Thursday, October 31, 2013

Three Strikes and We Won

Yesterday I took Bombay out to keep me company on my exercise mission.  All I had with me was a halter, a lead rope, and a horse, and I felt naked.  Something was missing.  Halfway up the drive I realized that I forget my cell phone.  I contemplated walking all the way back, tying Bombay to a railing or the trailer, walking all the way to the house to get my cell phone, and trying again.  However, I was already dragging my feet and knew that I could easily talk myself out of exercising in the time it took me to do all that.  So, we kept walking.

I told myself I would just stay out of trouble so that I wouldn't need to call someone for help.  I'd be vigilant about not stepping on venomous snakes, and I'd stay off the rocky trails so there would be little chance of me spraining an ankle.  If anyone calls me, they can leave a message.

Halfway up the trail head I realized that I forgot my bottle of water.  Oh well.  We could just stick close to home so that if I do get blindsided by dehydration, I could get back to the house quickly.  And we kept walking.

Halfway into the first mile, my adrenal gland went haywire on me and I realized I forgot to take my medication.  Bombay was very understanding and politely stopped to let me gather my equilibrium.  Each time I felt better, we walked further, but that was three strikes against me.  I forgot three important things I should always take with me when I go out into the desert.

We reached a busy street, but I didn't want to get too far from home, so I turned back, and wouldn't you know it -- Bombay wanted to cross the street.  I guess I praised him too much for crossing streets in the past.

By the time we reached the trail to home, my equilibrium was stable and I got my second wind, so we kept walking.  Bombay seemed to be intentionally keeping in step with me doing a one-two beat.  Suddenly, his head popped up and he slammed on the brakes.  I looked where he was pointing and saw a couple of horseback riders coming toward us on an adjacent trail.  We greeted each other, and I kept pulling Bombay along, as he was acting like he had never seen another horse before.

The lady on horseback said, "You lost your saddle."

I said, "I need to lose some weight."

Then I paused in horror, realizing that at this distance, she could have easily misheard me as saying, "You need to lose some weight."

Luckily, she heard right and said, "My doctor tells me I should be walking my horses instead of riding them too."

We, or I, tried to move along, but Bombay wanted to leave me and follow the other horses.  I reminded him that he's with my herd.  Just when he was starting to relax and forget about those other horses, we came to the end of the line and had no choice but to turn right if we wanted to get home sooner than later.  I noticed a bicyclist out of the corner of my eye, but thought he was taking another trail.

I glanced over my shoulder and saw him coming up from behind us.  I knew Bombay would spook, so I crossed in front of him to get on the side where I could more easily block him when he decided to jump into my lap for safety.  Unfortunately, in that same instance that I was crossing in front of him, he turned his head, saw the bicyclist, and jumped forward into my back.

I flung my arm up and smacked him in the face, and then turned him to look at the bicyclist, but the guy disappeared into a gully.  So we kept walking, and suddenly Bombay jumped again, but this time remembered to jump away from me.  His head and tail went up and he danced in a half-circle around me.  The man on the bicycle approached slowly and said to Bombay, "Oh, don't be scared.  Look.  It's just me."

I told him I think it is time I lead my horse from a bicycle, because he shouldn't be scared of bikes.  We did that years ago, but haven't done it recently.  I don't know if it will help much, because these spooks were more about having something surprising and silent coming up from behind the horse.  Lots of cars and trucks were going past us, and he wasn't concerned about them because they were making noise and moving at a predictable rate.

When you share the trails with lots of different people, you have to expect that not everyone is educated on horse behavior, so you can mention to the bicyclists that they need to call out hello when coming up from behind a horse, or anyone for that matter, but some will listen and some won't.  I've had the bleep scared out of me when a bicyclist whizzed past me from behind on the trails. I screamed and jumped off the trail.  So, I know how Bombay felt.

I walked him on a trail close to the houses because it had less rocks, and a neighbor came racing down the street in his diesel truck like something urgent was going on.  He pulled into his driveway and honked repeatedly.  Bombay was interested, but not startled.  I was interested too, wondering what all the excitement was about.  A couple of kids in sports uniforms got out of the truck and everyone began cheering.  Their team must have won.

We won too, because we made it home without me having to use the cell phone, drink water, or take a pill.

This morning Rock and I won when I rode him out on the trails without a herd buddy for the first time.  I remembered to take my cell phone, a bottle of water and my pill.  A FedEx van came up the street right when we were approaching the end of the driveway, and Rock instinctively stopped to let it pass.

Riding him out required a lot of leg work.  I find that kicking him, whether it be flapping my feet at his sides or digging my heels in hard, just results in him flicking his ears around in confusion.  I get a better result if I lay my lower legs tight against his sides.  That helps to both get him to kick it into gear and steer him straight, because each time we reach a fork in the road, he wanders in all directions asking where to go.  As long as we are turning, I use the reins and he turns, but if we are going straight, I have to wrestle with him a bit to keep him moving forward.  And even after we pass the intersection, he's still looking back as if to say, "You missed those turns back there.  Shouldn't we have turned?"

He always seems unsure of everything when we first ride out, but then his confidence kicks in and he can get moving at a decent clip.  His fast walk is so much faster than his dawdle that it is slightly alarming.  He feels a little like a big truck rolling downhill and all you can do is hope that the brakes work when the speed and power get out of hand.  I sensed that he felt some urgency to get back to the barn, but I wasn't too worried about him breaking into a canter, because a few times he trotted downhills and couldn't seem to slow down fast enough for himself.  He definitely prefers to go slow.  Trotting and loping are work for this guy.

I did turn back sooner than usual because the firemen had lit up a bunch of fires and were doing fire drills at the fire station.  Rock was okay with the fire, the smoke, and all the big red vehicles driving around, but I wanted to get out of there before someone turned on a siren.  They did turn on their sirens later after we got home and I had long since dismounted.  By then we were so far away that the noise didn't affect the horses.

My legs were so sore after that ride that I think I will introduce the riding crop to Rock.  I do need my workouts, but not to the point where I'm too sore to ride other horses afterward.  At one point he got us tangled in a tree while he tried to eat it.  I was fumbling around for the saddle strings to whip him with one, but the horn bag had buried them, so I reached for a saddle string behind me and tossed it on his hip to get him to move out of the tree.  When he's eating, he totally ignores kicking and pulling on the reins or lead rope.  He reminds me of all the rental horses I've ridden at stables.  But, for some reason, he responds to having those little harmless saddle strings picked up and swatted on his neck and rump.

After that, Gabbrielle got more de-spooking training with the plastic bag.  The only progress I'd say she's made between the last session and this one is that the noises the bag makes don't bother her anymore.  She just will not let me touch the bag to any part of her body beyond her muzzle.  When I try, she spins to face the bag and sticks her nose on it.  I'll probably just wad up a bag in my hand and rub it all over her body and then open it in front of her so that she can realize that she just got massaged by the bag and didn't even know it.  Then I'll feed her out of it.  Maybe that will improve her attitude and we can make more progress with the bag on the end of the stick.

I will also try saying "step" while touching Rock's shoulder to help him back out of the trailer.  Thanks for those suggestions.  I think helping a horse to back out of a trailer is a good exercise in building trust between you.


fernvalley01 said...

Sounds like ROck has become a little slab sided, a crop might be just the thing!

Katharine Swan said...

Do you put boots on Rock when you ride him? I know you used to ride your Arabs in them. I ask because my trainer and I always thought Rondo was super lazy... and then we put shoes on him and discovered he wasn't quite as lazy as we thought, he just had always been mildly footsore. X-rays confirmed that he has insanely thin soles. He is so much happier in shoes, it has made me a believer that some horses just need it.

I think you even said in a recent post (I'm catching up and reading these out of order) that he had bruised his heel... Maybe he would benefit from being ridden in boots, if you aren't already, especially when you're going out onto the trail.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Katharine - Funny you should ask. I've been thinking about that at lot lately. I lunged him after a week of recovering from his heel bruise to get a sense of how sore he still was, and he kept favoring different legs at first. Then he warmed up and was moving normal. I've decided that I'm going to see if the farrier thinks he's had any improvement in building up his sole after several barefoot trims, and if there is no improvement, I'll buy him boots.