BY DEBORAH JANE NICHOLAS
The tall birch trees were swaying in synchronised unity. above my head A million leaves being rattled by the wind had a sound not unlike a fast moving river moving over boulders. I admonished myself for having the stupidity to ride my horse through the large copse of trees on such a gusty day. But I had been ambling along oblivious to both the weather and where the track led. Furthermore, the track had forked before the wood, so I had the option of riding around it, missing it entirely. But no, I had been riding along like Dolly Daydream and it hadn’t occurred to me that branches, even trees may fall on such a gusty day.
The penny didn’t drop until I saw how much the birch trees were swaying. Even the crows had the sense to leave long before the stupid human turned up. We should probably get out of this wood I muttered to my horse. My horse, who was also taking part in this episode, was gently chewing on her bit while gazing down the track. I don’t know what I was thinking, well, evidently nothing. It occurs to me now ‘thinking nothing’ is not such a bad thing sometimes. It really hadn’t dawned on me it might be dangerous to hack on such a windy day, and for good reason, nothing eventful happened.
While the reader of my birch tree memoir may assume I was riding a chilled out, bomb-proof equine, you couldn’t be more wrong. My horse, at times (too many times) can actually be a head-strong, dominant, cantankerous nutcase that has a talent for moving from 0 mph to 35 mph in 0.3 seconds. I have a lot to thank this horse for, as I was quite literally forced to educate myself in the ways of the equine. I have ridden in all sorts of dire weather, even thunder and lightning. Obviously riding in lightning isn’t advisable, and neither was it my intention. I have a large amount of respect (and fear) for random bolts of electrical discharge with a temperature of 53,540 degrees Fahrenheit coursing through one’s body. I just occasionally get caught out, that’s all.
So what’s going on with my horse who at times has a brain resembling a washing machine on spin cycle?
I unwittingly trained my horse to find comfort when hacking in all types of weather. I didn’t have the knowledge or understanding at the time to realise what I was doing. But nevertheless I was accomplishing beneficial training for both rider and horse. It is usual for me to cool off a horse by leaving the school and going for a gentle hack. I have never found any interest in riding or leading a horse on a loose reign after a session in an arena, because quite frankly it’s boring. These cooling off sessions consist of asking a minimal amount of instructions. I need to cool off as well, so apart from pointing my horse in the correct direction and using the tiniest amount of leg, she is actually under no pressure to do anything other than just amble along. So no matter what the weather is doing, my horse would rather have a stress free amble than be in the arena working.
Of course setting out on a long hack where I may trot, jump, or canter, and need her focus while doing so, and particularly when using roads, will in her mind be work. But for all those times she has found comfort during the cooling down sessions she has also been prepared to both accept and ignore the weather.
The concept of your horse finding comfort opens the mind to endless possibilities. If your horse naps at a particular place, or a certain distance from the yard then ask for work just about anywhere else, apart from that place. If your horse naps toward the yard, by all means go back to the yard, and work your horse. He will soon start to think twice about wanting to return to the place of work. Horses can often refuse to enter an arena, and we have all seen that spectacle at shows! Even my own horse went through a phase of rearing at the arena door. There is no need for all the shouting, kicking and the general hullabaloo that can occur. Do some work in the arena, then another day go in the arena and ask very little of your horse. Just occasionally, if he’s lucky he might find something good to eat in there. Trust me he will remember! This is why I dislike routine which I often write about. The horse will be more compliant if he can find comfort in all sorts of situations and environments whether he is working or not.
Do not assume your horse will be a nightmare to ride on a windy day. Further more if you already have a horse that has proven to be a nightmare on a windy day, start slow and try to analyse what you were doing before, during and after the hack. Training with patience and understanding will produce a horse you can enjoy even on those gustier days.