Monday, July 9, 2012

On the Trail with Roxy's Evil Twin

Touchstone Farm is in a perfect location for trail rides. Its 28 acres are bordered by woods, streams, fields, and old orchards, with a network of quiet country roads between the farm and Pack Monadnock mountain.

She LOOKS like Roxy but ...
So you may imagine how much I looked forward to my first trail ride on Roxy, my agreeable, easy-going lesson horse. One warm afternoon in May 2011, my instructor, Jessy Savage, and I put fancy fly bonnets and plenty of bug spray on our horses and set out.

Almost immediately, I ran into problems with Roxy. As soon as she understood that we were going right past her paddock, where her friends Velvet and Annie were already eating their evening hay, things got ugly.

Suddenly, it wasn’t Roxy I was riding. I was on a horse who looked just like Roxy and who behaved like a little devil.

Yes, I was riding Roxy’s Evil Twin.

Here are some things her Evil Twin did not want to do:
  • Leave the farm property
  • Walk on dirt roads
  • Walk on pavement
  • Walk from pavement onto dirt
  • Stay on the dirt and out of the fields and ditches
  • Respond appropriately to any of the following aids from me: Walk, Trot, Whoa
Here are some things her Evil Twin did want to do:
  • Go home
  • Eat
Are we having fun yet?!
After about 100 yards of struggle, I was sweating and exhausted and ready to walk home on my own cooperative two feet. Jessy calmly coached me through insisting to the Evil Twin that she pay attention to my aids and do as I requested.

As Jessy explained, giving into my horse’s bad behavior would encourage the horse to take control of the ride. And that can be very dangerous. Indeed, this trail ride from Hell reminded me that (duh) a horse is a very strong animal who can get us both into serious trouble.

I summoned my deepest determination, and between my stubbornness and Jessy’s guidance, we went out and back safely. Back on farm property, the Evil Twin disappeared. I dismounted from my sweet lesson horse, who was hoping for a carrot. (As if, Roxy.)

What made Roxy behave so poorly? In retrospect, I can see several factors that set us up for a difficult ride:
  • The weather was muggy, and the black flies were relentless. Despite her bonnet and fly spray, Roxy was under continuous assault.
  • Roxy was hungry, and she knew it was mealtime. Walking past Annie and Velvet munching happily just added to her distress.
  • Roxy hadn’t been ridden outside a ring since camp the previous summer. Roxy is a big fan of routine, and a trail ride was not routine.
  • I was riding her. Jessy’s horse, Bacardi, did fine that day, in no small part because he carried a confident, skilled rider. Roxy had no such luck.
Though Roxy is trained to listen to her rider, I think a good lesson horse is entitled to a bad day now and then. I know now I could have made Roxy's day better, and not just by staying home and feeding her.

What could I have done differently to make our ride less fractious? Oh, lots. And lots. Next week, I’ll talk about simple things that might have written Roxy’s Evil Twin right out of the story.

See you around the farm,

Kathy McDonald
Rider and Volunteer at Touchstone Farm


  1. Oh, Kath! And she still wanted her carrot!!

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