Horses are complicated animals, very complicated. Less complicated to an expert perhaps, but only after years of dedication, observations, gaining knowledge and working around them does an expert understand equine behaviour and psychology. In this respect a novice has no clue to the complexities of the equine brain. To a person that has no knowledge of horses whatsoever they must seem very uncomplicated, perhaps just a four legged mammal that people ride. This is why I write about horses, if I live another 40 years I will still not have even scratched the surface of the many subjects relating to equine behaviour. It’s a harrowing journey in some respects because as I gain more knowledge, I am also haunted by the mistakes I have made in the past. My aim now is to spend the next 40 years striving to get things right. I write because if I could help just one person avoid my mistakes and help someone understand their horse better, I know at least that horse will have a better life.
Whoever came up with that line should be cold hosed on a winter morning, naked.Those that are fond of saying it should stop and think how those words may impact a child. I cringe when I hear an adult saying it to a group of children, it’s worse than cringing, I feel like someone has physically slapped me and it makes me wince. The line I usually hear next is check your diagonal!
See where I’m going with this?
When out hacking through the countryside or along roads my mare will display anxiety when approaching and passing horse paddocks. If these horses are just standing around grazing she will become head-high and attempt to focus on the herd. I can feel her attention has shifted from me and I’ve become a mere passenger. Continue reading “The Bolt: Part 2”
All 3 horses spooked sharply. Conditions for a hack that December day were great, admittedly it was cold, but the sky was blue and the wind was busy ruining someone’s hair in another part of the country. It was quiet and frost still lay unthawed in the shadows of the hedge-line. These are the worst spooks, initiated by things you didn’t see or hear coming. This wasn’t a chip-wrapper gently blowing toward me in which I had time to communicate to my horse it’s okay. This wasn’t a florescent lycra-clad cyclist passing me from behind. This particular monster was silent and unseen.
The most dangerous kind. Continue reading “The Bolt”
The 8 year old child awoke early to the sound of weaver birds that were industriously building natural wonders made out of stiff grass. The house was quiet as her family continued to sleep soundly. The noise of something shifting outside the bedroom window indicated that one particular mammal knew the child was awake, which was her faithful German Shepard.
6 months previous to this morning the child had been told to sit quietly and mind her manners during a visit to a family friend’s house. This is what happens to 8 year old children, they always have to go where their parents go, no matter how dull it may seem to a young mind. Their chatter filled the air of this man’s large lounge, but the child sat in silence swinging her short legs back and forth on the sofa while staring at the ceiling fan. She was prohibited from playing in the garden, because like many gardens in this Zimbabwean town, there was a guard dog out there that would more than likely eat a stranger roaming in the garden.
The child asked if she could use the bathroom, what she really wanted to do was have a good nose around, anything to break the boredom. After a good 5 minutes of looking through the cabinet and sniffing pungent liquids in glass bottles the child grew disappointed at the lack of makeup and other girly paraphernalia. It would seem to the child there was no mummy in this house. The cabinet consisted of things called Old Spice and Brut 33. Also a good squeeze of the tube of BrilCreem meant the girl had spent 3 of the 5 minutes mopping stinky white stuff up off the floor.
Slowly walking back to the lounge she passed the double glass doors that led to the garden. Hesitant now, she stopped and listened to the adults chatting, and did the only thing a bored child would rightfully do. She carefully tried the door handle which was indeed unlocked. She quietly opened it just enough to slip through into the heat of the day.
The garden was large, very overgrown and mostly without colour apart from the splashes of yellow from gnarled unmanaged lemon trees which were adorned with fruit. The path led to a clearing consisting of worn away grass interspersed with dusty patches of soil that had been baked under an African sun. The child saw a rudimentary kennel with a post that had been hammered into the ground. Attached to this post was a heavy duty chain, and secured to this chain was an enormous German Shepard. He was dozing in the hot sun with flies swarming around his eyes and chewing on his frayed ears. His paws were lightly paddling the air, perhaps he was dreaming of a time when he was once running free through the African bush. There was a battered metallic object near him which must have once been a shallow bowl which had become flattened over time.
The child called out to the dog which instantly leapt to his feet and launched himself towards her barking wildly. The child ignored the 2 rows of yellowing teeth and walked toward the battered metal plate.
Is this yours? The child asked the dog as she picked it up.
The behaviour of the dog instantly changed. Perhaps he thought the small girl had brought food for him. He sat and whined, his now wagging tail formed swirling semi-circles in the dust. The child knelt beside the dog and caressed his head. She then ran her hand down his face to his neck, and unclipped the chain.
Two panicking parents and the boring man came rushing into the garden some 10 minutes later. By the looks on their faces they perhaps thought they were about to find the corpse of their 8 year old child. What they were presented with however was a very much alive little girl playing a game of Frisbee with a battered metal plate and a fly-chewed, but happy dog.
This is why the girl with sun-bleached hair now had a German Shepard sleeping outside her bedroom window every night. Either the boring man did the right thing and gave his dog a chance of a happy life, or he decided that he had the worst guard dog ever. Either way, the dog went home with the little girl that day.
So 6 months later the dog shifts his weight as he hears his young friend has woken and is getting dressed. The child is too excited to sleep any longer for something is happening today that she has been dreaming about since she was 3 years old.
The short boots are second hand but the child doesn’t care and for the next half an hour she sits at her parent’s dining room table making a terrible mess with boot polish. Her father had always instructed her to put down newspaper when using polish, but the child could not find any.
Before leaving the house the child grabbed her black velvet riding hat and gazed at it with wonder and excitement. Again its second hand, but the grateful child doesn’t mind. She looks inside and suddenly understands the lack of newspaper in the house. Her mother has lined the inside of the hat with last week’s edition of the Harari Times. There was no chin strap either, as they either hadn’t been invented by the late 1970’s, or this hat was an antique. Either way, the child would grow to learn the importance of a chin strap, and why it’s not ideal to use newspaper to make a hat fit.
At 6.00 am she set off to walk the 2 miles to her friend Susan’s house, but not before hugging the giant dog that outweighed her by at least 2 stone. Upon arriving she rang the doorbell but there was no answer so she tried again. Muffled sounds could be heard from inside and 20 seconds later Susan opened the door in a bedraggled, just woke up state. The blond girl eagerly asked her friend if her Dad was ready to take them to the stables. Susan did not share her excitement however and informed her friend that she was 4 hours early! With that, the door was slammed shut and Susan presumably went back to bed. Susan may be forgiven for assuming her friend would then return home.
She didn’t, the girl with the second hand boots and the news-paper packed hat sat on the curb outside Susan’s house for the next 4 hours thinking of horses, eagerly waiting for the moment she had been dreaming of since the age of 3.
*I dedicate this story to the memory of my beautiful dog Thor.
Meredith and Linda had been meeting up at 10 am every Sunday for the last 6 months in order to hack out together. There was nothing particularly different about this day, they also chose to ride the same usual trail. The two ladies enjoyed each other’s company and would ride side by side chatting about the previous week’s events which involved work and family life. They both enjoyed this particular route as it consisted of a woodland trail that would lead to open country side with gentle grass slopes. There was one such slope that the two ladies always chose to canter up, and this day was no exception.
Meredith would always lead the canter as her horse was more sensible and easier to control. Interestingly however, no-one had ever suggested to Linda that if her horse was not easy to control, perhaps cantering through open country-side might be a bad idea. Both ladies went into trot, and canter quickly resumed as the horses had already anticipated this gait. Within 2 seconds this ‘normal’ day became catastrophically different from all the other days they had ridden together.
Linda’s horse was not interested in a sedate canter up the hill and went into gallop, quickly outpacing Meredith’s horse. The latter was not accustomed to being left behind, so quickly followed suit which meant both horses were now racing uncontrollably up the hill. Usually in these situations the rider will swear profusely while trying to regain control and will anticipate the horse will probably stop at the top of the hill as normal. Things may have turned out this way but Meredith decided to perform an emergency dismount (her words) when she could see that Linda had lost control of her horse, and her own horse had then become strong. In what have must been a split second decision, Meredith decided her life was in danger so threw herself from her horse. Unfortunately Meredith’s right fibular wasn’t designed to accommodate 11 stone of human hitting sun-baked ground at 25 mph so responded in a way which meant Meredith’s riding hat would be left gathering dust for the next 14 months.
Here you may think I’m about to wrap the story up, and inform you of the absolute disadvantages of using the emergency dismount, but no, it gets worse.
Linda was doing relatively fine during the first 4 seconds of this bolt, and even though she had lost control, nothing had really changed during this short interval. Both horse and rider were heading up the hill at neck breaking speed, so while probably terrified she was at least still in the saddle.
Linda had almost reached the top of the hill and her horse was starting to slow, at this point I fully believe Linda may have been able to gain control. Additionally the horse had probably been unwittingly trained to stop here anyway, as both women had done exactly that for the last 6 months. Meredith’s horse however, which was now riderless, completely out of control, and undoubtedly spooked at his riders dismount swept past Linda like a run-away freight train. The circumstances of what unseated Linda at this point are unclear, but they would be multitudinous non-the-less.
Linda’s hat will not be gathering dust for the next 14 months like Meredith’s, as Linda is now paralysed from the waist down and will be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
Was this an unavoidable accident? Not in my view.
Rightly or wrongly I believe Meredith put Linda in terrible danger by not continuing to try and gain control of her horse. Linda’s chances of gaining control with a panicking galloping riderless horse behind, beside or in-front of her were greatly diminished. All sorts of catastrophic events could have occurred with this horse running in a blind panic, there may have been children in the area, or even a busy road to cross further on. The hill should have not been cantered up every single time the ladies were out, and riding the exact same trail was a mistake. I am by no means blaming Meredith for Linda’s now tragic circumstances. However Meredith gave up all responsibility of the animal and the proceeding events by removing herself from the horse and the situation…to the detriment of Linda.
But rather than list all the things that were not right, let’s turn to this very dangerous, very misconstrued term I’ve heard bandied about over the last few years…The Emergency Dismount. Here is an example of myself performing such a thing; My friend and I are hacking out together at a steady walk and her horse spooks sharply at a pheasant flying up from beneath us. She is thrown to the floor and hurts herself. This is a location that I never intended to dismount, but it is now necessary as my friend needs help. I have done various things in this situation but they mostly consist of checking the person is ok, catching the loose horse, and ringing an ambulance if need be. An emergency dismount plainly speaking means an unplanned dismount when a situation deems it necessary. Ideally you will dismount when the horse is relatively calm, and standing still.
There is no way I would throw myself off a moving horse and I will hang on for dear life if I have been unseated. The times I have been thrown have been so fast and unexpected that I have hit the floor with relaxed muscles.
Leave the intended dismount at trot, canter and gallop to the professional stunt people and trick riders. They have spent many years perfecting this technique but still probably broke bones along the way, it also unlikely they call it an emergency dismount. If anyone would like to practice an emergency dismount at canter or gallop perhaps stand on the roof of a car travelling at 25 mph and throw yourself off, I already know you won’t be so keen on the idea.
*This is a true story although the names have been changed