Saturday, August 15, 2009

Washoe, the Wonder Idiot

Yea! May in the Colorado Mountains! The sky is blue, the snow's a-melting, and the tourists are coming!

One early May the big Delivery Day hadn’t occurred yet, so when assigned a ride, I had to borrow one of my mom’s horses, a grey Mustang-Arab cross named Washoe. To say that Washoe is a bit of an idiot is a bit of an understatement. He's totally the herd geek; he really wants to be big man of the herd, but has no idea his fly's unzipped. He might be a good horse if he ever grows a second neuron.

The ride I was to take out with Washoe was just one lady for a two-hour ride. Not a big deal. Even Washoe can focus for a small two-hour ride. Right?

The first hour of the ride went amazingly well. The sky was clear, sun just warm enough to be comfortable in shirt-sleeves. A perfect riding day, despite having to skirt a lingering snow drift blocking one of the trails. No problems from either horse, good conversation with the guest, beautiful day. Not only was it going to be a good ride, but a good tip. I could feel it in my bones, or maybe that was the impending rib separation. After the halfway point, Washoe started tossing his head - nothing unusual, because he's an idiot and head tossing is a bad habit of his. After a few minutes, I decided that he's not just being an idiot, but that he's tossing his head as though a fly is biting his face, so I dismounted, ran my hands all over his face, scratched him all over, and he relaxed. His whole body sighed with relief. I couldn't figure out what the heck his problem was and decided once again that he's just being an idiot. Because, I believe that in some obscure dictionary, Washoe is synonymous with idiot. Whatever his problem was, the big sigh and eyes practically crossed in relief lead me to believe that I’d solved the problem.

About five minutes after I got down and scratched his head, he started up again. I was ir-ri-ta-ted and growled at him, "you stupid POS, I'm not doing this for the next hour, so knock it off!" He settled down a bit and we crossed a cute little creek all swollen from spring run-off with a minimum of fuss, which made me partially retract my previous statement. I expected to have a little trouble convincing him to cross the water since the summer before he reacted to water like a cat facing a bath. Maybe the second neuron was beginning to develop!

We started up the hill to the lake, which is our turn-around point. His head tossing increased with each step up the hill. At first, for about half a second, it was cute, because he looked like he was shaking his head “no”, he didn’t want to go up the hill. His head shaking “no” was a bit peculiar since he had now figured out where we were going and tried to step it up a little. My guest, at this point was just shaking her head over Washoe misbehaving, but was still having a good time – there was still some hope for a good tip. Halfway up the trail (remember, we were going uphill at this point), Washoe stopped in his tracks and started tossing his head back and forth, absolutely adamant in his “no” now, like there's a fly biting him, only, I knew better. There was no fly, just Washoe being Washoe, but I couldn't get him to stop tossing his head back and forth. The trail wasn’t too terribly steep, but the hill fell away to the left and rose sharply on the right. Being a whopping 15 hands tall myself (that’s 5 foot for you non-horse types), I knew that if I attempted to dismount to the left, I’d fall right on my butt and probably roll down the hill. Great for laughs, not great for the body. The soil to the right looked fairly firm, but having had experience, I knew that if I tried to dismount to the right, the soil would slip out from under me and I’d fall on my butt and probably roll down the hill. Again, great for laughs, not great for the body. I looked back at my guest, shrugged my shoulders, and told her we’d move on as soon as the idiot was finished with his tantrum.

His little temper tantrum escalated until not only was he shaking his head and tossing it back and forth, but he began throwing his head so hard to the right and left that the idiot actually threw himself (and me!) off the trail. Going downhill. The same downhill that I thought I’d avoided by not dismounting. I managed to stay with him as he landed on both elbows, head facing – you guessed it – downhill. His head tossing stopped and I could feel him thinking, "Uh, oh! Now what?" That's a familiar expression on Washoe's face, but I had never actually felt him think it. So we sat there for a second or two while he regained to his senses (what little he’s got, anyway) and I realized I'd kicked my feet out of the stirrups in anticipation of the launch that I thought was going to happen when he threw us off the trail. My boots were four inches above the ground; I could have stepped off of him without any problems. My guest was behind us, still on the trail, absolutely speechless.

I started to relax and thought I'd ridden out the worst, all Washoe had to do was regain his feet. Although he’d thrown us off the trail, he at least picked a fairly clear area. Five feet to either side of us were nothing but rocks and scrub brush. It was the last clear landing zone on that stretch of trail. I supposed I should thank him for that. This should not have been a big deal, if I sat still, there shouldn't have been any problem with him getting back up. Right? Now who was the idiot? I had forgotten that I was on Washoe, the Wonder Idiot. One second, we were nice and calm, albeit on his elbows, and the next I was popped off his back like a kernel of popcorn. Literally. I went from being a nice dormant piece of un-popped popcorn, to exploding out of the bowl. Thanks to years of soccer, I can take a hit and I can tuck and roll with the best of them. All I could think while airborne was, "that effing idiot is going to roll over on me!" As soon as I hit, I rolled to the side and back on to my feet (yes, it was a 10.0 landing!), ready to make a break for it so I didn't get rolled over by 900 pounds of gray idiocy. So much for avoiding landing on my butt and rolling down the hill. Turns out I was going to get plenty of chances that summer to perfect my landings. And, guess what? It wasn’t much for laughs – I think I gave my poor guest a heart attack.

When I stopped moving long enough to realize that Washoe the Wonder Idiot hadn't rolled us both, I realized I still had a rein in my hand. Score one point for the wrangler. Any horse with two neurons would have taken the opportunity to go home, but, no, not Washoe. He stood on the trail looking at me like, “what are you doing down there?” I retrieved my hat – and my pride – from the bushes, checked my saddle, led him up the trail to a spot with a rock to stand on and remounted, the whole time threatening the glue factory for him. The rest of the ride was absolutely uneventful without even a hint that he would start tossing his head again. Idiot. Maybe I should have threatened the glue factory much earlier in the ride.

Once my guest got over her shock, she was appropriately impressed with her wrangler and tipped well. Not well enough to take a dive on every ride, but well enough to take the sting out of my pride.

After the adrenaline wore off later in the day, I started feeling the soreness and thought I'd just pulled a muscle. Later on, when I went to bed, I realized that "pulled muscle" was actually a rib separation. It took until July before I could comfortably lie on my left side again. Thanks Washoe!

Turned out the stitching was coming undone on the Wonder Idiot’s bridle and the loose end was poking him in the cheek. Most horses would have just blown it off as a minor annoyance, but not Mom's little drama king, so now Washoe's bridle sports duct tape over the stitching to protect his wittle face.

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