Mimi, the opinionated walking horse has passed a significant milestone in her education. She has learned that it is not such a big deal to leave the farm for a trail ride without the other horses. We arrived at it incrementally, going a short distance down the road and turning back to the farm. Now, the change of seasons has given us a bit more daylight to play in. There is time for the occasional short ride after work.
On one such afternoon, I saddled Mimi up and headed for the trails. She behaved perfectly going down the long driveway and out onto the paved public road. As usual, the cars and trucks on the road did not bother her at all. Mimi left the farm and tooled down the road and into the woods as if she had been doing it all her life.
We only went a short distance down the trail. I didn’t want to be on the public road in the dusk. But when we turned around, another problem popped up. Since we were headed back towards the farm, it was Mimi’s opinion that we should get there as fast as we could. She tried to speed up. When I pulled her back, she fought the bit, throwing in a few dance steps for emphasis. I simply turned around and started back the opposite direction. She fought that for a while. But when she settled down and accepted the change of direction, we turned back towards home. We went through this dance several times before she would calm down immediately after I turned her away from the direction home. After that, whenever she would get anxious going forward, I simply stopped her until she stood calmly before continuing on our way. By the time we reached the last leg toward the farm and the paved road, she was walking calmly.
The following weekend, we took another solo ride. Again, she behaved perfectly on the ride out. We had the whole afternoon to ourselves, so we rode down the loop trail to the little lake in the state park. The lake is a nice, relaxing place to be. We took some time to enjoy the view, and work on standing still for mounting and dismounting while away from the familiar environs of the farm. Mimi was a little fidgety, but nothing that won’t be improved upon with repetition.
|Stopping by the lake|
Instead of continuing on the loop, we started back the way we had come. I wanted Mimi to recognize that we were heading back in the direction of the farm. This was to test how much she remembered from the last lesson. Turns out she’s a fast learner. She behaved so well at first I thought that she wasn’t aware we were headed back home. The worst that she threw out was increasing her pace a bit once we were on the last leg of the forest trail. That was solved by simply stopping and starting again to reinforce the previous lesson. Then, Mimi really showed me her intelligence and value as a trail horse. She spooked.
Mimi has started at a few things before, but they’ve mostly been unexpected things popping up on the trail. In those situations, she simply tenses her back muscles in preparation to move out if necessary. Once she gets a good view of whatever it is, she relaxes. She rarely even breaks her stride. But this time, she tensed her muscles, planted all fours and took a sudden hop to the left. I could feel her getting her back end under her in preparation for spinning back the way we had come. About the time she took the hop to the left, I heard the crack and caught motion in my peripheral vision to the right. About 3 feet off the trail, a dead pine tree, about the size of a phone pole, had decided to fall just as we passed. The horse was spooking in the direction to keep us out of danger, so I never moved to correct her. The tree fell parallel to the trail, and she never executed the spin. Instead, she resumed her forward motion, keeping a wary eye on the down tree. I praised her, then walked her back past the spot again. From there, it was a rather uneventful ride back to the farm.