Today we had a final trail ride and then a pot-luck picnic. It was a beautiful day, sunny and in the high 60s. Perfect fall weather - leaves slowly twisting in the breeze as we made our way through the woods. The horses act different in the fall. They pay more attention to their footsteps because it is hard to see the terrain under the carpet of reds and golds... They prick their ears toward the sounds of squirrels rustling through the forest, sometimes they act suspicious and curious at the open views through the woods. Things you cannot see in the summer are visible. The stream below from the high road, with little white caps where it bubbles along the rocks. The old camper someone left long ago, hidden in the summer by the thick forest. You would think that seeing everything would be better, right? LOL, wrong! Horses are hypersensitive to changes in their environment, even the smallest ones.
We started our day with some bur removal. LOL. Burs are the bane of my horse existence right now. Everyday Takoda has a tail full of them, or his forelock is caked with stickers and I spend a good amount of time carefully plucking them out. By the time we got tacked up it was a nice sunny morning with a pleasant breeze. Our familiar path took us through two fields, along a densely wooded trail with several water crossings, up the side of a semi steep ridge and onto an old logging road. From there we wind back down into the fields and home.
There is a lovely semi deep water crossing on our way home but we decided to not take it today because although it was sunny it was still a bit brisk. In the summer, this is one of Takoda's favorite parts of the ride. He loves water. I am quite certain that he would swim readily if given the chance. This particular crossing is just deep enough that you actually just barely get a sensation of floating. It is like you are THAT close... And then you aren't. LOL.
Once back at the barn and after bunches of kisses and "good boy" carrots and clean up, I put him in his stall with a big pile of hay before turn-out time. Then we ate! LOL. I was starving! So was everyone else I guess because we all dug in and had a great lunch, then sat around, laughed, talked and tried to make the day last as long as possible.
From here forward we may find ourselves kicking around in the arena and adjacent field while the woods gets overrun by hunters for a bit. But, I will be thinking back and thankful for this day for quite some time.
OMG so, WHAT A SUMMER it was! I am not sure where to begin as I was too busy to really make proper entries, although with every little hurdle crossed or new thing learned I did manage to scribble a note and put it in my Gratitude Jar.
So many amazing things happened for Takoda and I this summer. The best of which was quite simple. Getting to know each other well and establishing the relationship of "this is my horse" and "this is my person".
So, my horse is smart. I mean he is really smart. LOL. This is not just a horse mommy talking, the vet, the farrier, other people...all have said it. He is also an underachiever. Just like his mamma. He'd rather walk than trot, eat than work, hang out and be a horse than work, dear Epona just about anything than work. On the other hand he is smart enough to get easily bored, be curious, full of mischief and basically be "that" horse in the barn. You know the one...he puts his head between his canvas stall guard and the hose-like topper guards we put up to keep him from hanging out over the canvas. He crawls halfway under the same canvas guard and pulls half a bale of hay into his stall for a self-serve snack. All of this stuff he does without getting panicked if he gets stuck for a moment. He'll just adjust his head or turn it the other way to get it out of the hole he has created. It has become a fun game to keep him interested and occupied so he doesn't get bored enough to get into trouble.
Even when he misbehaves he is comical. My girlfriend and long-time instructor says "you should see the look on his face" when he is challenging me. Not a bit of malice more of a stubborn avoidance and he ends up not even really knowing what he is avoiding or why he is avoiding it.
I had some goals at the beginning of this. One was to be able to clean all of his feet without issue. If you will recall, this was a huge struggle when he came home. We got over that hurdle by touching and picking up feet every single day for weeks - well over a month - on end. Some days I will admit tears welled up. Feet are such a basic thing to humans in terms of how your horse should act. I have never leased or worked with a horse that was not OK with me handling their feet. Well, I guess Takoda was my "there is always a first" horse in that respect.
The second goal was that damn bridge. It took us three times across for him to be OK, even "meeehhhhh" with it. With Takoda it is a matter of repetition and praise. Now, he is generally more interested in the mares that are in the field next to the bridge than the bridge itself.
Another goal, which frankly I was scared shitless of and doubted we would meet, was to participate in the annual St. Jude's Children's Hospital trail ride. This is a three hour ride that takes into account all kinds of terrain in our area. There are fields, forests, old logging roads, rocky trails, a farm with other unfamiliar horses, cows, steep climbs and downhills. We ride a bit of this when we do our own mini trail rides on a regular basis but people that ride in bigger groups will tell you that when there are lots of horses and many are new to your own horse, new territory, etc. it can be a bit stressful.
But, my horse was a champ! He was so awesome and did so well that the lady behind me could not believe I had only had him for five months and that he was basically a field horse that only occasionally got saddled up before he came to me.
There were struggles too for sure! Horses are always challenging their people in various ways. They don't do it to be "bad" or "mean" it is just how they live and think. There is a pecking order in the herd and you are part of your horse's herd, plain and simple. Takoda started exhibiting some very stubborn and dominant behavior mid to late summer and we figured that he was trying to move up in the herd and either was having some success and it was carrying over to mom or (more likely) he was having no success and getting frustrated and it was...carrying over to mom! That's the thing I notice most about horses. Their frustration carries over to you. You ARE a part of their herd and you are the one asking them to do things that from the standpoint of being a horse, sometimes don't make sense. So if they are frustrated in the field or barn you are only adding to their discontent by asking them to go this way instead of that way, trot when they'd rather walk, canter (WTF is THAT and why are you smooching at me and stickin' your heel into my side???) when they'd rather just eat...
One of the main things with horses is time. Time in the saddle and time in general with them. I did not buy a horse to only see him once or twice a week. Unless I am not in town I have dedicated a portion of my day to my horse since he came home and I feel like that shows in our relationship. Yes, it is always changing and hopefully growing and yes there will, and have been, hiccups. However, I cannot stress enough to people how the mere acts of grooming your horse, talking to him, walking around the field with him, doing exercises from the ground with him are just as important as riding.
As we wind farther down the road into Fall and eventually Winter, I will be coming up with some hopefully fun ways to keep our lives interesting and continue to build this relationship with my "quiet, stocky, grey gelding" that I spied on-line one cold morning last January.
In Loving Memory
...of the first horse to hold my heart