I moved my horse to a new stable on June 16. She reacted very poorly, and it took until the end of July before she really seemed to accept the place as home. The stable sits on a marvelous trail system, but I was afraid to take my chicken horse on the trails until she got over worrying about being in a new place. So, it was around the first of August that we started trail riding again. It’s been a very interesting experience.
The trail from the stable is a sidewalk that follows a creek through a large part of Fort Collins, CO, and it is used by bikers, joggers, skateboarders, dog walkers, etc. West of the stable, it connects to a system of nature trails that goes everywhere, including into the mountains. East of the stable, it goes to my workplace, among other things. It has several bridges going back and forth over the creek and tunnels going under streets and train tracks. Within the first mile east of the stable are two bridges and a tunnel. We started off by exploring in that direction.
The bridges thunder when the bikers and skate boarders go over them, so we started by just standing next to the first bridge. The bridge is right by the stable, so Tori was used to hearing the thundering sound. She quickly got used to hearing it from up close. It took her a little longer to get used to the bikes speeding by, but I let her grab a few bites of grass if she stood still when a bike went past, and in no time, she became delighted to see any biker. Even the bikes towing baby carriers with flags were not a problem. Before I started getting her used to the trail activity, there was a skateboarder who would come by being towed by his dog, and even in the arena, she invariably shied at that pair, but they quit appearing before Tori and I took to the trails, so once she got used to the bikes, we were ready to start riding the trail.
Tori was used to bridges, so I didn't think they'd be a problem, but they're sealed to the concrete with asphalt, and the asphalt (being black against the white of the concrete and the reddish-brown of the wooden bridges) scared her to death. First, she wouldn’t get on the bridge, then she wouldn’t get off, but eventually, she got used to the black lines. For awhile, she took really high steps over the asphalt, but in time, she learned to ignore it.
We went a little further down the trail every day, and each time, there was some new scary obstacle to challenge her. She was very suspicious of the benches and sewer covers (and grates) found alongside the trail. There were also trash bag dispensers that were very threatening, especially if it was windy and the end of a bag was moving and rustling in the wind. The houses that line the trail had all sorts of terrifying things in their back yards (scarecrows, jungle gyms, brightly colored flowers, playing kids, etc.), and the woods that lined the trail often harbored possibly carnivorous deer.
One day, when we were almost home, a doe with three (!) fawns darted across the trail and up the path to the stable. I didn’t want to drive her any further onto the stable grounds, so Tori and I just stood and watched until the doe decided she’d rather turn around and head back into the woods. Luckily, we were far enough away that Tori didn’t think the deer were attacking her when they came running back down the path. She’s pretty good about deer that are standing still, but she’s likely to shy when they start moving. (She’s scared of elk even when they’re standing still, but so far, I haven’t seen any elk on this trail.)
Another day, there was a family selling lemonade and cookies near the trail. They were under a tarp set up on four poles, and the tarp was blowing in the wind. Tori was a little worried about this new obstacle that hadn’t been there before, but she’s used to seeing similar food stands at horse shows, so she fairly quickly decided it wasn’t all that dangerous. She then tried begging for a cookie, but kids weren’t suckered by her sweet face.
The next day, the tent was gone, but Tori nearly had a heart attack because the kids had written on the concrete with chalk to advertise their stand. We walk in the grass by the side of the sidewalk part of the trail, but even so, we were way too close to the scary chalk marks, in her opinion. I decided to be satisfied with making her walk calmly BY the chalk marks rather than OVER the chalk marks, because what I really wanted was to get on down the trail to where there was a tunnel.
The tunnel goes under a five-lane major roadway (lots of traffic!), so it's pretty long (and noisy and echoing), but it's fairly "airy" as tunnels go. At first, Tori didn't want anything to do with it, so all I did was ask her to get a little closer every day. Finally, we got right up to the edge, and I discovered there's a fine metal grate across the opening. It's gray, so it isn't TOO different from the concrete, but it's different enough, considering where it is. The first day, just seeing it was scary enough. The next day, I asked her to step over it, and she was convinced she was risking her life. She'd pick her foot up really high, so when she planted it on the other side, it made a hollow echoing noise ringing down the tunnel, and she'd snatch it back again. Eventually, she got used to the noise, though, and the grate hadn't attacked her, so she decided it was okay. I was just going to ask her to put her front end into the tunnel, but once she got her front feet over, she headed on in with only a little trepidation. I stopped her just inside (all four feet in) because we'd run out of time and had to go home, but I was surprised at her willingness to keep going. The next time we tried, we went all the way through, and she didn't seem to be all THAT concerned. So, the tunnel itself was less scary than the grate, and the grate was less scary than the chalk marks. My horse clearly has very strange ideas about what sorts of things are life-threatening.
Anyway, once we conquered the tunnel, we began exploring the trail to the west. In that direction, there’s a large park, with all kinds of activities going on to keep a horse interested (to put it mildly). There are more bridges, but Tori had decided that bridges were okay. There is another tunnel, shorter but more closed in, and Tori also took that obstacle in stride. However, she still has some concerns about benches, and there are some big decorative rocks (about the size of a picnic table) that are also a little daunting. Some sewer covers scared her half to death when we were crossing a street, but she’s only a little leery of them now. What surprised me was that she isn’t all that frightened by most of the activities that take place in the park.
There are some basketball courts that she completely ignores, even when they’re busy, and next to those is a skateboard obstacle place that she also ignores. Sometimes, I will startle at the sounds from the skateboard arena, but they never seem to bother Tori. There’s also a bicycle obstacle course, and she pretty well ignores that one, too. Occasionally, she shies when we’re leaving that area, and I assume some biker behind us has done something scary, but for the most part, the bike course is not a big deal.
There’s a dog park that can make her uneasy, but usually, she’s surprisingly calm about all the commotion she causes. She keeps an eye on the dogs that charge the fence and follow us, barking all the way, but she doesn’t really react to them --- unless they’re big and hairy. Great Danes are okay, but Newfoundlands make her shy. Malamutes, for some reason, are especially terrifying. She also gets scared when a dog dives off a dock into a pond, but other than those two things, the dog park isn’t a big problem for her, either.
Then, there’s an elementary school alongside the park, where kids are usually playing soccer. She’s shied when the ball hits the fence, but the running, screaming kids don’t seem to bother her at all. One day, people were out flying kites, and she ignored them, too. Sometimes, I wonder if she’s just decided that there are so many things happening in the park that it just isn’t worth being afraid of any of them.
There is one thing that DOES terrify her, though --- people jogging in groups. She totally ignores single joggers, but she will whirl and bolt every time a group of joggers approaches, no matter how slowly they may be going. I have to admit that such groups do make it look as if we’re under attack, so I haven’t gotten too disgusted with her. I don’t know if she’ll ever get used to jogging “packs”, because they’re not a daily occurrence, but I’m hoping so, because we see them on a fairly regular basis. It would be nice not to have her panic every time they appear.
I’m also hoping we’ve conquered the terror over chalk marks on the pavement. For a period of time, we had to use the sidewalk to get around some ongoing construction. The construction area was marked off by cones with fluttering tape tied around them, even scarier because they were a NEW obstacle. Then, about halfway through the construction period, someone wrote in chalk on that part of the pavement, to mark off the portion of a race that contestants had completed. At that point, we had no choice but to go over the chalk marks. Under the circumstances, it seemed to take forever to convince Tori to do so, and then, she JUMPED over the marks, but she did finally make it by the horse trap that had been created on our path to the park. Each day, as we’d triumph over the trap coming and going, it got a little less scary, until finally, she was walking normally over those terrifying chalk marks. Of course, by then, the marks were pretty faded, so I really don’t know if she’d be okay with fresh marks, or with marks in a different place, or if the color would matter, or whatever. I can only HOPE that she’s learned that chalk marks do not place her life in jeopardy.
Of course, it’s not just the trails that create scary situations. Riding around the new stable grounds also means going places we’ve never been before, which can be equally daunting. There are two bridges at the stable, and one of them has spaces between the boards, so you can see through to the creek below (which seems to be especially alarming when the sun is making the water sparkle). It took awhile to convince Tori to go over that bridge, and she’s still not really sure that it’s safe, but we’re getting there. I have to give her credit for being a trooper, though. She’s done everything I’ve asked of her, even though she’s sometimes made it clear that she thought I was asking her to risk a horrible death.
She’s still not really relaxed on the trails, and until she is, I don’t know that she really enjoys trail riding, but I think she will, eventually. It takes her an incredibly long time to adapt to anything new, so I’ve been trying not to overwhelm her, and she does seem a little more relaxed every day. So, if you send good wishes her way, please send them in Roy Rogers and Dale Evans language.
Happy Trails to You!