Last weekend, Labor Day weekend, I made it to the barn on Friday, Sunday and Monday. Saturday is one of my usual days at the barn, but I had to go to a shower instead. Buckshot and I rode on Friday, and on Sunday three of us went to the reining clinic and rode there. On Monday a scary thing happened.
Monday was wet, with off and on rain, very cloudy and dark, and hot and humid. I got Buckshot’s stall ready and hoped for a window of non-rainy time so we could ride. Once the rain stopped and I saw some breaks in the clouds, I went to get Buckshot and groom him and tack up. We went out to the arena but it was full of puddles, so we rode in the grassy areas around the barns and arena instead. Then we headed down the farm road to go see what the other arena looked like and if we could ride in it.
This was a bit of an adventure since I haven’t actually gotten him to go down the road on our own before. But I felt confident and Buckshot had a small but good amount of energy, so it seemed possible. Buckshot started off strong, walking nicely, but before long, he was hesitant and I was urging him, walk on! Walk on! And slowly, he walked. After a bit, I decided to lead him on foot, so I dismounted and started leading him. He was still hesitant to go forward, preferring to stand still, but using words and leading him in a zig zag pattern, I got him to go more or less forward. He wasn’t agitated, just terribly hesitant, stopping every few feet. Then I noticed the BO walking toward us on the road; she had come from a barn further up the road. She helped me lead Buckshot . One of the nearby barns had a mounting block so I remounted, and with the BO leading and me riding, we continued our walk to the reining arena. Buckshot walked slowly but steadily along. Buckshot was fine when we arrived and the BO left to do other things.
We had a good ride at the arena, doing some patterns and exercises along with trotting and a bit of cantering. There were a few puddles in the arena so we had to go around certain areas but we made the best of it. Since it was very muggy, and it was the first time that we had ridden alone in this arena, I decided I really wanted this to be a very good experience for Buckshot, so I ended the work a little early. I let him graze nearby and then we headed back to the main barn. Buckshot didn’t need any urging to go in this direction, as it is the direction back to safety. You know what I mean.
So we were walking nicely down the road, and way off down the road, near the end of the road where the main barn and the BO’s house is, I saw four figures walking toward us. The road is heavily canopied with tree limbs, so it was quite dark and full of shadows on a dark, cloudy day. By squinting, I could tell who was coming – it was a boarder, and her husband, and two dogs – large standard poodles, which by squinting I could tell were on leashes. We walked a few more steps – they were a hundred yards away from us – and Buckshot suddenly tensed and stopped. His ears were forward and I could tell he was watching this group of, of somethings, coming toward us. I didn’t think much about it, but decided that since it was new for us to encounter two people (strangers to him) and two large dogs, I’d dismount and lead him.
Within seconds after I had gotten off and held the reins, Buckshot suddenly panicked! He bolted, he wanted to run away from them, he wanted out, now!! I held onto him, my heart pounding, and I yelled to the people “Get back, Buckshot’s upset! Don’t come any closer!” Buckshot continued to thrash and bolt and try to get free of my hand (luckily he didn’t rear or whinny- that would have scared me even more!). I kept saying “Easy! Easy!” to Buckshot. I turned and looked over my shoulder at the visitors and they were still on the road, way down there. But Buckshot was not calming down, he just continued to panic. I held on to the reins with all my might, terrified of what might happen if I let go.
Finally, the visitors turned around and retraced their steps and took a route through the woods. Buckshot stopped panicking and we stood there, my heart pounding, but Buckshot was no longer trying to get away. I took a few deep breaths, and started walking him again. But he wasn’t interested in walking. It took me forever to get him down the road, tiny step by tiny step. And this was going in the direction of the safe barn. Maybe he was still a bit afraid that the “wolves” (or whatever scary thing he perceived them to be) were still down there, by his nice safe barn. I didn’t know what he was thinking, but I continued to try and reassure him and it took a long time to get him back to the barn. He seemed totally calm by the time we got back to the barn, and I untacked him, gave him his treats, all normally and without incident. Wow! What a scary time!
I told the BO and she suggested that maybe, in his older age, his eyesight wasn’t the best at that long distance, and so he saw something that seemed very scary to him. But I was still tense and stressed and still slightly scared. Oh, my God, what if I hadn’t happened to dismount? I could not have ridden out his frenzied bolting- I would probably have been hurt and he might have been hurt also. I was so, so glad that I had chosen to dismount when I did, but I know that I didn’t do it because I sensed panic. In any event, I was very, very relieved that I had gotten off of him, and had been able to keep him from running away, and that we both ultimately got safely back to the barn.
As I thought more about it, perhaps there were other factors. It was the first time Buckshot and I had ridden alone at the reining arena, and the first time we were alone as we walked back to the barn. New experiences for him. It was the first time we had ever encountered anyone walking toward us on the road from that direction. The road was dark and shadowy and hard for me to see. The poodles are big dogs and they looked like big animals. So it was the first time a big pack of unknown beings were coming down the road, in our direction. I had asked a lot of Buckshot just before this happened and maybe his confidence wasn’t very high. So dealing with a scary pack of unknown beings – well, he just couldn’t. He panicked. Thank goodness they left and he finally listened to me, and finally we got home safely.
So, I can’t forget that although 95% of the time, Buckshot is a calm, reliable, unspooky, older horse, he can still spook, and he can still panic. I’ll continue to trust my judgment that sometimes it is best to dismount, and I’ll do that. And I have to remember that there are still some things he hasn’t encountered, that I may have to train him through, and be patient with him about. Anyway, that was our Monday ride. Wow, and whew.
Hope you had a better Labor Day!