Rocky's High Spirited Christmas


Night comes early in the winter and it is the only time I have to ride. I normally ride Rocky with the bareback pad around our pasture in the evening and at night. He loves evening rides because they are usually low pressure grazing rides. The night rides give me a chance to relax after a long stressful day and Rocky gets a late night snack. Rocky is quite comfortable riding at night in his pasture, in our yard, and around the barn.

The local volunteer fire department has a lighted Christmas Parade at night followed by singing carols and lighting the Christmas tree in the town square. They also serve cookies and hot chocolate. Several of my North Texas horse buddies ride their horses in the lighted Christmas Parade in Fort Worth and in our local small town parade. I decided Rocky was ready to join them in our local town parade this year. My husband set up a battery with a converter to run a set of LED lights and I attached the whole setup to Rocky’s bareback pad.

I decided to walk in the parade with Rocky on the 22 foot line while my 16 year old daughter handed out candy canes to the kids. Rocky was online because I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of riding him at night in an unfamiliar place. I have been riding Rocky with the bareback pad for several years and don’t have a regular saddle that fits him. Another reason for walking was that I wasn’t sure how Rocky would react to the parade. The last few years we have fallen into a comfortable routine of activities in our pasture or at one local arena. Rocky just hasn’t been exposed to many other places. My other blogs describe our past experiences with the high spirited GO-GO Rocky who was a very dominant aggressive horse and I just wasn’t sure how he would respond to a crowded, noisy, and the unfamiliar setting such as a nighttime parade.

How did Rocky react to the parade? We arrived 30 minutes early to line up with the floats, fire trucks, and other horses just in case we needed extra time to get ready. The minute Rocky backed out of the trailer; I knew the old high spirited Rocky had returned for the evening. He was so excited by all of the unfamiliar sights and sounds that he couldn’t stand still. We needed that extra 30 minutes for Rocky to get acquainted with his new surroundings. I haven’t seen Rocky in such a high spirited temperament in several years. Rocky was definitely enjoying all of the new sensory input. Everything was new and even familiar things were different.

Even his familiar horse buddies were different. The horses were wearing bright lights and jingling bells that made constant sounds. Rocky was like a toddler at Christmastime. He held his head high with interest as he looked everywhere to soak up all of the different sights and sounds. Rocky wasn’t frightened or scared; he was excited.

Rocky was so excited that he could not keep his feet still. He was so busy moving his feet that we could not even play our normal friendly games. So, I let him move. We played the falling leaf game the entire length of the parade route. This was certainly not the falling leaf game we played while working on Level 1 and 2! The old high spirited Rocky would run me down in his excitement, try to drag me away with the lead rope when he was interested in something, and would become aggressive toward me if I tried to hold him back. It was a real workout to manage the old high spirited Rocky while we were working on Parelli Levels 1 and 2.

The post Level 3 high spirited Rocky was amazingly light and easy to manage at the parade. For the falling leaf game, I lifted the lead rope to send him in one direction, looked at his hip to yield him, and lifted the lead rope to send him in the other direction. It was almost effortless on my part. Rocky was attentive to my body language and focus. He did everything that I asked of him without hesitation. He focused on me and stayed with me the whole length of the parade. Rocky was just so excited that he had to keep moving his feet.

My family asked, “What is wrong with Rocky?” They have grown so close to the calm Rocky and they have forgotten about the high spirited GO-GO Rocky of the past. They really noticed the difference in his energy level and weren’t sure what to think about it. He wasn’t anxious, nervous, or frightened. He wasn’t annoyed, angry, or aggressive. Rocky was so excited that he just had to move those feet with his head held high and his tail in the air displaying his proud Tennessee Walking Horse spirit. We played the falling leaf game for the entire parade route so he could keep his feet moving. When we reached the town square, Rocky stood calmly for children to pet him and give him treats.

Much of our journey to a horse – human partnership has focused on helping Rocky be an exuberant horse while eliminating his extreme acts of dominance and aggression. The last few months I have been contemplating “what’s next” for Rocky and me. I had forgotten how excited and intense the high spirited Rocky feels. For my part, I really enjoyed Rocky’s excitement and high spirit as he absorbed the sights and sounds of the parade. This experience reminded me that I need to get out of our comfort zone and find more interesting activities for Rocky. We are both ready for some new challenges.

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