Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Relaxing Ride

When autumn arrives in the Pacific Northwest it usually means my horseback riding days are numbered. The season often brings rain and mud making outdoor riding unpleasant and dangerous when the ground becomes too slick to negotiate safely. So when the day dawned bright and clear with the ground still relatively unsaturated, I drove happily out to the barn looking forward to my ride on my horse Mac. The trees still held onto their leaves, now gold and scarlet, as I led Mac from his paddock to the barn to groom and tack him up (put on his saddle and bridle.) "This is the perfect day for a trail ride", I thought. My work week had been busy and there's nothing quite like communing with your pal (horse) while enjoying some amazing outdoor scenery to lower your blood pressure and make you forget the stresses in your life.

Mac stepped out jauntily, as we headed up the grassy hill on our ride. His ears were pricked (pointing forward, standing at attention) as he gazed at his surroundings. We rode toward a nearby farm where horses grazed in the middle of a large pasture enjoying the warm sun. Mac became more animated and pranced a bit as he eyed the other horses. I made a conscious effort to relax my seat, back and shoulders in order to communicate that everything was just fine. Mac responded to my "softening" techniques and we continued past the farm. Then I heard a thundering behind me and Mac jumped forward. I turned to see that the horses that were recently peacefully grazing had just galloped up to their fence in an effort to "see us off." I believe Mac thought that the horses had turned into a herd of elephants that were now bearing down on us and he had better get out of there as fast as possible. Once again, I tried to relax my body and transmit calm to my edgy mount.

Let me pause here and say that this was not Mac's first rodeo (pun very much intended). We had been riding in this field and past these very same horses all summer - many times! And he barely twitched an ear.

Never the less, we continued on with me practicing my relaxation methods while cooing "Easy boy" and "You're fine." Mac marched along warily. We rode this way for some time and then Mac planted his feet, stopped and stared straight ahead. I encouraged him to go forward but he was having none of it. I looked to see what brought him up short and I noticed the feathers and the remains of a large bird. Some predator had chosen that spot in the field to enjoy their supper last night and we had come upon the scraps. Mac would not go near it. I'm pretty sure he thought that the elephants had something to do with it. To move forward we had to go sideways, and we cut a twenty foot circle around the carcass before heading on.

By this point, Mac was walking just about as fast as a horse can without actually trotting. I was going into overdrive with my relaxation routine (can you use overdrive and relaxation in the same sentence?) with little effect. Then I saw the tarp. Now, as with the other horses, we (meaning Mac too!) had seen this tarp many times over the summer.

Another pause for some background about Mac. He is no spring chicken. I would expect this behavior from a young (like a six year old), inexperienced horse. But Mac is 24 (the equivalent of 75 years old in human age!) and he has had plenty of experience. You would think he would have mellowed a bit.

Just as he was about to put his nose on the tarp, a gunshot cracked off in the distance.

Anyway, back to the tarp in the field, Mac once again stopped and refused to move. With his neck outstretched and his head lowered he stared at the menacing tarp. "That's it," I said to him. "You're going to put your nose on that tarp." Now lest you think I'm being cruel, all I wanted him to do was sniff and touch the tarp with his nose so he would realize it wouldn't hurt him. I had done this several times before with this very same tarp and been successful. In fact, usually after he sniffed it he would be willing take a step forward and put a front hoof on it just to emphasize that he had "conquered" the tarp. We began the exercise again with me urging him on and and Mac very slowly inching (and I mean inching) forward. Just as he was about to put his nose on the tarp, a gunshot cracked off in the distance. The cool, crisp air and the open landscape accentuated the sound. The reaction from Mac was electric. He leapt sideways and for an instant I felt as if my horse had disappeared out from under me. Fortunately, I hung on and briefly considered turning Mac back for another go at the tarp, but thought better of it in case there were more gunshots to follow.

So back to the barn we pranced. That's right, I had given up on trying to unwind Mac. I figured if we got back in one piece the ride would be a success. After all, I had completely forgotten about the stresses in my life. Next time, we'll work on the shooting tarp.

8x10 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2016
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