BRIAR’S STORY by Avril and Emma
THE FOLLOWING IS OUR STORY:
My daughter's desire to ride and own a pony has never faltered. My desire the find her right pony has never faltered either. How it went so horribly wrong when I felt I had done every possible thing correctly was frustrating and confusing at the time. ! I was a horse rider myself and I had qualifications to prove my competence!
Having written this story and then sat and read it over, I am absolutely dumb struck at how, as an apparently experienced horse person, I managed to ignore every alarm bell that rang inside me that Briar was not right for us. I also know now that Briar was communicating a huge amount of information when we met her but I did not have the knowledge at that time to see it or feel it. And for those fleeting moments that I did, my desire to end our pony search helped me ignore it. At the time I just came to the conclusion, with the support of numerous experts, that I had just bought a series of bad ponies. To my embarrassment, Briar had not been the first, much to the detriment of Lottie’s confidence.
I know now how dreadfully unfair and incorrect my conclusion was about bad ponies, and oh how woefully inadequate my qualifications have proved to be. The truth is I had not a clue how horses truly communicated (and am still learning.) Nor did I have a clue as to what was required from a pony in regard to its training that would make it a suitable match for a child so long as it was quiet. Isn’t that the main thing? Well I thought so.
I now know without a doubt that my desperation to find a pony clouded my ability to listen to my inner voice which is a vital tool if mistakes in any situation are to be avoided. Our last pony, Briar has been a long journey indeed. One that is still not at its end but is entirely now positive in all respects but especially for Briar herself.
The advert said that Briar had been the perfect PC pony. She had been on the Pony Club dressage teams and was a genuine all rounder. She was very quiet, sweet natured and had looked after the owner’s daughter beautifully. I spoke to the mother about my daughter’s shaky confidence and that she could be unnerved easily if the pony is too bright or keen. She explained that her daughter could barely ride when they first purchased her and that they had only hacked her out to begin with and then they just grew together. The pony had competed in thunder storms and never batted an eye. Perfect!
We received many photos. All showed a happy child on a pretty looking lightweight cob. Yes she had a flash noseband on and a martingale but I didn’t give it the time of day. Most horses wore this type of tack for no other reason than owner preference. A x- country photo showed her wearing a three ring gag. I did enquire about this and was assured she didn’t need to wear it and it had only been used once. So no alarm bells there then.
We went to try her out. There she was in her stable quietly munching her hay. She never looked up when any of us walked into her stable. She was, as they said, extremely quiet. Very occasionally, they said, when they first had her she would lean back on the rope when tied up but she didn’t do it anymore or very rarely. If she didn’t do it anymore there was no need for me to even think about that or what it meant. We groomed her and she never moved, never stopped eating her hay. It was like we were not there.
The owner’s daughter rode first. I fleetingly noticed as she mounted that she yanked her head forward and pulled the rein downward once or twice. They explained that she had always done this but only at the beginning and end of work. She was better now than she had been when they first bought her and because she was such a sweet heart they ignored it and just kept the contact loose. Alarm bell? No, but should have been. My daughter rode her, she snatched at the rein a few times but once working this ceased. In the indoor school she was lovely and walked, trotted and cantered without a hitch.
We hacked out round the block and all the traffic went by including a lorry and she was just so quiet not looking at her surroundings or anything. Brilliant I thought. What grand behaviour. Except the yanking, which was gradually increasing on the way home. Hold the buckle I said. The yanking stopped; I felt better and never gave it another thought.
Finally back in the indoor school my daughter jumped her. She was great but after the very last double she put her head down and did the quickest buck/hump and turn. It was so quick and contained that if you blinked you would have missed it. I looked at my daughter’s face which had in that instant become very serious, the smile had disappeared. I looked at the owners who said she occasionally has a little hump after a fence not often though, she just loves jumping. She’s just happy we all shouted across the school (It took me ages to decide whether to put that bit in! How much was I trying to get this pony to fit what I wanted in my head!). My daughter was once again smiling. My inner voice which was yelling by now was quickly drowned out by thoughts of how quiet she was. How traffic proof. How still to be groomed. That all we needed was quiet.
On the way home my daughter chorused how brilliant she was. What about the jumping? I asked. Oh I just won’t jump she replied. In that instant I felt that that was an ok compromise for a pony that was quiet in every other respect. Maybe my daughter would learn to handle the jumping after they had bonded. “I am not sure I like the yanking” she said. “Oh, we can sort that out with some schooling”. Who did I think was going to school her? Lottie aged 11? I am so embarrassed as I am sure you are all saying; why did you buy her! And my answer would be because I just wanted to believe what the owners had experienced, we would experience. That somehow all the endearing stories they told us would become our stories. Because I thought so long as she was quiet that was the most important factor.
So we bought her. Briar had a lot to live up to because this had to work as I had enough on my plate with my business and this was supposed to bring me some space to concentrate because Lottie would be grooming and spending many happy hours with her pony!! No pressure on Briar then or Lottie!
We collected Briar the following week and put her into her stable. She already was not the pony I remembered. She spun round her stable endlessly and on every spin agitatedly snatched a mouthful of hay. I rang the now previous owners to see if this was her reaction when they first had her. All my ideas that I have used successfully in the past just didn’t work.
We sat in her stable with her for hours reading and talking to her. We bought toys. I tried to massage her which she positively hated. The previous owners came and rode her. They were concerned at how tense she was. She had hacked out ok but was on her toes and very very bright!
I must at this point explain that Briar’s previous home was a busy yard with many horses coming and going in the middle of a town. If she was not in her stable she would be in her field or on a horse walker or being ridden or competed. I hadn’t taken on board how busy Briar was kept. I hadn’t taken it on board because I hadn’t asked about her work load and when I had asked if they felt Briar would be ok working only at weekends they didn’t see that as an issue. The reason being because she was so QUIET. I suspect your mouths are open in disbelief at all our ignorance.
Her new home was a farm in the middle of the countryside with no company other than sheep and hens. I hadn’t concerned myself about this because Briar was happy being in or out on her own. However, other horses were around; even if not seen by her. Although company was found it made no difference to the escalation of behaviour. Being on her own was not the problem as she is in fact a very independent soul. Her new owners were the problem but I hadn’t made that connection at this point.
I lunged her for a long while before my daughter rode her. We took her round a short circuit. The very same route she had done the previous day ridden by the previous owner. Half way round the hack Briar just sort of slowly ground to a halt. She didn’t do anything but equally she didn’t move. Lottie was afraid and didn’t understand why she had chosen to halt and didn’t want to kick too hard in case she chose to do something scary. Every time I walked in front Briar moved. If I fell behind Briar stopped. I led her home. She was yanking the rein down furiously on the way home.
The next time we rode, which was the following day, she wouldn’t go down the drive ridden or led. In fact she started going backwards and by this point Lottie was crying and wanted to get off, which she did. I managed to make Briar go down the drive but it was all fast and tense and really achieved nothing. My heart sank, I knew at every level this pony and my daughter were unravelling before my very eyes and I didn’t know why it was happening or how to stop it.
Briar had arrived fully clipped including legs which was a frustrating surprise and did not help to keep her quiet as it was winter time. Her behaviour deteriorated very quickly. Over the following weeks she became very difficult to handle. I led her to and from her field with a bridle and lunge line. She towed me everywhere and would try and barge out of her stable at any opportunity. She never relaxed. I was feeding every calmer there was on the market and she was living out permanently only coming in for some bonding time each day. This was awful. She would snatch at her haynet and lean back on the rope as if trying to break it then move quickly side to side never standing still for a moment. My daughter would stand back worrying and I would feel frustrated and angry and confused and sad all at the same time. I felt utterly incompetent.
Then the weather set in four weeks after her arrival. The snow came down heavily and Briar lived out in it all without work as the ground was treacherous for nine weeks. My daughter only saw her with me when we gave her hay. She never acknowledged us indeed she would wait for us to leave before coming to eat the hay. I had been in discussion with the previous owners and they had never witnessed her so tense like this ever. She had always loved her stable. We were all confused.
When things thawed out we started again. I lunged Briar and within seconds she galloped, stopped and turned then reared straight at me. There was no riding that day. I had back people, teeth people, saddle people, you name it I checked it out. Nothing helped. So began the search for assistance. An expert. We explored many avenues. Some declared her just a bitch and to put her in a sale and get rid. Others declared her an alpha mare type that needed squashing, i.e. thrashing. Others? That she was just plain naughty and because my daughter was not assertive she had taken the piss.
During this time my daughter kept attempting to ride her. She had some lessons with great success. A glimpse of a terrific pony (which spurred us on) .This was often quickly followed by a disaster lesson, usually Briar with head between the legs broncing when asked to trot. I really was feeling most strongly that Briar was desperately trying to be understood. That there were days when she tried so hard to be the pony we wanted but that we had it so wrong she just couldn’t be anything other than how she was. We never really got anywhere and I finally decided enough was enough. No more. She clearly was never going to be right for us and our situation. It took only 4 months for all this to happen. Less if you take away the 9wks of weather. The fabulous PC pony had been reduced to almost unrideable, miserable and unsaleable. My daughter was inconsolable at losing another pony but relieved it was all over.
I wish from the very bottom of my heart that I had phoned MSC as the first port of call. It saddens me very much that I allowed various well respected riders to assert themselves on her with most eventually resorting to a whip and lots of swear words and yanking in the mouth. Every single expert racked up the tightness of her flash noseband before they got on. What a way to introduce yourself to a horse. The truth is I was too embarrassed. Having already met Avril and saying that we would wait for her to find us the right pony, I just felt too stupid.
Bizarrely, at no point did I want to just put Briar in a sale and get rid. I really did know that if I did that I was signing her up for a lifetime of experts. I would rather have her put down. I just knew somewhere I had got it horribly wrong and that this pony was being dreadfully misunderstood by all of us. There was only one place for her and I had to swallow my pride and hold my hand up to having really got it wrong.
So I picked up the phone and made the call......... Thank goodness Avril was as understanding as she is about the horses we screw up!
If it weren’t for Briar I would never had come to the life changing place I am at now. Nor would I have come on Avril’s courses to try and fill in the huge gaps in my training which Briar alerted me to. I owe her a real debt of gratitude. Not least that after all this she is giving us a second chance to enjoy her company. She holds no grudges. She bears no malice. She is what she is; an honourable pony who will give her all and shine and serve given the right guidance and leadership.
To date Lottie regularly grooms her. She stands relaxed in her stable on her own and eats her hay. Lottie has ridden her briefly and she was just lovely. Forward but relaxed and no yanking to be seen. We will take nothing for granted and I will listen avidly to my inner voice. Whatever the future holds, Lottie being able to handle Briar on the ground and ride her even if it turns out to be just the once has put deeply held negative beliefs firmly in the past.
Thank you Briar for being the teacher you are. There is a part of this story that will never leave me, nor will it ever cease to bring me a sense of unease at how we take horses’ forgiving and enduring natures for granted and that maybe their emotions run deeper than we allow ourselves to believe. Whatever your beliefs the following still touches me deeply.
A lady came to see Briar, she was an animal communicator. She told me that Briar had no idea she was being sold. That when she realised she was sold she grieved at being unable to say goodbye to her field companion who was her rock and that she just couldn’t cope with her new situation. She described her field companion in detail. I told the previous owner. She went silent. She said she felt like crying because when they first bought Briar she told her that if she looked after her daughter (which she did) then she would never be sold, that she had a home for life... Briar had described her companion exactly....
INTRODUCING BRIAR.... THE FOLLOWING IS OUR STORY:
Thank you Emma for your honesty in outlining how Briar came into your life and your thinking behind the actions you took in her purchase. It does indeed make interesting reading, not least because I knew very little of the events you describe! Actually, I’m glad because less detail means I didn’t bring negative thought forms to the training table. Horses read our minds, our intentions, and above all, are sensitive to our fears.
When you approached me about a place for Briar in our Foundation Training programme, we discussed your frustration, despite your best efforts, in the lack of any form of connection. You told me about her getting ‘stuck’ out hacking which was eroding Lottie’s confidence. And that was pretty much it apart from mentioning you hadn’t warmed to the onsite advice about a ‘cure’ for her. I sensed you weren’t exactly optimistic about a favourable outcome which is to be expected in a situation beyond an owner’s ability to resolve.
My first impression of Briar was of an anxious horse, dismissive of people, and unable to ground herself within her immediate environment. She showed all this through a need to constantly move her feet. Her feelings indicated human decisions were not to be trusted; she was restless whether turned out or in the stable. In other words, she displayed the language of insecurity.
Her actions were not unusual. We frequently see similar examples in all their variations which are simply the result of our misunderstanding or inappropriate management. Even though I couldn’t begin working with her straightaway, her realignment towards a more natural way of being was taking place by virtue of living with us and her exposure to the positive influence of the other residents. Her social interaction with the horses showed she wasn’t used to living in harmony in a herd. This can happen where turnout is limited or policies of segregation are in place. Horses are by nature cooperative but when we impose restrictions and limitations with grazing companions, aggressive behaviour is the often the result.
Briar constantly felt the need to defend her position. She kicked out and squealed at every intrusion into her space which meant she was isolated as the herd kept their distance and didn’t include her with mutual grooming or fly protection. Although she was surrounded by horses, it was a lonely existence for many months before she allowed herself to make a friend. This was a turning point; she began to accept new herd members without going on the defensive. Her social skills continued to develop over time to the point where she no longer saw others of her kind as a threat. Her life in self imposed exile was over.
But that was in the future, to start with there was great value in not doing anything with her to give the dust time to settle, so to speak, before embarking on the specialised process of making changes from the inside out. As always, our observation of body language is an important interpreter of the horse’s psychological condition. I watched Briar, taking mental note of her actions, movement, responses, and attitude. Although she appeared dominant, in fact she wasn’t, and isn’t, an alpha mare. She is somewhere in the middle of the pecking order and her reaction towards others was the result of fear. She was scared just like the school bully who wants to hit out first to hide low levels of self esteem.
BRIAR BEGINS HER TRAINING
Her first official training session was conducted on the lunge followed by a short hack. I took her up to the top fields to see what she would show me. Well! I can’t remember a horse cantering for over three quarters of an hour without stopping but Briar did, voluntarily and without prompting. Most of the time she galloped at top speed before eventually slowing down, only to start flying round again. It was as if she felt she couldn’t stop. Finally she came back to trot then walk. Her sides were heaving, vapour rose from her coat, she was steaming.
I thought at least she will be tired and not up for an argument on her first hack. As I mounted her I couldn’t help noticing her pulling the reins through my hands. This is always a sign of some form of restriction where the horse anticipates what is coming and pre-empts it by pulling down first. It’s a common habit among horses ridden by nervous or beginner riders. I would have to address it but not straightaway and off we went. Because I’d been told Briar plants at the start of a hack, I was half expecting it but it didn’t happen. We got quite a long way into the village before she simply stopped and refused to move. It was as if she was letting me know we had gone far enough.
I also realised she wasn’t going forward from the leg despite the impression she was taking me for a ride. She wasn’t thinking forward which was why my legs weren’t making a difference. She felt as if she was sitting on them rather than responding to them. I know that’s an odd thing to say and not easy to understand unless you have experienced the feeling. I will come back to that later but have mentioned it now as it has such a strong influence on performance. I also want to briefly mention that her gait, combined with what the muscles were doing under the saddle, were both showing me underlying stiffness or even pain.
There was a minor scuffle before she consented to move forward again. She repeated this sudden stopping two or three times before she realised we were doing a big circle and were on the way home. Although it was annoying and not what you would expect from a schoolmistress, it was nothing much so I thought it wouldn’t take long to overcome. I should explain that from the moment we set off I was tuning into her, feeling her energy, and gauging what was going on inside her. Over a lifetime, I’ve ridden and helped an uncountable number of ‘problem’ horses so I know, often within minutes, what I’m sitting on. I could tell Briar was intrinsically safe without a bag of tricks up her sleeve.
That’s not to say we didn’t have our fair share of fights, or rather battle of wills, where for a long time she wasn’t willing, or had the right mind, to do what I was asking. A clear indication of what was ahead was our first hack in company. We went for a ride with Jane who rode Puzzle. Puzzle is well used to taking no notice of what her companion is doing, no matter how dramatic, which was just as well as Briar let loose her arsenal of evasions. I noticed an interesting change in company. It was as if she breathed a sigh of relief at being able to give away responsibility to the other horse. She was much quieter walking behind, but horses, although natural followers, can’t opt for that get-out clause simply because they don’t like taking the lead.
I was having difficulty persuading her to go in front. She agreed to go alongside as long as her nose didn’t reach further than the end of Puzzle’s neck. The more I urged her to walk out, the more backward she became towards my leg until we were dropping behind into single file.
Her limited take on life away from the school or home premises is so commonplace it has almost become par for the course for many owners. We believe the term “well schooled” is mis-leading if it only applies to ménage riding. Horses who refuse to go forward, spin, nap, rear, run backwards, or any other demonstration associated with leaving their comfort zone, are not entitled to that description. It didn’t take long to see Briar had major difficulties in this area despite her positive history within the Pony Club.
I had to get more than firm and insist she take the lead. Having made the commitment I needed to follow through no matter what, otherwise I couldn’t prove I was indeed the alpha influence in our non-partnership. I could tell her behaviour was firmly established in this regard. Whenever she found herself in this kind of situation, she had clearly made a stand, whereupon her rider would relent and give in, and so the cycle continued.
Briar got fed up with my hassling her to go in front and thought she would show me once and for all she meant business. Firstly she repeatedly tried the swinging round trick with much determination. When that didn’t work she planted and absolutely refused to walk on. Because I was equally determined she would, the battle commenced. It went on longer than necessary due to the traffic. I had to temporarily stop or move her away from approaching cars so she thought I’d given up.
She threw her back legs up every time I told her to go on. She would swing them in mid-air so we were in a different place when we landed, mainly straddling one side of the road. This went on for some time and all the while Puzzle stood patiently waiting for Briar to have a change of heart. What she was doing was what we call a ‘rider frightener’. She launched herself in the air with increasing force and confidence that it would scare me enough to give up. Every time her feet hit the ground I put the pressure back on.
The battle of wills became so intense that I lost sight of the traffic which was piling up behind and in front; too scared to pass the writhing tangle they were forced to witness. It takes an awful lot of energy to overcome something like this and I was thankful to be fit enough. In the end Briar knew she had met her match with this one and agreed to go forward. It was a turning point for her, a pivotal moment, which altered the dynamics of the relationship forever. Although she would try this tactic many times before completely letting go of it as a way out, never again would we need to reach such an extreme level of conflict.
I can hear your thoughts, those that are saying if she did all that, she can’t be safe or honourable in any way. This is the contradiction in true understanding of horses and their behaviour because Briar is indeed safe and most honourable. So what’s going on?
It was a long time before Briar would start “talking” to me but that wasn’t necessary for me to know she did what she needed to do to ensure her survival from her perspective. We must try not to assign labels to those behaviours we ourselves have created through our riding and handling. She wasn’t being naughty or dangerous, she firmly believed in the validity of what she was doing based on a lifetime’s previous experience.
Briar later told me she thought she had everything worked out and that she knew her job which wasn’t going out alone for a hack. She felt vulnerable and responsible for her own safety and wasn’t used to being directed unless she was competing or during a lesson. As I got to know her I could see it was true because she would question my every decision unless it happened to coincide with her view of life, which I’ve explained was based on previous experience. Her questioning took the form of constant shying, leaping sideways, or refusing to go.
These incidents were predictable in their unpredictability, having little or no bearing on what was actually happening. Situations where horses are normally frightened and out of their depth didn’t apply to Briar. Instead she would freak at a branch in the wrong place or a different coloured leaf. If we met a log, it would stop her dead at any pace. She needed to be practically driven to walk over it. She had supposedly gone round a set of show jumps but something as natural as a log filled her with fear.
And yet, this isn’t her true nature. The real Briar is tough and courageous, worthy of the steepest challenge in performance terms but somewhere along the line she never received the support or education to help show her the way. The consistency of our daily sessions eventually transformed her into the horse she always meant to be. The horse Emma later describes on her return. Even without being ridden for months, the changes were sufficiently deep to ensure her training held together. A result of a horse’s own awareness of increased balance, comfort, and feeling centred which is their birthright.
Alongside all the ‘stuff’ she was presenting me with day after day, there were difficulties in her mouth, a lack of real forwardness, and the discomfort in her back. Since they are related and inter-connected, working through one particular area helps heal the whole. In practical terms, I worked on forwardness which helped her back which in turn allowed her to regain most of the sensitivity in her mouth. She had previously been ridden in a three ring gag, I suspect on the lowest setting, complete with grackle noseband and running martingale. Such measures rarely produce the hoped for results, instead they destroy nerve endings in the lips and damage the bars, often permanently. It’s a form of torture that the horse spends the rest of its ridden life trying to evade.
It’s not an easy task reprogramming the mouth, reintroducing sufficient sensitivity to dispense with all the hardware. There was also her annoying habit of snatching the reins while being mounted, but again, everything in horsemanship is connected and best not worked on in isolation. Briar has never experienced softening, only pulling. The result was more or less total resistance. It never ceases to amaze me how few riders, and dare I say it, instructors, truly understand softening beyond the theory. Although an effective rider can appear to soften the horse, in reality it can simply lead to another form of evasion as the horse ‘gives’ to remove the pressure of the reins. Briar did exactly that with her preferring to drop behind the bit rather than accept it, which corresponded to her not really going forward despite being difficult to stop or control. Now there’s a paradox!
Briar has a lovely natural canter which had been abused, possibly as a result of insufficient softening and removal of resistance in sitting trot. Months went by before she could carry me in canter. Her muscles were so tight and restricted over her loins, I’m surprised she never once attempted to buck. I’m equally surprised it was never picked up either by examination or while being ridden. I have no doubt she was in more than a little pain so I continued to adopt the half-seat whenever we cantered. I encouraged her to move forward underneath me through ensuring I was minimally impacting on her back. If you are strong enough in this position, you can help soften and balance the horse enormously. Conversely, you can drill a hole in the horse’s back by sitting in the saddle too deeply.
As Briar learnt to lengthen and stretch her outline within her frame, her trust in me also grew. Fear of logs, odd coloured leaves etc., which were merely symbols of inner tension and worry, faded from her mind. She appreciated her new way of going to the extent she no longer felt the need to express her uncertainties so violently.
Briar needed a lot of work on the ground. Her previous life had masked difficulties in true communication, leadership and boundaries, through constant activity in a busy environment. If Briar was human, she might have qualified for diagnosis within the autistic spectrum. She was fond of repetitive behaviour, avoiding eye contact and unable to express pleasure. She had difficulty interacting with people and others of her species. She was also resistant to change.
It’s never helpful to label horses since it distracts us from acknowledging their faithful ability to reflect our own deficiencies. Briar’s boundaries were personal to her based on the interpretation of her place in the horse/human dynamic. If I wasn’t offering food, she dismissed me. If I was leading her to the field, she thought she would get there first because she knew where we were going. In most circumstances, Briar thought she knew best, which in a way she did because she’d had to work everything out for herself. In unfamiliar situations where she didn’t understand the protocol, she would choose anchoring or distancing activities depending on the situation.
Whenever I went into her box I made a point of not looking at her. I would do whatever was necessary in complete silence. After a few weeks of this, I went in and as I shut the door, I distinctly heard her say “I know you are there so I don’t need to raise my head to make sure.” I was so amazed at first I thought I’d imagined it. She carried on eating while I walked out in silence. Shortly afterwards she began to glance briefly at my body. I continued to pretend I hadn’t noticed. I was still silent but when I did speak to her it was in a quiet voice with few words.
I was in her box one day when she told me she didn’t like being patted. I already knew this by her reaction when I touched her but it was still a shock to hear it. I mentally said “I know, and you don’t like being groomed either.” Briar confirmed that she didn’t. I asked why not? She said, “Because it doesn’t come from the right place. They don’t listen.” It took me a while to understand what she meant as she wouldn’t say more. We continued our occasional silent communication with my constantly telling her I didn’t want anything from her. Sometimes she would ignore me but at others she would say, “I know you don’t.”
After a few months she did something extraordinary. I came into her box as usual when she lifted her head and walked away. I stood quietly, trying not to look at her. She manoeuvred around until she was exactly in the middle of the stable. She stood there motionless while I directed my gaze at her body, not her face. She breathed out audibly and said, “Don’t you want to groom me? You can if you like.” I moved closer and lightly stroked her neck. As we stood together, she told me she how she got fed up the fiddling and never ending attention. She said it isn’t in her nature to show bad temper so she coped with the fuss by distancing herself. I mentally thanked her for sharing this, stroked her lightly and left.
I continued to work on establishing boundaries, increasing her sense of security and understanding of her position within our herd of two. On the few occasions when I groomed her, I had the distinct feeling she was tolerating it more than enjoying it. This applied to rugging up as well. She could barely stop herself from looking cross, especially when adjustments were made. Then a wonderful thing happened: I was standing in front of her buckling the straps across her chest when I felt her neck gently envelop my body. She wrapped herself around me in a gesture of affection. I stopped what I was doing and stood still, wondering if she would move away or something. But she didn’t so we stood for a while in silence, enjoying the mutual exchange of harmonious energies that came from the ‘right’ place.
I felt deeply honoured with her demonstration of trust and affection which she would repeat from time to time. I never presumed to initiate it, she had complete freedom to choose if and when to do it. Horses aren’t openly demonstrative like dogs. Their communication is much more subtle and can easily be missed, especially if we are in a hurry or have things on our mind. Briar and I would often just stand, our breathing synchronised, without wanting anything from each other with total acceptance in that moment. This is the most I can currently achieve towards unconditional love, all the more remarkable as she tested my resolve and patience on so many levels.
I continue to thank Briar for being yet another of my teachers. She helped remind me that what we see on the outside is only an aspect of ourselves responding to what we experience in our environment. She confirmed that an inter-species connection leading to a partnership is the outcome of an ongoing process of initiation on our part. It took time to gather the keys to unlock her resistance which was preventing her from growing into the wonderful animal she really is. I could only do this by searching within for an increased understanding of the use of force (pressure) in relation to overcoming her fear in and how to apply it without emotional entrapment (release.) She reinforced the realisation that horses are always stronger than us, that we can never completely control them by the use of strong bits and extra equipment.
She is one of many who showed me that there are two categories of fear in horses. Fear of the unknown or specific and fear as expression from lack of leadership. These fears often work in combination but the latter leads to expectation that something bad is out there rather fear of anything in particular and takes longer to overcome. Briar isn’t really frightened of anything, she is a courageous horse, but she wasn’t able to express this out on a hack for a very long time.
To help cast off unfavourable layers which no longer served her or me, I used softening techniques during groundwork and riding to help her release tension, remove pain, and clear away much of her resistance. The rewards were great with many really enjoyable hacks in all kinds of environment. She reminded me of my childhood when I would everywhere with no plan, just letting the route unfold as we went.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading Briar’s story which is much longer than originally intended as these things often are. I’m sure I speak for Emma as well in saying how much I have got out of reviewing her Foundation Training, especially in relation to her previous life.
We would like to end with a message from Briar: “I didn’t arrive at MSC in the spirit of co-operation even though that is much a part of our nature. My story doesn’t begin and end with me, it is the story of horses everywhere. Trying to interpret what humans expect of us and how we are to do it depends on their knowing the way to give us the correct information. The way I interpret the world is very different from you. It isn’t defined by a belief system, it is an awareness born of evolution and human interaction over thousands of years. On many occasions my reactions were those I was in the habit of using based on my continual need for safety and security."
A MESSAGE FROM EMMA
I know I have written about Briar’s return on here but today with her was just utterly amazing. Gobsmacking, enlightening, any positive words I can find just won’t cover how much gratitude I feel towards Avril and her team...and of course Briar.. Let me explain:
Avril always told me in our communications that although Briar had been out of work for months her training was all there underneath ready to be resurrected when needed... And that’s the key isn’t it? Resurrecting that training via the proper route?
I know a lovely family who have recently had to have their son’s pony put down and they were looking for something to ride for the winter as the son is missing it terribly. The father has ridden internationally when he was younger and is now married with a wonderful wife and equally amazingly grounded children. He is now a deputy head of a school that is the last resort for some very challenging kids and he and his wife are just amazing... so I just felt that he would be the only person I would trust other than team MSC to ride Briar after so long off..
After a week of Briar being brilliant on the ground and in the stable, (Lottie has groomed and lead her and she has been exemplary in her manners and Lottie has been brilliant in remembering her MSC course content!). I had her saddle fitted yesterday... she got a little tense nothing major and we just insisted she remain still and after a few moments she relented and stood like a rock.... what a girl.
Anyway, today the family all came out to watch... the father spent some time in the stable with her and we tacked her up. Again she got a little tense but again it was minor and within seconds of us just getting on with what we had to do she chilled... well, he mounted up on the grass, sorted himself out and off they went,... 5 of us following on foot... BRIAR WAS AMAZING. She walked out as if she had been here all her life... we went passed a massive tower of black plastic haylage, a pile of rubble with everything sticking out of it.. Then two mountain bikers appeared from no where... Briar didn’t bat an eye...however what was great to see was a guy riding who truly wanted his horse to achieve its best... he just sat relaxed with a gentle rein contact and just allowed her to find a comfortable rhythm straight and true.... after a while he put a little pressure on ... a little leg yield to the left she was brill, a little to the right she was fab... He then patted her and let her alone again... a little while later he halted and asked her to stand for while... then he patted her and off they set again... he then at the end of a track halted, turned on the forehand, and asked her to trot back the way they had come... she never faltered!!! What a star... he patted her again and let her have her head completely, loose rein just walking out with pricked ears.... finally they negotiated opening and closing a gate with no hassle what so ever and we all returned back to the yard with lots of praise for her.
Now this was a big ask I thought but the father had no doubts that Briar was honourable.... he put his son (13yrs) on and off they went back out of the yard towards the direction they had come from with the father guiding from the ground about a relaxed contact but clear direction etc...Did Briar amble or attempt to turn round or show any upset of being asked to go away from her yard again? NO NO NO NO!!! Ears pricked off she went..... They only went to the entrance of the woods about 10mins in walk... they then stopped and turned round for home... she didn’t increase her pace or take hold she was, as he said, really truly honourable...
This next bit nearly made me well up because half way back Lottie suddenly said please may I ride her home. I just know she will be fine... so another change of rider and Briar was just beautiful and to say Lottie was thrilled would be an understatement... it has laid to rest a big issue for her...
We turned Briar back out and she had a big roll got up and had a buck and a twizzle with the other two who were waiting for her return and she still had her ears pricked and just looked so pleased with herself as she should be and we are so proud of her..
What an amazing testament to your training, Avril. She is a wonderful girl I just cannot thank you all enough for helping her and us.... to say you have a gift would be an understatement....but also being able to impart your information in a way that other people can put into practice is truly amazing . . . I have no idea what the future holds we are just letting it unfold step by correct step always mindful of being fair to Briar but wow, wow, wow, what job you do.