Come on Floss
Floss doesn’t want to be ridden today. She turns away from me as I approach. A snubbing. I put my hand on her side and walk towards her head. She follows her nose and walks away from me, trots a few steps to put distance between us. ‘Come on Flossie,’ I say. ‘Let’s go out together.’ She stands resolute with her bum towards me. ‘Floss,’ I say. She peers over her shoulder at me, sighs, then stands still as I approach. I put the lead rope around her neck and slip her halter on. We walk from the paddock together.
I let her munch on lucerne hay as I brush her. It’s a treat, a peace offering. She doesn’t need the calories. I pick her feet up and clean the muck from her hooves. She readily picks them up for me and I take this as a good sign. Floss is old – almost 27 – and has a bit of arthritis in her hocks. Recently she has been unwilling to pick up her back feet. I’m trying her on some new medication for the arthritis and her willingness to lift her feet tells me it’s doing her some good.
I saddle and bridle her. I take her over to the mounting block to get on – she’s only a small horse and is easy enough to mount from the ground, but it’s kinder on her body (and mine, let’s be honest here!) if I mount from the higher level of the mounting block. I put one foot into a stirrup then change my mind. I decide I won’t ride just yet.
I lead Floss out the front gate and down the road. She’s still saddled and bridled, and I’m still wearing my helmet and chaps, but I’ve decided we’ll just walk together for a while. She doesn’t always have to do all the work.
She walks slowly beside me, her breath on the back of my arm. It smells like lucerne. I reach around with my spare hand, the one that’s not holding the reins, and rub her head. She looks at me with big brown eyes. ‘You’re okay Flossie.’
I blow out, flubbering my lips. Floss copies me. I laugh. She looks at me. We walk together for a while. She’s slow but sound. I decide I will get on and ride. I find somewhere to mount, a place where I can stand slightly uphill from her to reduce the height I have to pull myself up, so I don’t pull too much on her. We carry on down the road. Cars whizz past us. Floss couldn’t care less. A dog runs madly along a fenceline, barking frenetically. Floss ignores it. We cross over the railway line and follow the sandy track through a narrow strip of bush. Through the trees is a paddock where cattle are grazing. They look up at us as we pass. Floss looks back at them and her energy picks up. Floss is mostly Quarter Horse, bred to be a cow horse; she likes cattle. The few times I have ridden her to do stockwork, she showed me just how deep that instinct goes. She’s always been happy walking along behind a mob of cattle.
Once, we helped move a group of stud bulls and I was given the job to go down a laneway and wait to turn back any bulls that mistakenly went that way. I was sitting on Floss in the middle of the laneway when a huge Brahmin-cross bull came ambling towards us. It was taller than Floss. A lot taller. Floss stood still, watching the bull, then moved one way to cut it off. When it went the other way, she shifted across and blocked it again. I sat there doing nothing, mesmerised. She did all the work. I swear she all but said, ‘Don’t worry Jill, I’ve got this. Just stay out of my way.’ So I sat and let her do her thing as she turned the bull and worked it back to the group, calmly and methodically. I had to admit to the amazed onlookers that I really hadn’t done anything, it was all Floss.
But today we are not chasing cattle. Today we are tootling along a trail together for a gentle ride. ‘Shall we trot?’ I ask. I don’t do anything else but Floss springs into her choppy little pony trot. She tosses her head, so I let her canter a little way. She tires quickly. We walk. A bandicoot races across the track ahead of us. A train passes on the tracks. Floss ignores it all. We come out of the bush and walk along a gravel road. A young horse goes crazy in a paddock alongside us, bucking and galloping around. Floss looks at it as we go by but her pace doesn’t change.
We cross back over the railway line. I dismount and lead her along the road. Black cockatoos are feasting on gumnuts in the trees, dropping debris everywhere.
Back at the paddock, I unsaddle and brush Floss; check her feet for rocks. I give her some carrots and put her back in the paddock. She stands beside me for a moment, waiting to see if we are done, then strolls back to her herd mates and the hay. ‘Thanks Flossie,’ I say as she walks away. I know the day is coming when our outings together will be limited to me leading her, and that beyond that she will simply stay in the paddock, retired. And beyond that, well, I won’t think about that just yet. For now, I treasure these days when she is up to a gentle trail ride, just as I treasure the memories of the more exuberant outings we have shared in the past.
Thanks for reading,
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