When temperatures hit 50 degrees earlier this month, we couldn't resist the chance to ditch the arena and head to the beach. We are always looking for ways to expose our horses to new experiences, and after weeks spent doing circles in the indoor, everyone was ready to get outside!
We chose to bring Willow and Toby, and anticipated that the excursion would teach us a lot about Willow in particular. Toby has had several off-property trips, although never to the beach, but Willow is new to us and we are still getting to know her. The horses trailered like old pros and were relaxed upon unloading in the windy beach parking lot, so we knew we were in for some fun.
One of the fabulous things about the beach is that it allows horses a chance to really GO, with no restrictions. In our part of the world, there just aren't that many places where riders can give horses that opportunity, so it feels like a real treat.
Both Willow and Toby have anxiety around ringwork due to past negative experiences, but outside they can really begin to relax and enjoy themselves. For instance, Willow has a lot of stress around cantering, and had been reluctant to go for it within the confines of the arena. But out on the beach, after realizing that she needed more than a fast trot to keep up with Toby's canter, Willow really began to open up.
If horses start out a little fresh and tight at the beach, usually all it takes is a brisk trot or canter to the very far end for them to settle down and become increasingly soft and stretchy. There is a lot to take in: crashing waves, weird sand patterns, distant people walking, dogs-- but Toby and Willow took it all in stride. Willow was especially relaxed and brave, even walking into the ocean! Of all the horses we've taken to the beach in the past few years, she was the first to be unfazed by the waves.
Following their beach day, Willow has been cantering more freely in the arena and Toby has had a better attitude towards his work. As trainers, we are reminded of what can be accomplished simply by letting horses be horses: the beach really did the training for us, we were just along for the ride.
We are so fortunate to have Popham Beach State Park as a wonderful resource here in Maine. Here's hoping that those of you in the area have a chance to ride there one day soon!