Learning to trust my instincts

How often do you listen to those niggling gut feelings? Sometimes it’s the urge to take an umbrella out on a clear, warm day. Other times it’s a sense that something’s not right in a relationship.

I’m a big believer in listening to my gut when making decisions, and trusting those first instincts. It’s hard, especially as ‘oh, it just feels like the right thing to do’ isn’t the easiest way to justify a decision. And sometimes I get it wrong. But more often than not, listening to my instinct works.

Floyd hasn’t settled on individual turn out. He’ll have a couple of days, a week of being fine and calm. But then something triggers him, and he starts pacing again. Sometimes, the pacing only happens when other horses start coming in. Not great, but not unmanageable. Other times, it would start as soon as he went out.

It’s horrible to see, and it can’t be good for them mentally or physically. He does it in all weathers – sun, snow, rain, wind. He does it regardless of company, and regardless of how much food he has. Exercising him beforehand didn’t make a difference, nor did changing fields.

I’d sought advice from everywhere and everyone. But two pieces of advice came up repeatedly: he needs company and space. For obvious reasons, I couldn’t easily try them!

I think I knew, deep down, that the only way to stop this was group turnout. Friends were sympathetic, but all agreed that he sounded like a stressed, insecure horse. Individual turnout works for some – and for others, like mine – it really doesn’t.

No matter what I tried with him, no matter how many good pace-free days we had, I couldn’t get rid of that niggling feeling. You need to move him to group turnout. He’s unhappy, because of where you want him. With everything else, he was fine. He liked his stable, liked the other horses on the yard, and didn’t get stressed while riding. But seeing him coated in mud – legs, belly, face – almost every day, made me feel awful.

At the beginning of the year I started a new job. It meant I didn’t have time for DIY, and I missed having people around in the evenings after work. The hunt began for a part livery yard with plenty of night owls and group turnout – and luckily it didn’t take long to find somewhere that ticked every box.

Turning him out with the boys for the first time was terrifying, yet amazing. He went out with the existing herd, and spent 10, 15 minutes galloping around. As soon as I saw him playing with his new pals, I knew I’d made the right call for him. He’s a young, sociable horse who – I believe – needs to be in with other horses.

And the difference in him, already, is amazing. He’s super shiny and more relaxed in himself: he’s lost the ‘pinched’ look around his nose that he often used to have after a day of being stressed. Being in a set routine – going out with the same boys at the same time, and coming in at the same time – is working wonders, and I’m so glad he’s happy.

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Looking shiny and (dare I say it) a bit fat.

Backwards isn’t always a bad thing

This niggling gut feeling doesn’t stop there though. Of course not. I’m an equestrian, so I need at least 18 things to worry about at one time.

Floyd’s not felt 100% since Christmas. There’s a million different reasons I could put this down to: having nearly a month off; having a few major meltdowns in the field; having lost a lot of muscle and condition from less work. He just didn’t feel or look quite right and I didn’t like how he felt under saddle.

So, with the move to the new yard, I’ve decided to take him back a few steps. Our goals this year are to start working at Novice in dressage and attempt an ODE. But for now, I want to work on the basics again.

I need to build his hind end up, so we’ll be doing loads of walking on the roads (sorry to any local drivers!). In the school, I need to make a concentrated effort to slow him down, and encourage him to make each step more pronounced and deliberate. Through this, he’ll hopefully start to life more through his core. Pole-work will back this up, as will focusing on lateral work – especially in walk.

In our last lesson, we spent a lot of time working the walk. I slowed it right down, and instantly felt him start to come up through his core, and bring his legs underneath him. We then used poles, and actually managed to walk through a set without clunking any (anyone who’s taught Floyd and I in a pole-work session will understand how rare this is!).

We used canter poles for both walk and trot, and after a few exercises, widened them, encouraging him to stretch and lengthen his stride. Though he finds it difficult, he tried so hard and did it well a few times.

His canter has regressed again, so I’m not worrying about working it. He’ll have a few canters in each session just to open him up (and so I don’t get scared of it again), but he’s not strong enough to work it properly at the moment.

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6 thoughts on “Learning to trust my instincts

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