April 18, 2010

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Had a long trail ride this morning. A friend came over (an hour earlier than planned, no less) and we were out by 9 AM. Both horses were great and it was the first time L. said she thought Bullet actually seemed happy. Now lots has happened since the last time she rode him, but truthfully, I just think she’s in a better place and she fussed with him less. With Bullet, that makes a world of difference in his attitude. He did seem to be moving very freely and with a lightness that I haven’t seen in him since she started riding him off and on with me.

I planned our ride to include riding down the dirt road that runs parallel to Salmon River. Fishing season opens this Saturday and for the next few weeks River Road will be busy with folks looking for that perfect fishing hole. Not that I still can’t ride there, but it’s always a much nicer trip before the cars and trucks invade the peace and quiet. Usually it’s pretty dead during the weekdays, but since the road is closed to vehicular traffic several months out of the year, it makes sense to ride it then.

So we walked and trotted our way down the AL trail towards the river. When were were almost to the path that cuts down to River Road, both horses suddenly spooked. We were approaching the last rocky ledge cut-though and the trail up ahead was shadowed by the steep rock ledges. With my eye issues I certainly couldn’t see what the horses were bugged by and initially my friend couldn’t either. We both gave the horses a few seconds to collect their thoughts, then urged them forward. They both took about three steps, then suddenly spun around and lunged several feet in the opposite direction!

Now I was perplexed. First of all, Bullet rarely spooks. He occasionally will react to something new or strange, but he’s pretty Even Steven when it comes to seeing something on the trail. He tends to be more curious than afraid. And unlike Dharla, Bullet’s not the least bit prone to making up stuff in his head to spook at. He simply can’t be bothered. The fact that Dharla was spooked didn’t phase me at all, given her dislike of the rocky cut-though areas to begin with, but often she just spooks at shadows. Yup, she still has young, green Arab syndrome! We turned the horses around and began to approach the passage again, but neither horse would go any farther than before. Suddenly my friend said, “Snake!”

Well I couldn’t have seen that snake if my life depended upon it, but I took my friend’s word that there was (what she through was hopefully) a very large Black snake slithering toward us at the base of the rock ledge. I say hopefully because we DO have Timber Rattler and Copperhead snakes here, though they are not as common as our other native, non-venomous snakes. I tried for several minutes to see the snake, but alas, my vision is still too impaired to see it at our distance. (About 10 yards away) Neither horse was going to go past that snake and frankly, I wasn’t too willing either. So we turned around and walked a bit in the opposite direction, then cut into the woods. I knew there was a path somewhere nearby that ran parallel to the trail we were on, it was just a matter of bushwhacking until we found it. We didn’t have to go too far before the trail suddenly materialized and we followed it down to the river road.

As we approached the dirt road we saw a dark green pickup truck parked off to one side. There was a middle-aged man standing beside the truck with what we assumed was probably his dog. The dog was a medium-sized, cute, but unleashed bully breed. We approached with caution, more or less assuming the man would reach out and grab his dog as we slowly approached. We were wrong. Suddenly, the dog started barking and darted in our direction. Thankfully, both horses didn’t over-react, but when the dog sidled up a bit too close for comfort behind Dharla and she started dancing a bit, the owner casually said, “Don’t worry if your horse kicks the dog.” Huh? Once again, I was totally dumbfounded by the stupidity and ignorance of yet another dog owner. (Ironically, my riding partner is a professional dog trainer!)

Dharla managed to keep her cool as we continued on and the dog stayed behind with his owner. I turned and said to the moron, “I wouldn’t want my horse to kick your dog any more than I want your dog to go after my horse. Neither would be a good thing!” Suddenly, the man got nasty and shot back, “Yeah, well it would be nice if you horse people would pick up after your horses when they crap on the trail.” Huh? Well now I was pissed off because it just so happens that every time my horse poops I stop, dismount and kick the manure off the trail. EVERY time. I’ve been doing this for over 15 years and I’ve got the crap-caked riding boots to prove it.  I also do this for anyone I happen to be riding with if they are using our horse. Sometimes, I’ll even dismount and boot poop off the trail that other riders have left because I know this is a sensitive issue and I don’t want people to start lobbying against equestrian use on our trails because of a little horse manure. (Yes, this HAS happened here a LOT, even though most of these trails were used and maintained as horse trails for over half a century before bikers and hikers started using them!) I stopped my horse and turned around.

“I DO clean up after my horse and always have!” I said.

“Oh yeah. Right. Like I’m gonna believe that!” He shot back.

Screw you, buddy, and your little dog too, I thought as I shrugged my shoulders and moved on. You can’t fix stupid.

The rest of the ride was pleasant and uneventful. We rode down under the AL trestle to see the work that was done on the culverts last fall. For the time and fuss it took to repair the culverts it doesn’t look like they did much of anything. You could drive a Sherman tank back there now, though. Both horses were a bit leery about the plastic erosion guards and the change in the landscape, but they coped.

We did a deep water crossing down by the broken bridge. Dharla was pretty animated crossing and ended up getting much wetter than necessary. This has only been her third deep water river crossing, so I’m sure she’ll get better with practice. She kept her head, she was just a wee bit “anxious” and hurried, but I expected that.

Snakes and morons aside, it was a great day and a fun ride and both horses did great!

Time 3+ hours

Distance: Guestimate; 8 miles.

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Jan 31, 2012

The Bean on his way up the hill for breakfast. Sept. '10

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Dharla and I got out today. It was an another unseasonably warm (low 50’s) day and for once the wind wasn’t howling and it wasn’t raining. My friend came over and rode (Bullet) with Dharla and me. We ended up having a lengthy discussion about how Bullet’s changed over the last ten months or so. He used to be a very personable, cheerful guy. Almost TOO cheerful … to the point where I had to constantly remind  him to respect my personal space. It wasn’t that he was nasty, he just loved attention and he was a bit of a crowder by nature. When I brushed him he’d literally lean right into me, close his eyes and sigh. Now he pins his ears and nips!

Bullet’s personality didn’t change over night, rather it was a gradual shift in energy. First of all, I have to remember that we lost the two mainstays of our herd in the span of nine months. Granted, Bullet was low horse in the herd, but that probably rocked his world more than we think. And we added a new mare, which is another adjustment in group dynamics, even though they are only a herd of two. So it might just be that Bullet is going through an adjustment period, but it also might be something else. He’s eating well and all his other bodily functions seem normal. It could be a dietary issue, so I’m going to start adding a couple of things to his feed and see if maybe that helps. He was treated for Lyme a few months back and I might have to run a Western Blot test to see if he’s truly over it or not. That might be the issue right there.

We didn’t do anything major on our ride, just a little bumba-deeda down the AL trail. It was nice to feel the sunshine on our faces and get some fresh air. Both horses seemed energetic and happy to be out and about too.

Work Ethics

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This post is meant to serve as a warning for those equestrians who wish their husbands, spouses, significant others or what have you shared their passion for ponies. Be careful what you wish for!

Two of the riders In the photo above are husbands. One is a father of five sons, the other has no children. Both men work stressful, high pressure jobs; my husband has been pulling sixty hour weeks for over thirty years. The young man at the far right is a high school honor student who works after school and every weekend. Needless to say, none of these men have very much “free time,” but when they do, you can see how they like to spend it. Inconspicuously absent from this photo are two wives and a steady girlfriend.

There was a period of time when I thought nothing could be better than having my husband share my interest in horses. He was an ardent animal lover and I thought we could enjoy some quality time riding and caring for horses together. When he actually started to show some interest in riding I got him into lessons, then encouraged him when he began dropping hints about getting his own horse. He was inadvertently playing right into my hands! We got him a horse, started riding together and spent the better part of most weekends hitting the trail. It was a lot of fun and we both enjoyed sharing quality  time together.

But as all good stories tend go, things gradually changed. A few years into this idealistic scenario we forged a new friendship with a couple of other riders, two who were men that lived close by. Their wives rode with us occasionally, but not regularly enough to make us a predictable group of six. More often than not, it was me and the three men who rode out every Saturday or Sunday afternoon. At first I found this enjoyable, even flattering that the guys would treat me like one of the gang, but as time wore on I began to feel like a bit of a third wheel. No stranger to male bonding, I knew there was an added benefit of men spending “guy time” together, talking about …. well, whatever it is guys talk about when they’re together. (I’ve heard tractor hydraulics and anything with a motor rank pretty high on the list) But the men seemed to hold back and refrain from verbal banter when I was in their midst. They didn’t hesitate to ride flat-out, expecting I’d hold my own with them, but even that didn’t make me one of them. I gradually began to think I was encroaching and started to bow out of joining them on their adventures.

A few years later I was forced to undergo spinal fusion surgery that went horribly awry. When I emerged from the subsequent three surgeries I was a changed person. Disabled and not expected to do much of anything physical again, it was strongly suggested that I forgo riding, preferably permanently. I promptly discarded that advice, but I knew I wouldn’t be in any kind of shape to ride with the guys for a very long time, if ever. And so began what grew to become nearly fifteen years of riding solo. Fortunately, I had the perfect horse. My mare and I had been together long enough and had experienced enough things that I knew I could trust her to take very good care of me in any situation. And that she did.

My husband and I fell into a regular routine of dividing up the chores. Whereas before we always did things together, I was now “retired” and at home full time. Routine feeding and clean-up became my responsibility Monday through Friday morning. Since our horses don’t stay inside there are no stalls to muck, but at my insistence we pick our paddock multiple times a day. We also feed hay 3-4 times a day whenever possible. Those responsibilities became my job until Friday afternoon, when my husband was slated to take over.

From very early on I started nagging my husband to come home early on Fridays to go riding. He runs his own business and can certainly allow himself a little time off, but given his strict work ethic he resisted my suggestion for many years. But after he met his new riding buddies that all changed. Suddenly he realized that other people actually went home and had their own life after 4:30 or 5 PM. Instead, his usual routine was coming home at 7:00, eating dinner and going to bed a scant three hours after getting home. Thirty years of habit can die hard, but suddenly he started leaving work on Friday at 3:30 or 4, coming home and heading out to ride with his friends. Part of me was really happy for him, but part of me was steaming pissed off. Why couldn’t he see the value in that when it was us riding together? I don’t have an answer for that. All I know is that I was always glad to see him walk through the door early on Friday afternoon, only to become incredibly sad as I stood on the porch waving goodbye as I watched him trot off down the road.

For many years those Friday afternoon rides morphed into late night gallivants around the countryside. Given how little time the guys had to ride, they often made up for lost time by riding late into the spring, summer and fall nights. By the time my husband arrived home from these rides, dinner had grown cold and the movie for the night had long since been watched (by me) alone. I grew angrier and angrier. It was his job to feed the horses Friday night through Sunday night, but with him off traipsing around the woods I would inevitably end up doing his chores. While I couldn’t bear to make the other horses wait for their supper, it fried my eggs that I had to feed them myself. That was HIS job and I didn’t think it was fair that I was getting stuck with all the horse chores while he just got to enjoy them. Obviously, by the time he got in I was a fuming, sputtering mess.

At some point this pattern of ours was going to have to change or it was going to tear us apart. I tried tying a pocket watch to his saddle, but you have to look at a watch if you want to know what time it is, and he refused to do that. I stopped holding dinner for him, but he didn’t care. I threatened to stop doing his barn chores, but he knew that was an empty threat. Finally, we came up with a solution that made us both happy: Humor. We struck a bargain. The deal was he would give me an estimated time of arrival …. give or take an hour. Knowing his disdain for keeping his eye on the time, I figured he’d usually err on the side of running late. And so our saga went. He’d give an estimated time of return to which I’d tack on an hour or even two. If he got home before I predicted I was happy. If he didn’t then he still wasn’t “late” according to his perception of time. I admit, it was a pretty goofy arrangement, but it worked to diffuse my angst. I was still sad at being left behind, but that was something I was going to have to fix by myself.

The second big hurdle in sharing my equine life with my partner is our different methods of doing barn chores. Every Monday morning it looks like a bomb went off in the barn over the weekend. The floor is littered with hay, the grain bin has empty grain sacks wadded up in the corners, the wheelbarrow is overflowing, the utility knife is MIA and the hay rack has several lengths of green bailing twine dangling from it. This morning I was irked to discover all the bales I set out on Friday had been fed out and the next candidate sat open …. six tires above my head. Huh? Call me OCD, call me anal retentive, call me whatever you like, but when I do chores I do them a certain way and it drives me bonkers that my husband can’t seem to figure that out. So we go about doing chores our own separate way. Monday through Friday I run a tight ship, only to have it thoroughly trashed every weekend. *Sigh* I guess that’s the price you pay for having your wish granted!

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