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Always on Alert
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Always on Alert

A trail ride can be a calming and peaceful outing, but don't mistake it for a time of meditation. As a prey animal, your horse is always paying attention to his surroundings and if your aren't, he will pay attention for you. I've known this for years, but my horse Sportie thought he would remind me of it this morning.

The way his ears flicked around and his quick pace told me as we warmed up that he was full of fall fever, that welcome affliction of renewed energy we all experience when not weighed down by summer's heat and humidity. Then as we set out for our ride, we passed the field where his pasture-mates were working out their pecking order. As he took a step sideways closer to their fence on the right to join in, I immediately squeezed my right leg so he knew immediately that that door was closed and he was going to go straight. Since I was on top of things, there was no power struggle.

I knew from experience that once he got a few steps into a direction of his choosing, it overrides my choosing and takes more than my leg to get him back on track. It often takes a firm "Sport, quit!," a shift of my weight and a pull on the reins. I am not looking for a fight today so I am on watch to nip any wrong choices in the bud, while Sportie is still thinking about it and not decisive about it.

We stop while my fellow rider takes a minute to open the gate to leave the property. Sportie is a smartie. He loves to play the "I have an itchy face" game. He drops his head to scratch his head on his front leg, then he plays the "oh wow there's grass down here too!" game and tries to turn work time into lunchtime. I allowed him to scratch his face but watched closely, and when his nose started to drop to the grass I said a firm "no" and brought his head up easily with reins. Once he latches on to a blade of grass, it's not so easy.

Horses all know, no matter how many turns you take, when you're finally heading back to the barn. Sportie loves going back to the barn so I have to be careful not to let his faster walk break out into a gallop. A few half halts with the reins and sitting firmly back in the saddle will get the idea across to him, if applied as soon as our return begins. Even then, he knows a shortcut and if I don't catch him with another squeezed leg aid, he will go for that.

It's a battle of wills but if I stay alert and in control, it won't break out into a war. And peace will ultimately reign.

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