Monday, 13 June 2011

Handling herd dynamics

It was my Monday hack with Merlyn today and I am glad to report he was an angel, shying just twice in the hour, neither badly, and stopping just once for a peek over a hedge. I used everything that ached from my lesson last week as guidance as to how much harder I should work on my seat, my legs, my position and even popped in some forward seat work on the uphill trots to work on my balance and position.

All good exercise and learning for us both, but my test of nerve for today was not the riding, but how to interact with a small herd of these animals. It never fails to amaze me the things that no amount of riding or horse care tuition can give you in the 'safe' confines of the riding school, when compared with a few hours, one on one, with a bunch of horses.

Pre ride, I strode into the field head collar in hand, and mooched around, clocking Merlyn, Shima and Pebbles at the far side. Heading their way I had quite forgotten Emma's note of caution on the sometimes cheeky young Pebbles, that she can get a bit nosey or have a wee 'nip' at you whenever you come into the field to catch any of them.

As soon as I saw Pebbles her head was up and she came straight towards me, bold as brass, in what I hoped initially was a friendly gesture......maybe not. It was one of those, 'this is our herd, what are you doing here?' approaches and the 3 year old stopped dead in front of me with a right naughty look on her face. Merlyn nonchalantly munches on the grass about twenty foot beyond her. 'Great' I think.

'Okay I'll give you a pat then go around you' I say, but she doesn't seem all that keen on a friendly pat, and the minute I go to walk around her she blocks me.  She is now standing right across my path. I start around her nose and she steps forward again, path blocked. 'Get over' I saw to see if she'll take a telling with a nudge. Nope. She won't. Hand up doesn't seem to mean back off, she is young, backed but not yet broken.

I try again to go around and she blocks me and this time swings around to show me her haunches. 'Oh crikey' thinks  I (worse actually, but you know). I wonder 'What now?' as I stand right in the middle of the field with her in our little horsey herd stand off. Clearly she is the youngest of this little herd, but I am a complete newcomer, does that put me at the bottom of the pecking order? My attempt to nudge her out the way didn't fool her any more than it did me.

I am suddenley glad I put my hat on before coming into the field, but am now wondering whether having a stick (or bribes) would have been an idea? 'What on earth am I doing here?' I wonder.

Do you know I can't even tell you what way I got around her in the end, it was a bit of a trial and error, but even when when I did she was still following. Merlyn stood as waiting calmly, thankfully, head collar on, no chase needed, but she is still not happy and trotting around us, tail high, blocking us again and having a nip at Merlyn neck.

Some kind of horse herd sense kicked in at this stage, and I circled Merlyn, me in the middle, turning him around me a couple of times as an obstacle to Pebbles.When she moved off a little, made for the gate, wishing the ground underfoot was a little more even, with my heart thudding right out of my chest.

I wonder, does everyone get the fear like this, does it just subside once you amass more horse handling skill  and confidence that you know what might happen next?  I remember a ski instructor who said 'the hours spent on the slope equip you with the sense to make decisions and respond in an instant....thats the only thing between you and a beginner.'

On that note, I think horse time is the key....and maybe a book or two!


  1. Retrieving a horse from a pasture full of horses can be scary sometimes. Their personalities are so different when a liberty - as they should be for their own protection. I can only get Pie out first because if I put the halter on Sovey or Foggy first, Pie will bite THEM the entire way to the gate. It is very annoying.

    Pebbles has your number. You can carry a crop, look down and ignore her, walk boldly and with a purpose. The safest thing to do is go directly to her and halter her and put her in a stall or somewhere safe until you can get Merlyn out and then put her back in the pasture. Time consuming...but what isn't with horses? Good luck!

  2. Hi Juliette, do you know that is exactly what Ali suggested as a way to deal with is.

    Pebbles doesn't give ger any hassle, but does Emma, her owner. Scary....not half!

    Thanks for the tips, like I said I feel like I need a stack of them up my sleeve!