These Boots for Walking Chapter 2

Valentine was very cooperative as I put the boots and pads on the front feet, he didn’t really seem to be tender footed on the back feet, so I only bought them for the front feet.  They are really easy to put on, 2 big velcro strips across the front to attach them. It’s important to be careful when measuring and buy the correct size.

Stepping forward, Valentine followed me cautiously and one person watching ua exclaimed “Look he likes them, you can see it on his face!”  He probably walked with diminished pain for the first time in ages.  We kept it short only 1o minutes of hand walking the first week and I would let him graze in a grassy area at the end of his walk.  He is really food motivated, so once he figured out our routine, he started walking faster to get to the reward part.  The next week we went to 15 minutes, with no chaff marks on his skin, to the area above his coronary band.  I also left the boots on when I put him in the turnout arena and he promptly took off squealing, bucking and rearing in delight. “That”, I said quietly “is a really good sign that the boots are working.”

So we walked, walked and walked, at first just around the stable and then eventually out on the trail. The walking turned out to be a good thing for both of us, giving us time to bond, work out his various fears of the trail also for me it was a chance to shed some unwanted pounds gained from sitting long hours in front of a computer.

Did I mention that I had to watch him like a hawk every second? He tried to bite me every chance he got. I considered renaming him Mr. Vampire! NAW, some one once told me to be careful what you name your animal friends as they will take on the characteristics of the name. I really didn’t want to encourage him to bite and draw blood. Most of the time he seemed to target the clothes people were wearing, in fact, I noticed that he was very careful NOT to get skin. Hmm, interesting. . .

I was determined to make life different from anything he had encountered in the past, because I was convinced it would fix the undesirable behaviors that he was presenting with. When he would turn to bite, I just put a finger on his cheek, politely pushed his head away and told him to be soft. He’d give a little lick and chew with his lips and then continue walking along, until the next time he hoped to catch me off guard and then it would be score one for Valentine, ripped jacket for me.  I wasn’t used to dodging teeth every couple of minutes, NONE of my previous horses had ever tried to to take a bite, so it took a awhile for me to get into the swing of things. Maybe I should have renamed him “Vampire”.  When I did the background history on him, I was told that the previous victims that he had tried to take a bite out of, would yell, slap or  hit him in the face and in my decision to be different from old style, conventional training, I wanted to use NO aggression back at him, I would use only kindness and communication instead.  My plan was to diffuse any aggression, rather than make it escalate. An old cowboy friend once said “if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit.” I figured that was the perfect way to go about things. So now when Valentine tries to bite, I turn him in a quick small circle, or laugh at him with my hands on my hips and say “REALLY???”  Don’t laugh, that one works really good with him! One other thing that works is food rewards, I’ve been teaching him “Pretty Ears.” The way it works is I say “Pretty Ears” and when he looks at me with a sweet, soft face, he gets the carrot. So he could be in the middle of “Mean Face” and if I say “Pretty Ears” and get the correct response it diffuses the aggression and we both win. Also, would you rather ride a soft, sweet, willing horse or one that you’ve been beating up on?

Most of the time Valentine was a handful on the trail, dancing, prancing and dragging my out of shape body along.  The trails were not the best quality for riding and it was required that we share with other groups of walkers, runners, bicycles and off road type motorized vehicles. The trail consisted of an asphalt road with a narrow dirt path next to it for horse riding. There is one area that is a tunnel with a road above. Everything echos and it’s a little scary hearing the traffic above and hoodlums hang out occasionally painting graffiti on the walls. It doesn’t make for a very peaceful walk and on some days scared the bejesus out of us.

I have an ankle that troubles me from time to time and one rather hot day in the high 90’s, with more than a mile left , I completely dreaded the thought of walking all the way back to the stable on that sore ankle. I had carried a small backpack of supplies, so I headed to a shady area at a nearby park and gave us both a drink of bottled water, then on a whim I asked him “Would it be ok if I ride back to the stable?  I’m old, my ankle hurts and can’t keep up today.”  He looked up at me intently with ears pointed forward as if to say “Yes, that would be ok” I might add that he’s always been very good at making his wishes know with flattened ears, tail swishing and teeth bared, so I took his showing of “pretty ears” to mean YES.

Tying the lead rope to the other side of the halter, I led him to a picnic table and climbed aboard.  He stood very still consenting to everything, affirming the decision that he had indeed said yes. I was such a proud Mom, he was really compliant and that was actually a side of him I had never seen. The only other time I had ridden him was brief because he was tender footed and stumbling badly, almost falling. That was before I got his Tennies.

On the way back, we had one tense moment.  Hanging off of a chain link fence there was a large, loose, flapping sheet of plastic. Good old Mother nature gave us a big wind blast, whipping the plastic wildly around, right at us. Valentine snorted, sunk down a bit, went sideways a few steps, froze and stared at it, trembling slightly.  Ok “Good Boy” I said and patted his neck, SOOOOO thankful he hadn’t bolted full speed for the barn with me ending up ass over teakettle on the ground.  I wasn’t back in riding shape and since we were both newly acquainted with each other, it may not have been one of my brightest ideas to ride that day, but it felt right so I went with it.

The rest of the ride home was uneventful and as we came around the bend, onto the road leading to the stable, Valentine walked very peaceably with the lead rope lightly draped over his neck. I was dangling my legs, and fanning myself with my big straw sun hat, completely enjoying myself. One of the riding instructors was coming back from lunch with her students and cautiously drove up beside us, with a look of surprise on her face.  “I’ve never seen him look so peaceful, he looks really, really happy” she exclaimed! “Gosh I didn’t even recognize him” she added.

Thank you Mr. Valentine, for taking care of me and making us both look especially good!

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