Saturday, August 7, 2010

Trail Rides and Dun Horses

Nothing to do with one another...just the subject of this particular day's musings.

Yesterday we saddled up and met some friends on the Heady Road. The weather, until today, has been spectacular around these parts, if not downright hot at times. But no matter the heat, a ride on Heady is beautiful no matter what. And besides...the trees are so deep and dense that you don't worry about heat or flies while on your ride.

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Once off the logging road, Darling and her long legged Steve Holt! stepped out into the lead as Sandy & I brought up the tail of our little group. I must admit it put a smile on my face, seeing Steve Holt! confident enough to leave his buddy and step out in a brisk walk. Darling kept a conversation up with Phil as we worked our way through the trees.

After a couple of hours we found ourselves back at the horse trailers, complaining about knees and back and butts that were slightly out of condition. Well...everyone but Darling, who simply shrugged and said we were old.

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Earlier in the day I'd made a trip south to pick up a horse...none other than Duns N Roses. Duns, if you recall, had been with me 2 years ago, adopted, given up, fattened up, and now has come full circle. With a little extra weight, he's decided he doesn't quite trust the human race after all, and his foster mom was having some issues with getting a halter on. No threat of being caught, and all was fine. But as soon as a rope or halter was part of the deal, he'd snap back to the golden rule of wild horses; flight or fight. Far too often he chose fight, and Deb found herself faced with hind feet flying up at her.

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Duns N Roses, January 2010

Like most horses, when a stranger approaches, Duns didn't offer quite the same scenario. No, I didn't just walk straight up and halter him, but it was done in less than five minutes and without a single threatening move on his part. I pushed him around his pen a few times, and when he realized I was the one driving our relationship, he stopped. At first he didn't want to touch my hand with his red nose, but after a few more circles he decided it was okay if I touched him.

Once my hands were on him, his mind shifted a bit. I got my lunge whip out so that I could run it down his neck and over his withers, which he wouldn't allow me to touch with my hand. When he stood still for that, I pulled out the long rope and tossed it over his back. With that, he was back to trotting circles, but only a couple. I picked up the end that was dragging on the other side of him, slipped it up towards his throatlatch, and led him over to the gate where his halter waited. And that was that.

Duns has been caught in a bit of a time warp. I picked him up just 4 months after acquiring Sandy in 2008. Yet unlike Sandy, he hasn't had the benefit of training, aside from brief handling while being fed, in the past two years. Mentally, he's not sure if he's a wild horse, or one who should behave like a domesticated version. He wants to believe the best of people, but with little interaction, he has reservations.

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When I visited him in April at his foster mom's, I got into the pen with him and encouraged him to lunge a bit. He was unsure, but eventually figured out that I wanted forward motion. So when I first asked that of him yesterday, I was blown away by how he moved right out, circling left, then right, and moving easily enough off my body language to make a person believe he'd been doing this all his domestic life. I got brave and led him from the barn (he's at the riding club) down to the arena and was fully prepared to have him bolt out of my hands when I tried lunging him down in the larger space. But unlike each and every other horse, he didn't do that. Rather than panic over not having a rail to support him on the outside, he simply stepped out and trotted big, bold circles around me.

Unable to leave him with just one workout, when I hauled Sandy up this afternoon, I turned Duns out into the round pen to watch while I rode. He was in a state of shock and panic. He's not seen a rider on a horse's back since leaving the corrals, and it was plain that he was uncomfortable with it. For 20 minutes he rushed, stopped, flared his nostrils, then raced again around the pen. I'd stop now and again alongside the rail, but he kept his distance, always head high and on alert. When he finally got brave enough to walk up and reach for my fingertips, I decided Sandy and I could go in.

The moment the gate swung open and Sandy stepped inside the round pen, Duns retreated to the back rail. I rode Sandy in a circle as Duns blew warnings through his nostrils, keeping as much space between us as possible. As we circled, Duns relaxed, and rather than puffing and keeping his distance, he became curious and started to close the gap. I turned Sandy across the little pen and reversed, and Duns followed along, getting closer and closer, building confidence, until finally he was within reach. I held out my hand over Sandy's hip, and Duns reached out to touch me. He let me rub his forehead and took a treat.

It was a big day for the dun horse. Maybe tomorrow I'll pony him in the arena, and perhaps later in the week I can take him out on the trail. I think I've found myself a nice little project...unless someone wants to come along and adopt him?


8 comments:

Kate said...

Very cool stuff - thanks for sharing!

Andrea -Mustang Saga said...

What fun work! He sounds like he wants to be a very good boy.

Shirley said...

Sounds like he will come along quickly. What's happening with Wadatika???? (Word verification is redster, lol!)

Crystal said...

looks like you are busy again! he looks like a cute little horse and soundslike you will have no problem with him.

Blob said...

He's going to be a great horse. I have such a good feeling about Duns. Who knows he might even end up your next cow horse?

Leah Fry said...

Looks like a great ride. And Duns seems like he's trying real hard to be a good boy for you.

Jeni said...

What a willing boy!

Tracey said...

Duns is definitely a nice boy and is trying hard to fit in. He met me at his stall door this morning and didn't back away in the least when the halter was lifted towards him.

Not my next cow horse, though. Not what I'm looking for. But someone's nice, all around boy, without a doubt.