TRUE TRAINING 96 - Snake Chaser

Jul 01, 2024 by Janet Jones

True and I share our arenas with a lot of wildlife—take a look at Post 87 for some examples. The other day, our jump schooling was interrupted by a new experience.


We had the indoor arena to ourselves and were walking for 10 minutes to warm up. (Ten minutes of rapid walking to begin and end each session is a great way to prevent injuries and encourage long-term soundness. It’s standard operating procedure for True and me.) As we walked around the short end of the arena, True suddenly glanced to the side. There on the sand was a snake.


Now, this wasn’t a little garter snake. It was about five feet long and as big around as my wrist. Really! Big snake by my standards. Born and raised an Arizona desert girl, I automatically checked for a triangular head and rattles on the tail. Nope. It was a king snake—similar coloring to a rattler but not poisonous. In fact, king snakes eat all sorts of rodents, so they’re not bad to have around. But NOT in the indoor arena.


True was fascinated and did not seem afraid—a nice surprise from the colt who used to be terrorized by cows and sheep. I wasn’t sure what to do. Ignoring the snake, or leaving the arena to find a pitchfork to shoo it away with, seemed like bad ideas. The snake could get out of my sight and take up housekeeping in some unknown corner of the indoor. But I also didn’t want True to get close to it. Even a non-poisonous snake bite would harsh True’s new indoor mellow.


As I was pondering, the snake moved along the sand slowly. True began to follow it. I decided to just stay in the saddle and see what happened.


Well. Truebie, now known as Sir North, Gentleman and Protector, followed the Evil Serpent the full length of a 250’ arena and charmed him right out the door. In fact, he didn’t just “follow,” he herded. Several times, the snake changed direction toward the sides of the arena. Each time, without my guidance, True turned quickly to cut the snake off and move him toward the door again. For safety, I kept True about 20 feet away from the snake. He wantd to be closer.


I wondered if True's mind likened the herding of the snake to the calf sorting we did last year. He enjoyed that, making the cows move away from him. This felt similar. I also contemplated the change in True’s attention. The normal horse brain is easy distractible. But this snake had his full concentration for about 15 minutes. He never looked away, never lost his fascination. I stroked and praised True, then we decided to call it a day. We’d go back to the jump training tomorrow. Today was snake training.