Sit­ting prettY

Many barn cats en­joy hang­ing around with horses. Mit­tens took it one step fur­ther.

EQUUS - - Equus - By Pamela Nolf

Mstriped cat with white paws. Like most barn cats, she spent her days hunt­ing mice, rub­bing against vis­i­tors and nap­ping on hay bales. But she also har­bored a se­cret am­bi­tion, one that be­came ev­i­dent when I moved my Ice­landic Horse, Blessi, to her board­ing sta­ble: She wanted to learn how to ride.

Blessi has a spe­cial affin­ity for cats. His first fa­vorite was Sam, a large black cat whom I of­ten found nap­ping on his broad, furry back. Some­times while out on the trails, Blessi and I would en­counter Sam perched on a fence, sur­vey­ing the fields. As soon as Blessi saw his spe­cial cat, he grabbed the bit in his teeth and marched us over to the fence. We pro­ceeded to fol­low Sam as he tip­toed down the fence line, leav­ing me to pon­der if a horse can be “cat bound.”

When we first ar­rived at our new barn, Mit­tens met Blessi coming off the trailer and fol­lowed us to his new pas­ture. Over the next few weeks, I of­ten found the gray tabby sprawled across Blessi’s haunches as he grazed. She had dis­cov­ered the ad­van­tages of hunt­ing from this po­si­tion. She be­came quite adept at cat­a­pult­ing her­self into midair at the poor, un­sus­pect­ing birds.

I de­cided to teach Mit­tens to ride prop­erly, which turned out to be an in­ter­est­ing ex­per­i­ment in val­i­dat­ing ba­sic dres­sage prin­ci­ples. At first, she main­tained her over-the-hip sprawl po­si­tion as I led Blessi from pas­ture. But once those great mus­cles kicked into ac­tion, the up-down mo­tion of the hips was too un­com­fort­able for Mit­tens. She pro­gressed to ly­ing across the cen­ter of Blessi’s back, be­com­ing a three­d­i­men­sional il­lus­tra­tion of the move­ment of the hu­man hips in Sally Swift’s Cen­tered Rid­ing con­cept of “ped­al­ing the bike backward.” Her front half moved for­ward and up, then down and back al­ter­nately with her back half. This wasn’t very com­fort­able for her, ei­ther. Even­tu­ally, she dis­cov­ered “the sweet spot”---sit­ting in a for­ward-fac­ing po­si­tion ex­actly where the sad­dle is placed.

Mit­tens seemed to en­joy her lead line rides on Blessi around the sta­ble grounds. From her lofty perch, she was out of reach of the barn dogs, who were po­lite but tended to crowd cats on the ground. No self-re­spect­ing cat en­joys the con­stant butt sniff­ing in­volved in ca­nine so­cial­iza­tion. Our next chal­lenge be­came, "Would Mit­tens like to ide Blessi along with me in the sad­dle? " And, even more im­por­tant "Would Blessi en­joy this nov­elty?" The first time we tried, I asked a friend to spot us in case the ex­per­i­ment went terribly wrong. But it didn’t. I sad­dled Blessi and mounted up. My friend care­fully handed Mit­tens to me. Blessi was cu­ri­ous but un­con­cerned. Once in mo­tion , Mit­tens could not quiet de­cide if she wanted to ride on my shoul­der or chest. Ei­ther way, a sig­nif­i­cant amount of cat hair got into my mouth, which im­peded ver­bal cues. Mit­tens, how­ever, purred and purred and purred.

From then on, rid­ing with me be­came as en­tic­ing as cat­nip for Mit­tens. She would fol­low me and Blessi to the mount­ing block to scram­ble up the steps and get into the sad­dle first. Once we were both set­tled in, she would stick with me, hap­pily purring away, for the en­tire trip.

I had hoped to in­tro­duce Mit­tens to the tölt, the smooth, sig­na­ture gait of the Ice­landic Horse. Un­for­tu­nately, life has a way of dis­rupt­ing the plans of fe­lines and fe­males. Our board­ing barn closed, and Mit­tens be­came a house cat. Blessi and I moved to an­other barn. Over the years, Blessi has en­coun­tered other cats who liked to nap on his wide, fluffy back. But we’ve never met an­other cat like Mit­tens who loved to ride.

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