Oct17collage.jpgThursday I hung thirty-six orienteering flags at Torchy and Betsy Millar’s farm, Ghostwood, for the H.O.G. event October 11. (H.O.G. stands for Hockley Orienteering Games.) This is the fourth year and the growth has climbed steadily (year one: 12, year two 25, year three 50) until this year. Over 130 people orienteering at an idyllic site in heavenly weather over Thanksgiving weekend.

Friday I checked some flag locations and remapped the Upper Buffalo Paddock. Bill found the Google Earth site and printed out an aerial view which defined each tree. Finally I had distinct reference points. Placing the thirty cross-country jumps accurately on my map had left me pulling out my hair…for three years. Now those dastardly jumps were MINE!!! It was a thrill to walk the large area and outwit those jumps.

Saturday (the day of the event) my jobs kept me near the registration area. Bill gave the riders a map reading clinic and our orienteering friends, Nancy and George Prime, handled the walkers’ map clinic, the walker’s start times, the walkers’ finish times, read the walkers’ control punch cards and when the last competitor finished the course Nancy and George went into the forest and brought back the walkers’ 16 orienteering flags. (To say that the Primes took care of the walkers is an understatement!)

Sunday was a day of rest which found us at Ghostwood in the afternoon retrieving the riders’ twenty orienteering markers and their corresponding punches from the forest.

Monday, well, that was OUR day. Mike Charters arrived after 11:00 A.M. to load Zelador and Zeloso onto his trailer. The two Lusitanos haven’t been off the property since last year’s post-H.O.G. trail ride. Both Lusitanos have demonstrated to us that they are capable of doing delightfully silly things while outdoors, which could place their riders in jeopardy. They haven’t been hacked on our farm except for a recent outing for Zeloso and Bill. In fact, Bill bailed off of Zeloso during that ride. He was with Allen (on Kye) and Sophie (on Blue). When the trio started walking down a hill, Zeloso crab hopped/jumped/leaped (he was quite athletic and almost performed a courbette). Bill decided picking his “dismount” was a far better plan than allowing Zeloso to eject him.

Between that episode and OUR Monday I talked with Beverley Chubb and Betsy Millar. Both have decade upon decade of experience with horses (and both are very young, mind you!) and both said, “Who needs to be a hero? Tranquilize the boys!!” I also remembered a vet recalling being knocked out twice over twenty years ago…BEFORE she became a vet and learned about tranquilizers. She says, “Ace is a rider’s best friend. If I’d had that drug when I was rehabilitating my three-year-old Thoroughbred I’d have two less concussions, ribs that hadn’t been broken and an arm…”

The tranquilizer is syringed into the mouth and sixty minutes later, it takes effect. The drug works for four hours. I “aced” Z and Z at 10:00 A.M.

Mike was due to arrive at 11:00 (that’s why I chose 10:00 A.M. for the boys), but pulled into the farm around 11:20. We’d had two instances last year when Zeloso was uneasy about walking onto the trailer. Mike was aware of Zeloso’s “problem” and had several plans. There was plan “A”, plan “B” and plan “C”. (That’s why we LOVE Mike!)

Plan “A” was: load them up the ramp, Zeloso’s nose close to Zelador’s tail. If that didn’t work, plan “B” was: forget the ramp, open the back of the trailer and use the step-up. Both boys climb up on our 18 inch high pedestal with ease and Mike was prepared to capitalize on that “trick”. Plan “C”… (I know Mike had a Plan “C”, but he never got a chance to describe it. And that’s the GOOD news!)

I led Zelador up the ramp and Bill led Zeloso. Both youngsters walked on the trailer like old pros. Seeing Zeloso stride up the ramp, calm and cool, was priceless.

Betsy Millar welcomed us at Ghostwood and pointed out some stalls for us to use. Housing them there helped the boys relax. They could move about freely and case the joint. After letting them settle, we tacked up. I took Zelador to the round pen and Bill took Zeloso to the adjoining paddock. The boys could see each other and this had a calming effect. I worked Zelador at liberty while Bill worked Zeloso in-hand. Within minutes it was obvious that the young Lusitanos were “with us” (focusing on us and not reacting to the environment surrounding them). Time to mount up and GO!

Bill had planned a non-hilly route through the open areas and on forest trails. The last ultra-sound in August showed Zeloso’s ligament very close to being totally healed and getting over-zealous on this very special outing could undo months of rehabilitation. We limited out ride to sixty minutes.

As we walked at Ghostwood we couldn’t help but compare this year’s ride with last year’s. The work we’ve done with the boys over the last twelve months has helped them (and us) tremendously. Last year Turtle Crossing was uncrossable (as far as the boys were concerned). Bill had to get off Zeloso and lead him with me close behind. This year the boys noticed the crossing, but didn’t hesitate.

The water complex last year had just a few inches of liquid in it. A lead horse helped us get the boys into the water, through the water and out the other side. This year’s rain had the water level over a foot in depth. We approached the water from the same angle we did last year and allowed the boys to look at it. Both drank! And while we were relaxing and giving them time to get accustomed to the water, both boys walked in. Zelador had his head skimming the water’s surface. I remembered Penny telling me about a ride over water in Florida on Winsome. He, too, had his head low and Penny’s riding companion said, “You’d better watch him. I think he’s going to roll.” As she was responding, “Don’t worry, he won’t…” Winsome went down, dumped her and took off bucking. Penny said she was so mad she yelled, “WINSOME !!!! Get back here!!!” He stopped, turned and walked back!

As Zelador and I were sloshing through Ghostwood’s water complex I told him to mind his p’s and q’s. He did. We reached the other side without an incident, but then I learned his plan. With his head low he came to an abrupt halt when he reached the grass. He started munching at a furious rate. I couldn’t get his head UP!

Bill started to laugh. You see, Zelador’s been on a diet since the vet came and did Zeloso’s ultra-sound near the end of August. Dr. Ruth Barbour said that many horses were too fat this year because of the huge amount of rainfall. The grass never died away in July, like it usually does. She put Zelador on a diet and sent me to buy a grazing muzzle.

So, there we were at the edge of the water where the grass was delightfully delicious and begging to be eaten AND for the first time in a long time Zelador found his mouth near grass and he didn’t have his muzzle on! Bill came over to us and handed me his crop. With a judicious tap on Zelador’s rump I was able to get his head away from the grass and we resumed our trail ride.

The hour passed oh so quickly. We put them back in the stalls and let them chill out. When it came time to load I asked Mike if he’d like to see Zelador perform a bow. I’d wanted to show Mike this for many months, but he was always on a tight shipping schedule and didn’t have time to accompany me and Zelador the eighty metres from the lower barn to our arena.

He said, “Yes” and the three people cleaning the Ghostwood barn gathered close to watch. Well, I’m always very conscious of the terrain that I ask Zelador to kneel on. I checked the grass and felt that the surface was safe. I stood at his left side and asked for the bow. He eagerly put his head down…and ATE GRASS. He did bend his left knee (the one he places on the ground). He did stretch the right front leg forward like he normally does, only this time it was done to facilitate EATING. He did move both hind legs back a wee bit which is normal for preparing to bow, but on this occasion he did it to get his head even deeper into the grass. The viewers laughed and I remembered Daniel Nummer (a great horse trick trainer) saying, “Performing on grass is a whole different matter!”

One of the onlookers suggested that I move away from the grass and onto the driveway, but I pointed out that the surface was too rough. The only answer was to go to the sand ring or the arena and both locations were over a hundred metres away. We abandoned the bow and went with a BIG SMILE!

Time to load. We got the horses “nose to tail”. I led Zelador onto the trailer and expected Zeloso and Bill to follow suit. Nope. Didn’t happen. Zelador and I chilled out in the box stall while Bill and Mike tried to help Zeloso.

After a few minutes we shut Zelador’s door and I went to Zeloso. I picked up my “horse friendly guider whip” created by Allen Pogue (www.imagineahorse.com) and proceeded to school Zeloso in the Spanish Walk. The guider whip has a soft green ball (about three centimetres in diameter) at the end. I tapped Zeloso’s left shoulder and he lifted the leg…just like he’s done hundreds of times at home. I told him he was a GOOD BOY. We stopped, I led him in a small circle and we returned to the foot of the ramp. I tapped his right shoulder. He lifted that leg. Once again, GOOD BOY and we went for a short walk. About the fourth time we circled I dropped the whip when we came to the ramp, placed my hand on his halter and he walked calmly and politely onto the trailer.

So, why did he do this? Bill said, “The horse was tired of the Spanish Walk and ready to do ANY thing else.”

I figured Zeloso had developed a cement block in his head about getting on the trailer. I needed to get him to think about something else, then lead him on.

And, you guessed it, the tranquilizer had worn off. It was after 3:00 in the afternoon and we were on our own!!! No “ace” in the hole to help us.

But, the good news is: redirecting the horse’s brain to something he enjoys helped him get onto the trailer and it should help us in the future.

Tuesday and Wednesday I noticed something in Zelador’s demeanor which resulted in me and Zelador hacking for an hour, ALONE on our farm. We’ve never done this before and he was a perfect gentleman. However…during both rides he got that lovely head of his on the ground and ate grass. He only out-foxed me once each day. (I did “smarten up”!)