Here's an recount of an interesting
ride last year, from my journal. Evening Ride With Attack Emu And Playful Donkeys
You'd think it would be possible to go for an uneventful little evening ride, wouldn't you? I thought so too. It was windy this evening, and I'm still a little wary of windy evenings because my brain now associates these with breaking bones.
Horse brains are similarly wired. Sunsmart still gets nervous at the spot where his monkey fell off, the gunshot sounds of breaking bones were heard, and then the monkey started sounding like an ambulance siren and crawling around on all fours, and the other monkey came to catch him, who has no business doing such a thing, what's the world coming to? etc etc
Alas though, it's springtime in Australia, and my horse needs serious amounts of exercise during spring flush, or a grazing muzzle, or perhaps both, not to blow up like a balloon. I'm a little freaked about the possibility he's starting to develop PPID, because he looked like a Tibetan Yak this winter and then shed out in the strangest way, with tufts remaining here and there and Clydesdale-like feathers on his feet from his carpal joints and hocks down - all unprecedented for him, and the vet is finally coming to test him next Thursday, after being up to his ears in horse stud work. Anyway, keeping him consistently exercised is really important, especially after the eight-week spell he had while my bones were healing.
So that's why I was out there again this evening. Once we got past the spooky spot with the Ghost of the Accident Past, we warmed up on the sand track - walking, trotting, some canter transitions - and had just gotten into working mode when we turned east on the south boundary and saw something very like this about 50m away and on the neighbour's side of the boundary fence:
An emu with six or seven young, stripey chicks! It's the male emu who incubates the eggs and brings up the chicks, as the effort of laying 6-12 enormous eggs in the relatively nutrient-poor Australian bush means Mrs Emu needs a long holiday to feed and recuperate and generally nurse herself back to good health afterwards. It's a nice division of responsibility that was a huge evolutionary advantage for this species. (Did I ever mention Australian flora and fauna are fascinating?)
Emus with chicks are notoriously aggressive, and it didn't help that the dog ran up to it on the other side of the fence growling and trying to assert its usual sheepdog dominance. This really infuriated Mr Emu, and he ran at the fence with his neck feathers fully ruffled making drumming sounds and looking and sounding highly dangerous. At this point, Sunsmart was getting a bit freaked out and wanted to turn for home. I turned him back again. The dog had backed off, but the chicks for some reason had run into our property and the adult emu, unable to cross easily, was getting frantic.
This video I found shows some of an emu's attacking behaviour, but this one is quite mild-mannered as he hasn't any chicks at foot:
The emu we met today was much faster and angrier and really trying to make a point.
At this stage I got off and led my horse, because I prefer a controlled dismount to an uncontrolled one, and because it makes the horse calmer if his erstwhile babysitter is between him and Any Scary Monster. The chicks crossed back to Mr Emu's side of the fence, but was he done? No, he wasn't - he was still throwing himself at the fence, about two metres away from us - and they can
jump fences when they really want to. At that point I got miffed, put on my schoolteacher voice and said, "Go follow your chicks, you silly emu, we're passing here whether you like it or not!" And Sunsmart very gamely followed me along, which is very commendable when you consider he's never seen an emu in full attack mode before. I think he expects other animals to do my bidding.
That voice works on Julian, so why not on an enraged emu?
Anyway, once we got around the corner onto the swamp track, all the drama was over, and I got back on the horse, praising him lushly for putting up with a real
Scary Monster. We walked and trotted back towards home. Instead of doing a second loop as originally intended, I decided to just run him up the sand track and back to finish the ride - I'd had enough of emus for the day. Just as we turned into the track, who should be veering up the forest track from there but our three donkeys going walkabout?
So I said to Sunsmart, "Look, the donkeys, heeee-haw!" in case he was daydreaming and hadn't noticed them behind the bushes. Don Quixote was already halfway up the hill when he saw us, and in a playful mood. He came back down down in full rocking-horse canter, bucking and throwing his hind feet in the air. "Come on then!" said I, and put Sunsmart in a trot. And ridiculously, I had three donkeys following me single-file down the track, led by a merrily jumping Don Quixote full of mischief. Sunsmart decided it was a race and put on his flying trot.
Soon he'd left them behind, so I returned him to a walk and waited for them to catch up. Then we had another hundred metres or so of donkeys tailing directly behind Sunsmart, before we put on some speed until we got to the boundary.
Then came the interesting exercise of riding the horse back along the twisty-turny track, with incoming running donkeys that could be around any corner. Therefore, I tempered Sunsmart's evident wish to race back like this:
I really didn't want a collision, or even a sudden sliding stop. So we trotted at a very moderate pace until we met up with the donkeys again, said hello to them for a minute, and then headed back home.
Never a dull moment, it seems... Don Quixote, Mary Lou, Sparkle