California Riding Magazine • November, 2014

Horsey Humor:
Fly Wars

by Bob Goddard

It's not unusual for me to wear out my riding instructor well before the end of my lesson. A teacher can repeat "up-down-up-down-up-down" only so many times before it begins to get a little ridiculous for all concerned. At some point, if the student is unable to focus enough to pick up on this complex pattern, the instructor has a duty to find a graceful way to end everyone's misery.

It's an art, but Karin always knows when we've hit the point of diminishing returns and it's time to pull the plug. She's usually very diplomatic about it:

"Are you getting tired?"

I'm not. But I know if I answer in the right way, we can end this and finish the lesson with a little ride in the woods.

"Exhausted," I tell her.

"Well then, let's finish the lesson with a little ride in the woods."

Sounds perfect.

Karin is careful not to call it a "trail ride." She isn't specifically licensed for that. Instead we are to refer to this portion of the lesson as "Instruction in Open Terrain." It could also be called Combat Training.

Scout Fly

We're five minutes into our Instruction in Open Terrain and Vinnie starts acting up. It's not the usual in-the-arena variety of acting up like stopping when he's supposed to go and going when he's supposed to stop. This is more of in the fussy, irritable, side-ways walking, bucking and rearing category of acting up.

I look back to Karin for her recommendation. She responds with an order:

"You must keel him! You must keel him!"

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this. It seems a bit extreme for a little side-ways walking and bucking. I was hoping for a more traditional solution. I shrug my shoulders and shake my head to communicate my bewilderment.

"He has a horsefly! You must keel it!"

It. Oh. That's a bit clearer. There's a fly and Karin wants me to keel it.

It's not like I lack motivation. I hate flies and I have no problem relieving them of the burden of their miserable existence. I'm not sure why they even exist in the first place. Besides, when someone behind you shouts an order in a German accent, it makes you feel obligated to follow through.

"GET IT NOW, BOB!"

But why the urgency? Is the fly going to hustle back to Fly Headquarters and report our position? Are we soon to be swarmed by an evil horde of Tabanus atratus?

Then, I see IT. IT is about the size of a golf ball and dead-butt ugly. I think I missed IT the first time because I was looking for something much smaller. I don't know why it works this way, but it's not the first time I failed to see something because it was too big. And right now, IT is sitting on Vinnie's buttocks, just out of tail range.

"HURRY, IT'S ON HIS BACK! YOU MUST KEEL IT!"

Yes, I can see that. IT definitely needs to die.

"It will sting him and inject its eggs! He could bolt!"

A female fly then, huh? Well. I'm going to call her Debbie. And Debbie isn't going to inject anything into anybody. I lay a good smack on Vinnie's rear, but Debbie is a determined and skilled adversary with a biological duty to perform. She bugs out before my hand makes contact.

"It's on his saddle pad now!"

This is good. Karin is providing me with fresh intelligence information. I swing around in the saddle and my head goes back and forth like a furious robot counting cars at Daytona. And there she is…

Whack! I miss again. Debbie is crafty and agile. A worthy opponent to be sure. I think that under different circumstances we could even be friends.

I really wish Vinnie would just walk on and maybe Debbie would just give it up. But no, he wants to finish this here and now, even though his biggest contribution to our side is to stumble around.

"He's on the right side now!"

Actually, based on previous information, that should be "She is on the right side now."

This time, I get a good visual on the target and my aim is true. Debbie plunges to the ground. Despite her valor, this intrepid warrior has failed to complete her mission. I put hands together as if in prayer and bow my head in respect.

Karin laughs. "You are a hero, Bob!"

Yes, I have protected the band from harm. This time.