Lovely day, yesterday.
Went for a hack-in-hand with a friend and her cob (ridden) to show the way. We ventured further afield! Down the usual lane, then between some scary bollards, down a road, up a drive, along a bridleway, back onto the roads, then back to the bollards and the lane. Skye did great! She’s not bothered by traffic at all really. Likes to have a good look at everything else though, which is where the mild snorting and shying can come from. She gets het up when she can’t take a good look at things, or can’t see stuff well for it being hidden behind hedges.
Going between the bollards, my friend led the way. But as they were waiting for Skye and I to sum up the courage to follow, the cob got himself alarmed and bolted for home! He does cute mini-bolts and gets himself settled again very quickly, but it was quite funny. Skye was alarmed by it, backed up and reared lightly, but got her feet and mind back down to the ground with some gentle words. Then we led the way through the bollards. It involved edging closer, rewarding, patiently standing whilst she took a long look beyond into the distance… Then she just walked through, no bother. What a good horse.
It reminded me of discussing water obstacles with another friend. Frustrated kids being told to just wallop or kick or yank their ponies to get them into the water. And her saying, “you might need to just stand there for a while.” For the more sophisticated species, we’ve often a surprising lack of patience and big-picture thinking, especially with horses.
Skye’s lookiness persisted as we continued down the road. So many things hidden behind hedges, so many suspicious looking gateways! We won’t know until we get there, but you get the impression you’d have an easier time on her back than by her side when out on the roads. Mind you, the clinginess has descreased such a lot over these past two months. Sometimes now, when I’m leading her down the lane, she drifts away from me as her nose curiously reaches out to explore things previously considered scary.
By the time we got to the driveway which leads to the bridleway, Skye had settled and the lookiness had moved from mild anxiety to joyous, open, curiosity. Her walk opened up, her neck relaxed, and she had the happiest expression on her face. The look and walk of a hacking horse on a mission to explore. How pleasing! Fingers crossed for more of that. And once again her halting to cue was 90% perfect. Consistent and reliable. It only really failed towards the end of the trip when I’d instructed John, who had accompanied us and was eating blackberries from the roadside, to share some of the berries with Skye. After that she somewhat switched off from me, having decided John was her new best friend. I got her attention back though.
Another tiny thing we pushed yesterday was reins. I lead her out on her cavesson, but with reins clipped to the sides rather than a leadrope. She couldn’t have cared less. Reins being put over her head and taken back down, fine. Leading from one rein or both, fine. Halting with a bilateral squeeze from behind the withers (ie: a simulation of a ridden rein aid), fine. So that was all good.
After returning the horses to their fields, we went to look at a field for potential 24/7 winter grazing. Ooh, I’m keen… I need to think over a couple of the practicalities and I’ll be staying put for August anyway now, but I’d always said I wanted to keep Skye unstabled if possible and this might be a good option.
You lose some things when you swap to this sort of land. There’s no arena, electric, or plumbed water. There’s some ragwort that they’re hoping to deal with in one of the main paddocks.
But… there is a shed and stable for storage and emergencies… there is a stream which has been tested safe for horses… there are trees and hedges all around, for both shelter and foraging… there are thistles, nettles, blackberries, and so on, lovely rough browsing options, and though there’s a lot of grass it doesn’t look so rich as to be unmanageable… there’s a flatter field for riding and though it’s overgrown it’s big enough that you could have lovely little faux-hacks in there, in fact it’ll be bigger than most of the nearby bridleways… there are plenty of quiet roads for hacking and, if you go for an hour or so, you’d connect up to the areas I currently have access to… I can get there on public transport slightly faster and easier than the current yard… it’s closer to the stables I volunteer at… there’s eleven other horses currently and, aside from the colts, they live as a herd and all seem very healthy and happy… and [drumroll] it isn’t flat! The land is gently undulating.
22 or 23 hours of each day, I don’t see Skye. She grazes a flat paddock and in winter would be doing the same for 12 hours a day then standing still in a box for the other 12. Which is fine. But since my current focus is resetting her posture, I figure anything that will help with that mission is a good thing.
A sand arena, electric, these things are useful for sure, and my current yard is lovely. But for Skye, this winter, she’d benefit more from living in a slightly more “natural” way. Varied terrain, grazing and browsing from varied heights, a younger/larger herd which might encourage more movement/playing, nutritional options other than grass… all of these things equate to a greater variety of challenges to her balance and core stability. All day every day. We’ve done good work together, so far, in improving her posture and relaxation. But how much more effective my small sessions would be if the rest of the time wasn’t spent in poor posture undoing the good work we’ve done? Remember what Sharon May-Davis said about the longus colli and scalenus… Long Slow Distance work. Browsing, moving, varied gradients.
So I need to have a think, but I’m feeling like it would be a good move for the horse.
In the co-op on the way home I was reminded of a thought I’d had a while ago. People often expect better manners of their horses than they actually have themselves. Skye gets bored standing on the yard and often begins taking herself off. Doesn’t see why she shouldn’t. I always just gently bring her back or at most give a small correction. It’s not a fight I’m going to pick. Partly because I do the same! And I know that being shouted at or forced never works for me, I just rebel. We’d gone through the co-op checkout and John was dallying around with something or other. I walked off. I don’t like waiting or standing around. I do it all the time and whilst I know it’s bad manners I don’t care enough to force myself. Sometimes I try to be better and exercise more patience. So whilst both horse and human could stand to learn more patience, I’m not going to curse her for it when I’m no better. Left a Facebook group or two recently as I got bored of people posting about their horses being “bastards” and “shits” just for, well, being horses.