My horses enjoyed a well-deserved training break over the past month. Slowly, my life is creeping back to normal and I’m spending more time traveling. I’m so grateful to be fully vaccinated (and in line for the booster) and to be able to hit the road and do the things I enjoy the most—public speaking, teaching horsemanship, and yes, vacation! Just this past month, I spent a fabulous week at the C Lazy U Ranch, for the annual Ranch Riding Adventure—and it was all of that! We had a great group of riders, incredible fall weather, and we rode our pants off! I also spent a week in Fort Collins, Colorado, teaching various classes for Colorado State University’s Equine Science program. I always enjoy working with up-and-coming young professionals and getting in touch with the university scene. Then just last week, Rich and I spent an entire week in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, visiting family and having fun in the sun. This is the area where I grew up and spent countless happy days fishing, boating, and beaching, and we had a blast! But with all that activity, I’m afraid I didn’t get much training done on my horses this month.
Our horses are exercised daily, regardless of whether I ride them or not. To keep them fit and in a routine, we bring the horses in at the same time every day and even if I don’t ride, they get tied up, groomed and free-longed, usually two or three horses together. I always like to say, “Misery loves company,” and they do like the free longe in a group, so they can have a little friendly competition on the side—who gets to be in front, who cuts the corner to gain the advantage, who likes to offer ‘friendly’ encouragement from behind. Horses thrive off routines and you can tell with my horses because they line up at the gate every day to come in for their scheduled time. It’s not that they love working, they don’t. But they like the grooming for sure, and they thrive on the routine activity.
Last week, after coming home from Florida, I was eager to ride both my horses, Annie and Pepperoni. Then I realized it had been a full month since I had ridden them last. This kind of thing never worries me because I know that horses don’t forget or unlearn—you could go years without riding and the horse would more or less be at the same training place that you left off. Time off doesn’t make my horses fresh or disobedient; in fact, usually the opposite. Still, it’s always interesting to me to see how they will respond after a long layoff (keep in mind they still get exercised and handled daily). Will they be froggy? Lazy? Rusty? But this time, they were perfect and I couldn’t be happier with my two horses.
Annie, at the ripe old age of 14, is highly trained and knows her job well. Fully tacked or without saddle and bridle, she can perform full reining patterns and execute just about any maneuver asked of her. Oddly, if I haven’t ridden in a while, my horses tend to be even sharper with their bridle-less cues (riding without rein contact), as if they are concentrating harder. After a few days, I can feel their acute attention level starting to wane (which is totally how I was in school too). Although riding Annie is not exciting or challenging for me (because I enjoy training green horses so much), it’s always fun to ride my little fancy sports car. She’s smooth, quick-footed, and highly responsive. I love this little mare because I can ride her at the highest level, then turn around and take her up in the mountains for a fabulous trail ride, then the next day, put my friend and beginner rider on her. This little horse is all in.
Pepperoni, my 5-year-old gelding, is following closely behind Annie in terms of training and reliability. I was thrilled that after a month without riding, I was able to step in the stirrup and take off for a-great ride, without looking back. He was mellow and engaged, trying as hard as usual to be the very best. Since he is younger and actually a quite energetic soul, I expected we would need to burn off a little extra rocket fuel. But he was actually quite mellow and attentive; a sure sign of maturity! With no good reason to do anything different, I brought Pepper along slowly in his training, focusing more on the classical progression of training, on correctness, and laying a solid foundation. I have to say, that has paid off big, and now he is close to finished, without having been jammed on, and I can ask almost anything of him. His solid foundation of training means that he responds fully to my aids and that I have 100% nose-to-tail body control. This means he can do pretty much anything I ask, as long as I ask correctly. He’s truly been a joy to train and a fun horse to have as a partner.
Later this week, I head back to the C Lazy U Ranch for the inaugural Horsemanship Immersion clinic. This is a program I’ve dreamed of for years and had innumerable requests for—a complete immersion into the study of horses and horsemanship. This program is not for the casual rider; it is specially designed for the person who simply cannot learn enough and is never fully satiated at a regular clinic—always yearning for more. I designed this program for me—and all the equestrians just like me! With a laboratory of more than 200 riding horses to study and play with, the program offers six seminars, nine hands-on workshops, plus equitation lessons and trail riding, all in the glorious setting of a 5,000 acre ranch in the Rocky Mountains, and the “five-spur” meals and accommodations that the Ranch is famous for. We’ll study horse behavior, conformation, ground training, health, nutrition, first aid, saddle fitting and bits, just to name a few. Can it possibly get any better than that?
Although this year’s Immersion program is full, we will be offering the program again next year; same time, same station. Check out my 2022 schedule here. I’m optimistic that 2022 will bring us even closer to our ‘before times’ normalcy. I have a full horse expo schedule slated for the spring, plus four exciting programs at the C Lazy U, plus a return to Ireland for a fabulous vacation-clinic with Connemara Equestrian Escapes. I’m so excited to return there, riding and touring the amazing Irish countryside with another adventurous group of riders—stay tuned for more information on that (with limited spots available, this program will fill quickly!).