I think that growing up in Wales I’ve always taken cheeky, characterful ponies for granted. One of my ponies had lots of character in that he would only let select people catch him, and he would walk purposefully to the muddy patch to roll after a bath.
My Mum’s pony is very expressive, and you can always tell if he’s going to be in a silly mood about the wind, or when he won’t stand still on the yard because he’s seen that the trailer is hitched to the car.
Whilst Otis has lost a lot of his baby character, I can still read him perfectly. A couple of weeks ago he was in his stable while I worked on the yard and everytime I looked up, he was gazing adoringly at me. However this morning, after I’ve been away for the weekend he suddenly turned feral. I went to the field with my head torch and wheelbarrow. He galloped away from me, snorting. He continued to canter along the back fence line while I worked and then when I went to catch him, he trotted circles, with his knees up to his chest, pretending to be frightened of the headcollar. As I led him in he spooked and snorted at the full wheelbarrow …
One mare I ride is quite bolshy and every time I tie her up she walks into me. And every time I tell her off and push her back. Last week she was pushing her luck and I had a shorter fuse than normal, so when I returned from riding. Where she’d actually worked well, I untacked her and she barged at me for the second time.
Quite angry at this rudeness, I raised my voice to tell her off, and pushed her backwards, making a song and dance about it. She looked a bit put out at reversing six steps, but as soon as I stopped and stood quietly, she ploughed into me again.
I shouted and flapped my arms at her and she shot back, rapidly. Then I stood still and told her she was a good girl. She didn’t dare move towards me while I glared at her, but as soon as I turned my back she stepped towards me. This time I just spun round and said “no!” really firmly, and she reversed back so quickly she almost sat down.
She didn’t dare move from the spot that is parked her in until I was finished and went to the tack room just around the corner.
Then a friend nudged me, and I turned round from the door to see the mare had inched forwards so that her head was peering around the corner, looking sorrowfully at me.
She’d obviously learnt her lesson as when I reapproached her, she stepped backwards out of my way and stood still while I rugged her up. I only hope she remembers that lesson!
I wouldn’t want a horse to have any less character though, as I remember grooming my instructors thoroughbred cross Irish draught and thinking that she was very boring, or vanilla as some would say, because she didn’t have any itchy spots, and didn’t scrunch her face up as I brushed it like my cheeky geldings did, nor did she try to groom me back.
Like any children though, cheeky horses still need to be basically well behaved so that they aren’t a hazard to those handling or riding them, and they need to respect the word “no” so that we are still the leader in the relationship. After all, it can be seen as cute when a baby foal nibbles you but it’s not so funny when they bite you as teenagers and mature horses!