This evening I rode Dee in the arena. This has always been a frightening place for her. There seems to be something scary on all sides as far as Dee is concerned. On one side there is a clear view of the motorway with all sorts of vehicles whizzing by, and currently long-term roadworks. On the second side it is bordered by the roofs of a row of stables, as the arena is set a little above their level, and Dee sometimes jumps at the sound of a horse moving about or a broom knocking against a wall. On the third side there is a drop down beyond the fence with more stables, and further down a bank above the level of the fence with bushes. Occasionally a cat or a rabbit emerges from these bushes, and sometimes there are horses being frisky in the field beyond. The bottom of the arena is the scariest of all, and many of the horses do not like this end. There is a row of young trees behind which is a track to a field and also a number of items of machinery are kept there. The trees are gradually growing bigger and thicker, but at the moment the machinery - painted orange and red - can still be glimpsed. Today this end was even more worrying than usual because there was a man working on the machinery. He was not making any noise in his work, but he was just there - not seen clearly but still known by Dee to be there - and this was most unsettling for her.
The sky was dark and lowering and rain expected at any moment. I took Dee in - head high, steps short and tense - and we started slowly walking round at the top end, the less scary end. I counted her walking paces as I had on our last ride, and worked with this counting every time she stopped. I rode figures of eight and clover leaf patterns at the top end of the arena, counting out loud to her and praising her when she was brave enough to walk on after napping, or go past a part she had refused on the last round. Gradually her stride lengthened and she started to stretch her neck down sometimes and make chewing movements with her mouth. We walked in this way for about 20 minutes and then I took her back to her stable for her feed.
Perhaps some might think that this was very little to achieve - we did not trot, canter, or take any jumps; we did not manage to bend at the corners or do any real schooling at all. But Dee came out of the arena a much more relaxed horse that the one who entered. She had listened to me and kept moving forward. She had stopped when asked to stop and stood quietly when asked to stand, facing each direction. It would have been unwise and unsafe to have asked more of her, and I am most content.