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!

Some Happy News and Some Sad News

6 07 2015

As the title suggests. I shall start with the sad news: Soapy, the first pony I rode at the riding school where I have my regular lessons (almost three years ago now, gosh) and the one who absolutely stole my heart from the very beginning, is retiring. She’s not leaving until mid-August, but after that she will go live out her days somewhere else. It’s absolutely the best thing for her; she’s 19 years old and has arthritis in her back end, which is making it increasingly difficult for her to meet the demands of riding school customers, especially children and young riders, who she is more often paired with due to her size. She has also been lame a couple of times recently.

Because I didn’t know how long it would be before she left (I found out she’d be around a bit longer after the lesson), this evening I swapped horses with another lady who rides in my group so I could ride her. We rode for a full hour in open order, during which I found Soapy to be totally switched off. In the past she has always been a bit lazy to begin with, but then became perfectly forward-going and obliging once she got warmed up. Tonight, however, I just couldn’t get her going at all. I think my instructor got a bit impatient with me, and as she continued to give instructions I got more and more frustrated and my aids got stiffer and more pronounced until I was getting cramp in my right calf muscle from it, but then I dismounted she had a go riding her, and she agreed that she’s never known her to be as slow nor as unwilling as she was tonight. I used to know Soapy for getting the ask for canter and suddenly thinking she was Red Rum. Tonight I didn’t get a canter out of her at all until the very end. It was a bit sad, really.

The nice lady who looks after the horses on the RDA yard told me that she’d asked if she could take her, so she could retire on her yard and just live out her days in a field, where she would only be used as a light hack. She said that if she did get her, and if I wanted to I would be able to go and see her there and ride her, but I honestly couldn’t tell if she was just saying that to make me feel better because she knew I would be sad to see her go. I am sure that all regular readers of my blog will perfectly well understand the heartache associated with falling in love with a horse who isn’t yours.

Anyway, to end on a lighter note, my part-loan trial month has begun in earnest and seems to be going well. I got some things wrong on my first visit to see him (which were largely tack-related) and came away worried that I’d made a terrible impression and that his human was going to ask me not to come back, but this all seemed to be unfounded. On the human side, Puzzle (that’s his name!)’s owner is very nice and seems to appreciate that it’s more difficult to get things right when someone’s watching you, and seems reasonably confident in my ability to handle him. Beyond a small amount of trying it on to see what he can get away with, which I perceive to be a tendency common to all equids, Puzzle himself has been perfectly sweet, polite and well-behaved towards me, while at the same time not being afraid to make his opinions known. When I rode him on what happened to be that awful, stiflingly hot Wednesday evening, he was being a bit of a git, but I forgave him because it was so hot and humid; we spent a full hour in walk, riding transitions and persuading him to work in the correct outline, just to work through his stubbornness. He had quite an entertaining spook, whereby as I was trying to get him to walk right into the corner of the school he apparently wasn’t too sure about, a rabbit suddenly appeared, which was obviously TERRIFYING, and we levitated sideways before I knew what was happening. Still, I continued to be fair-but-firm once that little ordeal was over. I’m conscious that I need to be, or it will affect his behaviour towards me further down the line.

When I saw him at the weekend, it had rained over night and it was still cool and misty on the yard. I arrived half an hour before his human and the other lady who has horses stabled there, and as my first order of business went to the paddock to say hello to the equids. Puzzle spotted me coming from the field, pricked his little ears up, and came striding right over to the paddock gate, presumably thinking it was time for him to come in for his breakfast. He seemed quite nonplussed that I’d only come to say good morning.

When I came back later with his human to bring him in, he demonstrated his dominance over the rest of the herd, who were lying down, by just walking through them, making them all stand up and move out of his way. I didn’t say it out loud, but I thought to myself, ‘Puzzle, you dick!’ It’s funny, because he’s the second smallest out of the four of them and all the others are mares. Watching him out in the field with them, they do all seem to be friends, but he does swan about with his head and his tail in the air making them all move out of his way. His harem.

I led him in, gave him his feed, picked his feet out while he was eating, groomed him and tacked him up (without incident this time!), then myself and the other lady went out together for a hack around the two adjoining farms. We didn’t cross the ring road to use the bridle paths on the other side this time, but she showed me where they are. Then we practised leg yields on the paths going back to the school. I have learned how to open and close gates whilst mounted, and it amuses me every time I close a gate behind me just how well Puzzle knows what to do and how keen he is to show off how clever he is.

The two of us worked in open order in the school, and I worked in walk and trot, did ten minutes without stirrups to stretch my legs and find my seat, and then circled him and rode some shallow loops. I had to ask him to bring his nose down quite a lot as he likes strutting along with it in the air. I finished with a canter on both reins. He has trouble with it on the left rein, and struck off on the right leading leg, but I managed to circle and correct him with a flying lead change – which is remarkable, as I have never been taught how to do these, I’ve only read instructions for doing it in a book! So that was fulfilling.

After giving him a sponge bath and spraying him liberally with fly spray because the sun had come out and it was drying up by that point, we took our ponies back to the field. One of the ponies had lost a shoe, so we had a walk around the field to see if we could find it in case there was a nail sticking out of it, but we couldn’t find it. After that, us three humans all had a cup of tea and some cake (which Puzzle’s human kindly went and bought us while we were riding) whilst sitting watching the ponies in the field. It struck me as a lovely way to begin the weekend, and I could get used to it.


19 06 2015

It seems I have agreed to part-loan a pony – subject to a one-month trial, at least. So, thank you everybody for the supportive vibes and luck; evidently, they worked.

He is a polite and sweet boy, but with a well-preserved cheeky streak, and he also demonstrably has the courage to let you know about it when he’s unimpressed or impatient. He is stabled on a quiet, old-fashioned but perfectly well-equipped yard that sits on a couple of bus routes, which is very convenient as I still don’t drive. As I walked up the track to meet him, his human was bringing him in from the paddock and waved to me. He followed her line of sight, and regarded me from the distance with his head high, eyes bright and his ears pricked forward as I waved back. He also tried to rub his face on me as we caught up to each other, but never mind. Heh.

He was calm, but noticeably confused, as we stood in his stall with him discussing very human considerations, and I was honoured when he took the initiative to turn his head towards me and say hello by bringing his nostrils into line with mine to sharing breath for a few moments. As politely as he stood for me while I groomed him, picked his feet out and tacked him up, he made his impatience to get on and get working known to us by head-barging at the door to his stall. This was the closest to rude he was the whole time I was in his company, and he cut it out once pushed back and told, ‘No.’

He is small (at a mighty 14.1hh), but apparently the herd leader on that yard. His human said that he is friends with all the other equids there, and that none of them are nasty to one another. He is frightened of goats and donkeys, and she has plans to try to help him overcome this by arranging for him to meet some in controlled conditions. He also gets spooked by rocks and unknown terrors that lurk beyond the trees in the woods – but she assured me that within that, he is fairly predictable, and that if you just ignore him and carry on as normal he calms down quickly. He does not like bananas. He apparently loves jumping and cross-country, but has been well-schooled in flatwork and dressage in the last few years and is improving in these areas.

We took him out to the small outdoor school, she rode him first, and they gave me a demonstration of the dressage test they are working on. He spooked a few times at the end of the school facing some woodland. Then I had a go. His human had told me that he loved to work and would try really hard for his rider. This was my experience. In contrast to the riding school horses I’m accustomed to riding he went from a gentle ask – no stubbornness or hesitation; at the same time, he didn’t feel as finely tuned as the Historic Equitation horses. I could feel his stiff side, and I could feel how he was having trouble striking off from the correct leading leg while I was asking for canter. For having said that, he was also a lot more responsive to my seat and to my voice that most of the horses I am accustomed to riding.

We had a lot of fun careering around, including a couple of spooks in the scary woodland corner (once being the first time I asked for canter, which was exciting), but his human complimented me on how well I sat them afterwards. While I was trying to work him though some transitions and bend exercises to try to help him soften up, he decided to try to thwart me to see if he could get away with it by backing up and spinning on the spot, but I was firm and he stopped and behaved himself. We finished with some bending and circling exercises on a long rein.

When I brought him to a halt, his human said that I was less experienced than what she’d ideally been looking for, but that she liked how I rode him, that she was happy with how I sat to his spooks, and that he seemed to like me, as apparently it’s obvious when he doesn’t like somebody. So she thought I would be fine with him, and that he and I could have a lot of fun together if I wanted to give him a go for a month and see how I got on. I said that I thought I could learn a lot from him. So that was pretty much decided, from my point of view.

We took him back to his stall, untacked him, gave him a sponge bath and then took him back out to the paddock. When we let him go, he almost had to be reminded to go off and see his friends: he stood looking at us for a bit after I removed his head collar, as if awaiting some cue from either me or his human as to what we were doing next. He seemed a very curious and characterful fellow throughout our meeting.

I’m not sure what else to say after all that, other than: PONY. Excite.

I suppose I ought to sort out some rider’s insurance…

(I didn’t mean for this post to be so many words…)


17 06 2015

I realise it has been an awfully long time since I updated, and I fell off the wagon (so to speak) leaving behind not so much a cliffhanger of an ending as a building site. The only good explanation I can offer for this is that for whatever reason, I ran out of energy for writing long posts within the time I had available.

I would still very much like to finish writing about my last visit to Historic Equitation; I had such a great time, and with photographic and even video evidence available, I can remember it like it all happened yesterday. But I came here today to briefly mention something else: Tomorrow evening I am going to go and meet a pony and his human with a view to part-loaning him.

I have been trying desperately hard not to get excited about this in case it doesn’t come about, or if something turns out not to be right. Please cross everything for me that it all goes well; from what his human has told me, he sounds perfect for me, and based on our exchange of messages, she seems to think I sound perfect for him.

Watch this space!

Historic Equitation 2014: Part 1

22 10 2014

So, this weekend, we returned to Historic Equitation – for my second visit, and Damian and Amy’s third.

I felt a bit sorry for Amy, actually. She was kind enough to drive us there and back again, she had to go to work on the following day, and aside from this, her riding is far above the level of my own and of Damian’s. She could probably do so much more with her time there given her advanced skill, but because she humours us goons – me with my bad habits and overthinking, Damian with his spot-on attitude to horse-handling, natural calmness and empathy but comparative lack of experience – she more or less has to go at the pace that we do, just better. Still, there don’t seem to be any hard feelings on that front, and Dom is good enough to let us all train in the same things. I suspect she enjoys having the company, too.

Still, we went, all very excited, and this time accompanied by my friend Stu as our photographer, since it’s difficult to get a picture when you’ve got a training lance in one hand and the reins in the other. We arrived dead on time, more or less, had a sit down and a cup of tea in the farmhouse (HE has moved to new premises, and while they haven’t finished all the work they’d like to do on the new place, it was easy to see how much more awesome it’ll be once they’ve finished everything they’ve got in the pipeline), and then went out to greet the horses, give them all a good groom and tack up. After some discussion it was decided that I would ride Briar this year, since of all the horses there, he’s the most even-tempered and predictable; Dom didn’t want me to be put off by a horse who was too strong for me, as I had been the previous year riding Marduk. I was grateful of the level of sensitivity with which he broached this.

So I took Briar, and Damian took my former mount, Marduk – the black warmblood stallion. I was informed that Briar had had a good jousting season, but that he had gotten a bit overweight since. He was very muddy when I found him tethered up in the barn beside his friend Duke, but I soon took care of that. Initially he refused to give me his hooves to be picked out, but after I’d gone over him with the brushes he obliged without question. I was very soon endeared to this towering, majestic warhorse, billed on the website as ‘a fierce jouster and excellent destrier,’ for his being caked in mud, obviously from rolling around in it, and for giving me baby horse looks at intervals and wobbling his bottom lip as I groomed his face and talked to him as I went around him. I could easily see how he’d gotten overweight; to his left was an unattended pile of haylage he’d clearly been helping himself to.

We had agreed upon starting the proceedings with a hack to the next village and back to warm ourselves and the horses up. Damian later said that he would have happily traded the time for extra time doing drills, but I for one was glad of the hack as it gave me a good chance to get accustomed to Briar and what he responded to (both Amy and I agreed at lunch that we’d had the same problem initially, in that our ask for a leg yield had been interpreted by our respective mount as a push to go forward) and to stretch my hip flexors over his barrel-like frame as he was easily the largest horse – in all dimensions – I have ever ridden. This was helped by the fact that the stirrup leathers the stock saddle I had been given were fitted with were faaar too long for me, meaning I was better off riding the whole way and back again without them. Giving instruction to Briar became easier when I put these up using the straps on the saddle to keep them out of the way, because of the lack of confusion from feeling something knocking against his side constantly, I think.

We had a lovely walk (with the odd trot to get back into two-by-two formation after adopting single file to allow a car to pass) along the country lanes, during the course of which Dom let slip to me that he could do with someone to come over and exercise Briar every day over winter, in reponse to his grumbling and wheezing as though he was either unimpressed at being made to work or needed a cough. (He did eventually have a good cough.) I might have said, ‘If only I lived closer!’ I would be more than happy to exercise Briar, for nothing more than the experience!

Once we’d passed some airborne kites, circling low enough that we were able to see their plumage, an array of thatched-roof cottages and a traditional British red telephone box, we returned to the farm, dismounted, tethered the horses and went inside for a hearty lunch. My legs were pretty nicely stretched at this point – so much so that while sitting down wasn’t an issue, standing up again might have been. Then, once we were nourished and refreshed, we returned to the barn to mount up again and head out for some drills. I was amused, if not surprised, to return to find Briar with his nose in the haylage. Heh.

During the hack, there was some discussion between myself and Dom about my swapping Briar for Duke in the afternoon. Duke is a pure-bred Friesian, and as Dom explained to me, he is perfectly well-behaved under saddle, but could ‘get a bit prancy’, which he didn’t want to put me off. Much as I would have loved to have ridden him, I elected to stay with Briar; I’d gotten used to him, I was reassured by Dom’s having said that you always know what you’re going to get from him, and above all else, while I was feeling confident that I wasn’t going to let any nerves get the better of me this time, I wanted to enjoy myself. So I decided to play it safe, knowing that lovely Briar would take care of me.

To be continued…