A private wild life safari – on our doorstep

Bitou and I normally have lessons on Thursdays, but it’s been raining so much that everything is waterlogged and we decided to rather not destroy the grass. So, we ended up going on an outride instead.

We rode out towards the beach and Bt was just fantastic. We went further than what we’ve ever gone alone, and as we turned around, someone came past on their way to the beach. We followed him for a bit before turning around and having a trot through the deep water and stopping for a mouthful of lush green grass at the water’s edge.

As we rode back, I saw a dog walking on the access path. Immediately I wondered what a lone dog was doing there, when I realised that it was actually the Noordhoek caracal!!! Finally! Everyone has been reporting glimpses of her, and I’ve never seen her! We were 50m or so behind her (close enough for me to recognize the ear tufts and tracking collar without my glasses). Bitou was walking fairly fast and every now and then I asked him to halt as the caracal casually walked out in front of us, zig zagging across the path to avoid the water.

I was softly speaking to Bitou but she wasn’t worried about our presence at all. She glanced back every now and then but didn’t increase her pace. As we reached a patch of water (which is obviously more noisy), she started trotting and disappeared through the fence. I was busy telling Bitou how absolutely privileged we were to have seen a caracal (a shy animal) for so long when we turned the corner, and… There she was again, carefully choosing her path to not get her toes wet!!

Bitou was walking fast and we ended up following her very closely when a breeze must have picked up. I was so enchanted that I didn’t realize until Bitou stopped abruptly, giving an almighty snort and started shaking his head up and down.

I suspect he didn’t realize what it was until that moment ! He didn’t try to bolt or spin around but he flat out refused to move forward, obviously sensing the predator and the danger it held for a prey animal. I gave him a few minutes and then tried to make him move forward but he straight out refused. I realized that, although he wasn’t putting either of us in danger, I wasn’t going to be able to override the instinct, so I hopped off and led him a few steps, taking care to stay in front of him. He settled immediately and I hopped back on, having a lovely chilled ride home, grinning ear-to-ear (still am actually!) about experiencing something so unique and magical, with my special boy who kept me safe even when he sensed extreme danger.

What an experience: having followed her closely for approximately 100m.

How lucky is that!!

A rather sad state of affairs.

I went for a walk the other day. I walked past a property in an affluent area where there were a few horses. There were three or four horses, each standing in an individual sand paddock, about 8x8m big. They stand there the entire day. Tonight they go into their 4x4m stable until tomorrow, when they get to go to their 8x8m paddock again. I’m sure the owners genuinely love their horses. 

I recently watched some dressage (adult riders). In one class, a horse that was noticeably uneven (a euphemism for lame), won. I’m sure the riders love their horses and I’m sure the judges know best. 

Not long ago I went to a jumping show. There were lots of pony riders. The default thing that I noticed, is that when most of these kids (barring one or two) want their ponies to do anything (move, stand still, turn) was to give them a massive smack with their crops. No soft leg/calf squeeze first, no voice cue, no indication of any sort of preparation so the pony can expect and prepare that he is about to be asked something. Just a hell of a smack. I’m sure the kids genuinely love their ponies. 

I wonder what I do with my horse, which makes people say the same about me.

The thinking game

You know you’re on the right track when your coach says, right at the end of the (rather complex) lesson “you are getting closer to doing all of this without a bridle”.

Winter is a tricky time to ride. The days are so short and everything is so wet, that you struggle to get a decent ride in. That equals Bitou not working enough and becoming excessively high energy (as in, spooks every second second). I said yesterday that for the last 10 days or so, it feels as though I only have my horse under me 50% of the time, the rest of the time we’re completely out of sync because he is spooking at something, and I am in front, behind, or on the side of the direction of movement.

I asked Jenny whether we can do a mentally difficult session, so that Bitou has to concentrate properly, and she didn’t disappoint. We did a lot of basics (something I let slip on outrides, and besides my lesson once a week, I hardly do anything other than outrides… 😳) and went on to circles and serpentines and then to circles in the canter but… using only voice cues in the canter, nothing else. Bitou was incredible, concentrating hard, focused on his work and active, listening, and not a single spook.

It just made me realise once again how much he loves his job. He has become bored on the outrides because I didn’t use them to make him think. I would just ride with a loopy rein and wonder why he spooks. Today I realised again that he needs to think and be stimulated. He thrives on it and he is so chuffed with himself when we get something difficult right. And to hear that comment from your very honest coach, when you’ve been struggling for two weeks, is really something.

I tucked him in and sat with him for a bit while he munched his teff. When I left and I was halfway across the paddock, I turned around as I walked away, as I do every day, and waved at Bitou. He always watches me as I walk away, but today he had a huge mouth full of teff and as I waved, he started shaking his head up and down (as horses do when they have a big chunk of food that they’re trying to break into smaller pieces!). I could swear he was waving back at me after our amazing session.