Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bad Horse Day

Every morning I have at least two hours of chores to do before doing whatever it is I'm going to do that day: go to the coast, prune trees (as I did yesterday), ride horses, or whatever. Chores include milking and feeding goats, feeding sheep/llamas/poultry/horses, mucking out the goat barn and ditto for the horse barn. I'm then good for only a few hours of physical exertion in the afternoon.

I had every intention of using my afternoon hours to prune trees, as I did yesterday. But it was beautifully sunny and the ground was finally dry enough to get the horses from pasture to arena so I decided to ride after an hour or two of pruning. But then I realized I would be too tired to ride if I pruned after all my morning manure hauling. So, after chores and lunch, I headed down to the far pasture where the horses were grazing. Mr. Smith is always eager to come out of the field and go somewhere in the horse trailer or just get out where he can snitch grass, since there's not much left in the horse fields.

But not today. Two months of doing nothing with the horses but feed and clean up after them has apparently ticked Mr. Smith off. When I walked up to him with the halter, he turned and trotted away. That made me angry so I put the halter on Nightingale instead. She is always happy for attention. Unfortunately, she doesn't lead terrifically well, especially away from the others. We proceeded by fits and starts on the long walk to the gate. The others tagged along behind, which helped. I opened the gate and took Nightingale out, letting the others come, too. They came, but did not follow us into the big field that leads to the little field by the arena. Instead, they put their heads down and ate grass.

After getting Night to the small field by the arena and turning her loose, I went back to retrieve the others. Polly and Jessie Anne trotted through the gate but Mr. Smith took off for greener pastures. I closed the gate and cornered first one and then the other reluctant horse and put them in with Night. Never have I had the horses behave this way before. Then I went back to get Mr. Smith. He bucked and ran into the field but would not let me near him. So I free lunged him as I do when training horses to come. Whenever he stopped to put his head down to graze, I swung my rope and hollered "Keep going!" He was having a wonderful time, bucking and galloping around and around the field. Finally, however, he grew tired of the game and gave up, letting me halter him and lead him through the little field into the arena. By now, I was pretty annoyed.

After an hour of brushing the mud off my filthy horse, untangling his mane which he seemed to have tied in knots, I saddled up and we headed out the driveway. I hoped it was dry enough on the trails across the road and it was. But Mr. Smith did not want to go. He walked as slowly as possible, stopping periodically to listen to the screaming mares left behind. We eventually made it through the woodland path to the new logging road. Still he dragged his feet and complained. Aggravated, I headed him up the steep forested hill hoping to cut through the woods and climb Spirit Mountain.

Apparently, this was much more fun from Mr. Smith's point of view. He took off up the hill at a canter and, instead of veering left where I thought our old, overgrown trail might be, he veered right to a nearly vertical slope that was covered in downed trees. Galloping now, he jumped, yes jumped, over the downed trees while I held on for dear life. I didn't dare pull on the reins or we would have gone over backwards. By some miracle, we both arrived at the top of the hill without breaking anything. Crazy horse. I am wondering if the jumping lessons we've been taking are a bad idea.

At the top of the hill, Mr. Smith kept right on going through the woods where there was no trail until we were stopped by thick underbrush. By now I was thoroughly disoriented and lost. So, I think, was he. My old mare Polly always knows where home is and I can give her her head and trust she'll get me there. Not Mr. Smith. He has as lousy a sense of direction as I have. Or else he just doesn't bother to go home. I turned him around and tried to retrace our steps. Soon I could see the logging road below. We made it down... at a walk with a tight rein.

Having had enough excitement for the day, I headed home. Mr. Smith walked very quickly and politely until we reached the ditch at the side of the gravel road we cross. He always walks carefully down and through this ditch. Except today. Today, without warning, he took a flying leap across it. Thankfully, I stayed on, though not gracefully. Back through the woods, he kept to a rapid walk and did not jump any more logs in our path, thank goodness. I am definitely thinking jump lessons are a bad idea.

Home at last, unsaddled and brushed, Mr. Smith was turned into the arena to clean up the grassy edges. I haltered Nightingale and brushed her. Too tired to ride, I led her around the arena, over the wooden bridge Johnny made for a trail course, and to the grass by the gate going into the arboretum. Nightingale stopped before we reached the gate and refused to go further. Why, I have no idea. After much backing and being led forward and backing and forward, etc., she finally tentatively nibbled grass by the gate. Then I led her in front of the carriage house where the horse trailers and carts are stored and where there is grass at the margin of concrete floor and sand arena. This time she really rebelled, backing clear across the arena. We returned to our one step forward, back, forward a step and praise, forward another step and praise, back, forward, etc. After an eternity when I began to wonder if Night would ever turn into a horse worth having, she made it to the edge of the carriage house and nibbled the grass. The cart I'm hoping to drive her to some day was right in front of her but she would not touch it.

After putting Night back I brought her mother, Jessie Anne, out and brushed her. She is a very large horse. And dirty. I was quite tired by now so she only got a few minutes of grazing before I put her back in and went toward Mr. Smith. He started away from me but when I said, "Do you want to run around in circles again??" he stopped and let me halter him.

Meanwhile, through all the brushings and leadings, etc., Polly ran up and down the fence line screaming for Mr. Smith whenever he wandered out of sight behind the carriage house. Occasionally she stopped and pawed at the gate until I hollered "No, Polly!" By the time I finished with the other three, Polly was covered with sweat and I was tired so she did not get groomed today.

Getting the horses back into their field was nearly as problematic as it had been getting them out. They did not follow Mr. Smith, as they always do. I had to tie him inside the field and then go retrieve them one by one. Polly was particularly obnoxious. This horse who was hysterical whenever Mr. Smith was out of sight in the arena, now grazed without paying any attention to him, tied out of her sight. I had to go get her, except she evaded me and headed through the gate out of the big field on her own, but did not go to the gate into the horse field. Instead she led me a merry chase around the new machine shed until I said, "Polly! Keep going!" Since this was how I trained her to be caught when we first bought her, she knows well what that means. She went to the gate and waited.

Apparently two months of neglect has turned my horses into wild things that remember almost nothing about cooperating with the hand that feeds them.

I cut out dead bamboo canes for the next hour. They did not run away from me, take me on wild rides up mountain sides, or otherwise test my patience.

Now supper and evening chores are over. At night I just feed and milk, no barn cleaning. The horses are almost always up at the horse barn, waiting to be fed. Sometimes, though, they are not and I have to go find them with my flashlight in a distant field and lead them back. Tonight, if they had not been waiting for me, they just might have had to go without supper.

1 comment:

  1. Those horses sound like a flock of two year olds, always running the wrong way and dumping their milk. First thing I thought when you mention that you cut bamboo canes was, "Yeah, I would beat them with those too..." (although I know you are too nice for that)! I like my sweet, dumb chickens. They always come running when there is any potential for food to be had.