I bought Ben this time last year because I wanted a horse to ride. I wanted a horse I could safely ride from home, keep at home, manage myself. I saw myself having fun with this horse, doing le trec, schooling, taking lessons, going on long peaceful hacks on summer evenings. I saw perhaps my daughter riding him if she stayed interested. That is what I wanted.
I saw Ben’s photograph in an internet advertisement. It was a blurred photograph of a cob jumping with a teenager on top. Although I am not an enthusiastic jumper, something about that little horse made me put him to the top of my list.
I went to see him. I saw a, smaller than expected, cob wearing a headcollar in a field, running away when its owner came, who rattled a bucket of stones which fetched him, close enough to allow a lead rope to be clipped on. I saw a cob being ridden on a slippery field, unbalanced. I rode a quiet small cob down a strange road, turned to go back to the people waiting, knowing I needed to make a decision. I said yes, still unsure. I got off this cob, stood beside him, still with no real sense of him. I looked at him, I saw a gentle, deep eye, he breathed over my head and I felt that, yes, subject to vetting, you are for me.
He had hunted, a lot. He had hunted with a hunt known for the size of the ditches that had to be jumped. He had been exercised in the dark, from a lead rope at the back of the jeep. He had been loaned to children for pony camp.
He always lived out and that cold June day last summer when I saw him he was taken into a bare stable and stood there, shivering. He has free access to a stable here and often uses it. When he was brought to different places he travelled in a cattle trailer, lower, barer, louder than a trailer such as I have. When I went to bring him home to me, he followed me up the ramp of my trailer without a second’s hesitation. Little did I know that I would have great difficulty getting him into a trailer afterwards. He would pull back, hard. I can only speculate that if he did so in that cattle trailer and hit his head, that is possibly how he came to have such pain around his poll. As I have learned more about his saddle difficulties recently, I have realised how short backed he is. The pain the chiropractor found that made him squeal was just behind where a saddle should sit.
Ben came home to me, I got him checked over by a chiropractor, seen by a dentist, got all his vaccinations done, a passport organised, worming, all the things I would expect to do with a new horse. I rode him, regularly, from the back gate, as I had wanted. I took part in a couple of le trec orienteering events. I felt after a while that I was just using him, and I started to put time into our relationship. In part he demanded this, by suddenly becoming very hard to catch. We had a long, cold winter and that gave me plenty of time to spend with him, guided loosely by Carolyn Resnick’s Waterhole Rituals, but mostly by intuition and by Ben himself.
He is a safe horse to ride and in many ways an easy horse in that he is pretty solid on the road. But he was quite sour when he came and seemed to feel that people were a threat. He could be aggressive when children were around. Imagine my joy recently when my oldest daughter and her friend were standing on either side of Ben, my daughter holding the lead rope of his head collar, and his expression was soft, friendly, open.
Carolyn Resnick told me that she wouldn’t be surprised if he turned into the sort of pony who would follow me around everywhere. That is happening more and more. I can catch him with a bridle in my hand now, so the other day, when he ran from me after a hack in another saddle I was trying out, he confirmed what he had told me the day before about that saddle. I had taken him down to a saddlery, where the very knowledgeable owner fitted many different saddles on Ben. One looked ok. I rode around, but as ‘around’ meant through a yard of stallions, and in a field next to mares and foals, Ben was on his toes and not really able to give me a good feel of the saddle. I took it away on trial: a well-made, wide fitting, second-hand treed saddle. I was told that Ben would tell me how it felt. We went on a hack with a friend, from the start he hung back, very unlike Ben who likes to take the lead, and when I asked him to trot he stumbled, ears pinned back. Sweat patches under the saddle afterwards told me that it was sitting too far back.
I think Ben’s sourness and being hard to catch was all about pain. People are a threat if they cause pain. Incidentally, that saddle was not good for me, I had very sore knees. My search continues.