Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ride of the Week: What makes a trail horse?

This week's ROTW is brought to us by Sydney at Bitless Horse: Science VS tradition.

What makes a trail horse?

Plenty if you ask me. Any old horse can wander down a dirt path but when it comes to ditches, hills, holes, horse eating bushes and fallen trees with fangs and ten legs that spew fire and gobble up horses whole, not every horse is fit for the job title. Especially when it comes to the encounterables that move. I am talking wildlife.

A horse might snort and balk at a deer in the distance or dodge a bird flying out of a bush who is equally as scared for his life as the horse trying to run away from a retreating sparrow. But when it comes to getting them over these things next ride, that is another story. Some horses think with their heads, the others with their legs. Before you have a split second to even see what the horse is looking at you are headed off into the great blue yonder.

My mare Indigo is one of those horses that doesn’t always think clearly, especially on the trail. She is too worried about going home, where the next horse eating bush is or the neighbor walking back his own laneway three fields away. She’s a big spook when it comes to trails. On the flip side the other day I groomed her not even 15 feet from where the biggest backhoe I have ever seen in my life rattled past us. She lifted her head for a second then resumed munching greenery. Goofy, I tell ya.

On the farm here there is an abundance of wildlife. I have seen everything from deer, coyotes, red fox, snakes of all sorts, birds from sparrows and turkey vultures to the majestic bald eagle. I even seen a timber wolf a couple of times. That sucker was huge. Indigo pays no mind to these animals. Well except the time the two deer exploded out of the bush when we were not even two feet from them. Oh and that other time when…

Yeah that time. I don’t know why I haven’t ever told this story on my blog. Everyone thinks it is quite amusing. This horse that I do East Indian weddings with 200+ people dancing all around her, banging away on a Dohl Drum. This is the same horse that is scared of snapping twigs and tornadoes of leaves spinning around her. This horse should be able to do anything right?

When I first got Indigo she was a riding horse. Definitely a woman’s horse. On her ad she was labeled as “not husband proof”. It rings true even today that horse will forever be a woman's horse. I decided she was going to learn how to drive. I had the harness and carts and the other horses drove. I really enjoyed driving and so would Indigo. She started easily enough. Harness, cart, away we went. It did however take her longer than any other horse to figure out the shaves and how to turn without nearly flipping me in the cart. At 14 she had never experienced the shaves and thought like usual her body should bend. We did this all bitless and have been to this day.

Time went on and she became quite the good little driving horse and even figured how to properly turn. She loved to trot and could cover a lot of ground. We drove all over the farm and the neighbors and even went down the road a little. It was great. My little ride, drive horse.

Often times in the summer we would drive down to the beaches at the end of the lane on the highway. Our lane connects to the neighbors farm. It comes down their driveway and we are at the lake. We use it nearly every time we drive. Here is where the wildlife comes in.

It was an unusually calm day. Indigo was on her best behavior and only offered one little hop and head toss of excitement. We drove on down the lane, plugging along at her quick little trot. Everything was right with the world. We passed under a tree with two bald eagles roosting. They looked down at us as we went right under them but did not fly away. The little ditch with it’s stream was filled with the recent rain water and rushed underneath us as we trotted over the bridge. Everything about the day was zen. Ahhh, relaxing.

Soon we reached the neighbors property and picked our way up the driveway. At this point your chances of encountering a wild animal are pretty limited to sparrows and a squirrel or two. The neighbors property has the most hills you will see in the flat as a pancake county of ours. The pretty little property has a bunch of pine trees, some maples, oaks and a three legged dog.

So we are meandering up the driveway like we had done a few thousand times before when without warning Indigo is off at a gallop. I didn’t even have time to react or see what the heck lit the firecracker under her tail.

The first pine tree came faster than I expected. We made a sharp left turn around it. The second maple we missed by the skin of our teeth making a quick right. The third and fourth pines we just managed to squeeze between. This act got me bitch slapped in the face by several pine branches. Indigo suddenly came to a screeching halt back on the driveway, tail pointing strait up in the air, body shaking, snorting like a drug addict. I was picking bits of tree out of my hair, helmet and teeth, cussing having come within inches of a piney scented death. What the heck was my normally reasonable mare got her tail in a knot about?

I looked around. What on earth did she see? The culprit was spotted, or rather three legged. Tripod as I had affectionately named him, was standing in all his three legged canine glory ears laid back looking quite distraught at why his buddies aka- Indigo and I, did not come to say hello like usual but instead blasted off like a rocket into the pine trees of the immaculately manicured lawn.

Tripod stood in place, Indigo snorted and backed up a few steps only responding to a smack on the rump with my driving whip. We all stared at each other for a good long time. Indigo stood her ground but snorted loudly, the one and only time I have ever heard her do such a thing. A few more moments of this staring contest and Indigo and I walked off to visit some friends on the nearby beach. We were gone an hour or more and on our way back we stopped to pet our friendly neighbor lane three legged dog without the drama. The drive home was pleasant and we even had a couple deer come bounding across a ditch without further incidence.

So remember when you see a deer, coyote or bear on the trail it may be the barn cat that acts the role of the dangerous lion, especially if it is missing a limb or two.

P.S- Hobos that live in culverts may potentially be fire breathing dragons but that story is for another time.


allhorsestuff said...

Goodun' Sydney! Loved it!
KK and Wa mare~

Cheyenne said...

How true!!!!!! My mare is the coolest cat on the block! No, really!..........Except! two days ago, we rode out, with another horse, a nice casual sunny afternoons ride, about 10 miles. Crossed fields, tracks popped a couple of low fences, and made our way to a hill known locally as "Burnswark", theres an old Roman Fort on the top and at the base. cantered up the track to the top, and nearly died the death of the overturned horse!!!
Noe she has seen sheep forever! She has them in her field! Lambs, Ewes, the whole shooting match! But there it was, standing chewing its cud! The mighty sheep of the hill! My mare was beside herself with shock! Good God, with my heart in my mouth and my hands shaking, I was able to regain my seat, but for the life of me, I still dont understand why!!!!It wasnt as if the sheep had huge teeth, or was about to pounce!

Anyway, I understand completely!

Allenspark Lodge said...

Horses brains seem to have remained unchanged from the time they developed in the foot tall Equis Ittybittycuss and the same sized preditors can still scare them. She probably saw Tripod as some kind of mutant sabre toothed chipmunk or something. Just no telling. (Great story though...)

Dreaming said...

I sputtered my coffee at your description of the run-away and being 'bitch slapped'! I can see it all now and I'm glad you managed to run the course without mishap.
Isn't it amazing what will set off a horse? It doesn't always make sense to us.

Shirley said...

Glad that you weren't hurt! I once came off my horse because the my border collie, who was resting on the shadow of the round bale (which we were using as a focal point for loping circles),decided to stand up and step into the sunshine. Horse eatin' dog!