I came off on Saturday evening – it was supposed to be a mellow, low-speed jaunt with friends. Confetti was up, but not unreasonably so, and being polite about it. I failed to consider that she hadn’t really worked since the prior weekend. We got to a hill that’s often cantered up, the front two horses accelerated ever-so-slightly, I held her back to keep off the new gelding’s butt, and she objected: this is the hill we get to move out on, I haven’t gotten to move all day, it’s not fair. I wasn’t holding hard, but it was enough, situationally, to piss her off.
I don’t normally link to Horse Nation posts, but this one was particularly accurate for me. It’s rarely any one thing that sets her off. In hindsight, I know she needed to move. I should have either worked her harder in the prior week, turned her out, lunged her first, or some combination of the above.
The conclusion we came to is that she wasn’t trying to buck me off. She looked abashed, almost apologetic when I hit the ground. It was a slight downhill, I wasn’t sitting 100% right, and she didn’t buck straight: she underestimated how much I could handle as a warning. Fetti has historically always given warnings before exploding, and it is entirely out of character for her to just buck hard out of nowhere with the only warnings being occasional head-tosses (not unusual). There were hikers to our right when she bucked. I didn’t see them, I’m not sure if she saw them, and I was and am convinced they were irrelevant. It was not a spook-into-buck. She didn’t go sideways. The rider behind me reinforced that this felt very unlike the fear-bucks that she’s seen Fetti do in years past (and, thankfully, reinforced that it was a slightly crooked buck – sometimes I wonder).
I don’t really know how to correct a horse for bucking when they’re doing it because they want to go faster. She wants to move her feet, and she bucks when I ask her to stay slow. Sometimes it’s terrain. Sometimes we’re heading home. Sometimes we’re following other horses. Whatever the reason, she wants to go, and I don’t want her to. Do I turn her around and make her work in whichever direction she’s less inclined to go?
Having me come off (or whatever set that off, or some combination thereof) pretty well fried the pony brain for the day. I wish we could have ended the drama there.. but alas, we put Fetti in the back of the group and moseyed slowly, mostly walking, back towards home (again: pony keeps her brain at the walk! I am so grateful for that). Until suddenly she throws a small buck and spooks forward. I yell, swear, and turn around to find.. a bike and a jogger coming up quickly and silently not ten feet behind us. On a no-bikes-allowed trail. With the bike trail not 20 feet away to the right. It was an honest spook and I couldn’t fault her for that, and on a different day I think I would’ve gotten just ears, or ears and a sidestep. The buck was a result of her brain being fried and her reverting to buck-bolt behavior. Yelling at the cyclist clearly made an impression – I hope they learned their lesson. A different horse could have dumped me for that, and I could have been seriously hurt.
When we got home, Fetti got to run around with her sister, and run she did. Oh, mares. Sorry, pony – that’s all you needed.
Sunday morning, I limped on over to the barn, bruised and sore, and took Fetti out to Pogonip for a 10-15 mile ride in a heavily biked area of the park! Pony needed to work, and I wanted to get a good solid work in early this month.
We spent probably five minutes discussing going forwards on the trail to the river crossing. I don’t know why it was suddenly such a big deal. I do know we’ll need to do this ride at least once again before Fireworks to make sure it’s a non-issue by then, but I was able to stay on and get her to the river, one or two steps at a time. It didn’t read as fear so much as straight stubborn ‘I don’t want to, this will be work’ attitude.
It was not a fast ride. Fetti was unenthusiastic by herself. The rocks were good excuses, roots were good excuses, hills were good excuses. In fact, this ride has made it on my ‘try to do at least twice a month’ list as a result. We met a lot of bikes, got our photo taken a bunch of times, tagged along with one group of bikes
who thought it was really pretty cool to have a horse jogging with them for 10-15 minutes
and found some mountain biker folks I knew (well, okay, I heard a bike coming downhill fast and we hopped off trail and turned to face it. We were quickly recognized. Nice folks, but I’d hate to have missed hearing their bikes!) and paused to chat with them for a minute
before they headed off downhill in front of us.
So we moseyed on home, trotting, walking, chatting with folks, having a minor meltdown over a bike tire that folks were troubleshooting (unattached to bike at the time) though they were very kind in letting us work through it, and then walk-trotting back up the hills as she was willing.. and hauling ass all the way home on the flats because she felt amazing and wanted to go. True to form, no meltdowns were had over bikes, and no bucks were thrown. Her anxiety was low enough it was all a non-issue. (Except the bike tire, but that was genuinely a new thing, so who knows.)
Don’t get me wrong – some days I wish she were bombproof and perfect and reliable – but for all her quirks she’s really pretty good and I love her dearly. She’s not an easy horse, at this point she never will be an easy horse, but she’s my obnoxious pony and for that I am ever grateful.