As I sit here listening to the winds howl, with the hatches securely battened down and supplies laid in, (we are under a blizzard warning, as winter storm "Jakob" is about to dump up to 18" of heavy, wet snow on us with sustained 40mph - 50mph winds), I think back fondly to Saturday, just three days ago, when the sun was shining, the wind was calm, and the temperature was in the 40s, and I (with Red) spent a lovely couple of hours riding down the road with Becca (Kaos) & Karen (Duke). And with Bowser, Roxi, and Kelso.
The main event of the day was trying to shepherd the dogs in a safe & calm manner down the road with the horses. Kelso, the eldest at 7, and by far the most experienced at running with the horses, also is the dog who can't be bothered to care about what the other two were doing and made it clear to Roxi that he didn't want her near him. So much for leading by example and letting the other dogs learn the ropes by following him! Bowser has some experience with the horses and being on the road, but he is a hound and is therefore by definition exceedingly easily distracted by his nose. Becca keeps a shock collar on him for quick reminders, and generally he does very well. Roxi is the puppy, an exuberant Boxer with an enthusiasm for everything that wears the rest of us out. She is well known around the barn for swinging from Duke's tail while he trots around the arena (he does not appear to notice her hanging there), but she's never gone on a trail ride down the road before.
I had a nasty cold complete with muzzy head, delayed thought processes, and slow reflexes. I really probably should have been in bed. But the weather! Oh, the weather was so glorious! Like I've said before, I don't always make the soundest decisions when I have the opportunity to ride :)
We found our first challenge to be getting forward motion out of all the four-legged critters at the same time and in the same direction. Roxi tried her trick of hanging on Duke's tail, but then would see one of the other dogs running past or sniffing something, and would dash over to investigate. Kelso growled at her, but Bowser allowed her to body-slam him repeatedly in her attempts to play, just looking forlornly up at Becca with an expression that said "Why me?!?". He'd swerve, duck, change direction, and circle around behind us in his attempt to dodge her full-contact mode of interaction. She'd go back to lunging for Duke's tail, or even nipping at his nose. It didn't take her long to realize there were two other "big dogs" for her to play with, and she started trying to grab Red's and Kaos' tails as well. She was having such puppy fun that she completely ignored Karen's attempts to direct her into good behavior, but thankfully Red & Kaos did not kick her and didn't even seem particularly bothered by her at their heels.
At the same time, Kaos was quite enjoying Red's company and forcing Becca to work pretty hard to keep her moving down the road instead of sideways into us in her attempts to sidle up to my handsome boy. Silly mare. Duke, huge but often afraid of everything, was leading the group with his long stride and appeared fully confident - until we saw the cows. They are the pair of yearling black calves that have lived in the pasture next to him since summer, but they are now at the neighbor's house down the road because they kept getting out of our fence. And they were standing in the trees along the fenceline, back from the road. All three horses turned to stare at them; Red was easily convinced they were nothing to fear, Kaos seriously thought about running over there to chase them, and Duke was trembling in his boots, never mind that he towers over them and outweighs them put together by at least double.
Our second challenge was crossing the paved road. I did not have my usual string stashed in my saddle bags, which I use for crossing busy roads with Kelso (loop it through his collar like a leash) and Roxi was showing no signs of listening to Karen & waiting for us to give the all clear. Becca & Karen both dismounted for safety, and the whole group crossed uneventfully. It's a good thing Karen has long legs, because even with a slight ditch to put him in, it's a LONG way up there to Duke's back! With everyone situated again, we continued on in the same fashion with the horses behaving very well and the dogs behaving as well as their individual ages, personalities, and states of mind would allow. We ended up doing about 7 - 8 miles, including the closed portion of the road which is snow-covered, and using the old Thoroughbred breeding farm as a turn-around spot (with much discussion on how sad it was to see such a nice facility sit empty).
Of course, as soon as we turned for home, Red took over the lead and started to prance, jig, snort, pull, twitch his tail, and flip his nose in an attempt to get me to let him move out. Oh, he's fun when he is all "up" like that! I'm very bad, because I know I've kind of trained him to do that, by allowing the antics and then allowing the racing home. It's our normal routine when we ride out alone - I can't help but let him do it because it's so fun and he's not dangerous when he does it. But it is exceedingly bad form on a group trail ride when the whole group doesn't want to race! Kaos was also fired up and wanting to run, and of course Duke had to join in the mental craziness, too. With everyone starting to act up a bit, we had to dial it back a few notches and resume our former order with Duke leading, Kaos in the middle, and Red bringing up the rear. Red was not happy about this arrangement, and made that pretty clear, but he did exactly what I asked him to do and the other horses settled back into a nice relaxed pace.
Roxi continued her antics, bugging Bowser ("wanna play? wanna play? wanna play?"), grabbing Duke's tail, and occasionally jumping up at the other horses, too. She was fascinated by the blaze orange ties I have on my stirrups, and jumped up into Kaos' face once, giving her a big surprise (we don't think Roxi actually nipped Kaos, but Kaos did snort & toss her head up in the air). Finally in the last 1 1/2 miles, she seemed to slow down a bit and quit all the antics - I guess she was finally tired! Karen didn't even have to dismount to restrain her at the paved road crossing, but was able to hang back while I checked for traffic, then everyone crossed together.
What a fun ride we had, and what a good learning experience for Roxi. Hopefully we will have more three-dog rides in the future! (and sorry about no pics on this one - forgot to grab my camera)