The Bold and the Brayful
by Fenway Bartholomule
Reprinted with permission from the BRAYER: the magazine of the American Donkey and Mule Society.
Not Old, Just Bored
My FarmWife has owned me for nearly two years now, but the story I have to tell took place late in our first summer together. We were just getting to know one another, and starting to have some really great adventures. All was well.
My FarmWife and I had that habit, at that time, of riding up our neighborhood logging road to access the many hundreds of acres of roads and trails that grace our local hillsides. In the Autumn of 2009, the landowners resurfaced the road with huge, jagged rock—"gravel," perhaps, but gravel that makes normal crushed rock look like powdered sugar by comparison. Our trail riding, at least for a while, was sharply limited.
FarmWife kept riding, and I kept behaving. We rode at a walk down the paved lanes of our rural neighborhood, as FarmWife was raised to believe that speed work on concrete is harmful to equine health. We made laps around our one acre pasture, digging large ovals into the thin sod. We trotted hither. We cantered thither. We strolled. We sauntered. We ambled. With questionable footing, however, the pasture was not good for serious dressage work. FarmWife hesitated to ask me for more impulsion or focus on the slick clay earth, and we didn't experiment much with novelty skills. It was exercise, but it was not interesting exercise.
By the second or third week of this business, I was sick of the grind. I got stiff, I got sullen, and I got hollow and sour. I gritted my teeth. I acted girthy. I was not having a whole lot of fun, and FarmWife could tell.
FarmWife's thoughts immediately turned to physical explanations, and she examined me with new concern. Was I, at 14, starting to develop arthritis? Was I suffering from poor saddle fit, or did I need a different type of snaffle? Were my knees bothering me, or was it my hocks? Was it my back that was hurting?
FarmWife saved up her pennies and bought me an open cell foam saddle pad. She bought me a chafeless girth. She consulted with a saddle fitter. She tried a few bits.
And then, one magical day, I found a way to tell her what I wanted. As we trotted past a rotting log that had lain in our pasture for some time, I locked my sights upon it. In the opposite of typical disobedience, I veered towards the obstacle. "FarmWife," I told her, "I think I'd like to jump."
We popped over the log, and then came back for a cantering pass. I was in heaven! Noble ears pricked and hooves flashing, I was inspired. I moved like a youthful athlete, ready for anything. FarmWife could feel the transformation, and with it came the relief of her worry. I was well, she realized. I was well! How could she have missed it? The signs all pointed to one thing, and she couldn't believe she hadn't realized earlier. Since the restriction of our trail access, I had grown bored.
We jumped that log and a couple more, and by the end of the ride I had a new spring in my step that FarmWife hadn't felt in weeks. I stopped dragging, and FarmWife stopped nagging. She could see that I was bored with the same tired circuit of the pasture, and she resolved to change it.
FarmWife bought me Easy Boots that month, and with my hooves protected we were able to head up the logging road again. Finally understanding my need for variety, FarmWife started mixing things up. A bareback ride here, a river-wade there. A jump thrown in this day, a gallop on that day. FarmWife can feel the eagerness with which I move, now, and she can tell when I'm enjoying myself. I enjoy a ride best when I can see something new, do something different, or go somewhere interesting. Luckily for her, FarmWife likes those rides, too.
My your trails be scenic, and your every experience fresh.
Ears to you,