Category Archives: horse training journal

Miss Mocha wakes up

Besides skiing this Mother’s Day, I also went to the barn and did a light ride on Miss Mocha. She nickered and was eager to get out this morning. I think she’s getting tired of the stall restriction; it sure seems like she’s a bit lower in mood when I throw on the bareback pad and we just repeat the schooling exercises and walk, walk, walk. But with that bar shoe, there’s just not a lot she can do yet.

However, on the way to the barn, we spotted an estate sale just down the road. It was right next to the tree farm with a long (about 200 yard) driveway. I figured it was a good schooling opportunity and a chance to expose Mocha to something new. She has to get used to life beyond the arena at some point and it looked pretty mellow to handle.

So after the usual schooling of circles and railroad tie walkovers and two-tracks and backing, we headed out for Estate Sale Training. About halfway down the road, a diesel truck with a rather loud muffler set-up accelerated and startled Mocha. She started to bolt, but we stopped after two strides of trot. But her head was UP, and she was on her toes with a lot of energy because she’d begun to notice the cars and foot traffic.

At the corner where we turned to go down the driveway, she was unsure about the bright white signs. Reaction to white signs and other times when she’s been like this told me that yep, that’s something to work her with. She got over her nervousness about bright white stuff but it took some time. I think I see an impending future of leftover lawn signs, especially bright white ones.

Then she whirled once to refuse to go down the driveway, because she’d never gone down it before. And there were cars. And noise. And things That Just Didn’t Belong, Mom, So Can We Leave?

However, hubby (also known as Treat Boy) was on foot with us, and he walked down with us. There was a lot of the Quarter Horse Giraffe Mode but I didn’t push her. Keep in mind I’m doing this with a bareback pad and Pelham curb. I had brakes but I didn’t want to call them in. When she wanted to stop and look, the rule was she could stop and look. But she couldn’t back up, and she couldn’t spin and bolt. If she spun, we kept on going right around to face where we started. Being the well-trained reiner she is, she listened to that cue.

It was about twenty minutes worth of schooling, a little bit of drama and anxiety, but nothing scary on my part. I never felt like she was out of control, just being a Drama Queen about a lot of strange activity in a place she’s semi-familiar with. I’m sure part of the reason for some of the drama was the fact that she’s spent five months with a bar shoe on her left fore and as a result she’s had no turnout and only light exercise at a walk. There are many, many more horses out there who would have reacted much more intensely than Mocha in such circumstances. I’ve owned one of those in the past. That horse would have ripped down the barn long before now.

At the end, she felt sufficiently energetic to try to jig and trot back to the barn. Good to feel that energy again, and know it hasn’t gone away–just suppressed at the moment.

One more month left…I hope.

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Adventures in farriery

So Miss Mocha has been facing challenges with her hooves and her soundness of late. Today, the farrier came out and issued a verdict: white line disease. While there are several options for treatment, the best one for The Girl in my opinion was a mechanical treatment (there are chemical-based applications which people Swear By, but my experience with those has been that I prefer to save those options for a fallback).

What is white line disease? OMG, that’s something that horsepeople can and will debate endlessly to determine just when a case of hoof rot cascades into something more extreme. Essentially, it’s like getting fungus under a toenail…only the toenail is something that you are walking on. Constantly. It’s a fungal invasion of the soft tissue between the outer wall of the horse’s hoof and the central core of the hoof and sole. Farrier has his own solid opinions (as do most horsepeople), and, frankly, he trends conservative on this subject–as do I.

So. Before The Farrier visual:



That dark crevice by my thumb is the area of white line disease. Note that the material that is supposed to be there…isn’t.

After the Farrier:


The infected and diseased part of the hoof is removed and a bar shoe nailed on to provide support.



In order to keep Mocha from pulling off this special shoe, which provides heel support for the cutaway portion of her hoof, she has to wear a bell boot over the hoof.

More later, but…it’s not as painful as it looks. Mocha was relaxed and drowsing throughout the process, with only a horsey aspirin equivalent. She’s looking much more chipper tonight. I’m guessing the shoe is already providing some much-needed relief.

Yeah. Stuff happens with horses. Such is life.

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Cautiously optimistic about the horse

So things appear to be improving with Miss Mocha. The consensus is that she blew an abscess on the left fore, and that she messed up her right hind when she got startled while rolling. Or something. It’s hard to say.

Things really didn’t start turning around until Thursday, and by Friday, The Girl was making it pretty clear that she was beginning to feel better. She’s been on a light course of Bute and I’ve been keeping the abscess area medicated and clean with the diaper/Vetwrap/duct tape system. I’m going to keep her on that light Bute until the farrier comes, and try to get out to the barn to give her a second dose before the farrier gets to her. I think it’s helping and with the shape that heel area is in…she could use some anti-inflammatory relief.

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday have all shown big improvements. I’ve been keeping her blanket on even though temps are in the 40s; we’ve been getting nights below freezing and she’s stalled. The one night she went without a blanket, she was clearly feeling more sore. So, blanket, better to minimize stress. She walks now without much of a hitch in the arena, and just a wee bit of a bobble in the alleyway.

The clearest indication of her feeling better, though, is just small, sneaky pushy behaviors and little attempts at being naughty. Aggressive mooching for treats. Little indications that she’s getting tired of being on stall rest and she’d like to do more, please. So far we don’t have the Butemonster rearing her ugly head, but…she’s gonna start getting stir crazy soon.

Counter to that, of course, is her own self-protective behavior. She’s been in wuss mode and I can count on her being more steady in that wussy mode. She hasn’t wanted to roll, even when I turned her loose. She followed me up to the gate, instead. Saturday, I just accepted that choice and led her out. Tonight, I just walked away to see what she would do. After a few moments, she started sniffling around, and went down to roll. I watched her get up from her left side and she didn’t flinch when putting pressure on that left fore, plus she was moving okay after that.

Sometime this week, though, we have to start doing more. I don’t want to lunge her with these particular achies, so out comes the surcingle and long reins. That will let me get her started in rebuilding her conditioning–start from the very bottom with fifteen minutes walk, build up to thirty, then do twenty-five walk, five jog, and up the times until we get to fifteen/fifteen, and then start extending time in each gait by five minutes until we’re at about forty-five minutes of walk/jog in the big circle, at which point canter comes back. At some point we switch from ground driving to under saddle. No lateral work until she can do forty-five minutes. That’s just a rough plan, the hard and fast part is the early stage where I’m legging her back up. Won’t know how that will progress until we start doing it.

Nonetheless, she will go back into some kind of light work this week, just because otherwise she is going to be Too Much Fun. Dear Lord, I hope I never have to manage this horse with an extended stall rest program.

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The agonies of the hurting horse

Yay! Tonight things are much better with Miss Mocha. Last night was pretty depressing, but I’m not surprised, in retrospect. Last night, Mocha wouldn’t touch more than the toe of her left fore to the ground, was horrendously camped under herself and would not put much weight on the right hind.

I had visions of Neurological Stuff. It took Gregg supporting her on the right hind for me to be able to do the diaper/vetwrap/duct tape whamdoodle on the left fore, and even at that she had to pull back on one cross-tie with Gregg steadying her to get it wrapped. Yeah. Scary thoughts last night. With another friend having to put down her mare, I wasn’t in any mood to share. OTOH, I took a look at the cavity in the left fore and…yeah. I’m thinking abscess plus dirt packed into it.

Tonight, though, while she was low in spirits (I think she was hurting), still, she came out of the stall weighting most of her left fore and….weighting her right hind. A little wobbly, but it got better after I gave her the grain with Bute powder (OMG, handful of plain oats, molasses, bute and a wee bit of water–she slurps it right up. MUCH better than the paste!) and then took her for a short hand walk in the arena. She lined right out in the soft footing but after four rounds was ready to call it enough. Getting out really helped her mood, and thankfully she’s a sane horse, so I just let the lead rope swing and had her pick her own pace.

Afterward, she was much more cheerful (I’m sure the Bute was also kicking in by then!). Of course, she wasn’t refusing treats, either. She did her usual thing of hanging out at the open door while I swept the alley, then got her typical three cookies before I went to flip the grass hay stuck behind her salt block where she could reach it.

Did not rewrap tonight. I plan to do that every other day. I put enough duct tape on that the wrap is holding solid, and she’s not coming out of the stall unless I do it right now. The less I muck with things at this point, my sense is, the better. She just needs time to heal up. Whew. That, I can handle.

She was a wee bit stiff in that right hind when first walking out in the alleyway, but loosened up as we walked in the soft arena. That had me more worried than the left fore–the heel crack in the left fore makes that pretty obvious. The farrier can work with one bad leg, but two? Not gonna ask that of any farrier except in the direst of straits. So I was very relieved tonight when she came out of the stall bearing weight on that right hind and not being ouchy about it. She was tight walking down the alley to the arena but walked out of it, so that’s good.

Currently, the plan is to hold steady until the farrier gets by on his regular schedule. I want to get that right hind more time to heal up. K is pretty good with her stiffnesses, but still…I can stick the diaper/vetwrap/duct tape on her until he gets here in a week and a half, it gives that heel time to mend, and it gets whatever she did to that hind leg time to settle down more.

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Wintry ride today

Mocha was itching to get out, and even though the ground was frozen solid, we went outdoors. She’d been quivering a little bit when I brought her out of her stall, so on went the fleece cooler to replace her heavy blanket (I was surprised as I didn’t think the trace clip was that chilling. In retrospect, I think she might have just been a bit eager to get moving).

I thought for sure that this was going to be the time she’d blow up on me. High-headed from the moment she stepped out of the stall, and the way she blew up and humped her back when I tightened the cinch–I almost rethought throwing the cooler over the saddle, as I’d planned, but shrugged the worries off, figuring that if she was going to blow, she’d blow if I asked her to lunge a little. And if I can’t sit a couple of Mocha bucks, even with a cooler over the saddle–well…Mocha’s not the most talented bucker I’ve ridden. Sparkle is the queen of bucking in my life, and Mocha isn’t the sort of horse to get into bucking like Sparkle did. And Sparkle never would signal a bucking spell, she’d just launch herself into it. I figured it was safe. I did dip her snaffle into lukewarm water to warm it up, which surprised her.

So we went outside into the big arena. Mocha stepped gingerly through the patches of dirt and sand heaved up by the frost, and she really didn’t want to leave my side when I tried to do a short lunging. Since she wasn’t humping up like a horse thinking to buck on a cold ride, I tightened the cinch a little, got the same hump, walked her some more, tightened a little, and called it good even though it wasn’t as tight as usual. Made sure the cooler was wrapped around the stirrups so that I could find my right one fast if she did decide to surprise me, and got up on her quickly and smoothly. The way she minced out told me right off she wasn’t going to buck. No, Miss Stall Princess just didn’t trust icy hard ground.

Interestingly, she relaxed and strode out when we went through the leaves. There were just as many frost heaves there, but perhaps the ground isn’t frozen as hard–in any case, it brought home that if I move this horse to a colder climate, she’s going to have to learn about icy ground, frost heaves, and all that other stuff. We spent most of this ride at a walk with some jogging. Almost got a piaffe during the first few jogging circuits because of how tight and short she was keeping her steps. But, kept the reins fairly long with a light contact, mostly just letting her know I was there but letting her balance and figure it out on her own. So 2/3s of a ring circuit were tight and tense, then the 1/3rd that was leaves was markedly bolder and bigger. The only other place she stepped out was over the railroad tie walkovers, and she relaxed over those.

We did do some schooling figures. Mocha expressed her opinion of the foolishness of this ride with regular little grunts of disapproval that got louder during the two tracking. But hey, after two-track, she relaxed her back enough to walk out nicely on the hard, icy ground on a soft rein. Never did get a fully relaxed trot but I settled nicely for the big swinging walk with a relaxed back.

Gotta laugh, though. I’ve never dealt with the mind-set of a stall-living horse until I owned Mocha. I’ve legged up on Sparkle and my ponies in much icier conditions, even in snow–and they didn’t think much of it. Sparkle never did hump her back up like a bucker as much in cold weather as Mocha did today, and she was the bucker of the two. Never thought you had to teach a stall-raised horse these things–and yet, with Mocha, it’s becoming quite clear that yep, that’s exactly what I have to do with her.

OTOH, one thing that is priceless is that Mocha’s sense of self-preservation with regard to her footing is HUGE. If she doesn’t trust it, she’ll stop dead and freeze up. While I might have to explicitly teach this mare to be a trail horse (that is, if the opportunity presents itself) outside of an arena, on the good side, I can count on her to be sensible.

That goes a long, long ways.

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Winter arena ride

It’s November and clearly with the rains and mist outside, we’re back to winter riding. No more outside and dust, back to damp and cool, sweaty horse, and slick arena footing.

Mocha was eager to get out and work. We didn’t do a lot of intensive schooling, more gymnastic and flexing work. She wasn’t very aggressive at the lope, wanting to work more under herself and staying balanced and collected to manage the footing better. Smart girl. Guess she learned something from her injury in September.

Along with the slower, more elevated work, I noticed she was lighter on the rein and shifted directions quickly to avoid slick patches when I started guiding her around them. We didn’t work very hard, though, mainly to avoid getting Mocha too damp. Yep. It’s that humid phase of November when it’s just too warm to ride hard with a winter coat. I’m going to try a trace clip again this year, since unlike last year she’s only getting wet on her neck and hindquarters. I can always do a full clip if that doesn’t work (but then she gets a fitted undersheet, for those times when the Gorge wind blows strong).

A nice, quiet evening ride after work, and a prelude to many more like it this winter.

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A typhoon of a horse show

Not joking.


You can kind of see it in this picture. That was Saturday, and Sunday was even more so. I thought I’d taken pictures of the epic storm, but no, I guess I was battened down outside of Mocha’s stall, watching the typhoon remnants rage.

It was a good show. I put up detailed results on Facebook and I won’t go into those details here–except to say that Mocha did very well in Trail classes. Half of our ribbons were firsts and seconds overall, and we placed in over half of our classes, with the majority of placements coming from all three judges. Not too bad for folks who only show once a year!

Part of the excellent results came from focused training. I started prepping for this show in July, and, despite a few sidetracks from horse and human health stuff, we kept to a pretty consistent training and conditioning schedule.

In any case, the storm was in full steam when we got to the fairgrounds. In past years, it’s been a pretty fall show with decent fall weather. This year–nope. Full-blown mid-latitude cyclone. At least it wasn’t as crazy as the infamous 1962 Columbus Day storm that did significant damage and was quite powerful.

Horse and rider prep pictures:


This was the mane styling for Mocha for Saturday and Sunday. Friday night reining, we just went without braids.


Just before reining classes, putting on my chaps. I’m still wearing my wool hiking hat from REI, to be swapped out for helmet (Friday night) or expensive felt show hat (Saturday and Sunday).


Rail view during reining. She kept trying to drift out, didn’t want to steer right, I wasn’t locking into her, she wasn’t happy with her boots and the footing. But we still placed in one class and would have placed in the other if I’d not lost count of my last spin.


Thundering along. Her ears are forward, she’s looking where we’re going, at least.

And then there was Trail.


Trotting the tarp.


Pulling the drag around the cone.

We had two late nights, with the weather making things nasty and late on Saturday. 99W closed down and we had to come home by way of Forest Grove and Hillsboro.

Nonetheless, I’m proud of my little mare. We’ve worked hard and we did well at this show, all things considered. She did a good job, and, thanks to a nice bale of orchard grass hay, stayed very happy all weekend munching away on good roughage to keep her calm and her gut stable.

A good horse show. I’m happy.

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Sometimes you’ve just gotta play

As we go through the countdown to the horse show next weekend, one thing I have to focus on is the balance between overtraining and just enough work to have the horse ready for three days of focused work under saddle. Part of that includes the appropriate scheduling of the type of classes (how many reining classes the first night, how many Western Pleasure–a discipline Mocha dislikes–classes to end out on the last day. For us WP is more just practice in working in an arena around other horses and, at this show, a chance to work out body kinks from reining and trail classes. We often place but seldom higher than third, if that.). But another part is, simply, making sure that her back is used to having a saddle on it for three days in a row. Between hock injections, hoof issues and the start of school, we’ve backed off on our regular daily rides, so I’ve been trying to get on her back for multiple days in a row to get her used to it again. Not too hard, but–

That also means that this middle-aged lady needs to make sure that her back and legs are also in shape. So–many days of riding in a row.

But too much schooling on a finished horse ends up with overwound (Mocha is now aware we’re drilling for a show, just because of the pieces I’m focusing on, and she’s winding up) and overdone horse brain. Last night was, simply, play and conditioning time.

We ended up thundering around the outdoor arena with a couple of other riders. While I did a little bit of schooling focusing on bending and flexing, we also did a lot of play. One of the other riders has a young and energetic horse who viewed the canter sessions as a bit of a chase/race game–and Mocha, though mature, locked enthusiastically into galloping around. She was pretty respectable, too. I think that if we’d had a good straight stretch where I could let her go, she’d have smoked that younger mare, as she kept gaining on her during the straightaway. The younger mare, being smaller, gained on the turns.

It wasn’t all about racing, though. We rode the two horses together and played a little bit of drill team, worked on walking over railroad ties, and otherwise just plain had an unfocused, relaxed, let’s just romp and play time. Good for both of us.

Time off tonight, then two days in a row, another day off, then three days, another day off, and then the show. We’ve got the pieces down so now I just have to focus on conditioning and not overtraining or overdrilling. A delicate balance–but I’ve managed to pull it off before. Hopefully I can do it again.

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Mocha groks the hill–progress!

I think the circling work we did last time on the slope helped Mocha understand her balance a lot more this time on the hill. For the first time since we’ve started riding down that short little slope, she’s moving more like a horse I’d feel comfortable riding on trails.

The big problem has been that she’s been slamming down hard on her forehand, letting gravity carry her downhill instead of taking short, careful, balanced steps and using her rear end. While it’s been suggested that I lean forward downhill, um, no, not when she’s moving like that. I don’t want to encourage that method of downhill movement with a rider. She’s also really fussy about weight on her shoulders sometimes, and I think that’s another issue she’s had to adjust to because she’s been hollowing out her back when she slops around going down (saddle does not slip forward but it does slip back, her breast collar is always loose when I put the saddle on her but not when I take it off, otherwise it fits her well).

That changed today. She arched her neck, rounded her back, shifted her weight to her rear, and FINALLY started taking short, careful, balanced steps instead of plopping down the slope, mincing along carefully but in control, using her rear end and back correctly. There were a couple of instances when she started to rush again and I stopped her, paused, and then we went on. I could feel her shoulders work through the saddle and braced myself up a tiny bit to unweight her back, and moved off of her shoulders while leaning forward from the waist up. Balanced and controlled. Yay!

Then we circled in both directions going uphill, and again, I could tell that she was more confident in her balance and starting to understand where to put her feet better. She was not hesitant at all about turning in either direction and in fact felt more and more confident the more we did it. Not a whisper of any issue with that right side. So we circled about halfway up, then two-tracked a little bit before just walking up the slope.

Not sure how much more hill riding I’ll be able to do before the rains set in. I really don’t want to ride her downhill on blacktop when it’s wet–that would undo a lot of this careful working with her to understand her balance. I go back to work next week and it then becomes a race against the dark before we go back to Standard Time and I lose that extra light. But I am very, very glad we’ve gotten to this point before I started up work again! If I can get a couple more sessions like that, then I’ll be happy to let it rest until spring. Yay.

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Schooling a finished horse through a training hole

Even the best-trained horses can come up with a training hole, especially if their experiences have been pretty much in the arena. While I’ve been pretty firm about Mocha being able to open gates, step over objects (or jump), and walk/trot through water, I’ve not thought much about walking her downhill. There’s a little downhill driveway section that goes past the barn and I’d not thought much about it. Mocha had been reluctant to go down it before and I laid that to barn sourness, focusing on other training things in past summers.

This summer I decided it was time to change that state of affairs. I figure every saddle horse needs a few basics, no matter if most of the time they work in an arena, and one of them is walking downhill under saddle. Not every horse is cut out to be a trail horse, but there really wasn’t a reason in my mind that an athletic horse like Mocha couldn’t do it.

Mocha had different opinions on the subject. She’d start down, then stop, fuss, and either sidepass or back up, but she would NOT go down that hill. Because we were working on blacktop, my priority was to figure this out without freaking her out and getting both of us hurt.

So I broke apart the task, much as I would do as a special education teacher. Antecedent, behavior, consequence. What was the triggering factor or factors? What behaviors was she showing in her resistance? Why was she objecting? Balance, footing, something spooking or frightening her, a combination of that, confusion, worried, or simply stubborn Idontwanna!

I rejected Idontwanna right off. When Mocha shows those moments of resistance where it is a difference of opinion in what she wants to do from what I want to do, that usually comes up in pattern or rail work. Loose rein hacking doesn’t get Idontwanna. She doesn’t balk, usually, she starts speeding up in Idontwanna. A balk during a hack is something else, and there’s a reason for it other than overruling rider judgement.

Spook or fear got ruled out because she was relaxed until we started going downhill. She might have been a bit anxious about going out of sight of the barn, but that didn’t feel like the issue. She was worried, not excessively so, but generally worry on her part is specific to one particular sight or noise that triggers the worry. Worry was a part of what was going on but it was not a frightened worry–which made me think about the other cause of worry, confusion. What was confusing Mocha?

Balance was one part of it. She resisted going downhill both on the grassy edge of the driveway and on the blacktop. Footing not an issue. She would move forward a few strides, then stop on either surface.  If I led her she’d walk right down, nice and balanced, no problem. So balance under a rider–aha.

Mocha is particularly sensitive to a rider’s weight and balance in the saddle. I am conditioned to lean back as a horse goes downhill, to help with balance. The only lean back cue Mocha really knows means slow down or stop. So my job was clear. I had to overlay that cue with programming “except when walking downhill.”

But she was stubbornly resisting going downhill under me, and I didn’t have someone around to lead her. What to do?

She would back downhill. She’d even sidepass, but that was too iffy. So backing it was. When she resisted going downhill, once she got turned around, we backed up about ten feet. I asked her to turn to the right (note this, important) and she resisted. Backed her up about twenty feet, asked her to turn to the right, and she resisted going downhill. More backing up, and then I asked for a left hand turn (note this). She walked the remaining twenty feet to a flat spot. We stopped, I praised her, we walked up partway, turned (I can’t remember right or left) and she walked back down. Rode up further, turned, walked down.

The next time we encountered the hill, she walked down, no problemo, long rein, a little fast. I kept my weight upright and only very slightly back. I didn’t like that feel but getting her down the hill was important. She was walking fast and landing hard but not sliding, not ouching. I just wanted her to get down that hill in one piece on a long rein.

Third time, she started fussing when I leaned further back and pushed my feet slightly forward. I thought we were going to have to redo the backing piece, but I turned her to the left. Aha. More to the puzzle. She’d turn and go downhill going left but not right. I thought on this, both that time and the next time, with similar issues. She was still walking a bit fast and coming down hard on her feet, but I wasn’t ready to work with that. We needed forward without resistance or at least a clue as to why the resistance first.

And then today. I leaned back but didn’t put my feet as far forward as I would for a sliding stop. She accepted that, though she did try to stop a couple of times. I paid attention to the difference between left and right and yep, girl did not want to turn right. Left, no problem. When she was that way on the flat piece I decided this wasn’t a pain issue, it was a particular Mocha brain lock. So we circled left and right on the flat until she’d go on. Then we meandered up the hill, working on circling to the right, turning left when she’d get stuck and not want to go downhill, but moving from a very slight incline to a steeper incline as she did more of it. By the time we were done, she could circle in either direction and stay balanced.

Now keep in mind through all of this that Mocha is a pretty much finished reining horse who can change leads on the rail every three strides or so (it ain’t smooth enough or collected enough to call it a tempi change). I’ve owned her for eight years now and I know her reactions and thought processes pretty well. I know she’s a balanced horse and that rider balance is important to her. Most important, we have a horse-rider bond which extends beyond superficial cues to very deep reading of each other’s mood through seat, leg and hand. With a horse I knew less well or a greener horse, I’d be doing things a bit differently (and not on blacktop).

We’re not finished. I wouldn’t call her a finished trail horse after this, but I definitely want that skill imprinted in her brain and in her muscles. To my mind, it’s a basic safety issue. One way or another, we’ll get it solved.

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