Horse-Eating Belgian Mules

Well, Johnny has finally settled down in his new home and has thankfully returned to his senses. We had a lovely dressage workout in the ‘indoor’ on Monday; he was very happy to give me long and low stretchy work for the whole ride. Tuesday we jumped, and aside from one mad gallop to a crossrail (for which he got sat on his little hiney), he jumped quite nicely and rather calmly. He even jumped the bounce perfectly, snapping his forelegs up in the blink of an eye.

And, so, for our hack day today, we ventured back out into the Amish fields with the thought of a pleasant walk on a loose rein around the fields. What’s the quote about best made plans laid to waste? Or, maybe it’s the one about the first plan never surviving contact in battle…either way, we encountered the one truly terrifying experience for Johnny: horse-eating mules. Granted, they were a team of eight very large Belgian-cross mules, but you would’ve thought we were facing a pride of starving mountain lions or angry bears. Johnny’s heart started pounding, and in a matter of seconds, he was drenched in sweat. He bravely stood there, trembling, for several long seconds before he came unglued. I knew it was coming; I just wasn’t sure how much of it was coming. He started with a few airs above the ground, but what concerned me most was the warp-speed rein back that I did not ask for. I felt myself bracing for the inevitable rear and potential flip over. I don’t mind riding bucking horses, and I don’t have a problem with spinners or sideways movers or even the bolters. Nope, the ones that worry me are the ones who stop thinking forward and start thinking backward. Then we have problems. I lightened my seat slightly, trying to encourage him to move forward without leaving myself vulnerable to being thrown if he decided to throw in a buck. I asked for forward and sideways movement to no avail. Johnny was in full on panic mode, as I had not allowed him his first response: flight. I only prayed we didn’t spook the team of mules moving closer towards us. If they spooked and took flight, I was bailing–Johnny could figure out how to get away without me. Eventually, we progressed from running backwards to forwards and sideways leaps, and I praised him for being brave and facing his fears. When the team moved far away enough from us to no longer be considered a threat, I pointed us in the opposite direction, and we proceeded to racehorse passage down the edge of the fields. For those of you unfamiliar with racehorse passage, think of a beautiful, well balanced, collected dressage horse elegantly passaging down centerline. Now, imagine a fire-breathing, nostrils-flared, sweat-soaked racehorse with head in the air prancing in a trot on the verge of making a mad dash for an invisible finish line. Yeah, there’s not much similarity, other than they’re both moving diagonal pairs of legs and not gaining much ground.

Finally we moved far enough away from the mules for Johnny to semi relax, and I was able to drop the reins to the buckle while he walked. Every now and then, he’d tense up his back and begin to trot, but he was listening to me well enough that a simple reminder from my seat was all it took to remind him to walk. Yes, I was very proud of him.

Following our ride in the Amish fields, I walked him on the front of the property, next to the highway. Huge tractor trailer rigs rushed by at 60 mph, but apparently those are not scary. Loud, clanging flat bed trailers bouncing along are not bothersome either. He never even batted an eye. But, put a team of draft horses or mules in close proximity, and then we have a problem.

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