An unseasonably beautiful fall day called for something special, and of course it had to be pony-related. I was past the stress of shipping two weanlings off to new owners, and I had a few minutes after a big project and before doing chores. I decided that showing my Fell Pony mare Restar Mountain Shelley III what ‘doing the woods loop’ meant was just the thing to celebrate.
The woods loop is a twenty minute trail ride, and riding it is a milestone in training my ponies under saddle. While I’ve ridden Shelley dozens of times, the rides had always been similar. They were always one direction, then I let her loose to run back to her paddock or to graze. I had never ridden her without food being involved in some way, so I assumed she’d express her opinion about a different agenda.
Earlier this fall we’d ridden the first half of the woods loop several times with her foal Willowtrail Mountain Storm at foot. When we got to the clearcut, I would let her loose to graze. This time of course I intended to keep riding. If she got uncomfortable with the idea, I intended to dismount and walk the rest of the loop leading her so she understood what the ultimate goal was.
In the past when I’ve ridden Shelley a little further than previous outings she has expressed concern about the new surroundings. I fully expected something similar when we passed our usual stopping point for grazing. Again I intended to dismount and lead her if necessary to familiarize her with the part of the loop she hadn’t seen before. What I couldn’t anticipate was the surprise in store for me on our woods loop ride (and no, it wasn’t a close encounter with the bear that’s been frequenting this place!)
As I mounted Shelley, I explained to her that we were doing something different. She hadn’t been out for a few weeks, so it was understandable that she made several suggestions on the way down the driveway that allowing her to graze would be a nice idea. I returned her attention to the task at hand, and we continued to the clearcut where she point out a mare and foal grazing in the distance. She asked if she could join them, and I told her I had something else in mind as we headed toward new territory.
I was surprised and pleased when she continued walking on the trail that I indicated to her without further discussion. A few trees had blown down since the last time I’d been that way, and she accepted my guidance about skirting around them. I told her she was a good girl and that she’d exceeded my expectations, and she continued walking at her ground-covering Fell Pony pace. I began to allow myself to think I might not be walking much of the loop at all because Shelley was remaining calm though alert in what was new territory. It was with surprise and tremendous delight that we arrived back at her paddock having ridden the woods loop for the first time on the first try. Shelley seemed to know she’d done well, as though she understood my many words of encouragement and appreciation. Rarely is a second woods loop ride as satisfying as the first, but I can’t wait to try it and see. Thank you, Shelley!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014
If you enjoy stories like this one, you might also enjoy the book A Humbling Experience, available internationally by clicking here.