What a busy few days! Am very much in need of a break and some alone time, to recharge my batteries, but I’ve got some friends to see this weekend first. In terms of Skye, the week has gone like this…
Sunday was moving day, as already written. A corsetry friend came to stay that night. We had such a drama… because of trains and a lack of phone battery, she was essentially lost to me for two hours! Walked all around town looking for her. Had covered about 14 miles by the time Sunday was done.
We did a little photoshoot in the morning, which was ace. The sun shone brightly and we used the quirky industrial backdrops of the boatyard. Am looking forward to editing them. Rushed her to the bus station, then saw Skye in the afternoon.
After Moving Day, I had thought, “ah these horses are going to be so happy here that we may struggle to catch them for a week or so…” But no, as easy to walk up to as ever. Basil was stuck to her like glue, with Monty not far behind, and they both came with me as I lead her to a little wooded area in the field. She was distracted by their antics, but very obliging. We went over a fallen branch, up and down small but steep-ish slopes, backwards both on the flat and uphill, and generally explored. The boys kept leaving the woodland then coming back, confused as to why Skye was still there with me, which was a distraction. At one point, I was stood arm’s length from Skye with the lead rope loose between us. Monty barrelled through in a fast walk and when his chest hit the lead rope he paused, then carried on, with a look that said, “I’ll get you free, Skye!” To her absolute credit, she just stepped out of his way as the rope dropped from my hand. He bumbled off and she just stood patiently.
So it was a very good start.
On Tuesday we did much the same routine, but I had my instructor-friend with me, to show her the land. I’d also forgotten to pick up the cavesson and lead rope. Need to get into a routine here. So I used the waistband of my treat-bag as a loose loop around Skye’s neck. Though the boys weren’t quite as stuck to her as the day before they were still keen that she run off with them, and without the better control/communication of a cavesson we did struggle to get any decent work done. But that’s fine, it just shows me all the things I need to improve on.
The friend liked the landscape and all the happy horses, and commented that Skye’s back-up was looking a lot better. She moves in proper diagonal pairs now, with the head a bit lower and the back no longer dropped. It’s hard to tell from right by her side, but it seems that she may overbend her neck slightly, “cheating” on muscular strength by putting some of the work onto the nuchal ligament, but at this stage that’s absolutely fine.
John and the friend also picked wild blackberries to eat and there was this lovely moment where Skye was doing the same in the foreground. I see her eating from varied heights quite often in this field, which is exactly what I’d hoped for. That reaching neck posture, to gently strengthen the longus colli and scalenus.
Even on Tuesday I was starting to feel a bit irritable (I think just because I’ve not had a day to myself in weeks), which isn’t brilliant for the horse. She needs my absolute patience and gratitude, and even if my slight irritability didn’t change anything you’d see on the outside I think it did change my focus and the vibes the horse got from me.
I decided to brave the jumping field today, to explore some new obstacles. She’d walked through it on Moving Day and I knew the others would be coming for their horses soon, so we’d have company. Whilst we had company she was great. A bit quick in her walk across the grass, but then she’s just keen, and with the softer footing she can zoom along. Not so myself, so between the two of us it was a bit messy. In the field she was fine. A little distracted by all the smells and sounds to take in, but not at all worried by anything I asked her in terms of stepping over poles, big tubes, and between cones.
Eventually, the boys and one of our livery-owner’s mares were going out for a mini-hack, and Skye was very upset by this. Whinnied heavily, began spinning around me, oblivious to the fact that I was there to help her. She settled a bit for walking and being given tasks to focus on, but otherwise she was the most unsettled I’ve ever seen her, and that includes the first week I had her.
Once she’d settled, we put her back in the field and she was happy again.
Thursday was likewise mixed in terms of success. We went to the jumping field again. In the distance she could see the colts’ field, and those boys had come up to the fence to look at her and prance around. But she settled to our obstacles quite well. Lots of diving her head to the ground to stress eat though. Then her boys went out for a hack again. She was less outwardly worried this time, but I was helping them at the gate and she did start becoming bargy in a way that was borderline dangerous. Just oblivious to my presence. Got a bop on the nose for that, and you know I’m not one for punishment. I tend to think that 90% of the time you’re better off ignoring the unwanted behaviour than punishing it. And I don’t know if I called it right really. As I say, I was becoming irritable this week, so I’m unsure of my judgement in that moment. But hey ho, it’s done now, and I don’t think it’s hugely affected how the horse thinks of me. And I’m not against a bop on the nose, I just don’t know if that was the best option at that moment.
A few more obstacles after the boys had gone, and that was fine. Oh, I brought the gymnastics mat down! She didn’t mind it at all really. Assumed it was for stepping over rather than on, but I captured/clicked a few moments with her foot on the mat or knocking the mat, so we’ve made a start.
Then back to the field. She was alert but attentive walking back, halted whenever asked (which is just as well, as I can’t walk quickly over that ground yet). But I made a poor decision once in the field. I’d thought I’d lead her over to her new horsey friends, or at least for a few steps, so as to avoid getting into the habit of having her bolt away at the gate. Just to instil some patience. Teaching patience at gates in her old yard had been easy! But no, she couldn’t see her friends from there and all she wanted to do was go. Managed to get the cavesson off, but she was on her toes spinning around me so it wasn’t ideal. Got a tiny moment’s pause before letting her free, so at least she hadn’t fully forgotten there as as a human attached to her. Then off she went, walk to gallop, which settled into a forward canter with whinnying and high tail.
I’m seeing the silver linings though… my horse cantered! In her last field, they didn’t play. There was no-where for horses to disappear from sight, so they never bolted off looking for one another. There wasn’t much to interest or inspire. She had been a runner when in the field with the boys, but once she got moved into a small paddock with two girls it all stopped. Her quarters even got smaller through lack of use. Am so pleased she runs here!
Anyway, I didn’t want bolting off to be the last impression she had of our session, so I went over to find them all near the wooded area. She was grazing with her new friends as quiet as a lamb, and happy for me to go up to stroke her. No hard feelings, just got anxious about being away from them. The entire herd is very friendly and curious, especially the coloured mare and the dun filly, so I hung around for a bit to fuss them. Skye didn’t send them off, but a couple of times she was a bit, “wait, isn’t that my human?” I think this is what she needs, for me to hang out with the herd for a few minutes every so often. Zero pressure, just chilling together.
Whilst there I saw the others take themselves over and around all the natural obstacles of the trees and was pleased. Happy, healthy ponies.
But what I’ve realised is that I’ve actually asked quite a lot of her this week. When I look back to the first week I had her, all we did was walk up and down the yard, and sometimes practice standing for grooming and feet. The constant movement was the best thing really, the only thing that let her calm her mind. As she has moved to the new yard with both myself and two of her favourite horse friends (plus their humans, who she knows quite well), I’ve taken it somewhat for granted that she would settle faster. But no. I need to be more conscious of not stressing her out.
It’s very curious that she’s displaying separation anxiety now though, when she never really did before. I’ve a theory that she’s so happy in the herd that she has a terror of losing it. Like rescue dogs that have been deprived of food who are then aggressive at dinner time. So I’m going to endeavour to ask smaller questions and maybe have a few more days where we use the fallen branch rather than the man-made obstacles of the jumping field. That way she doesn’t have to be taken away from her friends, but we still get the postural exercise and human contact in. Maybe I should use this as another opportunity to practice targeting too. See if it’s still over-stimulating when it’s loose in a field. Take things slow.
I’m so thrilled by the landscape though. The forage, the variety, the gentle inclines and divots in the ground, the grassy bits and dusty bits, the tree roots, the brambles and thistles and the paths through the bushes. Over the last two weeks Skye’s posture had collapsed a bit for lack of work as I’d not been available. But by the end of this week, when I stood next to her she seemed a bit taller and flatter again. Just a bit. And all we’ve done is walk over some raised obstacles and have her live a more natural life.
In the first five days there I’ve seen her do all of the following:
- multiple canters.
- one gallop.
- effortful showing-off trots.
- not so good trots, but at least it’s movement.
- graze uphill, downhill, and on the flat.
- browse varied plants at varied heights.
- communicate fairly with all her new friends.
- babysit the boys, who she loves.
- walk over and through the stream.
- plus the tasks I’ve asked her to do, backing-up on varied terrain and walking over raised obstacles.
Some of the cantering will no doubt calm down as she becomes more settled, but with a mixed herd including some young fillies I reckon they’ll have cause to play every so often.
Oh, it’s just wonderful… If what you want is richly varied sensory input, such as will keep a horse healthy, then you couldn’t ask for much more. And in Birmingham, no less!
She’s now going to have the weekend off as I’ll be visiting friends. Hopefully in that time she’ll mull over this week, get used to seeing her friends come and go, and begin to trust in her good fortune.