It’s funny how a few words, tucked away in your brain can come racing to the forefront of your thoughts in a split second. You do whatever you can to avoid getting into that situation. Today is Wednesday, September 23rd and I’ve returned to the barn after a lovely fall ride with Shelly and Nelly. But let’s turn the clock back a few days to Sunday when I’m enjoying a beer with Dale, his wife Marsha, and Rhonda after we’ve finished driving horses. We are chatting about lots of things and I asked an innocent newbie driver question. How do you learn what to do in the event the horses get out of control? Dale answers, “You do whatever you can to avoid getting into that situation.” It doesn’t really answer my question but I understand what he’s saying. It isn’t a task you can practice over and over until you get it right but as a new driver, I often think about the what-if???
Now, if a seasoned teamster would have been watching this performance, they might have giggled at what happened to me and the girls. It was a long way from being a run away and it was a long way from being really out of control but it scared the crap outta me! It’s like the old saying goes—you never forget your first time.
Nelly, Shelly and I set off to explore a few new-to-me back roads on this beautiful fall Wednesday. Both horses had a little extra giddy-up in their step so I let them trot us down the grassy path. Flanking us on both sides of the road were barbed wire fences and there were cows that came to the fence to say hello. One of the calves had escaped and was running beside us as we trotted down the road. The cows were running along beside us, the wind was blowing in our hair and manes and life couldn’t get much more perfect in my world. If there is anything I’ve learned from my driving teachers, it is that you pay attention at all times. I’ve always got a good grip on the lines, I always pay attention to my driving, and I feel I have good control of the horses. We headed north past Dale’s place and I was curious to check out the back road that would take us to Terry’s. There were lots of soft spots and some puddles which were the result of nearly two inches of rain a couple weeks earlier. I did my best to steer the girls around the puddles and we stepped carefully through ruts to minimize the risk of breaking a leg.
I was concentrating so hard on navigating around a rough spot that I really didn’t see the herd of about 15 llamas off to my right that were racing 9-0 towards us! Apparently my horses didn’t see them either. The moment the llamas ran out of fence was the moment me and the girls became aware of the funny looking critters. I trust Shelly and Nelly wholeheartedly and I think they are bullet-proof. I’ve hung out with them at Stampede for 10 days and NOTHING seems to spook them however I know in the back of my mind they are horses and they are not invincible. When Nelly finally saw the llamas, she spooked and made her move to get away from them. The only place we could go was straight ahead past the llamas or left into the fence and that was where she was headed. When I told Dale the story, he asked if I used my man-voice to WHOA the girls. Yes, I kinda did. Well… sorta. It started out as a stern, albeit quick WHOA command but Nelly wasn’t so sure she wanted to stop there. I know I grabbed a few octaves and my WHOA was now a squeak. When you are in a situation and you are scared, every little detail seems so exaggerated. Nelly lifted both her front legs off the ground a couple times and I was sure it was as high in the air as a Lipizzaner stallion. But it wasn’t that high and I know this because Shelly, although a little excited also, stood beside her sister with all four legs on the ground.
You do whatever you can to avoid getting into that situation.
I did a bunch of things right. I had good grip on the lines. I was paying attention to my driving. I had good control of my horses and although they weren’t completely still and settled down, we were kinda, sorta stopped about four feet from the barbed wire fence. Yes, I did get scared. Yes, my man-voice commands were gone and the girls could hear the fear by the excitement in my voice. It took me less than five seconds to decide what I was going to do next. Had we continued north down the road to Terry’s, the llamas likely would have run beside us until their fence line came to an end. I was almost two miles from the barn, the road was rough and I wasn’t up for a rodeo so we made a safe turn and started south towards home. I’m not sure who was sweating more—me or Nelly. The poor girl broke out in a sweat but Shelly didn’t seem at all bothered by the incident.
Meanwhile, back at the barn, I tell my story to Terry. I was pulling the forecart and as he explained, it is probably the best piece of equipment to be pulling if you have a runaway. It’ll turn on a dime, it probably won’t tip and you’ll just follow along behind your ponies. The what-if’s? What if I would have continued past the llamas? I may have gotten past the distraction with no issues but I turned around and went home. I needed those two miles to re-play the whole event in my head to think about what I did right and what I did wrong. When I’m out driving and not chattering to Shelly and Nelly, I think about what I can do to become a better driver. I go through the steps in my head from harnessing to hitching to making sure the barn door is closed when the horses all come in. I was proud of myself for the way I handled everything but I know I need to work on keeping better control of my voice when the going gets tough. With practice behind the lines and lessons from my amazing teachers, I hope it will one day become second nature.
Now I just have to work up the nerve to go back down that road and confront those darn llamas!