My weekdays at Dressage Today are typically filled with reading, writing, editing and emailing. My weekends, however, have been reserved for exploring the vibrant horse community in Virginia and Maryland. One of my friends is in the process of horse shopping, so I've had great opportunities to poke around some nearby barns and get a feel for the area. But this past weekend, I got to know the lay of the land a bit more intimately than I would have liked.
The barn at which I board my horse backs up to a national park and we are lucky enough to have a vast expanse of trails practically in our back yard.
My barn mates and I had planned to have a little excursion one Sunday afternoon to let our horses have a leisurely stroll through the wooded trails and the occasional cornfield. Our goal was to make it up to the banks of a nearby river, where we could let the horses splash around in the water to cool down. The image of horses splashing in the calm waters of a softly babbling brook sounds picturesque, doesn't it?
Fast forward to reality: I was stranded in a sea of corn, with the stalks taller than my helmet. My horse, Kat was cantering in place and panicking at having lost sight of her companions. After several moments of corn-filled chaos, we finally emerged from the field, just as I was gasping for air after convincing myself that I was drowning in the surrounding sea of corn.
Am I being dramatic? Maybe just a little. But if you have never been stuck in the middle of a field full of very tall corn on a horse, let me tell you that it can be quite the disorienting experience. Cue the swarming mosquitoes, biting deerflies, summer heat and dehydration, and you've got yourself a scene out of "Man vs. Wild". Needless to say, our "leisurely trail ride" felt more like the Hunger Games, except mounted on horseback.
We had set out at noon on a relatively cool day, but now it was approaching five p.m. We were undeniably lost and both our bodies and our patience were growing tired. We were navigating our way back to the barn based on a GPS map on an Iphone, with a quickly draining battery. With every turn that we made, our horses seemed to grow more frustrated. After heading down several trails, only to reach a dead end and be forced to turn around, I could understand Kat's hesitation to go forward upon my first request.
We reached the point where our only options were crossing onto unexplored private property or backtracking. Do we go back and reattempt to navigate blocked trails that led to nowhere or do we cross onto the land of private farms?
Every time we turned away from the direction of the private property, Kat would begrudgingly lower her head and her expressive ears would droop. If, however, I so much as even looked in the direction of the private property, Kat would prick her ears forward and pivot on her hind end, stepping into a lively and purposeful pace. To the disappointment of our trusty steeds, the directions of the Iphone overruled our horses' natural inclinations.
After some unsuccessful backtracking, we decided to surrender to the instincts of our horses and trudge onto the private property. All of the horses immediately perked up, raising their heads and marching with lofty steps. We rounded a bend and saw a small shed in the distance that looked familiar. Hallelujah! It was confirmed that we were homeward bound and we only needed to veer slightly off of our current path to land ourselves back onto familiar territory.
We finally made it back to the barn just as the sun was beginning to set.? After several rounds of hosing and sweat scraping, Kat was cooled off and ready to be turned out with her pasture pals. Yes, the pasture pals who, about five hours ago, I wasn't sure she would ever see again.
After this trail blazing adventure (or misadventure, if we're taking bug bites, blisters, and chafing into account) was all said and done, I left the barn that day with new found respect for my horse. I have always respected Kat's instincts as a sport animal, as she is the master of gracefully compensating for my mistakes in the ring and on course- but I had no idea of her capabilities as an off-roading dune buggy.
Taken out of familiar territory, she proved herself to be more than a clever and fancy show pony. Not only was her internal compass more useful than the GPS on the iphone, she also had enough respect for me, as her rider (clueless as I am), to listen to my commands. She was obedient and polite, but also found a way of expressing her own opinions.
Nifty as an Iphone may be, the sound mind and body of a living, breathing horse is no replacement for technology. Rest assured Kat, you won't be traded in for an Iphone anytime soon. Although I have heard that there are some pretty cool virtual pet horse apps on the market now?
Photo by Amy Peppercorn