It is time to clear our woods trails, again.
Brush is starting to encroach from the sides, narrowing the trails. Overhanging limbs are extending lower, becoming riding obstacles. As spring advances, it will only get worse until a trail ride becomes an obstacle course.
Those overhanging branches are a bit of concern in general, but especially when riding Knockout, our 7-year-old quarter horse (Can he really be seven? Wow! 2 ½ years doesn’t seem long from my perspective, but the difference in age between a 4-year-old colt and a 7-year-old horse is huge. He can’t be called a colt anymore…he’s a young adult horse).
Knockout doesn’t like low-hanging branches…never has. He also doesn’t like branches brushing against my helmet as we ride. He’s not nearly as reactive to them as he was two years ago. Some days he ignores them completely. Other times he’ll startle-in-place at the first few occurrences before settling down to ignore them. Overall, the low-hanging branches are not too big a deal anymore. But I still ride with an awareness of potential spooks and guide him thru a route that avoids unnecessary brushing against branches.
So, cleaning up the trails would make my rides a little more relaxed. Plus, it would open the trails back up to being able to ride two-abreast rather than single file.
I’ve learned trail clearing is best done from horseback. The horse becomes a mobile scaffold from whom high branches can be reached. He also acts as a visual guide as to how high the branches need to be trimmed.
For clearing trails, a really calm, mature horse is needed…a horse who is perfectly comfortable standing under low hanging branches while I stand in the stirrups, reach around at odd angles with clippers, and drop small branches on his head.
Sonny, our 18-year-old paint, is the horse for trail clearing. Sonny can sometimes be a bit persistent in his wilfulness, but he is not spooky. Sonny can be relied on to stay calm even in very distracting circumstances.
Last weekend, I had a (silent) conversation with myself that went something like this:
Me: One evening this week, I need to saddle Sonny and go clean out those woods trails.
Self: Sounds like a good idea! Why Sonny?
Me: Sonny stands calmly while I trim branches above his head. I’ve used Sonny for this task before. He’s the only horse I really trust for that sort of work.
Self: Why don’t you take Knockout?
Me: Are you nuts? Knockout isn’t mature enough for that. He sometimes startles at low-hanging branches. Knockout’s concern with brush is a primary reason I want the trail cleared.
Self: It sounds like you’re making excuses for Knockout. How can he ever develop into the horse you want him to be if you keep making excuses for him?
Me: I’m not making excuses. I just don’t want to overwhelm Knockout and lose ground on all the progress we’ve made. He trusts me and I don’t want to lose his trust.
Self: So, start slow and build up. Trim one small branch to the side, see how Knockout responds and go from there. You’ll never know what he can handle if you don’t let him try. You need to trust your horse. This is a perfect opportunity to build Knockout’s confidence with low hanging limbs.
So that’s what we did.
Monday evening, I took Knockout on a trail ride and we trimmed trees for one full trail loop…including the super-scary trail thru the creek bottom at which Knockout used to always spook.
Knockout did great! 🙂
Knockout stood still while I reached out with the clippers and trimmed branches. He did not startle when the branches brushed my helmet or dropped on top of his head. At times, I let go of the reins and stood in the stirrups to grasp a branch in my left hand while using the clippers in my right hand. I often switched hands for better reach. I often asked for a side-pass, shoulder turn, or hind-quarter turn to reach the next branch. And Knockout bravely tolerated all of it.
To be clear…Knockout did not like it. He was not at all thrilled to duck under low-hanging branches. He was hesitant about sticking his head in thick underbrush so I could reach the intended branch.
Sometimes, when I asked for a right side-step toward the brush, he responded with a left side-step away from the tree…clearly indicating he was uncomfortable with where I was asking him to go. Yet, as I persisted asking for a right side-step, firming up as necessary, Knockout complied with my request.
Once positioned where I needed him, I dropped all pressure and he relaxed, standing quietly as I went about the task of trimming. He stood quietly relaxed as branches dropped on his head, as leaves rustled overhead, as I drug branches out of clinging vines to cast aside. And when I asked him to move he responded…sometimes hesitantly…but he responded. And when I dropped pressure, he relaxed again.
I was quite impressed with Knockout’s courage!
It’s no big deal performing a task one is comfortable with. It requires true courage to perform a task one is very uncomfortable with, then stand quietly relaxed in a stressful situation.
How did he do it? How does a prey animal wired for flight perform a task he is clearly uncomfortable with? How can he stand quietly at ease in the midst of a stressful environment?
Knockout trusts me. It’s that simple.
Because he trusts me, Knockout is willing to go places he is uncomfortable going. Because he trusts me, Knockout can stand quietly relaxed in a stressful situation, simply because he knows he is where I want him to be, and I am with him.
Knockout knows, when I am with him and he is where I want him to be, he is safe.
What was it Jesus said?
…lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)
Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid. (Matthew 14:27)
Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. (Revelation 1:17-18)
Sometimes, God asks me to go places I am uncomfortable going. Sometimes, I find myself in very stressful situations. My mother’s illness and departure from this world…my daughter’s surgery…my grandchildren in an automobile accident…addressing issues with my teenage stepson’s journey toward adulthood…health concerns of family and friends…political unrest…economic concerns…wars and terrorism across the globe…
This world is a scary place and I often find myself in stressful situations.
And yet…because He is with me I don’t have to be afraid. So long as I trust Him, I am safe.