When I adopted Miles from New Vocations, they told me he was fine in the arena, but what he really enjoyed were jaunts around the farm, and apparently he even walked down to their paved road, which is very quiet, for a nice ride. He just really, really loved getting out of the arena. Anna Ford rode him for me when I went to see Miles at their facility in Ohio, and while she didn't demonstrate his skills outside the arena, their ring is set up in such a way that there is a sand/working arena, as well as a grassy area attached in the same enclosure. Man, that facility is gorgeous.
Anyway, Miles clearly demonstrated a difference in the two areas. In the sandy area, his walk was a bit sluggish, his trot and canter a little tense, but as soon as she took him onto the grass he extended that stride of his into a beautiful free walk. We talked a bit and she told me this was his "happy walk", and he is most interested and "alive" under saddle outside the confines of a sand ring.
Therein lies my dilemma. I love love love this horse, and want him to be a happy boy. I honestly don't believe he is necessarily unhappy in our work currently-as mentioned earlier though, lately his natural inclination is not so forward:) There is no tail swishing, balking or any behavior I would consider problematic-he's just happy to jog and lope along if I let him. Luckily, one of the things I love about him is that when I do ask him to go forward, he will, with no snottiness.
When I take him out of the arena though...yeah, I have to admit he is a happy boy. He marches right along, just like I saw him do with Anna. I took him maybe 200 yards down a trail by himself a couple times, and he was great. I've not yet had the opportunity to take him out on a real trail ride, because I refuse to do that with just the two of us on our first time, though I'm sure we will have the opportunity to go out with someone's steddy-eddy trail horse this summer, hopefully soon. I should really be proactive and arrange it.
Blah blah blah...so the real dilemma is that I've fallen off Miles once, and of course it was outside the arena. It was March, before we had started cantering, and I was just starting him into "real" work, so I probably shouldn't have been doing ANYTHING outside the ring at all since we were still getting to know each other under saddle. It was a silly, stupid thing really.
We were just walking outside the arena (in a corner that, for some reason, Ebony never loved either), and there were some parked horse trailers and brush maybe 50 feet away (I'm horrid with distances). Anyway, he stopped. He didn't feel nervous to me at all, so I let him. He apparently saw or heard something and gave the classic sideways TB spook. Now, there were no witnesses, and y'all know how fast these things FEEL at the time, so all I can tell you is that spook put me totally off balance without either one or both stirrups (can't remember now). He was cantering/galloping (remember, this was before we had done more than walk/trot!) and he wanted to get out of there; I remember trying to do a half-assed one rein stop. At this point, I *think* I'm sort of half on/half off. I'm DEFINITELY telling him "whoaaaaa, whoaaaa" though I know my voice is pretty shaky. I'm thinking to myself "don't pull back on both reins, don't pull back on both reins", so I know I did that right. Sigh, one thing right.
If he had stopped , we would've been fine. However, every time he would slow a bit (I think he may have even trotted in there), my being off-balance freaked him out all over again and he would again adopt the "get me the hell outta here" mentality and start cantering/galloping-my no doubt poorly executed one rein stop was at least keeping him in the general area, which looking back on it was exactly the place he didn't want to be and maybe I should have just let him canter away like he wanted! I admit though, his canter/gallop scared me and all I wanted him to do was slooooooow down. Ebony and I had really struggled with our canter also, so I hadn't ridden a real canter in years at this point.
A fitter, stronger, more confident at-this-whole-cantering-on-my-horse Sarah probably would have stayed on. A Miles who actually listened to the word WHOA (no matter how shaky it may have sounded!) would have definitely prevented a fall. As it was, after approximately 5 or 10 seconds of this nonsense, I of course bit the dust. Thankfully, I wasn't seriously hurt, but falling off a 16.2 cantering (galloping?) thoroughbred onto hard ground doesn't leave you totally unscathed either.
Whatever, I was definitely sore (and holy hell do I still need to see a chiropractor at some point), but I got back on that little shit (I'm channeling my feelings at the time, of course;) and worked his ass in the ring, and then rode him out to that same area and walked back and forth a couple times. I got off, cooled him, and put him outside, then went home and proceeded to take some Motrin with more wine than I care to admit. Hey, it worked.
(Annoying Helmet Plug-I most definitely hit my head on the ground when I fell, and it bounced. My helmet didn't crack-though I know I need to replace it anyway. It's still the most important piece of equipment I'll ever own, and I won't get on a horse ever, ever again without one. I will never judge other people for how they choose to ride, but I hope more and more people who ride without one realize how easy it is for something bad to happen, and how important every single person is to SOMEONE else. End plug!)
So how is this all relevant now? I admit I've only gone past the scene of the crime on Miles once,
maybe twice, and I was less than super relaxed. I really, really want to trust him outside the arena, and I'm getting better, but I don't know that I still have the carefree attitude I had before he pulled his Hot Move. I hope to some day. I WILL some day.
Also, he's an OTTB-I really, really, REALLY want to canter him down a trail, or even just out in the grassy fields that surround our barn. And I WILL, no matter what, someday. I'm just...less than gung-ho about it right now, since our first experience cantering outside the safe confines of a ring was unexpected and kind of a disaster.
I know I'm a stronger rider than when we had this incident, and I think Miles might actually listen to me if I said WHOA now, no matter how shaky my voice is or how off balance I might be:) In fact, I'm pretty confident I wasn't forceful enough with my one rein stop, and that won't happen again, I hope. We have practiced both this and obeying voice commands since then. I have to say though, if I hadn't learned that skill, and if I hadn't had such great instruction from my last trainer who impressed upon me that pulling back on both reins in emergencies can escalate a bad situation into a horrible one, well, let's just say there are worse things than falling off the side of your horse as they gallop away (like rearing, still one of my greatest fears).
Sooooooo, this ridiculously long rambling post is really just me trying to work through a few issues. Am I being fair to Miles by keeping our work focused in the arena thus far? I do try to get him out every week or so, but I honestly don't trust him enough to do it much more than that, and we don't go far. I think, after our silly show next week, I'm going to make this our next goal-even if I can't get a trail partner, I can still take him around the farm and down the trail for a few hundred yards, especially with his new shoez! I can't wait to feel his power as we gallop down the trail-I don't think I'll have to keep him forward then:)
It will happen. We have so much time, all the time in the world, really. If you want to know an embarrassing secret, one of my favorite phrases to whisper to Miles is "Be patient with me. I will be patient with you". We are partners, fumbling our way through each others' strengths, neuroses, passions and weaknesses, one ride at a time.