Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Return to Concepcion

Smokey, in the parade.

There is something about the full circles we make in life that bring us to a place of reflection.

Sometimes those circles show what marks you've missed - resolutions unkept, goals not met.

Sometimes those circles show how you've grown - dreams realized, work that has paid off.

The ride to Concepcion is that kind of place for me, a place where three times I've gone with my horses at the time. Each time has been a surprise. My crazy bucking horse was well behaved in my first trip. My horse I thought I was a steady eddy had a total meltdown.

And this time I was there with a young horse, one who has never been ridden along side the road, or with more than a dozen horses at a time.

I described the overall event and community in my Concepcion posts (listed on the side bar under "best of horsecentric") so let's talk more specifically about the ride. This will give you an idea of what a horse has to deal with.

There were 300 horses in the ride this year. The entire ride takes place along a grassy shoulder of a state highway with a few houses but mostly barbed wire fences on the side. On the road is a constant stream of trucks hauling trailers, some pickups with music blaring, cars with windows rolled down and little kids hanging out of them and waving, and in one case a trailer with an actual bar-b-que grill fired up, flames shooting alarmingly high.

In the ride horses ranged from high stepping Aztecas, to old cow horses, to irritated ponies, to quarters, to arabians, to a Fresian. Some horses were spinning and dancing the whole way, clearly not particularly broke, but with riders who were determined to ride - and capable of staying on through rears and a few bucks.

There are riders who clearly started their libations three days earlier and they are barely hanging onto their horses, some just starting to partake as the ride takes off at 9:15 AM. There are charros who could ride with feathers as reins, others are such new riders they simply hold onto the saddle horn and let the horse follow the herd.

This is a 15 mile ride that takes 6 hours to complete, so it's filled with stops and starts, a long lunch break, and clumps of family and friends riding together. Every now and then someone will canter up the line, and some horses will consider joining the run. Through it all the ride organizers move up and down the line, trying to keep the group more or less together.

Then there's the big parade at the end where these hundreds of horses close ranks and walk down the middle of town with folks on the side, many of whom are holding umbrellas, waving plastic bags with candy, shouting.

There's probably no better place to find a few holes in your horse. Between the energy of the giant herd, the intensity of the environment, and the sheer weirdness, all the little threads hanging loose will begin to pull and snag.

With Canyon, he was an experienced endurance horse. Being in a big crowd just meant move out, spooking once, but otherwise doing well. With Cibolo, the big herd was intense and he slipped through my controls like a car on ice (but responded to the firmer hand of Trail Rider).

How about Smokey?

I don't think I could have asked for a better ride from him. He started out very keyed up and we did many turns in the beginning to give him a place for his energy to go. My energy stayed even, and I turned him to give him that release.

Then I discovered his walk was very big (I guess the word is "forward"), and I didn't want to pull on his mouth the entire ride so I allowed him to keep that big stride as long as he stayed at a walk, then we'd do more of a turn than a circle so we could get back to our little sub-herd routinely. Eventually the turns weren't as tight, and not as quick -- he relaxed.

His stops were not very good, and the side of the road with horses streaming all around us was not a great place to work on fixing it. I elected instead to work on stops throughout the ride in little ways, finding places we could stop while facing the group, leaving before he felt the need to move. Stops were something I'd work on back at the ranch, with interesting developments (which is another post).

At the midway point we came to the big community watering tank and I got down and lead Smokey to it (my knee was killing me so I needed to walk desperately). He approached it slowly, like a dog approaches a something they've never seen before. He'd reach out, sniff, then pull back. Then stretch a little more, look at the horses on either side, then pull back. Then he slowly touched the water and, after a moment, began drinking like a champ. It was so neat seeing him go through the process of discovery.

He had one big spook when we came up to a little side drive where someone was spinning and attempting to gain control of their horse. They had been completely hidden from view when all of a sudden he spotted them and squirted out a few yards, then relaxed when it was clearly not a puma.

He crushed beer cans quite willingly, never once spooking at the sound.

He crossed the bridges (which he hadn't yet encountered in his training) with considerable concern, sometimes a bit askew, but he crossed them and listened to me. I thought of the little fake "bridge" the trainer uses and was grateful for her thoroughness.

And this was made all the greater of an achievement for what had happened five days earlier. Five days earlier he'd bolted on me on the trail. Nothing too serious, but enough to give me major trepidation about the ride to Concepcion.

Riding on the Ranch, the day after the parade.
DH on the right on Woody, Me on the left on
my horse that I used to think was much, much shorter.

I decided not to blog about the bolt, because I didn't want to create any energy in that direction. Frankly I didn't want my DH or friends to start worrying. I wanted my blog to be filled with confident comments that would bolster me on the journey.

And the fact is I knew why it happened - I didn't ride the horse I had that day and pushed things with him too far. That whole experience is a longer post and one worth telling at some point, but suffice it to say I decided I needed to treat the incident like you do when your child has a melt down in the grocery store. You deal with it and move on. Aware, but not overly concerned.

While you take precautions, you don't presume it will be a regular occurrence.

Instead I reset my training with Smokey. I realized I was letting him get away with little things, and they had added up to the point that on a bad day, a day where he was already in a not so great place, things just went to heck.

I worked on being clear and fair but not settling for anything short of what he absolutely should do correctly. Period. Simple and clear. Consistent. I felt him come around. But I only had two days of training between the bolt and the trip.

And I just hoped it would hold when we went to Concepcion.

It did.

There's more to tell - how Sierra and TR's Daughter did on the ride on their horses, and many pictures from riding on the ranch. (Once again I don't have photos from the trail ride because DH was too busy driving the big rig.)

I'll share more of that in a few days, find the words to convey how excited and relieved I am to have had such a great trip with Smokey. But for now I'll just smile in wonder at this place on the circle, at this point on the journey.

And be grateful for the support of friends and for one very sweet morgan.


Crystal said...

Wow that sounds like it was a great ride, many things to work on, but you sure sound a lot more confident about dealing with these issues. I think Smokey is the perfect horse for you :)

Kate said...

Wonderful! I thought that's where it'd come out - but congratulations to you and your horse!

the7msn said...

Well done! How proud you must be of Smokey, and he of you.

Wolfie said...

Fantastic!!!! I am so pleased for you. And, good for you for trying the ride again! I don't know if I would have based on the experience you had last year.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I don't know who I'm more impressed with, you for choosing to ride in such challenging environments, or Smokey for being able to ride in those challenging environments and do so well.

Either way, I'm very relieved and happy for the two of you. Seems like you have found your equine soulmate :)


Funder said...

Huge congrats! That ride sounds totally crazy and quite an achievement. And isn't riding long distances at a walk so bizarrely hard and painful??

I can't wait to hear about the spooking too. Sometimes it seems like blogging is so awesome because you get to document the little stuff as it happens - but sometimes you need the time to look back and see the bigger picture, too.

Jan said...

Breathe, I'm so glad you had a good ride! And you did so very well handling the various things that came up with Smokey! I hope your confidence grew quite a bit from this ride!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

I'll bet that one 6-hour ride was as good as a year of training for both of you. I remember reading about cowboys who "broke" horses by just riding them out on the prairie all day until they succumbed to the cues of their rider and built a bond. I know that your previous disappointment at Concepcion has highly motivated you. I'm happy it turned out well.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Your ride sounds wonderful. I'm so happy for both of you. Smokey is a treasure and I'm sure you two will have so much fun in the rides to come. Glad you didn't let the bolt get to you.

morningbrayfarm said...

Seriously? That sounds like the best time ever! Good for you. And for Smokey. :)

JennyB said...

I can't tell you how happy I am for you and Smokey! You both did so well and I'm thrilled you had a good time =)

"I didn't ride the horse I had that day and pushed things with him too far." That is such a deep concept and one I think I definitely need to come to grips with! I really think that's why I got tossed off Traveller today.


Miles On Miles said...

How amazing!! And what a sweet, good boy you have:)