Winter is starting on the Blorenge!

Since welcoming Dax into my life back in May, I’ve been on quite a learning journey.  It’s been a fascinating process seeing how the theory that I’ve picked up over the years translates into applied practice – and how it doesn’t always fit the individual as neatly as the books and training might suggest!  This was one of my reasons for getting a horse ‘of my own’: to build a relationship and to learn more about the practicalities of caring for an equine.

I’ve also had the opportunity to see what life on a yard is like – when your horse lives there – compared to the yards that I’d visited through work.  I was very fortunate to be on a lovely yard with fairly like-minded people.  It was a small establishment with only 2 other people and a total of 5 horses, while I was there.  We worked pretty well together, sharing poo picking and happily stepping in when one or other of us went away for a few days.  It was lovely to have others to share and consult or even just chat with, back in those long warm summer evenings.

Now that we’ve moved to Wales and have 2 horses, things are different in many ways.  There’s a lot more poo picking for a start!! Thankfully my husband often steps in to help.  (He nicknamed himself ‘Professor Poo’ back in our yard days, so he has to keep his hand in, so to speak!)

On the plus side, it’s lovely to have the horses here on site with us.  We can’t quite see them from the house, due to the trees and the fact that the fields are further up the hill, but it’s wonderful to be able to just pop up and see them.  It’s also easier to organise my day, now that I don’t have to think about making a trip to the yard.  I just go up first thing every morning to check on them after the night (and at the moment, I’m checking that they’re warm enough), deliver some hay and do the first round of poo picking.  I then go up again in the evening for more of the same.  We’ll soon be getting a field shelter with a hay store which will mean I don’t have to push the barrow up the hill so often, which will be nice – though it has been a good way to build up my core strength!

Sometimes work commitments mean that it’s still dark when I go up in the morning, or the sun has set by the time I get home.  A head-torch is great on these occasions – though I’ve been surprised at how much I can actually see, even in the dark – but I often leave the poo picking until the next day as it’s difficult to spot, even with the beam of the torch.  On these mornings and evenings it’s wonderful to hear the birds and owls calling to each other!  One of the many perks of moving out of the city.

At the moment the main issues I’m dealing with are the weather, whether or not to rug, and managing the grass.  We’re higher up than we were used to, here on the Blorenge, which has meant that we’ve had some very cold nights and frosty starts.  I can sometimes be a cold bod and I like to feel warm, so it can be very tempting to wrap the horses up in a big snuggly rug, however I know that horses are great at making their own inner heat, due to their hind gut fermentation processes.

Dax is a hardy fella, having lived out, without a field shelter, even in the snows earlier this year, but Rika was used to being rugged and stabled, so I was unsure how she would adapt.  She came with 2 rugs – a waterproof and a quilted one – so I kept a close eye on her, and the forecast, in case I would need to use them.  So far, I’ve used each one once but, on reflection, I think it was unnecessary.  It was more a case of me being overly worried for her, particularly as we don’t yet have a field shelter, than of any real need for extra protection for her.  I also ended up just worrying that I was interfering with her body’s natural mechanisms for keeping warm.  A rug can keep the hair from being  able to fluff up to trap air, and also mean that they are too warm in some areas, while in contrast other parts of their body are relatively cool / cold.  In fact that the weather wasn’t as wet as predicted, and even on the really frosty mornings, she has been lovely and warm and hasn’t shown any signs of shivering, or looking miserable or ‘tucked up’.

A big factor is that they have plenty of hay and ad lib access to forage in the fields.  There is grass, hedging and lots of herby things for them to browse on throughout the day and night.  Digesting this, helps to keep their inner heating system ticking over nicely.  They also make good use of the natural shelter provided by the hedges and trees.  It will be interesting to see how much they actually use the shelter when it comes!  Perhaps they will even prefer to be out in the field where they can see in all directions, which is, after all, how horses in the wild keep themselves safe.

Their coats, too, are wonderfully engineered to keep them warm.  The hair forms rivulet patterns when it rains, to help direct the water away from their skin.  It has also thickened up and stands on end to trap air, which forms an extra layer of insulation.  Dax, in particular, often looks very fluffy and has been affectionately nicknamed our Woolly Bear.  Rika’s coat seems to be working differently in that it has become oily and dense, though it too looks fluffier than before.

Rika’s fluffy, dense winter coat

The ‘hole’ is due to a love-bite from Dax when Rika was in season

 

Rain patterns in Dax’s coat forming channels to allow the water to run off

Our muddy, woolly bear!

They’re also both decidedly muddy!  I fondly and amusedly despaired at Dax one morning when I saw just how dirty he was.  At least, I thought, he can’t be cold if he’s rolling in the wet mud.  He assured me that it was good to get muddy!  Now I know that rolling is good for our horses – it’s kinda like a massage for their back muscles – but I wasn’t entirely convinced about the mud…  Dax insisted that it was ‘good’.  When I asked him why, he just said:

It just Is…  Why do you hoomans always need to know a why?!

Trust him to have the last word!

The other issue is the grass.  We’re very fortunate that we have soil that tends towards being sandy, and we’re high up on the side of the hill, so our drainage is good, and we have very little mud.  Long may this last!  I now just need to work out how to best manage the land so that it doesn’t become poached and so that we keep the grass healthy.  The horses currently have access to 2 of the 3 fields.  The third field has longer, richer grass, and I’m hoping to use this, alongside the hay, to feed Dax and Rika as the weather gets colder.  By then, there should be little risk of laminitis – providing we don’t have too much bright, frosty weather which could still result in high sugar levels!

I hope that this lifestyle that provides them with as natural and varied a diet as I can, fewer stresses, plenty of room to run or just mooch around will help to keep them healthy, happy and well.

I’d love to hear from you and your horses:

  • What are your tips for surviving the winter months?
  • How do your horses respond to the weather?

Hoping that you can all manage to stay warm, dry and reasonably mud-free – humans anyway!

 

 

Advertisements

Giving our horses the time they need

Friday 2 November

Often, I think, our horses need us to give them more time and space than we realise.

An example of this came up just this morning.  I was poo picking in the fields and I noticed that Rika was yawning.  She seems to have been finding the transition to Wales more challenging than Dax; but then more of this has been new to her than to him, since she has also left her people, as well as her herd and her place.  I hoped that the yawns might mean she was releasing and starting to relax a little more into her new home.

I’d been spending some time scratching Dax and Rika had approached us, so I thought I would offer her some scratches too.  At first she seemed uncertain, so I stepped back to get a clearer idea of what she was trying to tell me.  I sensed that she was just a little unsure but still open, so I gently took a step forward again.  She accepted this so I continued with scratches and a bit of massage.  I heard some long, loud gut sounds and it seemed that she was relaxing a little into my touch.  I decided to offer some rebalancing of her energies along her bladder meridian.  As soon as I started her eyes began to blink, long and slow and I could see that she was working through some stuff.  I only got about half way along her neck when she walked away, putting some distance between us.  She didn’t stop until she had crossed the gateway into the next field.  She stood there for some time, just processing whatever had come up for her.

Part of me would have liked to continue encouraging her to release, and trying to build a bond with her, but I think that to have done so would actually have pushed her further away and perhaps have caused her to shut me out.  I knew that my desire to carry on in that moment was coming more from my need than from ‘Rika’s – my need to connect with her and for her to be happy here.  A part of me wanted this to happen straight away, rather than allowing ‘Rika to find this balance in her own time.  I had to remind myself that horses, like humans, need time to adjust to change.  Everything here is new to her – the place, the people, the food, the grass, the ‘herd’ – so it’s a lot to take in.  Horses can take up to a year, or even more, to fully settle into a new environment and to really feel comfortable enough to ‘be themselves’.  ‘Rika has only been here 3 weeks so I need to be patient and proceed at her pace.

In our human world we are so conditioned to expecting instant results.  So many things are at the touch of our fingertips: news, information, entertainment, even food.  I’ve been made very aware of our dependence on this due to our lack of internet access following our move, and the remoteness of our new location, which is taking us back to slower ways of being.

Horses live to a different timescale from ours.  They tend to be thoughtful beings, weighing things up and exploring them from all angles before deciding what action to take (except of course in the case of instinctive responses to potential threats).  Because of this, they are generally better at being in the present moment – with more of an awareness of the wholeness of their being – and they are less ‘in their heads’ than we tend to be.  We often want them to respond within our timescales, and with the exact movement, or whatever, that we’re asking for.  If this doesn’t happen, we ask again and again until it does, often increasing the volume or adding more energy.  How must this appear to these gentle, slower-paced animals…?  In fact, when we work with horses, it’s often a case of ‘less is more’ – the quieter and more subtle our signals, the more responsive the horse becomes.

There is much that we can learn from horses in this.  Spending time with them and sharing their energy can help us to take on that slower pace, allowing us to let go of the stresses and pressures of our everyday lives in order to find greater grounding and balance.  This has huge benefits for our wellbeing.

 

 

Saturday 3 November

This morning I went up to give the horses their hay as usual.  Dax is always the first to push in for a mouthful, whereas ‘Rika hangs back, knowing that he will move her away if she comes too close.  I dropped a few leaves from the bale in one of the feeding spots then, while Dax tucked in, I called ‘Rika to follow me to where I would place some more hay.  I left her happily munching while I put out the rest of the hay, then came back to check in with each of them, as I do every morning.  ‘Rika was nearest, so I approached her first.  Normally she adopts a very defensive stance when I come up to her when she’s eating.  On previous days she would tense, become very watchful, put her ears back and sometimes block me with her hindquarters, but today there was none of this.  Her ears stayed forward, or tuned in to me, she appeared relaxed and she even turned to say hello.  Shortly after this she approached me and accepted some gentle stroking.  This is a big change in her behaviour.  Nothing earth-shattering maybe, but she definitely appears to be a more settled and engaged horse this morning.  I believe that listening to her request for space yesterday, and allowing her to take the time she needed, has helped to build more trust and respect between us.  She is such a big-hearted girl and beautiful soul and hopefully she will find contentment here in this wonderful place with us.

 

Alice Griffin, writing in a recent edition of Horsemanship Magazine (Issue 109), about her time on a horseback tour of the Alentejo region of Portugal, says:

“In this increasingly busy world there are few places that offer a true sense of peace; where roads are empty, passersby rare and where we can truly find a way to switch off and be submerged in nature.”

She noticed that the Alentejan people are

“… often teased for their lackadaisical approach to life, but I can’t help thinking they are all the smarter for refusing to get rushed along by expectation, instead choosing to soak up every moment with deepened relish”

I too, think there is something very special about being able to slow down and reconnect – both with ourselves, and with the animals and nature all around us – and to be able to appreciate the richness and wonder of it all.

Alice goes on to say that:

“Somehow animals – unlike humans – have not lost their ability to be at one with the earth, remaining unchanged in their effortless navigation of rivers, rocks, hills and valleys despite the centuries that may have passed.”

If Portugal isn’t for you at this time, you can still experience a little of this magic of Nature and horses for yourself here in the UK.  I offer mindfulness and wellbeing sessions here at our wonderful retreat space in rural Wales, not far from Abergavenny, Wales (map) Just get in touch to find out more:

Or take a look at my website: www.equenergy.com

   

Lessons from the mist and a formal introduction

Well, we’ve been in our new home for 3 weeks now!  In some way the time has flown by and it feels like we’ve been here for much longer, and in other ways it still feels very new.

The time has flown by in a blur and at times it has felt very overwhelming.  It’s a huge change living here, compared to our old life in the suburbs of Bristol.  Suddenly having 8.5 acres of paddocks, woodland and vegetable and fruit areas feels rather out of our comfort zone!

  • How on earth do you care for all these magnificent trees and hedges?
  • How do you support Nature to do her thing while still keeping the land manageable?
  • What’s the best way to care for our little orchard?
  • What veg should we grow here – and where do we even start with that?!

As you’ll know, if you’ve been following my blog, we’ve been without WiFi since we moved in.  On one level this is quite nice, as it allows us time to focus on other things – wow, I can now see how social media has eaten my time in the past! – but it has also meant that we don’t have a working landline in the house, our mobile connection is patchy, we have no access to emails or looking things up on the internet – and we have no TV.  (Lots of DVD watching and actually having to have conversations!)

All this has left us feeling rather out of our depth.  At times I’ve felt like I’m lost and can’t see my way…

One morning I was pushing a barrow full of hay up to the field for the horses.  Dawn was just breaking and there was a mist hanging over the fields.  I could only see clearly for a few steps ahead of me.  But as I walked I realised that, as I moved forwards the path ahead of me was revealed, step by step.  I couldn’t see any further ahead than a few metres, but the fact of moving forward was meaning that those few metres were also shifting with me, allowing me to see my next few steps.  This felt a bit like my life at the moment.  It made me think that if I could just ‘go with it’, and trust the process, choosing to be content with only seeing the next few steps and not stressing about being unable to see the whole of the path, then I would feel more at ease and less out of control.

This, and spending time with the horses surrounded by the beautiful fields and woodland here, has helped me to be more grounded and to feel more balanced and settled in this new life.  I’m more able to look ahead to how I might be able to develop my practice by drawing on all the wonderful resources of this place.

In this week’s post I also wanted to introduce you to our newest addition to the family.  Her formal name is Ulrike, and previously she was known as Eureka, but we’ve shortened her name to ‘Rika.  As you might remember, I believe that names can be significant and I love the meanings that this beautiful girl’s name holds:

Ulrike – a German name meaning Mistress of All

Rika – a Norse name meaning Forever Strong

Rikka – a Teutonic name meaning Tranquil Leader

I had been hoping that this mare would be a leader for our ‘teenager’ gelding.  That hasn’t quite worked out as planned as he tends to be the one who bosses her around, but I think that her steadfast, gentle presence will still be a wonderful asset.

Next week I’ll share a little more about how things are going with her but for now I need to sign off as I need to get home before dark to feed these two!

 

 

Might he be in pain?

So last week I mentioned that I was concerned that Dax’s recent behaviour could possibly have been triggered by pain.  I therefore booked him in for a session with Helen Jacks-Hewett the McTimoney and Sports Massage therapist.  She came out to the yard on 27 July and gave Dax a thorough examination.

We also had a fun time speculating on his heritage!  Helen thought that his eyes looked quite Appaloosa as there is some white visible around his iris, as you can just about see in this photo:

She wondered if he might actually develop some spots as he grows older!  She also thought that his temperament could indicate some Welsh Section D.

Regarding her assessment she wrote in her report:

No misalignments located in spine or pelvic joints, and no areas of muscle asymmetry or soreness noted so on the whole there doesn’t appear to be any significant underlying musculoskeletal problems. His poll was a little tight predominantly on the left side, it is possible his tendency to head twirl may cause this tension, or his general underlying level of anxiety.

Small areas of scar tissue from previous/old injuries noted in the right ascending pectoral and the right gracilis muscles which may indicate he has had some prior trauma.

Baited core activation ‘carrot stretches’ will help to strengthen his core muscles

She then went on to say:

His behaviour seems typical for a hand raised foal, and shows a lot of foal like tendencies even though he is 6 years old.

There is a really sweet natured clever horse in there who will hopefully continue to learn and develop given the right herd conditions and handling techniques.

It was such good news to hear that he doesn’t appear to have any areas of pain and that, overall, his conformation is pretty good.  Also, I now have Helen’s suggestions on things that I can do to improve his core strength and balance, which hopefully will make him more comfortable in himself.  We’ve now been practising carrot stretches, particularly the low ones, and turning him in small circles.  He’s a clever boy and has picked this up quickly.  The only issue is that, as Helen mentioned, he is rather foal-like in some of his behaviours and shows traits common to horses that have been hand reared – in this case, getting over excited when offered food by hand and becoming ‘snatchy’.  He’s getting better though, as he’s learning that he always gets his reward!

Another area that needed work, and where I was hoping Helen’s suggestions would help, was in having his feet handled.  In fact it was our wonderful trimmer Caroline Andresen of Hoofing Marvellous who first suggested Helen, when she noticed that there is a slight twist to Dax’s lower right foreleg, and thought that this might be why he is reluctant to lift his front feet.

I’m sure that building his core strength and stability will make him more comfortable when having to stand on just 3 feet to have his hooves picked or trimmed and also I want to help him realise that he is safe to give us a foot for attention.  My lovely, supportive husband has been helping me with this, holding Dax, reassuring him and rewarding him when he allows us to gently lift a foot.

Caroline noticed a big difference in her most recent trim, compared to the previous one.  Dax was much more chilled!  We could also see how his feet are changing since his move to Bristol.  I find it fascinating how you can see so much in a horse’s foot!  It sort of gives you a wellbeing history for the previous 9-12 months.  In the last trim, Dax’s feet were brittle – a reflection of whatever was happening towards the end of last year.  Pieces were breaking off again this time, which shows how his feet are responding to the stresses placed on them by his weight and movement.  There is some flaring, which is a further indicator of this, and of what’s going on inside his hoof capsule.  (You can read more about hoof health in my earlier post and in this article from my website.)

So that was step one in supporting Dax to be a happier and more balanced horse, but what about the other questions I was facing?

More about that next week!

The Beast within

Those of you who’ve been following this blog – or even who’ve just read last week’s post – will be wondering what I meant by Dax’s ‘darker side’.  Let me start by saying that overall this boy is very sweet and he has a cheeky, playful, intelligent character, but as the weeks went by following his arrival here in Bristol he would occasionally show a ‘grumpier’ side, where he would suddenly turn round and threaten to nip.  This was usually more of a threat than anything else as he rarely made contact, let alone actually bite, but it made me wonder about what was going on inside his handsome head.

Then one day, one of the others at the yard, and her partner, were putting all the horses back out after we’d been putting up a track on the land.  (I’d had to leave a little before the work was finished and so I wasn’t there to help with the turnout.)  Dax knows these people well as he sees them every day and up to this point there had never been a problem.  But that night, something was different.

As the horses went down the lane and out into the field, Dax got separated from the others, so my friend went to gently steer him back towards the herd.  This guy is one of the nicest, quietest and most gentle guys I know, which made what happened next all the more upsetting when I heard about it later.  Dax suddenly spun round, ears flat against his head, teeth bared and started to charge.  Only the quick reactions of both people saved this lovely man from being attacked.

We have no idea what prompted this sudden – and frightening – shift, but it alerted us to the fact that this horse’s behaviour can suddenly switch.  To me, it showed that he is still carrying scars from his past.  I didn’t know what to do for the best.  People were advising me to send him back and my husband was afraid for my safety as, I have to admit, was I.  But at the same time I was worried for Dax.  I don’t want him to be labelled as ‘The Dangerous Horse’ because I think that’s often a self-fulfilling prophecy, causing fear in everyone and triggering the horse further.

I believe that our shadow side comes from our fears.  I therefore think that this sudden outburst from Dax came from fear, perhaps a triggered memory from his past.  We don’t have much detail about his early life.  The stories are sketchy and uncertain but it seems that he was taken from his mother at 1 month of age and left to starve.  There was also a rumour of him being attacked with a hammer…

I also realised that it brought up my fear when I heard about what happened, and that I was bringing this feeling into our relationship and interactions.  This was only making Dax more unsettled and uneasy and I knew that things could spiral downwards from there.

My journal entry around the time said:

I think that generally Dax is troubled, confused, hurt, even angry at the changes that have happened in his life. Perhaps he was beginning to trust that he was in a stable place in his previous home, with [his owner] and his pair-bond horse, but we’ve changed all that…
I would love to just put him in a field with a herd, sit with him and observe him, to learn more about him and allow him the opportunity to explore and work things out for himself… but in a yard, there are routines and ‘rules’ which I don’t think suit the place that he’s in at the moment.
I feel that inside him is a beautiful, loving horse who wants to come out, but doesn’t quite know how to trust enough to do that. I want to give him the space to find his way… but I’m worried that this might just be wishful thinking and I’m viewing him with rose-tinted glasses…

Others are suggesting things that just don’t entirely resonate for me – moving of feet, dominance, that sort of thing. I’ve just finished reading Equus Lost and would love to interact with him as a cognitive, social, intelligent, sentient being. But I still need to keep myself safe, and also the others who interact with him (on the yard, plus of course farriers, dentists, vets etc.)
Using strong discipline, and ‘dominance’ theories, doesn’t sit comfortably with me, but he definitely needs boundaries.  And perhaps this is a lesson he’s come to show me, as I’ll admit, my boundaries probably aren’t as defined as they could be!

Following this, I made an effort to be more consistent with my boundaries around Dax, hoping that this would give him a structure that would help him to feel more settled and safe.  It helped a little, but I realised that I was still carrying quite a bit of fear and that this was getting in the way of our relationship.

Fear is behind so many ‘negative’ emotions – the shadow side that we so often seek to hide from the world.

But what if we could view this another way and see our fears as needs that are not being met.  This would then allow us to explore ways to meet those needs, and would also allow us to develop greater awareness, compassion and empathy, both for ourselves and then for those around us, as we realise that any behaviour that we dislike in them is probably driven by their fear.

I decided to explore my fear to see what insight it might bring.  I wrote in my journal:

I think sometimes our wanting is so strong, and can have fear attached (of failure, or whatever) and this makes it difficult to see with clarity, perspective, balance and objectivity.  But we don’t have to be perfect, or to do everything ourselves.  Animals bring us these lessons.  They push us to look into the dark, hidden, shadowy areas of our lives that we, as busy humans, often want to close our eyes to.  But in facing our fears and ‘imperfections’ we are set free.  This is the amazing gift that caring for animals offers us – to open our hearts, to liberate us and to teach us acceptance and unconditional love.

So my dilemma was, where should I go from here?

  • Is Dax really ‘unsafe’?
  • Can the ‘ beautiful, loving horse’ within be encouraged to be brave enough to come out?
  • What would be the best way to work with him to give him boundaries while keeping myself safe and not feeding his fear?
  • How can I learn the lessons this is offering to be the best person for Dax that I can be?

I knew that one important step was to rule out pain from the equation as this can often be a cause of apparently ‘angry’ behaviour.  So I started by booking in a session with Helen Jacks-Hewett the McTimoney and Sports Massage therapist.

Next week I’ll tell you what she found and how things have been progressing since then.

Reflections

Around the time that the changes I outlined last week were going on, the trimmer, Caroline Wang-Andresen of Hoofing Marvellous, came for her second visit.  I spoke with her about what was going on with Dax and mentioned that he seemed unhappy if I tried to lift his front feet, often turning round to bite me.

While she worked on his feet we noticed that he was not as happy to stand still through the trim this time.  He tried to nip her, too, and was more fidgety than before.  She also commented that his feet were more brittle than the last time – a reflection of whatever was going on when that part of the hoof was growing (around autumn/winter last year).

She asked me to walk him up and down – which he did, thankfully – and there was no obvious sign of lameness, but she mentioned the fact that his front right leg twists slightly from the knee downwards.  We wondered if this was causing him any discomfort.  It might be a congenital difference, or could have been due to his rough start in life and not getting the right nutrition as a foal.  Caroline recommended asking her colleague Helen Jacks-Hewett, a McTimoney practitioner, to come and take a look at Dax to make sure that he’s not in any pain and to maybe suggest some ways that I can help to make him more balanced and comfortable.

Dax’s previously ‘rock-crunching’ feet

It was a few weeks before we could find a date that suited both myself and Helen and in the meantime I continued to try and encourage Dax to walk with me.  We had varying amounts of success but, frustratingly, every time I thought we’d made progress, we’d then seem to go back to square one!  I could see that Dax was either shutting down or getting agitated – his eyes would go blank or he would start to chew on the leadrope or toss his head a couple of times – and I didn’t want to push things, particularly as I hadn’t yet been able to have his body checked to rule out any pain or discomfort.

I wrote in my journal at the time:

June 3

“Wondering if this [behaviour] is the predicted challenge of being with an independent thinking horse… sometimes he seems so connected then so distant.”

June 13

“I think Dax had to learn – at a very young age – to survive in whatever way he could, ie to become independent, at least in heart and mind.  I’m sure he’s also learnt that humans should not be trusted, at least until they prove themselves very worthy of that precious gift, and even then, perhaps only in as much as he feels safe / wise to do so…

I, too, felt that I had to take care of myself in many ways as a child.  Dax and I share so much I think – which is why this is challenging for us both… It’s been isolating in some ways for each of us, but hopefully we will find connection and healing through our similarities – that they will bring us together”

Helen came out at the end of July and did a full assessment of Dax’s conformation, suppleness and strength.  In her report she commented that she could find:

“No misalignments located in spine or pelvic joints, and no areas of muscle asymmetry or soreness noted so on the whole there doesn’t appear to be any significant underlying musculoskeletal problems.”

This was a big relief!

She went on to say that:

“His behaviour seems typical for a hand raised foal, and shows a lot of foal like tendencies even though he is 6 years old.

There is a really sweet natured clever horse in there who will hopefully continue to learn and develop given the right herd conditions and handling techniques.” 

I so hope that she’s right, and that I can provide what he needs to bring out that wonderful side of his nature.

But… there’s a darker side too, which I’d seen glimpses of and which then reared it’s ugly head unexpectedly one night.

More about that next week…

The Enigma

The weeks rolled on and Dax’s behaviour started to change subtly.  When he’d first arrived in Bristol he’d seemed happy to walk around on a lead rope and follow me wherever I took him: into the stable, into the field or around the yard.  He was less confident about going out into the lane, so we’d only take a few paces then turned round and come back.  I was aiming to build on this gradually, so that I could take him for walks and we could both have some exercise.

Things didn’t quite go to plan however!

Dax started to plant his feet and refuse to walk – anywhere!  Particularly into his stable.  His nippy-ness was also increasing.  There were days when we’d seem to have a good connection – he’d call to me when I arrived at the yard, or we’d play in the school together – then days when he’d shut down and seem to not want to know me or engage with me in any way.

I’ve found it very interesting – and rather un-nerving – how this situation seemed somehow to have left me feeling so helpless and unsure of what to do.  It’s as if all my training and experience just left me and I felt at a complete loss!  I think it was all just too close, and my mind froze.  It also left me feeling unable to listen to – and trust – my instincts and gut feelings.  I knew they were there, and occasionally they would surface briefly, but somehow I couldn’t quite get a handle on them, or follow them through.  They seemed like mists that slipped away faster the more I tried to grasp them.

Thankfully one of the other women on the yard is very experienced at taking on horses who have had difficult experiences, and she’s great at trying to get inside their heads to see things from their perspective and to understand what it is they’re struggling with and how it can be turned around.  We explored all that was going on when Dax was showing this behaviour.  We considered whether he might be in pain – emotionally or physically.  We considered his eyesight.  We also wondered about his past experiences and how these might be impacting on him.

After much gentle and patient work, my friend has helped Dax to get to the point where he will happily walk himself into the stable.  He now sees it as a safe space out of the heat and away from the flies, where he can tuck into his hay or other treats that I leave for him (usually bits of carrot and celery).  We think he was struggling with going from a bright space into a darker one (horses eyes are more sensitive to contrast and can take a while to adjust from light to dark conditions) and also the fact that there is a slight step down into his stable.  He always seemed to get stuck at the threshold and then try to ‘jump’ or rush the rest of the way in.  He has now learnt to find his own stable and to walk in calmly by himself and I’m so proud of him, and grateful to my friend for all her support.

Next week I’ll share more about my journey with this handsome enigma and all that I’m learning along the way.