Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Horse's Memory is its Worst Enemy

I'm including a random picture for this story because I forgot to turn on my helmet cam for this trail ride.  In the era of personal desktop computers, those of us working in the computer industry had a saying:  "It's a PEBCAK issue."  PEBCAK stood for "Problem exists between chair and keyboard."  In my case, this is a PEBHAC issue:  Problem exists between horse and camera.

I wanted to get my mare Lostine out on the trails as soon as possible, because I didn't want our last ride to stick in her memory and grow like fungus.  Being surprised by the SRP trucks, tractors, and men in hard hats with chainsaws was truly traumatic for her the last time we headed out, and we nearly got into a wreck on my driveway.  It doesn't seem to matter that she's had probably 50 successful, drama-free trail rides in that same location.  Once something scary happens to a horse, that location becomes a scary place in the horse's mind, so the rider has her work cut out for her in convincing the horse otherwise.

I wanted to make sure she had a positive experience, so I double checked the street and the desert to make sure there was nothing out of the ordinary going on that could drive her to a nervous breakdown.  Wouldn't you know it, as soon as I was ready to mount, two Looky Loos came racing up the street to check out the house for sale.  One of them was kind enough to do a quick drive by, but the other one loitered, driving back and forth through the driveway of the house for sale and back and  forth in the street.  This was a truck I'd seen visiting the house many times before.  I tied Lostine to the trailer and hiked up the driveway to go suggest that they contact a real estate agent to show them the house rather than loitering and looking suspicious.  Of course, my main goal was to just get them out of there so I could ride my horse across the street and get to the bridle trails without having to worry about what stupid thing they might do around my traumatized horse.  Fortunately, they drove off just then and I didn't have to confront them.

Sure enough, as soon as we reached the same spot on the driveway where Lostine had her previous freak out, she slowed down and started to back up.  I'm not sure what I did, but she stopped backing up and stood still.  She's such a sensitive horse that I get better results if I do less than more.  I tried squeezing her forward and she backed a few more steps in refusal, so I talked to her and clucked until she went forward.  I think once she realized that I wasn't going to fight her, she could relax enough to logic things out and noticed that it was quiet and there was no movement on the trails.  All the way up the driveway and across the street, it was stop and go.  She'd take a few steps forward, hesitate, back up, stop, take a few more steps forward...  but we made it.  She did notice that the neighbors' yard looked different after the gardeners cut everything back, but I asked her to focus on getting through the gate instead of worrying about changes in the environment.

When we got off the trail head and needed to cross the first trail where the SRP trucks had traveled, Lostine lowered her head and sniffed the tire tracks.  She was hesitant to cross over them, but I urged her on before she could spend too much time thinking about it and letting the tire tracks worry her.

Out on the trails it sounded like we had suddenly entered a wind tunnel, but there was no wind.  Usually, when a strange sound happens and it gets louder, it means that some rogue wind is headed our way.  Sometimes it's a dust devil, sometimes it's a microburst, however I didn't see any branches blowing around us.  Then the hum kicked in and realized we were walking into a swarm of bees.  I couldn't see them yet, and I didn't want to, so I turned us around and fortunately the bees did not follow.

We have Killer Bees in Arizona.  Every spring animals and people get attacked, and sometimes killed, by them.  I think that of all that things that could go wrong on a trail ride, getting attacked by a swarm of bees is my biggest fear.  Everything else is further down the list.  I remember seeing a TV show in which some scientists were studying bee behavior, trying to figure out what triggers bees to attack.  People often thought it was your proximity to their hive or that they saw movement that disturbed them.  So, they did this experiment where a man in a bee suit with a really long hose attached to a gas mask walked past a beehive.  He was breathing through the long hose, and the bees chased and stung the end of the hose, but left the man alone.  They concluded that bees detect the smell of breath.  So, now, whenever I get stuck near a swarm of bees, I hold my breath.  The only problem is that I can't teach my horses to hold their breaths too, so it's best to just get out of there.

Lostine and I came upon a deep, but narrow ditch.  Normally, I don't take her up or down long hills or steep cliffs because of her arthritis, but this was a short down and up jog.  She stopped at the top and looked at me like, "Are you really going to make me do this?"

A part of me was thinking that this horse knows her limits and I should trust her judgement, but then another part of me knew that it was more important that we work on getting her confidence back.  So, I squeezed her forward, and she did a great job traversing the ditch.  I gave her lots of pets and pats and praise.  After that, I could tell that I had my confident Lostine back.


Brenda said...

I'm glad you were able to get a trail ride in. That's scary about the bees. Whenever I'm out looking for the wild horses I sometimes hear buzzing noises and it makes me paranoid that I'm about to encounter a swarm so usually as soon as I hear the buzzing sound I getthe heck out of there.

lytha said...

Killer bees in AZ? When I was a kid my parents let me watch this movie called Killer Bees (I think). I will never, ever get those images out of my head. I should not have been allowed to see that film. I've heard mosquitoes are also drawn to our breath, but our horseflies are definitely attracted to movement, and our ticks wait for body heat to pass by.

Last week you may have heard me scream when I encountered the first May Beetle of the year at face level as I walked out of my house. These are truly horrific, even though I've never even seen one move. They're just so big! I was afraid to kill it, even with a broom, because I thought I might fail and be attacked. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cockchafer

achieve1dream said...

Good girl Lostine!! I'm glad she was able to work through her fearful memories.

That's interesting about the bees. I had no idea they were attracted to our breath. That's scary that there are killer bee swarms.....