The reason I was so excited and exuberant about last weekend’s weather is because in autumn our weather in Virginia is so changeable and unpredictable. Take last Saturday (October 29, 2011) for instance. It was as cold as winter, and rainy and gloomy. The temperatures only made it into the 50’s, which, with lots of rain, made it feel even colder. When I got to the barn I could see the flooded arenas through the steady drizzle. I could also see Buckshot, way off in a distant pasture, wearing his blue-gray blanket. In October! This is very unusual. Typically we wait until winter arrives (isn’t it supposed to arrive sometime in December??) before we have thoughts of blanketing a horse. But c’est la vie.
Shortly after arriving, I walked out to Buckshot’s pasture to say hi to him and to take off the blanket. Down at the main barn the stalls were full of horses, and I mucked out a few stalls before deciding to fix up a stall for Buckshot with some goodies, and bring him to the barn to groom and brush him. He enjoyed his flake of alfalfa and the attention my sister and I gave him with brushes, curry combs, and conditioner.
She chided me about not using conditioner on his mane and tail regularly, and went to work on him. I laughed because he is a he, and I haven’t indulged him with too much girlie attention such as a lot of conditioner. I think he is more a dignified gentleman horse, a horse used to hard work at the race track, and not one given to feminine excesses. So I have tried to treat him with dignity, and even refrain from calling him “sweetie” when other horses are around, changing it to “Buckshot” quickly lest I am getting too mushy for him. It is funny how I extract and observe his personality and character from time spent with him, and think of him in a masculine mode. (Other times, when he is uncertain of something, I perceive his turning to me for leadership, in a child-like sort of way. So I have observed, I think, various aspects of his personality, along a range of mostly masculine traits. And in keeping with that, I have tried to refrain from being too mushy with him.) However, sometimes, I just have to wrap my arms around his neck and squeeze and tell him how wonderful he is- I can’t help it. I just can’t hold in all of my warm, adoring feelings for him. Sometimes they just slip out and I call him “sweetie” because he is also a very sweet horse. LOL! After his “spa time” in the stall with two “spa workers” he was spiffy and shining and full of alfalfa and I took a happy Buckshot back to his pasture.
Sunday was the reward for enduring the cold, rainy, gray Saturday. On Sunday, the sky was a brilliant cloudless blue, and the temperatures were an autumnal cool fifties. The farm was quiet and lovely. I tacked Buckshot up and rode with the BO and her husband. The main arena was soupy so we avoided it, opting immediately for the wooded trails. And it was beautiful in the woods! The trails had all been groomed, cleared, widened, with new trails carved out in various areas, the result of several worker’s hard labors in the woods. We walked through enjoying the dappled sunlight and delicious autumn air, noting the splotches of color throughout the canopied trees. Buckshot was calm and quiet, responding to my feathering fingers to slow down ever so slightly when we got too close to the horse in front of us. I petted his neck and told him “good boy” several times, just because he was.
When we exited the woods onto the hay field, the blue sky and green-gray field greeted us. We floated down to the hay field’s reining arena, and found it to be somewhat soft, but not too bad. I walked Buckshot around the perimeter, asked alternately for an extended walk and a collected walk. Then I trotted him a bit, adding in some cone-bending (the cones are imaginary) movements. I didn’t ask for the canter because the footing was just too dicey for me. After a few minutes in the arena, we moved on to another set of trails. This set was picturesque as well, with very tall, artfully arranged trees forming almost geometric shapes overhead. The wind of recent storms has caused some trees to dip and curve in awesome shapes.
Several sections of the trail were very bogged down with standing water. Buckshot, bless his heart, doesn’t have any problem walking through water. But some of these pools were very deep, and try as I might to stay calm (and not think about him accidently going down, and flayed limbs, and injuries to him), I still did the unconscious-rider-fear stuff of bending forward, stop breathing, encouraging Buckshot, praying, knowing I should sit bacccckkkk but unconsciously unable to do so, until we were back on dry land. And then I reflected on it- the rider’s-well, my- innate inability to do what is needed for the horse in dicey situations, even though I know it. This, along with “heels down” will be what I am still working on when I die, someday an old lady, in the saddle, thinking, I just need to work on this a bit more. LOL!
We continued along on still more trails and came to a steep downhill section. I ask Buckshot to go easy on a downhill, and he does and we got to the bottom just fine. And we headed back to the main barn. I checked my watch and saw that we’d been riding only for an hour and instantly started plotting a longer ride. We couldn’t ride in the arena- too soupy- but maybe I could take him back out on the trail again. But, I thought as I plotted and argued with myself, Buckshot will see the other riders dismount and he will want me to dismount also. He has a strong sense of the herd, what others do, I should do also. Especially dismount. But it was such a pretty day, and so nice, and we had only ridden for an hour and I didn’t want to stop. So when the others dismounted I asked the BO, “wouldn’t you like to ride some more?” But they declined- other chores called for them- so I dismounted also. It was a wonderful ride so I couldn’t feel anything but good about it. I told Buckshot he did great work and took him into the barn to untack and give him his treats.
As I walked Buckshot back to his pasture, I got another idea. The day was still young, so I thought we’d do some groundwork in his pasture. I left him at the pasture, telling him he’d get a fifteen minute break and then we’d do some more work. I’m sure he didn’t know what I was talking about, as he headed straight into a stall either to tell Lucky about his work, or to have a nap. I went back and gathered my groundwork gear: some pink cones, and some children’s beach toys in bright colors that I use with Buckshot, more treats, water and a granola bar snack for me. I went back to Buckshot’s pasture and found him trying to nap, but curious about all my gear. He watched me head out into the grass, and then I noticed he dove into the stall again, possibly hoping I wouldn’t see him and would make some other horse do the work. LOL!
I set up the cones in an L-shape, and hid or somewhat hid, the other toys in brush and tree limbs. Then I went and got him and after coaxing him to come out into the grass (he wasn’t too enthusiastic at first), we started. We did an exercise at the cones, then he got a treat, then we went to find one of the toys (sort of a hide and seek game). When he found the toy and touched it with his nose, I said “bingo!” and gave him a treat. Then we did another exercise, such as circles, followed by another hide and seek game. After a series of these, we collected the cones and toys, I praised him and left him to really have a nap.
I love to do our groundwork, not because it produces any great accomplishments, but because it gives me time with Buckshot to ask something of him (that he can do), and then praise him and prove how good he was with a treat. It helps him stay responsive to me, attentive to me, and helps him to feel good about himself. It gives me time to be with him and talk to him, and tell him what a good horse he is. Sometimes I think I should challenge him more, other times I know this groundwork is fine for what it is- a personal time of handling, and easy maneuvers, and building our relationship. I think it makes me better as a rider. It may be easy stuff, but it is purposeful. And I think it is valuable time, for our relationship, for our riding, and for building a bit of trust in me that may be necessary if we are ever in a tight spot and I need Buckshot right at that moment to trust me with something serious or scary to him. Plus the groundwork tells him that he is valuable to me, which may sound corny, but I think intuitively is a good and positive thing for him to know.
I hope you had some beautiful weather this weekend as well. I am sorry for the untimely snow that the northeast got this weekend- I hope it melts quickly for you!