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When I was a young woman I had a friend who's family owned a beautiful horse farm in the country. Her entire family was a group of horse lovers extrordinaire. They loved horses and everything connected to them. The farm was really just a giant horse museum, with horse paraphernalia, horse drawings and paintings, and horse photographs everywhere. If you had a horse phobia this was not someplace you wanted to be.
My friend's family raised horses, bred them, boarded them, and trained them. They also would allow people to ride some of their horses for a fee in order to help pay for their horse obsession, which is a notoriously expensive bit of business on a good day. The horses they used for the horseback riding business were older and ridiculously calm since some of the riders were not big on experience and horses can be unpredictable. I wouldn't say that these horses seemed to enjoy their jobs, but neither did they appear to have any serious objection to carting people around on their backs through the countryside. They mostly seemed indifferent. These horses were not Secretariat. I never saw one engage in anything more energetic than a short trot and that was usually when they were on their way home and the barn came in sight. Being home meant a nice rub down and some food, the only thing that could get them even a little excited.
I used to go out to the farm with my friend and go riding or work with the horses now and then. I love animals and I find horses to be very interesting creatures. We decided to go riding one day and headed into the big barn. My friend had a horse which was exclusively hers and I road whatever animal happened to be around and available, which was usually a kind of fat, sleepy horse with a lovely personality. On this particular day the only other horse available was a mare who was placidly chewing hay in a stall. My friend told me that we were out of luck because this particular horse, who was named 'Evangeline' after a character in a Longfellow poem, had developed a rather odd personality quirk. You could put a saddle on her and she would head out on the trail perfectly fine, but then she would just stop in her tracks and refuse to budge in any direction except back to the barn and no amount of persuasion could get her to move another inch. Interesting. Evangeline was well-loved, like all the horses, so anything beyond gentle motivation was out of the question, so they just let her be. My friend told me that they were worried, however, because Evangeline needed exercise and was definitely not getting any. Being me, I decided that I would give Evangeline a try and see what happened.
The horse was completely placid and uninterested when I saddled her. I talked to her the whole time and she just gave me that horse look which is a vacant stare that they can get when they refuse to acknowledge your existence. When I was mounted we headed out on the trail. About 200 yards into the ride she just stopped dead. My friend sighed and gave me an 'I told you so' look of exasperation.
“There isn't anything you can do,” she said. “She won't take another step forward.”
I told my friend to keep going and get her horse the exercise he needed and that Evangeline and I would just hang out and have a little chat. My friend took off and I looked at the back of Evangeline's head, decided there was nothing to see there, and dismounted and walked around in front of her.
“Evangeline,” I asked. “What the heck is up with you?”
She just looked at me with utter boredom. I stroked her nose, which she seemed to like, and tilted my head to the side in thought. Evangeline tilted her head to the side and looked at me. I heaved a deep sigh. Evangeline heaved whatever it is that horses do that sounds like a huff and passes for a sigh. Then I got an idea. I turned my back on her and walked about 10 feet ahead, turned, and took some apple pieces I had in a plastic bag out of my pocket. Evangeline, being nobody's fool, walked the 10 feet to stand in front of me. I gave her a piece of apple. Then I turned and walked some more and old Evangeline followed me until we were walking in quiet companionship side by side. In this manner we did the entire circuit, just strolling along, chewing on apples. I told her stories and talked about this and that and her ears pricked up nicely as she listened. When we got back to the barn I told my friend that the problem was simple, Evangeline wasn't avoiding exercise, she was just all done hauling people around on her back, a perfectly reasonable attitude if you think about it. She just wanted to have a nice stroll and a chat. From that day on Evangeline was walked kind of like a dog with no saddle to weigh her down. I would come out frequently and walk with her and chat away to her. She didn't say much but if I lapsed into silence for too long she would nudge me with her nose. One time I brought a copy of the Longfellow poem about her namesake and read it to her as we walked down the road. She really seemed to like that, which she indicated by attempting to take a bite out of the book. What can I say? The horse had good taste.
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