BY DEBORAH JANE NICHOLAS
Open the gate, open the gate!!!!
No-one stopped in their tracks, conversations were not interrupted, tea drinking did not cease mid-sip either. By now everyone was accustomed to Screaming Sue and her daily routine of turning out her horse. Sue’s somewhat unconventional method of taking Bargy Boris (BB) to pasture always started in the stable, albeit with less volume, but still clearly audible.
During those moments it was clear Sue’s nickname was entirely inappropriate considering what we could ascertain from Sue’s rather guttural grunts and groans. During the rugging process, which took around 35 minutes, a more apt name would have been Squashed Sue.
Offers of help had ceased long ago because apparently Sue could handle BB’s rambunctious personality, and no-one but her would cope. The main event however always started when the stable door was opened. This was always BB’s cue to announce his existence to the world. The door would fly open so hard it would hit the outside of the stable wall and shake the entire block. Buckets, grooming kits and various items of yard equipment would either be scattered or shattered.
His large chest would quite literally sweep Sue to one side with the power of a tsunami. With head held high one would question whether Sue was holding the rope or swinging from it. It was always at this moment that Sue needed a volunteer.
Not help you understand, Sue didn’t need help, but a volunteer. Everyone knew the routine by then, and one of us would scurry off ahead of Sue and the 4 legged tsunami to go and stand by the field gate. I say scurry because no-one in their right mind would trust Sue to hold onto that horse behind you. Trying to run forward while simultaneously checking behind to ensure BB wasn’t about to bulldoze over you was no easy task.
The victim, or volunteer, would barely make it to the gate before Squashed Sue rapidly evolved into Screaming Sue. BB would soon give up on walking and break into trot. It would be at this point that Sue would start screaming Don’t you dare! which was quite lost on BB, and in fact the entire yard. It was apparent that BB actually did dare, considering this same routine had been played out for almost 14 months. It had occurred to me that if Sue should ever want a powerful trot in the arena the only aid she would need would be her voice, and shouting Don’t you dare!
Sue, who would now be running/swinging alongside her horse, would already be reaching up to undo the head collar. The head collar and rope would come clattering to the floor with a hapless Screaming Sue doing her best not to trip over it. BB would be free and almost at full gallop during the last 10 metres to the gate. The woeful volunteer would have that gate wide open while standing on the post and rail just to ensure their own safety. They would invariably get splattered in mud as the galloping, bulldozing tsunami would pass them at near on 25 mph.
While this tale of Screaming Sue and Bargy Boris may seem fantastical, fictional or at best farcical, I have more than once seen this ‘method’ used when turning out a horse. I have a theory that some owners do not accept help because they are unaware they need help. The situation and their horse’s actions become so familiar to them they become almost blind to the issue.
But in my view this situation was nothing less than downright dangerous. Anything or anyone could have crossed BB’s path during that last 10 metres and the outcome would no doubt be catastrophic.
The horse was actually only doing what he has been trained to do. In his eyes, this is merely how the human turns him out. It’s part of his daily routine and in some respects BB is doing exactly what is expected of him.
Horses like to comply, they feel comfortable when they understand what the human is trying to communicate to them. They are very easy to train, so be very aware of what exactly you are training them. There is absolutely no legitimate reason why BB could not walk to the gate in a calm, safe manner.
Well, there’s one reason – Sue. Yet the issue is nothing to do with turnout. When an advert reads easy to do in all ways take note, and consider if your horse is also the same.
Mild inconveniences to downright dangerous behaviour should not be accepted or tolerated. Many behaviours are not down to his personality, a horse may be rambunctious but he can be trained not to be when with the handler. Issues may develop slowly through fear, anxiety or miscommunication, but that’s the time to seek help, before the problem becomes huge. It’s not a failing to ask or accept help and advice, it’s an opportunity to expand your knowledge, which in turn will give you a fantastic partnership with your horse.