However steady Harley may be when we are out and about, occasionally I am reminded that even a confident trail horse can become afraid. At the very end of our ride, we walked by a neighbor's backyard and they had a silvery, birthday balloon tied in the garden. The helium-filled, reflective object bobbed in the gentle breeze before I noticed it and Harley actually stopped and balked. I turned him and re-approached the balloon, but he balked again.
I stopped and thought for a moment.
Should I force him up to the balloon? He is not putting up a real fight and it certainly feels like I could make him walk up to it. On the other hand, he is a reliable horse and it seems unfair to turn around and demand that he ignore his own feelings of caution. Harley's ears were back listening to me even though I was not speaking aloud.
I decided to pass on the training opportunity and give the balloon a wide berth. We were still within 25 feet of the silvery foe, but Harley appreciated the space and relaxed, marching forward like the object had never crossed our path. In the back of my mind, I will store this incident and if I remember, bring a silvery balloon to the barn one of these days to show him that there is nothing to fear. I know from experience, that all he has to do is touch the object with his nose and he will no longer be afraid, but a significant factor pushed my decision from "try" to "pass".
There was pavement under our feet.
A paved driveway. I will admit wholeheartedly that I have a fear of riding on pavement. My horse is not shod, so the likelihood of slipping is small, but I still possess this lurking image of falling on the pavement. If we hit the concrete, one or both of us will break. I do not like the feel of pavement under my horse's feet. It reminds me of ice. I vividly remember my Dad relaying a story in the paper when I was kid. A woman was riding her horse along the road, fell and hit her head on the asphalt and was killed instantly. I do not recall if she was wearing a helmet, but you can still get plenty hurt wearing a helmet. More recently, I read about a horse slipping on pavement and falling on his shoulder. The road to recovery has been very long, as the horse is still stiff and not back to full work even a year later. I also bear a couple noticeable scars on my right wrist and knee from when I fell from my bicycle in middle school. In my early twenties, I probably would have pressed the issue, but I no longer feel that I have anything to prove. Harley trusts me to keep him safe, as he has me, so that is my priority.
After this minor event, I thought about what scares Harley:
- Things that resemble holes (dark piles of mulch, dark puddles, or the dark face of a fallen log), although touching these things dispels his fear.
- The vet. He knows the sound of her truck and becomes visibly worried. On one occasion when I was at work, he refused to be caught, so he now has to be collected before she arrives. She is a very kind, compassionate vet, but unfortunately she is the one who has to stick him with needles. He does not forget!
- Loose and/or snarling dogs. Me, too! I often carry a dressage whip on trail rides for this very reason. We met up with an unleashed, bristling golden retriever one time. I did not think such a creature existed, and I was equally terrified. The owners were able to call the dog back before it reached us, but I had to wonder what turned the golden into "Cujo".
- Miniature Horses. The only time that I have seen him really wig out was when two miniature horses charged us from across an arena. I am sure that he had no idea what they were, but they smelled like horses and looked like dogs going in for the kill. He ran backwards 50 feet before he would be consoled. He did touch noses with them several minutes later, but has remained very skeptical of miniature horses, especially when they are harnessed to a cart. Apparently, he makes a distinction between ponies and miniature horses. Go figure.
Truly believing that he will not be afraid is a powerful prevention.