Yesterday, Sue related to me, Raven was bad. He is usually a sweetie, but he does have a bit of the devil in him, and it popped out after she schooled him.
Because it’s only polite, she and I usually pick up horse poop in the arena after Raven has so generously dropped it. I don’t believe I’ve seen other folks do it, but that’s okay. Rae and Curtis know who cleans up after themselves.
Sue gets up at an ungodly hour so that she can be schooling him in the arena by 6 AM. By doing so, she gets a raked and cleaned arena, all to herself.
I wasn’t there.
Now that I’ve retired from the Army, I’ve decided that I don’t get up at oh dark thirty anymore (yes, we DID use that term.). We (my husband and I) walk several miles every morning, and we’ll see Sue hacking Raven out in the jumping paddock, or riding in the arena, at 0640 or so. But when I am there, waiting my turn aboard Raven, I’ll have a bucket and a manure fork in hand, waiting for the Raven pellets to hit the ground.
After schooling yesterday, Sue dismounted in the arena, and fortunately (and unusually), crossed the reins before attaching them to her saddle. She wanted to save time by picking up manure before untacking Raven.
Raven usually follows one in the arena like a big dog. You needn’t be attached to the horse via rein or lead rope, he will be right beside you.
However, yesterday was different.
Sue had trundled the wheeled manure bucket, with the fork, into the arena-and had left the gate open.
How many times has he followed her or me, without our worrying whether he’ll leave us? It’s never happened.
But the other times, obviously, the gate was closed.
Yesterday, as Sue picked up droppings, Raven decided the open gate was permission to leave.
Several years of working at breeding farms and the track have taught me the sound of a loose horse. There’s not another horse related sound quite like it. It is not like the sound of a horse turned loose in his paddock. No, there is an indescribable excitement to it, an unmistakable exuberance, the sound of jubilation at a full gallop.
When I hear the hooves singing “I’m Free And You Can’t Catch Me”, I know what it means.
It’s so utterly different that I can hear it and, without seeing a horse, know one is loose. I can even tell, just from the staccato beat, if the horse is panicked or merely exhilarated. Sometimes one hears the clanging of empty irons, but loose horses aren’t always tacked up.
(I didn’t make that name up, by the way. I read it, long ago, written by someone.).
Is it the song of freedom? The sound his hooves make when a horse realizes he is suddenly free, that he is his own horse, and this time, this time, there is no one ordering him to ‘whoa’ or “turn left” or ‘stop’?
Raven purposefully trotted through the gate. Once clear of it, he kicked in his not inconsiderable afterburners.
You would think he would have headed for the barn, right? Where his stall and his breakfast were waiting?
No. Raven raced right past the barn, heading due south. He ran down the lane that ends in the jumping paddock. His turnout paddock is just before one gets to the opening to the jumping paddock. He stopped to check out the gate to his turnout paddock. Finding it closed, he dropped his head to graze.
Sue, astonished at Raven’s sudden defection,dropped the fork and walked out the arena. She ‘pushed her energy into the ground’. She forced herself to be calm, quiet, unemotional. Nothing ratchets the level up on an already excited horse like human panic.
Raven must have seen Sue come out of the arena, for he decided to keep heading south. He bolted for the jumping paddock. There is a low fence at the end of it, high enough to keep horses in-but Raven DOES know how to jump. And he had no one on his back.
Luckily, Curtis was in the jumping paddock. Seeing the flying Raven, he did what all good horsemen do-put out his arms and begin walking towards Raven (and hoping that Raven wouldn’t run him down). Raven made a hard right, raced along the fence line to the second lane that opens onto the jumping paddock, and, being forced by (much more solid fence) to turn again, turned right, heading him right back to the barn.
Sue had very wisely decided to come up that lane. Raven, realizing that he had a fast approaching Curtis (now on his tractor) from the south and a still very quiet and unexcited Sue coming from the north, stopped.
Sue caught him up, again, quietly and unemotionally. She told me later, she would have liked to have taken him right back into the arena and worked him, but she didn’t have the time. She took him into the barn, untacked him just like always, and put him in his stall. This time, though, she tied him to the back wall and let him think about what he’d done. He stayed there while she busied herself, and then just as she was leaving, untied and unhaltered him so he could eat his breakfast.
I wish I’d been there to help, but I had probably just awakened and was blundering about the house, trying to figure out which sock to put on which foot. I’m worthless until I get a walk and a glass of orange juice in me, and I’d had neither.
What I learned, vicariously, is that Raven is like any other horse. He’s so well mannered most of the time that I would never have expected this from him, Sue certainly didn’t expect it.
But we should always foresee something like this.
It’s something I should never forget. They are still willful animals. Raven may be a horse, but there is someone in that lovely head, someone who is always fully capable of taking advantage of a situation.
There is something about our horses, the ones we learn to love and trust, that we seem to forget. That is, they are intelligent, they have opinions and feelings. There are often times that we make them do something they’d rather not, but they do anyway. We become friends and partners with our horses, but somehow we humans forget that the other creature is NOT human, and doesn’t think like one. They have values much different from ours. They see things in a different light. They cannot extrapolate to the extent that we can. They can’t foresee situations they have no concept of.
What they DON’T know is something we do. When a horse breaks loose, what makes you the most afraid?
That someone has been hurt.
That the horse will get hurt.
That he will step on his reins and break his jaw. That he will fall and break a leg. That he will run full tilt into an unforgiving fence. That he will go THROUGH an unforgiving fence and onto a road, right into traffic.That he will hit someone or something.
Even in my rural neighborhood, it’s happened. A very, very rich woman, with a yacht in the backyard and a Benz in the driveway, a palatial estate and a too aesthetically driven taste for gateless fences, had an Appaloosa break loose from her. He could have gone in three other directions, where he would have been stopped by dense forest, the neighbors fenceline, or the Black River. But no, as if the devil himself had reined him, the Appaloosa turned and ran straight up her half mile long, tree lined lane, burst through the treeline onto the road, where it T-boned a speeding semi.
It was carnage.
They don’t understand. They can’t.
So we can be forgiven for the panic we feel when a horse is loose. But we must control it, and try our best to capture our wayward beast. Above all, we must not punish him when we do manage to catch him. By the time we catch him, he’s forgotten that he’s not supposed to run away, and any punishment will merely teach him that he was punished for allowing himself to be caught.
Arms out to your sides, walk towards the loose horse. Don’t run, don’t chase, don’t yell, and for goodness sakes, watch out. Don’t let yourself be run over by a panicked horse. Walk towards him, crooning sweet, calming nothings, and hope that, when you hear the Freedom Song, it ends happily.