Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Was Whippoorwill Fun? Not so much...

While Lilly looks absolutely stunning in this photo, her performance was anything but.

From the moment I backed her off the trailer, she got rave reviews. Everyone said how pretty she was, what a sweet girl she was, and how they could just look at her all day long! Everyone commented on her color and how unique it was and how her white was SO white! They wanted to know my secret. Of course, I told them I owed it all to Lilly... that she was the one that keeps herself clean, and that she was one special girl. I told everyone that she was my pride and joy and I couldn't get enough of her. I told the story of how I'd had her for 8 years, and I included all we'd been through with her surgery and all those injuries she sustained when she was just a youngster. We had a very special bond, I told them. It was all about Lilly for the first day and a half... she had quite a fan club.

After the first day and a half it was still all about Lilly, only for a different reason.

Friday morning, 3 of us girls set out on horseback for a nice ride. The rest of the crowd had gone into town and those of us left behind decided we just couldn't wait any longer, so we saddled up, grabbed a trail map, and headed out! Lilly was hyper, to put it mildly, but I kind of expected it since she was in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar horses. One of those horses was gaited, so she had to work pretty hard to keep up, and work she did! She didn't take a single walking step the entire time we were out. She trotted, pranced, threw her head, chomped on her bit, and side passed down the trail. The side passing was done mostly on parts of the trail where the horses could be ridden side by side, and the head tossing and prancing was done on parts of the trail where we had to ride single file. She was a handful and I had to fight her the whole ride. By the time we got back to camp, Lilly was so worked up and sweaty that I decided to hose her down. Once she was free of sweat and dirt, she went back into the corral we had set up for her.

I noticed that she was very worried about the other horses and where they were pretty much all the time. If she couldn't see the two horses we rode with, she carried on, whinnying, stomping, and pawing, and without much concern for me or where I was. She's always been a bit herd bound, even to horses that she isn't stabled with. She bonds very quickly with the other horses and becomes buddy sour because of it.

That evening, after everyone got back from town and got settled, we all saddled up for another ride. There were 10 of us heading out and we had 2 Quarter Horses, 5 gaited horses, 1 Saddlebred, 1 cute little Fjord, and 1 Arabian. It was quite a diverse group, to say the least. Since this was Lilly's second ride of the weekend, I expected her to have settled down a bit. I was hoping she would want to hang out in the back with the Fjord, Arab, and other Quarter Horse and maybe walk this time. No such luck... she was actually slightly worse this ride than she was the first ride. At the beginning, I kind of let her behavior slide because this crowd was much larger and contained horses that were quite hyper. Perhaps, I thought, she is feeding off the energy of these other horses. A couple of the girls were teasing me about how Lilly was acting and wanted to know when we had started dressage lessons. I'm guessing they hadn't seen a horse trot so quickly down a road sideways before, because she was moving! She really was bad... I'm not exaggerating. She has NEVER acted like that before and I couldn't believe she was acting like that there. I rode her all last year on trails and while she was always trying to keep up with the other horses, but she wasn't rude, defiant, and dangerous. With all the holes, ditches, and electric fences around, I was afraid she was going to step into something that might hurt her or me. She also had no concern for the horses around her and we ran into that poor Arabian about 3 different times. It was all about Lilly, and it was a struggle for me to control her. I was glad to get her back to camp, untacked, hosed off, and fed. Then I fed myself, took a shower, and relaxed with the rest of the group.

Despite the draining rides I had with Lilly on Friday, Saturday was shaping up to be an interesting, and perhaps fun, day. There was a wedding being held right next to our campsite and all the horses on the grounds were invited to participate. The more horses, the better! We were instructed to be tacked up and ready to go around 12:30 that afternoon. The main crew (consisting of all the horses and riders minus myself and the two others I had ridden with on the first day) saddled up and headed out early. I figured the afternoon would be a long one so I didn't saddle Lilly up until about 11:30 and the others did the same. We headed out for a little ride planning to be back around 12:30 for the wedding festivities. Lilly was slightly calmer this time, walking part of the time, but she seemed to relax and walk only when she was in the lead. Staying in the lead against a gaited horse was tough, but she would do whatever it took to stay there. The problem with her being in the lead was that she kept spooking at everything. I kept telling her that if she wanted to be the lead horse, she needed to "man up" and quit being so scared. Every time she spooked at something she would switch gears into reverse and go VERY quickly backwards, right past the other horses, and sometimes into them. She didn't care if they were in her way or not, she was going backwards. It was pretty scary because of the fences and ditches all over the place. I was afraid we were going to end up going backwards into a ditch and she'd end up falling on me. The highlight of the weekend, though, was when she very gracefully and nonchalantly walked over a blue tarp in the middle of the trail that neither of the other horses would even get near. This was after she spooked at goats, an old refrigerator, a hole in the ground, and some plastic tubes. The tarp didn't even phase her. She walked right over it.

When we got back to camp, everyone was getting ready for the wedding. Lilly enjoyed checking out all the other horses and all the people that walked by. She's a very nosy horse and has to be in the middle of everything. Other horses had already fallen asleep waiting, but Lilly stayed alert the whole time. I noticed two beautiful Percherons standing next to a neat wagon that the bride was going to ride in and so did Lilly. To say she freaked would be an understatement. She slammed it into reverse and hauled balls across the field. She is FAST... I just can't express enough how fast she can back up. I know it was great entertainment for everyone watching. A few people mentioned that I should "put that mare in reining training"! Thanks, but I'm trying to show this mare western pleasure.

It got even worse when a small donkey pulling the mother of the bride passed by. I guess small donkeys are much more terrifying than large Percherons. This is where we got our first rear of the weekend. She thought the donkey was coming to get her and she took off like a bat out of hell into the woods. I turned her around hoping she'd at least face the monster, but she reared up, spun around on her hind legs and took off again. She was getting the hell out of there and I wasn't going to stop her. Well, it was at this point that I realized we weren't going to be participating in the wedding. The other two ladies decided they were tired of waiting around (we had been waiting for about an hour at this point) so we all headed out for another short ride. I'd tell you how Lilly acted, but at this point I'm sure you can guess. The poor girl was literally shaking once I got her into the woods away from the donkey. I could feel her heart beating... I'm just not sure why she got so worked up about a donkey pulling a cart. When we got back, they were introducing the bride and groom as husband and wife for the first time. I decided to keep riding Lilly until the donkey and the Percherons were done and gone and he wedding party had left the area. I was afraid that she would break out of her corral if she saw them coming, so I figured we were both safer with me on her.

That evening, everyone wanted to go for one last ride. I was peer pressured into going... Well, that, and I wanted just one more ride. One more chance for Lilly to redeem herself. So against my better judgment, I saddled her, and we headed out with the gang. She pretty much acted just as she had all weekend with one exception. This horse, who I am convinced at this time isn't really mine, had the meltdown to beat all meltdowns. Did you know horses can canter completely sideways down a trail? Mine can! This was the absolute WORST this horse has ever been. She was prancing in place, dancing around, swinging her butt from side to side in an effort to curb my attempts to make her walk a straight line, trotting sideways, cantering sideways, backing up a hundred miles an hour when it suited her, spinning around in circles, and throwing her head so violently that the left rein kept ending up on the right side of her head,. Imagine trying to fix THAT mess while she's cantering in place. So on top of all this, the meltdown came when the group got slightly separated. One group went one way and the other group went another way. I was in the back group, however, we were in the front of the back group and we were on a trail that required the horses to be single file. Well, when those 3 lead horses got out of Lilly's sight, she went crazy! She began rearing uncontrollably, spinning around in circles, slamming us into trees and pretty much doing all she could to RUN to those other horses. The woman behind me began screaming for them to come back because "Lilly is being bad"! She screamed this over and over until one of the other riders told her to quiet down, that she was only making it worse and that Rebecca had it under control. She didn't agree and kept screaming for them to come back. Well, they finally did come back, and while Lilly quit rearing, she didn't really calm down. Now, at this point, I'd decided Lilly was putting me in danger, herself in danger, and the other horses and riders in danger with her psychotic behavior, so I told everyone I was heading back. I wasn't quite sure how that was going to work for me, but I didn't want the other riders to have to cut their ride short or to have to babysit me any longer. So I jogged ahead of everyone and asked Lilly to walk. Amazingly, she did. She walked, she put her head down, and she started taking deep breaths. For the first time all weekend, I loosened the reins and she dropped her head even more. Is this what she was trying to get all weekend? She wanted to be the lead horse that badly? She was walking very fast, mind you, but she was actually relaxing. When a horse got up close behind her she nickered and picked up speed. It was the weirdest thing. Eventually, the horses caught up, passed us (as many of them liked running their horses) and the whole mess started all over again. She seemed to be happy only when she was up front.

I was so pissed by the time we got back to camp that if someone had offered me money for that horse I would have come home with an empty trailer. My horse would never be that dangerous, that rude, or that defiant. That wasn't Lilly out on those trails. In 3 days time she ruined an 8 year relationship and mounds of mutual trust. I feel like my best friend stabbed me in the back. She betrayed me, and today as I write this, I don't feel the same about her.

I've got a lesson today with Rob and I'm hoping he can help me with this.

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