Yesterday turned out to be what looked like the first day of spring: crisp, sunny, and with just a bit of a breeze. And the combination of those three adjectives served what I’m sure was the universe’s purpose, which was to finally shame me out of my excuses for taking the winter off and to get my butt to the barn to mess with my poor shaggy pony. (And anybody who knows me knows that nothing motivates me better than shame.)
It was, of course, a sloppy, muddy mess out there, but it was a GORGEOUS sloppy, muddy mess, and with the weather being on such good behavior, I even didn’t mind having to go rescue Swamp Thing from his paddock, where he decided that whenever we were walking in a direction that wasn’t going TOWARDS the haypile, his legs were broken. So the beatings began early that day.
But once we got in the barn and Gabe was able to trick the barn dog, Maco, into coming close enough for a stealthy ninja nip-attack , Gabe perked up and actually acted pretty happy to see me. He’d gotten his prank in on the dog, and kept trying to see how far he could get with me, which is actually my favorite time with him. I love when he’s feeling plucky. Maybe because I like the challenge of seeing how far he pushes the button before I win and he gives up trying. Or maybe because it’s just so freakin’ awesome when you see an animal who’s comfortable enough around you that (s)he shows off the mischievious, playful side of their personality. That is one of the biggest A+’s you could get, in my book, for showing that you’ve set up a good environment for them. Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying that whenever an animal acts out, you should pat yourself on the back, but I think those of you who are animal lovers know what I’m talking about. When they are companionably playful and not obnoxious, I’m-gonna-act-however-I-damn-well-please-because-I’m-the-boss kind of playful. Then again, he could’ve just been happy that he’d gotten his beating in early—he does love the abuse.
Because he’s 20 and has had VERY little work over the past 3 months, I decided to start off with some longeing a few times a week to help get some of his back muscle back before we try our piaffe and tempi changes. Or maybe just before we try trotting in a balanced circle for longer than 10 min. Whatever…. And as we were wandering out to the round pen, jealously eyeing my instructor’s Prix St. Georges horse working in the arena, we had some harmony going on. Every few strides, he’d kind of touch my arm with his nose in what seemed like a “Glad you’re back. I missed you” gesture, and the breeze was blowing, and life was so very, very good. 🙂
Once we got into the round pen, he definitely did not have his mind on work. He’d move out at the trot fairly well, throw in some extended strides just to see if I was paying attention, but he only gave me cursory attention. And what little attention I got was probably because I was holding a really long nylon whip in my hand, which I kept flicking at his inside hind leg to get it in gear every so often. Or because the whip was purple and he likes stuff that’s purple. Now, I’m not saying to extrapolate any particular kind of information from this, persay….but he DOES like me to sing “I’m a Barbie Girl” for him. Just throwin’ that out there.
But after a few rounds, he got his mind together and gave me a pretty good workout, though after so much time off, when I tried to spiral him inward on the circle and he actually had to WORK that butt to keep his balance, he lost steam pretty quickly and decided this work stuff sucked. Flick with the whip: no good. A loud pop with it in the air: no good. A pop in the air over his butt: no good. It took ME a bit, after so much time off, to realize that I wasn’t really doing much more than harassing him, for all the reaction I was getting. I kept expecting to look over my shoulder and see Roy Scheider’s character from Jaws go, “I think you’re gonna need a bigger whip.”
So I decided to ask for the canter to get his mojo going. I ask: no response. He’s all, “Oh! Look, a mare! In the field! Over there! I look pretty!” so I gave him a nice little pop on hamstring. Suddenly, it’s all “DIE! DIE! WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE! IT BURNS LIKE FIRE!” in big bucking circles around me. And I couldn’t stop laughing. As a side note, it’s really hard to give an effectively firm “whoa, easy” command when you’re laughing so hard you’re snorting in time with his buck-farts.
He eventually settled, only giving me the occasional stink eye when I flicked the whip towards his leg to ask for more movement. But he was obedient about it, and worked well enough that by the end of a simple 20-min. he was blowing (from the workout, not the freakout), and I was pleased. He did sulk a bit when I finally took off the side-reins, and stuck his nose (in classic Gabe fashion) on my mouth so I could kiss the white snip mark to apologize. (And those words just made non-horsey people as a community turn green and throw up a little in their mouths.) So, I got nose-kiss-raped by my horse. And I loved every second of it. And I can’t wait to do it all again tomorrow. Except maybe with less spazzy-spazzy and with more worky-worky.