Alternate title: Duet? No, This Aria is a Solo.
Sunday was very busy and I had packed my schedule so tight that I actually woke up at 5:30am from the anticipation that I would sleep in and blow up all my plans. I laid in bed for a while to kill some of the extra time before getting dressed and heading out to load Aria into the trailer. It was very cool and we had a nice layer of fog (some very delayed June Gloom hanging out in August). A perfect combo for a brisk morning ride.
This would be the first time I took Aria out on trail solo. There’s a little bridle path near the public arena that we’ve ridden solo before but it doesn’t offer anything trail related being a groomed loop to warm up or cool down on. She’d been on this particular trail 3 times before and I didn’t anticipate any issues other than some misgivings about ‘uneven terrain’.
I liked the idea of a very early ride. There would be a few people in case I had an emergency but it wouldn’t be packed like it usually is on the weekends. I wanted to keep a pretty fast pace on trail because I was limited on time. Waking up early didn’t do me any favors in that regard because the grassland preserve doesn’t open until 8am.
When I rolled up there were already a lot of cars in the parking lot and some people were leaving. Now that I know they don’t actually padlock the gate anymore, I’m kicking myself for not heading out there earlier. Lesson learned!
I had groomed Aria at home to kill time so it was just a matter of throwing her tack on. I checked the girth 3 times to make sure there wouldn’t be a repeat slip off. Amazing how it’s never on your mind until it happens and then it becomes your new obsession. I still kept the girth pretty loose but not enough to show daylight by the end of the ride.
I mounted up and we headed off. We were the only ones (I wrote ‘people’ initially XD ) on the trail and I think that made Aria just a little uncomfortable but I shortened my reins and rode her with connection and she calmed down. She’s still not 100% about the loose rein business and often looks for my support, which I am more than happy to provide. It’s amazing how contact and a praise turns her into a little lion full of bravado. It also makes me laugh because she can be such a weenie.
This particular trail starts and ends on the same path but splits about a mile in to create a huge loop full of switchbacks and hills. As we approached the split we were greeted by two coyotes. They didn’t mind us and Aria didn’t worry about them. Just two ships passing in the night. Lol. However as we headed down the split we came across a huge great dane and that gave Aria some pause. Can’t really blame her when the dog is barking and almost as big as you are!
Once we passed them I asked for a trot and we worked on making her feel confident. While she will walk out with purpose on trail it became immediately clear she was not comfortable picking up speed. When we approached the area where we had come across cows last time she got nervous. She really was expecting a big lumbering black mass to pop out from behind some bushes. I let her walk that stretch of trail to show her there was nothing ready to ambush us.
We did run into the cows a little further down the path but none of them moved and at our brisk trot, Aria didn’t seem to notice them all that much. Go figure. I did have to slow to a walk a few times as we crossed paths with hikers, joggers, and dogs but eventually we got to a few places where I could ask her to canter. What a sticky ride. If I thought she had sucked back at the trot she really put on the brakes when I asked for a canter.
This was all new to her so I expected some resistance. Half way through the ride she began to understand what we were doing and started to enjoy herself. We even tackled trotting downhill which I had some concerns about because she’s very clumsy but her hoof placement was very solid. The second half of the ride was excellent. We managed to clock that whole ride in at 45 minutes when normally it would take 1.5 hours. I definitely want to use this trail as a conditioning ride since it has so many hills and switchbacks but the next time we do it we’ll just walk. I don’t want her to assume we’ll always run that trail.
The very last thing we did as we left the trail head was to go through a gate that is always clipped closed because of the cows. I’ve been working with Aria on gates but it’s been a real struggle. I didn’t want to end on a bad note but I also wanted to try. She walked up to the gate well, let me unclip with no issue. She got a little stuck trying to turn around so we could open the gate but went through and stopped when I asked. She also backed up and let me clip the gate, not without a firmer aid from my heel though. Overall a good improvement to the last time. That’s all I can ask. As I was pouring on the praises a kind gentleman with two Great Pyrenees that was standing nearby let me know he would have let me through the gate if I had run into problems. It was nice of him to hang around even though he was done with his hike. That’s what I love about my small town.
And that was Aria’s first solo trail. Fun and uneventful. Just the way I like it. I’m so proud of her.