Posts Tagged ‘trail riding’

The Way We Were

Can you imagine what hoof prints will do here

The geldings’ winter break is over and now I have to fight the wet ground conditions. Don’t have an indoor and the boys hate the small outdoor ring so if the trails are too wet to ride upon well, it’ll be a long spring.

I can not help but wonder about riding in times when that was the main form of transportation. Horses were generally shorter and stockier back when our country was forming and even on through the early decades of the 20th century. Were their feet, in general, wider? A wider foot doesn’t sink as far into the ground. How did people deal with well used paths and erosion?

The differences go further. Since the Garden State has become so urbanized I see a lot of changes occurring in the reaction of our horses. With 3 major airports within an hour’s drive and numerous small airports in the vicinity there is always the sound of a motor in the air. The dirt road the barn lives on has become much busier and noisier in the past 15 years. UPS, FedEX, and USPS trucks all have outrageously noisy engines. The grain man bought a new huge, noisy truck, more kids up the road-equal more school busses. New hay tractor with a Harley Davidson rumble. And all these vehicles are large boxes: walls that move past the horses and box them in.

Put a loud engine on this- how would you feel when it passed

Oh, let’s not forget the landscapers, I am the only one I know of that still cuts her own grass. Everyone else has a lawn service with a tanker truck for spraying, a tag-a-long for mowers and blowers and often another truck for crew. And the audio pollution from those mowers even hurts MY deaf ears.

The guys have become increasingly uncomfortable on their home road with all these new, noisy boxes. I am a lot more uncomfortable in bi-ped mode myself on these roads. It is more than just the amount of traffic, it is the size and sound of the vehicles as well.

I am finding more friends my age turning to hacking. Economics and age make us turn to the cheaper sport of trail riding. It should be a bit safer too, but all to often we are using the competition horse as the trail horse. It is what we have in the barn and we have a love and rapport for the animal. It might not be the best animal for negotiating the sights and sounds on today’s trails.

Again I think back to the style of horses used in our country when hauling, hoeing or hunting were the main uses of these animals. Slow and steady surely would have been valuable characteristics. Can you imagine posting 5 miles to town on the movement of an FEI horse? Suspension has its place, but it isn’t on a ride to school everyday.

How about John Adams riding all the way to Philadelphia through the winter snows on a reining champion? I don’t think he wanted any short stops and starts.

Today’s “grade” horse that most people walk past may have been the more valuable horse back in the day, and that day may dawn again. But there are limits to what any animal can comfortably cope with in its environment. This spring if your horse seems a bit more “up” then normal, take a look at the changes in the sights sounds and smells in the surrounding area over the past year or two. The poor beast may have hit his set-point. If we are to be good stewards for all our animals we need to be thinking about the total changes in everything in their environments not just the feed and hay.


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thumbnail.aspxWe have a lot of deer in New Jersey. Odd to hear, I know. Most people think we just raise asphalt, oil refineries and corrupt politicians. But New Jersey actually has more deer now than it did in colonial times and our property has more than its fair share of the white tails. Although in an old neighborhood near town, we have a bachelor herd of 12 (their antlers are getting REALLY big), and a harem of about 15, that trade tracks throughout the day and night. So I’m pretty comfortable with the creatures. I almost have to push them out of the way to get to my door.

But I wasn’t comfortable today, when T-man stopped dead and slid sideways on the trail. Mokes came up short behind. I looked up and saw a buck with a “Hartford Insurance” size rack on him. In fact I’m quite sure the rack was glistening white from being sharpened and all the tips were pointing at me.

Sometimes animals are subtle with their body language, but that wasn’t the case today. The buck was out for bear. He eyed us and advanced. Oh, yeah, it’s rutting season in New Jersey. (here’s a link describing  seasonal deer behavior )

While I was thinking, “uh-oh, we have trouble,” T-man and Mokes had taken matters into their own hands and had us already headed back the way we came. I turned to witness the buck continue to stalk us. I was not in a good situation, everyone who knows me can attest that I should never be depended on in an emergency. I tend to freeze and just focus on how bad it’s going to hurt or how dead I’m going to be. In this case I was attempting to rouse myself to thought, as I was responsible for another human being who was severely limited in sight. Thinking the only thing I had to use was my flimsy dressage whip, we turned a corner and the buck let us be.

After the adrenalin relented I started to consider the boys’ reactions. They stopped and turned around, but there was no fear or panic in their bodies. Their pace only quickened slightly, which it always does on the way home. I had a lot of fear going and they could clearly smell that and feel my tension. But it seemed not to upset them very much.

thumbnail-1.aspxThe same is not true for the time we came into bear territory. At that time I had no fear because I didn’t know anything was afoot. But T-man stopped dead, tensed every part of his body and started darting everywhere. Mokes, the cement in every relationship, was just as unhappy. We dismounted and went another way and never saw the bear in person, but saw evidence of it.

So what sets a horse off about other animals? I can understand the bird and the squirrel’s quick movements distract an eye design to pick up predators prowling. But they aren’t fearful of the foxes and coyotes that pass through the pasture, or the deer jumping in and out. Bears set them off no matter what and it would appear that a buck in rut is nothing to get excited about. Are there certain animal smells that warn of danger to them. If so, why not the buck? Clearly, during rutting season bucks are laying down scents full of testosterone.

There is photographed documentary that animals of prey and predator can gather at a water hole in sight of each other. Does location make a difference? In the animal world is there “neutral” territory, and if so how is it learned or designated? Do my horses not worry about animals in their pasture because they figure the animal knows it’s their territory? Or do the boys not care because they know they are free to run? Is it the other animal’s reactions? If so why didn’t my guys panic, because clearly the buck was following us. Or are they just used to deer, bears have just re-entered the territory in the past two years.

Perhaps they knew better than me. Perhaps they knew the buck did not have the intent to kill, just to confirm we really were leaving. The bear episode was in the spring, did they smell the alertness of a mom for her cubs?

How much of an animal’s reaction is due to territory, smell, sight, and/or interpretation.

The latter gives great pause for thought. To make a distinction due to place or body posturing indicates a higher level of thought than most of us would assign to our beasts of burden.

When you start looking at cognitive function, making distinction according to time or place is a different brain function than just instinct.

deerWell, the boys and I are deciding to ride only in mid-day when most of the deer are scarce, (yesterday was late in the day.) And I must admit I will travel with a new level of awareness and a new interpretation for the phrase, “The buck stops here.”

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The Villain

The Villain

I hate my horse today. Do you ever have a day when you just hate your horse? It happens to me once or twice a year. The truth is always, of course, that I want something to happen and it doesn’t- usually in a really big way.

Today I wanted to trailer to a friend’s to hack. Today I also had three interviews to do and needed to pack. Today it rained when there was suppose to be sunshine. Today the dogs wouldn’t come in.  Today was not the day to take T-man.

Awww, but he needs the exercise, and it would be so good for him to ride with Patchwork, she’ll get his engine going. No one to help load today. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

What did he do? Nothing. NO THING. No movement. You have to move to get on the trailer. He did not move. I’m pretty good at getting a horse to move. I’ve been working with a stubborn horse for years. I know how to offset balance to create movement; if you push here it will move there; join-up, on and on and on. But when a long-backed, gumby, 900-pound horse plants his feet and grows roots there is a sense of finality to the moment.

Ever notice the more upset you get the more obstinate your horse becomes. Ever notice when you need your tools they are never around. No one at the barn, long purple guaranteed-to-walk-right-on lunge rope is gone, Carrot stick is just a stick, and the horse he stalks day and night is watching with a smile on his face swishing his tail.

Nope, not happening. Finally, he does move a little. He has earned the name Gumby for a reason. “Look I can do circus acts! I can bend in half. I can turn inside out.” And while I’m contemplating dragging the 200-pound mounting step to block one trailer side I’m not sure if it is my mind or his that is saying, “Are you sure you want to do that? A leg can step right into the underbelly and get caught and that’s a $4-500 vet bill.”

I finally gave up. But I showed him. I moved that little puppy all over his paddock and sent him to his room, closed all the doors, took out the hay, closed all the barn doors and drove off with his best friend, who happily plopped on the trailer.

The Hero

The Hero

I know it didn’t make a damn bit of difference to him, but I sure felt better sending him to his room. I probably should have just gone back to bed today myself, but the roof may have fallen in on top of me. Maybe I don’t hate my horse today; maybe I just hate the day.

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