I had a lovely ride yesterday evening with my friend on her mare, Ash (shown in the picture). Dee and Ash lived together at Ridgeway so they are good friends.
In fact the ride was quite magical, and I came home feeling elated. My friend now keeps Ash at a small livery yard just down the road from Wyndham, so when we ride together we meet at the end of Wyndham's track. If you are a regular reader you will know that my mare, Dee, will not hack out alone, and we always reach a 'point of no advance' when I try to take her out. Tonight, sure enough, we reached this point on the track.
Now I have been reading the Horsey Therapist blog and was intrigued by her June 26th post 'visualizing'. In this she describes counting her horse's hoof falls to aid transitions. As we approached the 'point of no advance' on the track, I started to count Dee's hoof beats out loud: "1, 2, 3, 4; 1, 2, 3, 4; 1, 2, 3, 4". When she stopped, I stopped counting. I let her stand for a few moments, and then started counting again at the same pace and in the same rhythm as her walk had been, gently tapping her sides with my heels on each count of '1', and moving my body a little as if we were walking forward again. After another few moments - which were noticeably more relaxed that usual at the point she naps - she walked forward a few paces. I immediately stopped tapping her sides, praised her and patted her, and then continued counting in time to her walk. She stopped again and I stopped counting. It was at this moment that my friend arrived, so I do not know whether I could have got Dee to walk on again, but she followed my friend's mare willingly.
We carried on with our ride in Coed y Wenallt with Dee following Ash. It was a beautiful evening with sunlight creating dappled patterns of brightness in the undergrowth. Apart from a few walkers and excitable dogs with pink tongues lolling out the sides of their mouths, the wood was quiet and full of the scent of wild garlic. We had a bit of trotting and cantering, and then I took the lead for a while, with Dee going ahead quite happily. This is not unusual - she has always been willing to take the lead during a ride, once we are actually out on the trail. We arrived at a point on the trail where there was a stile into a field in front of us and the horse track went off to the right at 90°. Dee stopped. Her ears were pricked, she was tense and snorting. She tried to turn back. We had hit another 'point of no advance'.
My friend is very understanding and willing to give me the time to try and help Dee through her napping. Usually she eventually has to take over the lead at such times, as Dee will walk on to follow Ash, but we decided to give Dee a bit more time last night and try the counting. I started to count. "1, 2, 3, 4; 1, 2, 3, 4 . . ." gently tapping with my legs. Dee dropped her head and started to walk forward, and then stopped tensely again. She took another couple of steps and stopped. All her attention was still strained in the direction of the stile and field. I gently pulled her head round to the right a little, leaned over and pointed up the track, saying "We're going up there Dee. That is the direction of the trail." I then recommenced the counting. Dee looked up the track and started walking again, this time without stopping, and with her stride gradually becoming more definite and confident.
This is a major breakthrough for us - for Dee to find the confidence, trust, relaxation, or whatever it was, to walk on, in the lead, from a place she had found so scary, where she has stopped rigidly, rooted to the spot. I have never succeeded in doing this before. She led for the whole of the rest of the ride and walked in a much more relaxed fashion than usual - even trying to grab a mouthful of fern here and there. I am so proud of her and so pleased. I don't know whether the counting made me more relaxed and she could feel this, whether it simply distracted her from her anxiety, or whether it gave her as means to find release from pressure. Whatever it was, I'm hoping that I can build on this little by little and eventually give her the confidence to hack out alone. Our relationship seems to have developed such a lot over the last couple of weeks - it is remarkable, and wonderful.