For one reason and another, Prince and I hadn’t worked together for almost two weeks. When I arrived at the yard last week, I almost cried with joy: there were no puddles in the lane; the passage between the lane and the yard was no longer a thick and muddy mess; the field was even starting to look… dry. January was full of hope for me: there’s no arena at the yard, so the horses have had the winter off from ridden work (non-ridden therapy sessions for clients continue, and I’ve been doing ground work with Prince), and they’ve lived out together in a ten acre field. But things looked good in January – it had been a very dry winter, the field was looking great… and then February happened. February felt like April, meaning that I could probably count the non-rainy days on the fingers of one hand. We’ve still been fairly lucky – there were few days where all I’ve done is stare at a sheet of rain, but it’s been more than enough to completely soak our clay-based fields, and got me thinking that I’d be lucky to saddle up before the end of April, when I’d been hoping to ride in March.
So to see no puddles and far less mud (and that when I did walk on the mud, I didn’t sink into it, that it’s started to solidify)… I almost threw myself face down onto the field to sob in joy. But I restrained myself. Instead, I fed the horses and set to work.
Thursday was a weird day: it’s normally a busy one full of therapy sessions, but the good weather meant less moving around in order to work indoors, so my assistance wasn’t as vital. Plus we had an additional volunteer on hand for the day. So I was able to get some time in with Prince. I decided that the best thing to do was still work him in the already-torn up ten acre, rather than the nicely drying paddocks, so I collected my kit and headed out for business as usual.
As it had been a while, I decided to start with him on a 12-foot line… big mistake – it’s definitely spring! Prince is a heavy cob and almost wrenched my arm from it’s socket with his enthusiasm, so I quickly took advantage of what he was offering me and swapped to the 22-foot line, as I like my arms attached to my body. Whereas I can sometimes struggle to get him to volunteer a trot, he was giving me big canters – and the odd cheeky buck – so I was kept on my toes (good job they weren’t sunk into the mud!).
Prince feeling the effects of spring grass was nice enough, but what really surprised me after a two week break was how he reacted when he got stuck. In order to establish his trust in me, we mainly stick to one game, and during the last few times I’ve played it outdoors with him on the long line, he’s gone for a certain length of time before getting stuck. My friend refers to it as him being out on the edge of a cliff, and he’s waiting to see if I’ll throw him over it or let him come back to me. Of course, I always do the latter: it’s almost as if he’s a computer who suddenly gets overloaded and has to process a few things before he remembers that we’re attached, looks to me for an instruction and listens to me again, rather than being stuck inside his own head.
Previously, he’s stood on the edge of the cliff for a good few minutes before giving me an ear or dropping his head, taking a breath and appearing ready to move on. Last week, I don’t think he was even stood for 30 seconds, before his ear flicked round, I pointed and he contentedly walked off. So it took him far less time to recover, and a much softer signal to the one I usually have to give. And it happened twice. Had it happened once without a witness, I probably wouldn’t have believed it happened at all, but as it is, I’m really pleased with his progress.
What with the weather improving and Prince having more confidence in me – and me also having a little more in myself – it feels like a matter of time before the saddle will get dusted off and we’ll have a whole load of other challenges to work through. If anyone needs me, I’ll be Googling for rituals to bring on the fair weather.