Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Rollicking Ride in the Snow

Tuesday, January 11
Finally, the sticky, brown mud of the last few months is truly gone, hidden beneath of bed of soft, fluffy snow-- the product of a mild weekend storm. I'm as giddy as a small child as I pull a pair of winter-riding snow-pants over my long underwear. I can't wait to jump aboard Maggie's broad back and go for a brisk ride in the snow.

Maggie seems happy for the attention. She even stands still while I mount, though her elephant-trunk-like lips rip several small branches off our apple tree while I lean over to adjust my bulky pants. After tugging the twigs from Maggie's reluctant jaws, we set off down the hill at a lumbering march.

About halfway down, we meet our neighbour Greg on his four-wheeler, wearing a helmet and insulated green coveralls. He's on his way back from their dairy barn. I ask about his 90 head of cattle, and we chat about the weather. As the minutes tick by, Maggie stands politely, moving only occasionally to shift her weight. What a difference from Murray, whose anxious attitude doesn't lend itself well to mid-ride conversation. I promise Greg that Dave and I will eventually get down for a tour of the farm, then we wave and go our separate ways.

Maggie continues at her meandering pace, until we reach the cattle's marshmallow-like rolls of round hay bales at the bottom of the hill. Then we turn and jog unenthusiastically back toward home. It's a slow, but enjoyable pace. The only sound, other than the crunch of Maggie's bare feet on packed snow, is that of a lonely Murray, beckoning with high-pitched cries from his paddock.

Urged on by Murray's whinnies, Maggie manages a moderate burst of energy and we crest the hill at a full trot. We turn down the driveway and head for the riding ring. I'm not sure what the footing will be like. When I last checked (before our most recent snowfall), the riding ring had a smooth, rink-like quality. I had even considered hauling out my skates, but never got around to it.

Now, it seems that ice is covered by several inches of snow. We're able to trot serpentines and circles without a single slip, but I don't trust the footing enough to chance a canter. Time to explore the fields.

We set off at a trot through foot-high snow. Every so often, we come across drifts that rise as high as Maggie's belly. There's a particularly high and wide drift nearing the crest of a small hill. Maggie has to leap like a dear to get through it, but I think she's finally having fun since I no longer have to thump my legs on her sides to keep her going. Enjoying the moment, I can't wipe the grin off my face.

We turn and do a lap on the level, snow-covered grass outside of the ring. As we canter briskly by, I notice Muscade and Zorro playing in the snow. I laugh out loud as I watch their winter game unfold. Zorro hides behind the mounds of snow piled up by Dave's tractor, then as Muscade approaches (head down, sniffing some unknown scent), he leaps out from his hiding spot and scuttles toward her, back raised and tail up. When Muscade takes notice, he changes course and darts back behind another snow bank. It looks like we're all enjoying the winter wonderland.

I decide to take Maggie for a last loop down through the snowdrifts. Her long, thick, black coat is shiny from sweat, and steam is beginning to rise her from back. She's just getting going though. I actually have to hold her back. But as we round the corner and start back up the hill toward the massive snow-drift, I lean forward and give her her head. Her hind end lowers and chunks of snow fly into the air as she picks up speed. We're through the drift and cresting the hill when she squeals. Uh-oh.

Suddenly, with a toss of her head, Maggie gets carried away in the moment. She whips her body into the air with a violent buck-- this is not the kind of frustrated buck she occasionally tests me with in riding ring. No, this is the joy-filled, lurching, twisting buck I've seen her attempt when running side-by-side with Murray out in the field. It's the kind of buck that has often prompted Dave and I to look at each other and say "man, she has power."

Before her leap into the air, I'm perched, jockey-like on her neck, urging her forward. Now, I try to lean back, but I don't have time to drive my seat completely back into the saddle. I'm tossed around like a rag doll as her ample hind-end launches her 1300 pound body well into the air. My feet slip from the stirrups, and I think to myself that at least the snow will make for a soft landing. Her second buck is thankfully less-enthusiastic, and I do manage to hold on as her hooves sink into the snow and she bolts off at a full-out gallop.

Now, I'm someone who believes in treating horses' mouths with great respect. I generally ride in fat, loose ring snaffles, and I don't believe in using a bit as punishment. That said, I had borrowed a harsher-than-usual corkscrew bit from a friend since Maggie has been a little fresh lately. I wanted to fine-tune her responses before letting Dave on her back again. I used the bit once, and decided it might be too much for her. I had considered taking it off before today's ride. I didn't though, mostly because I was too anxious to get out in the snow, and didn't want to take the time to fiddle with the difficult leather.

I forget about the bit as I struggle to stay in the saddle on the steam-breathing black horse now careening through our snow-covered field. In grave danger of injuring my pride by landing on my butt in the snow, I give a pretty sharp tug on the reins. Maggie, who actually has quite a soft mouth, and who was in the middle of a full gallop stride, comes to an abrupt halt. Insulted by my assault on her tender mouth, she shakes her head savagely from side to side and shifts into temper tantrum mode just as I manage to slip my feet back into my stirrups.

When Maggie has tantrums, she reminds me of the stereotypical terrible two-year-old child-- the one who throws her body on the ground, shakes her head and flails her arms and legs from side to side while screaming at full volume. Only, instead of flailing limbs, Maggie pounds her front and hind feet alternately into the ground in a rocking-horse style rear/ buck, rear/ buck motion. Today she even snorts and squeals in anger as she hops up and down on the spot until I manage an apologetic pat on the neck. Eventually though, all is forgiven, and she settles as we walk through the shimmering, sunlit snow, back to the barn. What a great ride.

1 comment:

  1. I was waiting for the 'then she tossed me' line. Good grip, MF. And hurray for romps in the snow!