I know, I know, the actual “winter” hasn’t even started yet (3 more weeks to go to hit the official debut). But the long nights and the low temperatures are there, for sure. Living pastured 24/7, Dandy has put his wooly (not very long at all, though) coat on, and has the occasional bit of mud stuck on here and there. Last week end I only had one opportunity to visit him, and I was so exhausted by my new internship (in a luxury wallets manufacture), that I didn’t even feel good enough to ride. But I made a committment to visit my colt every week, and so I did spend about an hour with him, right in his paddock. I brushed him at liberty, which he stood perfectly still for, and did some elementary groundwork with him, that he completed quite satisfactorily. I did scare him running when I tried to clumsily climb on him bareback, but he stopped after just two strides, and I practiced jumping up and down at withers’s level a few times and until he was good with it. I’m not nimble enough to jump on without some sort of help to stand on, so that’ll be for some other time, but overall we had some connected and quality time together, and in the end this little session without any pretention turned out to be a pretty darn good one.
Today was a bright and beautiful chilly Friday, and I was off from work by mid morning. I grabbed some lunch, jumped into my jeans and boots, and drove eagerly to the stables. I found Dandy merrily surrounded by a bunch of other horses in nearby paddocks, only separated by some electric tape. He seemed to really enjoy the company. I took him out and led him to the arena, where another young colt soon joined us, for some groundwork. Dandy did shoot him a glance or two but seemed pretty unfazed by his presence, which is a very welcome change ! After a few minutes of good, assertive “pre-flight checks”, I took him inside the barn to tack him up (which he stood quietly and feeling apparently secure enough about) then back to the arena for some further lungeing. Once I was satisfied he had no silliness in mind (it was 3 °C mind you, and some horses, including my previous boy Joli, can get quite broncy about lower temperatures), I parrallel parked him to the fence, and got on from there (he does that beautifully).
I sat there, peaceful and still, right next to the fence, asking nothing, petting on him and exuding quietness as much as possible. Then I clucked, squeezed, and off he went, smoothly, with no hesitation, with his nose to the ground. We walked, jogged, and loped over the arena, on a totally lose rein, in both directions. He still needs a little prodding to travel to the left, but once set to the direction, doesn’t seem to feel any physical discomfort anymore. The only thing I can say against him right now is that he’s sloooww. But his lack of forward has totally lost the bowing, sulling up quality it had before, when it felt like resistance. Now it’s just the unfit drag of a lazy colt that is severely lacking training and a healthy work routine. He’s fat and used to sitting in a paddock 6 days a week, so really, why would he want to move much ? There is also the stubborn tendency to travel to the inside of the arena, with some concern to the outter areas (the rail and about two meters in), but an energic enough use of inner leg and rein will bend his ribcage and push him outwards without a fight anymore. Since he was be pretty cooperative, I decided that deserved a reward, and after some less than tidy gate opening, we walked outside and headed for the trail.
We didn’t head there *fast*. It had been literally weeks (probably a couple of months, actually) he hadn’t been outside, so he was a little like a young colt on his first outdoor ride. There was a lot of slowing and freezing involved. But there was no concrete, giraffe neck and bulging eyes, when he was usure about something he’d just stop, and I’d pet on him, run my fingers through his mane, pat him rump, and make silly noises, for a few seconds, until he’d get tired of staring at whatever he stared at, after which I’d squeeze until he took one step, and released. How many times did he get unsure during our (roughly) one half hour ride ? I don’t know, maybe 8, maybe 12, but there was zero 180° “let’s-get-the-hell-outta-here” blind move, zero rushing, zero jumping out of his skin. We went by an abandonned piece of fabric (tarp, sack ?) curled and crumpled to the ground, and that needed investigating. I love the fact that he stops, looks at whatever, and goes forward to check it out, in a much more secure way he ever did. A few meters later it was a small piece of blueish plastic bag half buried in the path, wich elicited the exact same thorough but well controlled reaction. Along the way we passed empty pastures with open gates. Curiosity kicked in and I allowed him to enter and frolic around, preferably at the trot or lope, if the ground allowed it. Sometimes it was only a few seconds, and handful of strides, but it reminded me of Buck Brannaman’s words “if you feel what I’m talking about, you’ll start hunting it, you’ll want that more than to eat”. Loping comfortably around on a totally lose rein, on a totally relaxed and open minded colt you’ve started from scratch, dang, it just feels amazing. On the way back, we were greeted by the farm dogs, one of which tried to intimidate us, and it took about one or two minutes for Dandy to muster the courage to confront the dog and move towards it, but once he did, he conquered his fear (and the dog, who’s very much a bullying act, with no genuine gut) beautifully, and after more gate wrangling (still very untidy, albeit efficient) we were back inside the arena. I demanded some trot, a stop, back-up, and I praised him and hopped off. He looked like this :
Not too impacted by the cold, my says 😉
“Let’s make a selfie”, I said. Look at that quiet, kind eye.
I love this horse. What can I say ? I do. And now I can chose to work with him again on Saturday, or only on Sunday if I chose. Now I have the whole beautiful week-end to chill and enjoy my horse at leasure. Life is good.
And that’s the ritual picture
Some tail growth, at last.