I suppose I could have reminded Fiona that I’d asked for Charlie. I am rather more… assertive than many of the other riders, when it comes to the allocation of school horses. But, eh, I don’t know— no, I do know. I’m putting off my trial-by-Charlie until— until whenever.
So Fiona says, ‘You’re on Rebel,’ and I go, ‘Okay.’
‘Put his bridle on him?’ she askes as she heads off to see to her own horse.
‘Uhhhh— yeah— he wouldn’t let me on Tuesday—’
‘I’ll be around,’ she calls and heads for the tack room.
I shake out the bridle. I’m much better at recognising when it’s turned inside out— this time the buckle on the throatlatch shows me the way. I’d been hanging with Rebel a bit, since we’d worked on Tuesday, and he’d been a little frustrating, messing about, trying to buck me off. I’m guessing it went back to my inability to bridle him: he defeated me, I’m a poor leader, I can’t be trusted.
I’ve got one Polo left from the pre-ride distribution, and I shamelessly wave it around under his nose.
He licks it up, and I aim the bit in the general direction of his gob. He’s chewing with his mouth closed, as horses do. ‘Rebel!’ I lower the bridle, he chews, I grab the front of it properly, bunching the straps, try again. And again. And once more and eureka! A combination of tickling the side of his mouth, the grudging cooperation of the horse himself, and actually holding the feckin’ thing right results in good feeling on both our parts.
But, uh oh: in this class of beginners, I am going to have to be in front, and Rebel is a notorious follower.
Fiona races by. ‘Hey,’ I call to her back, ‘He hates being in front.’
‘Does he?’ She disappears up the stairs into the loft room where all the cool girls go. I have yet to breach those stairs.
I’m about to go on, I could go on and on, but she’s gone, and Rebel’s there, and I reckon a pep talk couldn’t hurt.
‘Dude.’ Rebel nudges my shoulder, nips it. ‘We’re going to have to be in front. I know you don’t like it—’ He bounces his head around. ‘What? You know you don’t like it, you stop dead when we end up in the front of the ride for the canter!’ He dances around in place. I sigh. We’ll see.
The thing is, when he doesn’t go, i have to make him go, and to make him go, I have to whack him on the shoulder, I have to kick the bejeezus out of his sides, and I am still negotiating the feeling of being on the razor’s edge between discipline [it’s time to do your job, listen to me] and ill-treatment [go, you stupid horse, go!] Not that I would ever treat a horse ill, or call a horse stupid— although I suspect that Rebel’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer— but many of the books I’ve read recount a rosy-hued world in which horse and rider float on a cloud of perfect communication that requires no kicking or whips. I don’t live in that world. I reckon the best I can do is listen as well as I can to what Rebel’s telling me.
In the school, I feel like we’re having the same conversation we had on Tuesday: he wants to go, starts to go whilst I’m still adjusting my stirrups, suddenly changes his mind when we get down to business, gets engaged again, gets annoyed and switches his tail, and in extremis, tries to jiggle me off balance. ‘Come on, Reb,’ I say, ‘Let’s go. We’re in front. You can do it.’
And he does. He’s doing great. We’re riding perfect twenty metre circles [‘Well done, Reb!’] and working at a really steady trot— a bit slow, can’t leave the rest of the ride behind, and we’re still fighting over the transition into canter [I believe this is utterly down to me], and okay, he cuts corners like this is NASCAR, but all in all, well fucking done, Rebel, out in front, full of beans, and I’m beginning to think that maybe those little bucks are about having fun, rather than hating my guts.
Maybe he’s better when Charlie’s not in the lesson. Maybe he realised we had to be the leaders, that no one else could. Maybe it was a change in my attitude: instead of expecting him to fall into the role I had assigned him [not bright, can’t lead], I encouraged him to step up. Because I did change my perception of Rebel, and found that the guy I thought was a lazy messer is actually covering up insecurity with bolshy exuberance. It’s not exactly that la-la land of inter-species mind meld, but it’s something.
It was a good lesson.