DiDi had been a ‘sharp’ horse ever since I had known her. She was always ultra sensitive to the rider’s every move. She was a horse you did not slump down on - perforce you sat upright and alert. She had a way of startling by almost ‘shrugging her shoulders’ - a sort of ‘Oof’. It was an unnerving movement until, or when, you learned how to ignore it. She mini shied and then almost instantly it was forgotten. It must have been a relic from her past. A far more lethal shy in her repertoire was a sudden jump off all four feet towards the offside during which DDI would rise at least two feet off the ground. Horse and rider would land over a horse width away to the side. There was no warning given. Neither a twitch of the ears, nor a tension in the body. Either the experienced rider sat in or fell off. Then on other occasions she would stop dead in her tracks, her neck would come up, her ears would prick to the sky and she would feel just like a spring ready to uncoil. In many ways, she was to the capable rider a joy to ride because she was so sensitive. The slightest pressure of the calves, a slight resistance on the rein and she would respond. The rider asked her for trot and she would trot until asked to walk (or canter). Show her something new and she would learn the move within three attempts. And , Oh My , could she step out when she wanted to! She always preferred to be up front and in the lead of a line of horses. But sadly as an all round trail riding horse, over ground fresh to her, she could be a pain to ride. She was suspicious of any piece of paper lying on the ground and even more so if it had been carried by the wind. There was no riding long and low with DiDi. A permanent but subtle contact with the mouth had to be maintained at all times.
I would go to collect her from her paddock and we had a routine which had to be followed every time. It included a treat. She would walk alongside my shoulder on a loose lead rein but then at the top of her paddock she would balk and look around to check where the other horses were standing.
In the stable one could groom and tack her up without clipping her to the ring. One could even clean her feet out without securing her. She would stand whilst you mounted from a block.\ She was, when she was in the mood, a delightful horse to own. From time to time, she’d have an ’off’ day and in the end one learned that it was easier to change one’s plans. I put her moods down to being a mare.
Using force, either with or without a crop, simply did not work with this horse. Indeed it would be counter productive. She’d come round in due course of her own volition without even the need for a raised voice.
After we moved over to the Countess’s yard, DiDi’s routine changed.. She would be ridden in the arena early each morning to learn her trade of Dressage Diva. Soon she was working at all times on the bit in a rounded outline. The Countess was more of a professional horsewoman than an amateur. She had been surprised at DiDi’s forward going manner and her ability to learn quickly. In the first year, DiDI was to rise through the ranks of dressage to Elementary level.. She was winning regularly at Affiliated Novice and she had gained a place to the Nationals. She was becoming well known on the circuit
It was almost a year after DiDi had been introduced to dressage that I one day noticed a change in her. The moods were swinging more regularly. She was showing aggression towards the geldings. She would snap at any horse which came close by. A Grand Prix dressage rider was asked to give her a
work out but the rider was very nearly dumped after taking liberties. That incident caused a little furore and DiDi was subsequently marked down by the local horse riding sorority as a super sharp horse, one fit only to be ridden by expert riders. So we changed the routine. If we were competing locally then in future DiDi would be warmed up on our own yard rather than be left for her to warm up in the warm up arena.. It was safer that way. DiDi at 15 hands may have been the smallest horse competing but she certainly was not the most docile in a ring filled with some very expensive warm bloods.
Then one day there came an incident which I took too little notice of. During a lungeing session DiDi suddenly freaked out. Standing in the middle of a sand arena without any fence rails, when attached by lead rein to half a tonne of horse just a few feet in front of you, can be a daunting experience at times - especially when the horse decides to go into a fast canter. That day I remember her running and my ultimate relief when eventually she calmed down. At one stage I was very concerned and I called out to The Countess, who also witnessed the event. We both decided DiDi was having one of her off days In actual fact, it had been something more than that. I untacked her, fed her some grass from the verges and put her away.
Some time later in the month of February there was another similar incident but much worse. The hunt had gone by that morning. A tractor was working in the adjoining field, as it often did and there was a helicopter flying overhead. Neither the hunt, the tractor nor the helicopter was strange to DiDi She’d met with them all before. I thought to take her back in, until things were quieter but I decided that it would be good practice for her to meet with the outside world. At first all went well. DiDi was coping and getting on with her daily exercise, then all of a sudden , for no obvious reason she freaked out. On the lunge she took off at the racing gallop around a relatively narrow circuit. She was going so fast that she was leaning over at 45 degrees. I could not even slow her down, let alone bring her back to walk. It was not as though all three frighteners were still present, only the tractor remained steadily chuntering away at the hedgerows. It was working at least fifteen metres from DiDi even at the closest point. Nevertheless DiDi ran and ran and ran. I held on to the lead rope grimly because I knew there was a strong risk of her losing her balance. Slowly but surely I got her back into ordinary canter, then trot and finally walk and eventually to halt. I was exhausted and DiDi was heaving. This episode was not just a result of fear, this was something else. But what?
Of course, other little incidents began to creep into our thinking. DiDi had been seen recently charging up and down the fence line on a couple of occasions And I had noticed that on occasions, when I went to collect her, that she was fractious. We wondered whether this was something to do with hormones. Was it diet? Was it the politics of the herd? Was it the onrush of new grass?
But I had felt her terror at the end of that lead rein. I wondered whether she could be in pain. Horses run from pain and fear and fear of pain. They are never moody for no good reason.
Of course we spoke with everyone we knew in horses. Were there clues to be had as to what was going on within a horse which was usually fairly placid? We tried a branded calmer. We tried one or two other homeopathic ideas. But although she had calmed a bit, she was not back to normal.
Next step would be to call the vet.
To be continued