Alberta’s weather sharpened into deepest winter temperatures and powder snow last week, dreadfully character forming when late-night haying – as I do to give the home herd boys a metabolism boost in those colder dark hours last thing around midnight. Pile on another couple of layers, Asheton, slide on Thinsulate gloves (so good!), padded-out trousers and easy – done in minutes, amazing how seriously zero temperatures concentrate the mind!
Riding instructor Shannon Daly – just back from time at international eventing coach Christopher Bartle’s Yorkshire Riding Centre base – unusually turned up with free time on her hands. (She had her amazing cameras on board and took some telling photographs of the Mops-horse.) Clients, she tells me, are still shell-shocked at the frosted temperatures. Lessons will come up to speed in a week or two, but right now, owners are adjusting and can think of warmer things to occupy their time.
Ha!, I think, those clients are riding in heated indoor arenas, blanketed and cosseted horses and here’s the lunatic here with velvet-furred four-leggeds long-lining up and down around the old farmhouse’s surrounding fields in six inches of powder snow that squeaks, it’s that cold. The horses’ breaths plume and frostings silver onto the hairs of their noses while, two down layers and another two besides, I’m roasting, striding behind, alongside or circling.
The pinto is the glue in the herd – the boy who gets on with everyone, even managing to munch hay right alongside the very alpha mare The Best. Horses like these are invaluable for that asset and the way the home herd operates has been a revelation in horse mental health to me these past years.
Behaviour studies indicate horses operate at optimum with, somehow, an ideal of around 14 hours per day munching, nibbling, fossicking around. In the summer we stuck a pedometer on the white mare’s front fetlock and even though you’d swear every time you looked she’d be heat hazed and snoozing, on average they were clocking up 5-12 kilometres per day, meandering around.
Not quite a box stall kind of lifestyle.
I remarked to Horse-Canada’s managing editor, Amy Harris, I wanted to include research and thoughts about bio-mechanics with this blog about the wildie colt’s adventures into the world of combined driving, but after reading piles and piles of material, I realize I’m talking about a different science altogether.
Horses’ behaviour patterns are linked to physical responses – horses show us this, but we humans don’t often get it. It’s like getting a mentally awkward (perhaps physically that way too) horse to stretch forward and down and around and out, to create a bend that means they’ve ‘let’ you into their space, mentally and physically and psychologically. Or them standing straight and then voluntarily looking around towards you – what a gift! We need to learn, at that moment, to thank, to acknowledge, by either collapsing the hip closest to them, or back a step away and backwards to create a ‘vacuum’ of space and into which they’ll then half-step towards you, another gift. These are huge deals to horses, saying Look! Look! And do we notice? Nope. Not very often.
Every single one of these photographs so brilliantly captured by Shannon, at just the right moment, show both horses gifting, or mirroring my own body language where I’m trying, very hard, to walk, acknowledge theirs.
Mops-horse is surprisingly idle in these photos, perhaps still a residue of inner hesitation of listening, really listening, to a human. Then the next really big deal is bend and a ‘stretch’ laterally along the length of the outside ribcage on a circle using no ‘rein’ (or long line) pressure, just body language. Get this one and suddenly, the diaphragm muscles release, deep relaxed breathing and a stride really opening, stretching out – special!
If you’re riding this idea, try doing it without a bridle, no reins. An Australian horseman and trainer Jason Webb advocated this recently (he did it too playing a game of polocrosse!), and it’s a revelation about straightness, and how much we can even inadvertently and subconsciously influence a horse’s bend when trying to correct ‘crookedness’ factors.
Ally that with really genuine deep diaphragm breathing of your own – as works spectacularly with the Apache pinto – and feet that take time to ‘feel the earth.’ I call it beneath your own when long lining, lungeing too – not ‘pavement’ walking with upper chest breathing, fine for high heels! – and now, say the horses, we have a connection.
More ideas next week.