There is such capacity to give and receive joy with our horses. It’s why I love horses and become euphoric when my schedule allows riding.
Two stories this week illustrate for me the intense joy horses give us, mounted or unmounted. Here’s an excerpt from a former Thoroughbred racing trainer about her trail ride in Maryland on Tuesday:
“My new horse is named Roar which I have since dubbed “Roarbear”. He is kinda girly, but I love his suppleness and gentle nature. Today we trekked in the woods because it was raining. I have no shoes on him since he came that way and has stayed sound. My girlfriend was on another horse of mine which has 2 front shoes only. We ended up heading home on the wrong trail which meant we had to creep down a very, very steep, rocky, covered in wet leaves, “Man from Snowy River” kind of path. I instructed Roar to take tiny steps since I figured he could stand up better that way. Well he accepted my wishes by shortening his front steps but strode out behind to beat me at my own game. At that point we picked up a rather rapid pace down the mountain – I threw caution to the wind and decided he could do it without me on his back just fine so I would just throw rein at him and try to stay on for the ride (but I really believed we would both end up on our sides sliding down the slope separately). Well he was more surefooted than I could ever have imagined. He never slipped, never stumbled and got us both to the bottom of the incline and stopped right at the stream like it was no big deal. Pretty good for a 5 year old straight off the track that never climbed hills in his life before me!”
Wow! Chalk one more up for OTTBs and the women who ride them.
Dog and Pony Show:
Monday’s trail ride in Vermont yielded another type of mountain side joy. Two of us had been out riding for about an hour and a quarter, virtually all at a walk. We were reveling at being back in the woods after major deer season. We set out with a boisterous three year old Bouvier dog who was short on exercise, long on energy. Neither of the horses had been ridden with canine company before. Birch the grey OTTB was his usual unflappable self. Forest, his elder bay half brother, was a bit more effected, slight elevation and curve of his neck, but a relaxed back and pace. Both horses’ ears and eyes were following the bounding black circles beside them.
Most of the ride was at the buckle, so much easier to handle with thick ski gloves the cold weather demanded. I started with hyper-vigilance that mellowed to spaced out admiring of the scenery or complete absorption in conversation.
So he wouldn’t chase the chickens the Bouvier started out on a lead rope held by Birch’s rider. Dog, horse, rider, initial chaos. Back and forth, side to side, back to front, where is he now, how to switch hands, not get pulled off. All sorts of motion and dog-horse body contact. All of a sudden, two minutes in, calm reigns. The very smart and willing dog is “loose leash” walking beside the horse.
Throughout Birch was clearly but calmly dealing with a brand new situation. He kept steadily walking or stopped as asked. His eyelids were up a bit more than their usual three-quarter wide, say seven-eighths, his head and neck rose a degree or two above withers level, and his feet were slightly more underneath him. He was taking it all in, moment by moment, trusting his rider, and confident in his ability to handle the situation.
Once let off the lead I don’t think the Bouvier came down to a walk once. Circles a dressage queen would have envied, canter lines a hunter princess would have ooohed at, bursts of speed a Quarter horse race trainer would have looked twice at, and snuffling a truffle hunter would have sighed over. The contrast with the grey OTTB couldn’t have been stronger. I was so proud of this at home in his skin, self-contained, centered five year old horse. Even the prone to melodrama Forest continued his flat footed walk.
Sadly, I missed the best part. Deciding that three or four moments of separation might provide some further low key training Forest and I took the long way back to the barn yard.
The Bouvier bounced loose into the barnyard ahead of Birch with his rider bringing up the rear with the tack. The horse who had been left behind jogged over to check out the dog. Yikes, intimidation factor of half ton of hoofed flesh in motion registers abruptly with the Bouvier. What to do? Where to head for safety? Oh yeah, let’s head for the three quarter ton hoofed refuge of Birch. The horse I just met on my woods walk. The horse whose hocks and tail I’ve swept repeatedly in the past hour. The horse who has not stepped on me, kicked me, bitten me or otherwise shown any fear or aggression.
The Bouvier skedaddles under Birch’s chest and seeks safety by sitting between the horse’s front feet. Birch’s reaction, a slight dip of his head but nothing more. This dog is sitting in the horse’s blind spot, close to classically vulnerable spots such as the jugular vein and throat, and the horse stayed calm.
For the horses involved it was ho-hum, for the dog, a moment or two’s fear, and it was all over. But for the humans, such great excitement, “Can you believe that?” “I wish you’d seen it!” “Damn, I wish I’d seen that!” “Wow!” repeated ad nauseum.
Our horses make us so happy even when they’re just standing still. Maybe especially when they’re just standing still.
Thanks to Fiona Farrell, whom I’m sure will be gracious enough to forgive me the formatting errors in this story, which I blame entirely on WordPress.