Despite the addition of much-needed arena lights, I've found my after-work riding time is still limited. Not because of cold or snow or lack of desire, but because of the recent super-muddy conditions.
I'm not complaining, not in the least bit! We need the rain, badly. After the summer drought any and all forms of precipitation are more than welcome.
But, it does limit my ride time, dadgumit. So, we've been doing a lot of road riding lately. A lot. There are good things and bad things about road riding. Fortunately, we have enough roads around the place to be able to go for hours and stay to very lightly traveled back roads. Only once have we been on those roads at the busiest time and thankfully Gabe is about as road-broke as he'll ever be. When a rumbling Harley zips by closely followed by a school bus and shortly thereafter a milk tanker and he doesn't bat an eye or twitch, you know your horse is traffic broke.
Small, extremely hairy, and very vocal Shetland ponies, on the other hand, are vicious horse eaters. Just ask Teddy. I don't think I've ever seen a horse cross a ditch and go up a steep bank sideways quite as gracefully as Teddy when that fire-breathing pony came running at us across his pasture. He never took his eyeballs off that pony the entire time, either. Silly boy.
Unfortunately, roads around this region are generally straight and narrow, which is not conducive to working on 20m circles. Which Gabe is probably thankful for. Circles are NOT his favorite thing, and they aren't mine, either, but they also happen to be what we really need to work on the most. What roads are conducive for is working on straight and forward movement and lateral work. Those who know dressage also know that good bending/circle work cannot be done adequately until you have a horse who travels straight and evenly. Granted, you can't have one without the other and both build upon each other, but when your riding conditions are limited, you do what you can. A good, flat straight surface, like a back country road, is ideal for feeling if the horse is moving straight and an almost perfect environment for doing zig-zag lateral work from one side of the road to the other. Side pass to the center, walk straight a few steps, side pass the rest of the way over or back in the opposite direction to the shoulder. We've also managed to throw a few fairly decent shoulders-in work into the mix.
The long, straight riding area has also presented to us the most ideal opportunity to work on lengthening and shortening within the gait. Gabe is getting much, much better at responding quickly to my request and finally (FINALLY!) understanding what I'm asking. Instead of just getting faster, faster, faster at the walk or trot, he is actually lengthening his stride. Yes, it does get a tad faster, but most importantly, his strides get longer. And the same goes for shortening, he doesn't just get slower, his strides get shorter. Yay! Breakthrough!
The most unexpected bonus of doing so much road riding? His feet, they look absolutely fantastic! We've been doing so much road riding that the abrasive surface is keeping his feet well-shaped and at the correct length. His hind hooves are flaring a bit, as they always do, but we have zero extra length on them.