A Few Weeks Ago:
"Oh come on, Etta, it's not that scary. It's a nylon pillow, vaguely shaped like a cow, with... weird staring eyes... that follow you.... Ok so it's creepy, but it's not going to hurt you!"
My horse was standing her ground, ten feet from the set of three ropes that strung across the width of the arena, and the fake cow, or "flag" that hung from them. Her eyes were glued to the synthetic bovine, as some part of her brain told her that it was definitely going to eat her.
"Come on, you're cutter-bred. Your ancestors have been working this thing since it was invented. Generations! Your great grandsire probably knew how to run the controls!"
She eased closer, a step at a time, as I kept up a running litany of nonsense. Finally, she was close enough to smell it. Once convinced that it was an object, and not an actual animal that floated in the air, she relaxed.
Then I moved it. It wasn't supposed to move. Her usual reaction to scary things when under saddle is to jump in place, drop her head, and give whatever object startled her (empty beer bottle on the ground, line in the sand, water puddle...) the hairy eyeball. When I'm on the ground, however... she doesn't think she needs to be quite so accommodating.
Head up, nostrils flared, flashing the whites of her eyes, she tried to back away. Since I had ahold of her reins, it didn't work so well. I stepped out from the ropes and started lunging her in a circle, pushing her out away from me when she tried to cut across and stay further away from the flag.
Eventually she calmed down, and I could move the thing without her doing much more than snorting at it. Score one for me.
"We're in a rut, so Monday, we're going to start on the flag." There was a decided glint in Marilyn's eye.
"Um... Marilyn... You do realize that most of these horses are going to absolutely freak as soon as that thing moves, right?" I stared at her a bit incredulously.
"Well, they're always pretty scared of it the first day. They start to calm down by the end of the first week though." I could hear a snicker hiding in her reasonable tone.
"What about B's horse? He just got over being scared of the arena fence. That big old straight-off-the-track sucker is going to have a conniption."
"He might. But it'll be good for them to do something different. I thought you'd be happy about this, Farmgirl... Your horse is cutter-bred, and I've heard you muttering about wanting to get her on the flag." Marilyn's eye was still twinkling.
"Well, yeah... but I also don't want to be stuck in a tiny arena with eight freaked out ponies. Possibly nine, if Etta is feeling dumb. She's little... we could be squashed like bugs!"
"Well, lets see what happens."
Uh huh. Admit it Marilyn, we haven't had any major wrecks all semester, and you're getting desperate, so you're gonna see if you can cause one. JJ is a bad influence on you.
"We're gonna work our horses on the flag... we want to do a grand entry at the show."
"What the hell, it's something new and different... I'll give it a shot on Etta."
"Yeah, like she's gonna do anything. Wild pony you got there."
You just had to jinx me, didn't you.
So, I had someone else hold the flag while I walked her around near it, then up to it, and let her smell it, and finally took it. We walked around for a while, and were fine. She could have cared less.
Then we trotted, and the breeze of our passage lifted the improvised flag, and gave it just a touch of flap. Not much. But then, Etta still doesn't always see the point in the slow trot, and I was riding one handed.
She sped up. So did the flapping of the flag. I tried to slow her down, and she wasn't having any of it.
She broke into a lope... and the damn thing was chasing her. At this point she completely lost her mind. I dropped the flag and hollered for everyone to look out as we ran straight for the fence. She turned her head to the side at the last minute and took the impact on the side of her neck and her chest, rather than across that rock that occasionally replaces her head.
Meanwhile. I was popped up in my stirrups stretched over her neck, and blessing many years of catching myself on small targets throughout my life as my hand grabbing the top rail of the fence was the only thing keeping me from finding out what the birdies felt like that day.
I shoved off using my hand on the pipe, and got my ass back in the saddle where it was supposed to be, just in time for her to show off her cutter blood and jump into a run down the fence, without, apparently, ever turning her body. One second we were stopped, the next we were halfway down the fence. And she wasn't about to listen to me, no sirre.
When I finally got her stopped, she shook her head and blew and stood there like she was going to go to sleep... so I went back to where I'd dropped the flag when she decided to leave the area like a striped-assed ape, and walked her around it for ten minutes while she gave it ye olde hairy eyeball. Then she stopped, and I got off and picked up the flag, and flapped it. Nada. Draped it over her butt. Minor twitch. Shook it at her head... well she didn't like that, but it wasn't a rodeo. Climbed back in the saddle and took off at a walk, with the flag... again.
Bout half a circuit of the arena, and she broke into a trot, without my asking.
Well, shit. Here we go again.
I prepared to drop the flag, sat my butt down in the saddle and sure enough, off she went. It probably would have been better for training purposes to keep the flag and just let her run, but there were others in the arena, and I have a strong aversion to causing wrecks of that magnitude.
Anyway, Lather, Rinse, Repeat, one more time. Then I called it quits with the flag, and simply ran her around the arena one time. That's when I discovered that she didn't have brakes. So we spent about an hour reminding her that when I say "whoa" it means "stop or I'll drag your head around so far you'll have to wipe your own crap off your nose."
I was extremely frustrated by the time we got done, needless to say.
I think I'll go to the barn early Monday, and lope her down... a lot... before we try the flag. This is gonna be... interesting....