Fact or Fiction?
Today was a perfect example of how, despite nearly 5 years of training, my human desires can give me a completely false perspective on my engagement with a horse.
I often walk my greyhound Luke around the fields before I bring my horse Mahogany down to the yard. As we came into the field with the herd, such a peaceful scene greeted me and I decided to take a little video clip to share with the other liveries. As I was videoing, one of Pip’s horses, Centurion, came over to me. He had a really light hearted energy, and was playful and curious about my camera, putting his nose right up to it. I laughed, gave him a pat and then went off to catch Mahogany. Lovely, right? Wrong!!!
Centurion is one of Pip’s rescue horses. He has come such a long way during the two years he has been with Pip. I rode him a few months after he arrived, and for a time I used to ride him once a week. After the first Covid lockdown, I decided I really needed to commit to a horse and my horsemanship full time, and so ended up buying Mahogany. So, I hadn’t ridden Centurion for a long time when Pip asked if I would like to ride him on the Quantocks. It was the most profound ride I’ve ever had, in one regard. It showed me just how “lightly” I can ride. How responsive a horse can be, with the most subtle of cues, it really was like riding with my mind! I’ve never ridden a horse at that level before and it blew me away! At the same time, he was stressed and I knew it was a big ask for him to be ridden by someone other than Pip. He was perfect, he did absolutely everything I asked with the slightest cue and so, for me, it was the most amazing ride I’d ever experienced. The trouble is, when you know a horse isn’t enjoying the ride as much as you are, you can’t “un-know” that. So it was with mixed feelings that we drove back to the yard. On the one hand, having had such a profound experience of what horsemanship can be like, and knowing that for the horse, it had been a huge ask.
As it would turn out, it was an ask too far. Centurion has the horse equivalent of PTSD. Pip said that I hadn’t done anything wrong, and if he wasn’t so mentally screwed up it would have been absolutely fine, but that he simply couldn’t cope with being asked to be ridden by anyone else.
So, what does any of this have to do with him coming over to me in the field? Well, I was thinking that him coming over to me in the field was a good thing. It must mean that my energy was improving (oftentimes, my energy is too “big” and the horses don’t like it) and that after him having been so upset with me riding him, this was a good sign that he felt able to come over to me. This was the story I told myself, it made me feel good, and I spent the afternoon feeling very happy about it.
At Pippsway all the horses live in a herd. The rules are that if anyone elses horse comes over to us, we send it away. This is partly for safety reasons and also because it ensures each horse only has to engage with their guardian and Pip. We all do the same things in the same way, Pippsway, which is the horses way. This gives the horses consistency, and it’s great knowing that everyone abides by the same rules, so your horse is never being taught bad habits.
So, I messaged Pip explaining that Centurion had come over, how I thought this was a good sign and I sent her the video. On some level I knew that it probably wasn’t ok, because I did say in my message that I wasn’t sure if I should have sent him away (Er, yes of course, he’s someone elses horse!) and to let me know.
Sure enough, Pip came back to me and said “You can answer your own question. Who goes into whose space? Do you walk into the horses space or do you let the horse walk into yours?”. I explained I’d made a bad judgement call because his energy was so playful and curious about the camera, to which Pip said “There is no exception to the rule on boundaries, and who goes into whose space”.
When I reflected back upon how my interpretation of events was so different from what was actually transpiring from the horses point of view, namely that he was being rude, space invading and claiming me as a subordinate, I realised that I was putting my desires, my “story” above my knowledge and training.
On the upside, I didn’t make any such mistakes with Mahogany. I’ve found that by having high expectations of her, which of course requires me to be more focused, which then has the knock on effect of her feeling calmer and more content, the experience I’m having with my horse really is what I dreamed of as a child. When I was little I used to think about horses all the time, imagine how things would be when I was at the stables and with the ponies, and yet in reality it was never like that at all! Pippsway, which is the horses way, really does deliver on all its promises. To have a horse that is so beautifully behaved, so willing, and so connected with me, really is a dream come true.
So yesterday I taught my horse the right things, and taught Pip’s horse the wrong thing. That isn’t fair on the horse, or on Pip. Not a mistake I’ll be making again.
Whenever we are with a horse we are teaching him something, and it’s our responsibility to make sure we are dealing with the facts, not the fiction version we may prefer.