A good horse should always keep himself pointed in the right direction, even if his own rider ain’t oriented thusly. I reckon I ought to explain.
We were out ridin with the “hunt club,” on this particular occasion — which is what it’s called when we have to go round up bad beagle-dogs that take off after jackrabbits through the open range. I’ve told about it before, a time or maybe two. Our riders generally spend about two to three hours tryin to call the dogs back off the rabbits by yellin nonsense words like “Hark!” and “Tally ho!” and some of the people even blow noisy air-horns to try to get their attention, and then once we’ve collected all the dogs and directed ‘em back to the trailhead, us horses get to eat hay and hang out while the people have a picnic and tell tall tales. It’s a lot like the ranch, ‘cept with no cattle, and no purposeful work. But, to paraphrase my horse-buddy Original Coors, it’s also purty much hella fun.
But it’s all fun and games until it ain’t. On this day, like a lot of other days, we got lost. And by we, I mean our riders. Horses don’t get lost. We always know where home or the rollin horse-box is. But it’s kinda a common theme when we’re roundin up beagle-dogs, gettin lost. One minute we’re close behind the first flight — so-called on account of those horses run fast enough to danged near take flight off the ground, whereas we prefer to trot and lope with our hooves firmly hittin solid ground. The next minute, all that’s left is us coughin in their cloud of dust, and they’re long gone, to who knows where? Except, a horse always knows where.
Now, a good ranch horse has got to finesse things a little bit, at times such as this one was, or else things can get slippery real fast. You got to let your rider take you up the next big slope and stop you at the crest of the big hill, and let yourself be “lost” (those is what’s called my ironical horse-ears surroundin that word) for a little bit while they have a look and a listen. And you got to stand at your most quietest and patientest while they do it. There will be no fidgeting nor head-tossin at all. I like to look upon it as a chance to catch a quick nap, myself. You got to be game to stand where you’re told to stand while the people try to figure it out, and then game to go off in the wrong direction on their whim, while gettin more lost than you was before.
To a point.
Well beyond that point, a horse might consider doin what I did that day. I put my shoulder into it, slightly.
As we started down yet another slope in yet another wrong direction, I zigged toward the right direction, and off we slowly went where we was supposed to. My bucket gal zagged me back the wrong way, convinced she was followin the first flight, based on what I don’t know, since people ain’t got proper horse-ears nor a proper sense of smell. So, I zigged back the right way. She zagged me the wrong way again, puttin her reins and her heels into it this time.
I saw an easier route down the hill, toward the right way, so I zigged my shoulder into it. She recognized that I was pickin my way so as to avoid the cholla, and so she let me zig. A good rider trusts their horse to pick his way best through tricky brush. And so I kept goin, down the hill, shoulder leanin slightly toward the way in which the first flight went, and in which we needed to go. And by the time we hit bottom, we was clear over toward the proper direction. I’d zigged good.
Gettin up the next ridge required more fancy footwork around the cactus, and so she let me pick my way, and I zigged us the right way all the danged way up the hill. It’s good to let your rider think things are her idea, sometimes. And the indirect route’s often the most direct, when it comes to a horse choosin which way to go. Well, when we got to the top of the ridge, what did we spy one tiny hill over? The whole damned first flight and most of the beagle-dogs, too!
Had we zagged instead of zigged, we woulda would up facin the wrong direction, and on the wrong side of the ridge, and would likely not found the first flight ‘til we wound up tuckin tail, so to speak, and turnin back for the trailhead where the rollin horse-boxes waited. By then, everybody and everyhorse woulda all been back and untacked, and the beagle-dogs flopped in their kennels, and we would’ve had to answer the question that no horse wants to hear, “Did you guys get lost out there (again)?”
So I highly recommend the occasional zig to your rider’s zag. But use it wisely and only when it’s warranted, horses, comprende? You’ve got to be sure of your horsely sense of direction, lest y’all find yourselves slidin down another kind of slippery slope with your rider, and meetin the zig-zaggy pattern of the crop on your behind for bad behavior.