In April 2011, Becky made a visit to the yard where I keep my horses. She immediately established good connections with both my horse, Icy, and my mischievous pony, Chalkie, and was able to pick up on features of their personalities and behaviours which rang true and made very good sense in relation to my experience and knowledge of them. In particular with Chalkie, she was able to convey the fact that inside his head was a very ‘busy’, noisy place, and that he could thus become over-stimulated by sounds and overwhelmed by too much talk. She explained that he was able to focus best and do his best work when communication was made in a quiet and ‘wordless’ manner, which I have used when working with him since, to good effect.
It was interesting to see how both horses relaxed in Becky’s presence, and in Chalkie’s case actually lowered his head and let out a deep breath, as if he was literally letting out a huge lot of tension. It was also reassuring when Becky was able to tell me that he did love me very much, something I try to remember when his cheekiness becomes infuriating!
However, I was most interested to see what Becky would make of my other horse, Bracken. At the time, I was not riding Bracken, and aside from one disastrous attempt, hadn’t in the year that I’d had her, on account of what had been described as her unpredictable and downright dangerous behaviour (rearing, bucking, rolling with the rider). After her behaviour on the ground actually caused me an injury, I became so afraid of her at one stage that I had refused to handle Bracken for some months, as it had been impossible to bring her safely out of her field. But I had been doing some regular ground-work with her for a couple of months prior to Becky’s visit and not only was she was handling more safely and calmly but I felt I was really starting to bond with her. Despite the fact that many had written Bracken off as unrideable, I couldn’t quite get the hope out of my head that one day I might be able to sit safely on her, which is why Becky’s visit came at a crucial time.
I told Becky nothing about Bracken, as I wanted to see what she would be able to pick up on. Becky immediately connected with her and was able to establish that she’d had a difficult and troubled past where she had not always been treated kindly by people, which fitted strongly with suspicions I had and snippets of her history I’d managed to obtain. She said that she saw her in a dark, confined place, which she didn’t like and which made her very afraid as she felt claustrophobic. This fitted entirely with my experiences of Bracken, as it had become very apparent that she did not like going into the stable block for grooming, usually bolting out of the building and, in the most extreme case, rearing and pulling until she broke her head-collar to get away. Becky also tapped into images from Bracken’s past where she saw her having her legs tied together. This made perfect sense when related to the fact that Bracken hated being tied in the yard and whenever a knot was placed in her rope would pull and rear until she broke free, yet when her rope was left loose and just looped, not tied, through the ring, she would stand quietly. As Becky connected and spoke to and for Bracken, just like Chalkie, she lowered her head and visibly relaxed, letting out a huge sigh as if she was literally letting the past, and her bad memories, go. Becky also watched me working with Bracken on the lunge line and was able to notice a stiffness one of her hind legs, which manifested itself more clearly after an injury later in the year. She also spoke to me about the importance of visualisation and how important it was that I could see in my mind’s eye a clear image of what I wanted to happen and how I wanted things to progress (for example, an image of me successfully riding Bracken) as by focussing on that I would be able to convey it to her.
After Becky’s visit, I continued working with Bracken and a month or so later I decided to put my trust in her and actually sit on her. She remained completely calm and the experiment went well, so I continued backing her for a few weeks and then finally decided to put a saddle on and ride her ‘properly’ for the first time. It was an exhilarating moment, especially the gallop she unexpectedly rewarded me with!
Since that day, I have continued to ride Bracken regularly, both in the school and hacking out, and although she clearly prefers hacking with other horses, she trusts me and is confident enough to hack alone as well. And although those first few times I rode her were a bit nerve-wracking, I can honestly say that (to date) Bracken, even when startled, has never so much as attempted a rear, buck or roll with me, and far from being a horse I am afraid to ride, I actually feel that she really looks after me when I am on her back. I even ride her bareback to and from her field and there is nothing greater to establish trust and a bond with your horse as when you’re cantering full pelt across a field bareback, with nothing but her mane to hold on to, and in pitch black darkness!
Several people at the yard who have known Bracken for years have commented on the difference in her and even gone so far as to describe it as nothing less than a miracle, but I know that I have hardly the experience to take credit for her transformation and that every time I work with Bracken, I never forget that I have Becky to thank for the way she was able to connect with her and help her release the bad memories and burdens from her past which caused people to label her as a ‘bad’ horse. And I can never thank Becky enough for her role in helping Bracken to become a calm, happy and rideable horse.