Last night, though, I made an exception to my usual methodical approach. A couple of weeks ago I was invited to go ride after work, at an arena about 45 miles from my house. It is a heated arena, well-lit and in good shape, so considering it would only cost me gas and a small contribution towards the rent, it was a fantastic offer.
One other great thing about the offer was that it got my butt into gear to get Paula trained to the point where I could ride her in the arena safely. Most of the people who show up to these riding-nights are barrel racers, so I needed to be able to control her adequately in a completely foreign environment. Quite frankly, when we were invited, we weren't even close to that point.
So over the last couple of weeks I've raced home on several occassions, changed clothes as fast as I could (often while tripping over one of the animals in my house), saddled up Paula and got in a quick lesson before the sun set. I realize I am a very lucky person to have a horse that still learns, even with such an inconsistent schedule.
My goal was to have her going well enough in the bit to be able to ride her outside my roundpen. We managed to get the bit part done, but for various reasons we never did make it outside of the roundpen.
When ride-night arrive, I decided we were going to go anyway. I reasoned that my trust in Paula outweighed my fear of permanent injury to my pride and/or physical being. Health insurance card in hand, I arrived at the arena well after dark. Fortunately, I pulled up right after my friends got there, so Paula and I followed them into the arena.
Paula, who does not list patience as one of her virtues.
At first, understandably, Paula was pretty flipped out. She was wide-eyed, tense, and even a bit hyper (or was that me?). Thankfully she's not the only horse still in training there, so it was perfectly acceptable for me to hand-walk her around the place, introduce her to all the sights and sounds (including several kids running around the bleachers--great exposure for her!), and then lunge her before mounting (and then saying a silent prayer that I wouldn't end up face-down in dirt that night).
Although Paula was pretty ornry at first, pulling at the bit, shaking her head some, not paying attention at certain points, trying to trot when I didn't cue her for it, etc...for a horse than had never even been ridden outside a roundpen before she really did great. After a while she settled down nicely and got used to all the chaos--barrel racers running their patterns, kids climbing all over the cattle chutes and bleachers, etc. We got to the point where we could actually have a real lesson in addition to the lesson of just getting used to the place, the commotion, being ridden in a large area, and having a dozen other horses around her. She softened and became her usual responsive self after the initial shock wore off, and we had a wonderful time.
Obviously not Paula (This is Sarah and her lovely mare Peppy)
Not on our list of things to do, but we did anyway, was walking the pole pattern. I really had a blast and we rode for three hours. I now walk like John Wayne, but it was completely worth it.
And the funny thing is I think that Paula enjoyed it as much as I did. This morning she wouldn't leave me alone. When I went out the gate she followed me, leaving her feed behind. She stood at the gate, looking at the trailer and then looking at me, like a dog does--she was ready to go again.
I told Paula not to worry, that there would be many more ride-nights and shows ahead of us. After last night, that promise is closer to fruition than it ever has been.