It’s been a buggy and humid summer, the sort of weather that keeps you out of the woods where the deer flies and mosquitos stage their attacks. It’s better to ride in open spaces, but those are hard to find. Around here, most fields are in hay production, and farmers rightly don’t want people riding through their crops. In the last two months, Tonka and I haven’t had as many outings as we’d like. So, last week we trailered to a state park that welcomes equestrians and has paths through open areas, as well as mowed verges along corn and hay fields. With netting on Tonka’s face and neck, and a fly whisk in hand, we set out. It was so fun to be somewhere different with new things to see! Tonka marched right along, taking in the sights.
To stay on the trail, we did have to go through a few stretches of woods. At the edge of one field, on the way to another, there was a tree down, blocking the path. Every horse that I know goes into a hyper-alert state when they see a recently felled tree. Tonka looked. I let him. I find that horses are braver if you let them figure things out for themselves.
Then, with calm breathing, and what is called a deep seat (it’s how your butt melds into the saddle), and a gentle urging from my legs, we walked up to it. Tonka approached with some worry, but he didn’t balk. My body language gave him confidence. I was matter-of-fact, and then he was, too.
It can be hard to see from bright sunlight into shade, so when we got right up to the downed trunk, I let our eyes adjust. There was no way around. We had to go over.
I pressed lightly with my legs (the go forward cue), and gave with the reins so that Tonka could stretch his neck as much as needed for balance. It was one big tree! Tonka didn’t hesitate.
He was careful. Note that he’s wearing protective boots so I wasn’t too worried about scrapes.
Unfortunately the safest way over the tree was straight into saplings and a low branch. I ducked. Tonka bushwhacked. I didn’t micromanage his footfalls. I trusted him to take care of us.
Note Tonka’s expression in these photos. You can see it even through the fly mask. He’s figuring out the puzzle of where to step and how to make his way back to the trail. He’s got ears on me, then ears ahead. He’s confident and eager.
I fully believe that humans aren’t the only ones who take pride in their achievements. Wending our way over the tree and through the woods was a challenge – one that Tonka figured out. He did so with a purpose, so that we could continue on with this adventure. I swear he felt a sense of accomplishment as he stepped back onto the trail.
What does your horse take pride in?
*These photos were taken by Steve. He met me at the park, (which also has an ice cream stand. Bribery.) I appreciate that he was willing to take a short hike for part of this outing so that I could share this ride with you.