By Lesley Polson
I used to ride a horse that once spooked at a butterfly.
Granted, it did spring out of a hedge, and it was a particularly brightly-coloured, fluttery sort of butterfly, but hardly a threat.
The horse, all 17.2hh of him, spun with the agility of a polo pony and shot off in the opposite direction. But isn’t that just horses?
My current ride is a sensible type and generally bomb-proof, but on certain days, at certain times of the year, he can out-spook the best of them.
Sheep, for example. Now, he sees sheep all year round, but come Spring, they turn scary, I’m not sure if he suddenly thinks they’re pigs – and what horse is comfortable with pigs? But at this time of the year, the sight of one will turn him into a nervous three year old, which can be very tricky indeed.
It’s around this time he also gets tetchy about ramblers, especially when they’re in large groups carrying rucksacks.
Many a time have I passed a group of nervous walkers with a fixed grin on my face and at a beautifully executed collected canter on a horse six inches taller than when we started out.
All of this is entirely fine, he’s generally up on his toes and frisky because he’s spending longer hours in his stable. He’s been clipped and it’s a bit nippy out there – and what better way to welcome Spring than shaking up your rider?
As riders, we expect this sort of behaviour, we have to, being unseated can at the very least be painful, and can be an awful lot worse.
So, prepared we must be for our horse’s ‘careering along the road time’, but that doesn’t mean over-anxious, we don’t want to transfer our anxieties to our horse now do we?
But it’s no good just knowing your horse, although that does help of course, we must always be prepared for the unexpected.
An owl or a pheasant suddenly taking off from a hedge right next to you, a plastic bag caught in the wind, or how about the classic, the silent cyclist coming up from behind you on a quiet country road?
Then, of course, there’s the windy day. I know plenty of riders who will venture out in Arctic temperatures and in pouring rain, but never, ever, on a windy day.
All these things can set off the flight instinct, they’re not innocent and harmless, they’re bears, tigers and wild pigs, it’s our job as riders to expect them and to sit tight and enjoy the ride – after all, summer is on its way.