April 20, 2023
After my trail experience today, I decided it may be fun to have a little series which I shall call "Tales from the Trails". As someone who loves trail riding more than anything else, and mostly hacks out alone, I have had some interesting experiences. I will only post under this title when something out of the ordinary happens, or when I feel that something worth sharing or discussing arises. This story seemed like a good one to kick off the series!
Up until a week ago, G and I had only ridden in the indoor or outdoor ring. The weather was so delightful that I decided it would be a good time for our second trip out. He had done so well on our first outing that I expected similar results this time. To my surprise, he was a bit of a stinker just leaving the driveway. He tried backing up and full out turning around. He was definitely saying "no". Too bad for him that "no" was not an acceptable answer. After a short battle of wills, we headed out along the side of the road. He was alert, as he was our first time out, but he was pretty calm.
We headed down the path which leads to the creek. This was the same path we took the first time. All was well for a few steps, then BOOM! He clearly saw something or heard something, because he spooked. Thankfully, his type of spooking is the good kind. He jumped in place and splayed out his legs. I swear it felt like he was doing a split because he splayed and jumped so hard! I let him stand a moment and asked him to walk on again.
As we were walking along, he would stop and stare towards the creek with his head high and ears perked forward. Then he did something strange. Now, it's not new because he did it the first time we went out, but it's still not something I've experienced before. He turned his head around and was looking at me (he had his eye actually on me, he was not looking behind us). He held his head there for some time. I always talk to my horses, so I said "What's up buddy? You're doing fine." Instead of just pushing him forward, I wanted to test a theory, so I put my hand down towards his face. I did not touch him, I just extended my hand so that he could either move towards me, or away. He moved his head further back to touch my hand, then he turned forward and we continued walking. He did this another two or three times as we walked along, each time touching my extended hand and then continuing on.
My theory is this: G is not 100% confident being solo on the trails. His owner said the last time he was out was the last time she and I had ridden together, which was quite a long time ago. I'm not sure how often he has been taken out alone before either. When he stopped and looked at me, and touched my hand, he was asking me for reassurance. It was his way of saying "Hey, are you sure about this? Because I'm not sure about this." I had actually discussed that behavior with my mom after the first ride, and I kind of made a joke about it. However, after this second time and seeing the same behavior, I think it may actually be true. If that's what it is, it's actually a very cool thing. It means he trusts me to be in charge and make the decisions to keep the "herd" safe and he takes his cues (whether he should be worried or scared or calm) from me rather than relying on himself and his fight or flight instincts.
All was well as we walked down the small wooded section and down the path towards the creek. There was a bit more stopping and letting him chill and then walking again, but we were making our way just fine. We were almost to the creek entrance when we heard it. A very strange, very loud, and freaky sound. I'm not even sure how to describe it, but it was like a snorting, hacking, growly sound. Of course G immediately stopped in his tracks and was on high alert. I was a little freaked out too! We stood for a moment and I scanned the area where the sound came from. I saw nothing and all was quiet, so I asked G to move forward. We had taken no more than 4 steps when the sound occurred again. G stopped, on high alert once more and I had a decision to make. I decided that today was not the day we die. I was talking to G the entire time in an attempt to keep him calm and after a moment, I turned G around as calmly as possible. However, he immediately knew we were running from danger. I held him back, but he was tossing his head and prancing in place. He was telling me that he wanted to, and was prepared to, run for his life from whatever danger was lurking behind us. After the head tossing calmed down, I let him walk forward. He 100% wanted to run and he was a bit "prancy" as we walked back, but I was able to keep him at a walk pretty easily. Although I was calm for G's sake, I was definitely weirded out. I admit I was looking over my shoulder as we walked away to see if I could spot anything.
The further we got from danger, the calmer G became. But of course, our trial was not over. As we walked down the road heading home, G spotted a horse in the outdoor ring. The way he acted you would think he'd never seen a horse before. He stopped, head up, ears forward and body tense, just staring at this horse. I pushed him forward and after a bit he stopped again. This time, he let out a snort. One of those powerful, loud snorts that tell you something is up. I felt him getting a bit excitable at that point and I said "Please don't dump me on the road. We are so close to home. Come on, I know you can do it, just calm down buddy." I was also thinking "We escaped a potentially deadly monster together and if you dump me off now, on the road, just because you saw another horse, I'm gonna be pissed."
When we finally pulled in the driveway, relief flooded in. We were golden now! I praised him pretty significantly when we got to safety telling him how proud I was of him.
Those who do not have much horse knowledge may not understand why I was so proud of him. The reason is this: When he heard that scary noise and we turned around, he made it very clear that his desire was to run away from the danger; and he could have done so. A horse who is truly in "brain off, must run" flight mode cannot be stopped. Horses are very strong animals, and we are kidding ourselves if we think we can man handle a horse that is running for its life. Also, I was riding G in just a halter. Riding bitless would have made it even easier for him to ignore me and take off, or to dump me and run. Instead, he chose to listen to me and my commands over his own self-preservation instinct. That is an excellent horse to have on the trail. I could not have asked for a better response from him. I think with regular trail riding to build up his confidence, he will be a pretty solid solo trail horse.
You could have dumped me and left me at the mercy of the monster in the woods today. Instead, you trusted me and overcame your flight instinct so we could both get home in one piece. You are such a good boy!
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