Years ago my husband made a comment that struck a chord with me. He said that dogs can enjoy an outing much more than horses. When I tried to argue this he said,dogs get to run around, sniff and pooch at things but horses only get out when they’re ridden and they never get a choice about where they go! He was so right.
I now love working at liberty and giving my horse the choice to stop and pooch. Newbie and I have a great relationship which allows us to do a lot of work at liberty…on the beach. I live on the shores of Tralee Bay, a shallow bay, several miles across, which pretty much empties on low Spring tides. In addition, Tralee Bay opens to the Atlantic Ocean and the next parish west is in the U.S.of A! So we have a wide and wonderful playground, swept clean daily with lots of (seaweed) mats randomly arranged just for us.
We can lunge, trot, walk together, go from mat to mat at liberty and add in the leg flexions he loves. We can be walking casually along when he decides to collect up and offer shoulder-in at walk….magic. Yesterday we were out together just strolling along when he suddenly stopped. When he stops to look at something like that, I usually just keep walking and he joins me soon after or I call him to come. And he trots over to me. Yesterday that did not happen.
The local primary school is close-by with a small sheep field between the school and the beach. Obviously taking advantage of a fine spring day, there were the sounds of a game being played in the yard, complete with sharp referee’s whistle. In a classroom there was a tin-whistle lesson taking place. (For anyone unfamiliar with the Irish tin whistle being played by a group of young learners, it can be a tad piercing and excruciating) Brave teacher!
The unusual noises alerted Newbie who stopped to look, but then the sheep decided they had had enough and took off across the field. Newbie turned to look at me when I called, his head high in alarm, but then clearly felt that home with his herd would be the better option. He headed off in that direction, happily only at a walk, so I walked back, not towards him but parallel to him until we were past the sheep field. I called him again. This time thankfully, he came to me but he was not happy…head high, looking towards the field and foot moving. He lowered his head for me to pop on a headcollar and attach rope reins but clearly he was not happy to have his head down when all those sheep thought the best option was running around!
So it was one of those ‘what to do?’ moments. Insist on head lowering? Head smartly for home? or put him to work? We were in an area where there were some of my beach ’mats’ available and Newbie loves his mat-to-mat work so this is what I decided to do….put him to work with something that he loves and feels comfortable with. We went from mat to mat at walk. I used the reins to ask for collection prior to moving off and to give him a direction to the next mat but then released him to step on it. We did this for some time and the familiarity and rhythm of the work quickly settled him down. When I felt he was relaxed, we then walked away to a different area (away from the sheep), where he was happy to stay with me at liberty once again…although I did leave his headcollar on! A few minutes of just walk, halt, back-up games and we headed home.
The next day we came onto the beach with Newbie ‘dressed’ in headcollar and reins. We strolled casually to in front of the sheep field. It’s spring and there are now lots of lambs bleating, so his head was up listening to all this relatively new noise, coming from what had been a scary place just a day ago. We started mat work and very quickly his focus returned so that we could play with reverse arc circles and even trot (which would have been unthinkable the previous day). After a few minutes (time unknown….I often think we’ve been out for 5-10 min and check my watch to find it’s been closer to 30min!, we headed off up the beach, both of us with enough confidence for me to take off the reins and enjoy some casual liberty time.