Ben and Rosie continue at Sandra’s for this reason:
We are building an extension to our house and how thankful I am to have Sandra’s place and a group of four equines who form a very nice herd together. I have been going regularly to Sandra’s and have felt surprised that Ben has continuously come to meet me when I come only bearing a headcollar and never a bucket.
This morning, Sandra was away and I wanted to use the opportunity to connect with a Ben whom I have felt to be growing in pride and also dominance as he enjoys his status as man among women. On our hacks with Sandra I have felt him less responsive to me and (naturally) very tuned to Cassie. He expresses this by trying either to tuck in behind her so that he can herd her from behind or by taking the lead and crowding her to the side of the road. My task has been to constantly ask him to walk beside her. He accepts this well, but if my awareness slips at any stage he is right back to herding Cassie again.
So I left his tack by Sandra’s arena and went to the field to catch Ben. I was on my own and wondered how the herd as a group would accept this. They had a good eight acres in which to escape me.
Minnie and Cassie saw me and cantered up, Minnie leading, to stop abruptly about twenty metres away. Minnie, in front, turned sideways on, tail like a flag, head tossing, this mainly thoroughbred mare with a weak leg piaffing before me. Then, staying there, she turned her back on me.
The message could not have been clearer. If I had been in a school playground Minnie would have been the girl who comes to confront the newcomer, followed closely by her best friend: “we don’t want you here”. I think of a lion who, apparently, can walk through a field of grazing horses without disturbing them when he is not hunting and will send them running when he is. I am perceived here as the hunter intent on hunting.
Ben is in a further field, I can just make out his back, head down, seemingly oblivious to these mares’ performances. Rosie is in this field, over to the side, keeping her head down. As I think of her, she looks up. “What do I do here Rosie?” I ask silently. She puts her head down again.
I take my cue from Rosie. “Do not disturb.” I stay quiet and look at Minnie. She faces me and her head lowers slightly. I remain silent. Summer is passing already. There is a blueish haze over the fields and the trees. A swallow swoops nearby. Minnie puts her head down to eat grass as does Cassie. They stay in the same spot.
I quietly walk in a wide arc around them, keeping to that twenty metre bubble that Minnie seems to have imposed. They remain grazing. Ben looks up. I cross the gap into the next field and he takes a few steps towards me. Headcollar on, we walk back, past Minnie and Cassie. They do not look up.
Ben follows willingly until we are close to the gate when he stops. A touch on the girth and he continues but is clearly reluctant to leave his herd. In the arena he can hear them but not see them. Loose there, he wants to stay by the gate with his head up. I move him away. He does not want this. Time for some groundwork. I ask him to move and stay away from the gate. I get bucks, heels, head tossing. I need to up my energy without getting cross, which can often be a challenge for me. There is a pole on the ground. I strike it hard with my schooling whip. My energy has come up and I have stayed calm. Ben responds. He turns to me, his head lowers, his eye softens.
I put on the sidepull bitless bridle and do some in-hand work. Ben is responsive, but in breaks, looks towards the field. I put the saddle on and mount. Instantly Ben’s back comes up. I feel myself freeze and I get this (revealing) panicky thought that I do not have a bit. I name this, aloud, to Ben and myself and this calms me. Relaxing my seat, I put my legs on, giving Ben the reins and as we move off, he stretches and sighs. When we stop, he looks up again. I keep him moving and, to my surprise I must confess, get beautiful self-carriage when I ask Ben to bend around my inside leg. I would have said he was coming into the contact of the bit, only there was no bit. I am very pleased with this sidepull.
After a while, when Ben is soft and relaxed, I dismount. As I lead him back to the field I prepare myself to be assertive with him as he tries to rush in front. He doesn’t. He stays softly behind me. All three mares crowd the gate to welcome him back. Ben stays with me for a while. Then he greets Minnie and Cassie in turn and moves off before turning back again and taking a few steps towards me. We look at each other, he lowers his head, sighs and goes away again, pushing Rosie in front of him, drawing Cassie and Minnie behind, back with his herd once more.
Today was a lesson for me in equanimity – maintaining my calm centre while faced with turbulence without and within, finding a place from where I could diffuse suspicion, claim the attention of a horse who was both dominant and anxious and allow my own anxiety to pass through me.