Now that the ground in my pasture has finally dried out enough not to be slippery I’ve been thinking it’s time to get back to riding Willow. Which I haven’t done in over a year. Ahem. The most I’ve done with him since we sold the farm in March of 2012 and life got crazy is to catch him up and groom him a few times. I do make time to inspect and hang out with him twice a day at feeding, but all in all I’ve not been a very involved horse mom. He’s had the basics, all the grainand clean water he needs and free choice hay 24/7, as well as living out in the field with a lovely new turnout shed which he shares with his Goaty Girls. I’ve kept up to date on his shots, worming and foot care of course, but other than that, Willow’s been on vacation. Apparently, he’s decided it’s a good way to live.
Willow’s always been spooky about people on the ground, although he’s pretty trusting of me. Still, sometimes he gets a goofy streak and spooks away. Last month, for the first time, I couldn’t get off work to be here when my barefoot trimmer Marilyn Gilligan---who’s been doing him for the entire seven years I’ve had him---couldn’t catch him, and she’s a wizard with horses. I was mortified and vowed to never not be available again. I didn’t really think anymore about it, but apparently some kind of precedent was set.
I gave Willow and the girls some tomato and carrot pieces that I’d saved from salads and then went to get the halter. Willow, for the first time, took one look at the halter and scooted off. I sighed, picked it up and followed. I’ve never had to approach him more than twice to catch him, and even that has been rare. This was clearly a whole nother ball game as he didn’t even consider waiting for me as he spurted away. I thought, Hmmm. He’s having too much fun with this and mentally gave up my plans for the day and settled myself to seeing this through to the bitter end. I was awfully glad the pasture isn’t much more than an acre! “Trot on!” I told him, since he was clearly going to do that anyway. When he’d slow for a breather, “Trot on!” Ready for a little rest? ”Trot on!” Round and round we went, him galloping gaily and showing off for the girls, me following at a purposeful walk. Soon I realized I needed to be sending him forward, as opposed to heading him off, and dropped back to his hip and trained my eye on him steadily. An interesting thing was that after ten minutes or so, when the novelty of cantering away from me had worn off, he came down to a forward trot in a lunging type circle around me, instead of using the whole field as he had been. I don’t know what was in his head on the free-lunging style he adopted, since I tried verbally halting him, and he ignored that. I worked him for another twenty minutes or so, by which time his canter had slowed to a trot, the trot to a jog, and the jog to a walk with pauses, when he’d get ahead of me. As he tired I’d try halting him every five minutes or so, and when he stopped I’d stop too and take my eye off him, releasing the pressure. Praise and a minute’s rest, and then walk slowly toward him, eyes and energy dialed down. The first few times I got to that point, he’d gather himself and trot away, causing me to send him forward again. “Trot on!” Lather, rinse, repeat… I tried to make it clear that he was only sent forward if he had already moved away. By this time he was hot and sweaty nearly all over, with foam between his legs. He hadn’t worked so hard since he was in combined driving training, five years ago. When he finally did give up and suffered me to walk up to him, it was not by facing forward to me. I know that is extremely controversial and I’m sure a professional would have required him to face them. But I know my horse, and I fully believe you could beat him to death and he’d never kick. Some horses are just like that, but you’d better know who you’re dealing with, and without years of personal knowledge of this particular horse, I’d never have approached one in this situation from the rear. He quivered when I put my hand on his wet flank, but I stroked it and spoke softly and keeping my fingers in constant contact with his skin,, moved up his side to his shoulder. I rubbed his neck, still talking nonsense, “silly boy, goofy horse…”. Willow finally lowered his head from its stiff, giraffe-like pose, and put it on my chest with a sigh. He made no objection to me haltering him, he almost seemed relieved, as he stood with his nostrils distended and flaring with each breath. I took him out of the field and up to the yard for a bath. After that, we went down the driveway to a grassy spot to graze, hopefully to reinforce that being caught was a good thing.