Two years ago (already?) I had the delight and honor of riding my trainer’s horse, Chance, in my first ever hunter pace. What an exhilarating experience!
If you’re unfamiliar with hunter paces, these are decent length trail/cross country courses that take riders through the forest, rolling meadows, and over jumps all along the way. The courses are typically 5-12 miles long.
At the beginning of the day a rider is supposed to ride out and complete the course with the current day’s riding conditions. That rider’s time is the “Desired Time” but it is not given to the other riders. Teams of 2-4 then complete the course for a time. Whatever team finishes CLOSEST to the desired time wins. That means if you finish too fast OR too slow you lose.
Read about my FIRST experience at Autumn Colors, New Experiences, is That a Tree?…trust me it’s a story!
In my search for a second horse I had hunter paces in mind. I love the freedom of being outside of the ring and still enjoying jumps. I had my heart set on finding my next partner for adventures like these (among whatever else). You can read all about my search at The Green Horseman’s Latest Quest, as well as Tiger’s story at Sunday Special: Announcing My New Horse! & Tiger’s First Weeks.
Needless to say, I’ve had Tiger slightly over a month now and I’m dying to take him off property for a hunter pace. The fall series is now underway and they only go until mid-November. Being at the mercy of my friends with trailers I have been asking around for rides and teams.
My first and only hunter pace to date so far was the Landsman Kill Trail Association fall pace of 2017 with Chance.
This year the LKTA Fall pace was happening October 20th and I had my heart set on this one. I already knew the event so it was familiar and I felt confident I could accomplish it. My next step was to find a ride.
As it happens a new friend of mine was unable to make it happen. Another had a full trailer. A third, my best friend from elementary school had room for me.
AWESOME! I’M GOING!
Tiger is shod on both front hooves. Within the first few weeks, he ripped one off and needed it reset. About a week before we were due for our first official farrier appointment his other shoe loosened and needed to be pulled. I pulled it off and rescheduled to have the farrier come out Wednesday BEFORE the pace to trim and reset (our appointment was the following Monday).
At the appointment, we found that Tiger was gimpy and had a small hoof bruise that was draining located right at the quarter clip where the shoe had loosened. He must have stepped the wrong way on the loose shoe before I found it and pulled it. Over the next few days, I soaked and kept it clean. He put weight on it and looked fine walking around the paddock. I decided to double check and test him by lunging him the night before the pace.
Head bobbing. Head bobbing is a sign that a horse is lame. That he’s sore; and Tiger was head bobbing for sure.
Hoof soak. Hoof wrap. Keep clean. Pray for a better morning.
At 6am Sunday morning I fed the boys and hoped for the best. When it was light enough I lunged and thought I saw more bobbing. I took a video and sent it to a friend for a second opinion. Confirmed. He looked off.
My heart sank.
I really wanted to go to this one.
Half-jokingly I told her Blade can do it. She didn’t call me crazy for even suggesting it (I love and trust her honesty) so I told her to let’s try. Worst case scenario he can’t handle it and I take him for a ride.
Blade loads like a dream (he always does). We get all the way to Rhinebeck, NY and park. At this point, I have no idea if he will stand quietly at the trailer or not. He pawed a bit and swung his butt all over but he stood. When I was done registering and started to groom him he calmed down and started to eat his hay.
We got tacked up. He was a little nervous of course but I trusted him enough to get on. We walked up the hill toward the starting point.
“Team, you may begin”
And just like that Blade and I were embarking on a hunter pace together. His first time riding with me off the property. It took us over four years but we were there and we were doing it. Talk about trial by fire.
We picked up a trot and I kept him on a very loose rein. Lots of slack. It seemed to calm him down to keep out the tension and put my trust in him not to go crazy. We were moving and following our teammates. He was unsure but he put his trust in me.
We came across a bridge that was super slick. It was wet and needed to be treated. We didn’t see the go around until all three of us had crossed and Blade nearly fell on it. Right after we came to a long strip of deep mud. The other two horses crossed without issue. Blade decided he didn’t like any of it so he wanted to go his own way (at this point I had collected the reins to gain connection). He swung his body around until he was tripping over himself, rocks, and logs in the middle of the deep mud. We nearly went chest-deep. We took a moment to collect his mind and I urged him to go the way the girls went. Finally, he decided that yes, we should do that.
At the next strip of mud, Blade paid attention to the path my friend’s horse took and followed it.
I had to get off and readjust his back boots and in the process got caked in thick mud.
Once we verified that Blade wasn’t hurting from all the mud (pulled muscles, suspensory, cuts, etc) we picked up some more trot/canters. I spent most of my time standing in light seat to take the pressure off his back.
We traveled through the woods up and down hills. We came across many log jumps and Blade was game to jump them.
Then we came to a stream. Not the kind of stream at home that he can jump. One that he had to be a big boy and cross. He watched our friends cross and continued to refuse. I grabbed a stick and he thought about it but continued to hesitate. It got to a point that I decided to get off and walk through it with him. I knew if he dared to try jumping it I’d end up in the stream and landing on rocks.
He still jumped. Jumped halfway in and once he was in I made him walk the rest of the way. He did this twice during the pace as we had 2 water crossings. He also jumped 2 smaller streams. I have a small stream at home but I’m struggling to figure out how to get him to cross but simply walking through it.
Surprisingly despite going a foot deep in water my wardrobe kept me dry. I wore paddock boots, boot socks, black fleece-lined breeches, and they were all covered by my half-chaps.
Throughout the course Blade probably took half the jumps. We skipped the large coops and the stone walls. We did nearly all the log jumps. I went into the pace with no expectations of him jumping. I just wanted him to have fun. Turns out he loved the jumps too!
I also had no expectation of him taking the photo jump. It’s usually a highly decorated jump with “scary” objects that he’s never seen. We followed our team-mates up to it and…..refusal. I circled him and tried again. This time more confidently. Refusal.
I stood aside to let another group go and tried one more time. He started to look at it. I could feel him hesitate. This is where my confidence helped him; I squeezed and clucked and urged him to trust me and do it.
Blade soared over the picture jump and we were able to get the above photo. His ears are forward. His knees are tucked. He’s perfect (to me at least).
Together him and I rode over the picture jump and around to the following jump after that. He began licking and chewing and I gave him a ton of love and rubs. He was rightly proud of himself and so was I. I couldn’t believe this was the same horse I brought home four years ago.
The same horse who has crooked legs. The one that spooked at the same person sitting in the arena after the 10th lap around. The same horse who spooked at a crossrail that another horse was jumping. The one who wouldn’t tie quietly and broke a gate off a 4×4 post. The one who became too sore to canter a few years ago to the point that I stopped riding him.
In the time I’ve known him I have become a better horseperson. My horsemanship skills have come so far (and I’m always working to improve). He and I have gone through a lot together and gained a remarkable bond. Having him at home has made us exponentially closer. It has also really improved his health. The hill at my home helps his body and so does the 24/7 turnout. We are not the same horse and rider team we were four years ago and I am so grateful for that.
After the photo jumps Blade caught a second wind. He was pumped and ready for more. We made our way through fields and through the forest. We came to a field and I asked Blade to take it easy and trot. He wanted to gallop. My friend’s horse also wanted to gallop and took off. Blade and I argued a bit and he finally got mad, put on the brakes, threw his head down and turned sharply left. He stood quietly as I toppled over and onto the ground as if to say “take that!” I landed on my bad ankle (the one I badly sprained in June) and hobbled over to the stone wall jump to mount back up. He swung around to let me get back on and didn’t fuss again after that.
Something clicked in me that day as Blade and I became a team. I could tell that him and I were one being. He trusted me and I trusted him. He never fussed if I asked him to stay back while another teammate went over a jump. He simply stood patiently. He didn’t care if he was front middle or back. As long as he was with me. If my hands were getting too busy or I was forgetting to give to him he told me so by throwing his head around. For most of the ride he and I spoke one language it was the most incredible feeling.
We finished the pace and untacked the horses. It took us just over 2 hours and 5 minutes. We found out later the optimum time was 1:45; our time probably would have been better had I not needed to dismount three times for stream crossing, boot fixing, and my one fall.
The horses quietly and happily ate hay while we untacked. Blade got his cooler as I poulticed his and wrapped them. I have been so spoiled to have easy wraps that I don’t get much practice with wrapping legs. I used no bow pads and standing wraps and felt like such a beginner as I wrapped his legs. Needless to say I was not proud of how they came out but they did the job.
It began to rain so we loaded the horses on the trailer with their hay and went to grab lunch (the event is catered).
When we arrived back home I removed Blades wraps, applied Magic Cushion hoof packing to help prevent hoof pain (he is barefoot after all) and gave him a gram of bute in hopes to prevent soreness. He also ate some papaya and a flake of alfalfa for his tummy. I put him away with his run-in shed bedded heavily using a whole bale of hay so he can lay down and rest in comfort if needed.
The next morning he came out to greet me with his ears up and a happy disposition. He didn’t walk with any soreness. I felt no heat anywhere. Despite our out-of-the-normal demanding day he was happy and healthy.
So we hunter paced and it wasn’t what we expected. It wasn’t with Tiger. It was with my Blade. Warrior’s Blade. Making me fall in love with him all over again.