It’s French Toast Friday!
One Saturday, we had a large influx of boarders arrive at the same time. Our barn manager decided to try putting Vlad (her personal horse) and Pumpkin (Katherine’s school horse) in pasture together.
Vlad gets along with no one.
He’s the complete opposite of Sunshine, can think circles around every horse I know, and probably most people he’s come into contact with. He’d be off the Mensa charts. While he’s not a misbehaving horse in the usual sense, he does not use his powers for good. Let’s put it this way: to ride Vlad, you have to sign two releases. The iron clad barn release, and the iron clad owner’s release. Like his namesake, Vlad prefers the darkest stall in the barn, or the most isolated paddock.
Pumpkin is Katherine’s Ride-O-Meter for all incoming students, no matter the professed riding level. He has four good gaits: amble, walk, western jog, and working trot. If you can sit Pumpkin’s canter, you can sit any horse’s canter. Sitting his canter will get you a standing ovation from every rider at the barn.
But that’s not where his testing skills lay. If you can basically ride, Pumpkin will let that shine through. If you think you can ride, or have convinced yourself you can ride (but in reality can’t ride your way out of a paper bag) Pumpkin shoves your attitude and skill level on stage, trains 3 or 4 spot lights on it, and a Las Vegas style blinking arrow will appear over your head. Pointing down.
He can do this at the walk. Pumpkin can walk nicely out through every part of his body with his head cranked to your knee, including out in reverse and out in a western reining spin, in the opposite direction.
The miracle of Pumpkin and Vlad getting along mildly together with no fence between them momentarily blinded our barn manager. They’re scratching each others backs. Vlad?! He’s touching another horse?? Suspicious, she pulled up a lawn chair. Waited. Waited some more. Nothing. Vlad the Impaler got along with Pumpkin Sweet Heart.
There was only one problem.
(No, Vlad did not impale Pumpkin in his sleep…he genuinely liked him.)
While Pumpkin is your classic old-fashioned Quarter horse and Vlad is a Standard bred/Arabian X, they were both bright chestnuts, of about the same height and muscling. They both had a narrow white stripe down their faces that veered off to the left. They both had one white bobby sock on the left hind. From a distance, with their heads down, you couldn’t tell them apart.
If both were looking at you, it was impossible to mistake them. Pumpkin’s mild, happy and curious face. Vlad’s speculative, impressively intelligent, cognitively processing gaze. They were together for about two months.
One day Katherine realized she was late getting ready for a new student and raced to get Pumpkin ready. You guessed it, both horses were grazing. Vlad was in an exceptionally relaxed mood. She haltered “Pumpkin” and brought him down to tack up. Oddly, Vlad kept his head down (pre-meditated?) and cocked slightly away from Katherine as she tacked him up.
This was to be her adult student’s first ever ride on a horse. She did notice Pumpkin was slightly sharper than normal, and thought she’d better have him longed first. A helper longed him. Vlad ambled. Vlad never ambles. Vlad dragged his toes in a western jog. Vlad hung his head. (Vlad has a flashing GO button, and is ridden park seat.)
The barn helper had just been hired the week before.
Katherine said the minute her student swung his leg over Vlad’s back she realized what had happened. Vlad’s head snapped up, his Einstein eyes focused, and he was ready to rumble.
One of Vlad’s little tricks: when he believes you are not happy with the ride, he will not let you get off. He circles, he swings his hindquarters wildly into your leg, he prances and dashes. YOU might be perfectly happy with the ride, but if he has the remotest suspision he was “bad”, he becomes…bad. Thus the double iron-clad releases. You have to be able to ride to get off of Vlad.
Katherine had a situation on her hands. Get the student off NOW. Somehow without alerting Vlad to her growing panic and without alarming the student there’s a problem. If student felt there was a problem, Vlad would feel there was a problem. Then she REALLY has a problem.
At this point, new helper comes running down with the real Pumpkin, having figured it out when the real Pumpkin raised his head for the lunch wagon. She’s furiously tacking him up. Katherine calls me over, my eyes widen, and I get it without her having to say anything.
Katherine has the student walk on, and we quietly push an ambling Vlad into a tenth of the arena. Vlad’s eye glints. He knows full well what is going on. I’m convinced he’s been planning this for weeks.
Johnathon, I forgot it was Jane’s day to ride..uh…Pumpkin, so I’m going to switch you over to…Red.
We close in on Vlad: his head suddenly lifts up, eyes sparkling with humor, and he prances lightly. I grab the bridle and Katherine grabs the student. Vlad simply stops, and lets the student off. Vlad is practically slapping himself in hysterics at his practical joke. He knows he was bad, but he’s not mean in the least. He had no intention of harming the rider.
We could both hear Vlad thinking: What? You really thought I’d hurt this sack of potatoes? Get real. It was just a joke! Funny, huh? HAHAHAHAHahahah GOT YOU.
I had a very difficult time getting off that day. I rode him for five minutes and got off him for the next hour. Seriously. It took an hour to ride through his antics enough to get him to stand still for dismounting. He wanted to suck my blood.
Needless to say, Vlad got his deluxe penthouse back, all to himself.