It’s that time of year. Foul weather is abundant and turnout opportunities limited. Whether precipitation comes in liquid or frozen form, it wreaks havoc with the footing.
Determining if it’s okay to turn the horses out is literally and figuratively a slippery slope. Many are the times I have fallen on my own backside while ‘testing’ the footing myself. I know that when I open that stall door, stir-crazy quadrupeds are going to shoot out of the barn like hairy cannonballs. If I can’t stay upright while stepping gingerly and holding on to the fence, what is going to happen to them?
I’ll tell you what is going happen—the same thing that would happen to Mickey and his friends if I threw bowling balls out during the finale at Disney On Ice. Complete carnage.
I must, however, give my own horse credit for possessing an uncanny sense when it came to navigating questionable footing. We, in fact, referred to him as the “crash test horse.”
He was the first one we’d turn out when the footing looked allllllllmost okay. He’d patrol the paddock slowly and methodically. If one foot so much as slipped out of its own hoofprint, he would plant himself like the proverbial man-painted-into-a-corner until we came to rescue him. But if we saw him bucking and playing, we knew we could turn all the other horses out.
During the rainy season (that time of year when we refer to the front of the barn as Lake Arena and the back of the barn as Lake Turnout), there may be weeks at a time when the horses have to stay inside. Even when exercised daily, they sorely miss their playtime in the paddock. Some days they get “that look” in their eyes. You know the one: “Go ahead. Ride me. I dare you.”
On days like that, we opt for lunging.
Lunging—correctly and productively—requires much practice and skill. Keeping the horse at a consistent distance and the line at correct tension is an art form—not to mention the nuances of pace and control. And since humans and horses lack common language, effective communication is challenging.
What we ask for and what we get (or what we settle for) often differs. But I think I’ve finally cracked the code and figured out what the things we say and do mean to the horse. I hope the guidelines below take some of the guesswork out of it for you.
What it means to your horse: Stop standing and staring at me.
Make clucking sound
What it means to your horse: I don’t have a treat. Go away.
WIMTOH: Stop Cantering.
WIMTOH: Seriously. STOP cantering. NOW.
Fine, Don’t trot.
Become a chestnut blur.
“Easy, Easy, EASY!!”
Hey, that back shoe is almost off. See if you can toss it over the fence. But wait until the farrier’s truck disappears down the driveway, because there’s no cell phone service out here and he won’t get our frantic message until 25 miles later when he’s back in range. By then it’ll be dark. He’s working out of town this weekend. You’ll be shoeless until Tuesday. Too bad about the clinic I signed up for that’s on Monday.
Just kidding. Keep galloping. In fact, go faster. Extra points if you can make your legs go so fast that I can’t see them, like in those old Roadrunner cartoons.
Hold whip behind you.
The whip might bite you. Go faster.
Hold whip in front of you
The whip might bite you. Go faster.
Flick whip gently
Drag me through the peony bush.
Bolt, wipe out, belly slide. In any order.
Drop whip on ground
Come to a screeching halt. Do not budge no matter how much I yell, wave my arms or shake the rope. Refuse to move until I bend over to retrieve whip. Then run.
Tug lunge line gently
Run me over. Should I manage to dodge you Matador-style, see if you can double back and wrap the lunge line around my ankles. I just love that. Seriously, I live for that sort of crap.
Tug lunge line firmly
Take me waterskiing. Don’t let my screaming fool you. That’s what humans do when they are having fun. Let me know when you want me to turn loose of you by taking me through the creek or maybe a nice hedge. Better yet, there’s some barbed wire bundled up over there. Head for that.
Dip line toward ground
Rope yourself like a calf. I’m timing you.
Lift line ever so slightly
Jump in the air as high as you can and land going the opposite direction.
Shake lunge line and let it out longer
Dive bomb me. I like to run backwards while trying to reel up the line like I’m hauling in a 1200-pound Marlin.
Draw lunge line up shorter
See how small a circle you can do around me at the canter. Make dressage riders in next ring envious at your clear mastery of the pirouette.
Clip lunge line on other side of your halter.
Spin in opposite direction and duck under line so it wraps around your head. For the first time in your life, go out to the very limit of the lunge line and stay there. Do that extended trot I can never get out of you in the flat classes. Do not come back in no matter how much I beg.
Stop, face me, and as I walk toward you back up at exactly the same pace, effectively keeping me at the same distance no matter what. Do this until I promise you an entire bag of cookies.
You can stop now. It was kind of you not to kill me. This was so much fun. Let’s do it again.
After years of trying to fit in with corporate America, Jody Lynne Werner decided to pursue her true passion as a career rather than a hobby. So now, she's an artist, graphic designer, illustrator, cartoonist, web designer, writer and humorist. You can find her work on her Misfit Designs Cafepress site. Jody is one of the winners of the Chronicle's first writing competition. Her work also appears in the Dec. 2 Amateur Issue print edition of The Chronicle of the Horse.