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Patch makes horse berry upset

August 12, 2008

Whatever I was expecting, this wasn't it. We were bringing our horses home from where they had been boarded on a lovely, sprawling farm in Pleasant Valley, the idea being that we would be able to ride more often if we didn't have to make the 13-mile drive south every time we wanted to saddle up.

I was still mulling over whether "riding more often" was a good thing or a bad thing when it was time for the move.

To the degree that I thought about it at all, I'd reckoned that relocating a couple of horses would be like relocating a couple of cats, only bigger. We'd throw them in the cat carrier/horse trailer, they would sniff their new perimeter, they would be indignant for about 20 minutes and then go to sleep.

I should have known better. Beth, who is Never Wrong in equine matters, had been tense for about a week. She had addressed more contingency plans and questions of "what if" than an Exxon executive contemplating an Obama presidency.

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Horses are different from other animals, in that their management is 3 percent science and 97 percent superstition. Nothing is simple or predictable.

Loading a horse onto a trailer (particularly if it is not used to trailers) is something everyone should try once, but no more often. Sometimes you can lead the animal right up and in. If that doesn't work, you tempt it with a carrot while tapping on its rear hocks with a riding crop. If that doesn't work, you string a long, nylon strap around its hindquarters and pull, inch by inch. If that doesn't work, you get down on your knees, draw a chalk circle on the pavement, place three stones in the circle, sacrifice a goat and begin to chant.

Fortunately, we got Beth's mare Brooke in using Step 3. My horse, Cappuccino, is a big girl - half draft horse, half thoroughbred - who likes to eat, so one whiff of a carrot did the trick.

But once we got home, it was Cappy's turn to freak. I never knew much about mares before, but to them, everything is High Drama. For drama, mares make a teenage girl look like Alan Greenspan. When we tried to lead them to their new paddock, Cappy went absolutely nuts over - a strawberry patch.

Yes, a strawberry patch. Beth said Cappy may not have liked the red color. Keep in mind, this is a farmette with cows, donkeys, goats, chickens, dogs, a pig ... all manner of distractions you might expect to spark an anxiety attack in a nervous animal. Cappy paid none of these any mind. But for some reason, she believed the strawberries were out to kill her.

Beth is always telling me these weird rules about horses: All dogs bite, all horses kick. (Even horses that don't kick are just patient - they will wait 20 years waiting for that one clear shot.) Do not get scared around a horse, because the horse will feed off of your feelings. And never, ever wrap the lead rope around your hand.

This is because that when an animal that outweighs you by 1,100 pounds decides that it wants to go, it will go, and if your hand - and nothing else - comes along for the ride, that is not the animal's concern.

For Cappy, the strawberries were not a reason for being, they were a reason for going. Long story short, Beth's advice probably saved me a few fingers. It took her about a hundred yards before she was assured that the strawberries were not following her.

But all's well that ends well, and for me it was a good lesson learned. Next year, I'm planting June berries, not ever-bearers.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324 or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on www.antpod.com.

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