I put this story in brief on my facebook page Yesterday, and it received so much attention, that I thought it only fitting to write on the blog too.
I have two preferred guide horses at Castellare. One is my own gelding Navarro, a 12 year old Sardinian Anglo Arab that has probably seen more of Tuscany than any horse in the country and the other is Shamal, a palomino criollo with a flowing White mane and a crooked ear.
Of course other horses get ridden out, often it’s important that the young horses learn to ride up front early in their careers – and I have another horse that needs to get out on the trails for his own mental health…but if I have a big group, or I am riding outside of the estate I prefer to have either of these horses under me.
Navarro is hotter than Shamal, his arabian blood comes out occassionally, and if hes a little fresh he can spook at silly things, or pull at the canter. What I love about him though, is his courage. If I point this little horse into the middle of a group of cattle, or down a steep gully he will charge through like a tractor. He is not a heavy horse, and quite fine and elegant looking – but he will take on any challenge as long as his cardinal rule is obeyed. ‘Let me do my job, and dont interfere!’ Shamal is slightly older, and wiser. Less cocky but still very much a dominant horse when out on a ride. You could fire a rifle off his back, and he would stand firm. Not an overly affectionate horse (much like Navarro) he is a horse that commands respect.
Some horses need riding, others need a bit of guidance, and others need only subtle ‘suggesting’.
Navarro and Shamal are two of the latter. Two fairly misunderstood horses, that are really two of the smartest.
Try and take up a strong contact with either, attempt to boss them about, or use too much leg, and the ride will be spent at an irritating jog, with head tossing and pulling. Horse and rider will argue, and both will return sweaty, grumpy and tired.
These two horses know their job too well, and dont need your help. Let them do the thinking (perhaps with only an occasional check not to stride ahead so fast, to choose an alternate trail, or to pick up/drop the pace) and these horses are perfect. In another life, I think these two horses probably were war horses. They work with a professionalism and keeness that sets them apart from the others. Neither will accept riding at the back of the group, but they know that at times they will be expected to change positions briefly, accept other horses riding off, or be the last out when closing a gate. They get that. Thats part of their job.
Two days ago, riding out with a group, Shamal quite literally saved my life. Cantering along a sand path that has never caused me any concern (an old road lined with trees, that I have ridden weekly for the past two years) Shamal without warning leapt to the side of a small hole in the dirt (on the side of the trail). As he leapt, one back leg touched the right side of the hole which proceeded to completely crumble. He pulled up quickly, allowing me time to alert the others behind to stop. I jumped off, and went to inspect the now very large hole in the middle of the road. It was an underground tunnel, brick lined inside – possibily used during the war, or even beforehand for storage. The roof had weakened and started to cave, and Shamal with his superb animal instict had known that something was amiss. His lightning fast reflexes had quite literally saved both of us, and allerted the others to the danger underfoot. A horse like this, really is worth his weight in gold. As I rode home from that ride, I have never felt more gratitude to an animal in my life.
But how many times have horses saved me in the past without me realising? How often are those aprehensions of their valid?
So the moral of this post. When in doubt. Trust your horse!