Have you ever ventured into what’s called a Tunnel of Doom?
I reckon if you’re like most folks — and horses — around the County Island, you likely ain’t never been inside one before, at least not of your own volition. Most especially not if you’re a horse, ‘cause right there are two things horses ain’t generally fond of — tunnels, and doom.
But it’s a funny thing, really, about a Tunnel of Doom. If you’d told me back at the ranch that some day I’d be moseyin back and forth with my rider through a Tunnel of Doom, which was located at the far end of a “construction site,” and next to a fella revvin the engine of a rumbly quad-machine repeatedly, all while playin noisy music on purpose, I’d have told ya to get out of town before sunset. I mean, I’m a good horse. A real good horse. But I am also an entirely practical horse. Unless we was bein chased by a pack of mountain lions or maybe a wildfire, there ain’t no practical reason for a horse to willingly send himself inside a Tunnel of Doom. Now, your rider askin you to do somethin is generally reason enough to do it, on account of a horse has got to listen to his rider.
But if his rider’s lost his mind, as in the case of “hey, let’s have a stroll through a Tunnel of Doom for no good reason at all,” then it’s a good horse’s job to stop, question his rider’s mental faculties by way of plantin his hooves, and give his rider the chance to reconsider such foolhardiness.
Such were my horse-thoughts recently, when I got put inside the rollin white horse-box and taken back to the place called Camelot where I first met the horse police. Only this time, unlike the first time, I knew exactly where I was goin and what I had to do. Ya see, I was given an assignment to be what’s called an “equine journalist,” and tell a story to all the people around the County Island, and maybe even beyond, about what it’s like for a horse to go to a “bomb-proofin clinic” and train with the Scottsdale Police Mounted Unit’s officers, who I’d venture would also make damn fine cowboys. I even got to interview a tiny horse called Coughdrop. I’ll get to that shortly. And also, don’t tell him I called him tiny.
But back to the doom.
What I learned at this bomb-proofin clinic is that doom ain’t nothin for a horse nor a rider to fear. And just because somethin is called a thing of doom don’t make it so. I also observed that for every horse who maybe was a little fearful of meetin his doom — whether that doom was actually the Tunnel of Doom, or a baby-stroller of doom, or a step-over of doom, or a pool noodle of doom, or a plush toy animal of doom — there were people who were even more scared of it.And there were also Step-Overs of Doom:
And Beach Balls and Umbrellas of Doom:
And a Baby Stroller of Doom, with a Kinda Questionable Baby, called a “toy gorilla,” in it:
And a Mountain Lion? Leopard? Some Kinda Cat? of Doom, sayin RAWR! Yeah… Real scary…
But there ain’t no reason for horses to be afraid of any of this stuff. The main thing I observed is that a human has got to be more brave than his or her horse, and also a horse has got to be brave and trust his or her rider. That also works the other way around, where if a horse don’t think a black tarp covered with sand to walk over is a big deal, his rider’s got to believe him, and not clutch at the reins or grab ahold of his belly with his legs, and the rider’s got to let his horse walk across the tarp and believe they’re both gonna be okay.
One of the mounted police officers said it best, somethin like, “You and your horse are a team. No matter how many other horses and riders are around you, or what else is happening, you and your horse are a herd of two, and you are the herd leader.” I thought this was kinda nice, like sayin, don’t worry about no other horse nor rider’s meltdown or what their situation may be. Focus on your own job. That’s what I learned back at the ranch, too! Horses, if your rider says it’s okay, then it’s okay. Riders, if your horse ain’t freaked out, then kindly do not go and freak him out over your own freak-out. A herd leader’s got to remain calm, and be kind to his horse.
At a bomb-proofin clinic such as this, we take everythin nice and slow. And everybody got to work at their own pace. So say you’re a horse who don’t like to step onto bridges. Well, it’s perfectly okay for your rider to dismount and lead you over it. And it’ also okay if all you want to do is snuffle at the bridge, or test it out with your one tester-hoof. You know the hoof – the one you could likely live without, in case ya had to.
The officers is right good teachers, and give horses and riders lots of time to get comfortable with the situation. They even got a quiet “time out” corner, where naughty horses, or naughty humans, can go chill out for as long as need be.
The point was to get horses and riders feelin confident with new things, and havin fun. Such as with the Tunnel of Doom. This is me, exitin the doom:
See? Easy as pie, and it truthfully was fun! I told you there wasn’t really no doom involved. It’s all up here inside your head, between your horse-ears, or your tiny ear-holes, if you’re a person. I strolled on through the Tunnel of Doom with my eyes barely open. One of the officers wanted to know if I could hurry it up a little — which I couldn’t — and then he asked my bucket gal if I even have a “hurry up,” which she thought was damned funny for some reason… So if a horse and rider can succeed at the Tunnel of Doom, they can succeed at anythin.
Sgt. Weston Brown, who’s like the head cowboy and officer in charge of the mounted unit, wanted to know if there’s anythin I do spook at. Well… please don’t tell him this, but… I’m truthfully scared of our vet lady. I got a phobia of bein pokin in the neck and knocked out cold and tranqued. I also ain’t fond of people touchin me that I don’t know, but I call that common sense and practicalness, not spookin.
And then, I got to conduct an interview with Coughdrop! He’s a bonafide miniature horse therapy horse at Camelot, himself. Herewith is the lowdown, straight from the mighty mini’s mouth.
Me: Say, Coughdrop, so how many bomb-proofin clinics has Camelot now done with the Scottsdale Police Mounted Unit?
Coughdrop: Camelot’s had four clinics with the Mounted Unit: two in 2010, one in 2011, and this one in May 2013. The unit’s volunteer Judy Lewis opened the door for these wonderful fundraiser/collaborations! I hear they’ve been a big hit with the horseback riding community, and those who participate come back for more — like you, Whiskey!
Me: Now you’ve heard all my own words, what did you think of the bomb-proofin’ clinic?
Coughdrop: I thought the clinic quite exciting, and found it hilarious that many of the oversized mounts found me as terrifying as the Tunnel of Doom! I was rather impressed with myself and how I handled the various obstacles my handler escorted me over and through. I was so light on my feet and chose on several occasions to lift all four of them off the ground at the same time, just to impress the onlookers and demonstrate my fierceness! I am a sassy bad-ass, second cousin to the honey badger!
I also found it entertaining that some horses thought I was scarier than the big, although strangely quiet, leopard in the sensory station. It was such a hoot to be led by my assistant outside the arena and I was still scaring the other horses! Being such a distraction made me feel appreciated for my intensity! I heard I was the smallest participant in the clinic… WHAT IS THAT ABOUT? I am “small,” Whiskey??
Me: No! Certainly not, Mr. Coughdrop! I would never dare to call a horse with as big a heart and personality as you “small”! Now, where was I? As a fellow very big and bad-ass horse — like me — do you have any words of wisdom for all those horses and people who might like to come specifically to a future bomb-proofin clinic at Camelot?
Coughdrop: I would tell other horses that it is their responsibility to their people to convince them to attend these clinics. I see riders all scared and freaked out in the beginning, worried that their horses are going to either be naughty or terrified, when it is the rider themselves who are naughty and terrified! These clinics build the rider’s confidence as they are taught first and foremost that they are the leaders/boss mares. <cough, cough, we know that I am truly the alpha in any herd — not my person — just don’t tell her!>
Me: Don’t worry. I won’t tell a soul.
Coughdrop: I would also like to say that in addition to having a fun and safe clinic, it is so wonderful inviting new people to my ranch. We (my fellow four-legged instructors) love sharing the work we do at Camelot for our community, and these clinics help us spread the news about our challenging and important work.
So there y’all have it, straight from two horses’ mouths. Don’t ever let the dread of doom stop you from tryin somethin new that’ll give you a better partnership between horse and rider. That applies to all of us horses around the County Island and beyond, and to all of the people who might be readin this, too.