Today is a breakthrough day. After day seventeen of ninety days of exclusive leg-yield spiral circles, Encore! and I are ready to ride the wild with no lunging or long lines to prepare for our adventure. I gave up the lunging a few weeks ago and today I passed on long lines and went straight to getting up in the saddle. Today Encore! said, in her non- verbal way, “Okay, I’m ready . I can do this!”
In the past I have allowed myself to leave off lunging and long lining young horses after a short time, because they understood what was necessary for us to ride the wild outdoors, bushwhacking through open country, trusting that we could handle whatever showed up. Encore! with her high spirits, power and opinions required a longer period of lunging and long-lining to insure our safety.
Imagine a filly that after a three hour ride, that included a half hour of long-lining, transitioning through walk, trot, canter and halt, in both directions, and the half hour of leg-yield spiraling circles thrown in, with a hour and a half bushwhacking adventure through hills and open country comes home and, upon release into her paddock, runs with high spirits and jumps with all four feet off the ground before she rolls in the sand. This is Encore!
Certainly, anyone can appreciate my satisfaction that today we get in the saddle and go! First we walk around the property five loops, going both ways, and then we randomly crisscross the open space. We ride to the gate and halt square. Encore! stands while I dismount and lead her over to push the button to open the gate. We stand quietly together while the creaking gate opens wide enough for us to pass through safely. I lead Encore! and bring her to the bottom of the sloping ground that stops at the paved private road. I ask her to be still while I step into the stirrup, pull myself up and settle into the saddle. There’s enough of a rise here that I can mount from the ground. Encore! knows the routine and stands still while I adjust my whip and gather my reins. We wait a minute then quietly walk off and cross the road.
We walk down to the fork in the road, cross the road again and walk with enthusiasm through our neighbor’s forty acres of wild chaparral. We wander on the flat through tall grass some sagebrush and a grove of oak trees. We get to the top of the property and turn to follow the fence line protecting the Hilliard Bruce vineyard from deer. A small grove of tall Eucalyptus trees and sagebrush perfume the air. Ahead two deer appear from nowhere. In their confusion they run into each other then run off in two directions then join up again and disappear into a thicket. Encore! is undisturbed. Hallelujah! We continue along the fence-line into “Sleepy Hollow” dodging tree branches. At this spot I always think of the legend of the headless horseman galloping through the night under a full moon.
Birds chatter and rabbits zig zag in panic. Encore! marches through the thicket as we begin our climb up the hill. As we round the bend and leave the thicket, the same two deer leap into view up ahead. A third dear runs in from the right and Encore! skips in surprise. I remind her that this is completely unacceptable with a quiet but fierce, “Never do that again so help me God!” and we continue on. Encore! has new respect and trust that I am in charge and that the only thing she needs to react to is me.
After a steep climb through brush, scrub manzanita and more tall grass, we arrive at our neighbor’s Jimmy and Paula’s farm. We stop at the top of the hill and look out on a 200 degree view of the Lompoc Valley. Today the sun breaks through broken gray clouds and I can see all the way to the ocean. There’s no wind. Vineyards, La Purisima Golf Course, Santa Rita Hills, Los Padres National Forest and the City of Lompoc make up the landscape. Life is good in the wild.
After a long pause on top, we continue to ride to Jimmy and Paula’s farm just below us. We walk through the barnyard filled with pigs and free-to-wander ducks, chickens and geese. Horses in small corrals and larger paddocks nicker. After a few hesitations, we head up a gentle slope to the arena for our half hour of leg yield spiraling circles. On our way, we ride over Paula’s trail course with a little wooden bridge and arrive at the gate to the arena. We open the big gate without having to dismount. Encore! gets the job done. We exit after a disciplined workout ready to ride the wild again to return home.
It’s a great feeling to know I can now pull Encore! out of her paddock, saddle up and ride safe and sound into the wild.