July 21st, 2006

International Kittens of Mystery

Animals Behaving Typically (i.e. Badly): Part Eight (A Gelding Too Far)

(to recap: Shelagh and her psychotic Arab mare, Rhiannon, had been invited to ride with Chantal and Veronique - the fools!)

It was a long ride to Chantal's. Made even longer by the appearance of seventeen assorted tractors, lorries and flapping fertiliser bags. The latter waving so menacingly from their roadside nests that Rhiannon was forced to tiptoe past on the far side of the road. Nothing could be more frightening than a fertiliser bag where a fertiliser bag shouldn't be.

I've often wondered how Rhiannon would have fared in the Wild West. And where cowboys found horses that could be left loosely tied outside saloons? Every horse I've ever come into contact with would have disappeared before the first foaming pint came sliding down the saloon bar. And as for riding through gunfire - none of our horses would have made it past the first oddly shaped haystack let alone ridden into danger.

But eventually Shelagh and Rhiannon arrived and trotted into Chantal's yard. Whereupon both were immediately besieged by a welcoming pack of assorted dogs.

Rhiannon did not like dogs - they were on page five of her list - especially those that ran between her legs. She liked to maintain a dignified distance between herself and other animals. A personal space that extended to the ground even where she didn't.

A few sly sideways kicks quickly punched the air but the dogs didn't even notice. They were too excited at Shelagh's arrival. They knew a horse in the yard meant a walk was imminent. And a walk meant adventure.

The fact that the ride was to be accompanied by three large excitable dogs was not the only surprise. Veronique, Chantal's young friend, had a gelding.

Rhiannon did not like geldings either. They were on pages one, two, four and six of her list. And the pull-out supplement.

And it was more than a dislike, it bordered on the pathological. Put her next to a stallion and she became a paragon of good behaviour - quiet, obedient, calm, a fluttering eyelash or two. But put her next to a gelding and she'd lunge at them with teeth snapping. Or failing that, turn and try to flatten them with her back legs.

Shelagh tried to explain the situation to Chantal as best she could but not surprisingly the intelligence was not immediately believed. That is until Chantal noticed Rhiannon, teeth bared and ears back, pulling strongly in the direction of Veronique's mount.

If ever a horse looked bent upon a course of dire deeds, this was that horse.

After a brief peace conference it was decided that perhaps the best plan was to keep as much distance between the two horses as possible. And not to tell Veronique, who was nervous enough without the added pressure of a psychotic quadruped with a gelding fixation.

So Shelagh was tasked to ride in front, Veronique at the back and Chantal would keep the peace in the middle - and give directions. There was a forêt domaniale a mile or two down the road. She hadn't explored it fully yet but from what she'd seen there were some good riding tracks there.

Off they set, down the short drive and onto the road.

And along came Chantal's dogs, tracing energetic circles around the horses and occasionally through their legs.

Naturally, this did not meet with Rhiannon's approval who, in between kicking out at the dogs as they ran between her legs and craning her neck around to keep an eye on the gelding, was becoming somewhat difficult to handle.

Half a mile down the road, the three dogs became four - the fourth recruited from a passing garden.

Persuading cars to slow down for horses on the road had been a recurrent headache for Shelagh. But not today. The sight of three horses being circled by a pack of bouncing dogs proved too much for even the most insistent motorist. They stopped. One driver wound his window down. Whether for a chat or to remonstrate about his journey being interrupted was never known. For as soon as his head moved towards the open window it found a large dog already in residence. It's muddy paws resting on the lip of the glass and tongue slobbering over the driver's face.

(next instalment: witches, bogeymen and the rabbits from Mars)