Yesterday—just yesterday?—I spent an hour and a half with Jay in a stall with a stallion—at first, I forgot he was a stallion, because he was pretty mild-mannered. But he had not been taught to stand for the farrier—last month they had to sedate him to trim his hooves. Jay and I were tasked with getting him used to the idea.
I had the head end, while Jay worked on the feet. Sounds pretty simple—keep the horse quiet and standing in one place. Yes. And at the same time be sure to keep your own legs and feet out of the horse’s way as he tries to evade Jay. OK. I can do that. And if the horse does get antsy, keep out of reach of his hind hooves. Oh, and remember: this is a stallion, and if you offend him too badly, he’ll likely come after you to put you in your place. Flight won’t necessarily be his first choice.
Sheesh. I felt so dumb and clueless. Holding my own horse is nothing by comparison. Even at his worst, Galahad is pretty peaceable. This guy was fifteen and a half hands of solid power, not all that used to being handled. When he got agitated, you could feel every muscle in his body tense up, ready for the explosion.
At one point, I unaccountably found myself staring at his business end, praying he didn’t kick me. How that happened, I do not remember, but the moment passed and I got his lead rope back. Jay was so patient about explaining to me just why most of my natural instincts were wrong, and showing me a better, safer way of holding the rope and moving my body.
At first I kept forgetting to breathe, which meant I was tense, and so was the horse. About the time I settled down, the stall-cleaning crew arrived. That meant lots of noise and laughter, and turned me into a nervous wreck. I handed the horse back to Jay, who talked me down out of my tree. We got the horse back into his own stall and finished up. In the end, the stallion was willing to lift all four feet pretty well, though he’ll need some more work. Best of all, I hadn’t managed to mess up badly enough to cause injury to anyone, and my knees didn’t start to shake until we left the barn.
That wasn’t the only rough moment yesterday, either. Leading an old, lame mare back up from the lane to get her feet done turned into an adventure when she spotted a dreadful, horse-eating pig up the hill from the main barn. At that point, the mare, in self-defense, turned herself into a fire-breathing dragon, and pranced and danced and snorted her way clear into the barn.
And there was the thoroughbred gelding who, after working calmly in the arena, decided to make a run for his stall as I tried to open the gate. He nearly knocked me down on his way. Amazingly, I held onto the lead rope, spun his hindquarters around, and sent him back into the arena where he paused, looking confused. You could almost hear him wonder what went wrong with his plan. His plan? I was still trying to figure out what went wrong with mine!
Finally, at the very end of the day, I was minding my own business, following Jay leading another mare back to her stall after their round pen session. I rounded a corner and there, at eye level and bearing down on me, was Mama Llama. I have never been that close to a llama before, and have never really wanted to be. Pretty horrifying—though they all say she’s quite friendly and scarcely ever spits at anyone….