Thursday, April 30, 2009



Our part of the world if filled with whitetail deer. I see more of them on a typical ride than I see squirrels. They terrorize my gardens, and the only way to protect my vegetables is with an electric fence. An electric fence won’t help us on our trail rides. We just have to deal with them.

Since we see deer so often, the horses aren’t frightened of them unless they do something sudden. We just need to be alert and spot the deer before the horses do.

The other evening, I was out riding Mingo by myself. Since he is still working off his springtime silliness, he was being a little unpredictable. We did some trotting and some cantering, and all went well. When we got to our favorite spot to canter, he became very animated with anticipation.

(If you do the same thing in the same spot all of the time, your horse will want to do the same thing in that same spot all the time. We are guilty of creating a bad habit—but it is such a great place to canter!)

Right at the moment of his transition, a goose or duck landed loudly in the river that was right alongside us. He leapt sideways into the canter rather than straight, and that was a good excuse to toss in a little buck. No big deal for me—I’m used to it this time of year with him. He just gets excited—and his bucks are really easy to ride. I just pushed him straight into a canter. He did great, though faster than his usual slow speed. I was enjoying it quite a bit when we saw a deer close to the trail jump forward. We must have startled him, because he took off running and jumping off through the woods. Mingo was startled, too, and came back down to a trot. Since the deer was running parallel to the trail, I thought it would be a good idea to encourage Mingo to follow—staying on his trail, of course.

Mingo thought this was the greatest idea in the world! He kept going faster and faster to catch up with the deer. I couldn’t believe the speed he reached. Problem was—it was at a trot. Once Mingo starts to trot fast, he can’t seem to coordinate a canter transition. I didn’t know the little guy could trot so fast. We were going Cruiser speed—the speed Cruiser is discouraged from doing these days. Wow, it was fun.

Mingo slowed down as we approached the next river crossing. By then, the deer was gone. He must have turned away from the trail when I wasn’t looking, and that is probably why Mingo slowed down. He was tired, and I was happy. We turned around and headed home.

As we walked along, it occurred to me that chasing another animal is probably instinctual. After all, horses were used for centuries to hunt. Those that didn’t boldly chase after the bison wouldn’t be much use. I’m sure horses chased deer for hunters—not to mention chasing after the fox. Then there is Mingo’s Quarter Horse cattle chasing roots. He was just doing what he was meant to do—and it was fun for both of us.

The following week, Ellen and I were coming home from a ride and had to cross the river to get home. On the other side, there was a group of six deer scuffling around and playing a little. We needed to cross, and Ellen was worried that the deer would do something to startle the horses while we were in the middle of the water. It is very slippery and not a good place for a spook. We waited a bit for them to go away, but they started toward us! One of them even walked into the water.

It was getting late, and I still wanted to ride Cruiser, so we couldn’t wait forever. I remembered how Mingo was when we chased the deer, and said to Ellen, “Don’t worry, Mingo will take care of them.” I asked him to enter the water, and we slowly walked across. At the halfway point, I turned him directly towards the deer, and finally, they turned around and walked away. Ellen and Ranger were then able to safely cross. Mingo saved the day.

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