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I know I can…

15 May

What a busy time this is – with the arrival of the nice weather, I was happily taking full advantage until a horrid cold slapped me silly last week! I’m still doing my best to take full advantage (as coincidentally my cold seems to disappear when I’m with horses!), but I did miss a ride on the weekend.

Just a quick update from my last entry – I rode Quinn last week, he was good, it was nice, we didn’t have any terrible moments. I haven’t been able to get out to TB’s this week as I’ve been too busy focussing on Corona as well as battling this cold. I will be riding Quinn again on Monday and then I plan on getting back on Amber until I need my next confidence booster.

Last Thursday was an off night with Corona. I’m not sure exactly why but I think it was due in part to the onslaught of mosquitos that were eating us both alive. He was agitated from the moment I got on and while he wasn’t misbehaving, he just wasn’t himself. We schooled in the ring and things were going fairly well until SM arrived and began filling old feed bags with manure for her garden. Apparently, Corona does not appreciate large white bags flapping around within 50 feet of him. The Boss was watching this unfold and then decided to come out and watch more intently. I did what I could to keep Corona focussed on me and he did calm down, but it was one of those things where he was just not going to get over it fully until the white bags were gone. I didn’t hold it against him, like I said, it was an off night.

Redemption came on Saturday when I rode with CG and SM. The mares have been moved from their normal field, to the in-field in the middle of the track. The Boss had re-seeded the riding ring so we had to ride on the track, which was fine. Several of the mares are in heat, so they were prancing around the fence line oogling at Corona and Roller and I’m pleased to say that Corona couldn’t have cared less! In fact, he was the best behaved out of the three of them! We had a really fun ride and practiced all sorts of transitions. What further impressed me was that Corona and I were often behind Roller and Ember; Corona prefers being the lead horse when out in a group and this has caused issues in the past with him getting over agitated when he’s in behind. On Saturday, he didn’t seem overly concerned for the most part so that was great and I’m hoping that we’ve had a breakthrough.

Last night, CG and I rode in the ring (don’t tell the Boss). We really needed to get some solid practice in for our first show which is coming up on Sunday! Once again, Corona proved to me what an awesome horse he is. Our halts were fantastic, our transitions were solid, he remained calm and relaxed and stayed straight, he even was consistent in his stretching forward and downward. I can’t get too ahead of myself because the issue that we have at shows is that he gets super wound-up and goes around like a giraffe in the show ring, but at least I’m confident that we are prepared in theory! The other good thing is that this show has three tests offered at Training level, whereas most shows only offer two. With it being our first show, I think this extra test will be beneficial in the sense that by test #3, Corona should be relaxed enough that we end the day on a positive note – of course, I’m aiming for all three tests to be relaxed, but what’s that saying, “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst”. In my rides, I’ve really tried to focus on what I can do to help the horse stay calm. I’ve been focussing on taking deep breaths and not being tense as well as rewarding him when he goes forward in a relaxed fashion. I know we can do an amazing dressage test, and I really want to be able to take what we can do at home, to an outside environment. I was watching some videos of our tests last year and the one thing that really stood out was that I tried to compensate for Corona’s tension by holding him back too much. I really have concentrate on keeping him going forward so that he doesn’t feel claustrophobic which exacerbates the tension. With that said, my goals for Sunday are as follows:

1) Keep horse moving forward with rhythm;

2) Stay calm, breathe, and smile;

3) I would like to achieve a minimum of 60% in each of the tests.

4) No injuries – I feel I need to say this one because the last show of last summer, I ended up with a broken finger! The summer before that, it was a fractured heel. So seriously, no injuries for me or the horse!

I’m planning on riding again tomorrow night and Saturday and will be further working on maintaining forward and rhythmic gates as well as cultivating the wonderful and relaxed horse that I know I have. I know I can, I know I can, I know I can…

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Confidence and determination

27 Mar

I wish there were more non-work hours in the day that I could devote to horsey items such as riding and staying up-to-date on this blog! I guess I will continue to hope for a big lottery win, but given that I don’t play the lotto, my chances aren’t looking too good…

I’ve been out to TB’s twice since my last post – once last Wednesday evening, and then again on Saturday afternoon. What can I say, other than I absolutely adore Quinn. He’s such a nice horse, incredibly calm and level headed and a quick learner too. He’s not the most patient boy, but he’s only a baby so I’m keeping that in mind as we work on patience. Throughout the whole process, I’m trying to keep in mind the big picture – that the goal for this boy is to find a forever home. This is very important so that a) I don’t get too attached and b) so that I can focus on things that will help him get a great home. First impressions are extremely important to potential buyers, especially when the market is flooded with good horses. As a result, I’m really paying attention to ground manners and teaching them consistently as part of our lesson time. Quinn is pretty good on the x-ties, he fidgets a bit, and paws, so I’m trying to stop that. He’s also a bit fussy about his ears, which has repercussions for bridling, so we will continue to work on that too. He also is not a fan of standing still for mounting. It’s been a bit of a dance trying to balance teaching him to stand while I get on. We have made improvements though – on Saturday he stood still until I was in the saddle, then he decided to moonwalk backwards which tipped me onto his neck. I caught my balance quickly and then we stood still for about a minute so he received a lot of praise for that. Riding-wise, we are getting the hang of each other. Our ride on Saturday was excellent. He moved off my leg incredibly well and was feeling pretty light in my hands. I was doing a lot of transitions and various figures and also practiced straightness using the quarter lines. All-in-all, I’m really enjoying working with him. I’m going out to work with him again tonight and possibly do a double header with a TB mare named Amber! I got an email from TB yesterday saying that there’s a potential buyer for Amber and that she could use a few sessions with a strong rider – quite flattering!

On the Corona front, I had a PHENOMENAL time with him on Saturday. We started off with some groundwork, where I really focussed on establishing my own personal space and asking him to stay out of it. The whole “I want him put down” incident with the Boss has given me a new and more confident/determined attitude with him. Whether good or bad, I see it as my mission to prove to everyone around how great this horse can be. Whether it’s a fluke or not, who knows, but since I’ve had this confidence with him, things have changed for the better. I basically will not take his crap – any of it. Ever. Why? Because if I do, I am risking his life. Period. I’m not willing to put his life on the line so I need to be the best that I can be at all times.

Usually when I work with my “savvy” stick and string, Corona tends to spook at the string anytime it’s dragged across the ground. Not on Saturday! Could this be a result of my confident attitude? Perhaps! Regardless, I was really happy and this has made me even more confident! Funny how that happens – confidence leads to good results, which leads to more confidence! We did lots of groundwork – leading, backing up, yielding the hindquarters and forehand, basically focussed on the Parelli games #1-3 and practiced yielding to various pressures while at the same time keeping out of my space. I ended the session with some trotting in hand and not getting in front of me when I would stop. I wish I had a video of this. This horse was stopping dead in his tracks without getting ahead of me. Amazing. I wished the Boss had seen it, but she was in the house at the time. I dream of the day when I show all the doubters what this horse can do, I can just imagine their jaws dropped on the floor and Corona and I riding bareback and bridle-less into the sunset (yes, I may be getting *slightly* ahead of myself)…

After our groundwork, I tacked him up and we went on a nice walk around the track. The wind was howling and there were snowdrifts everywhere. We didn’t last too long out there but we had a great couple of laps. Super relaxed, I was asking for flexion and yields and my furry friend was more than happy to oblige. There was no spooking, no acting up, it was just blissful.

I also wanted to ride because I had just bought Corona a new saddle pad – I thought we both needed a little pick-me-up to signal our new found determination. It’s red with white and navy trim and really suits him, picture is below. There was a sale at the local horse store which I took advantage of (saddle pad, two pairs of black bell boots, maple flavoured treats), and I had to go anyway to pick up some Quietex – side note: the Boss sent me a text last week telling me to get some for Corona. I will emphasize here that it wasn’t a request. Apparently his old owner used to use it on him and suggested it to the Boss when the Boss was no doubt informing her of the drama of her wanting to get rid of the horse the week before. I didn’t ask details, I just bought it because if that’s what it takes to keep the Boss happy for the time being, then so be it. I don’t know how I feel about using it – I personally don’t think he needs it, but am interested to see how it affects him.

On another note – I’m pretty sure the sh*t is about the hit the fan at the Boss’. CG told me that on Sunday, the Trainer told her that he was moving as of this Friday (i.e.: the day after tomorrow). None of us have heard anything from the Boss on the subject. The Trainer was supposed to be leaving in May, but this change in plans is just moving up the inevitable chaos that was going to ensue in May anyways. Not sure what the plan is for the racehorses (4), or the other boarders’ horses (3). I had thought that the Boss was going to have downsized to a manageable number (4 or 5) before the Trainer left because she wouldn’t have the daily help the way she does with the Trainer. With the sudden change in the Trainers’ plans, things haven’t exactly worked out the way they had planned. Also, apparently the Boss has decided that she might start up again with one of the racehorses (Bally) who was retired (for a number of reasons)…given that the Boss is not physically capable of taking up a horse, let alone hitching a jogger to it, this should be interesting. When will the madness end?!

I should have some interesting updates to provide this weekend…

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Opportunity knocks!

20 Feb

A new opportunity has presented itself to me, one that made me think, “are you serious??” in the good way.

If you read my post about principles, you would have seen that I don’t believe that disposing of horses by sending them for slaughter is acceptable. For the last year or so, I’ve been following a group on Facebook that posts information on horses that are currently in a feedlot in my area, and that provides the opportunity for people to buy them (yes, at a markup) before they are sent for slaughter. This group is quite controversial for several reasons, the main ones that I see are, a) you are buying a horse from the meat-man at a higher price than he paid for the horse at auction, b) you don’t get to see the horse before buying aside from the photos, c) there is little to no history on the horses, d) there are concerns about this creating a marked up market so that horse rescues have been outbid on horses at auction because this meat-man knows he can likely find a buyer who will pay more for the horse though this group, e) there are no purchase/adoption contracts in place so technically these horses could end up in bad situation.

Don’t get me wrong, I do see issues with this model. However, I also see this group as a means to give these horses a second chance that they otherwise don’t have (i.e.: if nobody purchases these horses within the week they’re at the feedlot, they are sent for meant. Period).

Sometimes, supporters of this group raise “bail” for these horses and they are put in foster homes until permanent homes can be found. Sometimes this bail money comes from donations, and sometimes it is given as a loan, it really depends on the individuals who are providing the bail money.

One of the foster homes in my area has 10 of these horses, and the woman is looking for some assistance in getting them started under saddle etc., with the intent that it will make these horses more marketable so that they can find good permanent homes. She is a certified coach and is offering free riding/ground work with these horses, under her instruction, in exchange for the help. She is located about 25 mins from where I live, AND has an indoor arena. As soon as I read her request, I was sold. This seems like a great opportunity to further my horsey experience under the guidance of a certified instructor which is something I don’t really have out at the Boss’s. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ditching Corona or the Boss’, I’m doing this in addition to my regular horsey endeavours! I actually think this is going to be of benefit to Corona and I because I’ll be able to take the knowledge and experience from this opportunity, and apply it to our relationship. I’ve also been looking for a way to help these horses that is non-financial in nature, and this seems to be a good option to do so.

I’m aiming to do this once/week and maybe twice/week depending on my availability. Corona must come first and I’ve let the woman know this already. I’m hoping that I haven’t bit off more than I can chew, but I think I would regret not exploring this opportunity. The other great thing is the fact that there’s an indoor arena – so I see this as something that I can really dedicate more time to in the winter months when I can’t do much out at the Boss’s anyways.

Also – this woman’s passion is dressage! I’m really looking forward to working with her and essentially being a sponge and soaking up any knowledge I can. I should be starting early next week so I’ll be sure to include updates in here too.

When it’s cold…take some photos to prove it and then get on with it!

1 Feb

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It was mighty cold last week, the barn could have been mistaken for an arctic hut!

 

I didn’t ride as planned, I thought the footing was too icy and I didn’t want Corona to take a bad step and hurt his leg further. Instead I decided to do some more groundwork, building on where we had left off the week before. Keeping in mind that it’s hard to make much progress when you’re only practicing once/week, I thought we did pretty great!  In the coverall, we worked on the friendly game, this week with the string flipping and flapping all over him, he didn’t seem to care. I let it dangle around his legs, he didn’t seem to care. Normally this is where it goes wrong with the string, so I was pretty darn pleased.

We worked on the porcupine game, this game needs work. He’s really good at yielding his hind quarters, but we definitely have not mastered any sort of lateral yield from the shoulder and even a yield backwards from his chest can be a bit challenging at times. It feels like there is something “locked” that is prohibiting this, but I can’t seem to figure out what it is. I googled it a bit this week so we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

The driving game – similar to the porcupine game, we seem to have a “forehand lock”…stay tuned…on a positive note however, our hide-the-hiney is coming along well and we did a full cicle in each direction.

The yo-yo game: pretty good again. Just needs more practice. We seem to have a tendancy to do this well a couple of times and then Corona decides he’s had enough and just doesn’t move and starts to barge over me. I’m not sure whether this is his way of saying, “I did this a few times, I’m over it, let’s move on” or whether it’s just luck that I get it those first few times. I’ll have to experiment a bit more I think.

Now here was the strange part: normally Corona is excellent at the circling game, however on Saturday he wanted nothing to do with it. Each time I backed him up and asked him to circle, he wouldn’t move, then he’d look at my stick and snort at it as if he was spooking at it. This was in both directions too. The first few times he did this, I immediately stopped and did a few minutes of the friendly game with the stick, that wasn’t a problem, he didn’t flinch. When I asked him to circle, he went again with the snorts. This repeated itself a few times so I put the stick on the ground and I proceeded to lead him over it. No problem. Pick up the stick, repeat, same problem. I walked him on a circle with the stick in my hand and then slowly backed away from him so that he began cicling around me, he would take about 3 steps on his own and then boom, snort snort and stop. I experiemented with some strange hybrid of the circling game and leading him and he’d last a few steps but he was bringing his shoulder into me (proof that more practice is requied at yeilding the forehand I guess!) and I also noticed that he was turning his haunches in towards me just an inch or two – not enough that I thought he was going to kick me, but definitely sending me a message that he was not impressed. I alternated this circling hybrid with the other 4 games and made sure to end on a positive note. Still thrown off by the whole thing.

The pièce de résistance however was yet to come! I’ve been wanted to practice lifting all four feet from one side for a few weeks now, but hadn’t really tried it because I wanted to start with the front feet and with Corona’s right leg really swollen, I didn’t want to make him put all of his weight on it, or ask him to flex it as much as he would have to if I was picking it up from the left side. Now that I think about the weight thing, it’s a bit silly because I”ve been picking his feet out normally since the injury without any weight-bearing issues. Anyways, I’m happy to report that I got 2/3 feet! I didn’t try asking for his right front from the left side for the flexibility concerns above. I was so thrilled!!!!!  First, I got the hind right, then I got the front left! I couldn’t figure out the hind left…every time I tried, he would lift the right instead. Regardless, I was so happy, I got the perma-grin!!

Dressage dreams and an update

24 Jan

I’ve been a dressage-a-holic as of late, I just can’t seem to get enough of it. I received a Chapters/Indigo gift card for Christmas and after meticulously scouring store shelves, I opted to purchase two books online (better prices, free delivery for orders over $25, and more selection!). After tracking their delivery status for over a week, they finally arrived yesterday!

I chose, “101 Dressage Exercises for Horse and Rider” by Jec Aristotle Ballou, and “Dressage 101” by Jane Savoie. I started reading through both of them last night (how could I choose just one?) and subsequently had dreams about dressage exercises last night.

My excitement for dressage has further been re-invigorated because the 2013 draft show calendar has been released. There are a tonne of schooling shows this year, pretty much one every other week, if not every week to choose from. New locations too, including the barn where Corona was born! This has me wondering whether or not he’ll remember it there and whether this could result in a calm attitude on show day(s). I’m not going to be doing every single show, unfortunately the bank account and the fact that I need to work for a living prohibit that, but I’m hoping to get to at least 5 shows, plus two hunter paces over the season.

All I need now is for Corona to get better, and for the icy riding conditions to subside – how on earth can I practice all of these new found exercises and theories on a fractured/swollen horse on the ice rink that is the barn, not to mention the -36 degree Celsius weather that we’ve been having all week. Oh summer, how I miss you.

As for a Corona update – he is improving. The vet (the boss vet) was out last week and took an interest in Corona while the other vet (who he saw a few weeks ago) worked on the racehorses. Apparently there is no more infection, but he has developed a passive edema which is what is making his leg swollen. He recommended that we put ichtamol around the wound for 3 days, then leave it for 3 days, and repeat this pattern until the swelling subsides. He mentioned that we shouldn’t be alarmed because the ichtamol will make the leg swell, but eventually it will get less and less each time we apply, until it returns to normal again. He said that there’s a chance that the affected knee may always be a bit bigger than the other, but that it’s nothing to be worried about. Also, he said that I can begin to hand walk or ride (walk only) Corona around the track to assist with the swelling.

I started this regime on Saturday. We did some groundwork in the coverall and I was super impressed at how good Corona was despite us not having done this in probably 2 months. He remembered what I’d taught him and was very well behaved. I decided to try to hand walk him around the track but unfortunately it was pretty icy with a layer of light snow over it. Corona was pretty good about it, he has a very forward walk which is good, however it’s not so good when you have a silly human at the other end of the rope trying to stay on her feet over the ice. He was getting a bit full of himself going around and being held back by me so I started asking for some halts and backups in an attempt to prevent any sort of taking off. It worked but I could tell he was getting rather annoyed. We lasted one full lap of the track and then I decided that before things turned sour, I’d take him back into the coverall to do more groundwork and then call it a day.

Again, he was great, and then he found a place where the dirt wasn’t covered in snow…he began to paw…I realized he was going to roll…He was still on the lead line at this point and I didn’t want him to roll while I was attached to him, and also because it meant he wasn’t paying attention to me. At that moment he started going down onto his knees and to my surprise, when I said, “no Corona” he popped back up and looked at me! I was pretty impressed at this and decided it would be a good place to give him a reward and end our session. I walked him back over to the gate where I took off his rope halter and let him loose to go roll. Of course when I did this, he decided to just stand there with me for a minute, then he decided to go sniff around the other piles of manure that were on the ground, then he went over to his spot and had a good roll. Then up, other side! He was covered in the dirt and looked pretty pleased with himself. At one point he squealed (it appeared like a squeal of joy to me), did a little jump to complement this, and then looked around to see what to do next. I walked back over to the gate, picked up his halter and rope and approached him to put it on thinking he may have decided he liked the idea of being free, but nope, he stood quietly as I put it on him, gave him a good pat and laughed at his filthy face, and off we went back to the barn for a good brush and some treats.

Hopefully the footing will be better this weekend and I can take him for a walk while sitting on him….the forecast is calling for -21 degree temperatures and a northwest wind, so it may not be pretty…but I gotta get this horse healed!

Goals for 2013

17 Jan

I’ve come up with my first cut at goals for the winter season. Keeping in mind that on average I’m only able to ride about 1/week in the winter, I am trying to be realistic and focus on basics that both Corona and I need to rediscover. Also considering the lack of riding time, I’ve added in some theory goals that will allow me to learn through books and videos when I’m not able to get out to the barn.

Theory goals:

Continue study of natural horsemanship through purchase of fundamentals video from Parelli.

Learn theory behind the Parelli 7 games more in-depth so that I can more accurately put them into practice.

Get dressage book to more accurately understand the pyramid of training and then be able to put it into practice.

Groundwork goals:

Lead Corona walk/trot/halt and have him follow at a respectful distance and speed. Will halt at a respectful distance and keep out of my personal space.

Mount/dismount from both sides while standing calmly in a variety of locations

Teaching him a “head down” cue.

Riding goals:

Halt/walk/trot/canter transitions – I want to have consistently willing and relaxed transitions.

Focus on leg position – keep heels down and leg in a secure position.

Be able to maintain forward impulsion throughout riding sessions and keep an even tempo at all times.

Relationship goals:

Increase the trust that Corona has in me as a good leader. I will do this by spending time with him grooming, going for walks, exposing him to various objects and using approach and retreat. Also I will look for other ways to concretely build our relationship of trust.

Just thinking about these things makes me very excited!

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A weekend of rides!

4 Dec

I managed to get in two rides this past weekend, and it was wonderful!

On Saturday I was really excited to see what I could do as a result of reading that Parelli article that I posted about (https://pacesandtails.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/fantastic-article/). I didn’t really know what to expect since I’d never tried anything like this, so I broke it down and focussed on bits and pieces. Basically, what I wanted to focus on was a) to only use one rein for control, and b) keeping myself balanced in the saddle so that when I used one rein for control, that I wouldn’t flop off or confuse Corona, and c) take Corona out of his comfort zone and use the one rein for control technique as well as the approach and retreat technique when he got spooky.

We started out the session on the track – the temperature was -15 degrees with the windchill. It was not pleasant. After a lap of walking, we picked up the trot to keep ourselves warm and after a lap or two the weather was no issue. I had switched to my winter riding boots which have a thicker sole than my regulars so it took a bit of getting used to, and I had also forgotten to put on my spurs, but oh well, more leg to keep me warm.

There’s one spot on the track that Corona and all the horses hate on a fairly consistent basis. We can’t seem to figure out why, but I believe are a couple of squirrels who live around there so there’s often rustling in the bushes, often the electric fence clicks in that area too which adds to it. When riding past there, it’s a safe bet that Corona will speed up 50% of the time, will full on spook about 15% of the time, and then in typical horse fashion, will act like there’s nothing there the remaining 35% of the time. He most often does all three of these within single session. Sure enough, it was in this area of the track that I first applied the one rein for control experiment. We rounded the corner to “the spot” and Corona’s head shot up in the air and he started to get quicker, I sat back and gently brought the outside (left) rein to my hip and slackened the inside (right) rein, which turned Corona in a small circle to the left (outside). We did about 3 circles and then carried on straight down the track. We went through this process in both directions at various spots on the track. Now, whether this is right or not, I have no idea, but I noticed that after a couple of these circles, Corona was anticipating them anytime I picked up the rein so I didn’t have to bring the rein as far to my hip as I had at the beginning. Very clever fellow.

I also found myself repeating “lateral flexion is the key to vertical flexion” in my head – it was like my mantra throughout this exercise. It all started to make sense – when a horse gets spooky or excited, their head goes up and they no longer carry themselves with their poll at or below their withers. When their head goes up, adrenaline goes up, they get into flight mode. What you want is for your horse to maintain a more relaxed head carriage so that they do not instinctively go into this flight pattern. When you flex the horse laterally, they “unlock” from that vertical flight mode and avoid getting into the mindset where they can only react. They then have a lower head carriage (vertically) which keeps them in “thinking” mode.

In addition to “the spot”, Corona also doesn’t favour being ridden in the back field which is at the top end of the track. The ground is a bit uneven, it’s bordered by a forest at the furthest end, a corn field to the right and a soy bean field to the left. There’s also an old burn pile in the middle of the field with some tree stumps and long grasses that blow in the wind. Since we were doing so well on the track, I thought this would be a great opportunity to take us out of comfort zone and venture into the back field. I began with some approach and retreat up the long side of the track (right where “the spot” is no less!), then we went up about 30 feet into the back field and did some more. I did lots of changes of direction and kept my reins quite relaxed and really focused on only using ONE rein for control anytime there was a change of energy from Corona. It was phenomenal – this horse was alert, but was listening to me. I wouldn’t say he was absolutely confident in being in the field, but he was confident enough to do what I was asking without fussing. We did all sorts of circles, figure eights, loops around the old burn pile, any sort of pattern that involved changing direction. There was one spook where Corona took off but used the one rein technique and he calmed right down immediately.

I was having a great ride, and it seemed as if Corona was really enjoying himself as well. I love the feeling when you find you horse as enthusiastic about things as you are. He got a lot of praise and rubs as we cooled out with 2 laps walking on a long rein around the track. After the ride, I put on his new blanket (which looks amazing btw) and turned him out with his buddies.

Sunday came with freezing rain in the morning, turning into full on rain in the late morning and the rest of the day. Needless to say the temperature had jumped by about 20 degrees from the day before and this meant the new winter blanket came off again. My friend was riding Sunday as well, but since her horse is getting over a cold, we decided to take it easy and just go for a nice leisurely stroll with the horses. Both horses were great; even though we didn’t really do much, it was nice to be on the horses and just relax with them. I think they appreciate the change of pace and just being out and about the property. I took the opportunity to focus on my leg position and keeping my heels down. We lasted about 30 mins in the rain before we called it a day. On went the rainsheets again and ample treats were fed to two very handsome slobbery mouths.

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