I have this problem. It’s summer, and it’s getting really hot in the afternoons. Too hot to ride. I spent about fifteen minutes on Hickory one afternoon last week and came home with the next best thing to heat stroke. No telling what that little ride did to him.
I’ve been putting the horses out on the grass early. The big ones eat for two hours and get fat. Hickory and Jetta can stay on the grass for five hours. Well, Jedda could live out there and she might stop showing ribs, but there you are. Anyway, I’d put them out at seven or so, let them stay out for a couple of hours, then bring them in, fed and full so I could bring Hickory in and ride him in the arena. The rider recognizes the fact that a fed horse is bound to be more easily focused than a hungry horse, and a horse with company isn’t going to spend your entire ride trying to escape back into the ranks.
And that worked in the spring. But now, it’s so hot at noon, I hate to leave the horses in that metal hot-box barn on that light colored heat radiating arena in the hottest hours of the day. Grass is cooler. But that leaves me with cool morning hours for riding and hungry, resentful, fustulous horses. So I’m trying to work this out.
This morning, I let everybody out at seven thirty for an hour to take the edge off. Then went back after my treadmill work-out and brought them in. But that leaves only an hour in the afternoon, so that isn’t good either. And anyway, by nine-thirty, when I finally had them in and had shoveled the jail and the arena, it was already hot. Evenings, of course, don’t work because we get eaten alive. (Sullen eyes: I hate summer and I hate winter.)
But this is about this morning. I rode Hickory for the 23rd time today. And for the first time, he bratted out on me. So I’m writing about it because I have to tell the story, that’s why.
I let him eat a little hay in the jail while I prepare things. And I can saddle him without tying him up that way, which is nice. He gave me only a token fuss about taking the bit about five seconds of non-cooperation, then took it very sweetly. And he was good in ground work — if typically reluctant. I trotted him over my six poles, and for the first time, he took them like a poem—he was lovely, lifting his feet and flying over them. Usually, at least on the last one, he drags and kicks the pole out of alignment and gets all bent out of shape. But today—he was ace.
Then I circled him and had him take the one foot jump—heading west, he actually cleared it, like he didn’t have lead in his feet. Going east, he refused it every time. I kept at it, and he finally more or less trotted over it, which was weird. But he didn’t knock the pole off.
He stood when I got up in the saddle and he didn’t fidget. I sat there for a while, just kind of messing around, tightening the girth and patting and rearranging stuff. Then I asked for the yield, which he does very well to the left. The right side, however, is broken. Even with a full cheek snaffle, it’s broken. So we had to do it about two hundred times, and after that it was STILL broken. But better.
We walked around the arena. And then we trotted, keeping on the rail. He’s responding pretty well to legs and rein. And we did a lot of trotting. He took the poles going south just beautifully, but his rudder got stuck going north, and we kept drifting off the poles in the middle. Maybe it was that right side that was sick last night . . .
So we were doing fine. Mostly. He got a little fussy about trotting once or twice, but nothing really. Then I asked for the canter.
Instead, I got a head. Head came up (not hugely, not like it hit me between the eyes), and head went down. I asked again. That little hop he does, the toss of the head and the sitting back on the haunches to start? It was like that, except different—and not only because he did NOT start. I think I might have gotten a little crow hop, even. I wish Char had been there because she would have made a big deal out of it, and I could have felt like a raging cowboy. Whatever it was he was doing, it was NOT moving forward, and it was snotty—head up and down, everything not doing what it’s supposed to.
And that made me mad, because I couldn’t get him to level out. So I slid off, which made him happy, and I stalked over to the lead and stick—with Hickory trailing happily behind, head lowered helpfully, in case we were done and I wanted to take his halter and bridle off. But instead, he got led back into the middle of the arena, and when I said, “Canter” he cantered. Both ways. Over and over and over. He even tripped a couple of times (going clockwise) which may or may not have been done for dramatic effect. Oh, and going that same way, had one of his pull back melt-downs. Which didn’t help his situation any. In the end, he did what I told him to do.
I have to tell you that I was impressed with myself for not turning into a total coward.
I took the lead off (his head was down again) and disappointed him by climbing right back up into the saddle. We started a trot, and when I asked for the canter, he started it, but headed for the panels—and when he got close, changed direction so abruptly, I came a little out of the saddle. But I didn’t go anywhere. Lost a stirrup. But this time, when I asked for the canter, I got one. And we kept doing it for about fifteen seconds, which is about as long as I like cantering in that arena. But we did it several times, going several directions, including past the barn, which I no longer rope off. And he responded to rein and leg.
After that, we had one more discussion—this one about trotting through a space between two barrels, which he managed to avoid by getting his rudder stuck again. So we worked on that for ten minutes, and got his rudder fixed.
I never ride for a terribly long time. Partly because it’s too hot, and partly because I’m too ignorant to know what I should be doing, and not hopeful enough to assume I’m doing any of it right. But I won the arguments in the end, and I felt pretty good when I got off. I think we’re improving.
He was VERY happy in the end when I finally took his suggestion and relieved him of his headgear.
After that, I put my Parelli hackamore on Zion and worked on walking. Just walking, please. I am happy to report that it did not go perfectly, which I take as a sign that he is finally feeling better. His nose is still running, though, and I almost wonder if he’s got allergies??
So not only have I ridden since spring, I’ve ridden about 40 times, if putting your leg over a horse and at least walking around counts as a ride. Everybody but Jedda. I am not enough people to get to everybody, and Zion is my love.
But there you go. I feel like you should be proud of me, even though you, Geneva, will want to tell me ALL THE THINGS I DID WRONG. Which could take you a week, and would be worse, if you’d actually been there to watch me be all thumbs with everything. But I am trying, and Hickory still loves me after I’m mean and work him. Oh. I brushed him down after and hosed him off a little, then put him out through the barn to keep eating with Jedda. But he didn’t want to go. He kept following me back to the barn.
I finally figured it out. He had three peppermint treats coming to him—that’s the reward for letting somebody stick bars through your teeth and make you canter in circles—and he wanted ‘em. So I gave him his pay and sent him on his way.
And that’s the end.