Sunday, November 13, 2011

Full of Surprises, Them Ponies

When you work with horses, sometimes learnings come from the most unexpected sources, at the most surprising times.

Take, well, take today for example. 

Ground driving Dee
I started out working with Dee.  As she often is, she was a good student.  She longed satisfactorily, and then we started ground driving, again.  She wasn’t too keen on walking away from the barn, but with patience and persistence, I convinced her to walk down the path toward the woods, farther and farther from her herd.   I kept a respectful distant from her back hooves at all times, as Dee’s MO is to lull one into a false sense of security, then wham! She does something violent.   I hope to work her past that particular, delightful personality quirk this winter.

She was, for the most part, a good girl, and I put her away, satisfied.  Next came the baby, Stormkite.  As predicted, he has practiced longeing in his head, and right off the git-go, he longed the clockwise (right) circle without balking.  He did give me one big balk later -- it was more of a “I think I’ll run back to the barn now” action, actually -- but we had a conversation about it and he decided longeing was better than me being all in his face.   

Stormkite, learning to longe.
So that was all good.

After I put him away, I decided I better keep my riding sharp, since I’ll be getting on both these critters sometime in the near future, and so I pulled Starlight out and groomed her.  Before saddling her, I had one brief moment of hesitation, since I hadn’t ridden her for a while, and since the wind was blowing like Pecos Bill’s cyclone.

But, I was already in my riding clothes, which today consisted of a particularly homely combination including big, heavy Mountain Horse winter paddock boots, baggy jeans covered by suede chaps, my Tipperary vest, a winter riding coat, all topped with a blaze orange hunting vest, for protection during hunting season, and, of course, my helmet.  I weighed about 40 pounds more than normal and would have made George Morris roll in his grave, if he could have seen me, and if he were dead, which he most certainly is not.

So, I was not one to let this riding ensemble go to waste.  Beside, Starlight could use the experience of riding in blustery wind.  Off we went, Starlight and I. 

A bit of a devil lurks within?
She was up, but that was to be expected after a lay-off, and in that wind.  We went up to the top of the property, because I wanted to make sure hunters were respecting our “no trespassing” signs, and I sung loudly as I went, just in case they weren’t.

Up in the field, I spotted a buck, and I was sorry to see him move off, because I figured he had found a safe spot on our land.  I took Starlight down to the place where she had once been freaked out by a barking dog and our neighbors’ sheep and donkeys.  I always take her there when we ride that way, to show her it's not always scary.   After we looked around, finding no sheep, dogs or donkeys, we turned around and trotted up a little hill in the field.  I pushed her into the canter.

A couple of strides in, she started taking big, high, bounding strides.  No big deal.  She was fresh, and she was Starlight, rock solid, trustworthy.  Within a second or so, my brain started registering the fact that she had not come back to the canter and in fact, had started bucking.   

BUCKING!? Starlight?

Stop action!

Let me pause for a moment to tell you that I have been thinking a great deal about Dee, and the likelihood that Dee will buck again when I start riding her.  In addition to getting extra protection in the form of the Point2 Hybrid air vest, I have also been mentally practicing what I will do if she starts to buck, and that will NOT be to try to pull her head up, which is the usual stupid thing I do when a horse bucks, which always results in my losing my seat, sometimes spectacularly.  Instead, I hope to lean back and stick my feet in front of me.  Think cowboy in a bronc ride.  Wait, no, don’t think that. I’m certainly not going to be swinging my legs back and forth and spurring my mare.  Just think, lean back, feet forward.  I have been worrying that I won’t be able to remember to do that in time, at the speed at which things go wonky with a greenie.

OK, with that in mind, back to the action.

Starlight was bucking.  Starlight, who has never bucked once in all our rides, was bucking.  As soon as that registered in my brain, I felt myself starting to try to pull her head up.  Then suddenly I remembered: Lean back!  I leaned back for all I was worth and stuck my 20-pounds of booted feet out in front of me.

Hot damn.  That pony didn’t toss me off (as far from the barn as I could get on our property, leaving me to a long and furious walk back to the barn, after her rapidly disappearing black and white ass).   Instead, she bucked a few more times and then stopped, leaving me still sitting on the saddle, which was now on her neck.

I jumped off, telling her how bad she had been, something she rarely hears from me, loosened the girth and replaced the saddle.  Then I got back on and we went back down to the scary point where this all started and then cantered, thank you very much, up the hill, sweet as you please.

Was I happy that she bucked?  No I was not.  I was surprised and disappointed.  Was I glad I had a chance to practice leaning back and thrusting my feet forward, and that I actually remembered to do it, and it actually worked?  You bet.

So, as I said, sometimes the lessons you learn from horses come at you from the most unlikely sources at the most unexpected times.  I don’t know why she bucked, but somewhere in the back of my head, I think it might have been my outfit.  I mean, would you want to carry a rider that looks like this?
(Shield your eyes.)

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