Billie at Camera-Obscura is doing a series of posts on riding, so I thought I would join in, focusing on riding out which is the riding I do here. I ride out because I do not have an arena, only a small picadero and because it is how Ben and I like to ride. I once bought a horse called Rocco who was a young, big, strong draught type who always wanted to turn for home, not out of nervousness (which Mali would do at times) but out of an obviously well-established habit. In the end I sold him on because he was too strong for me. He had a whole repertoire of tricks, which he practised also on better riders than I am and which culminated in rearing. It took me a while to get over Rocco, the feeling that I had failed him in some way and the knowledge that I had to sell him on. I always assumed that a horse with me was a horse for life. But he was young and needed more than living retired here.
Mali used to get nervous sometimes and want to turn for home, but we always worked out between us how to get through these moments and when she relaxed, her stride would lengthen and she would seem to reach this place of trance-like walking and the endorphins flowing from her would flow up through me and at these times we could have gone on forever.
Ben is very different to Mali. But we have not had many rides since Christmas, apart from our rides in company with Sandra and Cassie. But with the longer evenings it has been time to get going again. Our first ride, last week, was on a still, clear day and Ben rode out from the back gate as if there had never been a break. So the next day, I thought about a change of direction, along the main road, between the lake and rising fields, heading towards a quieter road.
Ben met me, popped his head into his headcollar and stood for grooming and tacking up. We turned the other way at the back gate and he strode out down the lane towards the main road. Once on the road the wind rose, blew in from the lake where the sun danced and dazzled, birds called and the fields on the other side rose also, seeming to stir some blood in Ben, memories of hunting maybe and his back came up, he started to hesitate and I asked him to move on, not wanting a confrontation on this main road. We reached the side road and after a while I let Ben eat some grass, thinking he had now relaxed. A curlew called, suddenly, behind us and Ben spun around, heading for home for the first time since I have had him. I turned him back again but he headed backwards as fast as he could go; I broke this with hindquarter yields and when Ben stopped I upped my energy, hitting my stirrup with my stick, using my voice and my posture to urge him on. He trotted on and we kept going until he was walking out relaxed when we turned for home.
This morning, I headed out again. But Ben at the back gate put his back up, plunged, ploughed backwards and when I got him settled, standing quietly for me to open the gate, I decided to get off. I did not want to have a battle, which we would have, and while I knew of others who would insist I sat on top and had that battle, it is not the way I want to be with Ben. I also knew that I was starting to feel anxious and I felt that disguising that by upping my energy would not be fair; Ben would be dealing with an incongruent rider.
So we walked out in hand and Ben piaffed in the lane and I asked him forwards, and he looked at everything and I asked him to pay attention to me and gradually he relaxed and we walked together and friend Ben was back, my go-anywhere Ben, who had a soft eye, glancing now and then to meet mine and I realised that our steps were in synch, we had harmony together as we walked through gusting wind and showers. I could have got on him then but I chose to walk at his side and enjoy this harmony and after a while when I did get on he stood quietly as I mounted and his trot was forward and springy as we moved off again and we walked on through the gusts of wind, the dancing shadows, the rippling puddles, Ben’s head low on a loose rein, his ear flicking back to me and forwards, our harmony as complete as when I was on the ground beside him.
Afterwards I let him into some grass and told him how wonderful he was. He ignored me quite rightly, for he was just being Ben, right through the morning, whether from my point of view he was being wonderful or quite the opposite, he was just being himself at that particular moment. He is as he is and I would not have him any other way.