I ride a really cool horse named Gandalf on a fairly regular basis. That’s him over there in my blog author image.
Gandalf is a lovely big-bodied Percheron/Thoroughbred cross that I’ve been piloting off and on for about two years. His owners are wonderful friends whom I’ve mentioned from time to time in my columns and blogs, and even though Gandy’s a popular horse around the barn (and the 11-year-old sings his praises on a continual basis) they let me ride him whenever I’m out there. This makes me feel like he’s my project and my special horse, since I’ve chosen not to own a horse for the moment.
This handsome gray gelding is very brave under saddle. He marches through tall fields, deep creeks, and scary woods. He doesn’t mind leading a group hack, although he prefers not to travel abreast with other horses.
But he doesn’t display the same courage on the ground—he’s a little hesitant and sometimes wears a “concerned face.” My friend, whose horses are generally very sound in the mind and “unspookable,” has worked with him a lot on this, spending a lot of time around him in the barn and in the paddocks. She sometimes even takes a chair into his spacious stall to read a magazine, just so he’ll get more comfortable with coexisting with people on the ground.
Gandy’s a star in the cross-ties and when tied with a rope, but when he’s loose—whether in the stall or turned out—he just seems to look at the world through a more cautious lens.
My friends have done a great job with him and he trusts them more and more as each day passes (two members of the family can catch him in the field and he's more relaxed around them on the ground). But since I haven’t been out there as much, I’ve had some ground to cover. So, for the past few days when I’ve been staying at the farm, I’ve worked with Gandalf some on the ground.
Monday night we had a breakthrough. After transitioning the herd from large pasture turnout to a smaller field with less grass, I went out and visited each horse, as I’d been doing the past several days. Gandalf was so very worried about me being out there that he was trotting or cantering large loops around the perimeter of the field (it’s a pretty big field—we’re talking several acres). I was simply standing there, calmly, with no halter/leadrope in my hands and watching him and his buddies.
Photo: Stephanie Church/TheHorse.com
Caption: Gandalf looks at me warily from across the pasture a few days prior to our breakthrough.
This kept on for five or six minutes, and I just stood and watched and captured a video of his gaits with my iPhone. He stopped, finally, as if he realized all this floating around the pasture wasn’t doing much good other than giving him a decent workout. I took a few calm steps toward him, and he stood solidly in place. I walked closer and when I could tell he’d settled down, I reached slowly for his shoulder. He twitched his skin before taking a deep breath and exhaling as I scratched him in a favorite spot. Gandy chewed, and lazily dropped his head.
I hung out with him in the pasture for several more minutes, scratching and petting him before walking away.
Predictably, he followed.
I stopped. He stopped.
I turned around to take a gander at this horse, who was now eager to be nearby, and he looked at me as if to say, “What, you’re done giving me attention already?”
I approached him at his shoulder again, patted him some more, then walked away. Success.
Yesterday morning, last night, and this morning, he allowed me to approach him again in the pasture without all the drama the scenario used to cause.
I don’t know about you, but I simply love breakthroughs.
Have you had any breakthroughs with your horse recently, whether they're on the health or behavior front?