I knew, I just knew, he was going to be a turd. Did I jinx us?! Perhaps it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The reason I knew today would be a problem was because I wanted to do a long road hack. Which meant going along the previously-closed road which is apparently terrifying and traumatic when it's just us two.
I booted him, it was going to be a long hack, for better or worse, he definitely wouldn't have coped without. Hopefully in a couple of weeks his feet will be crunchy crunchy again. Because we departed the yard with a right turn, as opposed to the expected left hang to the forest, I expected some stop-starting along the track.
Even heading out he was ok and then we came to his first bogey. A road sign, and on the opposite side of the road a lorry was parked without His permission! Behind said lorry were two horses in a field. Bum. I did actually manage to unstick him but from that point he was just a goober. Dragging his feet, gazing wistfully over the hills to the left where he knew his fields were just out of sight, shying, insisting that The Road Was Lava and that he could only walk on the verge. Like I said, goober! I tried to occupy him by using some flexions and shoulder-fore. This was interpreted as Distraction Tactics and was not well-received.
Eventually he sunk anchor and just absolutely could not take a step further. It's a slow and painful process, I knew he was going to do it and I tried to remain positive and 'up' and only rewarded with verbal praise. But no, he decided any further advance could render him a little bit dead and I was most unreasonable to ask him to do so. So Drama Llama posing it was...I had no idea what he was seeing. Wee green men for all I know!
I tried to outfox him which led us to two-legged displays of threatening behaviour. I hopped off, by this point I'm ashamed to admit I was quite mad. Mad at him even though he seemed genuinely fearful and mad at myself for being mad at him. He was reluctant to walk or trot with me. Can't say I blame him, by this point I was gritting my teeth, silently seething.
I remounted and off we went again. I pushed on into trot, he clocked something else to be scared of. Once again I couldn't tell what it was. Halt, spin, rear and plunge. I said no, please, this way. Really. He rebutted with rein-back. I dismounted again, he was pricking about next to barbed wire again. At the point of totally losing my rag, I marched us both along to a safe spot so that my backside may be reunited with the saddle for more than 5 minutes.
This was all on the road of course. A very quiet road in broad daylaight and we were decked in high-viz, but nonetheless I expected better of a teenage horse who has hacked this road plenty before.
The very reason I wished to hack this route was partly because of the length and partly because of the hills. There's a great long ascent I wanted to first walk up, then go back down so we could gallop back up. Really work us out. By the time we got there I gave him a good length of rein and we galloped up there first time. Only because we were both winding each other up, I thought a blast would clear my head. He was good! Slowed when I asked and moved from one side of the track to the other as I picked the best footing.
We pressed on past the quarry and onto a now-overgrown track which would loop us onto the next road to go home. If there was a place to spook, where tigers might be lurking, it was here. Yet he bulldozed his way through thick ferns, low branches and gorse thickets as if they weren't there.
Back onto the next road, he was up but listening. He spooked at a mirror at the end of someone's driveway but just wibbled his legs and carried on. Funny how much less spooky things seem on the way home. Hmph.
That's what was bugging me today. I understand that horses see things we don't and any perceived danger is very real to them. That applying human logic is not appropriate and that growing ever-more frustrated solved absolutely nothing. But come on! Scary things on the way out are less scary than scary things on the way home?!?!
At any rate, when we cut back into our usual forest, instead of heading home, I steered us into the forest. We'd only been out an hour (it felt much longer), and he felt rather fresh. I took him round The Loop the other way, to the left. Just as we drew level with the last track to home he set his head and neck, and tried to tow us in there. A few times actually. I opened the right rein to demonstrate very clearly we would be going this way, thank you. After some jigging, halting, and discussion (I did actually sit there and explain I wanted to go that way and we could go really fast on the return loop), we pressed on.
And galloped as promised. Brakes were present and in full effect again, he seems to be improving with practice and fitness. I snuck out some more rein after the bend (taken much more sensibly on this rein) and let him go flat out.
On the way home we popped a couple of jumps and he was still chipper as we warmed down along the track. He only broke a sweat under his girth (it's synthetic) and under the back of the saddle. He feels better with the Prolite pad so not sure if this sweat pattern is something or nothing.
Whilst I'd have insisted post-hack I didn't feel stressed and didn't focus on him being bad, I had chest pains and a palpitation as I was poo-picking. Perhaps it was the heat.
Tomorrow's another day I suppose. Today I felt totally inadequate for this sharp, sensitive and terribly clever horse. I definitely let him down.