Today my husband and I went on the trail again with Pie and I can't say that any of us had much fun. Pie had a complete and total meltdown, and although we all made it back to the barn together and in one piece, it was a close thing. We took a very familiar loop around the pastures - it was the first part of our successful outing yesterday. Pie has been around that loop hundreds of times, both ridden and hand walking. But today was different - it didn't help that it was very windy (gusts to 25mph) which when combined with a temperature around 40 made things downright nippy. Pie was fine for saddleing and mounting, and we headed off down the trail without any problem with my husband walking with us. Pie was more alert than normal, that was all. When we got about 300 yards from the barn, Pie was starting to really tense up, so I jumped off and led him, which turned out to be a very good thing.
His tension, I think, was due to the wind as well as the noise of a playground of children just out of sight behind the houses and a couple of hundred yards away. At this point we were halfway around the loop so just kept going as that was the shortest way back. Once he could see the playground in a gap between houses, he went on high alert - there was a lot of childish screaming going on. At that point I was leading him with just the halter, and he was holding it together but just barely. Then a barking dog that had gotten loose came running up behind us. Pie tried to scoot and I switched to holding the reins just below his chin - he was in a snaffle bit. My husband shooed the dog away. Now we were much closer to the playground. Pie went on ultra high alert - he was on his tiptoes and was completely tense. Now a friend came up walking her two rambunctious, barking, leaping dogs - she had to take them through the tall grass to make a detour around us but that made a lot of noise and Pie wasn't happy about that either.
Now we were at a turning in the trail where we had to turn our backs on the playground of shrieking children to walk towards home. At this point Pie, who had been anxious and nervous, completely lost his mind and would have bolted if he'd been able to. There's a big difference between a horse who is nervous and worried, but still able to listen to you, and one who's mentally gone - Pie's eyes were blank and as big as saucers, his muscles were rigid and he was completely not with me. I had my husband take the lead rope on one side of him while I held his bridle. We managed to go a ways in that configuration but Pie was getting even more agitated - it was getting hard to hold him even with the bridle and he was determined to bolt.
So I turned him to face the playground and we backed - he backs really well which turned out to be a good thing. I was able to keep him straight which kept him from turning and fleeing, although he was still focussed on doing that, and he had to soften his neck to keep backing which may have helped him mentally a bit. We probably backed 200 yards by the time we were done. The first part I had to use the bridle, and further on I was able to switch to asking him to back with the halter, although it still wasn't possible to turn him back towards the barn without him wanting to bolt. Finally, when we were about 100 yards from the barn, he was able to stand still for a few minutes while we reassured him, and his eyes started to return to normal and his head came down a bit. After that, I was able to turn him around and walk him back to the barn, first using the bridle and then switching to the halter and lead as he started to calm down a little more, and although he was still very nervous he was back with me again.
When we got back to the barn, I remounted and we walked around on the grassy area behind the barn for a few minutes - he was still pretty tense. Then I put him away.
I'm still feeling sick to my stomach with stress. I suppose I should feel good that I was able to get us back to the barn safely, but I don't really - there's nothing like dealing with a horse in full panic mode to get your adrenalin and other stress hormones going. I had to get us back - there was no choice other than letting him bolt - and I did what I had to do but I'm still somewhat surprised that I managed to do it. It's not an experience I'd like to repeat, and I expect Pie feels the same. Not the best day for a ride with the wind and chill, and the dogs and screaming children didn't help.
My daughter and I were going to work on Drifter's lungeing this afternoon, but the wind's getting stronger and I'm just plain exhausted so we're rescheduling.