Dog and pony show

I don’t own, but get to ride whenever I like, a horse named Dakota who lives in my town. His owner has had a hip replacement and she hasn’t ridden for years, but she’s had Dakota all his life and she loves him very much and she continues to pay his board. When no one was riding him, Dakota was a lonely, bored, anxious, unhappy horse. By chance I stopped by the barn where Dakota was boarded to see if I could help out in exchange for the occasional ride. After I helped out a few times, the owner of the barn “gave me to him.” I’ve been grooming and loving and riding Dakota for three or four years now. In that time he’s become a happier horse and I’m a happier person.

Early in our time working with Julie, I mentioned that I am a rider and she said “Oh, that’s great! This dog could go all day with you on horseback.” I wondered how that would ever be possible, but took to the idea with a passion. I can go a lot further on a horse than I can on foot and if there was a way to let Chico benefit from that long a walk, my thought was “Well, heck, let’s figure out how to make this work.”

It was Chico’s lunging at cars when we walked on leash that gave me pause. I’d have to keep him on a leash until we reached the woods or fields where was safe to let him off. And that’s what I did all summer the first year we rode together. This year, I can ride away from the barn**. On our walks, Chico understands that an approaching car means he can run to me and sit by my side and get a “car cookie” and he knows that the same is true if I am up in the saddle. Sure, it’s bribery, but it maximizes the chances that we all have a fun, safe ride.

Chico can control himself until it is time for me to mount up and then he loses his mind with joy and excitement and starts telling me, in no uncertain terms, to HURRY UP and get going. After a very short time, he calms down and trots behind us or runs ahead. He drinks from streams, leaps over logs, does amazing flying changes of lead, chases chipmunks, rolls in dead stinky things, and generally has a blast. Here’s a short video of parts of a recent ride:

Video shot by Terry, much of it from Charlotte’s buggy.

** I can ride away from the barn if we go left out of the driveway, but if we go to the right I have to walk him past a certain point to keep him out of a someone’s flower garden. At the start of a ride, he is so excited that he can’t hear me call him, he doesn’t even react to the (almost) never fail “emergency recall” word. There is some scent trail that he follows every time we head out to the right that leads him right through these folks’ raised flower beds. And they, understandably, don’t care for that.

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