About a quarter mile along, Commotion took a breath and exhaled deeply, blowing out all that stress. Looking around the wide open valley before him, enjoying the company of Badger and Roy, smelling the pines and clear mountain air, his body relaxed, his mind relaxed, and I relaxed a bit too to be perfectly honest.
It was almost like I could hear him say to me "Lisa, this is wonderful!" I could tell he was enjoying the day. Now and again I would ask him to go off the road, up or down a small hillside, a little distance from the others, and then back. We walked along beside the creek, which was in full flow. He cocked his head and looked a little sideways at it, telling me he wasn't really happy about that whatever it was, so we walked closer and farther a number of times.
A mile from the trailhead, the creek crosses the road. It's a wide shallow crossing, the water moving slowly and the water crystal clear. As expected, Commotion stopped, seeing it as a bottomless well that he would surely drown in if he got his feet wet at all. Keeping close to Roy, he sort of fell into the water (I think it was accidental) and then bounced like a big beach ball to the other side. We all laughed at this, I petted him and on we went. A mile or so further and his feet started to hurt. Somehow he'd lost his front shoes in the pasture, so we turned around to go back. Staying off the road, on the softer dirt, we circled sagebrush and went looking for logs to step over. Something caught my eye. Right there, to the right of Commotion's feet as we walked by, tucked beside a sagebrush, lay a tiny brand new fawn. Clean white spots in his fur, his body completely still except for his little nose, smelling for danger. His dark eyes watched as we walked by. We kept on until we found ourselves back at the water crossing.
Okay, we all know how hard water can be for horses to understand. For some it's harder than others. I have to say that I tried everything to get him into (and across) the water. This horse was NOT going there. We tried all the tried and true methods and still he was terrified. There was no better place to cross, so we had to stick with this spot. Agreed, he didn't know me well enough yet to know he could trust me, but there was Roy, standing in the ankle deep water, there was Badger, splish splashing on through, but Commotion knew he did not have what it took to get across. (water wings maybe) I have to tell you here that this was one of those days where I had to keep hold of my frustration, trying again and again. I was starting to think we might have to drive the trailer up there and load him, which would have been a huge bruise on my ego. We finally made it across, but it took quite some time and he and I were both emotionally spent.
That night, laying in my bed, in the silence, looking at the dark, I went over that part of the day again and again. I felt that I'd betrayed him for the way I sort of forced him across in the end. There had to be a better way.
My mind went to a trail obstacle clinic I'd gone to a few years back. At the time I was not overly impressed. A good horseman does not always make a good clinician. I recalled one part of the clinic where a horse refused to go over a bridge and instead of insisting and arguing with the horse, the clinician had everyone else ride around that horse and across the bridge. After what seemed like a very long time, with hardly a nudge from the rider, that resistant horse just up and walked across with the rest.
Hmmm, that rang a little bell in my head.
Then I remembered one day at Sheila's when they were taking a mare and her new foal out of the foaling stall out to the pasture. They held the baby and circled the mare around it, so he could 'lock on' to the mare. Sheila explained that if they didn't do that, a foal sometimes will run off in fear.
There was a connection with these two moments. I figured I would use the support horses in a better fashion, not let them stop mid stream to wait, but to keep the momentum going, to pick up that young horse and pull him through with only the energy of the older horses. No stopping allowed.
I couldn't wait to try out my new theory.