Journey? What journey? We’re teaching a horse a new way of going, not off on some transcendental trail ride! But, crazy though it sounds, some of the moments I’ve had with Peanut over the last few weeks have been almost sublime.
However, of course, this is Peanut we’re talking about and although there’s been a good deal of bliss, he always throws in a bit of extravagance. Just to see whether I’ve got what it takes.
A low boredom threshold
I’ve talked before about Peanut’s low boredom threshold and how I need to keep changing what I ask of him. Keep him at anything too long and he’ll start getting a strop on. Alex Peternell decided Peanut couldn’t be an eventing prospect when the boy failed with the required number of repetitions of a particular dressage exercise. I guess some horses can and some can’t. So, luckily for me, Alex decided to sell him.
But a versatile horse in western riding is all about constant change. In a Western Pleasure class, it’s regular changes of pace and direction. With Western Trail, it’s negotiating a series of obstacles: side passing along poles, backing up around a series of drums, working a gate and so on. Then there’s Western Games: Barrel Racing, Flag Race, Pole Bending and the rest. I could mention Cattle and Ranch Horse but you get the picture. For a horse like Peanut, this is all going to be meat and gravy. Or, perhaps that should be carrots and apples…
So we keep finding different things to do in between the more mundane exercises to help him find his feet.
Alex Peternell warned me that Peanut was “a bit spooky” and, of course, I’ve had that in mind during some of his more extravagant episodes. But, honestly, I don’t think any of this is down to “spooky”. A young prey animal’s natural caution, of course. A stroppy teenager’s flap, certainly. But a spooky horse? No.
I decided that the day he dealt with a piece of blue plastic sheeting Viv had been trying to persuade another horse to walk over (or, even, walk near!) That was a spooky horse and it’s still a work in progress for him. But Peanut? The plastic was still on the ground when he came out to play and did it bother him? No. He walked up to it. Gave it a careful sniff. Licked it a bit. Pawed it a bit. Then took it in his teeth and gave it a good shaking.
And then there was the plastic drum. This isn’t as big as the barrels we use for Barrel Racing: probably half that size. But, looking for something for a change of routine, we brought it out and showed it to Peanut. He just gave it a sniff. Licked it. Tried it with his teeth and then gave it a nudge with his nose. Of course, it fell over but that didn’t bother him and in no time at all he was nosing it along the arena floor .
Let’s play ball
Ever since I started at the Old Mill, there’s been sitting in a corner a big green ball. I’d seen Vivien use it with her horses a few times but, back then with George, it didn’t signify. Here I had George with a black sack full of winner’s rosettes and some shelves full of trophies. A Parelli Green Ball? Don’t think so!
Ah! But Peanut? He’s obviously a different story. And so I wasn’t too much concerned when Viv suggested a bit a ball play.
The Parelli Green Ball
Fans of Pat Parelli will know all about this. It’s an outsize, heavy duty, beach ball. And it’s green. It’s about a metre across and it’s bouncy. It’s Peanut’s new toy is what it is.
Of course, we took him up to it nice and quietly and he went through the sniff, lick, try-a-bite routine. He was bit more circumspect when I asked him to follow me on his line while I rolled the ball at my side but he didn’t take long to settle to that.
We then tried him with a bit of rolling it about under his chin and in front of his legs. Of course, he was a bit wary at first but in no time at all, he was off with it. Nosing the ball along the ground.
Perhaps, a bit too confident…
It was when he tried to give it a bit of a bounce himself that we decided to stop and do something else. He just stopped with the ball in front of him, reared right up and tried to come down on it with both front feet. It happened so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to stop him.
Luckily he just glanced off the ball. But, of course, he might have hurt himself if he’d come off it badly and I’ll have to be wary of this next time. For the moment, he just looks longingly at the ball sitting in the corner when he comes into the school. I know he’s got something in mind for it and I need to take care how we approach it next time.
Clearly, though, as long as I’m careful about how I introduce him to new things, Peanut is going to be confident about it.
And so the Journey continues…
In between the various games, we’re making good progress with the other stuff. After all I’ve just been saying about spookiness, we’ve had a series of sessions when there’s been something going on outside the school which worried Peanut.
Say I’m being over considerate if you will but I’m not putting this down to a spooky horse. He’s indoors and can hear something he doesn’t know and it’s been testing my new found natural horsemanship to get his attention when this happens. But, by staying quiet myself and just asking him to do something simple he knows, we get through it.
It shouldn’t worry me but I’m beginning really to enjoy the journey. We had one of those days yesterday when it all happened. We started off quietly but something outside worried him and it took a good few minutes to get him back. Then, we did some more quiet stuff, rugged him up and started back to the stable.
He just strolled along about 10 feet from my shoulder. Before we got to the school door, I asked him to halt and he just stopped and stood there while I noisily slid the door back. At the open door, I turned round to him, still standing about 10 feet away, and pointed out of the door. He walked up to me and we stepped out together for a quiet stroll across the sand school.
I can’t describe the feeling of peace that gave me. Well, I could but it would involve a reference to sex and that wouldn’t do at all! But at times like that, I find myself wondering whether, perhaps, the Journey is enough after all.
But then I very quickly remember the joy of a good run through the poles or a well executed Western Riding Class and, knowing that Peanut is going to be every bit as good as George, I want to be there too. It’s just very good to know that there’s always other stuff to do as well as ride. I can wait.