It was a horse day.
After the last two (too) strenuous rides past bee-boxes and stings, I opted to spend some quality time with Lord Duquesne in the arena rather than take him out on the orchard roads.
Before I groomed and saddled him, however, I turned him loose in the arena, so that if he felt like bucking and carrying on like a wild ass of the desert, he could do so without jarring my spine. He trotted back and forth with his tail in the air (a sign that he was feeling full of his senior self) and touched noses with the two little goats who recently arrived at the ranch.
Then I curried and curried and curried and left waffle-shaped wads of hair all over the saddling area. Currying, if you don't know the term, involves running a rubber scrubbing tool over the horse's coat in small circles, trying to keep more or less in the direction of the horse's hair. It loosens a lot of dirt and dandruff and loose hair, bringing it to the surface so that the next step, brushing, can sweep the junk off and leave the horse looking shiny and clean.
Then it was time for the arena, and some basic communication reboots. Turns with a direct rein, turns with a lifted rein, turns with an indirect rein. Left, and then to the right. Walk, stop, walk, stop. Walk, stop, move hindquarters but keep the forequarters still as possible. Turn on the hindquarters, keeping them as still as possible while the forequarters make the circle. Right, left. Back up, try to make that a straight move, not weaving from side to side. Work on walking so close to the fence that the stirrup bonks against it. Walk sideways, right, left. More backing up. More turns, both directions.
"Give me your head." This is a tough one for a high-headed horse like Dink. We stood, and I gently, gently, suggested with the reins and the bit that he tuck his chin in towards his chest. When he did it, I shouted, "Good boy!" and let him stretch his neck down to relax.
After almost thirty minutes, my thighs were tired from all the strong but subtle cues I'd had to give him. This was not about yanking reins and kicking the horse's sides. Ideally, if you were watching from the side of the arena, you wouldn't be able to see the cues, they'd be so unobtrusive.
We're not that good, by any means.
But we're good enough to open gates without me having to dismount; we're good enough that if my hat blows off in the wind, I can lift it up from the ground with my whip (which is NOT EVER for whacking Dink); and we're good enough that when we were all done, and I was brushing his sweaty hide, Dink reached around with his head and gently draped it over my shoulder, a horsey hug. He knew he did well.
Oh, clever horse!