Wednesday, December 12, 2012

You Never Know


                                       by Laura Crum

            I will admit it. I spend a good part of winter either watching it rain, or looking morosely at the mud and thinking it’s too muddy to ride. We get plenty of rain here in coastal California in the winter. (It is raining as I type this.) And I am a weather wimp. I do not ride in the rain. I do not ride if it’s below 50 degrees (or above 80 for that matter). I don’t ride if it’s very windy. Yes,  I’m a weather wimp. Go ahead and make fun of me, you tougher sorts who live in more challenging climates
            However, one of the good things about coastal central California is we have a Mediterranean climate here. This means that though it rains, it almost never snows. It rarely gets down into the 20’s, very, very rarely into the teens. And we gets LOTS of sunny winter days in the 60’s and even 70’s. And these days are perhaps the best riding weather of the year.
            So I do ride quite a bit in the winter. Often we ride on the beach, as we did on Monday. The beach is always good footing. And often it looks like this.

            Yes, that is the view from the cliff top where we began our ride. Pretty idyllic, don’t you think? And yes, I think I live in Paradise. Despite the rainy days.
            The thing about riding on the beach is that you need to schedule your ride for low tide, so there is lots of firm wet sand to ride on. And I prefer days when the surf is not high—its so much more peaceful. And then, as I said, I’m a weather wimp. The temp has to be in the 60’s or 70’s or I don’t want to go. And there is one more thing about riding on the beach…or riding “outside” in general. You never know what you will meet. And sometimes it can be quite surprising/alarming.
 So this last Monday we had a very low tide in the afternoon with low surf and the temp was about 70. Needless to say, we headed for the beach.


            Interestingly, the very low tide had created many tidepools in the beach sand, and, of course, everybody wanted to wade through them. At least, the people did.

            The horses will wade if we insist, but they don’t exactly volunteer to go in the water. Nonetheless, we waded. I don’t have any pictures of Sunny wading, because I am required to pay attention as I urge him into the water, and I am also very thoughtful about the “bottom” as I once rode into just such an innocuous tide pool stream and found it to be a form of quicksand—my horse sunk almost to the shoulder and had a hard time getting out. So I pay attention and focus on my horse and surroundings rather than taking photos. But here is Sunny watching Twister get wet.

            We don’t usually insist that they go in the surf, because the waves going in and out have the effect of making many horses dizzy. Having had horses stagger and nearly go down in the breakers (Wally had one that did go down), I am thoughtful about this. But the tide pools were much like streams, and the horses waded through them easily enough.

            Then we trotted and loped down the beach for a bit, until we’d had enough. It was a bright, pretty day and there were a few people about, even though this is a private,  secluded beach. We saw some very active dogs chasing shorebirds, joggers—one of whom wanted to take our picture-- a mountain biker…etc. The horses were not bothered by any of this, and seemed to be enjoying the ride as much as we were.
            Eventually we turned around and headed back. It really was a lovely day.

            Not five minutes after I took this photo, a small single person aircraft thingy—what we call a flying lawnmower—appeared, flying along the shore, oh, about forty feet overhead. My son and Wally were quite excited. Being the worry wart I am, I was instantly concerned that the horses wouldn’t care for it. However, I am smart enough not to share my worry with either my kid or my horse. While thinking, shit, I hope these horses don’t freak out, I kept my legs loose, my body relaxed and consciously did not tighten up the reins. I said, in a chipper tone of voice, “Yeah, I see it, how cool,” to my kid, adding calmly, “just be sure you have a hold of the horn.” And then, to my dismay, the thing proceeded to land right next to us. OK, not RIGHT next to us, but close enough.
            And no, I have no pictures. My heart was racing. I was thinking about avoiding a disaster, not taking photos. I remained outwardly relaxed and cheerful, but I kept an eagle eye on Sunny and Henry, looking for any signs of panic. But I was the only one who was nervous. All the horses regarded the flying lawnmower with mild interest, including watching it take back off, to the sound of much angry buzzing. Whew.
            I know our horses are steady and experienced, but still, I would have expected more reaction. Anyway, it ended up being another lovely day, along with giving me a small reminder that you never know what you’ll stumble upon. And I bet many of you have equally interesting stories about stuff you’ve met on the trail. I think our scariest moment was facing two huge, very low-flying helicopters at the beach. How about you?



jenj said...

I remember being at a medieval reenactment event with Cash, and riding through an encampment. There was a little girl skipping toward us, decked out in a pink poofy skirt, twirling a pink parasol with a 10 foot streamer on it. I thought for SURE that Cash was going to react, but he marched by that little girl like he saw that sort of thing every single day.

Now, the dead tree stump 20 feet down the road, he was POSITIVE that it had a big, hairy, horse-eating monster in it. We did a lovely half-pass-and-snort by it.

And that's when I REALLY understood that you can never tell what will spook a horse. You can give it your best guess, but they'll always surprise you. ;)

irish horse said...

What a great ride, the beach is so lovely. I'd love a chance to ride in the sand, and the sun! like that.

Horses choose to be scared of the strangest things. I'm glad your horses were unfazed by the flying lawnmower (ha!) but watch out for that next big scary rock on the trail!

I once had a helicopter right overhead, with a powerline repairman dangling from it. Like you I tried not to convey my anxiety to the horse. He was completely unfazed.

I hope you have more sunny winter days!

Laura Crum said...

jenj and irish horse--I completely agree about not knowing what will scare a horse. In the five years I've owned Sunny, and over many hundreds of rides, he has seldom spooked, and he's faced some rather alarming things. But maybe ten times total, he has spooked big time (where you're suddenly facing the other way) and it was always at something pretty normal. A stump, or a tarp on the ground by the road, or a shore bird taking off--after watching hundreds of other shorebirds take off. Go figure. He will normally walk calmly over bridges, and yet he absolutely refused one particular (not very scary) little bridge. Horses are so funny.

Thanks for your comments!

Francesca Prescott said...

Looks like you had another lovely ride, Laura. I've got to come out there sometime...

I don't think Qrac would have been quite so cool about the flying lawnmower, although you never know. Then again, he spooked at his own poo in the arena the other day! Seriously!

Laura Crum said...

Cesca--I have had horses spook at their own manure, too. And even steady Sunny refuses to step in manure on the trail--his or someone else's. He must step carefully over or around it...never mind that he seems to have no problem rolling in manure if he can find it in his corral. Yep, horses are so funny.

AareneX said...

I am soooooo jealous of those blue skies, Laura! Our Swampland sky is currently an uninterrupted shade of grey...matches my hoodie perfectly...but hey, it's not sn*wing, so I'm not complaining.

RE: scary stuff on the trail, I know you've read my "helicopter story", yes?

It amazes me that I can trot a horse through a working log camp (with chainsaws and booms and log trucks and cranes swinging trees over our heads) without a blink, but she will shriek in terror if we encounter a Dorito bag on the trail.


Laura Crum said...

Aarene--I don't think I've read your helicopter story...and the link didn't come through. Tell me where to find it on your blog?

And I hear you about the Doritos bag versus the logging camp. Ain't that the truth.

Anonymous said...

We occasionally have hot air baloons that sail overhead or even land nearby - sometimes the horses don't even notice them even as they're floating right overhead.

Pie's scariest thing is small, running children, particularly if they're screaming - but then they scare me too!

Dawn has a thing about bags - plastic, paper, you name it.

I've had horses refuse to step on those white crossing lines on streets . . .

Martine said...

A young woman on roller blades, with a large backpack, gliding effortlessly down the mountain road - deep, deep in rural Provençe.
Flurry looked at her with mild curiosity, shrugged and said "pfft" (no, I made that up!) and carried on. Six months before, he had freaked out when a bicycle approached us - it's really amazing what they come to accept as normal.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--My older horses, now retired (Gunner and Plumber), were both scared of the white lines o the street, too. And the only thing I have ever seen Henry totally freak out about (fortunately he was loose in his corral at the time) was my son running about dressed in plastic armor and waving a shield and sword. I have no idea why that bothered old reliable Henry, but it sure did.

Martine--None of mine are bothered by bicycles....yet. And we have yet to meet a person on roller blades. My old mountain horse, Flanigan, really disliked people with backpacks. I had to make them speak to him...I'm pretty sure he didn't know they were humans, because he would get over it once they said something to him.

jane ayres said...

Another beautiful post and the pics are stunning. Thank you. I have just nominated Equestrian Ink for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award. The link is here. :)

Laura Crum said...

Thank you jane ayres!

White Horse Pilgrim said...

My old grey who is out on loan became extremely alarmed the first time he was clipped by the lady who has him. All this white stuff was landing around him in the stable and he was frightened. (It wasn't the clipper - we checked - no, it was the white fur that had appeared from nowhere!)

That gelding had grown up in an area where bears and wolves were common. He was very much atuned to natural hazards and would on occasions clearly ask me whether to run. He was ready to fly. People and machinery were 'safe' by comparison.

A friend told me of a whole group of horses bolting on an organised ride because they saw a donkey. That was in France. Here in England it's pigs that alarm native horses. I've been in a lesson where there was a pig outside one corner of the arena and every horse spooked by that corner on each circuit.

Laura Crum said...

WHP--I learned about the pig thing the hard way. I hadn't known that many horses are afraid of pigs until I tried to ride a seasoned old ranch horse through a pig farm, and he almost flipped over backward with me. I told my cowboy uncle this story and he laughed and said, "A lot of horses are scared of pigs." Ok then...wish somebody had told me.

Interesting that your gelding was able to "use" his fear instincts in intelligent ways.

Alison said...

Oh to read the horses's minds as to what the 'thing' that landed possibly could have been. Obviously, they did not perceive it as predator (thank goodness.)

As always, I enjoyed the trail ride along with you.

Laura Crum said...

Alison--I was really surprised that they didn't show any alarm. I fully expected it!

RiderWriter said...

OOOh, I'm so jealous of your beautiful beach riding! The only time I've ever ridden on a beach is in CA, actually. It's a shame it was a grey and overcast day but it still was fun.

I was trail riding with a friend on one of her horses when a couple of mountain bikers came around a corner all of a sudden. My horse stopped, stood still and looked verrrrrry hard at them with his ears up, but thank goodness, no major fireworks. His calmness translated to his buddy on whom my friend was mounted. After the bikers had passed us, my friend said, "WOW - Leafy was really good, he's never seen anyone on a bicycle before!" O.o I had not known that, and in retrospect, it's probably a good thing or I would have been seriously freaking out!