One of the most fascinating things about training horses is the amazing variety of their personalities. Even on the very basic level with which I communicate with and get to know them, it’s evident that horses have unique mannerisms and quirks and ways of thinking, fears and likes and dislikes, everything that makes up a real personality.
There are billions, trillions of animals in the world, and all those I’ve come in contact with have their own personalities, beautifully and delicately crafted by the Hand of God. Isn’t it stunning?
My Horde are all very different. Skye, spirited, brave, and with a will of her own; Arwen, gentle, reliable, and lazy; Thunder, patient, quiet, and loyal; Secret, smart, adventurous and dependable; Dancer, clever, spirited, and unpredictable. This last – the unpredictable – is what makes me tear my hair out over this beautiful lunatic.
She’s been a lot better with lungeing lately. It’s been about ten months since I started lungeing her, but never more than once a week because she’s so young, and depending on the disrepair of the lungeing ring, she sometimes went for weeks or months without being lunged. Now that she’s nearly two, her education needs to get a move on, so when she moved down to live in the mare paddock, I started lungeing her weekly. There’s no ring, but she quickly understood what she had to do and did it.
Dancer can be an absolute dream to lunge. She’s super responsive, so there’s none of the whip-waving that Thunder needs, and she’s amazingly supple, able to canter effortlessly on whichever lead she wants. If only she wasn’t such a brat she’d be pretty perfect.
The bad part about not having a lungeing ring is that whenever she feels like it Dancer can rip the lunge rein out of my hands and take off like a rocket. It took me a few tries and a lot of tagging after a snickering filly (in many ways, she’s just like her older sister Siobhan) before I figured out that if I can just keep her head up she doesn’t put it down between her forelegs, spin around and gallop off. Every time the head nodded down, I snapped the lunge rein, the head went back up, all was hunky dory.
But Dancer is way, way too smart for her own good and this morning she outwitted me. Her tantrums stopped coming with the early warning signal; head up and all, she’d spin and bolt back to the other horses, scaring the living daylights out of them (though I got the idea Skye quite enjoyed galloping about and prancing) and leaving me to tag along after her. She was playing a big game with me; she would gallop back to the top of the paddock, turn around and wait patiently for me to come and catch her, then happily follow me back into the unfenced arena and repeat her performance while I trailed after her with an increasing feeling of deja vu. Dancer’s older sister, Siobhan, has almost exactly the same temperament: way too smart and with a mischievous streak a mile wide, and she pulled the same trick, although in a lungeing ring so she didn’t get far (and aimed two-hoofed kicks to voice her displeasure).
I’m banging my head on my desk because I just know there’s a solution for this problem and I’m probably repeatedly walking into it without actually seeing it. (I’m good at that sort of thing). This is why I need an instructor as patient as a monolith; the Horse Mutterer fits the bill and will be called in on Wednesday to help with this crazy horse before she chafes my riding gloves all the way through.
As if to make up for her demon of a daughter, Arwen was a little star this morning. Arwen’s greatest vice is her extreme laziness and her tendency to unhinge on outrides; once you get through that she’s rather a gem. She demonstrated this vividly on Thursday during my lesson when, displaying the quiet courage she has when she can be persuaded to use it, she cleared a 1.1m wall built out of tyres. This was not much thanks to me; I kicked her right up to the jump, yelling “Go for it, Arwie, go for it!” and then grabbed the mane and tried to keep out of her way and not pass out. The best I can say for my riding is that I didn’t pull back on the reins (I was clinging to the mane too tightly for that), but Arwen made a magnificent effort and cleared the jump. She took a stride of canter and then dropped back to a goofy riding-school-pony trot, but I was screaming “THAT WAS AWESOME!” and couldn’t care less. The Mutterer was trying not to laugh and Arwen was trying to convince herself that she was not going to have a heart attack. She didn’t have a single stop for the entire lesson and I was extremely proud of her. She has a big heart and a big jump when she feels like showing it.
Today was flatwork day and we pottered around in the arena practicing transitions and getting the correct leg in front. Getting Arwen from walk into trot, and to a lesser degree from trot into canter, isn’t as hard as it used to be but I still flap my legs around a lot, which isn’t pleasant for either of us. Using the I-should-only-ever-ask-once theory (ask once and then discipline), which works very well for Arwen, we achieved a significant improvement in the end. She’s pretty good with walking on with the correct leg, provided she’s awake and we’re both concentrating. Her canter is miles better; she has a stupid little trick of cantering with the forelegs and trotting with the hindlegs, but she didn’t pull that one today and stayed in a proper, consistent canter, which I’m very pleased about. In terms of cantering figures of eight she seemed to use the correct leading leg if I gave her a few strides’ trot before changing direction.
The vet saw her and Skye on Friday because Arwen was having her flu injection and Skye has had a niggling lameness for the past month. It comes and goes persistently and the Mutterer can’t find anything wrong with her, so I was starting to really worry. Our vet, Dr. Louis, is not a horse vet but does know his stuff. He felt her over, closely inspected her hooves, watched her trot up (she wasn’t very obliging; Skye is bored of trotting up and down for people to stare at her legs, she thinks it’s desperately dull and pointless), and said that he couldn’t find anything wrong and that her lameness was very slight. I’m to keep riding her to see if she can’t exercise it away – she’s in no pain, as she demonstrated by galloping a crazy lap around the paddock once I’d let her go – and with her daily massage and carrot stretches (which she loves), plus of course a lot of prayer, hopefully the lameness will clear up. This morning when she was trotting around in mock horror at Dancer, her head wasn’t nodding at all; in fact she was going beautifully with her neck arched like a stallion’s, tail up and hooves flung high. She is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
This afternoon Rain and I took Skye and Arwen out for a ride; Rain on Arwen and me perched happily on my beloved Skye. She’s still a bit lame in her left foreleg, but it doesn’t seem to be very painful as the more I witter on about “take it easy, take it easy” the faster she trots. We paused under a willow tree to read a bit of Bible and let the horses graze; our verse today was one of my favourites – Luke 6:27-31.
Then we hopped back onto our steeds and headed off. And there the trouble started. Arwen, having had a few days off while I got over a cold, and perhaps a little too fizzy on her crushed maize, bucked like a bronc. Rain did her usual performance; screamed at the top of her lungs, swore extremely profusely, and stuck on like a burr. I can’t bear to see anything happen to my li’l sis, so we swapped horses.
Skye has something very special inside her. Like Arwen, she’d had several days off and was pretty fired up. The moment Rain got on, she began to prance. Head tucked in, tail swept high, she danced from leg to golden leg, eyes shining, neck a glittering curve of muscle. But the reins hung slack between Rain’s hands and her foaming jaws; she danced at a walking pace, all that life and lightning contained. Rain instantly began to smile, then to laugh, then to stroke Skye’s neck over and over, whispering, “Thank you, Skye, thank you.”
Thank You, God, thank You, for this amazing, amazing horse.
Arwen was being silly. She spooked, bucked, and shied foolishly at nothing while I hung on and tried not to be nervous, for Rain’s sake. She was very silly with outrides when I started riding her two years ago and since then she improved phenomenally, to the point where she’s usually perfectly safe and quiet, but occasionally something – too much rest, too much feed, or just her mood – sets her off and she starts with the old performances, shying and bucking. Thankfully the napping/jibbing/whatever the proper term is has disappeared without a trace, but she can still be foolish. My best bet is usually to ride it out and not sympathise because the moment I sympathise she starts to think that there really is something to be afraid of and the problems triple.
Skye, meanwhile, was in her element; dancing and snorting all over the place and making that wonderful little grunting noise in her throat when we reached the uphill where she likes to run. Nervous Rain beamed from ear to ear, given courage, as I always am, by the beautiful horse.
There’s something very special inside her. God put it there. God loves her.
God loves us all.