There are days when reaching a goal feels close to impossible. Yesterday was one of those. I kept hoping the dog didn't want a walk (fat chance) and that I'd find some reason to avoid riding. How pathetic is that - I didn't want to ride! That's crazy. No excuse for that.
A half hour later, I let the Pug back into the house, told him to guard the place for me, and changed into my riding boots. By the time I drove out to the Little Valley, the seat heat in the Jetta had just started to warm my butt. Damn.
I stopped off at the house to say hi to Susan and little Spyder-man, and get the dog. (Yes, there's a dog at the Little Valley now, and I'll tell you about him soon!)
Down at the barn, Bo didn't look too happy to see me. He never really looks too happy to see anybody, unless you're carrying hay or carrots. I ignored him at first. I rubbed Lily's forehead, nuzzled Skyla's muzzle, and gave Oakie a nice pat on the neck. Then I snapped the lead to Bo's halter and brought him into the barn.
It occurred to me that he's officially 19 years old now. He's showing his age, but he looks good. We've got him until next September, at which time his owner will be done school and done her tour of Europe, and will want him back. I would want him back too if I were her. He's so ornery and grouchy, but he's so... good. He's trained to death, even if he is often reluctant to show it. Anybody can ride this horse. A beginner can get on and learn how to make a horse go and stop, and that's all they'll get out of him. An advanced rider can get on him and have him sidepassing, two tracking, collected, and show worthy. He'll get cranky, but as long as you ask him right, and you make sure he knows that you really mean it, he'll do it.
But man, is he ever crusty! He stands in the crossties with his ears back, grinding his teeth, wrinkling his nose. He glares at you. I'm not kidding. There have been times when I've had a crop in my hand in case he takes a notion to lifting a hind hoof like he's fixin to kick. SWAT! We'll not be having that, thank you.
At his age, it's unlikely he'll change his bad behaviour. His owner warned us about this. He's been like that for the whole decade-plus that she's had him. He just doesn't like being fussed over. We're willing to put up with his nastiness because he's so good under saddle. Normally I'd put the lid on this kind of thing right away, but with a mature horse, it's hard to change things. It would be different if he actually did bite or kick. I haven't got time for that kind of dangerous crap. Really, he's just all threat and no action. I'm still going to watch out, and give him heck, but he's not scary.
I do know how to melt his cold heart. It's a lot of work for little reward, but it's worth it. I start beside him, because if I stand in front of him he'll try to knock me out of the way with his nose. Yeah, he's no gentleman. His owner told us that he likes to have his ears rubbed. Figures. Don't most dudes? I start rubbing his forehead, just until he lowers his head a little, just a small sign of relaxing, and then I start on his ears. My own two horses, especially the little mare, will lean right into it with their eyes rolling and their lips twitching, but with this guy, I'll take whatever reaction I can get. His eyelids lower just that little bit. His nostrils relax. He slowly unclenches his jaw, makes a few chewing motions, and licks his lips.
I like to do this before I put his bridle on. It also makes that last tightening of the cinch a little easier.
I knew yesterday's ride would be short. Even with two or three layers of clothes on, I could feel the cold. I climbed up the step stool, waaay up - I'm just not used to tall horses, and I do consider 16.1hh to be tall - and swung up into the saddle.
Unlike the day before, he did not try to walk away before I had my other foot in the stirrup. Clearly he remembered that little "talk" we had. We moved off into a slow walk. My plan for the day was to mostly walk, with a little jogging, and really concentrate on my lower legs. I haven't ridden much in the last two months. I'd gotten rusty, sloppy. I want to cue him with the least movement of my leg. Not ineffectively bumping, but keeping my leg close to his sides, ready for a quick efficient direction.
I had my knob spurs on. He responds well to spurs. He pays attention to them; no need for me to jab him, just gently remind. After walking around the ring in each direction, I knew it was time to go into the "Poopin corner". I could just tell because I know his routine, and I know when he has to go. After he took a dump he was much peppier. I think that's funny. My ol Champ was like that; he always had to take a wiz about two minutes into the ride. Just get it all outta there and then we can get to work.
I put him about ten feet inside the fence, stopped him, and asked him to sidepass over to the rail. It was jiggly, but we did it. Then we walked forward, halfway around the ring until I had him do it again. We kept going like this until our sidepasses were actual sideways movements rather than zigzags. Then we turned around and did the other direction. Bo did his usual grunting and snorting as we went.
My hands were cold inside my gloves. You know it's cold when the snow crunches loudly under your horse's hooves. My nose was running and I was afraid I'd have a face full of frozen snot.
We jogged around the ring a few times in each direction, with me picturing my legs nice and steady, not flopping. We stopped and practiced a few turns on the forehand and turns on the haunches. Ol' Bo pivoted like he was nailed to the spot at one end. After a nice walk around, we headed back into the barn.
The dog doesn't appear to feel the cold at all. He was busy stalking invisible boogeymen and carrying sticks around. I do hope he figures out not to walk behind horses.
The funny thing about Bo, the stubborn old goat, is that after a ride, even after only twenty minutes, he's so much nicer. He doesn't totally relax, and I can't see him ever being affectionate, but he gives up on all the glaring and threatening. After I pull off the bridle and get him back into his halter, he actually lowers his head so I can rub the back of his ears. Awww. That's as warm and fuzzy as he gets. I'll take it.
In the summer, when he was being ridden every day, sometimes several times each day, he was so much more pleasant. He'd pretty much given up his ornery ways.
This is a horse who needs a job. I can see why his owner did not want him to loaf around in a field doing nothing while she went to university.
I can see why she loves the old monster. I kinda really do too.
Maybe it's because I'm a gelding girl. I like the guys. I love mares with their businesslike attitudes, but the guys are funnier. They develop silly habits, they grunt and snort and make all kinds of funny noises. They talk to me more. Champ had a whole vocabulary of whinnies and whickers and whuffles for me. Geldings are tricky and will try to cheat their way out of anything. They challenge me. Bo does not act like he cares one bit for me and yet I am determined make him admit that I ain't so bad, really.
I put his blanket back on him and led him out of the barn. I bashed the ice out of the water bucket so he could drink. He loves to take a sip of water after working. I went to run a hand down his neck, but he swung his big head away from me. I settled for a pat on his shoulder.
Next time, Bo. I'll get you next time.
I called the dog, threw a few sticks on the way up to the house, and said my goodbyes. It took the entire 20 minute drive home to warm up my freezing butt. Damn, I love seat heat. I hate the cold. I love the horse. I'll be back for more.