Testing, Testing…Part One

I woke up Sunday morning to this:

“HI IT’S MORNING GET UP NOW.”

Best wakeup call ever? I think so. This is Blue, the world’s sweetest Border Collie. If G and E weren’t so attached to him, I would have smuggled him home with me years ago. 
Of course, Blue decided “get up time” was 8 AM. I sighed, and flipped my laptop open to kill some time. It was only 10 degrees outside, and while I’m pretty hardy, I’m not about to go galavanting about outside if it’s that damn cold. The weather channel promised that it was going to be a balmy 25 degrees when 10 AM rolled around, so I picked that as the time I would head out to see my horse.
“Okay. I suppose we can snuggle first. BUT THEN IT’S TIME TO GET UP RIGHT??”

It felt like an eternity, those two hours before 10. All I wanted to do was rush over and make sure Image was okay. I contemplated texting L to check in, but figured she would still be asleep. I also didn’t want to come across as the completely insane horse owner (although it’s pretty obvious I am). So, I surfed the web, updated my bulletin board friends about how well Image had trailered the day before, and refreshed Facebook like it was going out of style.
When 10 am rolled around, I was out of there like a bullet. I thanked G and E profusely, with promises of pictures and updates on Facebook when I got home. I stuffed my bags into the car, rather haphazardly, and made my way back to the barn. Today, I planned to simply groom him and spend some time with him. I was not aware that it was about to be a day full of somewhat trying situations for both of us!
Twenty minutes (and a hasty Dunkin Donuts stop) later, I clambered out of the car. The cold air was sharp in my lungs, but I couldn’t have cared less. Out among the sea of chestnuts (and one lone grey), stood my black beauty. He was looking in my direction, having watched my car pull in. I called out to him in greeting, before heading to the other side of my car to pull out my jacket. 
I turned around when I heard a squeal…a very high pitched, non-gelding like squeal. It took a moment for my eyes to truly see what I was looking at: two minis — two very adorable, very furry minis — stood on the wrong side of the fence. The smaller, roan looking critter was flirting shamelessly with the goofy grey gelding named Gus through the boards. The rounder, stockier mini with the bold white face and two blue eyes was watching me as I headed, as non chalantly as possible, towards the escapees while fumbling for my phone. L picked up after a few rings, her voice fuzzy with sleep.
“Hi. The minis are out. Safe to assume they’re not supposed to be out?”
“Garble mumble frumb hngh. No.”
“Kay. I’ll put them back.”
I quickly put my things in the barn and played Mini Round Up. Sassy, the stockier mini with the bald face, trotted right up to me with an expression of “Oh, hello. Come to play, have you?” The smaller, roan mini gave me the hairy eyeball as I caught her, less enthused with the idea. I stuffed them back into their paddock, and took a walk around the fence. There didn’t seem to be a spot where it was obvious they had got out, so I decided (read as: desperately hoped) that someone had forgotten to latch the gate.
It took me no time at all to grab Image’s halter and head out to his paddock. He met me at the gate, barely allowing me to duck under the electric cord before frisking me for cookies. Smart stinker. I dug one out of my pocket (he has a fondness for gingersnaps, a bag of which B generously gave to me) and offered it to him. He lipped it up as I slid the halter over his ears.
It was a bit of an ordeal to get him from his paddock to the barn. There is another paddock that we have to walk through, full of goofy, somewhat socially challenged horses. Gus, the aformentioned grey, is a lanky sport horse gelding with personality oozing out of every pore. He must be all up in your business, at all times. Ray, a pretty chestnut Zippo Pine Bar bred Quarter Horse gelding, is two years old. That, in itself, should explain pretty much everything. Rodger, a chestnut Appaloosa gelding, is the lovable eccentric old man of the group. If you breathe near him wrong, he’ll take that as an invitation to run in the opposite direction. Keeping them all at bay, while walking Image through the paddock, takes a little bit of coordination…and the use of the Handy Dandy Dressage Whip. 
We made it through with any further mishaps, and entered the barn. Test one of the day: does he cross tie? We were about to find out. I casually positioned him in the aisle, and clipped the ties of his halter. He didn’t bat an eye. Good boy.
I made quick work of dragging out my grooming box and beginning to rub the curry comb in wide circles through his thick, fluffy winter coat. The Cowboy Magic spray came out, and so did the Miracle Groom. Image stood, albeit with a bit of concern clouding his eyes, for the whole thing. It wasn’t until I got a phone call from a friend, and stepped outside to take it, that things went a little sideways.
I hadn’t even started the conversation before I noticed Moonshine slipping through the fence. I cussed loudly, startling my friend on the other line. I hastily explained my predicament, before hanging up and heading out to wrangle the runaways. Sassy, upon seeing me, flounced up and stuck her nose directly into my cookie pocket. It sucks that they’re so damn cute, because I was more than slightly annoyed by this point. I stuffed them back into the pen — again — and fixed the fence. I willed them to stay put.
Test two of the day: during the time that I had left the barn, I heard Image shuffling around uneasily. Being in the barn alone was not his idea of a good time, and I don’t really blame him. Strange new place, strange new experiences, strange new tiny snorting fluffy things running around underfoot…I’d be a bit freaked out, too. I walked back into the barn and he visibly relaxed, his head lowering a few inches and the whites of his eyes disappearing. Again: good boy.
I replaced his flat, nylon halter with my rope halter. Now, let me clarify something: I am no trainer. I’ve ridden quite a few horses, and done my fair share of watching DVDs, TV shows, and clinics on training, but I will never, ever call myself a trainer. I pick up bits and pieces from various clinicians that I like: Clinton Anderson, Chris Cox, and Stacy Westfall are my “big name” influences. I don’t drink the natural horsemanship Kool-Aid, but some of the practices have a strong basis in common sense, which is my favorite method of training. I do prefer working in a rope halter when working with a horse on ground lessons, and it allows me to refine my aids quite a bit more than a flat, nylon halter does. I was interested in seeing what, if any, “buttons” had been installed in this horse for simple ground work. I had no intention of pushing him hard, but wanted a rough idea of what I had to start with.
Test number three: we walked across some shallow ice on the way to the ring — you know the kind that shatters and cracks as noisily as possible under your feet? I internally readied myself for a spook, while keeping a calm and casual demeanor as we walked forward…and I got nothing. An ear flick, maybe, but that’s about it. Almost every horse I’ve worked with has reacted in some way to that noise, so I was duly impressed. We continued on our way to the ring.
Test number four actually caused me to have a minor heart attack. I had carefully picked a path through the driveway that put us on as little ice as possible. Image is relatively sure footed, but I am a self-declared klutz. If ice is involved, it’s 99.99% likely that I’m going to hit the ground, at least once. We were literally one step away from the crunchy snow covered ring, when my foot hit a hidden, very slippery slick of ice. I went down to my knees. Oh. Shit.
Image stopped dead, his feet rooted to the ground. I was panicking at this point — oh, my effing lord, I am underneath a horse that I barely know and am probably going to die any moment — so it took me a few extra seconds to get myself upright. Image still didn’t move. It wasn’t until I laid a hand on his neck and told him it was okay that he relaxed and moved forward with me. Once the panic left my brain, I was able to see that he stopped to think instead of reacting immediately. Insert proud mama smile here.
Part two will consist of working with him on the lunge a tiny bit, Mini Horse Escape number three, and the walk we took down to the trail head. Part one is ending here, because the death plague is getting the better of me, and typing is becoming a chore. I don’t recommend getting the death plague. It kind of sucks, in case anyone was wondering.
…I guess having the death plague doesn’t stop me from being a wise ass. Oh well…!

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