I board my horses at a farm that is on a beautiful public trail system; trails that are shared with dog walkers, hikers, and the occasional speeding mountain bike.
Over the holiday break, the warm weather has brought people out in droves. Instead of a quiet respite where you can enjoy the stillness of nature, the main trails have been reminiscent of rush hour traffic, with bounding dogs and leaping children adding to the excitement.
And often times, the excitement is me. Horses are a big draw for dogs and children alike, many of whom have never been up close and personal with one. Horses are particularly entertaining when they are snorting like dragons and bouncing from the excitement of having dogs bounding up to sniff at back legs or children ping ponging off the stone walls.
I’ve been trying hard to maintain my sense of humor, to speak softly to dogs; to invite children to stroke the soft nose of a horse for the first time. I know we are always ambassadors for our sport when we are sharing the trails and there are plenty of people who would like to ban horses. They object to the manure (although not, strangely, to the plastic bags of dog poop that collect, unwanted at trail heads). They complain that horse hooves cause erosion. They overlook the fact that equestrians support the trail system with donations, with grooming and with use.
This past week, however, my patience was tried. On Saturday, I headed out with Zelda. As we approached the mounting block, three small girls bounced off the (private) stone wall across the street. Our arrival elicited delight — bouncing, screaming, excitement. Their arrival caused Zelda to grow slightly bigger than her full height. Her nostrils flared and snorts rang out across the morning air. She jigged in place, reminding me that her hooves, if not as large as dinner plates, are at least the size of soup bowls.
I waited for them to start their walk. They waited to see what we would do.
The waiting game got old. Zelda danced and snorted. They stared in awe. Finally, I asked if they could move on down the trail because they were scaring the horse.
They eventually moseyed on. All three girls still climbing on and jumping off the neighbor’s stone fence. Having had small children once myself, I know how much fun kids have jumping from rock to rock.
The father came back to talk to me. I thought he was going to say something like, “sorry, we didn’t know that we were scaring your horse.” But no. He’d come back to scold. “Neighbors don’t speak to neighbors like that in this neighborhood,” he told me. I bit my tongue. Hard. I refrained from explaining that neighbors don’t trespass on other neighbor’s land and climb all over their walls. Instead, I explained that my horse weighs 1500 pounds and that if spooked, she could unintentionally hurt one of his children. I said that if his children were quiet and didn’t jump and run at her, I would be happy to introduce them to my horse, safely.
This didn’t appear to satisfy him. It was the day after Christmas, he said. And I had yelled at his children. The moment was ruined and they didn’t want to see the horse any more. Apparently 1) when it’s a Christian holiday, your horse is supposed to intuitively know this and act like a statue and 2) They must have terrific self-restraint in that house if they thought I was yelling.
But then I remembered not to shirk my ambassadorial responsibilities. After they’d moved a few hundred feet down the trail I calmed Zelda down, mounted her and rode after them. I explained to the girls that even though they were small, they could be very scary to a horse; that she would never hurt them intentionally, but that it hurt a lot if she stepped on you. Heck, even her head weighed more than all three of those girls combined. We reached a compromise where they (after racing toward us again), approached slowly and I let them carefully stroke Zelda’s nose.
Then I rode off. They resumed climbing and I wished those parents the equestrian equivalent of the saying, “May you live in interesting times.” Instead, I hoped that all three of those daughters would want horses. Soon.