Storm and I continued on up the little grassy knoll heading towards the woods. As I walked beside him, the Arabian stallion intensely studied his surroundings. What should have been an inquisitive walk in an open space looked more the horse had seen a bear or some other strange form of wild thing. Storm was not trusting one little thing about this walk to the woods.
As we arrived at the fringe of the woods, I looked for the widest place to lead this horse through. I wanted him to experience the closeness of the undergrowth without scaring him half to death. I chose an opening where I knew the shrubbery would touch him without being too claustrophobic. I wanted to give him a chance to process the similarities between this situation on the one where his hock had been touched by the killer troll bush.
To my surprise, Storm barely reacted as the branches of that bush rubbed up against him. His head did raise but just a little and there was no audible snort. Without that snort, there was also no increase in his pace, he walked with me without pushing me or lagging behind. I was pleased with this response.
There were specific trails that I wanted Storm to be able to handle. Because his restricted gait was affecting him even when he was turned loose, I wanted to put him into situations that would cause him to use himself more correctly. The best way I knew to do that was putting him onto some hills. The steeper the hill, the more likely I would get the desired response from Storm. Travelling up and down inclines should force the horse to open up his stride. The steeper the inclines the deeper the stride should be.
To work the steepest hills available to me meant Storm had to be able to tolerate the narrow little deer trails that intersect the woods. Barely the width of a horse, these trails are brush laden and could be threatening to a horse that was looking for trolls behind every bush. As dense as the underbrush is on these trails, if the horse got spooked it could be a real wreck because there would be no place to escape the brush closing in on a frightened horse.
As we walked into the woods, I pondered my choices. Would I take Storm to the trails he'd already travelled behind Dandy? Or would I head straight for the deer trails? The wind was beginning to pick up so I knew our time out here was going to be restricted.
I decided I'd let the horse decide what he could handle. A portion of the trail that leads to the steepest of the deer trails starts off much the same as the trail we'd already travelled. Storm had not been on this particular trail because the only reason to do so would be to head to that deer trail. If Storm handled this strange section of trail all right, then I'd lead him down that hill to see what we had.
Storm was very attentive to this new strange trail but he was not stupid. He paid close attention to me even though he was clearly on high alert. I had no problem pushing him closer to the brush instead of walking right down the middle of the trail and he was not reacting to having small branches rub against him. With the way he seemed to be listening to me and responding to the trail I decided to try going down the steep grade of the first deer trail.
The only problem with this plan was the trail was too narrow for me to walk beside Storm. To lead the horse I would have to be in front of him. If the horse spooked and jumped forward he'd be right on top of me with no other place to go besides into the undergrowth itself.
I looked at the opening to the trail and I looked at Storm. As I moved closer to the hill, Storm dropped his head and looked at the trail dropping away in front of us. He kept his head low and carefully followed me carefully down the hill.
We went at a snail's pace because the trail is a little uneven and there are some rocks mixed in. I had to go slow just to maintain my balance and still keep my eye on the horse. Storm never took his eyes off the trail placing one foot slowly in front of the other. I could see the branches glancing off his legs with no response from the horse. He was completely focused on where he was putting his feet.
At the bottom of the hill, there is a small downed tree that lays diagonally across the trail for about ten feet. The easiest way for a horse to maneuver it is to actually straddle it at the mid point for a couple of steps before switching completely over from one side to the other.
Storm looked closely at that tree but he did not slow up at all. Walking the length of that tree he tried to stay to one side until he would just no longer fit. Then the horse moved his front feet to the other side leaving his back ones on the original side trying to figure out how to keep up with me and still deal with this tree.
I could see the wheels turning as Storm looked at that tree and the underbrush all around it trying to figure out where to put his feet. If he had eyebrows they would have been wrinkled as the questioning washed over his face. There didn't look like enough room for him on either side as far as he was concerned but he had to go somewhere.
Storm could have rushed it like many green horses would do but he didn't. He maintained the same rate of travel as I and carefully picked his way through actually straddling that tree with his hind legs for a couple of steps before he moved them both to the off side. Along the way I did hear a couple of very little snorts but nothing to make me worry that my horse was doing to explode. He was handling this confined situation about as good as anyone could ask.
Around a small bend and we began ascending again. There was a bit of an opening but Storm didn't look for an escape. He still followed me step for step through this path over some exposed roots without question and with only a modicum of concern. He continued to be cautious but he was clearly trusting me. We continued on twisting and turning our way around trees, downed logs and brush until we finally came to one of the wider trails. With the way Storm had maneuvered this part of the trail, he should be able to handle anything there was in these woods.
To be continued...................
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