Until today, Jessica had been getting Skeets ready for me. I was really kind of spoiled and feeling like a dude, so when she had me get Skeeter ready on my own, I felt much better. While I was waiting for Jessica to tack up Skeeter's roommate, Hailey, to ride with us there was a big boom. Skeeter and Hailey didn't even flinch. Jessica lives near a shooting range, but this shot was much closer. She had told me that her husband was up on the hill hunting, so I just looked at her and said, "guess we know what's for dinner."
We started with groundwork and Jessica showed me a cool exercise where I move Skeeter in half-circles in front of me while I'm walking a straight line. I start Skeeter on a circle and as the saddle passes in front of me, I make her change directions and continue to have her chance directions as I walk forward in a straight line. It forces her to stay out of my bubble and focus on me even more so than just circling exercises. We need a lot more practice, but we got the basics down. I'll try to have someone take video on Thursday.
We mounted up and worked on the basics. Flexing right and left, walking not like a drunk soldier, one-rein and two-rein stops. Shortly, Jessica's husband came back to pick up the gator and headed back onto the hill to get his buck. I was hopeful that he would get back before I left so I could introduce Skeeter to "dead". Ranger hates "dead", but I'm always looking for opportunities to desensitize Skeets to stuff and a dead buck seemed like a great opportunity.
We continued to work on steering and walking. Not so many circles, but lots of walk in a straight line like I told you to. We went over the bridge the long way and walked through the trot poles until Bob returned with the buck. Jessica had him drive the gator into the arena so I could introduce the big black horse to the dead buck. I had a moment of "oh, should I get off?", but then looked at Jessica and she was completely unconcerned about being up on the horses as the gator came in.
Skeeter has positive associations with the gator - it brings food and takes away poop, so seeing it drive in didn't bother her one bit. I rode her up to the back and she stretched out with her nose to poke the buck and flinched. That's all the reaction she had - a little flinch - and then she set to carefully exploring the buck. She sniffed and nuzzled until she was comfortable and then decided that if it came in the food cart, it must be food and started nibbling on its hide. At one point she picked up a leg like a dog with a bone, and then went back to nibbling along the deer's side. I gave her ten or fifteen minutes of exploration before I moved her away for the other horses to get a turn. I was super proud of her for being so brave and confident.
When we went back to riding, Jessica had me move into a trot, which was so much better than last week. I felt more comfortable, Skeeter was more comfortable and it was going well for the most part, until she got stuck. Lots of clucking and kicking and nothing doing. She was well stuck and my legs were about done. I sighed and stopped to regroup and Jessica reminded me that I had just taught Skeeter that if she ignored me long enough that she wouldn't have to move. I know that, I really do, but I needed to regroup. I couldn't reach back to pop Skeeter on the butt very well, so Jessica told me to over-under her with the reins.
After I regrouped, I squeezed, clucked, kicked and then over-undered that stubborn black mare and she snapped right to work and said, "yes, ma'am." At that moment I had a huge break-through. I've been trying so hard to ride like Jessica and not make any mistakes that I've been timid. I am not a timid rider, not by any stretch of the imagination. Well, not until I started taking lessons and became afraid to screw up my horse. The minute I started riding like I know how to ride, and how I'm actually going to be riding her at home, we started making great strides. Yes, I want my cues to be like Jessica's, and no, I don't want to screw up my horse or be too harsh, but Jessica's not going to be with me after next week. Skeeter and I are going to have to come up with our own communication system, based on what we've both learned during her time at Jessica's.
I was feeling much more confident after Skeeter and I came to an agreement and kissed her up to a canter. We made it about three strides before I locked up and became unbalanced. Damn this being out of shape business. When Skeeter felt me lock up, she immediately slowed to a stop. I didn't ask her to, but I'm okay with it being her default "my rider's in trouble" reaction.
We worked our way around the arena just once or twice more before calling it a day. I can't believe that it's almost time for Skeeter to come home, but am so blasted excited I can't hardly stand it.
Jessica's Mustang Magic mare, Moxie, is in need of some fairly expensive medication, so I'm donating all of my royalties from the online sales of TALES FROM THE TRAIL during the month of November. You can start buying Christmas presents and help Moxie.