Friday, June 19, 2009

Matt Sheridan - The Final Day

As tired as I was from Saturday's riding I found myself awake at 3 in the morning mentally reviewing the stuff we had done. Thankfully, it didn't take long and I fell right back to sleep. We got to the ranch a little after 7 and fed and mucked the pens. The pens were small, maybe 14x14, but Jessie made it her home. It looked like she had laid down. She had cleaned up her alfalfa (we had fed extra) and she was drinking water.

It was another beautiful morning in Tehachapi, little warmer than Saturday and a perfect day for riding. Although I've lived in Bakersfield most of my life, I never really explored much of Tehachapi. The rolling hills offer scenic beauty and the higher elevation keeps the temperatures cooler than the valley floor. This is really beautiful country and it's only an hour away.

After taking care of the horses we hooked up the trailer so it would be ready to go at the end of the day, and had breakfast. Matt held a Cowboy Church session after breakfast and then it was off to the arena.

We spent some time reviewing positions #1, #2, and #3. Then we learned #4 which is a pivot on the haunches. Jessie was getting the hang of most of this as my timing and touch got more consistent. It is still not automatic as far as my hand and leg positions go. (We went out Tuesday night to review and work on them and we all had to help each other to get them right. Good thing there were three of us there.) I may try using my spurs this weekend to see if I get a better response to some of my leg cues.

Matt set up three rails on the ground about 2 ½’ - 3’ apart and we did some trot-overs. Jessie was rushing a bit so he suggested I collect her before she got to the poles and that helped. In the trail classes you get deductions for the horse "ticking" the poles so it is important they pick their feet up.. He moved the poles to about 6’ apart and removed one and we did the same exercise at a lope. This was the first time I had loped Jessie all weekend and she felt really good. Her speed was nice (Matt said this would help her speed control), she was still a little “leany” in the corners (a chronic problem), and she took the rails pretty well. I would have liked to try it in the other direction, but I was happy with this.

Ranae got to work the gate and Dusty did okay. It’s hard opening a gate correctly. I think I have most of this on video but the audio is terrible and it takes Ranae a bit of time to get through it all. ;>)

We worked in the trail course for awhile. He put as much water in the water obstacle as he could and we all went through it. The horses had given up their union card by this time.

Then it was time for….more food! Matt had a trail ride scheduled for the afternoon. It was a great way to counter-balance the teaching and intensity of the arena. He was going to take us to a place he called the “moon rock”. We tacked up around 2pm and headed out through the trails of Matt’s ranch. Jessie had an “all hands on deck” attitude as we winded through the sagebrush and junipers. The wind was blowing and she could feel monsters around every corner. I picked up on her face a couple of times to slow her down and that seemed to help.

Matt and Renee (with an 'E') Take the Lead

Susan, Melanie, and Ranae Against the Tehachapi Mountains

We worked our way through a few small hills. Jessie was walking out at a pretty good pace. We got past all the houses and there was a steep hill. Matt had said it would get rocky in places. Jessie is barefoot, but she has good strong feet and I hoped they would stand up to this trail. The first uphill pull was tough. Jessie wanted to race up it and, as Matt explained it, she was trying to pull herself up the hill with her front end instead of pushing up with her hind end. Again, bridling her up slowed her down, helped get her back end under her, and the exertion of the climb quieted her mind.

When we "trail ride" at home it is most often along a road next to a canal or field crop or a trail along the river. There’s not a lot of up-and-down or off-roading. It's all flat. So, when we got to the remnants of an old mine and Matt said “There is an abandoned well over here. Let’s go look at it” and he veered off the side of the hill through the brush, I have to say my eyes got kind of big.

“Where in the H-E-double hockey sticks is he taking us?” was my first reaction. Then I remembered all the experiences and the places he had ridden and thought “Now this WAS the way to go on a trail ride”. Let the horses handle the uneven terrain. There is also a trust when I’m with a teacher that he's not going to ask us to do something he hasn't done before. Matt instills that kind of confidence.

A View From the Top

Susan, Matt, and Melanie
On Charlie, Mocha, & Cindy

We explored the well, which was dry (there’s a drought in California) and headed on back up to the trail and up the mountain. The temperatures were perfect, but the wind was blowing pretty hard in spots. My hat blew off even though it was scrunched down on my head. We started at an elevation of around 4,000 feet and at the highest point we reached 5,077 feet. (Renee had a GPS unit on her wrist.) We ascended a couple of more steep inclines with intermittent breaks for the horses to catch their breath. The horses were handling the elevation pretty good. No one was in any distress or even breathing hard. The views were beautiful. Matt mentioned that there were bears in the area, but we only saw a few rabbits and a horny toad. We took this picture up at the top.

Moon Rock
The picture doesn't do it justice.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

Traveling back down hill was uneventful. Jessie negotiated the trail and the rocks. She wasn't rushing down any of them and she wasn't crowding any of the other horses. Her feet were a chipped in a few places. I filed off the rough spots when we got back to Bakersfield and she was a little tender on her feet for a few days, but she is back to normal now. It was a two and a half hour trail ride and a perfect way to end the weekend.

I had mentioned to Matt that Jessie pulled back when she was in the front position of the trailer. In the back position she is okay, but in the front position she just can not wait to get out of the trailer. He said he would help and asked me to show him what was going on. With everyone standing around watching, when I asked Jessie to get in she just got up in my space. Matt took over and showed me a more effective way to “ask” and then, once in the trailer, how to keep her nose in the corner while I moved the slant or did whatever I needed to do. When we got home she thought about rushing out, but I got her to put her nose in the corner and when she relaxed, she quietly backed “straight” out of the trailer.

Matt does four clinics a year at his ranch. He is available for clinics in other areas and I think he said that all he needs is 10 people at $225 a head and an arena to work in. This clinic was $300 and all three of us from Bakersfield thought it was worth every penny. Matt is quite likeable and very entertaining, but the thing I like the most was his willingness to share his knowledge. He tells you specifically what to do, how to do it, and stays on you until you get it. He reads a horse (and probably rider too) extremely well and really should have people beating down his doors to get in one of his clinics. (They may be. With the limited number of students he takes, he could be full up). The hospitality and family atmosphere made me feel like I was going to a cousin’s house for a weekend. He also gives lessons which I think we are going to try and take advantage of if time is available this summer.

If you would like to learn more about Matt Sheridan, visit the Matt Sheridan website here.

Thanks Matt. Thanks Jennifer.
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