We had a break in our wet weather, so I went out to get reacquainted with Willowtrail Wild Rose. It had been a few days since we’d worked together, so I started with a simple on-line exercise, asking her to walk in a circle around me. She refused. She would take a few steps then stop and look at me. I encouraged her to start again, and she would take a few steps then stop and look at me. I was stumped. Why was the circling game broken? Had she never really learned it?
I wracked my brain, trying to remember our past sessions. My memory was that we’d had it working well, but then why was it broken now? Was Rose having a pony moment, being stubborn? Certainly that was a possibility, but it wasn’t like her. I took off Rose’s halter and gave her some hay and went off to think about the situation.
Rose had been unresponsive to visual cues. Perhaps her forelock was preventing her from seeing them? This is an important question when working with Fell Ponies since some of them have very thick forelocks and shouldn’t be expected to see visual cues. That didn’t make sense, though, since Rose doesn’t have the heavy forelock of her father. Her eyes are usually visible, unlike Apollo’s; I’ve never had to braid her forelock for training sessions like I have his.
During the next break in the wet weather, I went out again to test circling with Rose. This time, though, I immediately got the answer as to why the game was broken. It was the footing. The answer came when I was a little more insistent, still at the walk, and Rose immediately slipped. Ah ha! We moved to a different place in the paddock that was drier and firmer, and she executed the circles perfectly. Ah ha!
Last year when I was riding my Fell Pony mare Restar Mountain Shelley III during the spring thaw, she taught me about footing sense, the ability to discern a safe route through treacherous conditions, in that case through patches of snow and ice and mud. Footing sense was a revelation to me because I’d ridden other ponies that didn’t have the ability that Shelley showed for choosing a safe path. I don’t know whether the judgment Rose showed about ground conditions while circling is unique to Fell Ponies, but it certainly reminded me of the lessons Shelley taught me. I am thankful that I didn’t push Rose to circle and that when I did get more insistent, I immediately recognized the problem. She wasn’t being stubborn at all, just self-preserving. Can’t blame her for that at all!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014
Shelley’s lessons on Footing Sense are included in the book Fell Ponies: Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here.