One thing, I’ve come to realise recently, that horses teach you is how to think on your feet, have multiple back up plans up your sleeve, and to adapt to changing circumstances.
We all have an idea of what we want to achieve; today, this week, this year. And if you have an office job, nine times out of ten you’ll be able to fly through Plan A.
With horses however, you need to fall back to Plan B more times than you can imagine.
Before Christmas we had a few days of fog. A real pea souper of a fog. On one of those days I had one horse to hack, and two others to school. So I rearranged the order of the day to do the hacking horse last, in the hope that the fog lifts. That was Plan B. It didn’t, so half an hour before I was due to ride him it was still very foggy. Far too dangerous to go out on the roads. So I had to move onto Plan C – I rang the owner and explained the situation to see if she was happy with me schooling him instead. She was, and I managed to do that. Now I try to make sure all hacking clients know that if it’s too dangerous to hack – fog or ice – then either we will rearrange or I will school, whichever they prefer.
Then of course there is the frost and ice we have been dealing with over the last couple of weeks. I can’t always start my day later, but I can go to the yard with the arena that is most frost resistant first, and I can adjust the schooling session to accommodate the weather. That may mean no canter work, or only a little at the end if the arena has thawed. It may mean more lateral or walk work. More transitions, rein back. Anything that is steady and involves more brain power than physical exertion so that we are both safe. Usually the track of the arena softens first, so I may do hundreds of transitions instead of lots of circles, so that I utilise the best ground.
Hacking is another time when it’s useful to have a couple of back up plans. You might hope for a canter on a certain track, but it may be rutted and frozen, or a bog of mud. Which means no cantering, so you may divert from your intended route in order to find a different track. This is one reason why I don’t let the horses I hack anticipate a canter. So I can make the final call on the quality of the ground, or even have a controlled canter and then put on the brakes when I think the ground has deteriorated.
A change of plan I had more recently was when a client couldn’t catch her pony. I knew what flatwork I wanted to work on with them, but when she appeared on her Mum’s horse I was thrown a curved ball, and had to adapt my lesson plan. It’s a good job I knew this horse a bit because other exercises were more beneficial to the pony than the horse.
A more recent, and unexpected, curved ball I had was just last week when I got a horse in to hack. However I couldn’t get into the tack room because it was frozen locked. It was cold, granted, but it was also after 10am! I tried for ages to open the door, but gave up because I didn’t want to snap the key in the lock. I decided the best thing to do was lunge. But I didn’t have a bridle or cavesson, so the headcollar would have to do. Nor did I have any side reins or Pessoa. But I thought I’d better give it a go, and if I did manage to get him to stretch his long neck down and lift his back then I would have much more of a sense of accomplishment than if I’d had any help. The arena was pretty frozen but after ten minutes or so this horse did start trying to stretch over his back albeit intermittently. By the end, we were getting a few strides in a long and low position, and when I turned him out he walked out with his head level with my knee, so he must have found a new comfortable position to carry himself. That was another fairly successful back up plan complete. I’m hoping he remembers this way of going the next time he’s ridden.
Even in the running of a yard horses cause us to change our plans – losing shoes, injuring themselves and needed an emergency vet visit, or just being unsettled, distracted or tense which means you shouldn’t hack alone or perhaps jumping shouldn’t be on the agenda.
I don’t think I ever realised the extent of planning, back up planning, and alternative ideas I have running through my brain each day and how flexible I need to be to adjust and to adapt to everything the horses like to throw at me. It makes life more interesting, definitely!