Yup, well, you guessed it.
Is it too much to ask to have a calm, peaceful day on my first ride of the season with my Chicken Little horse?
Granted, there is more ‘excitement’ and desensitizing opportunities on a snap, crackle and pop ride… but really? Again?
Let me tell you about it…
HE LOADED UP JUST FINE.
As usual, Finn was eager to put his head in the halter on and jump into the trailer.
Yippee! This would be a great day!
I hopped into the truck and motored our way to the local State Park which luckily, was not shut down during the last CA budget cuts.
We arrived at the gates to see this sign:
OK, well, it was Saturday so I thought there was a good chance that there would be no government workers working. Besides, we didn’t have to take that particular trail so we should be able to comfortably avoid the construction.
Once past the warning signs, we found our favorite parking space.
This day was indeed starting out well!
POP! WHAT WAS THAT?
I had Finn tied to my trailer as I always do. He was close enough to the tack room to keep his interest but not close enough to be able to grab any treats that I keep handily inside.
As I was grooming him, we both heard it at the same time, “Pop!”.
I saw that Finn was excessively nervous so I untied him. I figured we could investigate together, which we did. I moved forward towards the sound and he hid behind me with his nose in my shoulder – moonwalking behind me.
(I find it funny that horses think that if they are hiding their heads, they are hiding their bodies…)
Anyway, slightly beyond the parking lot I could see a photo shoot happening. It was a still shoot and there were models posing among the ruins of the old mine. The photographer had one of those white flash umbrellas. Every time he would shoot, the flash would go POP! and the umbrella would reflect a big, white fireball of light.
Perfect. Just what horses love.
In the photog’s defense, he did notice my horse blowing like a locomotive and asked if he should stop. I told him that we were ‘learning’ and he was fine. However, I did ask that he not flash when we were actually tacked up and passing him to get to the trailhead. He said he was fine with that.
OK, sounded good.
Meanwhile, my Adenaline amped equine seemed to be somewhat desensitized to the umbrella and pops, but he was still hyped-up and ready for whatever odd and unknown thing that could possibly appear from behind any bush at any time. After all, there was this weird white popping thing already today…
TACKED UP AND READY
So, we went back to the trailer and proceeded to tack up. Finn had calmed down enough to beg for a treat so I gave it to him after he promised to settle down and be good.
Just as I was turning around to stick my hand in the goodie bag, the world erupted behind me! In an instant, Finn had reared up, broken his headstall (the second broken headstall this month) and landed about 2 yards from me – petrified. Finn, being Finn, ran to me and tried to jump in my lap.
FINN (gasping): “Didn’t you see it?!!!”
Me: “No. See what?!”
FINN: “The white monster growling and flipping and popping through the air?!”
I looked to my right and I saw that the photographer’s white umbrella contraption was flipping and sailing through the air, caught in a gust of wind.
And that wasn’t all… Along with the umbrella were all its attachments, the metal tripod and all the other jinglyjangly things that are made to imprint a horse forever. Finn was now highly sensitized that white umbrella monsters could leap up and run away at any moment in a cacophony of loud noises and clumsy, erratic cartwheels.
Yup. A great start…
AT THIS POINT, FINN IS HIGHER THAN A KITE.
The photographer yelled an apology as he ran after the white monster. He picked up, dropped, picked up, dropped… all of his gear in a massive preponderant array of noises and shapes that confirmed all of my horses suspicions.
The photog obviously didn’t have horses. But, he was nice enough to be very considerate, even though his scurry to grab all of his gear was making it way worse.
I decided, after switching out headstalls, that I would walk with Finn for a ways – just to chill him out. So we did. We walked for about a mile and Finn was calm. He reverted to his old self of not walking on the trail.
Finn refuses to be on a trail if there is any navigable terrain nearby. So, with me leading on the trail, he walked on the farthest end of the rein, off the trail. Sometimes he’d cross over and be on the other side – so I would have to switch hands behind my back. It was a game that he was enjoying. Me, not so much.
After a while however, Finn was totally bored and he let me know as evidenced by this photo I took of him.
FINN: “This is boring.”
Me: “Why? We are spending time together on this beautiful trail… on this gorgeous day.”
FINN: “This is boring.”
Me: “What would you rather be doing?”
FINN: “I hate being on a trail. I want to walk off of the trail and blaze new horizons like Tonto.”
Me: “Tonto was a very brave horse. He wasn’t afraid of white popping monsters.”
FINN: “How do you know?”
WHILE ON THE TRAIL…
After reaching the midway point, I was sick of walking my horse so I got on. Finn was fine and in control – for about 20 feet. You see, we emerged onto a well-worn path and Finn turned right to go uphill. For some reason, he didn’t see the two, loose, little, scruffy, panting dogs who were trotting up the hill with their owner and merging right behind us.
When he did notice them, he freaked.
FINN: “DID YOU SEE THOSE DOGS THAT CAME OUT OF NOWHERE?!”
Me: “Yes. They were on the trail and I saw them because I looked both ways before merging.”
FINN: “THEY CAME OUT OF NOWHERE! MONSTERS! THERE ARE SILENT, SNEAKY MONSTERS EVERYWHERE HERE!”
Me: “Oy, here we go again.”
As Finn contorted his neck to look at me for comfort, I urged him into movement and we went back the way we came. Him refusing to walk on the trail, me doing every kind of soothing and calming biofeedback I could think of while riding a tightly wound horse.
And then I started to sing.
“Finny is the best trail horse there ever was… He is so handsome and perfect and braaaaave.. He is the best trail horse ever and he loves to go off trail like Tontooooooooo…”
He loves it when I sing, for some reason. Everyone else hates it.
THE REST OF THE WAY
For the rest of the ride, we were very mindful to notice and negotiate every passerby in plenty of time with plenty of space. We were very alert, but not on DefCon1 – thank horsegods.
Of course, our return ride couldn’t have been uneventful. That would have been too easy…
Instead, we had to run across the discards of heavy construction – in the form of flapping tarps, gravel pits and dark, dugout hillsides.
Finn always reminds me of those Warner Brothers cartoon animals who rise up on their tippy toes and walk as fast as they can out of a situation. That’s my boy!
We made it back to the trailer and I told him what a good and brave horse he had been. He seemed proud. I gave him a healthy snack. A pear.
In the meantime, the park started to fill up with trailers. Horses were prancing about and getting ready for their rides.
I swear I heard Finn boast a little…
FINN: “YOU ALL ARE SAFE TO GO OUT INTO THE WOODS TODAY – I WAS OUT THERE ALREADY. I FOUGHT THE WHITE POPPING MONSTER, THE SHADOWY FLAPPING TARPS AND THE LITTLE DOGS OF SILENCE! I SURVIVED AND SO WILL YOU!”
So be it. He was happy after our first ride and that was all that mattered…
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