Urban obstacle course


Above: Bella (left), me, and Snickers. And behind Snickers is Sophia, one of the chickens.

**

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The theme for Saturday’s horse ride could be “urban exploration,” though not the adventurous abandoned building kind that my friend Robert enjoys. In fact, my urban exploration could actually be called the urban obstacle course because there were plenty of things during my weekly horse ride with my friend Patty to make the horses focus and be very “alert” for most of it.

The sun came up later that morning, at 5:52, much to my relief. The days are shortening, and the sun is moving more and more off top dead center. Thank goodness. At least there is slight relief in sight, but this morning I went out into the heat again. I think if I never had to be hot again in my life I would be so happy. And if the sun stayed behind a thick cover of clouds, that would make me ecstatic.

It was very humid at Patty’s house, the sorghum field directly south of her house attracting tons of mosquitoes that make the horses miserable at night. It’s fortunate that the mosquitoes leave me alone, but the humidity affects me as much as everyone else. Patty’s neighborhood is an island of horse properties, an island of calm, somewhat open land in the middle of urban busy-ness. It wasn’t always that way, of course. All the buildings and streets grew up around her home after she moved there. Now, as you may imagine, it becomes more and more of a challenge to find a place to ride the horses where it is open and safe.

I was on Snickers, a pretty palomino gelding, as I was last week. He is kind of “growing” on me. I’ve only ridden him twice including yesterday, but I like that he has a strong personality and does more than plod along like Benny does. I love Benny for that, but at the moment I like how Snickers is. He is very aware of “everything,” and he has to look at everything carefully. Sometimes he isn’t real sure about what he sees, and has it in the back of his mind that it might hurt him. I can feel when he is about to shy at something, so I start talking to him in a calming voice. It’s amazing how similar dealing with horses is to dealing with kids in school!

We left Patty’s yard at 7:10, and crossed Greenfield Rd. to avoid having to walk on the sidewalk on the east side. We crossed back over to the east side at Ryan Rd. Patty calls this ride the Ryan Loop because of Ryan Rd., and Snickers had been looking at the big sheds and scary things along it before we had even crossed back over Greenfield. His head was up and his ears were forward. The lane was lined with fences on one side, and oleander bushes (poisonous, don’t know why people want to plant them) behind which there was a yard where big trucks were parked. Patty said that sometimes those trucks are running and making a lot of noise, and the horses get upset because they can’t see the source of the noise behind the oleanders. I could see because I was on Snickers’ back and therefore able to see over the bushes.

We came to the first major obstacle – a gate near a canal ditch that was a block wall with a narrow staggered opening. Snickers was going to have to snake his body through it without tearing my knees off. Fortunately, I had known this would come up and had some protection on my left knee that still hurts from the spectacular dirt bike crash last January. I guided Snickers up to it, but then I pushed too hard with my left leg. He jumped through the opening to the other side, brushing my right knee on the block wall to the right. I quickly had him under control, but then Patty had to come through on Bella. A few weeks ago, Bella had ended up in a deep concrete irrigation ditch and was just barely back under saddle. She was lucky she hadn’t broken any bones in that mishap, and I am really amazed that she has recovered so quickly. Anyway, I was worried because Patty couldn’t see me on the other side, and I also worried that Bella wouldn’t go through because she’d seen Snickers leap through then disappear. In a few moments, though, Patty and Bella came through quietly, and all was well.

We walked down the lane next to the ditch, and on either side, dogs were barking and running up to the fence. Both horses were really good about this, though. Snickers was still looking at everything, head up, eyes scanning, ears forward. Then we came to another gate, but this one wasn’t as tight. He went through that one fine, and then we turned south along the canal.

I was thinking about how this ride wasn’t much different from riding in the White Mountains – only the obstacles were different. Instead of rocks, logs, and the possibility of big cats and bears, here in the urban environment there were ditches, electrical boxes, concrete irrigation boxes, big trucks, and dogs. I wondered what my favorite sure-footed mountain horse, Cisco, would have made of all the crazy things here.

We rode south for a while, the cool breeze hitting us at last. The sun was bouncing off the water in the canal and the reflection was super hot. We were all sweating like crazy, but the breeze was somewhat cooling. Then we turned west and were paralleling a busy road with all manner of cars, trucks, motorcycles, and bicyclists. The horses seemed to be used to it and dealt with it all without being afraid. By this time Snickers was much more relaxed and had dropped his head a bit. It takes a lot of energy to be on alert for so long, and he had relaxed into the ride. Plus, I think he knew he was almost home at that point, so he was focused on that.

Finally, we turned onto the dirt alleyway behind Patty’s property, and soon we were home. As we dismounted, I realized how sweaty the horses were. I’d felt it on Snickers’ neck when I patted him from time to time, but his whole body was drenched by the time we got home. The ride had taken only about an hour, but the hour had flown by, packed with focused, engaged riding. So, it was fun!

Patty and I un-tacked the horses, hosed them down, brushed out their manes and tails, and then gave them treats for a ride well done. At last, the horses were turned out into the pasture area where they relaxed and munched on the lush green grass.

I helped Patty clean up the barn area, and then it was time for me to leave. Despite having to get up very early (for me), I always enjoy my time with the horses, and yesterday was a great day!

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