Friday, July 13, 2012

the bear on the trail

My life is now one where campfire stories are becoming another word for Tuesday - to which I mean adventures are the new normal.

Today on my morning ride with Merlin we had quite the experience. It started out normal enough. We rode over to the neighbor's property, off the main road and up into the clearings and logging roads on that land. We walked over creeks, past brush and deer, and all was lovely. And then when I asked the horse to turn right into a denser bit of wooded trail, Merlin stone-cold refused. He stood all four feet on the ground, ears up and alert, and no crop, heel, or circling could get him past a certain point. I fought him for a while. Fought him in the saddle doing every trick I knew to get him to obey, but he started to buck and crow hop, rear a bit and snort. I finally decided to trust him and we headed back towards the main road. And as we descended down to the pavement I remembered the picture on my Facebook page my neighbor Manya had sent. Bears were on the move. Her photo was from 24 hours earlier and showed a large bear heading up towards my property. I can't say for certain Merlin saw a bear, but when I relayed the story to Patty she said that was exactly how Steele acted around a bear on a trail ride. Seemed legit.

The rest of the ride was pretty much a power struggle. I tried to get Merlin to focus and go where I wanted but after that incident he was not having it. After forty minutes of this we were both covered in sweat and huffing. I finally got him to turn and stand in the direction I wanted to go, dismounted, and then lunged him for a while on the front lawn to reinforce who was the one in charge.

It wasn't a good ride, but it wasn't a bad one either. Merlin did things that the Jenna from this past spring would have panicked, jumped off, and cried over. But I am growing as an equestrian, learning things I would never learn in a domesticated arena. Things like driving a cart, ignoring cars swiftly passing on switchback roads, and avoiding bears in the distance. My riding skills, however new and humble, have sent my confidence soaring. Because I am constantly faced with challenges and slowly overcoming them. It makes me feel strong and alive. I may very well be in for a life with horses. They fix things, like dogs do, but in ways so cavalier and timeless to our history and character that it is its own brand of healing.

Strength aside: being on the back of any horse, even a pony, that is acting scared and bucking is not a comfortable situation. But I stayed in the saddle, kept him under control, turned him around and got him back to my property. In a way it was a damned successful ride. He wasn't biddable but in an extremely stressful situation he didn't chuck me off his back and we stayed in communication the whole time. And we finished on my terms, not his.

This is growth. This is progress. On paper it was a horrible ride, possibly dangerous. But in my gut it was a test and we passed. We had a bad run and rode it out. And the best part was I never felt out of control. I was scared, sure, but I never once felt like that horse and I were going to part ways. It felt more like a jumbled phone conversation, a dropped call, then a recipe for disaster.

Just a few days ago our ride was a dream sequence. The last two days had their bumps and scares. Tomorrow, who knows? But I will be on that horse in the morning and I will do my level best to set us both up for success. We'll take a new direction up the mountain and keep it short and simple. It will go just fine, because I am setting it up to go fine. At least that is the plan...

In other news, Raven is coming to Cold Antler tomorrow! She's staying for a few days and I can't wait to see her and her little stranger. Raven Pray Bishop (yup, her real name) and I were college friends and now her big belly and her are staying at the farm to catch up and visit and such. For those of you who came to Antlerstock last fall, you may remember her? She won't make it this year (The littler stranger arrives around Hallowmas), but she is still making it up here and I am thrilled.

My life is now very open to hosting visitors, but impossible to be a visitor. Too many chores, animals, plants, udders and pets to leave for more than a few hours. It's hard for family and non-farming friends to understand and causes a lot of strife and conflict (I am sure many of you with homesteads, stables, or farms understand this, too) but for those willing to hop a plane or a train they can revel in the land with me. Raven and I will be doing a lot of reveling. I may not have much blogging time, catching up with her and all, but I will announce the seed winners in the evening

Hopefully, bear free.

23 Comments:

Blogger Neal and Laura said...

Farm chores really do tie you down. It can be one of the downsides of farming, but at the same time gives you a great rhythm to life. Things are predictable - for you and farm animals.

July 13, 2012 at 10:18 PM  
Blogger coley said...

Definitely trust the horse and by the sounds of it you did good! I am due with my little one around Halloween too, which would be cool and strange lol. Also I meant to ask you if you liked music of the Celtic Women? And also if there are any starter books that you would recommend on learning to play the fiddle. After reading your blog for a couple of years now and listening to celtic music my heart yearns for learning to play the fiddle.....

July 13, 2012 at 10:48 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Hi Jenna.
As you get to know Merlin better, you will be able to differentiate between when his behaviour is due to something being wrong/different or if he is just giving you attitude. Did you ask your neighbour if he has seen any bears on his land?

I think he did well to stand his ground instead of spooking and making a run for it!!! :)
Lisa in Maine

July 13, 2012 at 10:52 PM  
Blogger From the Country Farm said...

Trust your horse, always trust your horse. has a similar situation on a trail once turns out there was a mountain lion in the area... you might consider a side arm for events such as that.

July 13, 2012 at 11:00 PM  
Blogger Rosie said...

Bravo... Good ride.
Horses do make you grow in many way. Confidence is a wonderful thing.
Congrats!

July 13, 2012 at 11:25 PM  
Anonymous cowgirl said...

A bear. OMG. Merlin is awesome. You were an old pro today.


On your other note: "Too many chores, animals, plants, udders and pets to leave for more than a few hours. It's hard for family and non-farming friends to understand and causes a lot of strife and conflict ..." yes. This is my life. Lots of others, mainly family members will never understand.

Love your posts.

July 14, 2012 at 12:13 AM  
Blogger Bovey Belle said...

That's why my husband always said no to me running this place properly as a smallholding - the animals were too much of a tie. So I compromised.

As for your latest trail ride - well, I guess listen to your horse. If he is obviously freaked out - which is noticably different to trying to get one over on you - then he may have saved you from quite an ordeal with that bear . . .

However, should this not have been a genuine fright and he starts trying it on ever time you go out, then it's back to basics to reiterate WHO is the boss in your partnership! In his defence, you have chucked him at the deep end rather as he is in a new strange-to-him home and exploring new-to-him country. He doesn't know the lay of the land (apart from that instinct which tells him to run back the way you came) and you DO have BIG predators in your wild woods. When Fahly arrived with me, I let him chill in our field for a week or two, to get him used to me and the two mares, and where home was, before taking him out. At least you two had established a partnership before be came back home with you.

Hope he soon settles into his new lifestyle.

July 14, 2012 at 5:24 AM  
Blogger Peacemom said...

Jenna, been there, done that with bears on the trail. I spent my childhood trail riding in thousands of acres of woods, so I've seen my share. The worst for us was when my mare flushed a partridge right next to us on the trail. Scared the bejeezus out of me and she just looked at it and kept right on walking. Couldn't get her through a puddle without a battle. Horses are funny that way. We saw bears, deer, bobcats and many other critters. It's great that he trusted you enough to tolerate your urgings to move on, and also that he trusted that you would get his message if he stuck to his guns. A successful partnership is building indeed.

If you tie a couple of sleigh bells to your saddle or pad, the bears will be long gone before you approach them. They don't want any hassles either. And as a bonus, they are fun to listen to. ~Vonnie

July 14, 2012 at 5:35 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

coley, I learned some celtic tunes after using wayne erbsen's method and CD set. It is twenty bucks or so on amazone or through nativeground.com the book is called Old Time Fiddle for the Complete Ignoramus. Best beginner book out there!

July 14, 2012 at 6:10 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

thanks all for the comments and advice. bells are a good idea!

July 14, 2012 at 6:13 AM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

We have seen bear up here in Middlebury. A family has taken up residence in the woods behind our house. One day one of them came out to look at our chickens. I walked out to chase it off but it left before I got there. Don't worry to much about them. If they are black bears like here, then they are fairly shy and won't start trouble with a human.

As for being tied down, I know what you mean, however I have a suggestion. We have chickens, three cats each of who need daily medication such as insulin, and two dogs. Also an extensive garden My wife works at an animal hospital (hence the broken pets) and when we want to travel, we hire one of the high school intern kennel attendants. They love animals, and most are pre-training to be vets or vet techs so love the hands on opportunity to care for animals. If Jackson or a surrounding town has an animal hospital, send 'em an email. It costs money, but that strategy got my wife and I a month to travel with our daughter this spring to go visit the extended family in England, Scotland and Wales (we stayed on a sheep farm in Wales, you would love the photos)

Best to you and yours

July 14, 2012 at 6:25 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

So glad you came through the bear scare with Merlin unscathed! CONGRATS to Raven!!! Have a wonderful weekend. Nothing's better than a visit with a friend.

July 14, 2012 at 9:44 AM  
Blogger Kelly said...

Oh my what an adventurous ride!!! Glad no one got hurt! My family is constantly saying my animals keep me home. I keep myself home, my animals are just part of the scenerary and my life now, people just don't understand. Enjoy your friend's visit, her name is pretty cool, I wonder what she will name her baby!

July 14, 2012 at 10:12 AM  
Anonymous janet said...

It may or may not have been a bear - 't see it so you won't know
Other things horses take exception to on occasion are: skunks - who'd blame them? - pigs, and decaying carcasses. I've only even seen one black bear and one bobcat in my whole (rather long) life and I live in a very rural area and also ridden a lot in very isolated and wild areas.
Keep track of Merlins objections, and if it appears he's having you on, address it asap. But do listen to what he's telling you. Best of luck in dealing with this if it becomes an issue.

July 14, 2012 at 10:21 AM  
Blogger Melanie J. said...

I find myself swelling with pride reading this one, and we're not even friends...but this Internet universe makes people with common interests feel like friends when you've been reading them long enough. I'm so happy that you're finding your way with Merlin. I know nothing about horses, but lots about listening to yourself deep inside and the stubbornness required to do things that are hard. Know that you have readers with you in spirit while you're on this journey, and that your strengths help motivate us on ours.

July 14, 2012 at 12:59 PM  
Blogger Melanie J. said...

I find myself swelling with pride reading this one, and we're not even friends...but this Internet universe makes people with common interests feel like friends when you've been reading them long enough. I'm so happy that you're finding your way with Merlin. I know nothing about horses, but lots about listening to yourself deep inside and the stubbornness required to do things that are hard. Know that you have readers with you in spirit while you're on this journey, and that your strengths help motivate us on ours.

July 14, 2012 at 1:00 PM  
Blogger redhorse said...

You might try riding past that spot with a friend, see if he's okay with
it now. Some horses are spookier than others, and some, like one of our mares, will tell you when something is WRONG.

July 14, 2012 at 4:47 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

Your story here makes me happy.. and proud of you though i don't know you. Glad you made it safely home after such an eventful ride! You're certainly living the life you are meant to live, and living it to your fullest. :)

July 14, 2012 at 6:27 PM  
Anonymous Dani said...

If you haven't already, you should check out the documentary Buck.

July 14, 2012 at 7:23 PM  
Blogger Mary Schroeder said...

It may have been a bear, a dog, a snake, anything. But if he will go through there tomorrow (like most people suggest) or maybe wait another day so it isn't so fresh in his mind then you know something was there.
I have had horses walk down a trail towards a fox, step over a snake, and some simply let me know a deer was near by because they turned towards it but continued moving as asked. My old trail horse Bill and I had to check the trails for an escaped ostrich one time for the rental place I worked at, he snorted and danced a bit from the smell but moved on.

My suggestion if you want to make sure you don't startle an animal like a bear is put a bell or something on Merlin - perhaps hang it from the throat latch on the bridal (obviously get him used to this first).

50% of riding is believing you can ride anything you can sit on.

July 14, 2012 at 11:53 PM  
Blogger From the Country Farm said...

bells are a great idea for now as well as hunting season!

July 15, 2012 at 10:17 AM  
Blogger Phyllis MacFee said...

My husband and I are having a rough summer finding the time to leave our gardens. It has been so dry and others aren't willing or able to come and do the watering. We hall water from 65 gallon rain barrels. We have not gotten to the stage where we have farm animals. Are traveling now is fairly limited to the months are gardens aren't active. We have worked so hard to get the gardens where we want them. Leaving for as little as three days could destroy some of the more tender crops.We enjoy reading your blog. You give us encouragement to try more.

July 15, 2012 at 10:33 AM  
Blogger Misty said...

A good partnership between animals means good communication. When Merlin stopped dead in his tracks and his ears were pointed forward, he was tell you something was very wrong. You didn't listen. You told him to go forward anyway. Unfortunately now his trust in you has been broken, damaged, negatively affected... you fill the blank. Now he's only tolerating you and everything you tell him to do. Merlin did everything right. You didn't.

There will be many who will tell you that a good and well trained horse will do everything you tell him to do, no matter what. Personally I don't want a brain dead horse. I would rather have a horse like the one you have, with a little bit of brains in the noggin, one who still has the survival instinct intact and will use that instinct to keep you safe when you're together. You must build his trust in you again. It will take time. And it's not a situation where you can force him to do your bidding. Lunge lines, aside. Ground work, patience, and a agreement between the two of you that you will protect him as well.

July 16, 2012 at 7:32 PM  

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