It hit me yesterday morning: a throbbing in my heart signifying a need to get lost in the woods. My last foray with Eeyore had ended in a broken toe and a significant loss in confidence. But that was almost a year ago. Before the lessons. Before our relationship had grown to where it is now.
The hour long drive to the trail head was perfect for a pep talk: I had ridden Gemmie hundreds of hours and miles alone on these very same trails. A horse that spooked at everything. A horse I fell off of many a time. Yet I never worried about taking her out. So why was I so worried about Eeyore?
Well, the past wasn’t so kind. The last time I was at this trail head with him he reared at the trailer, nearly bowled me over as I tried to tack him, screamed his head off the entire time, plowed through me down the trail to catch any other horse he could possibly locate ahead of him, reared and spun when we tried to part ways with a horse on trail causing me to dismount for my safety and then crushed my toe. It was a painful two miles back to the trail, in more ways than one.
That was then though. You have to ride the horse under you, right? Not the last horse you rode. Or the the last time you rode this one. You have to ride this horse in this moment.
So I unloaded him and got him ready. He stood there politely, grazed a bit and then stood still to be mounted, though the big rock I tried to use as a mounting block scared him for some reason. The trail head was slammed too. Horses everywhere. He looked but he never called out. Never cared.
I always run the green loop in a counter clockwise manner. Mostly because everyone else goes clockwise and I prefer to pass head on than from behind. It’s a nice 6.5 mile, hilly trail with a lot of creeks and access to the lake which is perfect when the temperatures are nearing 90F. We started out and he was a bit hesitant but moved on down the trail which starts following a road then crosses to hit single track in the woods.
Once we hit the single track I realized something. He was being perfect. I snagged a few pictures and rode on at a walk. The ground was like cement and I didn’t want to bruise his feet. And he wasn’t spooking at anything. He wasn’t rushing forward. He wasn’t sucking back. In fact, he was on the buckle only 1/3 of a mile out. I never could do that on Gem.
Slowly, as we made our way down the trail I could feel myself relaxing, breathing, enjoying. We made it past the new part of the trail where they logged and re routed down an asphalt drive and dove back into the woods where the footing became more sandy and forgiving.
I asked him to trot and he asked to canter. I said yes. We flew down that trail in a soft, rateable and controlled canter and I felt tears sting my eyes. When had I ever felt this free on trail? I laughed out loud and brought him back to a trot to navigate a tricker section then down to a walk.
As I ran my hands through his spiky mane I felt myself putting down some heavy baggage I didn’t even realize I had been carrying all this time. Baggage from Gem. Baggage from my early days with Eeyore. I rode him on the buckle as deer jumped out, a red tail hawk swooped down for a kill and the trail zig zagged along the ridge.
We came to the lake and I asked him to go in. Gem always hated the water. Eeyore plopped right in and took me right out to swim. I hugged his neck and breathed in the very scent of him as we danced in the water, coming back out on shore dripping and exhilarated.
The ride continued. More heavy bags were left behind. We passed logs and stumps I knew Gem would have spooked at, the trail cut off where Eeyore threw a fit and broke my toe, went over bridges he didn’t even slow down to notice and through creek crossings he stepped in like a gentleman. We came across other riders and pulled over, stood still and then moved on again. He asked each time if we could turn around and join them and when I said no he obliged.
When the single track turned into a gravel access road, I kicked my feet out of my stirrups and sat swinging my legs as he trudged up the hill. He was on the buckle and I was swinging free. We rode like that for over a mile and he could have, at any time, taken advantage. He could have bolted. He could have dropped a shoulder and spun.
He didn’t. He kept walking along as I spoke to him and we both took in the sights.
As we entered back onto single track in the woods, I set down the last of my baggage. Left it all right there on the trail. I patted him and thanked him.
He hadn’t been on the trail like that in nearly a year minus the hunter pace with friends this spring. The last time he refused to go over bridges and I had to lead him across creeks on foot. He was almost dangerous when asked to pull over and allow another horse to pass coming on. I hadn’t trained him to do any of these things since then. Hadn’t worked on any of these trail skills. We’ve been in the arena working on dressage and jumping. These aren’t skills he picked up from me.
Say what you want about horse brains and training. Tell me a horse never chooses to be bad or good. Tell me it’s always a training issue. I’ll likely politely nod and agree to disagree. The fact here is that Eeyore chose to be my partner yesterday. He chose to listen instead of fight me. He chose to enjoy the trail with me and in so doing he helped me erase the past.