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The Hazel Tree by Julia Debski

The Hazel Tree

by Julia Debski

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Thursday, September 1, 2011


This is from July. I forgot to post it when I returned home. Better late than never.

As some of you know I was on vacation, camping in Cherokee, NC. It is a beautiful place to camp with streams, forests, waterfalls..gorgeous.
And in every touristy place there is of course the horse rides. I decided to opt into this one because I was hoping for some wild reason that it would include something to do with Native Americans- don’t ask me why but it seemed like a reasonable hope. We were in Cherokee, NC right next to if not already in the reserve, it was a trail ride...I don’t know. I am just so fascinated with the Native Americans I was hoping for anything. At least it would be a pretty stable right? I had seen some beautiful valley pastures around and I thought “Hey it would be great to see a beautiful barn.”
If you didn’t already know this about me, then let me share. I do not like going on the tourist horse rides. Why? Because I seem to have a knack for going to the worst possible ones. Where the horses go on the same trail over and over and over, never having their saddles or bridles taken off, only having a five minute break to bring water and grab a snack. 
But surely in the beautiful land of the Cherokee it will be different, right? Oh so so wrong. It was the worst I’d seen in quite some time. 
The trails were gorgeous but not ideal for horses to walk on, large slippery pebbles, muddy tiny trails on the edge of a sharp drop, sharp rocky paths. The horses had about 5 minutes to drink and grab some hay- still completely tacked- before being assigned a new passenger. I don’t know what disgusted me more: When one of the guides (not much older than me) told me to pull to stop, kick REALLY HARD to go, jerk left to go left and jerk right to go right. (Okay, I’ll admit he said “pull left” and “pull right” but the way he showed me to do it was basically jerking.) He still told me this even though he knew I was an experienced rider. Or (what was more disgusting) the fact that most of these horses are were ‘old hags’ with thin weak necks and a rather bony body. Most of these horses had to be in the 20’s at least and should be retired.
My horse was Gus. A dapple grey gelding who was crossed with draft. (When I asked what breed he was I got this for an answer: “Dunno...something fat.” Oh the joy of rednecks) He was thick (of course) but seemed to have the features of a more delicate horse. Not Arab, but maybe Andalusian(?) I wouldn’t know. He looked younger than most of the other horses and more muscular. Reaching almost 16 hands, Gus was for the more ‘experienced’ riders.
I didn’t know what to expect, to be quite honest. Gus had been on this trail already once this morning- would this mean he would be bored out of his mind or had already seen the spooky sights of the day and was much calmer now? What horsenality was he? Most of the horses seemed to be left brain introvert but I wasn’t going to assume anything till I could judge for myself.
Either way I was determined to make this trail for Gus much more interesting than he ever would have expected.
We started out on a narrow path that curved to the side of the mountain with a rocky face on one side and a steep drop on the other. My first goal was to figure out what Horsenality he was. 
Almost immediately I was able to tell he was introverted. Not only would he rather not move his feet, but I could tell his brain was moving quickly. What was he thinking about? I wasn’t quite sure. The path perhaps, or how to throw me off the path. Maybe the horse behind him or the horse in front of him. He was thinking about something.
I’ve had my experiences with trail horses. Those who test you, those who try to do anything and everything to annoy you (and usually succeed), those who couldn’t care, who don’t want to be there anymore. A trail horse I have yet to see is a horse who even after years of walking the same trail, is still enthusiastic about it. Has anyone ever seen a horse like that?
So what was Gus? Well for some reason I felt that he was somewhat new at this. Not brand new, but had been only on this trail for several months. Maybe only a year. Somewhere around there. 
Now was he Right Brain or Left Brain? Left Brain obviously. 
Now time to give Gus something REALLY interesting to think about.
We had to stay at least 10 feet away from the horse in front of us. So why not play the Yoyo Game? Slowing down and speeding up while still staying at a walk. I would start with Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3..Phase 4, 5, 6... Phase 6 was flicking the reins back and forth and FINALLY he sped up. Then slowing down was also a challenge. I had to use the reins a lot more than I would have liked. But after about 20 minutes his ears were locked onto me and was listening to my Phases 1 & 2. Now we were coming up to a series of hairpin turns. Hmmm...what would happen if I turned my body instead of turning him with my reins? The first hairpin it didn’t work but the next 3 he bent to the curve wonderfully.
Needless to say, I had never seen a horse lick their lips that much. 
But remember how I said he was for ‘experienced’ riders? Well so far he had all the qualities of a beginner’s horse: being as numb and slow as possible.  
Well on the way back I discovered why he was for experienced riders. Or maybe it was just for me. But he began to test me. Could he snatch at this grass? Could he get too close to the horse in front of him or too far behind? What if he put his ears back and threw his head?

I made the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy (kind of). When he threw his head, I encouraged it. When he got to close to the horse in front of him, I urged him forward even more.  When he tried to slow down so much the horse behind him would run into him, I would slow him down even more. 

Do you see what I mean?

This took the whole hour and a half ride back. But when we got back, he was close to the perfect horse. I wanted to take him home but I couldn't.
It hurt to think he would just have another rider and go back to the way he was before. But I could find some relief in the fact I just made his day very interesting. Maybe even his week, month or year.

I love you Gus, and still think of you.

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