We are experiencing firsts for everything lately that are piling one into another now: first time the colt’s worked out with other humans, first time he’s been pastured with other horses since arriving, first time he’s worked ‘flagged’ in the century-old corral, and, a bonus, he’s really starting to get ‘unblocked’ on that left side.
It’s-all-Good has been in his own round pen (a kind of Western paddock, roughly speaking) for months now, a prerequisite until hormones eased off after being gelded at Easter time. I believe horses are meant to be gregarious, not segregated – they want movement, flow with their own kind, touching, awareness of their surroundings. The Best, an incorrigible flirt, had eyed up the boy from outside the pen with no interest displayed by him, so in went the complacent and even tempered Pinto, The Apache.
‘Flagging,’ as mentioned, is used by many Western clinicians, and it’s an art form when done well. Rather than let the two horses sniff up and perhaps get into a physical discussion upon meeting, you move them out together (a lungeing whip is similar), so their attention is exclusively on the human. Inevitably one will keep their nose just behind the cinchline of the other (it’s a horse space respect marker). A few changes of direction get them breathing deeper, enjoying the movement and then you ease off, see how they begin to interact with each other. In this case, well, it’s hard for anyone to pick a fight with The Apache! They just settled in, shoulder to shoulder, munching at spread out hay – happy horses.
Earlier, a girlfriend, Lara Kruger, had dropped off a great working saddle, a stylish and accomplished ranch rider. All along during the youngster’s training, I have thought that if anyone was mindful of horse language (and body awareness of their own), this horse would work for them. Lara took three minutes before the first photograph up close and personal with him – just a bit satisfying! – and her children played up and down the fencing panels, singing away. None of it fazed him one bit. We’re on the right track, getting there! Another deep breath and keep trotting forwards…
For a while now, the colt’s left-hand side blocks had me perplexed – how hard to pressure for this side to loosen up, was it muscular, was it, was it, was it? Another girlfriend moseyed in on request, a second pair of eyes. Different perception can be invaluable sometimes. After watching us work out, she was aiming more for a mental block, where he’d keep his body straight, which seemed OK, but darn, trying to get the bend to left just wasn’t happening, even with fancy footwork aimed at pushing that back end over in a lateral sidestep.
After she’d gone, I started back again with flagging work, a long pale-coloured and easy-to-see driving whip with some strands of latigo leather at its very end that are soft and supple, but tickle all the same (or bite if you swish hard enough!). The right-hand side was just fine, but, ah, that left-hand side had him definitely uneasy from ribcage back, moving away whenever the ‘flag’ sidled down towards his hock. The eye hardened, the curl just above that nostril most unattractive again, ugh I thought. The flag went in for a mild ‘bite,’ ‘Move out, do not harden your left-hand side,’ I muttered. He trotted out, we slowed down, began negotiating again, one, two, three, four goes and then, bingo! The left side freed right up. A deep breath, ears floppier, tail higher and perkier stepping out.
It’s not quite there yet, but it’s better, and part of the problem is that unusually for a horse, he’s right-footed (so is The Best, so I have two, which really is not that common) and I’m left-handed, which is just perfect for the two of us complimenting each other on the right rein, but we’re both naturally stiffer going left-handed, so I’m off to the human sports physio for exercises to balance up. Never ends, this learning curve!