Following my session with Prince early last week, I was on a complete high – he’d given me some great stuff out in the field, I managed to get a response I didn’t think I’d get when I’d put him in a situation where I changed our environment a lot in one go. My body didn’t thank me much for it – where we live, the earth is essentially clay-based, so spending an hour doing groundwork in a sodden wintry field is killer on the calves – but it was worth it for how good I felt about our progress. I knew there was still an enormous amount to do, but positive sessions are always welcomed.
When I went back on Saturday, I was excited to get going and see how we could build on our previous attempt. Jo (my friend/mentor/”instructor”) asked me what I wanted to do, getting me to set out some expectations, and was on hand to provide support and advice. I said that I hoped to repeat the exercises from before, build some consistency and just check that Prince had taken it all in. She liked my plan, and gave me a new challenge – Prince was to catch me in the field. It’s a concept I was unfamiliar with, and my first attempt was horrible. It’s not about the horse chasing you around, it’s about getting his attention and having him come willingly to you, rather than you going and dragging him away from his food and his friends. Prince was having none of it, and I was totally stuck for ideas. Jo gave me a demonstration. I felt like this was something it’d take me a while to get the hang of…
The session wasn’t as good as the previous one, which served as a gentle reminder to me that you can’t be good all the time. Prince wasn’t offering me a lot, and I got a bit frustrated because, having decided that I wanted to work on being more subtle with him, he was giving me exactly the opposite, and I was having to chase him and micromanage him a lot. Back to the drawing board.
I wasn’t completely dissatisfied with Saturday, but it didn’t feel as fantastic as my previous effort, so I approached my next session with a little trepidation. Part of me wanted to persevere with the original work, because it’s important to get it right, but a bigger part of me was concerned that Prince and I are both getting bored: “consistency’s a great teacher, variety is the spice of life”, after all. I’d noticed that there was something he and I aren’t great at (okay, there are a lot of things, but this thing in particular struck me), and brought it up with Jo as an idea. She backed me up, and we returned to the barn to give my poor unfit legs a break, and because the weather was looking a bit threatening.
I stuck with the 22-foot line, as I decided I needed the practice in juggling the knitting, plus the main thing I wanted to work on was our yo-yo game, and for that it’s far easier to have a better feel and give a good release of pressure with a longer line. Prince seemed a lot more focused – I was still terrible at having him catch me (that’s going to need a LOT of work), but once I had him haltered, he was with me from the word go, and even gave me a very nice squeeze going through the gate to leave the field. He was a bit jittery going up to the barn, as there are lots of scary ducks in the hedgerow at the moment, but we made it in one piece.
I gave him a half-decent groom (around the wet patches of mud) – I’d actually been hoping to trim his feathers (which I’ve decided now look like tentacles) prior to the podiatrist’s imminent visit, but the outside tap is broken, so that’s been delayed – and managed to chill him out before we started. Jo offered some ideas of how to achieve what I wanted to achieve, and I set to work, encouraging Prince to back up and come to me at a decent speed and to and from a specific point. I surprised myself with the softness of the backup I achieved, but got a bit disheartened at how difficult it was to get him to “yo” back to me – sometimes, there are strong signs that this horse sees me as a growing partner, and on other occasions, it’s as if he couldn’t care less or actively dislikes me. It’s hard not to get frustrated or take a hit to the ego when things go that way.
I got most of what I wanted, and a few surprises, when I accidentally switched to playing “touch it”. It’s taken me this long to figure out it’s Prince’s favourite game, and he looked like a completely horse and was actually excited to be playing! Another wake up call for me – a reminder that even unconfident horses are happy when they’re given something they enjoy and know they can do. Time to start splicing that in at regular intervals perhaps, to take his mind off the activities he finds more stressful.
All in all, the learning curve continues to be steep, and I feel like the horses are as usual teaching me more about myself than I am able to help them. Times like these, I wonder if I’ll ever feel like I’ve got a handle on it all…