Every time I’ve gone to the barn, it’s been a day to celebrate. Not just because she’s a fabulous horse, but for the crazy weather. Calico is a fan of weather. Well, maybe not rain, but everything else – and every change is something for her to kick her heels up to – quite literally.
S.A. Bolich has been doing a fabulous blog on horses for writers, and I’ve had several writer-specific entries on horses. While this entry isn’t specifically for educational, it definitely gives some insight to equine thought.
When I’m not riding Calico, we do ground work, and I always start ground work – and often any riding session with anyone but me – with a free lunge. (The horse is in an enclosed area, but not tethered by any lead; the human makes them move with either a lunge whip or a long lead and their body posture.) My posture is relaxed and all I do is flick my wrists to wave her away from me. She usually dances off and shakes out a bunch of bucks and hops, breaks into a gallop, does a rollback (like a rear but in motion to change directions) to turn around, hops and does a few laps. When I see her relax into her usual easy trot, I make her turn around – a good way to get a horse’s attention. From there, we do laps at different speeds with a lot of direction changes (because horses get bored going in the same direction; who wouldn’t?). After that, we work on turning and stretching and standing and, occasionally, tricks – like target practice. In general, we just have a bunch of fun while getting our exercise in.
Calico is always particularly happy when we can do this in the outdoor ring.
Now, we live in New England, so weather isn’t always accommodating, but so long as it’s not raining or downright treacherous or at night (my biggest problem – and a winter problem), we go outside.
Last time I was there, we had fresh snow, so Calico was really “feeling her oats.” Lots of zooming around and tossing her heels, and my isn’t it fun to do a sliding stop! (You know that cartoon trope where the character stops so quickly they continue to skid forward and leave marks? Yeah, that’s about it – it’s actually a reining maneuver in the Western show circuit.)
Today, it was in the 40s. All the snow on the ground was melted and we had about a quarter inch of grass-clinging mud above the frozen ground. The sliding stop was ESPECIALLY fun. She dug all sorts of lines in the outdoor pen, turning diagonally to maximize her sliding space. In fact, she was so pleased with her accomplishment, that during the actual exercise part, when I put out a pole for her to walk over (like an obstacle… it’s a pole, flat on the ground, but horses think it’s the Horse Eating Pole of Doom! and try to avoid it) she went further down the arena. I thought she was trying to avoid the Pole of Doom! by getting out of reach, so I moved to head her off – noooo! I hardly started heading in that direction when she decided to take about four steps of a superfast canter and make a sliding stop that ended less than a quarter of an inch from the Pole of Doom! Her tail was up, her neck was arched (a proud posture – yes, horses do like to show off!) and she looked at me ‘cos, “Mom, wasn’t that just awesome?!”
I assured her of her awesomeness with a positive compliment, a moment of relaxed posture and breaking eye contact for a moment, then looked back and wiggled the lead rope just a little to make her go forward.
She looked down at the pole, then at me, cocked her head, “Oh, you still want me to do this?”
Hand and rope flick again. Eye contact.
She sighed, tossed her head, and delicately stepped over it before picking back up her trot.
Yeah, horses have personalities. And they like having fun as much as any of us. Haven’t you ever done a running slide on a patch of ice or fresh waxed floor, then was all “Yeah, that was most excellent!” when you avoided falling flat on your bum? (Horses fall on their bums, too, I’ve seen it… and some do hurt themselves while playing.)
Speaking of hurting themselves, because of the slippery mud, we didn’t spend too long outside and I didn’t let her get too rambunctious – it isn’t terribly hard for a horse to pull a ligament or twist an ankle – just like a person can. Even when they’re just fooling around.
Hope you enjoyed the little Calico fun – and maybe, if you’re a writer, you got some ideas about how your equines can show some believable personality.