Before I head out on the trail with Tonka, I always put horse cookies in my pocket. Along with a few boring hay stretcher pellets (Tonka likes these, but they don’t thrill him) I take a few yummier cookies, and also peppermints, which are rare and highly valued treats. Yesterday, we needed them.
Tonka is slowly recovering from his sacroiliac joint inflammation. He needs to build the muscles in his quarters, but not overdo it. Yesterday I hitched up my trailer so that we could go on an outing. I figured that walking over a rocky trail in the New England woods was better than any rehab walking over poles in a ring. Ten minutes up the road there’s an extensive trail system that we hadn’t yet explored. The weather was cold, but for once not windy – a perfect day in December for a trail ride.
I didn’t know if Tonka would want to get into the trailer. The last two rides were to the veterinary clinic at Tufts and back again. I think, though, that Tonka was as ready for a change of scenery as I was. He self-loaded and showed no signs of nervousness. He ate up the carrot chunks in the hay bag (when he’s worried he won’t eat.)
Right before we get into the woods, there’s a cleared field, which gave us a good view.
Once in the forest, we could see a distance up ahead through the bare trees.
Tonka worked hard stepping over roots and rocks. He was forward-moving but calm. But then Tonka alerted me to movement up ahead. I could feel his entire body harden in preparation for action. A mountain biker was heading our way. I know that it’s a human on a bicycle. Horses don’t perceive it that way. To a horse, it’s all one entity, which moves quietly and fast, and is shiny and colorful. It’s all hard for a horse to process. Thankfully, this biker was considerate. He stopped. I thanked him while Tonka peered hard. Oh! It’s human! realized Tonka. I asked the biker if he’d feed Tonka a cookie. He was delighted. I handed him some of the cookies from my pocket. Tonka has seen mountain bikes before. I’ve done training with them before. So, this time Tonka, although wary, reached out and gently took the treat from the man’s gloved hand. Tonka is learning that a bicyclist = cookie dispenser. He’s learning to be eager to meet a bicyclist on the trail. This is a lot better than the first time we came across a mountain biker. Then it was a scary monster to snort at and bolt away from.
Further on, almost back at where I parked the trailer, we walked by a barn. There was a horrific noise and about a dozen guinea hens came charging around the corner at us. Guinea hens are the best watch dogs. They know exactly who lives on their property and who doesn’t belong. They even distinguish between cars driven by their farmer and stranger’s vehicles. Tonka was a new horse and they wanted him gone. Tonka was a bit alarmed and I didn’t blame him! I reached forward and handed him a mint. I could see Tonka thinking, Hmmm, screaming guinea hens are worth a peppermint. While he was contemplating this, the farm’s corgi came barreling down the drive and chased the guineas off. Tonka continued to crunch his mint and we walked the remaining hundred yards back to the trailer. Another crisis averted and scary situation turned into a positive one. All it took were a few cookies in my pocket.
Good boy, Tonker. Such good communication between the two of you as always.
We try! But he’s still not feeling 100% and I’m listening as hard as I can, but can’t figure out what hurts or how to fix it, so the veterinarian will be called in again.
I took Chance for a walk today. He saw something scary, so I did the “Look, click, treat” you taught us. He ate the treat, paid attention to me and we walked on. It happened again with something else. Same process happened. The third scary thing he saw he turned to me immediately :-). I gave him a treat. and he walked on. Making good progress :-).
I am so proud of you two! That’s exactly how the training should progress. Wonderful!
I love it when considerate people can be incorporated into training! My pocket treats are banana chips. They are a favorite of my horse and also my dogs. I hope that Tonka feels better soon. I recently added tumeric and vitamin e to my SmartPak’s in hopes of making my horse more comfortable.
I also hope that what I teach the bicyclists – to stop and say hello in a friendly human voice – will spread via word-of-mouth through the biking community. My rabbit loves banana chips. I tried to give Tonka banana, and he glared at me with total disdain 🙂