Even the Best of Horses Can Have an Off Day

Cricket is usually quiet and calm, but a trip to Warner Springs proves that the saying “never say never” applies to horse.

Say, wasn’t there a James Bond movie and song titled Never Say Never Again? I think even Justin Bieber picked up on that title for one of his recent diddies. 

I often hear horse owners say, “My horse never bites, kicks or does that.” Sometimes they might say, “My horse always behaves, never gets nervous, kicks at other horses,” or whatever the quote of the day might be. I have my perfect horse and I have learned to never say never (or always) when it comes to my horse. Even the best horse has an off day now and then. Here is our most recent experience: 

Cricket and I went out to Warner Springs recently for a wonderful weekend of riding. My brother-in-law and a good friend joined us and we hit the road for the 45-minute drive. We were camped with about 30 other folks for a weekend fundraiser for the Warner Springs FFA program.

After we set up camp, the three of us saddled up for a ride in the cold weather. It ended up hailing and snowing on us, but the scenery was beautiful. The California Riding and Hiking Trail took us to the Pacific Crest Trail and we had a wonderful and cold three-hour ride.

Upon returning to camp I reflected on the delightful ride as I unsaddled Cricket. Then I made hot cocoa, ate dinner at the campfire with our group then went to bed.

“What a great day and a wonderful start to the weekend,” I thought as I lay drifting into slumber wrapped up in my heater blanket and loads of other bedding since it was 27 degrees that night. 

The next day we woke to breakfast and coffee being served and it was a glorious morning. The weather was perfect, the sun was out and the breeze was cool. We all talked about our day ride out to Eagle Rock over breakfast and everyone was excited, even the horses. As people readied their horses, Cricket stood tied to the trailer hollering her lungs out.

If you’ve ever heard a horse whinny, you have some idea of how loud they are. If you’ve never heard a mustang whinny, you haven’t heard anything. Cricket has a set of lungs on her that you can hear two miles away! She temporarily deafens me if I am too close when she belts it out. 

So, there stood my usually quiet, calm horse yelling her brains out (never say never). I saddled her, untied her and she began to dance around, still yelling (never say never). Now, mind you, one of her herd mates—my brother-in-law’s horse Baci—was with her for this trip. She lives with this horse daily and they are quite bonded, but Cricket didn’t even appear to see him right there next to her.

As a herd animal, being with a herd mate typically keeps them calm and they never act up (never say never). As I mounted Cricket she began to jig. Jigging is like a trot that is not quite a trot, and her head was way up in the air, still yelling. I knew she was excited and ignored her behavior: She was not out of control and she was listening to my cues, so we headed out for our ride. 

As we began to walk out, Cricket stopped her noise-making, which was a great relief, but the jigging continued. Bouncing along, my friend and family member rode directly behind us for some time. Cricket remained amped up and jigging. My friend’s horse joined Cricket in her jigging at that point. No other horse or mule on this ride joined in that silliness and I swear Baci told Cricket a few times to mellow out.

Cricket and her jigging friend Tigger bounced along like a couple of young fillies out on their first trail ride. Cricket—my usually calm, relaxed mare—even pinned her ears and kicked at a mule that got too close to her hind end at one point and for too long. While it was a warning kick and no contact occurred, it surprised me beyond belief that my standoffish mare would do something she’d never done in our eight and a half years of trail riding (never say never). Huh? 

My friend and I just giggled at our mares for acting so silly. Neither of them do that sort of thing as a rule and didn’t act like that the day before (never say never). Oh sure, I whined about getting jostled for an extended period of time since I am not used to it. Of course I wondered, “Where was my calm, steady horse?”

I joked about having left her at home for the day, or maybe she was finally ready to demonstrate the nasty “mare behavior” I always hear about but have not experienced. (I’ve heard the rumor that many hold to be true that mares are nasty, especially when in heat.)

As we rode along the stream, the single-track trail we were on and trying to stay in the center of was in the middle of a hill that seemed to become steeper above and below us, and at times I felt as though the trees were jumping out in front of us.

Cricket was jigging along and I felt as though she was paying no heed to where she was placing her feet. A time or two I imagined Cricket and I falling into the creek bed that was—in my mind—becoming farther and farther down the hill, at the bottom of the (imaginary) cliff. I caught myself not breathing a couple of times, which was a good reminder to relax in order for Cricket to become more relaxed. It worked for me, but not for my horse. 

Head tossing was thrown in at rather steady intervals as we rode along.  Cricket’s head tossing became frantic out in the meadow. It is not pleasant to ride a horse with her head flipping about and her back hollow and stiff. Come to find out after dismounting to assess the condition of my horse that those little “no-see-um” gnats were all over her face–she hates bugs more than I do–so at least I got that explanation for that particular behavior. We whipped out a wipe soaked in bug repellent and wiped Cricket’s face with it. Whew, what a relief for my poor baby. The bugs were gone. 

On our return ride Cricket settled down, but only slightly. There were periods that she would walk for more than five steps at once, which meant she was not jigging. Those brief periods of relief were welcomed as the bouncing was giving me side aches after five hours. The head tossing had subsided.

The single-track trail through the woods along the creek bed was much more enjoyable on the way back to camp and the low side didn’t seem to be a steep cliff any longer as Cricket’s behavior became more typical of her usual calmness. We made it to camp uneventfully and reflected on the incredible scenery we had been able to enjoy during our ride despite the jigging mares.

I do believe that any ride is a good ride and live by that motto. The times that I ride and Cricket acts so out of character make me feel less in control, nonetheless. Hills seem steeper, canyons deeper and I am reminded that I have a wonderful horse so much of the time but to never say never when it comes to my horse, or any horse for that matter.

I try not to say that my horse never does this or that, and rides like the one out in Warner Springs confirm my belief in “never say never” when it comes to a horse.


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