Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Woken by the Wind


It is 4 a.m. and I've been awake since 3 a.m. when I was woken by the howling wind. Then the rain began, and sleep became impossible! Now, several cups of tea later, am working at my desk, trying to block out the racket and the mental image of the horses out there in the gale force winds and horizontal rain.
Ask any horse person about the storms in their life, and you'll hear some pretty wild stories. BH (Before Horses) I didn't think much about storms (I was a city gal at the start). It was only SH (Since Horses) that the weather became of such interest. 'Batten down the hatches' didn't mean much back then!

My first big storm was while living at Tilba Tilba, on the NSW south coast in Australia. Tilba means 'wind' in the aborigine Yuin language, so I guess Tilba Tilba means double windy, and it was! A beautiful isolated spot with a tiny population, the area earned it's name, and being close to the ocean, nature unleashed some pretty spectacular storms. One winter's night I was up there alone (hubby away on business) and the old timber windows and doors of the stone cottage on the hill groaned and moaned and the wind whistled and the rain rapped at the glass like a mad visitor. Thunder and lightening came in sudden bursts, and of course I couldn't sleep, worrying about my newly acquired horses, Olé and Fez, outside in that deluge. So as any dedicated horse person would understand, I donned my Driza-Bone coat over my nightie, pulled on my gumboots and a beanie, grabbed a flashlight and ventured out into the night to check on my boys.

Needless to say it was an act of insanity, as these horses had been living on those hills for years before I came along, and tonight had wisely sheltered in the gully. I was probably in much more danger than them as I traipsed about on that treeless hill, calling into the wind, determined to 'rescue' them and guide them up to the barn shelter. Bless them, without halter or leadrope, they followed me back up the hill, their heads bent low against the wind and rain, but staying by my side. I could barely stay upright, and finally had to hang onto Olé's tail and he helped me up the hill. They didn't object when I closed the gate to their shelter near the house, where it was windless and dry, and their manger was full of hay. I dried them off with towels and stayed with them until they stopped shivering. I could have stayed in there with them all night, if I hadn't been so cold. The coat had kept me mostly dry, but my wet hair and frozen, stiffened hands needed to get dry and warm ...

I'll never forget how it felt to have the trust of those two horses as they came with me that night, walking with me through the wind, rain, thunder and lightening. While no doubt I was anthropomorphising (and it's still hard not to, all these enlightened years later, during a storm like tonight!) my horses' obvious comfort made the whole trek worthwhile.

There have been other such nights over the years, one during which the wind actually picked me up and carried me for several metres as if I was a rag doll, and another, where the herd followed me to their stable through the bush in the middle of a black night, and my flashlight battery died, And how they stopped and waited for me after I fell flat on my face in the mud (fell over a log jump in the dark), and how the guided became my guides.

And the night I slipped and fell into the water trough ... wearing my dressing gown, gum boots and Driza-Bone (coat didn't keep me dry that time). Of course pulled myself out (I think I said something like 'Oh dear', before continuing down to check on the horses) ... the insane gene at work again!

So at first light this morning, I'll be out with all the other horse people, checking on the herd, seeing that the 100 kph winds haven't done any damage, and negotiating the slippery mud! While storms are a part of nature's order, and can be fascinating and spectactular as well as scary and damaging, I'll be glad when it's calm and the sun's shining again!

Above: That's one of the shelters we made for the horses at Mansfield, note the drop down 'windows' and the open sided design - plus they could stand in there and still see the house, and all the comings and goings. And I could look out the kitchen window and see them too! :-)


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The biggest lesson of all


Trust, Confidence ..... then Respect. It keeps coming back to this. I'm developing a couple of thoroughbred fillies and daily, I am reminded of this. Too much energy from me at this point, even as I enter the paddock, and the trust gets shaken around a bit.

When the wind is up, they are more inclined to move, so I ask them to join me at a canter when I run around the paddock away from them (as I'm trying to buck and rear and pigroot in play!) They're not too sure at this stage what this all means, but heck, they figure - it looks like fun, so let's join in! There's no one around to laugh at me (or take photos) so it's all good, uninhibited fun and at the end of my antics, they both trot over, and stand quietly near me, watching me carefully.

After we've caught our breath, I bring out my communication tools. They're trying really hard to offer me their trust, standing still, with front legs spread, while I play around with my sticks and ropes. They start out with a bit of a worried look, which disappears as their confidence grows, and they even close their eyes, relaxed. Then they wonder if all this stuff is edible, so the rope chewing begins, and they pick up the stick between their lips and shake their head up and down, mocking my skills! They even try to pull the rope out of my hands .....ahhhh, this is where I can ask for some Respect! This is a good time to stand my ground and gently ask them to back away from me ... in effect, moving their feet (not mine!) Just remember it all begins with Trust and in the early stages it can be fragile, so develop it slowly.

I love all this sort of play (and it's a fun part of the education I offer to horses) as it really does help develop a bond between horse and human. And if you think it's crazy stuff, don't knock it till you try it! I've seen many students roll about on the arena sand, and run around gleefully with their horses, and the horses want to be with them all the more, running to them and leaving their horse mates to do it!

All this brings out our child-like play drive, and release your endorphins. And studies show that you need at least 12 good laughs a day to be healthy! So let your hair down, have a good roll, a run and a laugh!