Thursday, February 05, 2009

A Cold Day and a Grumpy Old Gelding

It was cold yesterday.  I was feeling tired from sleeping poorly for a few nights in a row, and my legs ached from the ride the day before.  My ankle hurt, having not recovered from that nasty sprain a few weeks ago.  I wanted to curl up on the couch with the old cat and the snoring dog, pull a blanket over all of us, and read.  Did I mention that it was -15C?  I wanted to accidentally fall asleep instead of going outside.

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.


hayseed said...

I love geldings too, and have known a few grouchy ones- I always wonder if the older ones are grouchy 'cause they're feeling stiff or arthritic or slightly out of sorts. Bo probably thinks you're swell but feels he needs to put on a 'show'. My Joe is not a grouch but he is a trickster. My Sadie is more reserved than grouchy, and can be extremely affectionate, but on her own terms and when she decides to be (just don't bug her while she's eating)....always fun to 'talk horse'.

Patches said...

Wow! You've got my respect. I can't get motivated to ride if it's under 40F! Not sure how that translates to C, but I'm sure it's no where near as cold! I'm a total weenie when it comes to riding in the cold this year.

So is the grouchy, pain in the butt, silly, goof ball stuff a gelding thing? I was nodding along to the whole gelding girl paragraph. I've somehow always managed to ride mares, but I am just starting to really work with my first gelding and he is...oh lets just call it quirky. Good to know it's a gelding thing! :)

Heidi the Hick said...

hayseed, I do think he's feeling his age. We always warm him up real good before doing any hard work, and I also think that's why he's happier if he gets regular work. He's not arthritic but I'm sure he feels the cold too!

Yeah, I'm sure he needs to put on the ol show. He's got a reputation to uphold!

Sadie sounds like Tia, the boss mare at the Little Valley. Businesslike! Tia's up at Grandma's farm for the winter. I kinda miss her.

I can't wait to see my own two characters again!

Heidi the Hick said...

Patches, I personally think it's a gelding thing! I've had mares and geldings and I love them both, but they act differently!

As for the cold, I confess. I didn't used to ride much in the winter. It's just the last few years. I've got a nice pair of winter riding boots - they're knee high and have a good heel. I got some thermal quilted riding pants with full-seat suede. I wear them over my pants, often with long johns under it all. I've got two layers on top and a nice warm coat. Neck warmer, hat, gloves. Makes a big difference when you've got the right outerwear. When I was a little kid, my ponies had to live in teh barn all winter, and in my teens I'd sometimes take my horse out into the frozen hay field to ride. But man, no shelter out there. COLD!

Now, my own horses are up to their necks in snow, but I can ride at the Little Valley okay. They take the snowblower to the riding ring!

All I can say is, it's a good thing I have the Pug to warm my feet when I get home.

dilling said...

i love him, too. the old goat!

Heidi the Hick said...

You know Dilling, I think with him, it's just that when you do finally get that little bit of tolerance, it's like the sun just broke through the clouds.

And he is a handsome ol goat of a horse.

coffeypot said...

I can't blame the geldings for their attitude. They can't have sex anymore. So they pull a few pranks; what else do they have? A little talk, a little shying away for work, a little fooling around just to get your attention. Hell! I do the same thing and I still have all my equipment.

Heidi the Hick said...

Actually Coffeypot... some of them STILL CAN.

I found that out when I had my horse boarded at a big farm for a year and he, um, had himself a little girlfriend. The mare's owner was ready to get a vet out to test my horse and make sure everything got uh, cut properly.

But the goofy pranks and attention stunts? That's just pure Guy Stuff!

Nicole said...

Mmmmmm, loved this post, Heidi. You're a horsewoman through and through as evidenced by how "in the zone" you get when writing about them. Lovely.


Heidi the Hick said...

thank you, Nicole.

I am pretty sure I can smell that horse right now...

equestrian_librarian said...

You should write a NF horse book. You're a fantastic writer!

marsh to the fore said...

As one of your avid readers said--you're an amazing writer!

I could feel that ride with that cantankerous horse.