I’m beginning to settle into my new working/horsey balance pattern. There’s still going to be some adjusting along the way, but last week saw a bit of a golden opportunity: I would spend both Monday and Saturday at the yard, and I should’ve had enough time to work with and ride Prince on both days. Should being the operative word.
As it happened, time wasn’t the issue: we spent most of Monday entertaining some guests – employees of the local council who make lots of referrals to us, and came to have a kind of experience day. We showed them directly what the kids they refer to us get to do, by running some sessions for them. There were also cookies and cups of tea and lots of questions, all of which was good practice for the coming week (our open days are finally happening!) as we had to be “on” all the time, fielding questions about what we do, how we do it and the impact it has.
Once the goodbyes had been said and the morning declared a success, it was time for Prince to do some real work (having spent an hour conning a group of people into picking him the juiciest grass from the other side of the fence and hand-feeding it to him). By this point, there was a sideways wind and he wasn’t really in the mood to work, having been in the company for a very extroverted group all morning. Nor was I, if I’m honest, with a couple of distractions playing on my mind. But I set to it anyway, grooming him and tacking up to ride.
I realised not long into our ground work session that riding wasn’t a good idea. Prince gave me a lot of attitude, wasn’t really concentrating and didn’t seem capable of achieving much. So I got to a place where we’d done something good, then gave up for the day. I was pretty despondent – handling my emotions is something I’m not great at, especially when I’ve got a goal which I don’t think is going to be reached. As the play day gets closer, I’ve had far less saddle time than I’d like (I know that’s always the way, but I haven’t really ridden at all, rather than it being a case of getting only three hours of riding a week when my ideal would be six or eight). When I went home on Monday, I felt pretty hopeless.
I had four days away to try and get myself together, but although Saturday dawned sunny and warm, I still wasn’t feeling any more positive. But my day started with a surprise: I had to move Bella, alpha mare of the little herd, to another paddock. Over the winter, she was easy to handle (because she was cold and knew that humans = helpers); throughout the spring, she has become progressively awkward to catch, as her owner’s pregnancy has advanced and she’s not receiving the attention that she thinks she should be. As an extroverted horse, she’s basically a bit bored, so I played the catching game with her.
Bella and I did a dance around the field, but it wasn’t Bella leading me in a game of chase, it was me saying, “okay, let’s play”. I had to go a little carefully, as she’s (we suspect) torn a muscle in a hind leg and has limited her mobility a little at the moment, but there was more than enough movement for a quick game. As we made our way across the paddock, we reached Prince’s favourite spot – small tree stump, which Prince itches on but all of the horses can use as a podium. Bella was on one side of it, I was on the other, so I backed away and beckoned her towards me. It’s plenty small enough for her to step over, and she had the option to go safely around either side of it… but she chose to step up onto it with her front feet. I almost fell over in shock. I’ve done no real liberty work on my horsemanship journey so far, and here I was with an injured alpha mare offering me a big touchdown. I stood and gawped for a few seconds, praising Bella verbally, before gently stepping into her space and scratching her neck as she stood on the log. There was just enough time for me to step back and snap a couple of quick pictures before she got down, stood quietly behind the log and waited whilst I went and haltered her.
One satisfied horse gave me a confidence boost, and when it came time to work with Prince a couple of hours later, the weather was calm and sunny, I was in a good mood and we were ready to go. I plaited him up again (my skills in that area are definitely improving!) and away we went. I played a quick variety of games, trying to get him focused, particularly on picking his front feet up and being aware of where they are – he trips a bit at the moment, even though he’s sound and his tack fits, it seems to be a concentration issue, so I tried my best to get him switched on.
Happy that he was ready to go, I swapped his halter for a bridle and hopped on. My previous ride a few weeks earlier had involved him expressing some quite serious opinions on going round corners (we were only able to do so sideways at a walk – not ideal), but I focused on where we were at and moved off. He was a bit wobbly in that he finds maintaining straightness hard (which is due to all sorts of things: not being ride-fit, being inexperienced under saddle, and being ridden in a different paddock to where he normally is), because again, it involves concentrating, but I decided to forgive him the wonky lines and focus on just getting forwards – we have the rest of our lives to ride spirit level lines if we want to, I just wanted to get closer to a point where we might be able to leave the yard and go on a hack one day!
from the way this was captured, in my head this looks like we’re doing a piaffe… maybe one day!
Having walked around for a while, checking steering and brakes, I nudged Prince into a trot and found him much more willing than before. I continued to focus on transitions, forwards and gentle steering and, eventually, we cornered at a trot! See below for triumphant video:
Please excuse my hideously out of practice riding, and Prince’s aforementioned wobbly form. It’s a work in progress, but that’s now the key word: progress was again made. I’ve got everything crossed that I’ll ride at the play day in a month, but I’m trying not to hold my breath…
look at his beautiful swishy feathers!
and we can do backup too!
Oh, and the other thing? I realised whilst I was riding that when I checked my Timehop app on Saturday morning, a photo had appeared from a year ago of me riding another 15hh black horse… on a different continent, in a different type of saddle and of a completely different build, but either way – two years, two 15hh Black Beauties. It’s funny how life works out!
on the left: Murray in the US, 2014; on the right: Prince in the UK, 2015. Spot the difference!