We warmed up with bareback arena exercises, then I went and got the saddle. Oh boy, did my stirrups feel short after all that bareback work! I took them down a notch, and we started out to ride the perimeter of the pasture, which encompasses a mix of steep and rolling hills, a bit of gravel, and a slightly obstructed view of neighbors gardening, mowing and just generally being as spook-inducing as possible.
The circle in the ground where the round pen used to be is still pretty visible. It will probably be visible to archaeologists 1,000 years from now, with or without satellite imaging. I thought it would be a good challenge for Blue to be trotting the pasture at a good clip, then to take that circle like a volte and continue back to the perimeter. It turned out to be a very good exercise, as he tried to run out of the circle about ten times. We'd start in a relaxed trot, but as he reached the far end of the circle (closest to the trailer and hitching rail), he'd speed up, put his nose in the air, and drift outwards with no regard for my seat or legs.
He's an opinionated beast, and I suppose his opinion was that it was time to quit. He was wrong of course. By the second attempt, I was ready for him, with a more aggressive seat and leg. No dice. He fell out of the circle in a stiff, fast, hollow, angry, head-tossing trot. I one-reined him to my knee and gave him a taste of the spurs (both actions being punishment and not aids—yes, he can tell the difference) until he was turned back into the circle. Then I proceeded as if nothing had happened. Five strides later, back in the same spot, he did the same thing again. So I did the same thing again.
We went around like this more times than I'd like to admit. This kind of testing behavior does not reflect well on Blue. Trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result doesn't say much for his intelligence, either.
We got through it, though, and returned to the perimeter. When we hit the gate, I turned him out of the pasture and headed for the trees.
The nice thing about riding in this kind of tree farm is that everything is in neat rows, providing a nice visual cue for where to go. So we did a 300-yard straightaway, then cut between two trees and did the same thing in the other direction. Lather, rinse, repeat. When that got boring, I started slaloming the trees two-by-two. All of this was going very well. Blue was light and interested. Then The Bad Thing happened. Physics conspired against me.
I reached up to push a long, leafy branch out the way, as I had a hundred times before. I released it, and, unlike the hundreds of times before, it came aback at just the right speed and angle to smack Blue right in the butt. He gave an almighty kick. I landed up on his neck with him still pitching, and I had a decision to make. I wasn't having much luck with stopping him or getting back down into the saddle, so I decided to slide off to the side.
That worked out fine except that I let go of the reins. So Blue energetically trotted toward home without me. I keep meaning to teach him to come when he's called. Times like this, I wish I'd done more of that training with him when he was confined to The Pen.
"BooooooBoooooo!" I called in my sweetest singsong. "Come here, Boooo!"
He stopped a couple football fields away, flicked an ear at me, took a moment to consider, then turned back toward home at nice, smart trot. He looked much too proud of himself.
Luckily there was an alfalfa field between me and home, so I didn't have to walk the entire way. We got back to the driveway, did the perimeter again, did the circle again, and called it good. It was getting a bit dim out anyway.