Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Winter's Walk

It’s been a long, cold, icy winter, and there have been many days when I’ve dreamt of tunnelling into a cave to hibernate. 

Instead, on “nicer” days, I force myself to get out for a walk.  I’d like to take Muscade with me, but at 15, she can’t handle walking for more than a few minutes at a time.  So, for company, I decided that this winter, I’d bring the horses with me on my walks.  That way, we’d all get some exercise, and I could work on the horses’ ground manners at the same time.

The first time I took Maggie out for a walk was a beautiful sunny afternoon sometime in December.  There was lots of fresh, fluffy snow on the ground, so I free-lunged her for awhile in Murray’s paddock first (which, as it turns out, is a great stand-in for a round-pen).  She trotted and cantered happily through the snow, and managed to work up a bit of a sweat.  I planned on a nice walk together to cool her down.

Across the road from our place, a path had been plowed through our neighbour’s hayfield.  It leads to the woods, to an area where logs are cut and trees harvested.  The packed snow made for perfect footing, and I was curious to see how far into the woods the path went.  So, I secured a wool cooler to Maggie’s back, tied the rope halter around her head, shoved a handful of treats into my pocket, and off we went.  While we walked, I worked with Maggie, practicing getting her to halt or walk on command, with very little pressure from me.  I praised her for her efforts with treat after treat.  We were relaxed, and enjoying ourselves. 

Once we crossed the field to the tree-line, the path narrowed a bit.  De-limbed trees were stacked in neat piles on either side of what was left of the path.  I wondered for a minute whether it was a familiar scene for Maggie—who I was told had been used to haul logs out of the woods before we got her.  We walked on for another 30 feet or so, and came to the end of the plowed path.  The road itself continued through the trees and around a turn, but it hadn’t been cleared recently.  I could see sunlight streaming in through the trees where the path started to curve, and I wondered whether there was a clearing ahead.  It was such a beautiful day that I didn’t feel ready to turn back.  So, I urged Maggie forward into the un-packed snow.    

I didn’t realize just how deep that snow would be.  After a few steps, I tripped on what I assume was a log, invisible to me under the snow.  Maggie and I both stumbled blindly over it and onto the other side.   Suddenly, we had dropped down into snow that was up to my waist, and Maggie’s belly.  We staggered on for another 20 or 30 feet, trying to find more stable footing, but the ground was uneven, and the snow too deep.  We wiggled and waded on the narrow path, and managed to turn around to face back toward the field.  That’s when Maggie’s homing instinct kicked in and she showed me what 1300 pounds of pulling power can do.  She dropped her head, threw her shoulders forward, and with a squeal, she lurched ahead in a leaping motion.  She built up momentum and started hauling herself out through the snow like that in a very efficient fashion.  The only problem was that I couldn’t keep up.  I felt her lean into the rope halter as I grabbed the nylon lead with both hands, but I lost my grip as I stumbled clumsily through the snow. The lead slipped through my hands and I had visions of Maggie running free through the field, careening across the road, and then falling on our icy driveway. 

Luckily, there was a knot in the end of the lead, and I grabbed for it as I turned my head to avoid the snowballs flying through the air in Maggie’s wake.  My arm was yanked forward as Maggie bounded ahead of me. I yelled “whoa,” and hung on with all my strength.  She kept going, towing me through the deep snow as she went.  Finally she reached the buried log.  She gave one last leap, and landed on solid footing, dragging me with her.  But my feet got tangled in the log and I fell onto my knees.  I expected Maggie to pull the rope from my hand at any moment.  But she didn’t.  She just stood there with swirls of steam rising from her sweaty body, her sides heaving from her efforts. She waited while I got to my feet and caught my breath.  Then she turned her head toward me with a look that clearly said “don’t I get a reward for hauling your useless two-legged body out of the snow?”  So, I reached into my pocket and fished out several tiny treats for her.  Then, with jelly-like legs (at least on my part), we walked calmly back to the barn. 

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