(continued from 12/17)
So I moseyed out to the field to fetch Caleb. I found him at the far end of the field. He was grazing but he came and greeted me.
"Hey, buddy, how's it going?" I crooned.
I lifted the halter and slid it over his head. He was fully cooperative and seemed extremely happy about it. After weeks of passing him by, I was finally here just for him. I could almost hear him saying, "Really?!?!? Me?!? You want to play with me?!" He was so excited that I was actually taking him out of the field.
I brushed some flies away from him. He had a lot of flies pestering him. Then I turned and led him on the long walk back to the gate that led to the arena. He followed without hesitation -- he just seemed so happy. It was priceless.
Our path led by a neighboring field with a dominent gelding pastured in it. That gelding approached us as we passed by his fence. This made Caleb very nervous. So I let Caleb walk on the other side of me, putting myself between him and the fenced gelding. Then out of nowhere, Scooter appeared behind us. Tension crackled in the air. I blew out a big breath of air to keep myself relaxed and alert. I had no idea what was happening, but I wanted to be ready for it.
Suddenly I heard pounding hooves behind me. I turned to look. Caleb and the neighboring gelding were galloping side by side, each on his own side of the fence. To this day, I only have theories about what that was all about -- I don't actually know.
I thought Caleb would run when the other two started, but he only walked a little closer to me and gave me no trouble at all. I blew another relaxing breath of air. Whew. Caleb and I reached the gate leading to the arena with no mishaps.
Some horses do not come through a gate nicely. Caleb was not one of them. He did not balk; nor did he charge through. I held the gate for him and he walked through like a gentleman. I was quite impressed.
Once we made it through the gate, however, he stopped to graze. Polite horses at that barn are supposed to turn themselves to face the gate once they are through it. It makes it easier and safer for the person to close and latch the gate. Caleb, on the other hand, had his hindquarters squarely facing the post where the gate latches. Ah-hem.
Usually, I would ask a horse to simply swing his hindquarters around so that he was facing the gate -- only I had never done that with Caleb before and I really wasn't in a safe position to do that for the first time. So, instead, I walked forward, leading him in a small circle that ended with him facing the gate. Then I latched it securely.
I had already decided that I would act like Caleb knew nothing. This was partly because it had been 3 years or so since he practiced whatever he once knew. It was also partly because I didn't know what things he had learned with his owners. How far did he get in his training in the first place? Without knowing those things, I take my time and only proceed when I know he knows something.
So what do I know that he knows? In our few interactions in the field, I have already established beginner friendly game. I can toss the string anywhere on his back. I can rub his back with a stick. I can rub under his belly and chest with the stick to dispel flies. I have touched his legs -- a little bit -- with the stick. I have touched his face and the outside of his ears. These are all safe.
So, with that done, I moved in closer and ran my hands over the areas already established by the stick. Then I got a brush and started brushing. With WhiteStar, I simply drop the lead rope (or unhook it altogether) when I brush. But I held an end of the rope while I brushed Caleb. It is harder to brush while you are holding the rope, but I thought it was worth it.
Poor Caleb. He was swarmed by flies, and my heart went out to him.
I pulled the bottle of herbal fly spray off the fence and held it out to Caleb. This is the way that my instructor asks permission of Scooter before spraying him. Caleb, however, was busy eating grass and did not answer my non-verbal question.
Was this a "yes"? Or did he simply not "hear" the question? Hmmm.
I pointed the nozzle away from him and sprayed the air.
Caleb was unfazed.
I turned the spray toward his rib cage and sprayed low.
He raised his head and stared at me in surprise. "What was THAT!" he seemed to say.
"It was flyspray. Are you okay with that?" I asked.
He took an offended step away.
"Okay, fine," I answered. "You don't have to be sprayed."
He went back to eating grass.
But those flies were really bothering him. His belly was almost black with flies. I couldn't just leave him like that.
I sprayed the brush with flyspray and held the brush out to him. "Are you okay with the smell...as long as I don't actually spray you?" I asked.
He sniffed the brush and seemed unconcerned. So I brushed him with the flyspray-treated brush. It helped a lot, and I was relieved to have found a non-offensive way to help him.
Once he was brushed to my satisfaction, it was time to start some games...
(to be continued)