Lyla Cansfield returns
The time since Lyla Cansfield’s last visit passed quickly. And, to begin with at least, Peanut seemed to be making good progress with the benefit of Lyla’s insights to his way of going.
But then, almost overnight, it was as though we’d hit a brick wall. Peanut went from being a boisterous, flashy show off to a stubborn little git. I could get him started but, then, he would do perhaps half a circle and stop. He’d turn to look at me and simply ignore anything I did to try and get him moving again. Worse, he went back to simply walking right through me as though I wasn’t there. Here I am, 6’ 5”and a good 100 kilos and, waving my arms around like a windmill, he would just wander over me. It was embarrassing.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to put up with too much of this before Lyla came back for another visit. She quickly put her finger on the problem. I’d gone from being too aggressive to overly gentle. As she put it, Peanut was acting like a stroppy teenager (she does a very good impersonation of Harry Enfield’s Kevin) and all it took to get us back on track again was for me to sharpen up my act.
A glint in my eye
It was quite funny really. Without turning into a bully, all I had to do was put a glint into my eye, square my shoulders and put a bit of energy into the command. The first time I did it Peanut just reared away but then very quickly settled into a brisk trot.
Of course, I felt a bit of a fool for not having worked this out myself but I guess my excuse is that, from the start of this journey, I’ve had to make a conscious effort to lose my basic instinct. To hurry up and get on. And the wishy-washy me just hadn’t been clear enough with my commands. We’d gone back to that horrible mutual confusion. Just winding each other up.
Now, I realise that it’s a very thin line between over-aggression and a wimpy, please be a good boy Peanut. I’ve got half a ton of horse on the end of that rope and if I give him an inch, he’ll take a mile. So, starting again, I find all it takes is to put a bit of energy into my end of the rope and we start to get somewhere.
While I am enjoying this epiphany, Lyla is setting up a few obstacles in the sand school and Viv/Ritz and Linda/Sally are getting to grips with figures of eight and weaving down a line of blocks. All, of course, managing their horses with nothing more than their first finger at the rope and a carrot stick in the other hand.
Having watched us for a bit, Lyla suggested that what Peanut needs most is a regular change of task. Give him something to think about. As I’m standing there happily watching my boy jog around first one way and then another, out of the corner of my eye I see Lyla setting up the poles for a jump.
“See what he makes of that,” she says. Of course, the new Philip hasn’t yet become super confident and my first attempt fails miserably with Peanut just strolling up to the poles and standing there sniffing them. But, now I know that I don’t just have to put up with that. I quietly lead him away again and this time give him a bit of a glint in my eye and a meaningful swish of my stick.
Peanut, now you’re showing off
And away he goes. Sailing over the jump he stops on the other side and turns to look at me all pleased with himself. “I was going to be an eventer, you know”, he says. “Okay”, I say, “let’s see if you can do it on the other lead, then”. And blow me down, off he goes and jumps again. What a show off.
In no time at all, of course, I’ve become the show off and have him turning back without stopping and taking the jump again. And again. Lyla sees this going on and, wisely before Peanut gets bored with it, suggests that we move on and have a go at weaving him down the row of four jump stands. I’d seen Liz do this with Woody a while back and she had kindly let me have him to have a go at it myself. But Woody, of course, knew better and just walked all over me.
So, even with my newfound energy, I approached this with Peanut not sure of how it was going to go. And with that hint of uncertainty in my mind, Peanut inevitably got the vibe. He tried to pretend I wasn’t there. Fortunately, I recognised what was happening and, putting a bit of will into it, we actually got it done with me walking in a straight line a few feet out and guiding him with stick and rope.
He may not yet be a cutting horse
I’m sure that all my old riding friends – the ones George and I used to team up with to do a bit of cutting horse or team penning – might read this and think I have gone soft. Feeling such a sense of achievement in doing something so simple. But, as I keep saying, I’m doing something I should have done many years ago. And I’m enjoying it.
Best of all, though, is Lyla’s compliment on the real progress Peanut and I have made. So, as a pièce de résistance she now suggests that we see how Peanut manages with some side passing. Now we’re talking, I think. Side passing is meat and gravy to a western horse. If we can finish the day with the boy getting the hang of that, it’ll be real progress.
Wouldn’t it be nice, if I could say Peanut just looked around and said: “oh, a side pass, ay? Of course.” And then proceeded to go and do one. But, even after a morning like we’d had today, it wasn’t quite a fairy-tale ending. Fair to say, though, under Lyla’s sure guidance, he quickly got the idea and I managed to get a couple out of him before we called it a day.
So, what do we do now?
Chewing things over as we sat in the sun with our horses quietly at our sides (how about that? He didn’t once try to nibble me!) we reviewed what we had achieved that morning. For me, it felt as though we had made a huge leap forward. Of course, I realise that it doesn’t necessarily follow that we’ll just walk out into the sand school and do it next time. But I’m starting to feel as though I’m standing on firmer ground.
Best of all, Lyla thinks that when she comes next time we’ll put a bareback pad on him. Then we can see whether he has any issues in that area. I moved to the edge of my seat as soon as we start talking about saddles. But, even now, I must accept that we’ve got some way to go yet. For one thing, we need to get his conditioning back to where it should be. He’s been resting a long time and he’s out of shape. But it’s yet another brick in the wall and progress is good.