The Allure of an Open Gate

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Gates.  They are essential on a farm to keep animals where you want them to stay, to move them where you want them to be, and to give them some place to hang out when they want to see you.  At least the latter is true of horses, who will let you know when they think you owe them some food or attention.

Gates can be welcoming, such as when we stop to visit a friend unexpectedly and the garden or driveway gate is swung wide, or forbidding, such as when we arrive at a business closed earlier than expected or an area off-limits to those not in hard hats or wearing the right lanyard.

To a horse, and certainly to our mini-horse Buck, an open gate is also an invitation to brattiness.

This morning I went out to give Buck some hay.  The sun today is bright and welcoming, but the air is cold indeed.  By the time the dogs and I headed back from the barn where the hay sits in a 12 foot high pile, protected from wind and wet, Sammy and Tasha were hobbling due to their freezing feet.  Even normally oblivious Stout ended up needing to do a bit of tai chi in a drift.  I got them in the house with Chris and headed over to give Buck his hay.

Usually I close up the gate to his pasture behind me (see above about brattiness), but he was pretty is usually anxious about hay and I figured he was hungry and would be happy about the snack.  Plus, I had a special treat of apple, which he loves.  So, I opened his gate, walked in, clicked my tongue-to-teeth to call him over, and there he went–right past me out of his open gate.

I’ve learned that for a horse, few feelings are more thrilling than escaping the pasture.  A brief “no way!” pause to get his bearings, and then off at a trot Buck went—right down the driveway, toward the road.  This was not good.  This is one of those moments that is real, so real that you cannot stop to capture it on your phone.  You just have to live it, calmly.

I thought: The apple!  Yes, the apple would be my lure to get Buck from stepping into the road.  But, see above about the thrill of the escape and the brattiness…every step I took closer with my purpling bare hand showing Buck the delicious Brants Jonathan apple, he took two steps toward and soon into the road.

Fortunately, we live on a country road.  Cars and trucks are few.  Unfortunately, we live on a country road.  Cars and trucks go way too fast.  Even in snow.

Luckily, no one was coming speeding toward us, so I could take my time to get Buck to see I had something for him.  These moments always seem to take a lot longer than they actually do–these interactions that are stressful but require calm.  Soon enough, Buck saw that apple sliver and took a munch, long enough of a munch for me to get an arm around his neck and my thigh into his shoulder.  Game mostly over.

Sure, Buck could have easily broken away from me since I had no rope or harness on him.  But, despite his brattiness, he also knows when he is pushing it.  Kind of like a smart kid who will see just how much he can get away with before backing off since he knows you are the only one who can reach the Apple Jacks.

We meandered back to the pasture, I gave him his hay and some more apple, all while he stood at the gate, looking at me like Let’s Do that Again!

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