Neptune is a beautiful Arab gelding that Pip recently adopted from Fearne Animal Sanctuary. After a very sad start in life, being kept in a stable and starved for 3 years, he has been rehabilitated for a year at Fearne and has now landed firmly on his hooves in finding a home with Pip. For the first two weeks Pip left him to settle in with the herd in their 12 acre field and over that time his curiosity has been piqued as to what happens outside of his field. Only when he had clearly expressed his interest at coming with us, over several days, did Pip approach him to pop his headcollar on. Unfortunately just at that moment my greyhound Luke decided to be the lure in a game of ‘chase me, chase me’ with Pip’s two wolf dogs! It’s always great fun to watch them playing this game and they all clearly love it but they flew past Pip and Neptune at the most inopportune moment and rather upset his apple kart. No matter, Pip just maintained her calm energy, I called Luke over (yes even in excitement he has recall thanks to Pippsway hurrah!) and Neptune happily accepted his headcollar.
Neptune has never been backed and so I am enjoying the privilege of seeing his journey from the beginning. Pip always achieves everything on the ground first and so we set off on a walk around the lanes. Pip explained that, at first, all she is asking of Neptune is that he follow her in a particular direction. He is allowed to look around and walk wherever he chooses, providing he is following her. Later on, he will have to walk on the correct side of the road and focus completely on her instructions but at this early stage that would be too much to ask. Pip made the point that it is important to demand as little as possible of the horse at this stage and this is why she always leads horses by hand and in company first of all. By the time she actually rides him around the lanes he will be totally accustomed to being out and about in the world and all that entails. Always setting the horse up for success, Pip makes sure that the demand of having a rider is only added after the horse is completely at ease and when he has learned to listen from the ground.
I find our walks around the lanes so uplifting and it’s great for self discipline as well. Maintaining the pace of walking flat out, whether we are going up hill or down dale, having the same energy, intention and focus as if we were riding and at all times ensuring that my posture is correct, whilst maintaining my mental connection with my horse and my dog is excellent practise for when I am hacking out and just a very enjoyable experience all round.
Neptune did really well and thanks to Pip his first experience of being out and about was a positive one. By ensuring that his first experiences of each thing are positive and building each experience on top of another, Pip makes the journey towards being backed a calm one for each horse. As each new element is added I am always taken aback by the fact that it is such a non-event! This week Henry, a horse that has come to Pip for backing, was lunged with a saddle, stirrups and bit in his mouth for the first time and he took it all in his stride, no problem, as Pip has worked up to that moment gradually, calmly and at Henry’s pace.
There’s no question that backing horses Pippsway takes time, patience and wouldn’t make for a dramatic demo, unlike the ‘back your horse in 5 minutes’ videos of the like you see online, but seeing how calm and uneventful the process is for the horses is a joy. Once a horse has been messed up there is so much more work to do and everything is so much more complicated. I’m so pleased for Neptune, and Henry, that this is their introduction to their work.