Saturday, August 22, 2009

Steen vs. The Mud Puddle

August so far has been good for business at both the gallery and BWS, which unfortunately means most of my horse time has been consumed by work. It's also been rainy, and now that the majority of the grass in the area has been destroyed by the construction, most of the space around the barn is basically one gigantic sheet of deep mud. So, it's not ideal riding conditions anyway.

However, on Thursday I decided I needed to get out there and check on Steen regardless, so headed out in the morning. I found everything tremendously soggy, and realized I'd forgotten my mud boots, so had a rather unpleasant time getting to my horse.

Steen did seem happy to see me, and came over to say hi when I went into the pasture. Cathi has added her brother-in-law's herd of cattle back into the 13 acres of grass Steen and his herd of four now live in, which I figure can only be a good thing. The more "scary" animals Steen can encounter in his daily life, the better.

Anyway, I said hello to my horse, put his halter on, and tried to take him back to the grooming area. The problem with this plan was the gigantic, murky, mud puddle that completely spanned the entire length of the gate we needed to go through to get there.

I know enough about horses, and my horse in particular, to have guessed this puddle was going to be a problem, but I also know enough about horses to try the old "this is no big deal" technique first, in all situations. So, I blithely tip-toed my way through the shallow end of the puddle and suggested Steen to do the same.

Yeah, he wasn't having any of that. He stopped at the edge of the puddle, snorted, bobbed his head in his trademark nervous gesture, backed up. I ran out of rope and had to stop as well. We had the added difficulty of curious horses on both sides of the puddle, making him even more nervous with their crowding. I continued to unsuccessfully trying to coax him across the puddle via various angles and methods, stopping every now and then to chase off excessively inquisitive equines so he could have sufficient space to cross, for quite a while - with no discernible progress. However, I could tell he wasn't totally closed down and rebellious. He wanted to cross the puddle. He just couldn't quite bring himself to take the first step.

So, I paused in my efforts and took stock of the situation, and in doing so noticed the electric-fence box to one side of the gate, which powers the temporary wire that runs around most of the pastures in this "under construction" phase of barn life. Like many electric-fence boxes, it lets off a dull click every few seconds when it sends a surge of power through the wire. Steen doesn't like things that click, and this gave me an idea. I unplugged the box, and the clicking stopped. I went back to Steen, petted him, told him he was wonderful and brave and pretty, and walked off again, pretending I thought he'd follow me.

And he did. He hesitated, weaved a little back and forth at the edge of the water, and then took a graceless leap three-quarters of the way over the puddle, landed in the muck, (spraying both his underside and my back with brown water) and came up to my shoulder.

I praised him lavishly.

Then I had to slog back through the puddle to close the gate, through another, shallower area of muck to get out of the next pasture, and finally we made it to the tacking area. I groomed him, applied sunscreen to his (healed) nose and the backs of his feet, burn ointment to the remaining scabs there, koppertox to his wet frogs, and fly spray to his entire body. And since he got a mud bath, too, I guess it was pretty much a horse's version of a full-service spa treatment.

Anyway, I didn't ride. There was nowhere to ride. I led Steen around and let him graze in the small remaining strip of grass for a while, and then saw one lone cow walk off toward the lower part of the 13 acre pasture Steen and his small herd occupy. The horses watched her go, and then began to follow. Steen saw them all leaving the area, and clearly wanted to go with them. So, I made him do just a little bit of groundwork first, and then decided to make use of his extra motivation to fuel his willingness to re-cross the mud puddle.

He was much better the second time. I didn't even have to unplug the box. He charged right through the muddy water, head up, and blowing air, but pretty sure of himself. I took his halter off. Then he hung out with me for a while to get some more pets, rolled his newly brushed and shiny coat in the mud, then loped off to rejoin the herd.

Given his overall behavior, I am thinking the addition of the cattle may have stirred up herd dynamics a bit, because he wasn't broadcasting dominant horse signals like he has the last few times I've been out there, and the lead horse simply does not lope back to his distant herd. So, I'm hoping his status has fallen, and stays, a few pegs down on the ladder.

1 comment:

  1. Haha, grats on crossing the scary mud puddle! Those things clearly house horse-eating crocodiles.


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