It’s harvest time, here in the agricultural countryside surrounding In the Night Farm. Soybeans cluster beneath yellowing leaves. Rows of onions are forced from their beds to lie atop the soil, plundered and baking in the sun. Proud, green cornfields vanish in swaths, their stalks chopped into mounds of fodder.
With harvest come the trucks. Dump trucks mounded high with future silage, tractor-trailers with flapping straps all down their sides, bale wagons groaning under tons of alfalfa, tillers set to churn the pillaged crops back into earth. From dawn ’til dark, our peace is shattered by roaring engines, clattering metal, the stench of diesel and brakes.
Every year, harvest seems to coincide with the “sightseeing phase” for at least one of my equine trainees. This year, it’s Ripple Effect. She turned four in July, and I’ve spent the summer filling her eager mind with preparation for starting under saddle.
One of the largest components of this preparation is extensive handwalking and ground driving along the ditch banks and roads surrounding the farm. I have yet to find a safer or more efficient way to feed a horse’s curiosity and build her confidence while strengthening her hooves and legs for the work ahead.
I gain a great deal from these sightseeing expeditions as well. They open a window to my horse’s mind, through which I may evaluate her maturity and preparedness to be ridden. Mile over mile, I find answers to myriad questions:
How does this horse respond to threat? Will she stand her ground, or run? Does she tend toward curiosity, or fear? Has she the courage to be ground-driven through spooky areas, or am I still obliged to lead her?
What kinds of things concern her? Loose dogs? Pheasant fly-ups? Objects on the ground? Other livestock? Moving water? Sunglare on metal objects? Vehicles?
How long is her attention span? Can she maintain a straight course? Will she give to pressure, turning and stopping on command regardless of our surroundings? Does she enjoy exploring, or would she rather stay home? When confused, does she turn to me for direction?
Perhaps you can see why I don’t mind the trucks. They up the ante. They force real answers from the horse I’m leading…and as I’ve quoted before, the horse you lead is the horse you ride.
Ripple is coming along beautifully. There are moments, out along the road, when I can imagine traveling safely along on her back. For the time being, however, I’m content to drive her along the gravel shoulder, watching her ears flicker as she marches unflinchingly into the roar of an oncoming semi.
I imagine harvest will be winding down by the time I actually ride Ripple on the road. That’s all right by me. It’s safer. For now, we’ll save mounted work for the round corral and we’ll continue our daily walks in hand. There’s no hurry. We’re truckin’ along.