The horse sees me before I know he does. Quietly he slinks into a corner, maybe she won’t see me, here in this lot with nothing to hide behind . . . if I am just vewwy quiet and get behind that other Paint horse that kinda looks like me . . .
I smile. I don’t blame him. We didn’t part on the very best of terms last time out. Today, I have peace in my mind, joy in my heart. The shadow demons that are ever ready to whisper ugly things to my susceptible brain are put to bed. I have spent a lovely morning drinking coffee with my husband, hanging out with cuddly dogs. Helped out at the ranch and introduced the new Thoroughbred baby, only a week old, to the wonder of the indoor arena and being able to stretch her long legs and really RUN. Hard to start a day better than this.
Royal has been watching me out the corner of his rolled back eye, head in the corner. Now that head swings around and I get both eyes. He sighs as I approach. Licks, chews. Drops his nose sweetly into the halter.
That’s what it took for us to have a good day. I had to be right in my mind and in my soul.
I want this look always
There was no cursing on this day except at the kelpies who thought it funny to drop snow suddenly just behind us or possibly bean me in the side of the head as we passed by. Where DID that come from, anyway? Royal startled a couple of times, that electric voltage passing through the body kind of thing that could give a person a heart attack if you had time for one. Then, he got over it, gave the kelpies his middle hoof and we went on.
We were pleased to find the footing fairly reliable under it’s 6 to 9 inches of snow. We are both learning how to handle the occasional swoosh of hoof finding ice and neither of us panicked when it happened. Royal got a snootful of snow when he insisted on picking his path instead of listening to my idea on the subject. A rut runs up the middle of one of the hacker trails and was completely drifted over. I THOUGHT it was still there, couldn’t tell. Yep, he is floundering and then face first in the snow on his knees.
My reactive Arabian gives another sigh, gathers himself and calmly rises. Next time I suggested we move to the right, he complied. Takes what it takes, I guess.
The sun shone brightly back reflected off that white blanket. Up on top, my legs and arms drank in the welcome warmth. Our shadow stands out in sharp relief. I am delighted at what I see, happy little head bob, ears up but not sharply pointed, neck gracefully curved and I rarely had to pick up the slack in the rein. I got an idea that I would write this blog off the shadow pictures and started snapping away.
I brought Axel out with us today, he’s getting as fat and out of shape as I am! The three of us did our thing and we must have radiated a bubble of joy.
We do some short serpentines, I am keeping my hold and releasing into the soft feel. He gets the idea and lightens in my hands.
At Kip’s last clinic we had a lot of fun doing long serpentines, using our bodies instead of our hands. I was really surprised and happy at how when I would turn my center, Royal would follow suit, weaving through the other horses with me barely touching a rein. That game aided us here, too.
Found a spot and did a “set.” That’s the 1o steps forward, 9 steps back game until you are rocking in your tracks. We were not perfect but the try was absolutely immaculate.
We shaped going into our turns, I am trying to set things up and let the action be my horse’s idea. As my timing improves, so does he. There is a magic here to be found, and even a taste is intoxicating to us both. I laugh out loud. The dog grins up at me, he doesn’t know what’s funny, or maybe he knows better than I do.
And then . . . BOOM, the woods explode in motion! White flashes of alarm tails, bounding gray bodies, this side, that side, BOTH sides! The woods are alive with startled deer and flying snow as they bound madly to the left and to the right!
Okay, nah, it wasn’t all that at all. We flushed some sleeping deer, and they took off. The horse is “wow, look at that.” The dog says “can I go chase? No? Okay.” And we rode on. The entire ride, my horse felt quietly solid, completely willing and happy to be out there with me. There was one place that left us for a little but that doesn’t come til later.
Going down the long hill into the back 80, the one coming up which had dumped the dog on his side on a ride not so long ago and gave us our bushwhacking opportunity, we are all a little cautious.
We hit some breath grabbing slidey spots, and I decide we are not coming down this way again today. Survive this, Royal, and we will find another place to play.
It was slipping on the flat ground at the bottom that really made me decide next round to just stay up on top on the hacker trails. Had hoped to pick up a lope on the long flat stretch to the next gate, but the drifts and treacherous footing under put paid to that idea, and we trekked along, staying upright the major goal, both of us continuing to easy breath and mosey.
Through deep drifts, past the next gate, we enter Turkey Woods. Twisted Tim Burtonesque trees stand starkly against the bright sky. Snow accents their turns and twirls. I would like to frame a shot, but doubt I can catch the whimsy. Plus, it’s still slippery going up. Royal puts on his four hoof drive and we make it without undue issue or angst. No turkeys. I think they may have decided to find quieter digs . . .
Weather like this makes even slight ups and downs something to consider. The ranch is built on the tail end of the Loess Hills, and slight ups and downs are what we call level. I eye the next down with a cynical eye. Sun is shining on it nicely, but how long has that been? Ice here would be ugly as it drops steeply into a bowl, the likelihood of good ground there pretty slim. We skirt the edges, which drop off rather shortly, and make it to the graded road.
This ride, only a little over an hour, we trot out everywhere we can. I am inspired by some posts my friend, Colleen Parmenter Hamer, has written about her work with the Nebraska Humane Society rescue horses and a special horse of her own. I fix it up and wait for that soft feel. I spread my hands, get my seat and balance right, oil up the joints in my hips, knees and ankles, so I am not a stiff offending board up there, and ride.
Royal will fuss when I take hold of his mouth. It’s possible he was tightly bitted in his original training. The why doesn’t really matter. I finally understand he is reacting to the way he feels about what is happening to him right this minute. Horses are true to their moment. He may just not care for the sensation of pressure in his mouth, and you know, he really should NOT care for that, not be dulled and stony to it. He should want to soften and get rid of that pressure.
By keeping my hands steady, when he softens even the slightest, accidental bit, he gets rewarded. I don’t bounce on the end of my reins, I loosen my shoulders and my back, breathe into my center and we feel wonderful together. The soft feel comes and goes, the joy does not waiver.
We run into trouble on the single track trail that heads back to the barn, Paint buddy and hay bale. His footsteps quicken, head rises sharply. I want to get a little mad that he is going to blow it here.
Then, I think about how being smarter than your horse is harder than it sounds like it might be. Most people I know that think horses are stupid get outsmarted by them quite regularly.
Royal does not want a fight. He wants to get home. Left to his own devices, this would be a mad dash across the trail and down the long snowy stretch back to the ranch yard. I am not down for this, brother. I want the long flat walk. Taking hold of his mouth here really upsets him and he throws empty handed unwanted slack into the reins as his feet increase their anxious pattering.
I start doing the “you get jiggy, we go back the other way” game but it only gets him more excited when we turn back around for home. I am frustrated and I totally get that he felt this before I did. As he gets bouncy, I rather spitefully get out of sync, let my hands bump his mouth, my butt his back. Coming down off the jig, though, I soften completely. He is not trying to get soft there, but it happens as a result of his movement.
It doesn’t take very long at all, we do not have to escalate either of our unhappiness and he says, damn! If walking is what I have to do to get you to ride, FINE! (his only cuss word of the day. Not bad for us. I think I might have said something in there, too.) It’s not a perfect walk but it’s flat footed and I will take what he is offering.
Back home, we play some games. I don’t make a big deal of it, in the course of unsaddling at my car, I ask him to set his feet just so to pull the saddle. Move him just so to change sides. Just so to groom. It’s pretty sweet. From a horse that curled his neck like a snail to resist an ask, he shifts, is here, there, wherever. Stands like a rock, even when the bobcat moving snow behind us threatens our personal bubble. It was a very good day. Attitude IS everything.