When taking a young, green-broke horse out on his first big trail ride, the time for adventure is not now.
Now, in fact, is the time for great success at modest tasks to lay a strong foundation for all adventures, and misadventures, of the future.
With that in mind last weekend, I planned ahead clever ways to avoid adventure on my trail ride on this little green-broke horse.
First of all, the terrain in the pasture is nice except where, y'know, it's not with rocks and sink holes and impassable gumbo hillsides, but really that just keeps everyone alert. Even the ancient barbed wire hiding in the grass and brush, waiting to snag unwary horse legs is just good experience, so no worries there … unless an outside factor weighs in to distract a horse from paying attention.
And therein lay the true wild card that day: cows. These cows. Special cows. Attack cows.
Normally, I like to expose a green horse to cows. Herding cattle is a confidence builder. Except with this ill-trained herd. The owners don't use horses or four-wheelers to chase the cattle in, they use a bucket with treats to call them in. When those cows see you, they come AT you. And those girls can cover ground.
When you want to herd a cow out of your way on a trail, it doesn't turn away. It keeps trying to come at you unless your really harrass it; it's trained specially that way. And then the handful of its buddies and babies nearby come on over to check out the excitement. Then a dozen or so others who see them converging on a point, your point, come to see if food is involved in this ruckus. That's what brings the 60 to 80 head of cows and calves running from far and wide across the pasture.
It's like a zombie mob scene. You're using a flame thrower to thwart the zombie in front of you, but the whole time you're feeling cocky and all "aaargh!" for your blazing triumph, others are surrounding you. They're coming after your brains. And they will get you.
Really. I've had it happen with these cows. Inexperienced horses don't like that mob scene, and the fear of these cow/zombies sucks the horses' brains out.
Plus, I once saw them swarm in on an injured blue heron, stomping it to death in the dirt. Those cows were not happy until each of them had blood on their hooves. Yes, thank you for noticing, it was creepy.
To be honest, the green-broke horse I was riding that day was not, and never would be, a horse I would want to have on my cow/zombie apocalypse team.
Neither is my dog Cooper, and because I'd heard the story about this herd of cows — in their cow/zombie rage — chasing down someone's hunting dog and totaling the pickup it was hiding under, I planned ahead and left Cooper at home.
I encountered the first few head of cows about a quarter-mile from home. They were acting remarkably like normal cows, eating grass and not converging on us to suck my horse's brains out. The horse was cool with it all.
Still, I opted to go with my plan and take to an off-road path to avoid catching any more of the herd's attention. I crested a ridge and worked my way down a short draw. My plan was working.
The young horse was calm, focused, working beautifully.
And then he wasn't. Not at all.
With the lightning-fast reflexes of a 900-pound flight animal, the horse spun and bolted up the steep bank of the other side of the draw — while I scrambled to regain some kind of leg-hold on the saddle, rather than somersaulting over the back side of it.
I did not want to be left behind for a good, old-fashioned cow stompin' of my brains out. Fortunately, the horse and I managed to come to an agreement to stop at the opposite ridge, and I convinced him to turn and face our zombie attacker.
Who turned out to be, instead, a keen tracker.
Cooper, who was supposed to be at home, was standing at the ridge across from us, clearly proud of himself for having tracked us this far and clearly remorseful for causing this chaos, but ultimately happy when I let him come along despite the odds of misadventure.
The cows, in fact, stayed remarkably non-zombie-like.
As the ride turned out, we had to take to the hills and ridges to circumnavigate a few bands of cattle, and a lonely pair of bulls, but in the end, it would seem that the only real adventure on the entire ride is what tracked me down from my own home.
Adventure is like that sometimes. So is training horses.
(Nothin' like a well-planned raid with firstname.lastname@example.org.)