Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Big Day!

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by! I have a new post for you that will explain why I haven't written in a while, and that will bring you up to date on what's been happening here at Critter Central. So settle in and away we go!

You may recall that I spent the winter trying to teach Bit the horse some ground manners. This consisted mainly of teaching him about the mounting block and how it works. And although I spent at least a couple of days every week working on that, I met with very limited success. No matter what I tried, Bit didn't seem to learn much, or grasp what he was meant to do. Finally, in desperation, I scheduled a lesson with Connie, my riding instructor. In less that five minutes, she figured out what I needed to do in order to get Bit to do what he needed to do. Things suddenly became so clear that I kicked myself inwardly and asked the unanswerable question, why don't I think of these things first and save myself the agony? 

Once I started doing things the way Connie taught me, it was time to move on to the next step. Step Two involved teaching Bit the routine we were to perform at my and Duddy's wedding. Initially, I hadn't planned on including a horse in the ceremony, but when barn-owner Wendy and I first discussed having the wedding in her barn, she asked whether I'd be riding Bit. Naturally, once she put the idea in my head, I ran with it and decided that it might be really cool to make Bit part of the ceremony. Given that Duddy would be doing what he does best - playing guitar - it made sense to incorporate one of my favorite things, too.

 Having Bit participate in the wedding presented a few challenges. First, how would he behave with fifty people sitting on a set of rental bleachers in his usually-empty arena? How would he react to two guys playing guitar? What if he didn't do what I asked of him at the crucial moment? Wendy and Connie both thought things would go well, but I personally am a worrier: if I can't control the outcome, I get a little nervous!

So we practiced. And practiced. We practiced while Duddy stood in the arena playing guitar. We practiced using the mounting block in the aisle - a thing that normally isn't done for safety reasons. We practiced so much that Bit began to anticipate my commands, forcing me to get creative during training sessions: I frequently changed things up by altering the direction we walked in, or walking past our cue instead of trotting, to throw him off a little. The point was to familiarize him with the routine without allowing him to take over. It must be said, though, that ours wasn't a big routine, or particularly taxing; it was simply that Bit had never been tasked with performing at a wedding before.

On the Big Day, we tried to work out any final kinks that Bit might have. Connie suggested that I lunge Bit in order to get some of the piss and vinegar out of him, which Mandy, my favorite nemesis and Maid of Honor, did for me. When she finished lunging him, she tacked him up so that I wouldn't get my wedding clothes dirty doing it myself. Once he was saddled, I took him out into the arena. We poked our heads out one of the big doors and had a look around, then I walked him over to the chairs where Dud and Chris would sit. I rapped the metal chair with my knuckles so that Bit could get a sense of it, and then I strummed the guitar that was propped against it. I let Bit see the people filling the stands, as well. We stood for a a couple of minutes taking it all in: I didn't want there to be any surprises for Bit because, as you regular readers already know, he's a big fraidy horse who startles at everything. I only hoped he wouldn't startle that day!

In the minutes before our routine, Bit got fussy. I had planned for this by asking barn co-owner Ron to help me in the aisle. Connie volunteered her services, too, so that I had two horse experts - one of whom was the recognized head of the herd - available to help allay any jitters Bit may have had. I didn't count on Bit getting agitated, though; I had assumed that Ron's presence would take care of that. I was wrong. In my first moments in the saddle, Bit pulled loose from Ron's grip and tried to walk a nervous circle in the narrow aisle. As I pulled on his reins, Connie reminded me to project calm so that Bit would feel calm. I did my best. And then it was time to go.

I gave Bit a tiny squeeze with my legs - it doesn't take much to get him moving - and we were off. We walked the length of the aisle, and then the few steps into the arena, and then we came abreast of the first big door. That big door was our cue, so I gave Bit another barely-perceptible squeeze. He was meant to break into a trot, then: the routine involved trotting halfway around the arena, then walking the rest of the way before coming to a halt near Duddy. It still would've looked o.k. to the assembled crowd if we had simply walked the whole way around, but Bit trotting would've been much cooler! I was prepared for the routine to go either way, but I held out hope as I gave him that second squeeze, and what do you know - after hesitating for the briefest of moments, Bit broke into a trot!

He continued trotting at a stately pace until we reached the big door on the other side of the arena. At that point, I gave a small tug on the reins and he slowed to a walk. We walked a few steps, turned inward toward the wedding party, and then came to a stop. It was as we were walking those last few steps that I got an unexpected flash of insight from Bit: suddenly, he understood what the training had been about; everything crystallized in his mind with the realization that it had all been for this. As we came to a halt, he he bobbed his head once, as if to acknowledge the pivotal role he had played, and played so well. I patted him fondly on the neck, told him what a good boy he was, and dismounted.

In ordinary circumstances, that would be the end of Bit's part in the wedding. Indeed, as Ron led him out of the arena, I imagine that everyone thought that that was the last they'd be seeing of him. So it came as a considerable surprise to me when, a few minutes after he disappeared - and after the ceremony had begun -  Bit decided to rejoin the party! I'm not entirely clear on how he managed to break free of Ron's grasp, but at some point while Ron was leading him to a stall, Bit took off at a trot and made his way back into the arena, coming to a stop next to the minister as though he wanted to make sure she was doing her job correctly. It was Wendy who came out and led him away again, and Wendy who remarked later that Bit clearly didn't want to be left out of the proceedings! After seeing the video of it, I'm inclined to agree.

Now that our wedding training has finished - and after seeing how well Bit performed under pressure - I've asked Wendy whether she might consider having another Fun Day for the boarders and volunteers. They held one a couple of years ago, in which there was food, and competitions, and prizes, and it was terrific fun. Everyone showed up, and even a couple of old boarder horses who've been retired for years were dressed up with ribbons in their manes and given a chance to compete! We all had a great time, from the little kids who competed for the best-groomed horse, to us adults who did a trail competition using a routine that Connie devised for us. It's just the sort of thing I think Bit would excel at and, given that we're unlikely to ever actually compete as a team, it would be our only opportunity to show off what we're capable of.

As I took Bit for a walk today, I told him (yet again) what a good boy he was, and how perfectly he performed on our "special day." I also told him that he'd won a blue ribbon for his effort, which cheered him considerably.

A blue ribbon? Really?
Yep! Because you did so well!

A ribbon for me?
I'm gonna hang it on your stall door, Bubby!

I'm ever so proud of you, Bubby!

That's all for now, folks! I hope you and your animal friends are keeping cool in this extended heat wave! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!