Back in the Dawn of Time, when I met Huey for the first time, there was something about him that really stood out to me.
Not his warm and obliging eye, nor even his wrinkly eyelids.
Not the fact that his beautiful red coat shines like a penny in the sun.
Not his perky ears, pointing up and forward to show his lively interest in the world around him.
The first thing I noticed about Huey on the day we met was his feet.
“My god, those feet are huge.” I said.
There was general agreement that, yes, those are some impressively large horse feet.
I was even more impressed when I picked them up to clean them out.
They’re not the size of dinner plates. No one is going to mistake my boy for a Clydesdale. But for a horse of middling size for a Dutch Warmblood, they are a…healthy…size.
Now they’re even bigger, because he’s sporting egg bar shoes. Those aren’t open at the back like horseshoey-shaped shoes. They go all. the. way. around. And stick out a little in the back, to give him extra support on his ligaments while he’s getting better. They stick out enough that he has to wear special boots to keep him from stepping on his own shoes and pulling them off. They’re that large.
And heavy, did I mention heavy?
Because that comes into play in a minute.
Tonight, I went down to take him out of his stall for his Evening Walkies. Since he’s not supposed to be racing around like a loon until his leg is all better, I have to walk him on a leash, like a dog. Well, it’s really a halter and lead rope, but at the moment, it’s functioning like a leash.
Huey behaves only moderately well on the leash. This is actually an improvement. He used to be hell on wheels on a leash. My trainer put some work on him last winter and taught him the Horse Equivalents of “sit heel and stay”. I’ve been working with him intermittently on these, because if I do too much he gets b. o. r. e. d. Lately, thanks to the injury, he’s B. O. R. E. D. all the time, so I don’t worry about it at all and we’ve been doing a lot more of this work together. I’d like to be all pumped and stoked on my boy and tell you all how awesome he is at groundwork (Horse Obedience Training) but that would be a lie. If I had to give him a grade, it wouldn’t be any higher than a B-. And that’s on a pretty good day. Usually, he’s a C. Or maybe a C-.
What we’re working on is this:
Sending. This means I face and point in a direction, and he starts walking in that direction. He’s pretty good at this, until he gets b.o.r.e.d. at least…
Turning. This means I take his leash and face and point in the other direction, and he circles around and changes direction without stopping. This he’s not so great at. He always wants to stop and say “What? What are you doing? Why are you facing in the other direction? You want me to turn around? But I’m walking this other way. Oh, you want me to turn around and walk in the other direction?!?!” I don’t know what the Big Damn Deal is on this one. I’ve told him that until he can get this one Right, we’re not going to be able to do anything more exciting or interesting.
Backing up. He should be able to do it with a little tiny wiggle of the leash. And he does, about 10% of the time. Another 40% of the time he goes back with two feet at the tiny wiggle, and then waits for something more enthusiastic to move the other two feet. The remaining 50% of the time, he stands there looking blankly at me until I’m lashing the lead rope around in the air like a maniac, at which point he says “WOW! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? I am SCARED and I’m going to BACK UP! Really! I’m going to BACK UP if you don’t STOP doing that!!! This is me BACKING UP!! I warned you!” This isn’t working well for either one of us, frankly. The whole backing-up lesson makes me wonder if he’s not a brick shy of a full load, I swear it.
Yielding the hindquarters. AKA playing Hide The Hiney. He walks around until I fix his butt with an Evil Glare and point at it. Then he stops and leaves his forefeet in place and shuffles his butt back behind him really fast. We wind up facing each other, and all I can see is his head and his forequarters. About 60% of the time he makes a HUGE deal out of shuffling his butt out of sight really fast. The rest of the time he shuffles it off to an angle, so I can still see all of it, and all of him, and then I have to make a Really Evil Glare and threaten to spank him on the butt with the end of the lead rope. Then he pretends to be terrified and rolls his eyes and shuffles his butt away super fast.
This is all…new…for him. That’s the most favorable interpretation I can place upon his…slow…internalization of these lessons. Lord knows he learns everything else double-quick. All I have to do is ride a pattern twice in the ring and then he wants to do it all by himself. So I know he’s not Thick. He just plays it on TV.
Lately, it seems clear that he’s made a Rule for himself, and that Rule is “When in doubt, yield the hindquarters.” I’m not totally clear on where this Rule came from, but if I’m going to have him do things I didn’t ask him to do, he might as well be yielding his hindquarters.
Or so I thought until this evening.
We took our Walkies. He was bursting with enthusiasm for this, possibly from the breeezy weather, possibly from the joy of being out of the stall, possibly because he gets to hand-graze after his walkies a lot of the time.
He’s a pretty big horse, did I mention that? And that much horse, bursting with anything, can be a sobering prospect. Thank heavens I’m huge for a woman. He’s been learning that there’s no percentage in trying to tow me around, because I just put my feet in the ground and give him What For.
Under ordinary circumstances, he’s prone to trying to race through his stall door, but when he’s bursting with enthusiasm, he goes through that door like a speeding freight train.
Because I know this, I make him HO when we get to the door. Then he has to stand there for a second, and then I step in, and then I let him come in. It’s sort of like a very short time-out. It gives him enough time for his brain to catch up with his body.
Tonight was no different, except that he wasn’t just bursting with enthusiasm, he was billowing with it too. Which meant that when I said HO and told him to stop, it took those words an extra second to make the distance between his ears and his brain, and he took another step.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have been happy about that extra step, and I’d have made him back up (see above) and do it all over again until he got it Right.
Unfortunately, this extra step put his whacking huge foot with the whacking huge shoe directly on top of my cowboy boot.
Now I know that the Proper Response here would be to wiggle the rope and get him to back the hell off of my foot. But I was too busy screaming YEEEAAAAARRRGGGHHHH!!!!! what with that 1,300 pound hairy monster planted directly on my foot. Huey’s ear happened to be right next to my mouth at the time, too.
This resulted in what I feel can best be termed a State of Significant Confusions on the part of the Wonder Horse.
And he responded to confusion by using his new Rule: When In Doubt, Yield My Hindquarters.
Regrettably, this doesn’t involve picking up the front feet. It involves planting the front feet and shuffling the butt away from me very fast. And as fast as I’d seen him do it with the Really Evil Glare it was nothing compared to the speed with which he executed this maneuver with me hollering “HUEY!!! AAAAAAGGGGHHHHH!!!! GEEEET OFFFFFF!!!!!”
So there’s Huey, planting his foot even more firmly on my boot and then grinding it in.
Eventually he went to Plan B: Back Up, and I was freed. I gave him a scratch, let him at his hay, and hobbled off home. I don’t think anything is broken but it is going to be an amazing technicolor mass by morning. I’m sure it will be fine in a week or so.
I don’t know if I can say the same thing about my boots. Those damn shoes are sharp.