Friday, 10 June 2011

Pushing the edges of confidence

At the bottom of our fields is a beach. It's half a mile of golden sand and there's rarely anyone on it. For a few weeks now I've been looking at it and thinking that I really should start riding on it, but I've wimped out every single time.

Tuesday it rained, so I didn't ride. Wednesday was gorgeous, but I was off into town to visit the waxing salon and let's just say that certain bits of me were too sensitive to even THINK about riding! Thursday I just plain wimped out to the point where I spent the afternoon in my pyjamas on the sofa eating chocolate and shivering.

So when the sun beamed down on me this morning I got my gung-ho head on and after giving Merlin an hour to digest his very tiny breakfast of a handful of soaked beet and a tennis-ball sized handful of chaff, I went down to the field to catch him.

He clocked the jods and boots and had other ideas. Five minutes of unscheduled loose schooling later he decided that cantering round the field was harder work than being caught and let me stick his headcollar on in return for a bit of carrot. He perked up when we didn't take our normal route to the school next door but went through the back garden, through the gate separating our house from the croft on the other side (before we had our own drive, the only access to our house was down their driveway and we still have a right of way) and then down through the fields to the gate at the bottom.

He'd behaved extremely well up to that point, but while I was re-tying the gate he gave me a massive head-butt, my arm jerked and I got a really deep scratch on my finger from the barbed wire strands wrapped round the gatepost. Bleeding quite hard, I led him down the quad tracks to the seat made out of a plank nailed to two old buoys I was going to use as a mounting block. And he was a prat. Swung out, wouldn't stand near it, stepped over it, turned his back on it, tried to graze round it - I had my schooling whip with me and even tapping him over wasn't working. Eventually he got close enough for me to give it a go and I hopped on.

Before I had a chance to pick up my reins, he turned round and power-walked off in the direction we'd come from, away from the beach. I got him to halt, but when I tried to turn him back round he stuck his head in the air, napped and then carried on in the opposite direction to the one I wanted to go in. So I thought I'd go with it, carried on riding him up the path by the stream and for a minute or so it was all quite relaxed until he realised he'd missed the quad tracks and had gone past the field. He stopped and spun, leaving me hanging out sideways with my head far closer to his knees than his ears and about 50:50 odds between being able to get back into the saddle or sliding in an inelegant heap to the ground.

Managed to sit back up (yay!) and as soon as he felt me get my balance back he trotted back down the path. I got him to walk and to stay on the path rather than cutting straight across the meadow as it's riddled with rabbit holes. He spotted the quad tracks from this direction and headed up them. I made him stop and got him to turn. He battled me and turned back again and we yo-yo'd up and down the path with his stride getting shorter and shorter and his head going ever more skywards until he grabbed hold of his bit and essentially ran away with me in walk - VERY embarrassing!

He stood at the gate looking round at me with the smuggest expression on his face and 'what are you going to do about THAT?' ears. If I'd been the confident rider I was years ago, I'd have hauled him round, given him a smack and booted him all the way back down the path to the beach. As my brain was going OhShitOhShitOhShit, all I managed to do was turn him round again and make him walk a few steps away from the gate before jumping off.

At this point he thought he'd won. Nope. The reins went over his head and we did the hack I'd intended to do on horseback in hand instead. He was marched round the beach for 20 minutes and then marched back up the hill, past his field (I'd got angry by this point!) and straight into the neighbours' school. The look on his face was a picture!

He wasn't too much of a pain with the mounting block and I told myself if I rode two circuits on each rein, in walk, that would be enough to settle my nerves and my brain would remember it as finishing on a good experience. And guess what? He was as good as gold.

So, lessons to be learnt from today? Well, I think I tried to take too big a step. I should have tried hacking him around the top two fields rather than going straight to the beach - if he'd napped there, which he probably would have, I'd have been happier giving him a boot because there was only about an acre and a bit of space for him to bugger about in rather than half a mile of open sand and my neighbour was doing her garden so was within earshot if anything disasterous happened. But even three months ago I would have jumped off straight after the spin rather than carrying on trying to sort the issue and I certainly wouldn't have got back on in the school. I'd have left it, cried my eyes out and probably not ridden again for another six months. So there are definite improvements, I just have to remember not to try and canter before I can walk, as it were.


  1. He sounds a character. Well done for sticking with it today. And you should carry on. Baby steps, lots of baby steps. And cut his feed down! :)

  2. There's barely any feed to cut! He gets one handful (and I have TINY hands) of sugar beet pellets, soaked, to have his garlic in and that's it.