One step forward, two steps sideways

Published 10:41 pm Thursday, January 29, 2015

Paul, in his endless quest for peak physical fitness, has downloaded a new app called Stepwise for his phone. It acts as a pedometer, counting each step he takes during the day and showing if his goal of 10,000 steps by 6 p.m. has been reached.
Having wondered exactly how many steps I take each day with routine barn chores (not to mention proving to Paul that it’s far more strenuous than he believes), I also downloaded the app and I must say, it’s quite addicting.


Because Stepwise can simply remain ‘on’ 24/7, it’s easy to check during the day exactly what the distance is you’ve walked and I found myself checking it as soon as I finished chores at 8 a.m.: over 2,000 steps equaling 1.4 miles!

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“Amazing,” I thought, chucking my phone into my jacket pocket so it would be sure to record each step I took from the refrigerator to the kitchen table, carrying my oatmeal and juice. “All that just from leading horses from their stalls into the fields, then cleaning stalls!”


Not long after breakfast I could see from my front window our rural carrier’s white SUV nosing down the road, stopping at each mailbox. As our driveway is a half mile round trip, I was eager to increase my step count and so, whistling for the dogs, off we went on our mission and I actually jogged back to the house as I was eager now to ride Forrest because even though it was 40 degrees, there was brilliant sun and finally, finally, no wind.


When you’re training a very young and nervous horse, particularly an ex-race horse, small things can set them off. In the summer, Forrest pays no attention to breezy days but in the winter, perhaps because of the added rustle of dry leaves or the omnipresent, local, gunfire (isn’t deer season over?), the wind adds another element to an already sensitive nature.

On those sort of days Forrest is not unlike trying to ride an Irish Setter: Yes, they’re beautiful, but they’re also nuts. However, he must be trained and exposed to things and while I won’t subject him to high winds with debris flying about, he does need to get out and about. All I’ve craved is just one calm day so that I can get him out of the arena and into the larger field for a nice, relaxing walk along the fence line.


If it weren’t so annoying it would be comical, but honest to goodness, every relatively pleasant day from October through to the present, that I have ventured tentatively into the field, someone in the neighborhood begins target practice with both rifle cracks and automatic weapons and Forrest begins turning cartwheels which is rather unseating. The problem is he now associates the field with fear, which is very sad indeed.


But on this day, everything was absolutely perfect. We were at mid week, everyone at work, not a trace of wind and a cloudless, glass blue sky. I brought Forrest in from grazing, groomed and tacked him up, took him first into the arena to warm up and then, full of hope and naivety, I walked out of the arena, across the driveway and into the field.


We were in the middle of the field when, to my horror, I heard the unmistakable ‘beep, beep, beep’ of a large vehicle backing up. Glancing up, I caught sight of a white power truck reversing from the top of my drive, cherry picker raised aloft, giant, circular saws beginning to screech as it lopped off tree branches that might interfere with power lines.


Yes, to you and me a power truck. To Forrest, a screaming, fire-breathing, dragon.


“You’ve got to be freaking kidding me,” I breathed and kept my focus on Forrest, whose back beneath the saddle suddenly became rigid with fear and tension.

“Just waaaalk,” I intoned, giving his neck a single stroke with my hand in a vain attempt to keep him calm, “Let’s just keep walking and we’ll be back at to the barn in no time. It’s alright, you’re fine.”


I kept my legs against his sides and to keep him focused on the stick figure on his back, asked him to move over to the right and then the left, in a sort of zig-zagged line known as ‘leg yielding’ as we walked along. This worked for about a minute, until, evidently, for my stereo pleasure, a neighbor on the other side of the field began target shooting and Forrest began to utterly melt down, looking to all the world like the title character in Munch’s ‘The Scream.’


At this point, one has two choices: you can either hop off your horse and try to lead him back or you stay on, knowing that if you hop off, your horse will soon learn that if he throws a tantrum, he can get out of school for the day and will repeat the behavior in the future.


I decided to stay put and try to ride it out but at this point, I was in no man’s land. Forrest had backed off the bit and my reins were empty, which is an awful feeling, and when I closed my legs against his sides to walk, for a horrible moment it felt as though he was going to rear up on his back legs, but then he leapt forward, in an attempted bolt, and I managed to turn him sharply into a small circle to prevent him from running away.


He was now crabbing sideways, snorting, flinging his head, and I stayed as calm as I could, focusing on one step at a time while trying to remember where my medical insurance card was. It took ages to get back to the gate, and when it was in sight, the target practice accelerated with rapid shooting and Forrest came completely undone, plunging forward, then sideways, then backwards, me struggling for control like a pilot in a turbulence tossed aircraft.


When we approached the gate, I was desperately relieved but also, stubbornly insisted he walk one, big circle in a calm and obedient manner. This took a good 10 minutes but he did finally focus on the task at hand and walked sedately around where I directed. Dismounting, I led him rather shakily into the barn, unsaddled and cooled him down.


It wasn’t until later that afternoon that Paul returned triumphantly from a 40-mile bike ride and strode into the kitchen to grab an energy drink.


“How was your day?” he asked, conversationally, all the while knowing that no matter how I replied it couldn’t touch pedaling up the Saluda Grade.


I felt for the phone still in my jacket and placed it on the countertop. “Pretty hectic,” I said.


“Did you get a chance to walk much?”


“Well, let me see…” I mused and pushed the Stepwise icon on the phone screen.


“27,000 steps!” he yelped. “That’s over 15 miles! You mean to tell me you walked 15 miles just around the farm?”


“Yep,” I said, picking the phone back up and heading out to the barn for evening chores. “Forward, back, and even sideways.”