After the debacle of Cricket, my new mustang, getting out onto the street, I was much more careful when anyone came around. I always checked the gate to make sure it was closed. In fact, I obsessed about it for a while and checked it several times a day. Training continued every day and things moved along smoothly.
Cricket was now used to wearing a blanket, so in January and February, when it can get down to single-digit temperatures and even snow occasionally, she wasn’t freezing and wet out in her corral. Fly masks were in order, since Ramona has the title of “fly capitol of the world,” being an agricultural community. Those of us who live in Ramona joke about it, but flies can wreak havoc with horses’ eyes. They are very irritating, they drink the moisture from the corners of an equine's eyes and I have even heard they can lay eggs in the eyes. Yuck! I definitely had to make sure Cricket would wear a fly mask.
I used tarps, bridges, bags, umbrellas, balloons, strollers, plastic bags and all sorts of other objects to train my little mustang. As a trail rider, I knew I had to get her used to anything that could be encountered out on the trails. Bicycles, motorcycles, motor homes, tractors—vehicles of every shape and size came and went at my place and all became training tools. As I led Cricket to chase these objects and expose her to them, her confidence grew and so did mine. I laid out bricks, logs and pipes of plastic and metal for her to move around or jump over. Cricket remained curious and interested.
In order to have her see me from every angle, I sat up on the fence rails and worked her. I stood along the sides of corrals, on top of overturned buckets and up on the bumper of several vehicles and worked her. I created ditches, trenches and water hazards and spent time getting her through any concerns she had about any of them. Over winter and early spring, she became nearly fearless.
By the time Cricket was 2 years old—at least from the best guesses of the Bureau of Land Management and the paperwork I’d received—I'd had Cricket for six glorious months. I had learned that she was a confident and quiet horse, even more so than I’d thought, and I had gained all the confidence in the world with her. At least until it came time to ride her.
My thoughts ran like this: I wasn’t 20 years old anymore. Oh sure I’d ridden many a bucking horse, but that seemed like a lifetime ago. I’d mounted snorting, whirling dervishes with no fear. I had ridden bareback at a full-out gallop through the hills, racing my friends on their mounts, but I had a family now that depended on me. I wasn’t single anymore, so if I ended up in the hospital, or worse, what would happen to my family? Could I handle this?
I knew horses were prey animals. Out in the wild, they get pounced on and killed, so I figured that climbing on her back might make her feel as though I was going to kill her. Being of sound mind, I took my time and never felt rushed. Besides, I had Jane to ride. I had recently bred her to a beautiful quarter horse stallion. Since horses gestate for 11 months, I could continue to ride her for some time. So riding Cricket would happen when I was ready ... when she was ready. No, when I was ready–I admit it.
As the summer days grew longer, I continued to work with Cricket, but my fear of climbing on to her back still lingered. Would the fear ever pass? I wondered. As I prepared her to accept me as a rider, I put the saddle on, took the saddle off, put the saddle on, then saddle off again and again. I used long reins and a bit to teach her how to remain under control when ridden. Long reins are simply a longer version of what I’d use when I mounted her. Everything went on and off, over and over. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
I had to jump like a jumping bean, on both sides of the horse, and all around her so she wouldn’t be fearful of my standing up in the stirrup of the saddle to get on her to ride. Bridle, bit, reins, saddle. Walk, trot, lope, run–circle after circle–in the round pen or at the end of a longe line (a 30-foot line or rope used to train horses). Long reins, turn, and then turn back. Jump. Jump. Jump.
If all of that sounds strange, it is, and very necessary. I think my neighbors and family were convinced that I was nuts. I was out with Cricket doing all sorts of wacky things. Waving my arms and whips and ropes and jumping around like a maniac, even jumping around holding plastic grocery bags and waving them in the air and wiggling them all over the ground around her. I’ve had plastic bags and even Mylar balloon pieces (I know where the balloons end up that escape a child’s grasp) blow by out on the trail when out riding Jane and she was convinced they were going to eat her. She’d quickly side step and blow and snort and do a horsey dance to avoid them.
Thinking ahead, I had to do everything I could think of to not get bucked off a horse that had never been ridden or out on a trail with stuff blowing in the wind.
I continued to work with Cricket, getting her used to the trappings of domestic life. She never once bucked, reared or bolted out of fear in any way. She seemed to take everything in stride. My desire to ride her mixed with stomach-churning fear less often. I wanted to ride her. The end of June proved to be the first day of the rest of our riding lives together …