Up in Horse Training there has been a thread asking about how a fixed martingale should be used. Well I should have fitted one to Joe on a fun ride a few years ago. Read on:
Dr Jekyll Joe and Mr Hyde Joe.
Well, it should have been our third fun ride up in the forest. But it did not turn out to be a fun day. We anticipated the ride out and prepared the Boy ready for it. Incidentally never ever give extra or special feed to Joe on the night before a big event. He doesn’t need it. He was looking strong - he’s not that tall at 15h1 but he is a Big Boy. For a vanner, he is a magnificent animal. His coat , now growing fast, glistens and he has a deceivingly kind eye.
We let the other riders go off early - they prefer not to ride with BG & Joe. Eventually we rode up to the Beeches with Sara from next door, on her big chestnut, a cross country eventer. No problems on the way out; if anything Joe was a little sluggish. Until he has dumped at least three times, he’s not in a hurry to get anywhere. BG and Joe had ridden up to the woods two days previously so that BG could test out Joe’s fitness to canter. Joe doesn’t do much cantering these days. Oh Yes, Joe had not forgotten how to do it, but he had started to puff a bit from the effort as he got to the brow of the slopes. On that day BG was even a bit concerned as to whether Joe would be fit for the Sunday fun ride. But Joe is deceptive, he’s fit even though he is carrying, all over his body, an inch of wobble from eating all the grass . At the parking area and we signed in. We took our number (60) and made our way to the beginning and off we went down the path at a gentle walk; our having paid £10 to ride in our own local woods. For the first half mile all went well but then Joe began to realize where he was and what he was doing there. He’d been along this path before in April .
Sara’s chestnut had a long stride and Joe wanted to be along side. Sara said that she wanted her horse to be careful so as not to hurt himself. However the pace began to speed up regardless. At one stage with Joe following behind, Sarah put her fellow into a trot and Joe immediately went into a slow canter - the stage for racing had been set. BG could still keep the Boy in check but it was obvious that the new bit, a Waterford, was not going to hold Joe back for long. Joe could ignore it if he wanted to. After a short time, Joe got very stressed and started to pull hard. He was doing his light infantry trot in which it is easier for the rider to stand to rather than to rise to. Then he made a move to canter because, as BG later discovered, a woman was coming up behind on a light arab and was making good speed. Joe had heard the other horse’s fast hoof beats and wanted some of it.
Sara was mumbling something about the possible need for her to pull out early because her horse was going too fast for its own good. This was not the first time that BG had heard that sort of comment from an accompanying rider. Joe was at this point going like a steam engine. Finally BG had to let him go, it was the only way and off we went at the gallop and an uninhibited gallop it proved to be. Riding Joe at the gallop can be quite hairy. The rider is very well aware of the mass, almost 700 kilos, that is moving forwards at speed and that the rider has little or no control over Joe once he gets going. One can’t slow him, you simply haven’t got the strength in the arms. The best way to bring him back into canter is to aim him at a hill with the view to tiring him but if a flat level path stretches out in front of you both, then you are going for a fast ride and make no mistake about it. The first gallop BG managed eventually to pull up. Sara asked the rider on the arab to overtake us, the idea being that we would walk on. But the lull didn’t last for long . Soon Joe was off again.
BG had no brakes and Joe wanted to go.
The second gallop came to a halt when the aforementioned lady on the arab, who had obviously heard the commotion behind her, stopped and blocked the path by placing her horse across the path. BG was amazed. The lady sat there calmly at right angles whilst Joe charged up towards her. We stopped literally with an inch to spare before we might have crashed into her. BG listened to a lesson from the lady about Pelham bits and martingales and the need to change tack set ups for different types of outing. What she said was nothing new to BG. Eventually the lady headed off down the track on her very obedient horse so, politely, BG held back to give her room. That lady would have been tricky for BG to stay alongside. Joe, did manage to hold back for a bit, but then, all of all sudden, up went his nose, down went his head, the reins came out of BGs hand and Joe was off at the full bolt. The rider from our village, Sara, was a long forgotten memory. One wonders what exactly did happen to Sara and the chestnut. We did not see her again. By now BG had no strength left in his arms and shoulders. He could barely hang on to Joe. Together they went charging down the next stretch of path, completely and utterly out of control and at full tilt. But round the corner there stood this stack of straw bales with tyres laid over the top. There was no way round. Joe can’t in the arena step over a pole nine inches off the ground without kicking the pole with one of his four feet. How were we going to take this lot? BG knew that there was no option, it was either over the obstacle at the gallop or through it at the gallop. In the event we sailed over it. We did not stop and galloped on.
Then eventually BG managed to get Joe back under control. BG got him to walk, even though he was puffing and jigging like a steam train. Together we came up upon some youngsters who were all gossiping about how they would take the next series of jumps. BG knew that if even one of their horses went to jump any of the jumps along the track then he and Joe would be off in pursuit. It was one of those touch and go moments. There was BG trying to hold on; there were the kids saying that the old man on the black cob was having some trouble. Not that milk cart horses like Joe are supposed to give trouble. The overwhelming consideration was that Joe would undoubtedly create angst amongst any other horse nearby. He was already calling out to any other horse up in the woods that might listen. Luckily just along the track was a check point. A young man and woman were at the junction watching participants go by. BG pulled the Boy in and held him at the halt, facing away from the track. Joe jigged and turned and reversed and jiggled. Eventually Joe cooled down a bit and stood. But other horses were coming up the track and every time one came past at speed then things got bad again. BGs shoulders ached. As no map had been given out, BG did not know which way the route took. If BG were to fall, then Joe would most likely go off riderless after the other horses. He would represent a danger to other riders many of whom were youngsters. The sight of a grown man having difficulty was already bad enough. At the this point just up from Fiveways we could turn off the main path and make our way back to the start on our own. So a management decision was made: we would come home by the short cut. And home we went. As we passed by the event officials we gave our number tag back and apologised. No, we would not accept a rosette, we had not completed the course.
To be fair to Joe all he did on the way home, initially through all the horse wagons, was to jig about a bit. Yes BG got every three minutes or so a faceful of horse spittle when Joe threw his head up in the air but there was no need at any time to have cause for concern. Three quarters of an hour or so later, the pair were back at the stables having come down the steep slopes through the woods and up Dog Lane. Even the Mastiff was outside the cottage to bark a greeting.
What were the lessons of this outing?
1/ Pick very carefully any riding partner. BG has little control over Joe in such circumstances. Be open and honest with companions. Joe cannot be trusted to ride safely or steadily.
2/ Don’t expect Joe to behave. Get him fixed up with a running martingale and a Pelham. Try it out ASAP even though it will only be needed on such “fun rides”
3/ When getting into the line of riders, choose the spot carefully. Don’t go off with a mob.
4/ Don’t even think that you might be able to slow Joe down once he is in the mood. Its impossible. Once Joe has the bit between his teeth, he is unstoppable. Once amongst the herd, then the herd instinct has got hold of Joe. A mere amateur rider has no chance to stop this milk float vanner.
Back in the yard, Joe reverted to pseudo domicility. “Where’s my tea?” demanded Joe, somehow knowing that BG had made him up a mix of sugar beet and nuts. As Joe ate his tea; BG drank his flask of whisky sour. There was no need to make a fuss of washing Joe down for he wasn’t even sweating. Joe was back to being his usual kindly self at peace in his own stable. In Joe’s mind, I am sure he had done no wrong on the fun ride. He looked across to me from his stable door and checked that his master was OK. BG had not fallen off and Joe had not expected him to fall. Joe had had a good day and he could have had even a longer day, if BG had not pulled him out of the ride. Joe was up for it all, if only his rider was strong enough to keep control of him. What a day.
What happens next?
Be aware that Joe loves the competition and the nervous excitement to be found in a string of other horses. It reminds him of his days at the trekking centre. Against a thorobred over open soft ground, Joe will lose. However, against most horses over winding but level, stoney ground, Joe has few equals. He’s simply got to get to the front. He’ll barge his way through. Joe’s got no manners. He is a war horse.
When calm, Joe can probably be trained to be more sensitive and responsive. However when out on a fun ride with the bit between his teeth, his dark side comes to the fore. Experimentation will show whether he can be brought to heel even when excited although in truth that might prove to be problematical. With excitement comes adrenaline, with adrenaline comes power and determination. The only solution for the rider is to up the brakes. The worry will be to make sure that Joe does not turn aggressive if too strong corrective aids are employed. The problem is that the excitement he shows when in the company of other excited horses is difficult to replicate other than in the company of other excited horses, so how can different corrective aids be tested?
What is increasingly evident however, is that it will be difficult for Joe to go back to his old life of trekking. He’s definitely not safe for novices nor inexperienced and weak riders. Joe is deceptive - under some circumstances he is timid and cautious, where as in company he can, if excited by adrenaline, be almost uncontrollable. He won’t necessarily throw his rider, but his rider may well become unseated. Joe’s strength lies in his thick neck and his iron mouth - not that he means bad, he is just enjoying himself. Joe believes it is all a game. He’s his own man. But deep within him lies an excitable, strong, thug.
Joe nowadays has access to good grass and unlimited hay. As a result he is putting on weight and he is getting stronger. At his age of 10/11 , he is in his prime. He also wants to please, he is not being naughty, he is trying to win. To curb this enthusiasm for winning might prove to be difficult.
We have got to find some brakes. BG held him on the fun ride - can he hold him again in a crowd up on the ridge?