Playing Horse Games …

Playing horse games is not for the faint of heart.

Getting dumped, tossed, de-throned, ejected, launched — take your pick — is one of the hazards of borrowing time on the back of a prey animal. It’s right up there with getting bitten, kicked or stomped on. If you’re not paying attention, you’re bound to get hurt.

Anyone wishing to weather the storms of the mercurial equine spirit is best advised to batten down the hatches. Time with a horse can be as unpredictable as anything else you might imagine … and perhaps more so.

To the horse-besotted, however, it’s all part of a thrilling but dangerous game that changes every day.

I suspect this is why some might consider horse people, like me, to be one toon short of a looney. After all, I have been bitten, kicked, stomped on and thrown at various times throughout my equestrian life and still my passion for horses persists. Why would any otherwise rational person put his or herself within stomping distance of a four-hooved flight animal anyway?

Let’s just say that where our passions, dreams and hearts are concerned I believe it’s safe to say we’ll endure almost anything just to be close to what calls to us. Think about what calls you. When you’ve got the bug, whatever it may be, it’s most certainly got you. 😉

But I digress …

Truthfully, I have experienced the unscheduled dismount more times than I can recall. The fault is always mine, though there have been freak incidents too. Maybe I’ll share one wih you one day. Horses are just being themselves when stuff happens. A person who chooses to play with them must accept the consequences, for good or ill.

Which is why it’s important to be in the moment while in the company of the equine.

So … to my story …

Thursday was another one of those sultry summer days punctuated by the wet, clinging kiss of humidity. After settling into the saddle I directed Bear around the perimeter of the outdoor sand ring and noted a lack of willing forward energy in his step. We skirted puddles, lingering evidence of the previous days’ heavy rain, and slopped through wet patches that couldn’t be avoided. The footing was a little heavier than usual … I knew he wasn’t lame so wondered if, perhaps, this was contributing to Bear’s apparent sloth.

After several minutes, and with a squeeze of my lower leg, I nudged Bear into a trot. Again, his gait felt laboured; unwilling, and it took some effort and coaxing between seat and leg to get him more responsive. At one point it occurred to me that Bear might be feeling slow after his day off. But this is twisted logic really, because after a rest day shouldn’t he be feeling more frisky?

… Hold that thought …

We trotted about the ring, leg yielding into corners and doing 20 metre circles to create bend and flexibility. Then, following a brief rest we worked transitions between gaits to get Bear’s back and hind quarters more engaged. This sort of exercise helps to fire up the ol’ engine, as it were.

In the meantime, in the background the routine clatter of buckets and splashing of water emanated in fits and starts through the open door of the wash stall located in the corner of the adjacent barn. Usually the horses, including Bear are indifferent to this noisy distraction. It’s just part of the barn routine. But there are days …

Now, it’s important to note that when riding I do tend to zone out from the world-at-large and focus intently on my connection with Bear. It’s part of the therapy of riding. There is no welcome mat for outside thought.

I was thus engaged when, as we approached the open wash stall door and were about 10 metres away, Bear took exception to the aural assault of banging buckets and, before I knew it, had leapt violently sideways away from the noise, partially unseating me in the process.

The world whirled around me as Bear spun out in panic. I held onto the reins for dear life and grabbed at his mane trying to use momentum to hoist myself back into the tack. Time seemed to slow though everything was unfolding so quickly. Surely I could pull myself back up before … .

However, it was no use. I toppled to the wet, sandy ground (not a hard fall) and landed solidly on my left buttock, reins still in-hand so Bear wouldn’t get loose. But then he lurched backward and, to my dismay, yanked the reins from my grasp.

To his credit, he stayed with me (it’s rather an insult if your horse runs away after dumping you), his now cool, quizzical look seemingly inquiring, “What on earth are you doing down there?”

I tell you, butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.

“Oh, Bear!”

Somewhat stiff, annoyed, but unhurt, I hauled myself up and brushed myself off.

My “tired” horse had faked me out. He’d sucked me into his game and worse … I’d bought into it.

Well, his little demonstration showed me, of course, that there was more fire in the belly than I’d been lead to believe, and I was going to call him on it.

So, I remounted and with leg, seat and voice got after him so there’d be no question in his mind what I expected. I figured that if he had the energy to leap sideways he certainly had it to go forward.

(I’ll note here that I do not use spurs and the dressage whip I carry is used only lightly to back up my leg aid when necessary.)

He heard my message loud and clear and responded immediately with a magnificent, floating trot! Hallelujah!

Still, he toyed with me occasionally, throwing in little leaps and semi-spooks to test my will, and authority.

“Are you up to being alpha?” he demanded.

“Better believe it!” I asserted. 

By the time our game was over, about 20 minutes later, he was putty in my hands … and I was happy and pleasantly exhausted. We’d played fair and square … and both won!

Who knows why horses do what they do. Bear was possibly bored with our routine and used outside stimuli to up the ante.

Which only serves to remind me that, if I’m going to play horse games, I better spare a thought for the ever-changing horse rules … 😉

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2012

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