Last week I gave myself a good talking to and told myself that I was going to stop being a wimp and get on with it. The grass is coming through, Merlin is getting podgy and I either had to start exercising him or put him on strip grazing. Neither option was going to make him particularly happy with me, but I took up running so I could carry on eating cake and I decided to take the same approach with my horse. This week we've done the following:
Thursday 12th May
Rode. For a very low value of 'rode'. One of the things we've been having major problems with is steering; he's learnt that if he sets his neck and opens his mouth he can choose what direction he goes in and there's not a lot I can do about it. The bridle he came with has a loop for a flash strap and I've seen photos of him being ridden in Hungary in a flash, so I bought a strap last time I was in Inverness and this was the first time I'd tried him in it.
Tacked up, led him up to the school (my VERY lovely neighbours knocked a hole in the wall between our fields so I could get through to their manege easily) and took 10 minutes to get him lined up with the mounting block. I led him up to it, jumped on the lowest step as his head came level with it, he stopped and when I asked him to step forwards, he swung his quarters out so he was facing me. I hopped off the block, asked him to step over and he moved on, past the block. Eventually we got it right, so lots of praise once I was on board, especially because he stood still while I tightened the girth.
And then, a miracle! Nearly a whole circuit in walk without any arguement about direction! Then we got back to the mounting block, he decided it needed a Hard Stare and stopped dead while he looked at it. After that it was really tough to get him going again and then he started arguing about direction again - even though he couldn't open his mouth, he could still walk round like a giraffe with his head bent in the direction he wanted to go. So the flash might have initially helped the steering, but I also gained a handbrake and reverse gear!
In the middle of it, I got about 60 seconds of really nice walk - he mouthed his bit (he's in a French link snaffle), stretched down and started to swing through from behind. Then something caught his eye in the valley and he went back to doing giraffe impressions again.
Friday 13th May
We went for an in-hand wander around the village. Merlin is unshod and his feet are great, but he's not used to roadwork and the farrier had suggested that five minutes on the road every so often would help him harden them even further. Just over the road from us is part of the village common grazings, a steep hill which has the young sheep on it in winter. At this time of year it's empty, so we mooched over and walked straight up it on the grass rather than taking the stonier track. I don't know who was breathing harder at the top, him or me! Eventually I'll be hacking him up here, but a) I didn't want to ask him to do it with 10 stone of me on top and b) I've been told he's not brilliant at hacking out alone.
We went across the top of the hill and back down through a different gap between two croft houses, past the Grazings Clerk's cows. There's a cow in there with last year's and this year's calves, the calves came cantering over to the fence to see what was coming past and over-protective mum saw a possible threat and came charging over after them. Merlin grew about a hand and did a bit of piaffe - we were so close to the fence that he probably couldn't see it was there - but went past them after having a good look.
Back home down the village road, which surprised a few people. They're used to seeing me running or sometimes walking the dogs, but a horse on a rope is something new!
Saturday 14th May
Day off. Had a nice half hour with him in his field shelter just scratching up and down the roots of his mane while he went gooey.
Sunday 15th May
I was planning to ride today, but two bars of chocolate and a bag of Kettle chips tells me that it's PMT time and after an unfortunate experience last year I don't ride when I'm hormonal - it's better for both of us. Lunging, however, I can cope with, so I put his bridle on (minus the flash strap, that's gone back in the odds and sods box) and because Mick had lit the incinerator, decided to lunge him in the field.
Bit of history here. We first tried lunging him when he was on loan and he only had two speeds - stopped if the lunge whip was on the ground or flat out wall of death if it was pointed in his direction. His owner told me that he was scared of whips, so I carried the lunge whip with me the following morning when I went to feed him and he didn't bat an eyelid. I rubbed it all over him. Not a flicker. Back in the school - wall of death. The most I'd ever got out of him in the past was half a cirle of walk, but someone on HHO (Horse & Hound Online) suggested going back to basics and lunging and long-reining, so we need to get it cracked.
We had the expected warp-speed take off and by the time he'd come back to a stop I was so dizzy that I swapped reins straight away. Amazingly I got walk from the off, calmly, obediently, for two whole circles. Lots of praise and then stop for a bit of carrot for being such a good boy :o) Tried it back on the other rein - disaster. He kept coming to stand in front of me with a slightly confused expression on his face and nothing would persuade him that he needed to be away from me and side on, so I took him up to the school, despite the incinerator, to see if having the fence there would help.
Nope. Totally non-plussed horse. After about 10 minutes of trying to communicate what I wanted him to do without success, Mick appeared at the back door and I commandered his help. He came over and led Merlin round, letting him walk on his own for a few steps and then taking the reins again when Merlin tried to turn in. Two circuits, lots of praise and a carrot and then back onto the left rein for another couple of circuits under his own steam before we called it a day.