to get somewhere you can turn the horse over to someone else?)

  2. Glad you had such a good day. It’s great to read about the progress you and Rags are making.

    I *might* have been able to use your advice on a runaway about 20 years ago. I was on a horse in full headed back to the barn as fast as possible — in a full-on gallop. I was doing well to stay on, and had to hope the horse knew the road well enough to avoid injury. Very alarming, and potentially quite dangerous for us both. I felt lucky we both got through it with nothing worse than racing hearts!

    1. Runaways are always somewhat scary even if you’ve had a lot of them. And they are all potentially dangerous because the horse when running flat out isn’t “thinking” at all…it’s in basic horse survival mode. If running TO something (like its home stable) it’s *slightly* safer because it’s been there before and very likely does know the way (there’s a ditch coming up but I can jump it), then we turn left…) but it’s still not capable of assessing new hazards, and may totally forget that the human on its back can’t fit under the limb of a tree it knows it can run under. I’m very glad you stayed on and got back safely.

  3. Yes, it was one of my father’s absolutes that you never, ever, scolded a dog for coming back to you, even if you had been yelling at it because it was off doing things you hadn’t said it could. Always, always praise the dog, because it came back; if you scold it, it will think that coming back was the wrong thing to do, and not do it again!

    Sounds like a wonderful ride; roughly how far was it? I have no sense of the scale of your property.

    1. I think the distance was roughly between 3/4 and 1 mile, but I haven’t measured all the trails involved. I need to get back out with the distance measuring wheel when it’s not raining, too cold, or too hot. Originally, when we first moved here, the land we bought was a big open almost-rectangle (slightly curved at the highway end), about 1/4 mile wide, N/S and 1/2 mile long, E/W. A chunk was taken out first, probably an acre, from the corner of the highway and the northernmost street in town. That chunk was enlarged twice by a later owner, and a smaller chunk was taken out on the northern side of the town street for a residence. I don’t know exactly how many acres that ate off the original. The whole plot had been owned by someone on the other side of the highway, before that highway went in. I’m guessing the land as we first saw it was between 85 and 905 acres. It’s now 81.96, close to 82.

      There’s a link to a map in the FAQ of the 80=acres blog (link to the 80acres blog on elizabethmoon.com’s contacts page.)

    2. Probably between 1/2 and 3/4 mile. The 80 acres is actually 81.96, and would have been several acres larger if the original roughly a quarter mile N/S by a half mile E/W rectangle hadn’t had a chunk taken out at the highway end by the construction yard now occupying that corner, and a smaller chunk taken out by a residence (not ours) on the same street as the construction yard, but not right next to it. Because the dry woods form such a skewed rhomboid shape, with an acute angle at the “view corner” near the north fence and an open, oblique angle to the east on the other side of the hump, the distance from one west corner to the treeline is quite a bit longer than the distance from the other.

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