September is upon us once again and I can’t believe how fast the summer has flown by. I’ve been riding Radar for about five months now and there are a few things I have discovered about him that I hadn’t known before. No matter how much ground work you do, no matter how many years fly by, no matter what you think you know about your horse, there are certain things a person can’t possibly understand until astride that horse.
I will admit to some spectacular trail rides on Radar over the last few months and to a couple of horrible ones as well. Taking him out solo has yielded the most gratifying rides for both of us. Nothing for him to worry about but he and I, he travels quickly, easily and obediently. We can cover great distances at a brisk walking pace up and down winding, wooded trails. Add in other horses, however, and my lovely trail horse can turn into an unpredictable, competitive freak—he is, after all, a race horse! So now the “deconstructing” of my horse’s brain has begun. Will this process yield the same results as my previous nine years of body “reconstruction?” I sure hope so.
Radar has a couple of pasture friends who he trusts and he will eagerly go out with Earl, the Norwegian Fjord or Hawk, the Andalusian. Poor Earl with his short Fjord legs, has great difficulty keeping up with Radar’s ground-covering Thoroughbred stride. But he happily trots or canters up behind Radar’s walk when he falls behind. For the most part, both Earl and Radar have worked it all out and it doesn’t really seem to bother either one of them most of the time. I was positive the first time we went out with Hawk that his long forearm and shoulder would allow him to walk and keep up with Radar, but no, even Hawk will lag behind sometimes and has to trot to catch up. Most of the time Radar is nonplussed and he just keeps on walking. He can have his moments, especially when heading for home, but so far he hadn’t done anything that really shocked me, and certainly nothing I hadn’t been able to ride out.
That all changed a couple of rides ago, however and I decided to have Radar looked at by Dr. Julie Page of Peninsula Equine Services again. After nine years of listening to my horse I felt I owed it to him to have his body checked out first, not just assume that these recent developments were a training issue. I explained to her about his eagerness to go out alone, about his even quicker pace once his internal GPS turns for home, and his ability to leap ditches, jump banks, and perform caprioles in the middle of narrow, forested trails. Susan tells me that, from behind, it looks like he is exploding through a starting gate. He will rock way back on his haunches then leap forward in a single bound. “It’s almost as if he is trying to get away from his back end,” I told Dr. Page.
One ride recently was lovely; just Radar and I, Susan and Earl. Radar’s pace, always too fast for Earl, really quickened on the way home that day and there was great distance between us. We came off the trail onto our property first and Radar heard his pasture-mate, Cash, whiney from the barn. Radar called back to Cash just as Earl was coming off the trail and then he lost it. He reared, bucked then backed up really fast into the blackberry bushes. At that point, Susan said, he rocked back on his haunches, obviously goosed himself on the large blackberry canes and leaped forward, all four feet off the ground. I think he threw in another buck or rear before I was able to spin him around and make a quick dismount.
Dr. Page asked if there was anything else I could add and I told her that yes, the very next ride was even more bizarre. That beautiful Sunday morning we had plans to ride with Susan and Earl again. Then Penni decided to join us on Hawk. This would be a good test for Radar; he goes out fine with Earl and fine with Hawk. He should be fine going out with both of them at the same time. At the last minute, however, another friend and long-time trail riding buddy of mine decided to join us on her new mare, Kestrel, a lovely bay Morgan. Radar was focused and happily looking forward to our trail ride with his bros, and everything felt just fine as we rode down to the barn to meet up with them. When Radar came around the arena, however, and saw Diana and Kestrel standing there, he froze and his entire demeanor changed. We stood there, adults happily chatting and making introductions while Radar looked from Earl to Hawk to Kestrel and back again.
We barely made it to the trailhead at Island Center Forest that day before Radar started freaking out and even his trusted “pony-horse,” Earl couldn’t calm him. His ears were pinned, he was walk-trotting, throwing his head and basically pitching a fit. We ran into some bees and that made it even worse. We tried putting Diana and Kestrel ahead of us and that was better for a very short time, before my horse completely melted down. By this point, Hawk was behind me—way behind me—the other two farther ahead and Radar was losing it. Finally I decided that it wasn’t my day to die so I got off my horse and sent the three other friends on to continue the ride while I walked my horse back to the barn. And trust me when I say that we had a lengthy conversation on that mile plus walk back home in the sweltering heat, me and my horse.
“So, Doc,” I asked. “What do you think is up with that?”
She smiled at me knowingly, but said, “Well, let’s take a look and see what we find first, then we’ll talk about that.”