Something to Bug Us!
By Betsy Kelleher
Finally, there was a nice day when we thought the trail might be dry enough for a ride! Behind our stable’s pasture is about five acres of woods with nice little trails all through it. I love riding in the woods.
Russ rode his bombproof old fox trotter mare (she just turned 21) that we’ve worked on for a year with different supplements for her arthritis. And I decided to ride Lady. She needed some exercise since I had been riding Rocky so much.
Lady seemed especially calm and cooperative, and I was really enjoying our little ride. I was thinking that the mosquitoes weren’t so bad, or maybe the freshly mixed bug spray was working. The trail was a little wet, but it wasn’t generally slippery or muddy. We went around the first loop of wooded trail, coming out onto a grassy path. I planned to go back into the woods on a different loop until I heard Russ behind me and I knew he had a problem.
Looking back, I could see that Ginger was very agitated. Even though Lady and I weren’t being bothered, we had probably stirred them up. There was a swarm of something all around Ginger’s face and neck and the one thing that bothers Ginger most is bugs! Even with her fly mask and freshly mixed bug spray, she was shaking her head and kicking her belly and making the ride pretty miserable for Russ. He said when she kicked her belly that it even knocked his foot out of the stirrup! He had stopped her and was trying to get her attention and that certainly wasn’t working. I told him to let her move on. Best way to calm her down, I thought, would be to let her get away from the swarm all around her head and neck. I think now that it was a swarm of “buffalo knats” instead of mosquitoes. They can be nasty biters.
I changed plans. Instead of going back into the woods, I headed toward the barn along the path at the side of the pasture. Only place left to ride was down the road. And I was riding Lady. In case anyone has followed my experiences with Lady, you may know that I don’t ride Lady down the road much since the first time when a big truck passed us and she spun with me. I had planned to seriously work on that this year, but I haven’t really had the chance just yet. Oh well, that’s the way life goes. It doesn’t wait until you are ready, it just happens.
As I came off the trail and onto the road, I looked to see if there were any big trucks or tractors in view. Nothing yet and I was relieved. But I could hear something. Someone was mowing their lawn. Great! Just what I needed.
And yes, it was just what I needed. I wanted to work with Lady going down this road and this was a good time to do it! Could God have planned this? Surely he wouldn’t have caused the bugs to drive us out of the woods just for my benefit! Or would He? Well, if He did, then the timing was right and I should go with it. I am really trying to be more aware of His guidance.
Before we got to the home on the left where the lawn was being mowed, Russ was ahead of me. Ginger doesn’t worry about riding lawn mowers. Just bugs. By now we’d left the bugs behind and Ginger was fine, except having more energy than usual. The noisy riding mower was going back and forth near the house, not by the road where we were, but I guessed it would probably come our way just as we got to that driveway. I also noticed that the home on our right, with new construction, had a rope and flags around the lawn. I could imagine Lady moving away from the riding mower into the rope and getting tangled up, so I chose to make a stand in a safer place. Just then the mower turned toward us, down the edge of the lawn by the driveway and around the mailbox and along the side of the road, right toward us. I tried to breathe deeply and relax in the saddle while being ready for anything. Lady’s ears were up and she was watching. But she stood very still as the mower kept coming right at us and then turned back into the lawn just before it got directly across from us. I gave her a good rub on the neck and went on down the road, very pleased with both Lady and myself. It wasn’t anything for Ginger to walk on by, but for Lady and me it was a very nice little victory!
Russ was a good 300 feet ahead. When he got to the place where we normally go left onto a little path off the road, he finally looked back and noticed how far back I was. But Lady didn’t seem to mind being left behind. We just walked on down the road to catch up. Once on that path, we enjoyed some very nice running walk. It was a good day all around, except for the mosquitoes or knats or whatever they were. And Ginger was moving along with extra energy and feeling better than ever!
On the way home, I realized another blessing. I was riding with a loose rein, just talking to Russ as we walked, and I remembered how Lady usually hurried home and had to be continually asked to walk slower. Lady was being especially calm and good today. Could it be the chamomile tea? Yes, I’ve shared that secret before. I had been giving her one tea bag a day, which seemed to help her marish ways. Recently, with the goal of more road riding, I had been slipping a whole tea bag into each feeding. Hey, it’s worth the cost of two tea bags a day, if that’s all it takes to feel safe!
I was honestly thinking of selling Lady before this ride. Four horses on boarding fees just isn’t good sense for two older folk who don’t ride that much anymore! I think the last three months of sciatic discomfort has taken its toll on me. Maybe one less horse would help. I know Traveller isn’t as rideable as before, but getting rid of him isn’t an option. I want to take care of him even if I can’t ride him, after all the good years he has given me.
I’ve been telling myself that I would keep Lady (and maybe sell Rocky) if she could ever be considered road safe. And I had planned to have Cynthia Medina help me with my project, because she can ride Lady anywhere without fear. Between the weather and the sciatic problems, not much has been accomplished! I haven’t ridden Lady because I was working with Rocky, hoping to show him this summer. His first show, in fact, had been the day before this ride. Next show, I may wear spurs while in the ring! I would never have had to kick Lady to make her go!
Each horse presents a different “problem” to work with on the way to becoming the “perfect horse.” So I’m begging all you wonderful readers out there: If anyone has a solution for a horse that hates bugs, would you PLEASE email me? In the meantime, I’m looking for some kind of “body armor” against those pesky things! The fly mask and spray just isn’t enough.
I can’t help but feel slightly amazed and very thankful for the way it all worked out on this ride. I did NOT plan to ride Lady down the road! If I had planned it, I would probably have built up enough anxiety inside me to cause a problem! I was really looking forward to riding in the woods. But since Russ was having trouble with Ginger, I felt there was no choice. And somehow, I did feel it would be ok. Maybe God was behind it all. He knows the situation and He knows the solution. Maybe He just had to give me a good push in the right direction.
It was a simple ride, less than an hour, but very precious to me because of the little things that made it right. I had a good feeling that everything was under control (God’s control) and that I could trust Him to take care of us and that I could just follow the path that He seemed to be leading me to take. That’s a good thing because I’m just too aware of what can happen when things go wrong.
I have been thinking recently how others ride down the road quite often with no problems. And that’s the point. They do it, again and again, and the horse gets used to it. Lady will never get used to it as long as I avoid this road! So even if we go a short ways down the road, that’s another step toward going further. It takes persistence, and patience, and a calmness inside that transmits to the horse that it’s ok to trust the rider. It’s a process of learning to go another step and knowing when its time to take that step and when its time to just stop and take a deep breath and relax.
With us humans, it’s important to trust our own Master enough to follow Him wherever He leads us. He has promised that He will always be with anyone who has acknowledged His Sovereign ownership. I think the “secret” is to focus on God and who He is more than on ourselves and our problems.
Ginger was so intent on fighting those biting knats that she was frantic and Russ was very uncomfortable with her actions as well as her unusual energy. But we should be able to understand this. We humans sometimes get our attention fixed on problems too, don’t we? The problems just seem to get bigger and bigger and we can’t think of anything else. Sometimes we can walk away from the things that irritate us, but sometimes they just seem to follow us wherever we go. We can’t always avoid them.
When the irritations get too much for us, it’s time to get alone with God and ask Him to help us see His perspective and know in our hearts that He is still in control. He is the Good Shepherd in the 23rd Psalm, who “leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (verses 2 and 3). We are His sheep, who need to learn to follow and trust His guidance in order to find peace and rest in His eternal pastures. And I’m sure those pastures don’t have biting knats!
(Originally published in the June 2008 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)