Well, we are still trying and will try again this fall. Rinnah will turn 10 next month.
Rinnah has a younger sister, Lillie, that just turned 8 this month, making her old enough to enter SERA sanctioned rides. Lillie has been riding since she was 4 years old.
This year, Lillie decided it was time for her to learn to really ride. So she approached me this spring and announced she was ready to learn to trot like a distance rider. I never pushed her to trot before as I wanted her to enjoy riding and she wasn't old enough to enter a distance ride anyway. But I was happy to hear my little buddy announce she was ready to come on training rides with me, too.
A few weeks ago, Lillie came to Percy Warner with me to learn to trot on trail. We saddled up the horses and I let her get on Serts while I was still finishing up with Tanna's tack. Another pair of riders had just left for the trail and Serts decided he should follow them and forget about Tanna still tied to the trailer. I instructed Lillie and she made Serts behave, even though he was being a pain. Proud moment for Aunt April. :)
After my customary 10-minute walking warm-up, I asked Lillie if she was ready to trot. She looked at me with big eyes and shook her head no. I said, "we're here for you to learn to trot. You have 5 more minutes to prepare yourself." Less than 5 minutes later, we took a few trotting steps and the lesson commenced.
Lillie managed to trot for a minute or so at a time for several sessions before she let me know she was having rubbing issues. The flap of the Bob Marshall Sports Saddle was rubbing her left leg. Her riding tights were too short and exposed skin at the exact wrong spot. So we finished the ride at a walk.
Returning to the trailer, I pulled out some vet wrap and wrapped her left leg, then watched her trot up and down beside the practice ring near the parking lot. She was grinning like she was on a roller coaster. Her leg did not hurt. :)
The next weekend, we headed to Circle E Guest Ranch near Winchester, TN, to get in some more miles. I had never been to those trails, so we were unable to make a lot of time and ended up walking a lot, but Lillie was a trooper and trotted anytime I asked. She even learned to shorten her reins while Serts was trotting as I stopped telling her every time we would trot and she just had to adjust.
Near the end of that ride, Lillie even learned to canter! Serts cantered up a small incline for several hundred yards. What a fast learner this kid is!
Yesterday, I took Lillie out to Natchez Trace Parkway for a longer, tougher ride. The goal was to ride around 18 miles fast enough to finish an LD if that's what we were doing. We parked at the Hwy 7 trailhead and headed south. We made it to the Hwy 50 trailhead where I sponged the horses, encouraged them to drink and Lillie and I took a pit stop before heading back to the truck.
Without the pit stop, which was leisurely and probably longer than it strictly needed to be, we averaged 5.2 mph for the first part of our ride. Not bad for an 8 year old kid on a 23 year old horse in 90+ degree weather. The trip back to the truck was slightly slower averaging 5 mph, but still respectable and right on target.
Now, lest you think Lillie never complains, she did. She repeatedly mentioned it was hot and about 5 miles from the end, she asked a couple times if she could get off and run with Serts. I explained that even trotting slowly, Serts could trot faster than she could run and if we didn't keep going, it'd be that much longer before we made it back to the truck with the cooler with ice cold drinks. It was hard to blame her, it WAS hot and muggy out, but I also explained that this is where distance riders know they're distance riders. When we keep going, even when it might be a little uncomfortable.
We did hop off the horses and walk them in the last 3/4 mile (not included in the 5.0 average speed ;-)) to stretch out our legs and give the horses a nice long cool down. We let them graze on the abundant grass and took our time getting back to the trailer.
Lillie has logged 33 miles in the last 3 weeks with her longest outing being 17.5 miles. I am pleased beyond measure with her progress and determination and I think she will be ready for an LD ride this fall as well. I have my eye on BSF and Yellowhammer for LDs for the girls.
It's great to have riding buddies that I don't have to school all the time any more.
I have to relay one quick story before I close this long post. About 2 miles from the truck on the way back, I was about 3 horse lengths in front of Lillie. I heard this plantive "Aunt April!" Not loud, not panicked, not high pitched. I almost didn't hear her. I glanced back to see the poor kid standing in the left stirrup, hanging onto Serts' mane, the Bob Marshall Sports Saddle almost completely on Serts' left side. Um, yeah, that's not good. Serts was still walking, might have been slow trotting some. I turned Tanna and blocked Serts while calmly instructing Lillie to stop her horse. After Lillie stopped Serts, I grabbed the rein myself and said, "ok, now get off." Lillie dropped quickly and smoothly to the ground and then stood there staring and talking a mile a minute. I interrupted to tell her to take the reins back and hold Serts. I straightened the saddle, then hopped off and adjusted the girth a little tighter. I boosted Lillie back into the saddle, got on Tanna and we were headed back down the trail. The entire thing took about 2 minutes. Good thing Serts was wearing a breast collar and a crupper and was trained to both. He never batted an eye at the saddle and kid hanging off his left side.
So now I have 2 girls to ride with me and condition Serts. Maybe I'll actually get the pleasure of their company on an LD ride this fall. Anybody got a nice JR horse for sale so I can take both of them to ride at the same time? ;-)