On The Edge is a beautiful ex-racehorse who recently came back to Pips yard. He's a big boy at 16hh and yet I've never met a horse that made me feel less on edge. His stable name is Bronson and he is fabulous. Working with him takes me back to when I was a child, full of confidence around my pony. Despite being a big fellow he is never intimidating in the slightest way. Sure he asks ‘are you in charge?’ but when you answer ‘Yes!’ his relief is palpable. Bronson is a good match for me at the moment as having been trained at Pips yard he knows all the rules, but having been away from the yard for a time he is out of the habit of following many of them!
This week I asked Pip if I could have a lesson in leading. If you've followed my blog thus far you won't be at all surprised to hear that, as with all things, there is an art to leading horses. It turns out there is an art to putting on head collars too! I went to do the old thing of tying his headcollar around his neck, to put on the rope headcollar he would be working in for our lesson….Pip asked ‘why are you doing that?’. On her yard horses are taught to stand where you ask them to and stay there. So I immediately undid the headcollar at which point Bronson started wandering about. ‘You didn’t give him an instruction did you….?’ oooops!…..so there we are with him wandering about the yard and me standing there with a headcollar in my hand. As always, Pip calmly told me what to do. Using my body language, energy and intention I stopped him outside his stable, asked him to stand, put on his headcollar and off we went.
We walked up to the menage and our first task was to go through the gate. Pip showed me how to lead Bronson up to the gate and through it, at all times making sure I was leading him as opposed to him maneuvering me. Sounds simple enough but, as I learn each week, the balance of power is so nuanced and before I knew it I was the one doing all the work. So we started again. I think it took three attempts to get it right!
Pip had told me that the horse should always be on your outside shoulder when you are leading. So we practised leading with Bronson on my correct shoulder and then moved onto circles. All too soon Bronson was turning on the forehand rather than walking in a circle around my smaller circle, so again without me realising I was being maneuvered! Pip showed me how to correct this and we carried on. Bronson is wonderful to learn with because as soon as you correct him he does what you’ve asked. In fact he responded so quickly at times that I was still correcting him when he was already complying. Learning to pitch the correction at the right ‘volume’ and stopping as soon as there is a response is something I really need to work on!
We then did serpentines across the school changing the rein at the halfway point each time. It was a fantastic exercise and gave us both plenty to think about. Even making sure that Bronson was walking at a pace that I set rather than me falling in with the pace he was dictating. All these details matter! If we have lead our horse up to the menage, through the gate and up to the mounting block without being aware of all these things we have set ourselves up for failure before we even begin. When you consider this, the importance of mastering the art of leading becomes clear.
It was a really fun lesson and it boosted my confidence. Understanding what I am doing, why I am doing it and knowing that before I mount my horse I will have groomed him and led him to the menage in the correct way reassures me that when I do ride we will be set for success!