Monday, May 12, 2008

Beast of Burden

A friend of ours from Seattle came to visit with his two little kids this weekend. They don't have a lifestyle conducive to pet ownership, and both kids are slightly animal averse. We figured that some fun times on Farcical Farm might help them to overcome their fear of fauna. Within hours they were playing a rousing game of fetch with Willow, and over the course of two days they got quite comfortable with all of the critters here. On Saturday I attached a grab strap to the Wintec stock saddle and put Raven to work on some pony rides.

After that I switched to the Wintec sport saddle (which fits Raven much better) and took myself for a pony ride along one of our usual routes. Sometime since we last rode that way a local farmer has filled one of the fields with 40 heifer calves -- next year's milking stock, I assume -- and they all came *running* when they saw Raven. She kept her head for about 30 seconds and then bolted, which she has never done to me before. I lost both stirrups but kept my seat and managed to pull her up and turn her around with a series of mini one-rein halts. When we got back to the cows I dismounted and did some ground work to get her thinking again. After that I let her burn off a little energy with a long gallop, and she managed to keep her brain in when we passed the black and white aliens on the way home. I must admit that the attention of all those sweet, vacant eyes is a bit unnerving.

One thing I learned is that Raven cannot cope with fear and the bit at the same time. When she loses her head she loses all ability to relax and accept contact with her mouth, which leads to a downward spiral in communication. This warrants much more ground work in situations that make her uncomfortable, and a complete dental checkup to ensure that everything is OK in there. I have also ordered one of these, based on the gut instinct that it might make a big difference for her. Raven's temperament is so different with and without a bit in her mouth (even the mildest possible bit) that I wonder if simple pain lies behind her uncharacteristic unwillingness.

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