At the end of yesterday’s entry I mentioned a river crossing. We have lots of water in our neck of the woods and getting a young Arabian comfortable with a variety of wet encounters is always a challenge. For some reason, Arabians don’t much like water at first. They are desert horses and I suppose their aversion might come naturally. Needless to say, mine have never liked water much. Bean didn’t mind being hosed down and he loved blowing bubbles in the water tank, but the first time we tried crossing Salmon River with him was nearly a disaster.
At that time my husband was a relatively green rider and we were both riding young, green horses. I’d met an elderly gentleman, a retired Navy man who kept three horses and rode the trails in our neck of the woods. I happened upon him one day when I was out riding on my day off and he invited me to join him. He knew his way around the forest like the back of his hand and I was glad to have someone to ride with. We exchanged names and phone numbers and from then on Lyle proceeded to call me bright and early every Thursday morning to see if I wanted to go ride. (My day off) So for the next couple of years we rode together almost every Thursday, and on the weekend too if we could arrange it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It was early the spring of ’90 when we met up with Lyle and rode toward the Salmon River. Previously, all our rides had been on our side of the river, not so much because we rode green horses who didn’t especially want to cross, but because we hadn’t run out of places to explore on our side. But for some reason on that day we all decided it might be fun to cross the river and try out some trails on the other side. Lyle was riding one of his more seasoned horses and knew Stormy wouldn’t hesitate to step into the river. And having ridden in this area for years, Lyle and Stormy knew all the best places to cross Salmon River. What they didn’t advertise too loudly however, was that the river was unusually high that spring … something you don’t always think about until you’re trying to cross a body of fast-moving water on a small Arab!
We followed Lyle and Stormy down a narrow trail that wound through a tall stand of White Pines and ended abruptly at the edge of the churning river. Thinking it best to keep moving, Lyle urged Stormy forward and began to cross. There wasn’t much of an edge to the river and it dropped steeply away from the bank in a couple of steps. Later, I came to realize that Lyle had chosen one of the less rocky crossings spots, but it still had a good deal of large, bowling ball-sized rocks under the tea colored surface. And as we were soon to discover, there were a couple of deeper holes, too.
I didn’t grow up in a place where we did a lot of horseback water crossings. We did occasionally ride our horses in the murky stream that bordered our hay fields, but when we did the whole point of going was to get wet. Needless to say, when we did that we wore swim suits, rode bareback and looked for the deepest places in the stream. But this ride with Lyle took place in early spring. The water was high, fast and cold and the last thing any of us wanted to do was get wet. The horses included!
After a few seconds Tia and I followed Lyle into the river. Lyle and Stormy went about 3/4 of the way across before stopping to wait and see if both Arabians would cross. I encouraged Tia forward as Lyle instructed me to pick a spot on the opposite bank and stare at it. Otherwise, you and your horse tend to drift downstream. Did I mention that the river was high and fast? It was, and Tia was only all of maybe 14.2 hands. With a super loose rein I was let her pick her own way across, only steering her when absolutely necessary. Suddenly she stepped into a deep hole. I scrambled to drop my stirrups and lift my feet up over her shoulders in hopes that I wouldn’t get too wet. Startled, Tia stood stock still about halfway across the river. As I let her process things I turned and saw Beanie frantically dancing in place back on the river bank.
Lyle calmly looked at Tia and I and said, “Cher, you’d better move that mare PDQ before the bay decides he’s going to use her as his personal life raft!” Without hesitation I squeezed Tia and we staggered out of the deep hole just as Beanie gathered himself to cross the river in one huge jump! Bean landed in the exact same spot where Tia and I had just stood only a nanosecond before. I have no doubt in my mind that Beanie thought we might be the perfect stepping stone to the opposite side of the river!
Beanie stood there a few moments trembling and snorting. I could tell by the big grin on my husband’s face that he thought that was probably the most exciting thing he’d ever done in his life! Greenhorns! (Roll eyes) However, as he sat there contemplating the thrill of the moment, Beanie gathered himself and launched again. This time the Bean succeed in getting himself almost to the bank and he quickly scrambled up onto dry land where he stood dripping, sides heaving. (The Bean always was a tad mellow-dramatic!) Lyle and I carefully picked our way across the rest of the river and joined my husband on the bank.
I never knew that a horse can panic and try to jump onto another horse while crossing water. Kind of like a drowning person. In due time Beanie grew to really enjoy water and he didn’t hesitate to step right into the deepest and fastest rivers. The guys also used to take the horses to the beach to ride and although I never went with them, story has it that Beanie was pretty darn brave. Arabians are desert horses and I’ve never met one that (initially) liked water. Tia also grew very dependable and level-headed at water crossings, but I wouldn’t say she really liked it. I think she simply tolerated water, but that was just another one of the many reasons why I grew to love her so. Tia always did whatever I asked, no matter what her personal opinion might have been.
So far Dharla’s deep river crossings are a bit like Beanies. She would really like to jump across in one fell swoop, but once she realizes she can’t do that she just tries to get across as quickly as possible. I know she’ll eventually be OK with this. She used to be equally anxious about crossing small streams, but now that’s not such a bid deal for her and she doesn’t get worked up about it. Well, sometimes she still tries to jump a small stream, but that’s not unusual and sometimes I even encourage her to do that depending on the setting.
So what about your horse? Does it like water?