Remember how a few days ago, I talked about how I'm learning to be flexible? Well, apparently the karmic forces read that post, had themselves a chuckle, and decided to mess with me.
I headed out to the barn, fresh from being totally inspired by watching Mr. Morris's clinic, thinking I'm going to work on getting Tucker light, and forward, and supple. Use my legs. Allow my upper body to "accompany" the horse. Allow his back to be free beneath me. Haha. Ha. Ha. (The karmic gods are grinning an evil grin, even now, as I write this.)
When I got to the barn, I was given the great news that we are getting a nice indoor bathroom installed in the indoor. No more freezing our butts off in the porto! This is excellent news. What I hadn't realized, though, was what this was going to mean for my ride.
We walked into the indoor and were greeted by a large orange excavator, an SUV, a big hole, a cement pad, and a very polite man in coveralls in the corner, doing something with the cement pad. We exchanged pleasantries (well, I did, Tucker was kind of dumbstruck), and I gave Tucker lots of time to look everything over before I mounted, gave him lots of pats, humored his snorts and big scared eyeballs, and once he finally took a deep breath, climbed aboard. That's when the fun started.
Mind you, I'm a little spoiled. He doesn't do anything really that bad when he spooks, so I was able to be amused, instead of annoyed or frightened. Another horse could have seriously lost it.
My first pass at the walk, Tucker was in full drama-llama mode. I imagine his thought process went something like this: "Mother, do not panic, but there is DANGER in that corner. Fear not, m'lady. I, your valiant steed, shall protect you from the Man, and the Hole, and the Large Orange Thing. I have experience with these sorts of Things and will tell you that Large Orange Things have a tendency to Make Loud Noises, but do not be alarmed. I shall move swiftly past this dangerous area, I shall not take my eyes off of these creatures, lest they should attack suddenly, and I shall escort you quickly to safety."
I gave him a pat for his "bravery" and we changed direction and did another lap of the ring. Upon reaching that corner, we repeated the same pattern, with slightly less "high alert." More like "moderate alert." "Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more. As I have done before, I shall carry you through this treacherous territory. We shall face all manner of evils. There is a Man, and a Hole, and Large Orange Thing with a Tendency to Make Loud Noises -- but do not give up hope. I, your brave and conquering hero, will not rest until you are carried safely past."
I figured since he managed not to give himself a heart attack yet, we could probably attempt a trot. We circled at the other end of the ring for a few minutes, where I had about 80% of his attention. Not bad. I figured we could try trotting down the long side. "Alas, I fear the worst is upon us. My rider has lost her sight. She moves forward blindly, completely unaware that she is steering us straight into the belly of the beast! I must take over the helm!" We then started trotting sideways, across the arena. Lovely half pass Tucker.
I made a circle to see if we could possibly travel in a straight line past the corner of doom. "She may have lost her mind entirely! I've got no choice but to move as fast as I can past the Man, the Hole, and the Large Orange Thing with a Tendency to Make Loud Noises! She clearly has no sense of the imminent peril we are facing! Thank God one of us is a flight animal!" We managed to trot around the corner, albeit at a pace a little quicker than what I had in mind. Still, though, he was holding it together.
I stuck to the top half of the ring for most of the ride, occasionally venturing down to the bottom third but trying not to make too big of a deal. At one point though, we were tracking left, approaching the death triangle from the short side of the arena, when the nice man working on the cement pad emerged from his SUV. Tucker stopped dead in his tracks, head straight in the air. "The Man is emerging from his cave of death and destruction! What evil plan is he hatching now? I mustn't move a muscle, and perhaps he will move along and leave us unharmed. My rider is oblivious to the danger, it is up to me now. If I move one inch, there is a chance that the Man will use his Large Orange Thing with a Tendency to Make Loud Noises to drive us into the Hole, never to be seen or heard from again. Well I've got news for him: Not on my watch buddy! What's this? She's sending me on? Has the WHOLE WORLD GONE MAD?!"
Given that he was actually twitching at this point I figured I better give him a break and stick to the top end of the arena for our canter work, staying on the far side of the few jumps that were set up. Cantering circles at the other end of the ring went reasonably well, though at one point he almost fell over trying to turn left and look right at the same time, and accidentally crossing his front legs in the process. I tried really hard not to laugh out loud at him. I figured at this point we could probably risk cantering the top half of the ring. "Alright mother, I've been quiet long enough but now you are just being unreasonable. Have you totally lost it? There is a MAN! And a HOLE! And a LARGE ORANGE THING with a tendency to MAKE LOUD NOISES! Get it together will you? You are going to get us killed!" As we scooted across the middle of the arena with our tail between our legs, it occurred to me that perhaps I should return to the circle. "Phew. She seems to have gotten the picture. At least now we have returned to the safe corridor, behind these wooden barricades. They're not much, but they're something."
I came back to a trot and did some little figure eights, looped around the jumps, anything to get him to focus for more than a nano-second. He actually relaxed for a few minutes, even stretched down (!) when trotting away from the Center for Horse Torture. So I figured we could canter left now. Nice transition, decent canter. Wonder if we can circle around the jumps? "MOTHER! Pay attention! MAN! HOLE! LARGE ORANGE THING! LOUD NOISES! Must I constantly be in charge of everything?" Okay so, maybe not. We ended doing some more trot work so that his eyes could return to their sockets and he could resume breathing, and quit for the night. I figured a couple of minutes of relaxation was a success, given the circumstances.
While cooling out, he wandered over to the corner. Reached his nose out and touched the excavator. Peered down into the hole. Put on his cutest face for the man in coveralls. "Hi! I'm Tucker! What's your name? You sure do have lots of pockets. Anything for me? Hmmm? I like mints. Got any mints? What's that thing for? Can I eat it?"
If nothing else, he is certainly entertaining.