Saturday, August 14, 2010
Everyone who rides lives in fear of the grand spook, that heart-stopping, muscle-wrenching moment when your horse looks ahead, says "What on earth is that? It's going to EAT me!", spins and bolts. It really isn't fun, and the older you get the harder the ground becomes. When I began taking clients out riding, I knew that I had to have horses who would not do the grand spook for anything. Happily, I have the perfect place to unspook horses...the Egyptian countryside.
Most people who ride in Egypt do so in arenas if they are training for jumping or dressage, or they ride in the desert for pleasure. The desert is nice and empty...seriously empty with only sand, rock, and the occasional rider or ATV. So the horses in the desert get used to seeing nothing very alarming. They don't have to work in a confined space as it is the Sahara after all and you can ride ten people abreast at 2 meter distances if you like. So most horses are a bit taken aback in the countryside. But I had two horses who needed 6 months of rehab on hard ground and the countryside was the only place to do it. It was an interesting 6 months but well worth it. Once I'd gotten them past the heebie-jeebies, they made excellent teachers for the others.
The photos accompanying this post were taken by Kelly Anderson on her rides around our area this summer while I was laid up with knee surgery. They illustrate some of the training objects that we use for bombproofing. A horse drawing a cart is of some concern to most saddle horses. "Is that what happens to bad horses who spook and spin?" "You betcha, toots. Look carefully." The man with the lethal ice cream cart is more of a physical danger to the kids buying the ice cream but someone climbing halfway into a brightly painted box pushed by a bicycle is definitely suspect. And the tuk-tuks! Those little covered tricycles with huge boombox music blaring out of them! Definite horse eaters.
The trails in the countryside run alongside the irrigation canals and the farmers often use diesel pumps to transfer water from the canal to the fields. When working the pumps put out a powerful stream of water about 6 inches/10 cm in diameter. The farmers are very obliging about turning off a pump that is projecting across a trail so that we don't have to get soaked, but encountering a diesel pump being hauled by a donkey on a narrow trail is a sure sign that the horses are going to slow down rather than rush up behind something that is suspiciously coiled and jiggling.
The alternative form of water transport is almost as horrifying as the diesel pump. This is the sakia, a form of water wheel that is donkey powered. Of course, donkeys are not stupid and will not voluntarily walk in circles for hours so the farmers blindfold them, often with objects that look like reject props for a Madonna concert. A still sakia is no cause for alarm...but a sakia that is being run by a dangerous punk donkey definitely rates a second look.
Then we have the final, most dangerous countryside object...the dreaded crake, or dredge. With millions of kilometres of mud-sided canals to keep working, a number of backhoes with broad scoops work 24/7 cleaning the accumulated silt and whatever out of the canals, also broadening them where the sides have slipped in. To their credit, the horses have learned to walk carefully past the dreaded crake as it rests quietly by the trail (the operators are very cooperative in this regard), past piles of slippery smelly mud until we can feel the sighs of relief as the monster is left behind. I have on one occasion tried to ride past a dredge in the dark of the night when the strong halogen lights affixed to the long arm throw enormous beams of light into the darkness. Suffice it to say that discretion is the better part of valour and we returned along our original path. Some fights simply aren't worth it...and I thought it was pretty spooky myself.
So if you really want to bombproof your horses, just drop us a line. We can pack up some of our wonderful neighbourhood spooky creatures just for you. The European storks that no longer seem to migrate north in the summer are already fairly mobile and standing up at about 4 feet with an easy 6 foot wing span, they can certainly take care of any avian issues. Happy to help.
copyright 2010 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani