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7IL Ranch in Cat Spring, TX

March 15, 2010

When's our next adventure?

Last Saturday, a group of us from the barn hauled our horses to 7 IL Ranch in Cat Spring, TX.  I always love seeing the big six horse trailer in the barn driveway, even if I am not going anywhere.  I just enjoy knowing that some of my friends are heading out for an adventure at a show or a trail ride.  This morning was extra exciting because Carly and I were going to join in the fun! The two hour drive from Manor was easy – we just headed straight out along 290 East to Brenham.  As we approached the ranch, we drove through some people Victorian neighborhoods and it felt strange to drive a six horse trailer right past those gingerbread houses surrounded by white picket fences.

The 7 IL ranch trails met all the expectations promised on the website: sandy paths (although in some places the sand was deep enough that trotting or cantering would risk injury to your horse) with lots of flat wide open spaces for cantering and creeks and ponds for drinking and wading.

In the two and a half years that I’ve owned Carly, I’ve never trailered her for more than 30 minutes to local shows and once, to a trail.  She appeared unfazed after our trip there and happily munched from the hay bag on the side of the trailer while we all tacked up.  We walked quietly out of the parking lot, through a gate into an open field on to the “pink” trail.  Carly immediately started trotting, even though I hadn’t asked for it and all the other horses were walking. I do not mind when my lazy butt mare decides that she needs to be forward as long as she is not dragging me!

We kept a moderate pace that morning with a nice combination of trotting and walking with some cantering thrown in.  Trotting seems to be Carly’s favorite gait and I think she might happily trot the entire trail.  Because she is smaller than the other horses, she actually spends much of her time time on the trail trotting in order to keep up with all the other horses when they are just walking.  Today, her trot was getting strung out, because she was trying so hard to keep pace with some larger horses.  I slowed her down for a moment and asked for a canter.  She was a little confused at first -none of the other horses were cantering, why should she?  But then she realized that cantering was a much easier way to keep up and started making smooth upward transitions.

We meandered through some cow pastures and through some creeks.  The trails were very sandy and in many places, wide enough that we could walk four abreast in some places. In one of the deep sandy areas a horse ahead of me suddenly dropped to her knees.  I was alarmed for a moment, then realized Breezy wanted a good roll.  Luckily the owner got off in time and got Breezy up before she rolled on to the saddle.  Seeing another horse roll planted some ideas in Carly’s head and I had to kick her through some of the sandy areas – it was warm, she was sweaty, and since she is just starting to lose her winter coat, probably itchy.  I finally reached behind and scratched her butt and then rubbed all over her neck and even the parts of her chest.  I’m not sure if she liked it or not, but it seemed to reduce her need to roll.

In the afternoon, we split up into two groups: the slow group for the less fit or older horses and the fast group with the endurance riders who wanted to do a little conditioning.  I decided to join the fast group – Carly was being so forward and I wanted to enjoy it!  For our afternoon ride, we selected the “red” trail, which the owners suggested as being the most different from the pink path we’d taken in the morning.  The terrain was still sandy, but alittle different. We crossed more streams and navigated the banks down to and up from the water.  There were lots of open grassy fields that alternated with narrower wooded areas.  We cantered A LOT.  Carly shook and tossed her head just trotting and while this is not behavior I would generally encourage, it is so rare for her to do this that her excitement delighted me. At one point, I felt Carly was getting a little wound up and I asked everyone to slow down a bit. I think she was reacting to the rider and horses that had just passed us. It was an unusual sight –  an older woman approached us riding one horse and accompanied by another horse, running loose alongside them in side reins.  We stopped to ask if she needed help and she said, “Oh no, this is how I condition two horses at once.  They’re best friends, I never worry about them being separated”. Sure enough, she headed down one path and the loose horse started to goin another direction.  She called out to that one horse and he turned and trotted after them, just like a dog following his owner on a hiking trail.

Not long after that when we picked up canter, Carly bucked a little. What? Carly doesn’t buck! Okay, she does. But very rarely.  Usually, she bucks when she is spooking at something. When she bucks, she does not mess around. Her head drops down between her legs faster than lightning, she arches her back and twists and shakes. Her hind legs really don’t come up very much, but try staying on a horse doing the hokey pokey!  Luckily, she did not wiggle very much on this buck and I was able to pull her head up. I hollered out, “wait!” , everyone slowed, I got my rodeo queen under control and we went back to a canter without any bucking.  I had been keeping light contact, but I decided to let my reins out some until they were nice and floppy, but not on the buckle.  Mostly, my approach when trail riding is to let Carly pick her pace unless we are doing something where I feel we need to be at a certain pace for safety or staying with the group. Here, as I let out my reins and thought about practicing my sitting canter, she moved up front next to the Arabians and the 16 hand warmblood, and slightly overtook them.  My girl was feeling spunky!  We had a few more little happy bucks when we would pick up canter, but this time I was ready for them and just pulled her up a little and when she settled, I let her go.

We had one magical moment towards the end of our trail ride.  We came from a narrow twisty wooded area into a huge open field.  Carly and I were toward the front and she just took off at a beautiful relaxed canter along the path.  I didn’t ask for it, but I was ready for the movement and I just sat there and enjoyed it.  I knew that my friends were behind me, but I kept my eyes forward, looking through Carly’s ears at the tall grass blowing in the breeze and for a few minutes,  it was just her and I in this big open field.  That, my friends, is a gift that only a horse can give.

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