To the untrained eye, it was a nondescript farm road. Straight half mile of gravel, bordered by woods and farm fields, a preamble to the woods and trails that lay beyond.
On a normal day, it was a corridor of quiet, a place where the rider warmed up her horse before tackling the trails. A transition from leaving day to day worries back at the barn to a place of calm and serenity bonding with her horse. Coming home, it was a way to meditate on the joys of the ride, a last breath of peace before the chaos of the barn and back to the realities of life at home.
But on a windy fall day, The Road became a gauntlet of terrors. Horrors invisible to non-horse people. The rider, overly confident in the safety of the barn, imagined a nice workout with her mare – cantering transitions up and down the road was the plan. As they approached the driveway to head out, the entrance was no longer just a driveway – it was the gateway to the dangers that lay in wait, or desensitization training more experienced riders enjoyed telling her :). The scarecrow and cornstalks that welcomed guests at the entrance, that were mere piles of straw to the mare on a still day, became living monsters waving at her in the breeze.
Through a series of clucks and gentle squeezes, the rider coaxed her mare past those demons. Perhaps cantering could wait for another day? Trotting was a good work out too. Tarps covering equipment flapped at them in the wind, a last warning cautioning the rider, “ are you SURE this is a good idea?”. The rider braced herself, “yes we can do this. We WILL do this – we can’t expect every endurance ride to be windless.” The rider pushed her tentative mare forward. The mare paused at the road leading to her pasture home, asking the rider as well – “are you SURE you want to do this?” The rider squeezed her again. The mare whinnied to her friends over the hill – was she asking encouragement? Security? Rescue?
Enough, time to focus on the job at hand. The rider squeezed for a trot, she got a squeal, a side pass and a tail swish. Another squeeze and a tap of the crop resulted in a jog western pleasure riders would drool over :). But forward motion was a good thing and the pair proceeded up the road.
The wind blew and to the right tentacles from monsters taunted the horse, reaching, grasping, terrorizing – oh wait, they’re not monster arms, those are cornstalks waiting to be harvested. Avoiding them at all costs, the mare danced to the left. The beautiful trees of the woods that shaded them in the summer, squeaked and wheezed in the wind. The rustling in the leaves on the ground warned them of the mountain lion about to pounce and the mare bounced back to the right again, just in the nick of time to avoid being attacked by the lion (aka squirrel). The pair continued to ping pong up the road, like a ball in a pinball machine, at a breathtaking speed of a 4 mph trot.
The rider eyed the hard road surface. The rock road provided a dry place to ride on those muddy days, but on a windy day full of terrors, the rider could only imagine the damage that it would cause if she were to fall. In her mind’s eye, she could see her horse spinning, trying to bolt away from one of these dangers, bucking to lose the rider if she dared to hold her back. Bolstering her nerves yet again, she looked forward and moved the horse on.
More frights greeted them on their journey, the gate clanged yet another warning to them, the metal sign flashing in the sun like a strobe. The mare snorted and blew, shimmying to the right again. They were half way there, just a little more and they would accomplish their goal getting to the end of the road. The plan of doing a short loop in the woods at the end of the road became a faint memory, a much better plan for another <windless> day, the rider reasoned. As they got nearer to their destination, the rider spied the tarps covering the mounds of roundbales in the distance, snapping and waving. They were no longer tarps, but mouths of dragons, with tongues lashing waiting to devour the mare. Dreading her horse’s possible reaction if she saw them, she nudged her to the side to keep her blind to the sight. It was only a few more yards now to the end, then they could turn around and mosey back to the barn.
But turning around didn’t offer the relief she expected. Now they were headed toward the wind, and what felt like just a strong wind at their backs turned into a gale in the opposite direction. The cantering ride the rider first anticipated, that had then turned into a trot, was now a walk. A walk was fine she thought, a walk allows me to teach her to RELAX, we don’t rush home. That’s a good training opportunity…The rider could feel the mare tense, wanting to shoot home. As the mare jigged, the rider cursed the flat, straight road, which was now a race track laying before them with no calming curves or trees to help her pace her horse. The rider’s palms sweated as she tipped her mare’s nose to the left and right, trying to focus on keeping her own seat back and down and relaxed. As the mare tensed and balled beneath her, the rider thought how massive her gigantic 15.1 h (eek!) horse felt, once again longing for a short narrowly built horse that felt was so much more closer to the ground. The rider tried leg yielding, but with the pressure the mare scooted forward more, excited to hurry back to her friends and sanctuary.
She circled her horse, to the left and to the right, but each time she was pointed toward home she rushed again. The rider turned her back toward the woods, then reversed direction again going toward home. Critters scooted in the leaves again, the corn swayed, the wind died and grew back into more gusts. As they got closer and closer to home, the mare relaxed, causing the rider to relax. Up ahead she saw someone ponying a horse to the barn, but the horse also was spooked by the wind and pulled back and was now free and loose. The rider began to panic, envisioning the loose horse galloping back their way, causeing her to wonder how fast she could dive off her horse for the safety of the hard ground. Again, her imagination was worse than reality and the loose horse only grazed until caught again. Phew – another disaster avoided!
Now they were only yards away from home, the rider now had her horse on a loose rein, her arms a bit shakey from the death defying experience of the road. As they finally returned to the barn, they were greeted by a friend.
“How was your ride?”
“Awful! This mare scares the bejeezus out of me” the rider shakily replied.
“Oh no, what did she do?”
“Absolutely nothing at all!” was her honest response.
Inspired by the very brave DB Hula Mayya, written by the not so brave owner Cindy