Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Turn Left

Another gorgeous day to ride in February!  Heading out of the parking lot, we made a left instead of our traditional right...and what a ride we had.

36 degrees, a light wind, and full-on sunshine made for a perfect ride day with softened but not mushy snow under foot.  This portion of the North Shore Trail hasn't seen any snowmobile traffic at all from what we could tell, but a die-hard cross country skier had tried his or her luck, as well as a mountain biker with snow tires, and several dogs with their humans.  Wildlife use of the trail was abundant as well, with snowshoe hare, red squirrel, and tiny creature tracks scuttling left to right (or right to left) across the open expanse between safe zones beneath brush piles, downed logs, and thick pines.  We also noted possible wolf tracks (awful big for a dog) and followed the determined trail of, perhaps, a bobcat as it used the trail corridor to move from point A to point B, clearly not wavering from its purpose.  Other riders had been out as well, perhaps yesterday, and the boys enjoyed a sniff or two at the obvious evidence they left behind.

This side of the trail winds through a lot of low country, clearly totally impassable in the warmer months.  We traversed several bridges, which had remarkably steep approach ramps compared to what I'm used to seeing on snowmobile trails.  Several times the trail climbed to the flat top of a short, steep-sided ridge affording views down into the depths of the woods on either side.  I wondered if perhaps this was an esker?  Much of the trail has an easement through private property and no trespassing signs clearly marked their owners' turf.  Some of these owners evidently felt the need to decorate for trail users, and we enjoyed an American flag hung from a branch, and a tree trunk wrapped in a big red bow.

I was out of batteries for my GPS, so we relied on our best judgement to determine how far and fast we travelled.  We'd hoped to reach a point on the trail where it reaches a corner with two well-travelled roads, and we succeeded in our quest.  By the time we returned to the trailer, I'd estimated we'd covered about 13 miles, and later, using the remarkable tools provided by the MN DNR website, I was able to measure out on the map 12.7 miles.  We'd set out with a goal pace of 5 mph, and our calculated average speed was 5.08 mph.  I guess we did pretty darn well without a spec of technological help at the time!
Paco sampled a fluffy cattail head - and didn't like it very much!
Today's ride was about enjoying the day and our horses, but I also started my new plan of actually training my horse, not just riding him.  He wasn't very happy about that part.  Here's the thing about Rhio: he really likes to lead.  Paco really likes to follow.  You can guess what we normally do - Rhio leads and Paco follows.  It's easy, and the horses like it.  We don't have to think about it too much.  So, Rhio got to lead on the way out, but once we turned around, Paco had to lead and Rhio had to follow the entire way back to the trailer.  Neither of them liked this arrangement, and Rhio threw in most of his aversion behaviors and even got frustrated enough to give me a little buck.  But, to no avail, as I never let him get ahead.  The horses were clearly communicating to each other, and were doing their best to reverse their order.  Paco kept slowing down and moving over, inviting Rhio to pass.  Rhio kept easing his speed up, pretending I wouldn't notice, and would cut corners to take the shorter path and beat Paco.  Well, they didn't win this battle and by the end, Rhio was begrudingly accepting his position as rear guard.  Good.  Guess what, Rhio?  You get to do the same thing next time!

Many thanks to Gesa and Paco for supremely enjoyable companionship today, and to my steed Rhio for carrying me on this journey - we both have lots to learn, but we're in it together.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

In Memory of Cricket

It's been quiet around the blog lately because I haven't been able to figure out how to begin.

On Wednesday, January 25, I lost my beloved, regal Cricket to colic.  It was a complete and total shock, as these things often are.  Tragedy has befallen my heart, and although the healing has begun, there is not a day that I don't think about him and everything he gave me (and many others) in the last seven years of his life.  I was truly blessed to love this horse.  It is not lightly that I say he was worth his weight in 24 carat gold.

Instead of telling you the story of the end of his life, I am going to tell you some of the many stories of the part of his life I was fortunate enough to share with him.  Cricket came to me in May of 2005, at the age of 23.  Born March 23, 1982, by a sire named Ibn Fa Nemo B (I think - the previous owner had this written on a scrap of paper and it was the only information I got when I bought him), he was a registered purebred Arabian.  I never knew his registered name, and never saw his papers.  His name at the time was "Ricky," and as I don't like my animals to have "human" names, I settled on Cricket as his new moniker.  It sounded a bit like "Ricky," and so I thought it would work.  And it did.  Whether he knew his name, or just my voice, he would always look up when I called him, and prick those darling ears, and look inquisitively at me.  He almost always had a comical, quizzical look on his face whenever I interacted with him on the ground.  Tack him up, though, and he instantly grew larger with pride in the job he was about to do - take the person riding him for the best ride of his or her life.  This horse loved to be ridden; he loved to see the world with a person upon his back.  His ears, always forward in eagerness, were also soft at the same time and would bounce in the happiest, most relaxed manner of any horse I've ever ridden. And every single person who rode him couldn't help but fall in love with him; each and every one had a ear-to-ear grin by the time the ride was over (me, included).

Cricket gave many, many people their first horseback ride, and was a perfect gentleman each and every time.  If all they were comfortable doing was walking, he would walk, even if other horses in the group were trotting or cantering. He was trained Western pleasure at some point, and would transition into a jog-trot that was smooth as glass, then into a text-book perfect rocking horse lope.  The rider didn't even need to know how to ask, he just gave.  But if you did know how to ask, then what he offered was magic, pure and simple.  I truly love to ride Red and Rhio, but they aren't even in the same league with Cricket.

When I first brought Cricket to live at Red's farm, he had been living entirely alone for a number of years. He was so overjoyed at having a herd again, it quickly became apparent that taking him away for a solo ride just simply wasn't an option.  The first ride I took after bringing him home was very fun, but he was very naughty!  We rode over into the gravel pit across the road, and he was doing all sorts of fancy dressage moves that I don't know the names for, making it abundantly clear that this was NOT his idea of fun and that we should make our way back to his herd directly, if you please.  Yet not for a single step did I feel out of control or unsafe.  From that day on, Cricket's rule, which I never thought to disobey, was that he never went out alone.  And he was never naughty again, not even once.

Cricket loved to have a girlfriend.  He was the romantic type, never pushy but always hopeful that she would give him a little affection.  His first lady friend was Sky, a palomino Paint mare.  She tolerated him, and he doted on her, following her everywhere and showing pure joy when she would let him stand next to her, and perhaps even groom her a little.  His dearest and true love, however, was Becca's gray mare Kaos.  She returned his affection and would groom him companionably, share hay, and snuggle with him in the shelter.   They always greeted each other when one would return from a ride, or a grazing session, but yet were never "buddy-sour" about leaving the other.

When Cricket came to live at Meadowbrook, he and the old pony Mo, as the elders of the farm, had certain special privileges.  One of these was free roaming around the property to graze.  The "old codgers" as Christine affectionately called them, would be let out of their fields to eat their sizable meals of beet pulp, senior feed, and various other goodies, then wander off to sample the lush grass wherever they pleased.  A few times we both left, forgetting they were out, and they spent quite a few hours loose.  During the peak grass season, this was never a problem.  Once the grass started declining in the fall, however, they would start to head out farther afield.  They discovered the neighbor's hay field, and would take themselves on walk-about.  Oops.  Luckily, they were never hard to catch and came home willingly.

Cricket had the thickest, longest tail of my three horses.  Several years ago, after spending the summer in a pasture full of burrs, he came home with his forelock, mane, and tail all completely bound into tight ropes of jet black hair and nasty, prickly burrs.  His mane alone was one massive, solid clump, and weighed about quadruple what it normally would.  I was nearly in tears looking at the state he was in.  I shaved off his mane, and it grew back just a gorgeous as ever by the following spring.  I couldn't bring myself to do the same to his tail, however, and I spent a week of evenings with a jug of cowboy magic detangler and first my fingers (man, were they raw by the time I was done), then a comb, working every strand of his tail free of its monster load of burrs.  I think I filled three 5-gallon buckets with the things.

Cricket had two significant injuries in the years I owned him, both of which turned out just fine in the end.  The first was a stick that he somehow managed to jam right into his coronary band of his left hind foot.  The worst part of this injury was that it took me a couple of days to figure out the stick was there - it was buried so deeply that the end of it was nearly flush with his skin and it appeared to be just a scrape or scab.  Once I figured it out, radiographed it, removed it, flushed the wound, and started worrying myself sick that it had penetrated the coffin joint and I was going to end up with an infected joint, I realized that he was showing how great a horse he was - all that messing around, some of it painful, and he never jerked his foot out of my hand or required sedation of any kind; he didn't even require a second person to hold him for me - he stood like a rock as if he knew it was all meant to help him.  The second injury was a big gash to his upper lip, inflicted by none other than my big red dog Killian.  Killian evidently thought that the horse, ten times his weight, did not deserve to eat his feed, which Killian was already eating, and bit him on the lip when poor Cricket tried to stick his head in the feed tub.  This was New Year's Day 2010, and is one of the first posts I wrote for this blog.  Cricket calmly followed me through the person-door into the heated tack room, carefully turned himself around in the little bit of available space, and stood there for his suturing (this time with sedation, for both our sakes).  He had, by the way, finished his feed before I got to the farm to stitch him up.

Cricket had a powerful sense of his rights, and knew just what he was entitled to.  On cold winter nights, especially the ones with bitter winds, after leisurely munching his way through his mash in the barn, he would just look at you when you went to lead him back to the pasture (the horses mostly lived out 24/7 with sheds and blankets instead of being stalled).  He wasn't refusing to go, exactly, but merely enquiring as to why, exactly, you thought he wanted to go back out there.  If you're guessing that he got to stay in a stall those nights, with all the hay he could eat plus a buddy in the next stall, and that we would go out late at night and bring him a bucket of warm water, well, then, you guessed right.

Another entitlement to which Cricket knew he held claim was his right to treats.  Everyone brought him treats, it was just a given.  He liked them all: apples (sliced, please), carrots (baby, of course), peppermints, horse cookies.  His large nimble lips would flap across your palm, sucking in his goodies like an octopus.

Cricket loved to be groomed, pampered, fussed over, and generally made much of.  His favorite place to be scratched was his sheath, especially in the summer when the flies were bad.  A bit of scratching here, and he would "dance" for you in sheer ecstasy, stretching out his neck, flapping his lips, and swinging his head back and forth in unison with your scratches. He was quite demonstrative about it.  He liked to come in to the barn in the heat of midsummer and stand directly in front of the fan, with his eyes closed at half mast and his forelock blowing back between his ears.  He would stop whatever he was doing (eating, for example) to be stroked and patted, as if to give you, and the pleasure of your company, his full and undivided attention.

Goodbye, my dear and wonderful boy.  May you be forever grazing all the green grass you could ever want, with every itch scratched and a little girl to love you.  I will always be that little girl, at heart.