I risked my life for this photo.
Meet Phil, Bella’s new trial roping prospect:
He’s a teensy bit anxious. Mix in quick, athletic, slightly phobic, and feels safest with other horses, and you can see some of what needs to be addressed. He’s also cute, sweet, and has a killer cowhorse stop. Asking him to stop from the canter is akin to those car commercials where the car suddenly stops dead at a wall or sheer cliff. Unbelievable. Exhilarating. Death defying.
I like Phil.
Hudson likes Phil too. Hudson likes being a God. Phil believes Hudson Knows All. He encourages Hudson to pontificate.
The first time I ponied Phil, the conversation went like this:
Phil: GAH. What is that? Are we afraid of that?
Hudson: No. Hay cart. Shut up.
Phil: Are we afraid of THAT?
Hudson: NO. Cat. Shut. Up.
Phil: What about that?
Hudson: Dude. It’s grass. We eat it. Chill.
Phil: (trembling) What about that?!?
Hudson: (long pause, then some concession) Sometimes. Trainer. Avoid.
Recently, I was ponying Phil off Hudson. Phil had mostly settled down after a few ponies. The hay barn had been cleaned out for a new shipment, and there was a long narrow piece of black plastic blowing back and forth on the ground, making scary serial killer/chainsaw noises. It whispered: “come closer, I have a cookie. Then I’m going to dismember you alive….whoohahahaha.”
Hudson planted. Snorted. Grew another 20 feet tall. Scared the crap out of Phil who hadn’t seen the plastic, causing him to do three Looney Tunes style double-takes.
When Hudson is spooked, I let him look at whatever, process it, and figure out what the thing may be. Then he’s good. After a few minutes of staring at softly swooshing black plastic, from twenty feet in the air, with a hysterical Phil bouncing on the line, Hudson was ready to walk up to it and investigate. He wasn’t afraid.
Phil: We’re NOT afraid of this?!?
Hudson: I don’t think so…
Phil: Okay. Wait. You don’t think so???
We investigate. Hudson decides it’s NBD. He reverts from Hulk-sized to horse-size, relaxes, his eyes stray to the hay, and the plastic is not on his radar. Two seconds later, I realize his brain has marinated about Phil and his anxieties.
Hudson fake snorts. Prances. Calculates if he can snatch a mouthful of hay out of causing a distraction.
Phil is bouncing up and down and weaving back and forth, trying hard not to lose it completely. I smack Hudson on the neck. He flicks his ears. FINE. I just wanted a bite. But his brain keeps processing. We pass the plastic 400 more times with Hudson on the buckle, yawning, and Phil having successively lessening panic attacks.
Horses. Never go to the barn with a plan that includes an ending time.
Yesterday, I progressed to riding Phil and ponying Hudson.
Now we had a three-way conversation going:
Phil: I don’t WANT to be in front.
Hudson: I can handle it. Move over.
Jane: Hudson, knock it off. Phil, you’re first.
Phil: But he wants to…and I don’t?
Jane: Phil. Go.
Phil: Going…this okay?
We come up to the hay barn. Phil tries to appear as if he’s walking forward while walking backward. Hudson is smirking. The black plastic is long gone.
I let Phil look at the hay barn. He settles down. I ask him to walk forward. He cautiously tip toes forward. I ask to stop. We stop so fast that I have to fight the reverse button. I sneak a glance at Hudson. He’s not yawning. We stand for a few minutes.
Just as I am about to ask Phil to take another few steps toward the hay (which I would let both of them taste), Hudson’s ears swivel forward dramatically and he leaps in place, one eye on Phil, the other on the grass to his right.
I. Am. Gonna. Kill. Hudson. Days worth of work, and he knows Phil is going to go with him, not me, or even himself.
I get Phil under control and yank Hudson before he can get his head all the way down to the grass.
Hudson: Geeze…it was just a joke. You don’t have to be so rough.
Phil: AH AH AH AH AH AH AH
Jane: Phil, he’s having you on, forget forward, just pass the dang barn, okay?
Phil: ACK ACK ACK ACK ACK
Hudson: Heh heh heh heh heh
Jane: One more “heh” and I am going to “forget” your happy meal. Knock it off.
Phil: Are we going to live? Are we alive? Is it gone yet? I still see it. I think I still see it?
Jane: We’re alive. Keep walking.
I see another 400 rounds past the hay barn in our future. After round 200, Phil’s settled down. I decide to switch directions: may as well get over the hay barn in both directions.
We make a couple of passes. All goes well. I’m thinking of quitting for the day. Just as we hit the mid-point of the hay barn on what I’ve decided is our last pass, Hudson takes advantage of my focus on getting Phil calmly through the worst part. He yanks the lead suddenly, something he’s never done, and manages to get about 3 feet of play. He darts behind Phil’s butt, mouth open, ready to chomp grass. He tosses in a little panicked leap. Phil now has a serial killing hay barn on his right, a rope around his butt, an apparently terrified Hudson charging away from the monster, and me, who says: “Dude. It’s fine”.
He’s so overloaded all he can do is panic without moving. He can’t go right: Monster. He can’t go left: Hudson. He can’t back up: still Monster. He can’t go forward: listening to Jane, who has clearly lied through her teeth about monsters.
Hudson: heh heh heh. GRASS! Score.
Phil: WHAT DO I DO?????
Jane: (reluctantly dropping Hudson’s lead, for safety) Go forward.
Phil: Okay okay okay okay okay. Going forward. WAIT. Where’s Hudson? I can’t go without HUDSON.
Hudson: (muffled by mouthfuls of grass) heh heh heh. You go. I’ll be here.
Jane: Can I just hit my head quietly on a wall somewhere?
What is the one thing you do not want to do with a smart horse planning a coup? Reward him. By turning him loose on grass. I take one of Phil’s looooong split reins and wallop Hudson. He flinches in surprise, but not enough to raise his head. He knows I can grab the lead rope if he lifts his head.
Great. All I’ve done is terrify Phil. Not only do I lie to him about monsters, I whack the guy he trusts with his own rein.
If it wouldn’t scare Phil, I’d start banging my head on his neck.
Hudson: Bang your head. He won’t mind. I swear. (heh heh heh)