Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Could Someone Call me a Tow Truck?

I promised you there would be adventures.

Once Cowboy got into the groove playing Follow the Leader alongside Ringo, I began to have a lot of fun ponying the youngster off the wise old ex-police horse. Wally was sitting at home nursing a bruised sole (he's fine now, thank-you!), so I had the time to drive across town to my parents' place and go on these pony rides.

Before I go on with the tale I'm about to tell, I must point out two of the skills Ringo had to learn to be a certified mounted patrol horse:

1. Ringo had to learn to push into and against an object until it gave way. That's a difficult concept to teach a horse, because throughout their lives they're taught to back away from pressure. But a police horse might have to be ridden into a line of protesters, or through a group of rioters, so Ringo had to learn that it was-- under certain circumstances-- fine to push into something until it yielded. To learn that skill, Ringo was taught during police training to push a huge, giant ball.

2. Ringo also had to learn to stand his ground. No matter what. The world could be falling apart around him, but he had to be brave and remain rock solid. That was pretty easy, I think, for Ringo. Since he'd been used for roping in years past, he already knew to hold taut against a calf-- and drag one if necessary.

By now you probably see where I'm headed in this story.

So. Last week I ponied Cowboy off of Ringo all around the neighborhood surrounding my parents' place. Since I want to get Cowboy more accustomed to traffic, I headed down the street that runs past both the high school and an elementary school. Ringo is absolutely bombproof around traffic, and he was a real confidence builder for Cowboy. By the time we reached the elementary school, Cowboy was rather ho-hum about the big orange buses. When we reached the corner, I had a decision to make: Turn right and we'd be on a straight path back home. Turn left, and we'd take the long route.

It was a lovely day, so I turned left.

Cowboy planted his feet like a mule. (My apologies to mule fans everywhere. I'm merely attempting to create a visual image).

I was so shocked at the colt's sudden reluctance that I studied his physical stance. Was he suddenly ill? Lame? Tying up? Bleeding? Exhausted beyond all reason?

Or was he too smart for his own good? Did he know-- even though we'd never been on this exact trail-- that home was just a few blocks away, in the opposite direction?

Was he already exhibiting signs of being BARN SOUR?!?!

Just to make sure, I pivoted Ringo around and headed the other way, which was the short way home.

Instantly, Cowboy brightened up and resumed jogging right next to Ringo. What a brat.

So of course, being the alpha mare that I am, and not wanting this colt to begin masterminding his own agenda at 10 months of age, I wheeled Ringo around and headed back the way I wanted to go. Again, the mule thing. Cowboy splayed his legs in all four directions, drooped his ears to either side like Eeyore and half-shut his eyes, as if to say, "I dare you to make me go away from home."


I dallied the lead rope around my saddle horn, kissed at Ringo and the two of us literally pulled Cowboy down the trail. Ever see a puppy on the end of a leash, refusing to walk? Then you've got the picture.

I made it to the corner of the next street, Rock Springs Drive. I had to hold the dally as hard as I could, though, to keep Cowboy coming forward. Thank God I was wearing my deerskin gloves! He took each step as if each foot was chained to a 50-pound bowling ball. When we got into the street (this is a very, very quiet residential area with lots of backyard horses), Cowboy flat out refused to go any further. He'd been on Rock Springs before, and I'm sure he realized that this was the scenic route home.

Right then, a lady drove up to the stop sign in her horsey pickup truck. She was wearing a ball cap and I could see some rodeo stickers on her back window. Ringo, Cowboy and I were blocking her path; she was stuck at the stop sign and I was stuck in the crosswalk. I motioned for her to go around us, and when she politely obliged-- driving at a snail's pace-- I noticed the look on her face. It said, "I feel your pain."

What could I do? I was not about to give in to Cowboy, however, the prospect of towing him all the way home like a calf being dragged to a branding fire wasn't appealing, either. So I decided to instigate one of Ringo's police horse skills: I turned him into the side of Cowboy, so that his brawny chest was pressing against the colt's side, and clucked. Ringo didn't hesitate. He went into bulldozer mode and shoved Cowboy across the street until we were safely up on the bridle path. What a good man, Officer Ringo!

But now what should I do? I sat aboard Ringo, underneath a sycamore that had shed most of its leaves for the winter. Truly, I contemplated breaking off a stick and using it as a crop to swat Cowboy on his plump yellow butt. I also thought of calling my father on my cell phone and asking him to come, with the longe whip in the back of the truck, so he could "encourage" Cowboy to come along. My final option was to just wait Cowboy out.

In any case, I was not going to turn around. That was out of the question. You see, this wasn't the first time that Cowboy had said, "Nu-uh" to some request. He did it with the clippers. He did it with loading into the trailer. He did it with getting a shampoo. He isn't scared. He gives absolutely no signs that he's frightened. He simply would prefer not to do what the humans are asking.

But of course, I always end up winning: He now clips. He loads beautifully. And he stands patiently for a shampoo. Yet I win not because I beat him into submission, but because I explain that I have all the time and patience in the world, I'm consistent in what I'm asking, and I reward him profusely when he complies. Hence, I decided to just stand underneath that spiny sycamore until Cowboy realized, on his own, that he was not getting his way.

It took about 8 minutes.

Ringo was perfectly happy standing there. He probably figured he was on a stake-out. But Cowboy began to grow restless. Some part of me still believes that horses can somehow understand the essence of what we're saying to them, so I said to the colt, "Have you gotten the impression that we are not going home that-a-way?"

I swear, he looked at me and then nuzzled Ringo.

"So," I said, "would you like to get going, or would you prefer to stand here until dark? Because truly, I have nothing better to do. AND YOU ARE NOT GOING HOME THE OTHER WAY."

I tempted fate. I neck reined Ringo to the left, the direction I wanted to go, and gave the faintest of tugs on Cowboy's leadline. He came along, happily.

We trotted and cantered much of the way home. We went up some hills, down some hills, and across a few more streets. La-la-la-la-la! Cowboy had plenty of energy. He bucked a few times and even pranced when we jogged past The Poodle Farm. (It's a huge house on about an acre and the folks there raise Standard Poodles that roam the property like curly deer).

I didn't make any big whoop-tee-do when we strolled down the driveway. Coming home shouldn't be a grand celebration; that only makes it all the more desirable for a young horse to get home hastily. I want The Great Outdoors to be what's fun, fresh and exciting.

Once I put Cowboy and Ringo away, I was the one who celebrated all the way back to my home. Why? Because Auntie Cindy won yet again. And it must be that way, or Cowboy will grow up to be a spoiled, hog-headed beast. But that doesn't mean that there won't be more adventures. Trust me.
Have a ponying saga to share? Just want to leave your thoughts? Just click on "comments" below!


Anonymous said...

Good going, Cindy! One question, though: How did you teach Cowboy to relent to clipping? My horse is good about it, but still doesn't like getting her ears clipped. I'd appreciate any/all advice thataway.

Anonymous said...

congrats on getting him to move. i had a horse that would flat out refuse like that but she did it only when asked to get into a trailer :)

Anonymous said...

Nice job, Cindy! I know how agravating stubborn horses can be. But now young Cowboy will grow up understanding that when Auntie Cindy says he needs to do something, he really need to do it. Thanks for sharing! The story made me laugh, just as so many of your stories do.

Cindy Hale said...

Well, honestly, both clipping and trailering are best approached in a step-by-step method. At least that's how I've always been successful with both activities. Perhaps these would make great short articles for Horse Channel! :)

Truthfully, though, some horses never really "enjoy" having their ears clipped, so don't feel too bad.

I'm glad that the ponying tale made you laugh!