seriously, the guy has a point

16 04 2017

Not horsey, but a very interesting and well-constructed argument.

I got metaphorically spanked a couple of days ago. Folks have been talking about the Fearless Girl statue ever since it was dropped in Manhattan’s Financial District some five weeks ago.I have occasionally added a comment or two to some of the online discussions about the statue.

Recently most of the Fearless Girldiscussions have focused on the complaints by Arturo Di Modica, the sculptor who createdCharging Bull. He wantsFearless Girl removed, and that boy is taking a metric ton of shit for saying that. Here’s what I said that got me spanked:

The guy has a point.

This happened in maybe three different discussions over the last week or so. In each case I explained briefly why I believe Di Modica has a point (and I’ll explain it again in a bit), and for the most part folks either accepted my comments or ignored them. Which…

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Hello, and Happy Anniversary

4 04 2017

Hello, blogosphere. It’s been a while. A heady mix of adult responsibilities, the need to sleep, development of a social life and finally-diagnosed ADHD conspired to keep me from here.

BUT here I am again, writing to you today on a mobile phone on public transport, headed for the stables. It’s almost like being in Japan again… except the bus doesn’t have aircon and the phone is *much* smarter.

It’s five years today since I took up riding again. How about that? Well, I’m pleased to say I never stopped. Where did I leave off? Oh, that’s right – with the end of my partnership with Puzzle, and the beginning of my loanership of Luna.

Well, I’m delighted to say that Luna and I are much better suited to one another, and yes, we’re still together. I see her three times a week. In summer, when the horses are all out on 24-hour turnout, that means I ride three times a week. In winter, it typically means I ride twice and do all the jobs another. One of the days I have her is Saturday, and typically we go out with a friend on a hack first thing. We’re really spoiled for nice routes to ride out on, although we do have to go out on the roads quite a lot.

My confidence as a rider is much better. I wish I had more opportunities to have lessons on Luna, but even without she’s taught me a lot. She’s naughty, but never nasty, so she’s been a good match in terms of my level of competence; she gives me just enough to think about, while at the same time looking after me. She is also really good fun to hack out on. She’s confident, rarely spooks, and has a fast, flat, balanced canter. I think she would make a good jousting pony!

Five years have got me to where I am today, and while it hasn’t always been easy and there have been times when I’ve wanted to give it all up, I’ve arrived at a place where I can’t imagine not having horses in my life any more. To the next five years!

An Ending and New Beginnings

21 10 2015

It is with some disappointment that I must declare that my part-loan arrangement with Puzzle came to an end this evening.

This did not entirely come as a surprise. While we had gone for another few months of no issues leading, handling or riding, over the last three weeks – possibly as a result of the temperature dropping and there being less grass in the fields for the horses to eat – we had another couple of incidents, both in which he got away from me and I didn’t know how to handle it. Both of these were a knock to my confidence, and as his human quite rightly pointed out, the partnership we had forming was too much on his terms and it wasn’t really safe for either of us any more.

I could tell that it was more difficult for her to tell me this than it was for me to hear it, and I felt quite sorry for her, to be honest, so I just did the best I could to make it easy. She is right, though; I am not experienced enough for a tricky character like him, and if his behaviour wasn’t immediately nipped in the bud it would only escalate further until he was routinely difficult with everyone just because he thought he could be. And that’s aside from the very real possibility that one of us might end up injured.

I didn’t ride him this evening. I seem to be coming down with a chesty cough and cold so I was only planning a short and sedate one anyway, but after our conversation I decided just to groom him and hang out with him in his stall. I decided that while a bit of gentle walk and trot would have been nice, any spooks from sudden fireworks would have left me gasping for breath and I would rather not have had to deal with that with a faulty respiratory system. He was completely sweet and loving towards me in his stall, but I have grown used to the contrast between the angel in the stable and the devil on the end of the lead rope now.

This is not all doom and gloom, though; this very same evening, it has been agreed that I will instead loan one of his friends, Luna. Luna is a sweet little dun with a whiskery face, who is forward going, bomb-proof and much less complicated than Puzzle. The pony at the bottom of the herd hierarchy, my observation of her is that she is quite happy to be left to her own devices and not get embroiled in any silly pony politics.

It helps that she shares a name with the goth princess from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Heh. The added silver lining to this cloud is that now, I will be able to hack out on a weekend with Puzzle and his human, which is good for both of us, as the other lady we used to ride out with will shortly be leaving and taking her two horses with her.

A blessing in disguise? Watch this space, I guess.

And this is Luna!

And this is Luna!

Stubble Fields at Dusk

16 09 2015

Here is a transcript/translation of a conversation I had with Puzzle this evening:

Me: ‘Now, canter.’
Puzzle: ‘I’m gonna trot really fast behind Kira!’
Me: ‘No, canter.’
Puzzle: ‘Oh okay. Canter.’
Puzzle: ‘NOW GALLOP!’
Me: ‘No, canter.’
Puzzle: ‘Will this really fast trot do?’
Puzzle: ‘Gee, okay, I’ll canter.’
*canters for three strides to the end of the field*
Me: ‘Now walk, please.’
Puzzle: ‘HAPPY NOW?’


14 09 2015

There’s lots to update about from me, but as work, my social life and my horsey life are keeping me so busy it feels like there’s never any time to write about it!

Things are still going well with Puzzle. He still tests the boundaries with me from time to time, but it’s stopped being a terrifying experience and is now instead just something that makes me tut and roll my eyes, and I deal with it. He is so smart; I worked out that he worked out that I give him the benefit of the doubt if I think he’s frightened, so he started pretending to spook. Only, he wasn’t very convincing. He does seem to be genuinely terrified of the corner of the school where the electric fence clicks and makes a tiny flash, unless you put a cone in front of it, at which point the cone becomes an opportunity for him to show off how clever he is (much like gates).

He got fat at one point and his owner became quite concerned about him, eventually resolving to lunge him three times a week in the mornings. We also put him in what I termed a ‘VIP area’ a couple of times; an electric fenced-off starvation paddock within whichever field the herd were in at the time. He was completely unbothered by this and, if anything, seemed to enjoy having his own space, although he would sulk if the horses are moved into an uneaten paddock next to the one he’s in and he is left behind for a couple of days to give them a chance to eat it down before he can go in and engorge himself.

In terms of riding him, I seem to have gotten the measure of him. He is such a confidence-giver; once he’s gotten over his initial fit of ‘oh I’d rather not thanks’, he will do pretty much anything you ask him to. I have found that the trick to keeping him forward and engaged is to keep him doing lots of different things, so he doesn’t have time to think about anything that’s happening in the world around him. He is steady in his paces, and while he will get overexcited and run along on the forehand when asked for an upwards transition, it’s easy to bring him back by making him stop and repeat the exercise.

I do still feel like I would like some structure to my evening sessions with him, though, as well as someone there who can point out faults and give me suggestions of things to work on. I would also really like to learn to jump! Both because I feel confident enough to give this a go now, and because I know that it’s something Puzzle enjoys and is good at. There is a jump paddock next to the arena, and sometimes, while I’m trying to ride him into the arena, he will lean against the outside rein as if to tell me he would rather go in there and play. Unfortunately, while I have liaised with Puzzle’s owner’s regular instructor, we haven’t been able to set anything up because she’s always busy at the times when I could see her. I would like to find an instructor I can see regularly at some point, but as I said to Puzzle’s owner last time I saw her it might have to wait until life and work have calmed down.

So I’m still having my weekly riding lessons at the riding school. Actually, since the weather cooled down, they’ve been better, although this evening I was feeling a bit sensitive and got on a pony who is nervous and sensitive by nature. The results were, sadly, confidence-shattering, but we’ll see how things go. I will try and ride her again because often getting the feel of a horse or pony I’m not used to knocks me sideways a bit the first time.

In other horse-related news, I went to Bolsover Castle and saw the Grand Medieval Joust, in spite of the best efforts of the bank holiday weather to prevent it. I still want to become a knight and joust! I might be nervous and sensitive by nature myself… but I can overcome it with enough practice! 😀

Decisions, Decisions

13 08 2015

Things have been going great with Puzzle since his human came to the yard and showed me the appropriate way to put him in his place, and I have been really humbled by the care with which she has overseen my growing confidence in handling him. My concern when I began having difficulties was that she would feel that my not being able to deal with it without her intervention would defeat the object of there even being a part-loan agreement, as I think I had expressed previously, but she has shown great empathy, saying that she was happy to come down to the yard for as long as it took for me to feel confident with him – on the grounds that she’d been through it all with him herself and knew what it was like. Thankfully, however, all the groundwork and my sticking to my guns during the spats he and I have had in the intervening period (both on the ground and in the saddle) have led to my first evening alone with him last night, being a resounding success, in that there were no dramas at all and he behaved beautifully for me, even sticking close to me when he thought he might be in mortal peril (at the hands of the man who comes to the farm to shoot rabbits).

I wish I could say the same for my lessons at the riding school. I feel like since I’ve been loaning Puzzle, my lessons – which I wanted to keep up for liking my regular instructor, and feeling like I had made friends with some of the horses who reside there – have served only to knock the confidence that Puzzle instils in me, and consequently I don’t feel like they are really doing anything to progress my riding ability. I’m fully aware of the factors at play here: Puzzle is relatively unspoiled by only having two regular riders, and hasn’t had the spark beaten out of him by riding school work, for one thing; in my lessons, I ride in a group of mixed ability, and it’s often hard not to take feedback in the context of how much, how little or what kind other people are getting at the same time as you; and sometimes, especially with riding, things get worse (or plateau) before they get better.

Nevertheless, even on a Wednesday night when we’re alone and just practising things in the little school on the farm, I feel like I get far more out of Puzzle – both in terms of cooperation and us helping each other to work better – than I do out of Ben, for example who I’d previously thought to be the confidence-giving schoolmaster. Take Monday’s lesson, for instance: all we did in the structured part of the lesson was circle work with walthroughk-trot transitions, and Ben didn’t want to go forwards; as a result of my instructor shouting at me to ‘sharpen him up with a tap from [my] whip’ over and over, I began to feel like my aids had crossed the line into animal abuse of this poor, usually-hard-working creature that just didn’t want to play that evening. It broke my heart, and left me dispirited. Contrast that to my free practice with Puzzle two days later, in which we didn’t end up doing what I’d intended (a cross between pole work and bend work, incorporating shallow loops) because he was in a very nervous, spooky mood, but he worked willingly for me as I slowly worked him up through transitions and circles to walking and then trotting right into the scary corners, and finishing by cantering large around the school to release some tension. Took some building up to, and some thinking outside of the box to get there, but he was switched on nevertheless, and I got something out of it.

Added to this is the fact that Soapy, the horse at the riding school I had the greatest fondness for, is now gone. They told me she would be leaving this week, but when I arrived with her retirement gift of a packet of Polos, I was told she had already been taken away. Disappointed, I resolved to give them to the staff member who I thought was taking her to pass on, only for her to tell me that having promised her she could have her, they’d given her to one of the clients. Aghast, I expressed my regret and my sympathy, and she said that she was disappointed (understandably), but not surprised, and went on to tell me things I won’t disclose here but that shocked me. Which may have, in addition to how my riding lessons have been making me feel, contributed to my growing feelings that maybe it’s time to be moving on.

(I gave the Polos to Ben, incidentally, to say sorry for hitting him with my whip so many times.)

Puzzle’s human, and the other human with whom I tend to hack out on weekends, have a freelance instructor who comes to the farm to teach them. Both of them speak very highly of her, and have recommended I have a lesson with her on Puzzle, each for different reasons. I’m certainly up for giving her a go to see how we get on. There are things I think she could help me with – helping Puzzle canter on the left rein first time, for example – because she knows him, as well. This would also be a considerable financial saving as her lesson fees are pretty cheap.

My reluctance doesn’t really stem from any feelings of disloyalty to my current instructor or the riding school as much as from not having the excuse to go and see the horses with whom I consider myself to be friends at the riding school, and having three opportunities per week to ride as opposed to the two I get with Puzzle. Having said that, though, with Soapy gone, none of the other horses seem as exciting to me any more. Ben tolerates me. I haven’t seen Bramble in months. Dan and Elvis are both funny, but can take or leave me regardless of any feelings I have for them. That only really leaves Paddy, who is as daft as a brush and as loveable as anything, but my relationship with him doesn’t extend beyond giving his lips a rub once a week until he gets bored. Suffice to say, I don’t think he would miss me as much as I would miss him.

And so I’m toying with the idea of quitting my riding school lessons to have lessons on Puzzle, and focus on building a partnership with a willing pony ‘who will turn his hoof to anything’ (as stated on his advert) – at least after his initial, Oh all right, if I must. There seem to be more advantages than disadvantages, and I feel like I am learning far more about both horses and riding from my continued association with him than I am at the school. I just can’t shake my reluctance to let go of what I have in my regular lessons, still. Thoughts from other riders would be appreciated.

In less pensive news, at the weekend Damian paid us a visit, and was able to get this amusing video footage of me turning Puzzle out after riding him:

Round Three: Not Such a Big Horse After All

23 07 2015

Back to being smitten again. I had a very productive evening on the yard with Puzzle and his human tonight, in which I feel like I learned a lot. He wasn’t really any different than he had been on the previous occasions, and I don’t really think his human’s presence on the yard made that much difference; certainly not to the extent that I would have expected.

I went along expecting to do groundwork. Lots and lots of groundwork. And groundwork we did. First of all in his stall, while I was grooming him and tacking him up; she spent a while showing me how to get him to move out of my space, to walk on, to move his quarters, to move back and to stand. I had to get to grips with getting him to do one thing at a time, and not confusing him by asking him too many things in a row. This struck me as essentially meaning shoving him around, although I soon realised that in effect this is no different from what he does with the mares in the field, with the added bonus that it keeps me safe as well.

Once I had him tacked up, we escalated this to me walking him in hand and doing the same things; asking him to walk on, walk around, stand, and back up. The tips I was given were to remain in line with his shoulder and close to it, so that if he were to try and push me, he wouldn’t be able to get enough power into the movement to do anything with it, to carry a whip in my free hand, and to raise it to his face if he made any move towards biting or lunging at me. To use voice commands, but to make these secondary to positive and clear body language. Also, to use the elbow closest to him if needed to emphatically push into him, or to push him away if necessary. All of this also worked really well. He got grabby and bitey with me again, but I responded as instructed and he backed right off. I carried on walking him around, making him stand, backing him up and walking him around with no pattern to it in and out of the stables for a little while, and I found that soon, he was listening to me rather than going ‘Oh all right then, if I must.’

At his human’s suggestion, I mounted him at the block outside the school and rode him in. As usual, he was perfectly well-behaved under saddle. His eagerness to show off how clever he is at operating gates whenever we have to close one behind us is still really, really sweet. His human stayed with us in the school for a bit, but he was working so nicely for me once we started going around that she kindly laid out some poles and a cone (to guide us into the spooky corner!) for me and then left us alone. I hadn’t expected to ride this evening and thus I didn’t really have a plan, so in the spirit of the groundwork we’d been doing, rather than have an exercise-for-horse-and-rider session, I thought I would have a making-Puzzle-think-and-not-know-what-to-expect session.

The two poles were laid parallel around x down the centre line from A to C, so I could use them as a check for straightness or ride across the school from B to E and go over them for balance. After a gentle warm up in walk and trot with lots of sudden turns and tight circles, I started using the poles to ride between, and to transition from walk to trot or trot to walk as we passed X, and change the rein at the end of each pass, mixed up with circling and riding over the poles as we went. Sometimes, without warning, I asked him to halt after getting all four feet up over the first pole, before going over the next one. And then sometimes I asked him to go large and canter. This got really exciting when he decided the poles were jumps. He seemed to be having real trouble striking off on the correct leg on the left rein tonight, so rather than keep making him do it, I moved onto other things. He was going so nicely for me in the end that for our cool down I just gave him a long rein and continued the circling exercise on both reins with the occasional halt at x. Super fun.

I did some more groundwork with him in the school immediately after dismounting at his human (who had returned by this stage)’s suggestion. I was actually astonished at just how switched on to me he had become by this stage. It was all going beautifully until I led him out of the school, but then turned back to get the gate behind me, at which point he must have thought I was taking him back in there as he got really strong with me, in much the same vein as he had on the two previous occasions. This time, his human intervened to show me what to do, and he was just as bad with her as he had been with me previously. He did eventually calm down, but we decided it would just be easier to keep him walking on rather than me wrestle with him just for the sake of closing a gate.

He was totally sweet after that, and as I gave him a scrub and doused him in fly spray, he stood wherever I told him to. Probably because I’d tired him out as much as because he was now listening, but the transformation from what had gone before was remarkable. It seems that he has been argumentative in general since last week, and his human put it down to his having remembered that he could; I now just need to keep on top of this and remind him that no, he can’t, actually. And actually, I think that will make him feel more secure with me.

I feel well assured now that he is still the same sweet, clever boy I met a month ago and really wanted to get to know better, and a lot more confident that if I had to put up with another arsey episode I would know what to do about it. The agreement is continuing into August and all the dates have been agreed upon. I am all excited about it again 😀

Round Two: All Part of the Learning Process

21 07 2015

Well, round two took place on Saturday. I saw one of the other horse-owners on her way out, who wasn’t sticking around, but who wished me better luck this time and mentioned that her instructor had noticed that one of her mares was at the peak of her season and that that might have affected Puzzle’s behaviour. I felt I had a calm and confident attitude, and had been thinking about things I could do differently this time to try and prevent another… confrontation. She advised me just to be really firm and positive with Puzzle and to stand my ground, and then after loading her own pony, happily and without issue, off she went.

Rather than be all trusting as I had been previously, this time I elected to do everything the ‘proper’ way. So, before doing anything else, I put my boots, hat and gloves on, prepared his feed, and set it on the path outside, where the wall with the tie rings is. Then I went, treat in pocket, to bring him in. As on every other occasion I have seen him, he came to the gate without any issue, graciously accepted his treat for letting me put his headcollar on, and walked on calmly and without incident as I led him back to the wall, where I let him get his nose into the feed bucket and then tied him loosely enough that he could feed.
He was perfectly well-behaved the whole time I was grooming him and tacking him up. There are various opinions about hand-feeding treats, but since Puzzle has learned that he gets a treat for doing certain things nicely, I think it would be unfair of me not to uphold this, so I gave him another treat for accepting his bit. The one thing I did differently in tacking up was that rather than remove the headcollar altogether and lead him by the reins, this time I put his headcollar on over his bridle and led him by the lead rope, for two reasons, really; one, I’d observed that when being led by the reins he chews a lot and tries to work the bit around in his mouth, and second because if he acted up I could then put distance between myself and him without letting go of the rope – especially since he wears a martingale.

My plan, for something to do that might be a break from his usual routines and help relax him, had been to lead him in-hand up the lane as far as to the end of the farm (so not very far; it wouldn’t take more than 20 minutes there and back), bring him back, mount him at the block outside the school and then ride him into the school to do some gentle transition work, all in walk (unless it went really well, in which case I planned on introducing some trot). With hindsight, because he’s always tended to behave better for me under saddle, I probably would have been better off if I’d just taken him straight to the mounting block, but I was trying out something new.

Sadly, his behaviour was no better than it had been the previous time. We got as far as past the school gate before he started acting up again, in much the same manner as previously. I was a lot louder and more firm in reprimanding him and telling him to stop this time, and an advantage to having him on the headcollar and lead rope turned out to be that I had another thing to grab onto to keep his teeth away from me, and to stop him charging off. The first small incident stopped in its tracks, so I continued to walk him on up the path.

He tried it on again as we went past the paddock where his friends were, with the paddock where the yard owners’ horses live opposite it on the other side. He put on a far more dramatic show here, and rather than taking the hint that I was going to stand firm, shout, and push his mouth away from me if he tried biting me, he started shoulder-barging me when I stepped back or to the side to get myself behind his… er… line of bite. I stood my ground and pushed back as much as I could, but I was in danger of being pushed into an electric fence here. Exasperated, I gave up. Possibly too early, but I felt frustrated that my plan had fallen at the first (if you’ll pardon the racing terminology), helpless that my efforts to be firm – as far as I was prepared to go with pony I couldn’t gauge the reactions of too well at this point – had proven inadequate, and overly conscious that there was nobody to assist me if it escalated any further.

Unsurprisingly, he walked back to the wall without incident or issue. When we got there, one of the yard owners was doing something in the hay field, and waved to me as I came in. Rather than standing politely to be tied as he had done every time before, he attempted to barge through me and down the lane to the road. In shouting at him – and all I said, I remember this clearly, was ‘Puzzle, STAND UP. GET BACK.’ – I made her jump and look up with an expression of shock on her face – to give an indication of my tone and volume. He obeyed, but only with the addition of a demonstrative shove to his sternum with my free hand.

He behaved as I untacked him, unsurprisingly. There was a sort of jaunty tension in the lead rope as I silently led him back to the paddock. I took him back in, turned him around, gave the rope a stern tug to prevent him from lunging at one of the mares, took his headcollar off and patted him to go away. He stood looking at me, haughtily raising his nose as though to suggest I’d forgotten something. ‘Only good horses get treats, Puzzle,’ I told him as I opened the gate to make good my escape, ‘and you haven’t been good.’

Feeling deflated, I took the bus home, made myself a cup of tea as first order of business on my return, and sat down to carefully construct an email to his human explaining what had happened. I was careful to include that I understood that it was far from ideal if I couldn’t be left alone on the yard (as this kind of defeats the object of a part-loan arrangement), but that I didn’t want to give up now, for having seen what a sweet, fun boy he can be when he isn’t ‘being an arse.’

I was at a friends’ wedding hours later when I received the response from her. It seems that while he has done all of this before, it hasn’t been for a long time, so I imagine nobody expected him to start it up again. I suppose, since that’s the case, that while lack of exercise and mares in season may have been contributing factors, my lack of experience in dealing with this sort of behaviour has probably played a big part in this, too. She has very kindly agreed to come to the yard the next couple of times I see him, and show me some ground work exercises that have worked for her on him, and to show me what she does to manage his ‘being an arse’ behaviour as well. Her suggestion was for her to come to the yard and show me, and then duck out of sight so that Puzzle doesn’t know she’s there, but I’ve got someone close by to call on for help if I need to.

This strikes me as ideal, and I am grateful to her, both for being willing to help me out, and for not immediately striking me off and looking for another sharer for him.


17 07 2015

My last visit to see Puzzle went terribly, and left me angry, disappointed, upset, and with doubts about my horse-handling capabilities. It was the first time I had gone to see him by myself with no-one there to help me. To begin with, everything went as it had done on each previous visit; I went out to collect him, he came to the gate of his own accord and claimed his treat, he was calm as I led him back to the stables. He was a bit fidgety while I groomed him, so I tied him up outside by the wall while I finished him off and tacked him up, but after that, he stood for me perfectly obligingly. In fact, everything seemed perfectly calm and normal until we got to the school.

There are two gates to get into the school. The trouble started as we went through the first gate into the little mini-paddock between them. As we were halfway between the gates, he just stopped dead in his tracks and wouldn’t walk on. I asked him nicely, then asked him in a stern tone of voice, all the while keeping even pressure on the reins under his chin rather than yanking at or pulling on them, because that’s just not fair. But he flatly refused to move at all. So, I took the reins in my left hand for a moment, tapped him on his back end with my free hand (not hard, just lightly to indicate that I would like him to move), and asked him to walk on again. It was clear from his tail-swishing that he was not impressed by that, but he walked on for me, and on through the second gate.

Once I closed the school gate behind me, it was like he suddenly turned into a different pony. He stopped again, and this time he started pulling back on the reins as I tried to lead him. Wanting to remain calm and quiet, but at the same time firm, I stood my ground and kept asking him to walk on. Then he started pinning his ears and trying to bite me. I stood my ground and told him ‘No!’, trying to evade him with my hand on the reins; then, in a bid to make a gentle gesture that I wasn’t going to stand for him trying to bite me, I lifted my left hand up just to push his muzzle away from my other hand, and he seized the riding crop that was in my hand between his teeth and took it off me. Then he just stood there looking at me, and it was like he was going, ‘Your move, human.’ As I tried to remove it, he let go, but he also reared and yanked his head away from me, causing me to lose my grip on the reins, and then kicked out towards me as he ran off a few paces. Then, looking me right in the eye as though to make sure I was paying attention to what he was about to do, he got down on the ground and rolled with his tack on.

I took a deep breath. It was going through my mind that this must be some kind of test to measure which one of us was in charge, and that I needed to remain calm and confident, and just work through it, somehow. At the same time, I was conscious that I didn’t want to do anything that might hurt him or give him a lasting bad impression of me, and that first and foremost I needed to keep myself safe. I advanced back towards him, took the reins back in my hand, and started walking him back towards the gate, and across to the mounting block. We managed to go a few calm paces before he started rearing, pulling and going for my hand again. I don’t remember much detail about what happened after that, other than that I attempted to regain control of the situation, became afraid for my own safety, and left the school, leaving Puzzle shut inside. Twice. Between attempts, I collapsed in the mini-paddock in tears, and didn’t really stop crying. On my second exit, as I leaned slumped over the gate looking inward, sobbing, and trying to think clearly about what to do next, I thought I saw sympathy flash across Puzzle’s face, and he advanced towards me calmly with little furrows around his eyes. I’d given up by that point, however.

I left him in the school, went back to the stables, and fetched his headcollar and lead rope. I took them back to the school, went in, put the headcollar on over his bridle and walked him up to the top of the school at the end of the rope. He was calm to lead in this way. Before I’d gone to fetch him from the school, I’d set up some poles down the middle of the school, hoping to do some exercises on him with them. He was fine until it looked like we might be going towards the mounting block; then he started pulling and lunging and rearing again. I just slackened the rope and let him, keeping myself a safe distance from him, but still with my shoulder in line with his. I was still upset and angry with him at this point, but just trying my best to calm everything down. Including myself.

I took him back to the wall with the tie rings, tethered him, untacked him, and then led him back to the field. I didn’t give him a treat because I wanted him to know that he’d done wrong and I wasn’t happy with him. He looked disgruntled, but backed off into the field, allowing me to go and put everything else – the school, the tack room, his stall – back to normal.

I know that in horse-handling terms, I did the wrong thing in that it seemed obvious that he was either playing up because he didn’t want to work (his human has been on holiday, so that evening was the first time he had come in from the field since I hacked out with him at the weekend), or was trying it on with me to establish which one of us was in charge, and whichever it was I acquiesced to it. However, as there was no-one else around I could call on for help, on this occasion – for not knowing how better to address the situation – I prioritised my personal safety, because I just didn’t know what he was going to do.

As I was leaving, the other two ladies who own horses on the yard came in. I explained briefly to them what had happened, and burst into tears reliving it again. They were very reassuring and sympathetic, and told me that Puzzle is known for having episodes like this occasionally; they don’t know what causes it, but they do know that it tends to happen when he’s being taken into the school, and that he especially seems to have a problem with the mounting block in the school; although, if he’s mounted at the block outside and ridden into the school, he tends to behave better. They said that his human has been through all of this with him, too, and that the difference is that over the years she’s developed a mental toolkit of ways of working through things with him that work, whereas I had no idea what to do, being confronted with it for the first time.

It was a shame, because the weekend before I had had two lovely mornings’ hacks with him, and he was a perfect, polite angel on both occasions. The difference, I suppose, was that he hadn’t had any days of not being exercised up to that point, and I was in the company of someone else he knows well, who was riding another horse he knows. And the hacking really was great. Glorious scenery, exciting canters through fields and woodland, wildlife, dogs and passing other riders; we had it all!

I will next be seeing Puzzle tomorrow morning. I shall be unaccompanied for this visit as well. I’m just going to go along, try and do everything normally and see how it goes, to be honest. For all I know, he might just have been in a mood on Wednesday, and might be back to his usual polite, obliging self again. If he isn’t, I will try to work through it, and see what happens. I wanted a life with horses, and this was bound to happen to me someday. I’ve got to learn to deal with it, and if I can’t, then maybe I’m not cut out for this yet, and I either need more experience handling horses, or a different pony. Time will tell, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to have these thoughts in my head at this stage.

To end on a less dreary note, and because he is cute when he’s not being ‘an arse’ (as the other lady put it), here are some nice pictures and a video of Puzzle from the weekend.

A Perfect Evening’s Riding

9 07 2015

I saw Puzzle again, for my last supervised visit to see him, and he was a perfect angel for me. I am fully aware that this may not be the case every time I see him, so I absolutely made the most of it!

I arrived having already had a text from his human to say that she was stuck in traffic and would be there later, but that I could get his feed ready and bring him in myself if I wanted to. I did so, knowing I wouldn’t be able to tack him up until she got there since one of the reasons for her still being present was to give me the keys to the tack room and to her locker, in which all of his tack is kept. I got his chaff and balancer ready and placed his feed bucket inside the tyre in his stall ready for him to launch into, took the headcollar and lead rope, and set off in the direction of the paddock to fetch him. On the way there, I saw the other lady who has two horses stabled there, who had brought her two into the vestibule of grass between the path and the school to graze while she tacked up one of them to ride, and the farm owners, who all greeted me warmly.

When I arrived at the paddock gate, Puzzle heard me, turned around, and came trotting over to the gate to meet me. That felt good – although I realised it was because he was eager to come in after seeing the other horses go out (the patch of grass they were grazing in contained clover, which he isn’t allowed at the minute because he’s too fat), as much as it was because he was pleased to see me. I went into the paddock and put his headcollar on him, and then realised I hadn’t brought him a treat, which he is used to. I stood feeling guilty about that for just as long as it took me to realise I couldn’t have got him a treat if I’d remembered because they were in the tack room and it was locked, and then led him out onto the lane. He immediately went for some grass at the side of the lane while my hands were full with securing the gate behind us – for which I didn’t pull him up as quickly as I might otherwise have done, for feeling guilty about not bringing him a treat.

I led him in and started picking out his feet before his human got there. She chatted to me and showed me how to put his Hi Viz rug on for hacking out in, but otherwise left me to get on with it. I remembered everything, I’m pleased to say, including how to put on his Grakle bridle and martingale, and we were tacked up and ready to go in a short amount of time. I led him out to the mounting block, mounted up and rode him into the school, where the other lady was just finishing up with her two horses; she stayed and watched me warming him up a bit before leading them out, and complimented me on how nicely I was riding him, also throwing me the advice that if he got ‘all looky’ in the spooky end of the school, to quickly ask him to do something – like a three metre circle, or a turn, or a leg yield – to take his mind off whatever might make him spook. This turned out to be a very useful tip indeed, as that then informed our entire warm-up, meaning that by the time I got to asking him to do any real practice with me he was switched on to me and not to what else was going on around us.

She was kind enough to ask me whether I would be okay on my own if she left. I thanked her and said yes, a flash of hesitation momentarily passing through my mind, which I quickly brushed aside, realising I’ll have to go it alone someday one way or the other. From then on, I adjusted my stirrups and checked the girth, and stepped up everything we’d been doing in walk – leg yields, serpentines, circles, changes of rein – in trot for a while. He was working with his nose down in a lovely outline, and I found that all I had to do if he lifted it up was a very gentle squeeze on both reins. He did have a moment of silly head-tossing, but I found that all I had to do was ignore it and keep my forearms relaxed and he stopped. Finally, when I was confident he’d go if I asked, I got him to canter beautifully on both reins. We didn’t get the correct leading leg on the tricksy left rein first time this time, and while I did try to circle him to correct it initially, I didn’t manage to this time (proving it was beginner’s luck on Saturday), but I brought him back to trot and asked again and we got a lovely, balanced, controlled canter on the second attempt. I let him run through that for a couple of circuits of the school before bringing him back to walk, giving him a long rein, and cooling down.

As I really want to practise getting to grips with opening and closing gates from on horseback, I didn’t dismount in the school at first; after a few botched goes, we managed the school gate, but the second one onto the lane was too stiff for me to operate from on horseback, so I hopped off, loosened Puzzle’s girth and put his stirrups up to lead him back in hand. As soon as I let go of the reins his nose was down in the grass. This time I stopped him, and told him off (lightly). I took him back to his stall, gave him a sponge bath and picked his hooves out again, before spraying him with fly spray. His human and the other lady commented on how he must like me, as he was completely relaxed around me, and the other lady said that she’d told someone else they both know that I’m lovely and that I love horses rather than love riding (which I agree with, although I think it would be more accurate to say that my love of the animals takes precedence over my enjoyment of riding them). Being able to acknowledge that they recognise and appreciate this made me feel satisfied that I have landed in the right place, and, well, being told that a pony likes me means more to me than anything anyone could say about how good of a rider I am.

They left me alone to lead him back out into the paddock. Save for one moment when he stole a mouthful of grass from the verge while I was gate-wrangling, he was perfectly good in-hand. I remembered a treat this time, and he made me chuckle by gratefully accepting it once I got his headcollar off, and then lifting his mouth up to level with my eyes after he’d eaten it, holding it open and waving his head around to indicate to me that he would like another one. I told him I didn’t have any more and held my hands up with my open palms facing him so he could see I didn’t have any more. He closed his mouth and put his head down at that point, but didn’t wander off as I expected him to; instead, he just stood facing me, as though waiting for another cue for me. I patted him on the shoulder and said, ‘Go on, off you go, we’re done,’ and watched him turn away and head into the field. I stood by the gate and watched him for a bit until he started grazing, and then headed back.

So, next time I see him I will be doing everything by myself, unsupervised! And I shall have two weekend days to ride, because his human is away. The other nice lady will be there, so I won’t be completely alone, and we’ll get to hack out together. Eeee!