Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The First Crisis

Sat. March 6th
The horses have been here for a week, but it's been too windy and wet to ride. Today is the first sunny day, and I'm ready to hop in the saddle.

The ground is still a bit hard, so I decide to ride Murray, who has shoes with ice studs. I consider riding in the ring, but it's still mostly snow-covered and wet, so I opt for a ride down the road instead. Now, anyone who knows Murray has heard tales of woe stemming from our out-of-the-ring rides. He is not a pleasurable trail-ride horse. He is obstinant, spooky, and when he becomes really frustrated, he's liable to throw himself into a ditch, up a tree, or off a cliff simply out of spite. These fits can come on suddenly, without warning, and when they do, there's nothing you can do but hang on and hope that he eventually chooses to stomp, leap and spin his way home (hopefully away from traffic). In case you're wondering, dismounting isn't generally a safe option in these instances, as he's liable run you over in a blind panic. It's just one of Murray's many quirks, so, I wasn't sure quite what to expect as I rode out onto our dirt road on a blustery Saturday afternoon.

Maggie calls out to Murray as we leave the driveway. I can see her trotting back and forth along the fence-line. Good for her, she needs the exercise anyway. At least Murray seems unperterbed. He's looking around him curiously, ears swivelling like mini-antennae. He catches sight of the large empty field across the road, and I feel him start to veer in that direction. I give him a nudge with my leg, and he reluctantly veers back to the side of the road. He jumps a bit as we pass a narrow road to what appears to be a gravel pit, and he quite typically stumbles in a pothole or two, but otherwise, all goes well, even when we reach the first houses a few kilometres up the road. He stares intently at the white siding, ready to leap should any monsters reveal themselves in the doorways, but thankfully there are no horse-eating ghouls today.

We've been walking for about 15 minutes. We're just past the houses, and since all is going well, I decide this is enough for one day, and we turn to come home. Now, this is the point at which Murray usually becomes unruley. He is a thoroughbred off the track afterall, and they are taught to run for home. I give him a long rein and stay as relaxed as I possibly can in the saddle. I hum silly songs like Rockin' Robin, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. That works for about a minute, then the jigging and dancing begins. I let him blast off at a massive extended trot for a bit to blow off some steam. After a few hundred metres I test the brakes to see if I have any control at all. I do, I'm surprised. He still dances and yanks on the reins, and swings himself slightly sideways, but for him, those are just minor inconveniences. I find I can even bring him to a halt if I need to.

As we approach the house, Murray tries to turn into the driveway on his own, but I decide to ride him just a little further, so he doesn't assume he can turn just because we're home. Maggie has noticed our arrival, and follows us along the fence-line, whinnying in frustration the entire time. The end of our walk is uneventful, and I wave to Dave in the barn as I ride down to the ring, just to see how it looks.

I'm almost at the ring when, suddenly, after a particularily desperate whinny from Maggie, I hear metal clanging behind me. I turn just in time to see the fuzzy, overweight black mare launch her entire 13 hundred pound body at the metal gate to the paddock. The screw-eye pops out of the fence post, the clip holding the gate comes lose, and Maggie gets her first taste of freedom.

I assume she'll come straight for Murray, and that's exactly what she starts to do, but then she seems to notice the as-yet unexplored field on the left (it's where we pile our manure). Her voracious appetite and never-ending quest for food easily win-out over her desire to see Murray. Halterless, she manoevers her way over the piles of decomposing manure, and into an open field of long, brown, dead grass.

I hop off Murray (who's clearly offended that his love interest has chosen food over him), and start yelling for Dave. It's windy though, and my voice doesn't carry. I run with Murray back into the fenced-in paddock, hoping Maggie with follow, but she keeps moving further away. I call again for Dave, and he starts walking non-chalantly toward me.

Dave: What do you want? How was your ride?
Me: Maggie's lose!
Dave (still nonplussed): What?
Understanding dawns on Dave's face just as Maggie abandons the field and barrels down the gravel lane toward him. I try to call her into the paddock, but she's drunk with freedom, and heading toward the front of the barn-- and consequently, the road.

Dave tries to cut her off, but she dodges him (she's much more agile than I would have given her credit for). He tries to herd her into the open barn doors, but that doesn't work either. I come running around the corner holding Murray (who by now is completely baffled as to what's going on). I arrive just in time to see Dave coral Maggie into a small pasture. The problem is, there's no gate, and she's getting ready to double back. Between Dave, Murray and I, we herd her further back into an enclosed paddock, and we lock her in until I can grab a halter.

We fix (and reinforce) the latch on the gate, and put the horses back out, thankful that no one was hurt. Crisis averted, but I'm starting to wonder if there isn't more to Miss Maggie than I first thought.

Post Script:
It's six pm and I'm bringing the horses in. Maggie's at the gate first, so I pull her halter over her ears and lead her through the gate. Once we're out, I turn back to latch the gate so Murray can't escape. Suddenly, I feel a tug at my arm, and the brand-new slippery (but pretty), nylon leadline slides through my fingers and onto the ground. This wouldn't be so bad, except that Maggie's attached to the other end of that leadline, and she's making a beeline for the manure-pile pasture she started to explore earlier today. I leap forward in time to step on the end of the line, but it's slippery, and she's oblivious, and she simply tugs it out from under my feet. She trots through the muck, occasionally stepping on the leadline, and jerking her head down in the process. Undaunted, she continues, always just out of my reach. Finally, after probably about two minutes, she steps on the leadline so high up that her nose is pretty much pinned to the ground. She stays like that until I can reach her (thankfully she didn't realize that all she had to do to free herself was to lift her hoof). Again, I'm left wondering what more I'm going to learn about Maggie and her wandering ways.

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