Sometimes a person just needs to get out of town and onto the trails with a horse. Carol and I found ourselves in this position this week, so we decided to grin and bear it and headed out to Eagles Nest. Just an hour or so south of us there was significant snow on the ground and it was bitter cold, but every once in a while there's a perk to being annexed by Wyoming! We didn't have any snow to speak of, and it was closer to 30 deg at my place.
Carol arrived around lunchtime, and we loaded up Shambhu and Note in the trailer. This was Note's first trail ride, and his first time off the property since a small schooling show about eighteen months ago. To lend some perspective, let me reflect on Note's training time here at Bit of Honey.
Note arrived here almost three years ago, in spring 2016 with the Jockey Club name One For Nothing. I got him from a wonderful woman who owned him in Arizona where he had been racing at the track successfully before he was retired and came to me.
Note was a cryptorchid stallion with a retained testicle that required deep abdominal surgery to retrieve and remove. I had the surgery done on him here in Colorado successfully later that spring.
Once Note had a chance to heal up and was comfortable going back to work I learned I had a horse who had LOVED to race. Note thought I was a foolish human for not allowing him to run whenever we tacked up, and he had a temper to back up his opinions.
I tried several things to get Note to quiet down, and I quickly discovered working him harder was not the solution. He kept himself very fit just in turnout, and there was no way to get him tired enough that he wouldn't have a tantum if I restrained him while riding. Lunging was nearly always a rodeo.
I ended up going a totally different route with him, tacking him up, getting on, and just walking him once around the arena each direction, then getting off and putting him away, repeated regularly for months. This completely different routine communicated to him that he now had a completely different job. He gradually realized that he was NOT to run as fast as he can, but be civilized and polite and quiet under saddle. From the very brief walk workouts he eventually graduated to some trotting and cantering, and eventually jumping and riding out in the back forty. I'm grateful I've had the means to let him come along at his own pace, with very long letdown and slow retraining.
Now that we're several years into his transition from racehorse to sporthorse, Note's usually a perfect gentleman with me. However, Note can still be somewhat aggressive with other people and horses. He remembers being a stallion and still occasionally shows interest in the mares if we ride together, so I need to be very careful when handling and riding him to redirect his attention back to me rather than instigating an argument or allowing him to pursue the ladies.
This winter I've been riding Note casually in the arena, often using him while I'm teaching lessons to give him the experience of standing around for a couple hours. When I use him for cavalletti lessons he also gets to experience the coursework and practice his footwork without the pounding of bigger fences. He then often goes for long walks in the pasture after the lessons to cool out while riding with the other horses.
Note has settled down well, and even occasionally acts bored with some of his arena riding, so I figured the time was right to get him out on the trails. With Carol and me itching to get out for a trail ride today, I loaded up Note and Shambhu to head into the foothills.
When we got to the trailhead Note was very worked up. He shows his worry by shaking his lips, clapping them together in agitation. After opening his window in the trailer Carol and I could see he was stressed. We unloaded both horses and tied them on opposite sides of the trailer because Note still doesn't play well with others. He did settle down once we went through our usual routine of grooming and tacking up, and he didn't object at all to the saddle bags despite this being his first time wearing them. I did leave his sight for a minute to use the restroom before our ride, and that was just enough time for Note to get nervous and begin calling for me. I shouted back that I was right here, not to worry, and he stopped calling. He even stood quietly again as soon as I was back in sight.
Once tacked up we headed out on the wide dirt road, and surprisingly Note led most of the way. He had a much bigger walk than at home, more of a march really. Carol and Shambhu followed us at a safe distance and took some photos of me and Note.
Mostly Note was quiet and well behaved. I could feel him getting tense and excited, but with steady breathing and wiggling my toes I was able to keep a lid on him and we enjoyed about an hour long ride. When we got to the first gate by a cattle guard Carol dismounted and opened it for us. I thought Note might rocket through it because the metal-on-metal hinges sounded a lot like a starting gate and Note was definitely ready for takeoff. Thankfully, he thought his way through the issue, remembered that his new job is not like his old job, and walked nicely.
The only other spot we had trouble was going downhill over a section of trail that was supported to prevent erosion. Note was convinced that it was unsafe and even after watching Shambhu go over it he was reluctant to put his feet near it. I did eventually get him down the little hill, and once he was walking nicely Carol and I decided to turn around and head back so it was my idea not Note's.
It was a successful and uneventful ride, just the way I like it with a horse new to the trails. Note did exclaim a few times, "Hey, Kim, we DEFINITELY did not have those at the track!" when he saw cattle in a neighboring field, but he behaved himself amazingly well. I am super proud of him, and happy that he was so interested in this new aspect of his job. Sometimes horses progress really quickly, like Raven, and sometimes it takes longer for them to adjust and enjoy their new jobs, like Note. I'm so grateful to be able to help all kinds.