Where Mowcop Black Bess lives in Lancashire, outdoor turn-out or activity has been greatly curtailed due to horrendously wet weather. The indoor school therefore is being heavily used for lunging and riding. Normally Bess and her owner Eddie have the place to themselves at the early hour they usually use it. But now they inevitably have company when Bess needs some exercise.
One day when they entered the arena, Bess was plodding along as ponies can sometimes do. When Eddie sent her out to circle, though, she quickened her pace and started to use her whole body. Eddie verbally asked for a trot, and Bess immediately responded, and then a verbal command to lope was similarly obeyed. It was Bess’s reaction to the verbal command to stop, though, that got the attention of the other people in the area. She immediately came to a halt and turned to face Eddie without extra steps or requests. “How did you teach her to do that?” Eddie answered, “I didn’t teach her. She taught me that she could do it.”
Next Eddie put Bess back out on the circle and at 9 o’clock used the verbal command “Change.” Bess sunk and spun in the opposite direction. At 3 o’clock, he said “Change” again, and Bess quickly executed another change in direction. By this time the other people in the area were paying close attention. After several more executions, when Bess was again still, Eddie was asked, “Where can I learn to do that?” Eddie responded, “No one can teach you to do this. You have to have a relationship with your pony.” When he got a quizzical look, he tried again. “You have to have a relationship. Your pony has to want to listen to you, to do what you ask, and to show you what they can do. You have to listen to your pony too, and understand what they are communicating. When you have two way communication, you can have a relationship, and when you have a relationship, what you can do with your pony is endless.”
Apparently word of Bess’s performance got around, because on another morning, Eddie and Bess were met by a horse and its owner who wanted to show what they could do. Eddie politely watched, and when the demonstration was complete, Eddie suggested, “Now take the halter off.” The equestrian was silent for a moment, then said, “What was that?” Eddie repeated his suggestion, then said, “Do you want us to go first?” When the reply was in the affirmative, Eddie silently said to Bess, “Don’t fail me now!” And she didn’t, executing circles and changes of direction on request without any tack. When it was the equestrian’s turn, it was clear that their partnership wasn’t strong enough to work at liberty.
We’ve all seen horses or ponies running in circles at liberty on their own, so we know they can do it. Having a pony show us they’re willing to do it in cooperation with us is a statement about the relationship we have with them. A gratifying statement indeed.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016
Bess is also featured in a story about shepherding in the book Fell Ponies: Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here. In addition, Bess is featured in a chapter in The Partnered Pony: What’s Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines, available internationally by clicking here.