Happy hackers, that's what we are, now. It makes me even more happy when I think how much progress we've made as far as trail riding is concerned. It used to be part of riding that I feared the most with Juliano. Two things used to go wrong when we entered the woods. One was that Juliano didn't want to go there and would rather stay near the stable. He didn't trust me and every time roads crosses and there was an option for going home he would strongly oppose if I wanted to go away from the stables. So we used to go round and round in circles and whoever got dizzy last won the fight and we either went back home or went on to the next crossing. The second thing was J's speed. When it was just the two of us I could only let him walk, trot ended up in dead gallop. When we went with other horses he would race everyone, he wouldn't even let dogs go in front of him. And of course, Juliano spooked at everything.
We've worked hard for the last two years to make the woods a friendly place and trail riding fun, cause that's what it should be. First year I would only take Juliano on walks in hand. A lot of grass eating, smelling things and exploring took place. He got more and more confident. After a year of confidence building and showing J that the best grass grows between the trees it was time to start riding in all three gaits. We've done millions of transitions and it worked. We could now walk and trot, but canter was still a big issue. Juliano would cover a lot of ground with every stride and would speed up if I let him canter for more than 10 seconds. Working on canter took us a bit little longer. Just this summer it all came together. I would ask Juliano to canter for few strides and by the time I could reach down one rein we would be already on the verge of gallop. In time, I've learned to go through my fazes quicker and finally understood what we needed is the good old faze 4! I've never been the greatest fan of faze 4, cause I never knew when it is necessary and fair. After trying it once in the trail-canter situation I was amazed, sad at first that I had to use it, but oh-boy what difference did it make.
So now we are happy hackers, and yesterdays trail ride was like a dream come true! We went for a ride with Madga & Dum, didn't expect much, just a relaxing ride in the woods. Juliano and Dum love to ride with us and they choose paths that lead away from home. We now have to ask them to go home, otherwise hacks would take 3-4 hours. So we've decided to let the boys choose route yesterday. Both Juliano and Dum wanted to go on the trail that goes past a lake, that we bathed in whole summer and into the woods we discovered this year. Off we went. The path leads through the villige, a place where Juliano reared up and fell down with his previous owner. Now Juliano is as cools as a cucumber there, though there are dogs jumping out and barking, cars, construction sites, you name it. At the lake our horses insisted that we stop there for a quick hoof-dip. We did and after few minutes continued on. When we started trotting and Juliano wanted to visit every path that he wasn't on before. Strange, huh? Is that the horse that hated exporing? After few de-tours we finally got to the long, wide road that we know. Juliano was leading in trot. But what A trot it was, fast, powerful, extended. I turned to Magda to see if she was OK and if Dum was still trotting or breaking into canter. Everything was fine so we continued on for 10 minutes. We stopped for a bit of grass. Both Dum and Juliano were happy, snorting, stretching and what surprised us most they didn't sweat at all. Ready to go again. We were now on the path leading home, both on horses that had a bad reputation of "Not stoppable when going home". Again Juliano was in front doing his huge trot. We went up and down hills and they didn't break the gait. Amazing! I was holding the rains of natural hackamore in one hand, by the very end and Juliano didn't even think of cantering. Again after 10 minutes we went down to a walk. We both said "there is no way they are dry now". Well, both horses didn't sweat a bit.
This is the moment that you work and ride for. Juliano is just over 15 hands, Dum is 17'2", both doing extended trot, towards the stables, Dum at the back keeping his distance all the time, J in front keeping the same pace and rhythm. We were trying to keep up with rising from the saddle, no holding or pulling on the reins, we could just as well be bridleless. At the end of the road I've let my energy out a bit and Juliano slowed down and stretched into a slow trot and than into a walk. We could tell both horses were very relaxed, although one could think traveling at that speedy trot would me a horse tense. I'm 100% positive that the boys were very happy and we ... we were just happy hackers.