Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dave's Joy-Ride

A few days ago, Dave and I were talking about the horses. I mentioned that it had been quite awhile since he'd been for a ride. This wasn't meant as an accusation, or a challenge, or a call to action. It was merely a statement of fact. I think though, that my loving husband may have misinterpreted my statement. His response was "It's supposed to be nice on Sunday, why don't we go for a ride then?". I wonder now whether he regrets his suggestion.

Sunday January 29th
It's a beautiful winter's day-- warm, sunny, and not a breath of wind. By 11:30am we're ready for a ride.

I'll be honest. I'm a little nervous about this mid-winter escapade. The horses haven't been ridden much. They're pretty fresh, and Maggie has managed to muster a considerable amount of energy during the few recent rides I have had on her. I don't mention my concerns to Dave, and I manage to convince myself that we'll just go for a short, leisurely, and safe walk in the snow.

Before we ride, I scope out the state of the road. It's been sanded, but is very icy underneath. I worry that the hill is too slippery for Maggie's unshod hooves. I'm also worried about the riding ring. There's a fresh layer of snow, but it's not thick, and lurking underneath is perfect skating-rink-smooth ice. I decide our best option is to ride the horses in the large, snow-filled, fenced-in field. The footing is safe, and we'll be in an enclosed area-- a large enclosed area, but enclosed nonetheless.

Dave is ready before me. As usual, he uses the round, two-foot-high concrete crock above our well on the front-lawn, as a step-stool to hoist himself onto Maggie's western saddle.

Me: "Forgetting something?"

Dave: "What? No."

Me: "Are you sure?"

Dave: "Oh, my helmet...I guess I forgot to tack myself up".

We giggle, and I lead Murray back to the barn to retrieve Dave's helmet. I'm a stickler about helmets. I've had two concussions from falls WITH helmets, so I can't imagine what would have happened if I hadn't been wearing the mushroom-like caps.

With his helmet securely strapped to his head, Dave urges Maggie down the path toward the pastures while I go back to the barn once again to smear Vaseline in Murray's hooves. It helps keep the snow from balling up beneath his soles.

From inside the barn, I suddenly hear a squeaky clip-clip in the packed snow, along with a series of ever intensifying shouts of "whoa" intermingled with: "whoa Maggie whoa". I grab Murray's reins and lead him abruptly from the barn as Maggie rounds the corner toward us-- eyes wide and nostrils flared. Dave yells at her and tugs on the reins, but she doesn't stop until she's right in front of us.

Me: "What happened?"

Dave (somewhat breathless): "I tried to ride her through the gate and she wouldn't go through. She spun around, took off, then reared, then took off again."

Me (dismissively): "Well, I think she's stressed about leaving Murray behind. Just wait for me and we'll go in together."

In the back of my mind, my apprehension over this ride is growing. I still don't mention it to Dave though. If I make him nervous, he'll make Maggie nervous, and things will go quickly downhill from there.

Dave has limited riding experience, but the experience he has had has so far has been positive. He's never fallen off, and until Maggie's uncontrolled rear/trot-back-toward-the-barn, he's never had a horse do anything more threatening than a mild spook (though he's watched enough of Murray's antics that he's well aware of how powerful and unpredictable these 12 hundred pound animals can be when they so choose). To this point, Dave's confidence on horseback is fully intact, and I'd like it to stay that way.

I brush my worries aside, and lead Murray to the well, so I can get on. Dave and Maggie are behind me, wandering in the snow on the front lawn. Murray and I make it about 20 feet down the path before I hear Maggie's gait quicken, first to a trot, then a canter. Again, I hear the chorus of "WHOA's", each one becoming more desperate. I stop and turn in time to see Maggie cantering through the knee deep snow in the lawn, with Dave tugging unsuccessfully at her reins (Dave has only ever cantered a handful of times). She leaps a small snowbank and hits the icy driveway at a fast clip. She slips, yanking the reins through Dave's gloved-hands. She manages to stay on her feet, but Dave's reins are now too long to offer any control.

"Sit up and shorten your reins!" I yell. Then I ad my own "whoa's" to Dave's efforts. Maggie slows slightly, to a half-trot-half-canter gait, but she's heading straight for the tractor. At the last possible second, she ducks to the left, nearly unseating Dave, who's still trying to shorten his reins to a reasonable length. Then, Maggie veers sharply to the left again and heads straight for our truck. Instead of crashing into it, she climbs the four-foot high pile of snow behind it, then runs up along the passenger side.

By now, I've jumped off Murray, thankfully Dave has readjusted his reins, and Maggie has exhausted the supply of vehicles with which she can play chicken. With a final "WHOA", and a sharp tug on the reins, Maggie comes to a halt a few feet in front of Murray and me. I reach forward and grab the reins, giving them a few unproductive tugs. I force myself to check my anger, and I look up to Dave to ask whether he's ok.

He's flushed, out of breath, and a little shaken.

Dave: "What a little B*^#&."

I concur.

Me: "Why don't you hop off, and I'll lunge Maggie in the field for a bit before you get back on?"

Dave: "Ok, I'll get the lunge line".

I hand Murray's reins to Dave, and I lead Maggie into the field, all the while whispering to her about manners, and taking care of Dave and how it's ok to behave stupidly with me, but not with him.

I let her out on the lunge line and she bursts into a bigger extended trot than I would have thought possible for her short legs. Then she canters, then she bucks. I dig my heels into the snow and hold tightly to the end of the lunge line until she tires. I figure that should happen soon; after all, she's careening around in knee-deep snow.

Maggie's more worked up than I'd hoped and I'm reluctant to let Dave climb back into the saddle. In the meantime, Murray stands calmly beside Dave, half dozing. I know Dave still wants to ride (he's never ridden outside in the snow before), so I consider the options for a few minutes, then suggest to him that he get on Murray.

Dave: "Really?"

Me: "Yeah, just stay fairly close, and just WALK".

Dave's ridden Murray around on several occasions. He even went over a very small jump on him on the lunge line before. It's certainly unusual for Murray to be the "safer" choice, but today, he seems just that. So Dave scales the fence and gently lowers himself onto Murray's English saddle. The two of them walk calmly back and forth through the snow-drifts while I try to keep Maggie from ripping my arms out of their sockets on the lunge line.

After a few minutes, I bring Maggie to a walk, and I decide to get on to test her obedience level.

I bring her alongside Dave and Murray and for a few minutes, we all walk contentedly through the snow to the bottom of the field. The snow is deeper here, and I notice Murray has added a bit more bounce to his walk.

Me, calmly: "Make sure you sit up, and keep your heels down".

Dave: "Whoa Murray".

Me: "Whoa Murray".

We round the corner so the horses' muzzles are now pointing up the hill toward home.
Murray simply can't hold back his enthusiasm. He bounds into a springy trot, which then becomes a rocking-horse-like canter up the hill. It's really just a lope, but with his 14 foot stride, Murray's lope can out-pace the canter of many-a-horse. He's bouncy at the best of times, but now he's also wading through a foot and a half of snow. Each stride must feel to Dave as though he's just been launched from the heart of a tightly wound jack-in-the-box.

In stereo, Dave and I yell "whoa". But Murray's enjoying himself. He doesn't stop until he reaches the fence at the top of the hill. Seemingly proud of himself for offering Dave such an amusing ride, he slows down. Then, Murray senses that Dave has lost a stirrup and is off balance. Unused to inexperienced riders, and very sensitive to any shift in his rider's weight, Murray becomes worried and confused. He glances down the Hill toward Maggie and I with a worried look on his face, then continues toward the paddock gait in a moose-like trot-- anxious to be rid of the bouncing burden on his back. I'm sure Dave's about to take a dive into the snow.

Miraculously though, Dave hangs on as Murray abruptly changes course and decides to come to "mom" for help. He finally stops when he's back alongside Maggie and me. The look of anxiety on his face matches the look on Dave's. Their eyes are wide, they're both breathing hard, and they both look confused. I hop off of Maggie and gently grab hold of Murray's bridle. With Dave still in the saddle, he relaxes, an within a minute or so, the old boy's eyes are closed and he's dozing in the sun.

Dave (still out of breath): "I thought for sure I was going to fall off".

"Me too. Shall we call it a day?"

Dave: "Yeah, I think that's probably enough of a ride for today."


  1. Loved it! Been there, done that - and have NEVER succeeded in getting Joel into the saddle on any horse. Well done, Dave.

  2. Ceci, I agree. So many of my horsey friends have said the same things about their husbands/ boyfriends. I know that I'm very lucky to have someone willing to hop on and go for a ride with me...which is why I wish the two monsters would refrain from giving him a scare. *sigh*

  3. Awesome story....your both nuts....But I love ya