In several previous blogs (Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five) I wrote about Finn, my half-Arabian, half-QH/Thoroughbred 6-year-old gelding. I described my ongoing effort to develop a relationship with Finn, gain his respect, and turn him into a safe, dependable mount. I wear a riding helmet and I do everything possible to ensure a safe ride, but there are many variables over which I have no control.
Having spent two summers riding the Rockies with my gray Arabian, Kadeen, I had a very good idea of what the trails were like. I knew what kind of athleticism and compliance I was going to need from Finn. Kadeen is a naturally brave horse; Finn is not! While I definitely needed to build a relationship with Kadeen and earn his respect, I didn’t have to worry about him assuming there was a horse-eating bear around every tree or bush.
Trying to prepare for Colorado
It has been an unbearably hot summer here in Kansas. It is extremely difficult to get motivated to ride when it is one hundred humid degrees outside! Nevertheless, I did what I could to prepare Finn for his Colorado adventure.
We crossed a few wooden bridges and tackled as many water crossings as I could find in my drought-affected area. I can’t say I left for Colorado feeling totally comfortable that I was going to have a safe, cooperative mount. He still regularly fights me on loading into the trailer. Some of it is, “No smart horse walks into a box” and some of it is, “Too bad for you, I don’t feel like doing that right now….” When faced with something challenging, he literally throws a childish tantrum. Everything about his behavior screams, “It’s too hard! I can’t do that! I won’t do that!!!”
My trainer worked with him for a year before I bought him, and even she reads his response in that way. As I have ridden him and gained his trust, he has improved. He really did learn a LOT in Colorado. I did not bring home the same horse I took… but I had a few pretty scary moments on the trail!
Winding River Resort
We arrived at our campsite at twilight on a Friday night, in the rain. On Saturday, we managed to get in 7 miles before and after the rain, although we didn’t escape the drizzle entirely. Finn was tentative about heading down the trail and totally not interested in going first, but he didn’t give me much trouble that first day. My boyfriend Alan was riding Kadeen, who is a seasoned and cooperative mount.
Within a day of arriving at camp, we met a group of four gals. Several of them lived within an hour of me in Kansas. They invited us to join them on Monday as they trailered their horses to a trailhead too far from camp to ride to directly. The trailer was a stock trailer available to rent from the owners of the campground. Of course, Finn was a challenge to load into a new trailer, even though four horses were already in the trailer. My new friends were patient and eventually, he got in. That was just the beginning of our adventures.
Our first challenge came in the form of a boggy area. The horses ahead of us had some difficulty navigating it, but Finn took it to a whole new level. We mowed down a sapling and his legs were all over the place. Somehow, we managed to end up on the other side relatively intact. In spite of the fact that he can sometimes be a bit “stumbly”, he was attentive to the trail and never gave me any concern over his ability to pay attention and navigate the skinny and rocky trail.
Soon we came upon a nearly vertical series of two steps. It was about two feet down to a ledge of about 6 inches, and then another two feet down. Because a horse’s wide-set eyes make depth perception a challenge, this type of obstacle is difficult for a horse. Nevertheless, Finn followed Kadeen down the steps without incident.
Our path eventually took us back to those same vertical steps, only this time we had to go UP instead of down. For most of the ride, I preferred to be somewhere in the middle of the group of horses. For some reason, at the time we arrived at the steps again, Finn and I were last in line. Alan and Kadeen were ahead of us. I watched Kadeen do a fabulous imitation of Pegasus as he took one giant leap and cleared the whole thing! Alan was not prepared for that plan, but he managed to stay on the horse.
Finn was right behind Kadeen…. But after climbing the first step his “I CAN’T DO THIS!!” mentality took over and he did a one-eighty (while being essentially vertical himself!) and plummeted back down the trail. The trail curved approximately 15 feet from the steps, so the trees in front of him provided a natural barrier for Finn. Thankfully, he stopped. Honestly, my heart rate was about triple at that point. I lost at least one stirrup but was still on the horse. I turned him around and this time he decided that since the other horses had survived, he’d probably survive too. He went up without much incident. Alan heard the commotion but no one saw it unfold.
At one point we decided to head down a particular trail, only to learn it was closed and not safe. Unfortunately, we found ourselves back at a certain intersection and realized we had to once again climb those dang steps. The humans were not the only ones aware of our location—Finn threw a mini-tantrum when he was asked to go down that dreaded trail once again! But when the other horses complied, he did too. Once again he did fine negotiating the step challenge.
Back at the bog
Soon we found ourselves back at the boggy area. I attempted to convince Finn to take the least boggy route, but he panicked and jumped about 8 feet directly to the right of the bog and the trail. He thought the nice grass he saw there would be a better option. But alas, it too was a bog, so he didn’t like that much better.
Plan C involved jumping into the trees directly in front of us. When he found he couldn’t go any further into the trees, he went back to the trail and somehow we ended up on the other side of the bog. I picked tree branches and tree limbs off my helmet and clothes for the next quarter mile. This time, Alan saw the whole thing unfold and I think HIS heart rate was tripled for awhile.
The rest of the trail was (relatively) uneventful and soon it was time to load again. With a minimum of resistance, he did get into the stock trailer. We did 13 miles that day.
Our next ride
On Tuesday we joined two of the ladies again and rode a trail accessible from camp. We were just leaving camp and heading to the trailhead when a noisy truck went by and Finn became an erupting volcano, especially disconcerting since we were on pavement. I got him settled down and we headed into the woods.
He did quite well on the trail that day, and eventually, we were back at camp. There is a river in camp, and each day we rode we made the horses stand in the river for about 10 minutes to cool down their legs. It was an easy way to address any inflammation that might have resulted from a hard day’s ride.
When we reached the river, the other ladies headed back to their trailer, leaving Alan on Kadeen and me on Finn, still at the river. Finn was not about to be left at the river and had no problem whatsoever leaving Kadeen on the far side of the riverbank. Finn was going to follow those other horses no matter what! He pitched a major fit, once again getting very light on his front end.
Move your feet!
In the past when he had done that, I would dismount and move his feet. It makes me very nervous when he rears, even though it is only 8-10 inches off the ground. I worry that he will go over on me. I dismounted and hustled him around on the ground, and remounted. More major fit, more rearing, more refusal.
At this point, I was just plain done with his attitude, and I unsnapped the “popper” I had attached to my saddle. I nailed him on the rump with the popper as his front feet were off the ground, and he jumped forward with great surprise! We made it to the edge of the river before he tantrumed again, and I popped him again. We went into the water at that point! That seemed to be a watershed moment for him (no pun intended!) as he fought me much less the rest of the week. We did 12 miles that day.
A tired horse is a better horse
We rode again Wednesday (13 miles of tough terrain!) and Friday (another 8 miles) for a total of 53 miles. It is very true that wet saddle blankets make for a more cooperative horse.
We still had some issues loading as we headed for home, and we are going to hit that (again!) this week. If he doesn’t get in immediately, he’s going to go to work… But all in all, I am very pleased with what he learned and what we accomplished this week. I am especially pleased that I lived to tell about it.
I did have an ID MyHorse tag braided into his mane and one on my person as well. That way, if something happened I would have readily available medical information and contact information if the horse became lost. We also spent two days in Estes Park, over the continental divide and a good 90 minutes away from our horses. I took great comfort in the fact that if something happened to one or both of the horses it would be easy for someone to know who they belonged to and to be able to readily contact me.
The boys were quite glad to get out of the trailer last night and they happily raced around their pasture. Our next camping adventure is not until October, but I am much more confident that Finn will handle it well. Happy Trails to you!