Last Sunday Blake was saddled, relaxed and ready to go. I’d arrived thirty minutes early, and, maybe because I’d rehearsed it many times, I had him ready in only thirty minutes. (I’d asked for help twice to meet my goal: Be ready to ride by ten o’clock. And now it was precisely ten. Yay!)
Robin, my teacher, waited at Blake’s head; I climbed the mounting block, put one foot in the stirrup--- when gunfire ripped the air! Crack! Crack! Another horse being led around the arena for exercise leaped to one side and half-reared: his owner had a hard time holding on to his halter rope. Blake managed to contain himself, but just barely! He stiffened, held his head high and pointed his ears toward the sound, ready to run. That sound was- alien. He knew all the others- the clang of the barn’s metal doors in wind, for example, or hammers banging. This one didn’t fit.
I immediately stepped away and tried to make sense of what I was hearing. Robin, though, was angry, not fearful.
Holding firmly to Blake’s bridle she calmed him and then spoke loudly to all of us.
“Those rifle shots are from the neighbor kid, shooting targets in his yard. He’s supposed to notify us 30 minutes before he shoots, but he hasn’t honored that. This isn’t the first time, either.”
My God. That irresponsible behavior could have resulted in serious injuries to both horses and riders. Spooked, they can run blindly right through fences and into traffic.
BTW, Sunshine Farms was established well before the area was this populated. Oddly, there is NO ordinance against target shooting close to the Farm, to date. So apparently the teen was not legally bound to notify Robin by text or phone. But the danger to others posed by this lack of personal discipline is considerable.
Robin and I agreed that riding would be unwise. Blake was clearly on high alert. The gunfire continued. So I unsaddled him, put everything back in the tack room again, and a bit later, returned to Robin. We were glum, but then she brightened.
“No one can safely ride right now, but I have another idea. I’ll bring our two champion cart ponies out here to play. They’re lots of fun to watch: their antics are guaranteed to cheer us up!”
Robin led an eager black-with-white-stockings pony into the arena; this slim, perky mare has won many awards for Sunshine Farms. She snapped off the rope and Star was free. Though trembling with anticipation, she didn’t move an inch.
The whites of her eyes shone as she watched Robin disappear around a corner toward another stall while tossing an explanatory comment our way.
“Star’s waiting for her friend, Missy. I’m getting her, now.”
A minute later she led a pretty nut-brown pony into the arena and snapped off her lead. Instantly the two friends dashed off from a standing start, using the vast space to play ‘catch me if you can.’ Hooves flashed: there was spontaneous bucking, rearing, whinnying, racing out at full gallop, and much bouncing in place while they thought of new ways to go ‘flashy.’ The ponies ignored the jumps, set up to school the Farm’s big hunter/jumper horses.
Cart ponies are never ridden.
The ponies heard the gun’s cracks but were so engrossed in thundering around that they weren’t as bothered. Star showed her stuff, racing around the arena at a fast trot. Holding close to the wall her slim legs rose high as she pranced by in fine style. She’d look elegant in the show ring, her driver, cart and harness gleaming, her eyes flashing, mane and tail flowing, in her element! Cart ponies love showtime and applause!
Missy, who has also won ribbons, wasn’t quite as flashy, but flowed along, close to Star, wheeling and charging, whinnying and making playful feints. They rolled on the soft ground together, heads stretched out, hooves waving at the ceiling. Twenty minutes later they stood front-to-back, mutually wither-grooming. (Horses can scratch their own chins, necks, faces, bellies and front legs with a back hoof, but can never reach this spot. Wither-grooming is very pleasurable for both parties, and tends to cement friendships.)
The gunfire finally ceased, too late for a lesson. Never mind; high school would begin again tomorrow...
This incident served as another firm reminder: ALWAYS be vigilant when working closely with prey animals, who react instantly, and sometimes violently, to sudden shocks.
In the barn lives Percy, a very, very fat little goat who likes to enter random stalls to settle underneath the chosen equine’s enormous, four-pillared body. Both peacefully munch lunch from their very different elevations. No resident seems bothered by these unannounced visits.
Just before the ‘pony show’ I popped into the barn to check how the horses were reacting to the rifle shots. Some heads jerked; there was nervous whinnying and some restless pacing. Workers reassured the more anxious animals.
And there he stood, legs a bit splayed, just outside a stall, little hooves buried in hay, forehead placed exactly on the V-edge of the stall’s outer corner.
He was precisely balanced, but...... too still.
I peered at Percy more carefully. Hmmm. Knees locked, eyes shuttered, hay strands dangling from his slightly opened, goateed mouth, no masticating jaws, almost imperceptible breathing---
He was deeply asleep!
Some prey animals just don’t give a damn.