After a week of relatively relaxed rides at the new-old barn. . . we had another not-so-great ride yesterday. As you recall, I suspected a few weeks ago that Tucker may have been having a mid-life crisis . Yesterday I had to get off and lunge the poor beast (on a really hot day, which I really hated doing to him), because he was spooking (at something that shouldn’t have been quite that scary) so badly that he was becoming unsafe, for both of us. ( Read: I do not trust my big clumsy horse to stand on his hind legs and not kill us both .) As you know, these situations cause an immediate morph into Rider-Scientist Extraordinaire. I’ll walk you through my varied list of hypotheses as to the possible causes of this errant behavior, and show you where the Process of Elimination has gotten me so far. 1. I went with the easiest solution first — maybe it’s just a little extra-special Spring Fever, and maybe he just needs a few pro rides. Limited success there, I know the pro I was using had one very good ride on him. Since he was spooking and occasionally acting like a moron (sorry Tucker, but it’s true dear) even with the pro, though, I don’t think that was the solution. 2. Next guess was the grain, and this hypothesis definitely had merit. When I switched barns, we also switched feeds. He has been on Omelene 400 , which is a grain that I love, for about 3 1/2 years now (he also gets beet pulp, but that didn’t change). It’s low sugar, low protein (12%), and high fiber, and it’s forage-based (beet pulp), not grain-based, which seems to be better for Tucker. It also has the Amplify nugget built right in, which is a weight-gain supplement I had looked into even before I started this feed. When we moved, we switched him to Triple Crown Complete , which was the preferred feed of the barn manager there, who is very knowledgeable about nutrition and feeding. It’s also beet pulp-based, and it’s the same 12% protein level, so I figured it was comparable. It is, however, higher in sugar and lower in fiber, and anyone who has ever been on a diet will know immediately that means more calories. Since Tucker was high as a kite, I thought maybe the change in feed was making him fresh. Long story short, he’s back on the O-400 (has been for several weeks now), but the issue still isn’t resolved. So, the grain-switch may not have helped matters, but the buck (haha, pun intended) does not stop here.
Ever noticed how a lot of things in riding follow the old “chicken or the egg” principle? Sometimes it’s tough to know who is feeding off of whom, and who started it. I was pretty much fully recovered physically from my fall last week by Thursday (thanks to a steady routine of Sore-No-More, Advil, and Vodka), but the mental effects lingered well into the weekend. I’ve only been bucked off my horse once before (I’ve mentioned he’s basically a saint, right?), a few years ago, and I got pretty hurt, so it was a few weeks before I could get back on. After that fall, I found myself terrified of him, and had to lunge him before I got on (yes, the big sweet overgrown labrador, on the lunge line, for no reason at all, looking at me like I was nuts). This time was far less traumatic, but I still found myself feeling overly cautious when I climbed back into the tack. When he spooked at a jump standard as we trotted past it, I couldn’t help but wonder — am I creating this, because I’m worried about it? They read us so well, it’s entirely possible that I was giving off some weird vibes. So after the ride, we went for a long walk. There is a beautiful pond on the farm and I wanted to go walk around it. Tucker had never been back there, and ordinarily I would try to take him with a buddy the first time. But I felt strongly, on this beautiful Spring morning, with the birds chirping and the sun shining and everything smelling like sunshine and flowers, that we needed some bonding time. So we headed out alone, and Tucker marched along like a champ, enjoying the breeze, ears forward, tail swinging, until we got about 100 yards away from the pond. That’s when we spotted the Row Boat Tied to the Tree. Not something that would scare you or me, but Tucker explained, rather calmly [picture the voice-over on a National Geographic documentary], standing stock still in his tracks, that he is a 1200-pound, juicy, tasty, lean, flight animal, and he was therefore altogether NOT in the habit of nonchalantly approaching unidentified objects that could very well turn out to be sleeping predators just waiting for a mid-morning snack. It’s just plain common sense. Obviously. As I asked him to move forward, he became insistent that turning and running was for my benefit as well, and made a few bids to spin, which I somehow avoided by sitting still and guiding him forward with an opening rein. Tucker, on the other hand, was in FULL DRAMA LLAMA MODE. He is, after all, primarily responsible for my welfare, and will bravely escort me to safety in the face of certain danger , when necessary. So we took about ten steps at a time, stopped, threw the periscope up, and stared at the row boat/sleeping jaguar, about ten times. I tried to reassure him that it was just a boat. He said, “ I DON’T KNOW FROM BOATS .” I tried to reason with him, I asked him what else would be beside a lake besides a row boat? He sighed and explained that horses don’t have the time or energy for that kind of logic. Spook now, think later, live to tell the tale.