My calm horse is back!
Or perhaps I am back…
I hadn’t realised how agitated I’d gotten by the end of August. With the summer pony camps at volunteering and the conference in corsetry world (which I didn’t attend this year, but which means meeting up with all the international friends who are visiting the country for it), and visiting home, and visiting friends, and trying to fit in loads of time with John before his trip to Nashville, and with Amanda before she moved away, and so on and so on, I hadn’t had a single solitary day to myself. Not a proper one. I pushed through because I love all those people and had to make use of the chance to see them, but my goodness, I don’t do well if I don’t have regular time to quietly recharge.
I hadn’t realised I was as wound up as I was. But bopping Skye on the nose for “playing up” when anxious was out of character enough to give me pause last week. It stopped her in that moment, but it didn’t help overall. And so when I was pondering over the weekend, “how come Skye is taking longer to settle to work here than she did in the last place?” the only out-of-the-ordinary aspect I could think of was my mood.
She’s shown me before that she’s more perceptive of my moods than I am myself. And I mean I’m talking only a very subtle agitation, nothing that other human beings had picked up and not something that I was fully conscious of at first. And so these past two days when I’ve been feeling much more peaceful, she’s magically begun to calm down too. We know it about horses, that they respond to your energy, but sometimes I’m still surprised by how subtle that can really be.
Anyway, I’m thrilled, and fingers crossed it continues.
On Wednesday, she made a half-hearted attempt at not being caught. Clicked and gave her her treat, but I’d taken my bridle instead of headcollar/rope and when I went to put the reins over her head she swung away. I gently got a bit of mane at the withers, gave my halt cue a lot, and followed her until she stopped moving. Bridled okay, then planted her feet about leaving the field. Told my friend to go on without me, that this wasn’t a discussion horse and I needed to have today, if she felt that strongly about it, and did some target training in the field instead.
I’ve realised that I think I need a target on a stick. I’ve been just using hand-held objects (yesterday was a dandy brush) and I think the reason she’s finding targeting a bit over-stimulating is that she isn’t really seeing the difference between something close to my hand and my hand itself. I’ll need to target something at a distance from my hand/body, if I’m going to preserve her good manners around food.
After a while going between that and general stroking/grooming, I noticed a flap of skin on her left fore coronet band. Because of the texture of the flesh there it looked a bit alarming, but I’ve been told to treat it like any other cut and by yesterday it had already sealed over. Anyway, I decided that we really should go up to the “yard” to see if my friend had any antiseptic spray (I need to add to my horsey kit), so we did need to have the sticky feet conversation in the end. Horse reluctant, but relented eventually.
I’m having a conversation in my own head about obedience versus autonomy. I think it’s to do with thresholds. I want her to share her opinions and, more importantly, I want to be worth sharing opinions with. No point her telling me stuff if I always override it anyway. But we need to have some basic “obedience” (for want of a better word), incase of emergency or general healthcare. So I’d say it’s about choosing your moments. I want to be fair in what I ask so that when I insist the horse says, “I mean, I’m not sure, but if you say so…”
Anyway, she was distracted on the yard and kept spinning around to face the herd on the walk up, but far less anxious than she had been the week before. Felt like a step forward.
Then Thursday (yesterday), she was golden. Perfect to catch and bridle (and the only reason for the latter is that I felt she might as well carry a bit if we’re stepping backwards to just walking/halting for relaxation for a while), sticky feet leaving the field but far more obliging about changing her mind this time. An angel to lead to the yard (and oh, bonus points, we had to go a route we’ve never been before, through a very overgrown field with a housing estate on the edge), and though she was a bit agitated once on the yard she settled beautifully for walking in a circle, with halts every so often as a treat/communication opportunity.
I’m sure she’s settled a bit for the simple passage of time but, as I said at the beginning, I reckon my vibe has a lot to do with it as well.
Not only was I feeling peaceful, I also remembered something so basic that I wonder how I ever forgot it…
When in doubt, just walk and breathe.
It does wonders for Skye and despite the usual distractions (one of the colts was over the fence and making very sweet faces at Skye but ooh, she pinned her ears every time we went past him…) she settled perfectly. Felt like the same horse again! Felt like she was “with me” and willing to trust my suggestions. She was so good that we did a load of backing-up uphill too. Challenging, but she really focused on it. Also attempted targeting a cone, which revealed that she really hasn’t understood the concept. Hence needing to try something on the end of a stick. I’ve got an extendable pointer (it actually has a magnet on the end for picking up pins! Seamstress life…), perhaps I should cellotape something colourful to it and a clicker on the other end!
Back to the field, she was golden again. A little bit keen (big walk), but well behaved. Trotted off keenly to her friends, but had stood well enough for unbridling.
I sat under a tree to herd watch for a while. It was made challenging by one of the young fillies coming over to investigate and planting herself directly in front of me. She had a good old sniff and nose and mouth of everything, including the bridle slung over my arm. How much easier horses are before human beings give them a reason not to trust us. The youngsters are a joy.
I need to spend more time herd watching, it’s such a delight. So peaceful.
The other filly, a yellow dun, has a little mouse dun Shetland shadow, which she routinely torments when she feels like playing. The dun filly is one of my favourites in that field, so curious and sweet. She always comes up to you and has a big sniff of your face and breath. Those two stick together like glue. Except every so often when the Shetland tries to boss around one of the bigger horses. Apparently she often gets away with it, but Skye has put her in her place a couple of times.
The big black gypsy mare is quite queen-like. She and Skye seem to be fine with one another, a mutual respect perhaps. But she’ll drive the others in the direction she wants to go often enough.
The others were all just milling about eating. I’d wondered if I’d see Skye make a beeline for any of them in particular. If there was a specific reason she wanted to stay in the field, if she’d adopted one of the youngsters or something (she is quite maternal, horses like her). But I’ve never yet seen her actively seek someone out (except that one time that she galloped after Monty when he ignored her), it’s always the other way around. Yesterday, she didn’t want to go to a particular horse, she just wanted to be in the group.
But oh, here’s a thing, I’m thrilled each time I see Skye do something that she wasn’t doing in her last home. Things that she couldn’t do, because the paddock was just flat grass and clover. Last night, I was delighted to see her pawing at flat thistle plants in order to squish them and rip them up from the ground for more comfortable eating. Clever horse. Varied food! Varied movement! She definitely still needs “work” to help correct her posture and build fitness, but on a landscape like this I feel like the work I do to help her will be maintained far more easily. It’s the difference between having a desk job and being a dog walker. Both of those individuals might go to the gym three times a week, but which one is going to have the best overall health?
Two of the girls had gone for a hack, so walking back to the yard I collected some thistleheads and blackberries for their ponies. Basil not a fan! He mustn’t have a sweet tooth. I’m so pleased for our horses. Aside from Skye’s returned anxiety about work, they’re all thriving for the new environment.