Ever noticed how a lot of things in riding follow the old "chicken or the egg" principle? Sometimes it's tough to know who is feeding off of whom, and who started it.
I was pretty much fully recovered physically from my fall last week by Thursday (thanks to a steady routine of Sore-No-More, Advil, and Vodka), but the mental effects lingered well into the weekend. I've only been bucked off my horse once before (I've mentioned he's basically a saint, right?), a few years ago, and I got pretty hurt, so it was a few weeks before I could get back on. After that fall, I found myself terrified of him, and had to lunge him before I got on (yes, the big sweet overgrown labrador, on the lunge line, for no reason at all, looking at me like I was nuts). This time was far less traumatic, but I still found myself feeling overly cautious when I climbed back into the tack. When he spooked at a jump standard as we trotted past it, I couldn't help but wonder -- am I creating this, because I'm worried about it? They read us so well, it's entirely possible that I was giving off some weird vibes.
So after the ride, we went for a long walk. There is a beautiful pond on the farm and I wanted to go walk around it. Tucker had never been back there, and ordinarily I would try to take him with a buddy the first time. But I felt strongly, on this beautiful Spring morning, with the birds chirping and the sun shining and everything smelling like sunshine and flowers, that we needed some bonding time. So we headed out alone, and Tucker marched along like a champ, enjoying the breeze, ears forward, tail swinging, until we got about 100 yards away from the pond.
That's when we spotted the Row Boat Tied to the Tree. Not something that would scare you or me, but Tucker explained, rather calmly [picture the voice-over on a National Geographic documentary], standing stock still in his tracks, that he is a 1200-pound, juicy, tasty, lean, flight animal, and he was therefore altogether NOT in the habit of nonchalantly approaching unidentified objects that could very well turn out to be sleeping predators just waiting for a mid-morning snack. It's just plain common sense. Obviously.
As I asked him to move forward, he became insistent that turning and running was for my benefit as well, and made a few bids to spin, which I somehow avoided by sitting still and guiding him forward with an opening rein. Tucker, on the other hand, was in FULL DRAMA LLAMA MODE. He is, after all, primarily responsible for my welfare, and will bravely escort me to safety in the face of certain danger, when necessary. So we took about ten steps at a time, stopped, threw the periscope up, and stared at the row boat/sleeping jaguar, about ten times. I tried to reassure him that it was just a boat. He said, "I DON'T KNOW FROM BOATS." I tried to reason with him, I asked him what else would be beside a lake besides a row boat? He sighed and explained that horses don't have the time or energy for that kind of logic. Spook now, think later, live to tell the tale.
Once we got about ten feet from the boat (after a meandering, circling, stop-and-go journey), Tucker lowered his head, snorted, sighed, and said "Ohhhhhhh. That's not scary. Sheesh mom, you should really lighten up." And then proceeded to walk past it, unasked, as though nothing had occurred. I burst out laughing and gave him a pat. Was he playing games with me? Did I anticipate that he would spook at the boat, and put the idea in his head? Or did I handle it just right, calmly encouraging him to walk forward, knowing all along that once he saw it, he wouldnt' be afraid? (You may notice, new readers, that I tend to overthink things, just a tad.)
Then we got to the Trust Walk part of our ride. Walking around the lake, we had about six feet of flat-ish surface, with a steep drop into the woods to our right, and water to our left. Not wanting to swim or somersault, I explained to Tucker that I was counting on him to be brave. If he spooked, we'd be in trouble. So it was up to him -- I was relying on him to take care of me. Wouldn't you know it? Tucker didn't spook once. Not at the squawking geese, not at the huge upturned tree, not at the picnic table. We came to a shady spot under a big tree, and Tucker stopped, cocked a hind leg, and seemed to be pausing to take in the scenery. He was right, by the way -- it's beautiful out there. The pond, the meadow, the trees, the wildflowers. And as we stood there, just a little girl and her big brown horse, I realized that as soon as I trusted him, he morphed back into the trusty steed I know and love.
We walked back to the barn on the buckle, blissful and relaxed. I fell in love with those giant ears all over again (for the 100th time), and stayed in a good mood for the rest of the day. Amazing how they do that for us, isn't it? I don't remember who said it, but an older wiser horseman once told me that if you treat them like they're crazy, they'll show you crazy. My goal for Wednesday's lesson: treat him like the good boy I know he can be. I get enough crazy in my life outside the tack, thankyouverymuch.