Kleintjie’s story, part 3: Down by the river

After a couple of months of working with Kleintjie, described in part 2, Tamsin had worked hard on his anxiety and confidence issues, and decided to put him to the test by riding him out alone by the river…

I realised very quickly that I’d made a huge mistake. His inability to control his emotions and his raw terror showed itself to me that day. Not even five minutes into the ride, Kleintjie had a huge reaction to something which spooked him. I still have no idea what it was to this day, but he had an explosive episode – he literally leapt across the river and I was flung off. Luckily for me, I landed on my feet and caught the reins. He was backing up like crazy, trying to get away from whatever had scared him. Usually when I have the reins of a distressed horse, I can calm them down, but not in his case – he pulled at the reins so hard I couldn’t keep hold and he broke free and galloped off, straight back home.

It was then that I realised the full extent of his absolute dread of being out alone, his lack of confidence and the work I needed to do with him.

Lead on, boy…

A happy, quiet boy, once he had learned to lead.

In addressing this issue with Kleintjie, I developed a skill and a new technique I had never used before. My conundrum was this – how was I going to get him to ride down the river alone, without riding him? It was too dangerous for me to ride him, but I didn’t want to lead him either. If I led him, he would be using me as a crutch (or herd member to follow). He needed to learn how to have the confidence to lead, with which would come the confidence to walk alone, to go down by the river, or ride out, on his own.

I pondered for a while, and I eventually decided that the only thing to do would be to teach him to lead me. This meant teaching him how to walk in front of me, which was no mean feat! We went down to the river, with Julia looking on, as he threw the biggest tantrums when his learning-to-lead lessons started.

He didn’t like the idea one bit and tried literally everything a horse can try to get out of having to do it. He would shake his head, stamp his feet, rear, try to run – he pulled out every trick in the book in order not to have to walk in front of me. For this little horse, that was literally the scariest thing that he could possibly be asked to do: just walk, on his own, along the river.

It took at least two sessions of patient coaxing for him to get it right. By the end of the second session, he was much less reactive, and we would go down and walk by the river, him in front, me behind, his confidence growing a little more every time. It was the first time I had tried this technique, and I think he is partly the confident little guy he is today because of it.

From here, Kleintjie’s progress grew in leaps and bounds, for two main reasons. First, Julia decided on a plan which would mean he’d be having his basic needs well and truly met, and second, his self-assurance had improved immeasurably with all the work we had put in on his confidence-building.

A place to call home

It was at this point that Julia mentioned she would like Kleintjie to have a herd life, which he did not experience in the stable he was previously at. She asked if I had a space to take Kleintjie. I was pretty much full at the time, but we did find a way to introduce him into the herd, and I did so gratefully because I knew that if he was put in the right environment and if all his needs were being met (the 3 F’s – forage, friends and freedom), the training would go exponentially faster and a lot of issues would fall away on their own, just by having him in the correct environment.

The fourth and final part of Kleintjie’s story takes place at The Whole Horse, which he now calls home.

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