Crossbo meets the Bitch Pack .. barely

Today was Crossbo’s first social outing. Our hunt was having a trail ride, and his foot has healed enough to ride, so I decided it was time for him to make his debut. The foot injury had prevented me from doing as much riding around home as I would have preferred before venturing out in public, but Arthur was missing a shoe so taking him wasn’t an option. So Crossbo got to meet the Bitch Pack .. barely.

I say barely for a couple of reasons. One is that today’s group only contained a small (but elite) number of the Pack, so it’s a little bit of a stretch to say he met the pack. The ones he did meet, and other members of the group, were appropriately appreciative of his awesomeness. The word “flashy” was used several times. I confessed that when I walked into the barn and saw him for the first time, it took me about 10 seconds to realize there was no way I was not going to buy that horse. The test ride was just a formality after that. Considering his flashiness, it was a little bit of a surprise when someone stuck her head in the trailer as I was tacking up and said “Oh .. you brought Arthur. I wanted to meet the new guy.” For a second I was wondering if I’d lost my mind. I wasn’t hung over this morning; there was no way I could have spent 30 minutes loading the wrong horse. I looked again to be sure; this really was Crossbo. I guess maybe the trailer was absorbing some of his brilliance. She made up for her identity faux pas later by helping me get him back on the trailer.

That’s the second reason he “barely” met the pack. Due to loading issues, the mission came very close to being aborted.

When I bought Crossbo, he showed some initial hesitation about loading into my step-up stock trailer. Obviously this is something new to him. But, with a little help from the barn manager, he loaded fairly quickly, with no major histrionics on his part, and no need for us to resort to drastic acts of bribery or coercion. Since he seemed to have gotten over any worries about it, I foolishly decided I didn’t need to do any trailer training to reinforce his confidence.

This morning, I thought I was fairly well organized. I’d gotten Crossbo pretty clean last night, and he just needed a little quick brushing this morning. I got the tack in the truck, and got the beer iced down in the cooler, and had plenty of time to get loaded and get on the road. Or so I thought.

Crossbo thought otherwise. He informed me that he was not getting on that trailer. With just one of me, loading a balky horse could be a little problematic, as I couldn’t be behind him and in front of him at the same time. I realized fighting wasn’t going to work, so I chose the bribery option: a tub of grain in the trailer.

That worked pretty well. In a couple of minutes, I had him on the trailer. But I wasn’t quick enough, and before I could get him fastened in, he backed out. And the second time was nowhere as quick as the first.

We went through a few tantalizing episodes of getting first one, then both front feet onto the trailer, only to have him back out. As the countdown clock approached the point for a go/no-go decision on whether there was still time to make the ride, things weren’t looking good. I began to wonder whether it was time to gamble on some more aggressiveness that would either get him on the trailer or undo all the progress I’d made all morning; the closer we got to no-go, the more tempting it got to think I had nothing to lose. Fortunately, I maintained my cool, and just a few minutes past the time when I really should have been pulling out of the driveway, I got him back on the trailer and got the doors closed behind him.

At that point, I had to worry about balancing the need to make up as much time as possible on the road against the need to avoid throwing Crossbo around in the trailer around curves. I think I stayed just barely on the caution side of that line.

Aside from the loading issues, I’d say his behavior today was a half-empty/half-full choice. He wasn’t perfect; there are some obvious issues that need work. But, considering it was his first experience in that kind of environment, I guess I should be pleased that he did as well as he did. He got lots of compliments. One person commented that he wasn’t sure hunting would be the same with me on a sane horse; I assured him that I have all summer to make him crazy.

I don’t think being around a bunch of other horses was bothering him at all. I think most of the problems we had were just his unfamiliarity with the joys of riding in open country. We rode through a couple of fields with pretty tall grass, and I don’t think having his belly constantly tickled turned him on.

We also had a couple of water crossings, which are still a problem for him. This is an issue that’s been somewhat of a surprise for me. I’ve been vaguely aware that some horses are afraid of it, and eventing horses who have to deal with it on cross-country courses sometimes require some training to get to the point where they boldly gallop through it. But I’d never before had a horse that had any problem with it. Even Shadowfax, whom I bought as a two-year-old who had never been saddled, never balked at getting his feet wet, and in his case, I know it’s not an issue that a previous owner worked out. But apparently it really is a problem for some horses, like Crossbo.

Our first water crossing today came fairly early into the ride, and for a while, I thought it might be an early end of our ride. Crossbo made it clear that he didn’t care if other horses were going through it without getting swallowed, he wasn’t about to follow them. Then I sort of wedged him into a group with his head on another horse’s rump, so that I don’t think he could even see the water, and we splashed through it with no problem.

The second crossing was a little better. It didn’t require quite as much physical contact with other horses. We just got fairly close behind somebody else, and splashed through with no problem, although for a second I thought he was going to decide he needed to jump out, over the horse in front of us.

But we got through the water, and we got back to the trailers, and, with a little help from a friend, we got back on the trailer, and we’re home, and life is good. And we now have our homework assignment for the next few weeks.

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