by Tamara Baysinger
Friday, September 3, 2021. In the forest near Centerville, Idaho. Early.
Breakfast goes down on a queasy stomach. I slept some, between long bouts of tossing and turning. I'm not super nervous ~ Ledger has good training, I know these trails, and we're only going 25 miles ~ but first rides are first rides, and anything can happen. So I'm a little nervous.
Ledger has cleaned up his hay overnight. He stands quietly for tacking up, with the help of Mr. Sweaty and a bowl of Outlast. The temperature isn't too far above freezing. Ledger shivers despite the blanket draped over his rump. I do, too.
My plan is to trot straight out of camp after most of the field is gone. Ledger will protest about leaving Starfish, but a little smack on the butt should be all it takes to keep him moving. Once we're out of earshot, we'll be golden.
Reality isn't quite like that.
It starts out well. A little reluctance, a little weaving, a little piaffe that's better saved for the dressage ring...but we're out of camp without much trouble. Hooray!
And then, the ribbons lead us sharply to the right. So sharply that Ledger reckons we're headed back to his buddy. That's when he loses every marble he has.
I feel him gather as if to run. One-rein stop! That shuts down the speed, but not the tension. He spins around. Stops. Gets light in front. Uh-oh! Disengage hindquarters NOW! We spin and spin until I find a split second in which to dismount.
On the bright side, I'm not cold anymore.
Ledger has turned into a dragon. His whole being is electric. He wants to run, to buck, to rear, to get back to camp, to catch the other riders. He wants to do pretty much anything except lead like a nice boy.
We try anyway. A few stragglers come up behind and pass, asking if we're okay. We are. More or less. We're just going to go in hand for a bit.
So of course, there's a creek crossing. Knee-deep on both of us. Ask me how I know.
Squish, squish, squish! Both of us press water from our boots as we walk and trot up the hill, across a paved drive, and into the trees. It takes a good mile for Ledger's brain to reinstall sufficiently that I decide to mount up. He's still a live wire. We negotiate. Trot, but not too fast, and I'll stay out of your mouth as much as possible. No, we aren't whirling around to find your buddy. And you really need to concentrate going down this hill!
He nearly falls on a steep decline because he isn't paying attention. I dismount again. I am a card-carrying member of the I Choose Life Club, folks. Happy to walk when I need to. Besides, Ledger's front boots are already twisting. I forgot the athletic tape (gah!) and the fit is imperfect. We pause to re-set the worst one, but it twists again within minutes. We'll just have to do our best.
He settles, eventually. More or less. I ponder the rearing thing, and realize that the junior cowhorse bit we tried at home -- in a much lower pressure situation -- may be too much for him. It doesn't have much leverage, but it does have some. I'll switch at the check.
Speaking of the vet check, it's...interesting. Ledger stomps his hinds as if to threaten the vet (ACK!!!). Or is he just annoyed by his boots, like Jammer tends to get when we're standing still? Speaking of standing still, Ledger doesn't. I apologize to the vets, who are very understanding of my first-time-pony woes. Ledger proceeds to run me over during the trot-out.
Okay, so there's room for growth. I swear we practiced ahead of time. We'll practice more. And we'll leave his buddy home next time, because that seems to be where all his brain cells have gone.
At least he gets all A's.
He eats. I find a mullen mouth twisted wire D-ring snaffle and make the switch. Mr. Sweaty brings me food to eat as I change both my boots and Ledger's. He drinks. I drink, though not the beverage I might have liked to enjoy. Just water, alas.
And then we're off. In a bubble, thank goodness, no horses in sight. We bob and weave our way out of camp again, then hit a steady trot as Starfish's hollers fade. Ledger is still pretty wound up, and I'm dismayed to catch up with a group of riders just a couple miles along. A few more come up behind us, compounding the potential for overexcitement. Oh well, he has to learn sometime!
I stay aboard for more of this loop, but still walk plenty. Ledger does not lead nicely. He wants to GO! I get tired of his bad manners ~ not something he's displayed at home, but we all know rides bring out new behaviors! ~ and start making him back up the trail every time he gets rushy in hand. He does a lot of backing.
Some strangers on a four-wheeler ask, "Aren't you supposed to ride him?"
"Ride him?" I say, "I'm lucky he doesn't make me carry him!"
It's an old joke borrowed from an old friend, but it still makes me smile. Actually, I've smiled most of the ride. (Hike. Whatever.) I went into this knowing I'd probably have my hands full, and I'm content to deal with the situation as it develops. I'm not in a hurry. And for all Ledger's fire-breathing nonsense, I'm really loving what I see.
Back to the trail. By mile 20, I have decided that if the junior cow horse bit was too much, the mullen mouth isn't enough. We need a happy medium. Where's Goldilocks when you need her?
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