Thursday, June 01, 2006

Two experiences which, together, reminded me that my bright ideas don’t always translate into good animal behaviors

The last full day that I was in Idaho, I brought out the three pieces of rawhide I’d been saving up for the three dogs, and distributed them, one to each, which is fair. Of course the dogs all wanted each others rawhide, and the tenuous truce established between Kit and Loper wore to a ragged thread that I, unfortunately, didn’t notice until Kit cornered Loper in Sikem’s stall, which had only one exit, and proceeded to attack him, snarling and screeching and baring his teeth and biting. I threw a horse brush into the fray, which did a total of no good at all, then ran in kicking indiscriminately. I caught Kit in the flank, which surprised him enough to let Loper go, and Loper high-tailed it out of there (actually, Loper, like most dogs, slunk away, tail between his legs. The phrase “high-tailed it” could refer to the local deer, however, who do leap away with their enormous fluffy brush tails pointing straight up). I marched up to Kit and got down in his face and said “NO. You know that’s NOT OKAY,” and he looked up at me defiantly and he growled at me. Boy was I not going to stand for that, not even for an instant. I grabbed him by the collar and marched him to the porch and made him lie on his bed, and I left him in time out for about ten minutes, while I collected the rawhides I could find and put them safely out of reach. The next morning when dogs, people and horses were wandering around outside, I heard a low growl and looked over to see Kit with the rawhide I hadn’t been able to find. I strode over and took it from him—he did not argue—and put it out of reach. The dogs were perfectly fine from then on, even in the car for the six hours until I dropped off Loper.

The evening after my first riding lesson I thought, instead of taking a long ride around the area, I’d bridle Shadow in the pasture and just meander around there a bit, before catching the other horses and bringing everyone down to bed. Knowing that, if I didn’t come up with something more enticing than carrots, she’d just run down the hill and leave me to carry both the halter and the bridle down myself, I put some grain in a small bucket and took that with me up the hill.

First problem—it’s hard to halter one horse when she and two others all have their heads deep in the bucket of grain you’re holding over your arm. Still, I managed to grab Shadow, who knew what I was up to but still couldn’t resist the siren song of that sweet, nutty grain. She was moderately surprised when I quickly picked her hooves, exchanged halter for bridle, and hopped on, but she was willing enough to canter around a bit. Toby eventually flung the empty grain bucket, in a huff, away from her, and she and Sikem drifted back up toward the baby trees where they’d been grazing before I lured Shadow in.

After about 30 minutes I’d had enough and decided to catch Sikem, who I would lead while riding Shadow, trusting Toby to follow. And then I realized, yeah, there wasn’t any grain left. Or carrots, or anything but me, and I know from experience that I’m only interesting when I’m letting the horses out. I rode Shadow down to where I’d left the halter and the bucket, led her over to a pile of logs so I could jump on easier, and made my one good move of the afternoon: I carefully placed the bucket on a tall round of firewood so that, did I manage to collect Sikem, I could then collect the bucket without having to get off the horse.

So, holding Sikem’s halter in one hand and my reins in the other, I rode up the hill. Of course, as soon as I hopped off by Sikem and Toby, they turned away, just barely fast enough that I didn’t stand a chance of catching them. I sighed, jumped back on Shadow, and headed back down the hill, suddenly wondering how I was going to carry bucket and halter and reins and how, in fact, I had meant to lead a horse and carry a bucket and hold my reins, all bareback.

When I reached the bucket, I leaned over and dropped the halter in, then picked up the bucket. I gave an experimental shake—yes, to my ears, the buckles on the halter sounded more or less like grain swirling in the bucket. Maybe this would still work, and I would not find myself trudging back up the hill for the other horses once I’d deposited Shadow in her stall.

Shaking the bucket, I rode Shadow off down the hill toward home. I glanced back hopefully once or twice, but Toby and Sikem continued to graze, unperturbed, ignoring me as I rode away. Ah well. We dropped down out of view and continued along.

Suddenly, I heard a deep, quiet thunder. I turned to look over my shoulder. Nothing. The thunder grew louder, and became clear—galloping hooves. I glanced over my shoulder again, and saw Sikem and Toby cresting the hill, running flat out after me. Shadow tensed up, flicked an ear at me can I run too? I kept my seat loose, calm, and tapped the reins. No, not right now. Not with the bucket!. Sikem pulled abreast of us and slowed down to a wiggly trot, and immediately tried to stick his head in the bucket. Of course he did, because he thought it was full of grain. Shadow danced around, I gripped with my legs and shooed Sikem away, and eventually made it to the corrals without further incident, and Sikem and Toby didn’t race back up the hill and were easy to catch.

Which, I agree, makes for a rather mundane ending to a story, but with all the other drama going on, I was happy to be able to learn a lesson—i.e. think things through from the horse perspective if you intend to include horses in your plans—without danger to life, limb, or liberty (mine, that is).

1 comment:

KateMV said...

I've never been one to go for animal stories, but you write about them in such an interesting way that I'm pulled in every time!