Pony Sez #35: The Old Stablehand

The old stablehand

The Old Stablehand has seen it all and carried them all. He’s sick and tired of lugging your brats around but he’ll keep doing it. Most of all he wants to snooze in a corner of the pasture or in his box. Stay on his good side with regular bribes and health checkups.

I’ve met a lot of Old Stablehands at barns and riding schools. They’re the stable old horses who know better than the instructor and certainly better than the kids they’re lugging around. They don’t know why this job needs to be done but they keep plodding as long as you take good care of them.

If Old Stablehands are treated poorly they turn aggressive or unreliable. They work hard and deserve regular vet and farrier care. And extra carrots.

May Pretties

The husband bonds with animals on a level I can never match. No fuss, no big deal, they just fall in love with him as easily as he falls in love with them. And sometimes, I swear, they’re talking about me.

“And then she said …”

We’ve had two weeks of blazing summer-before-summer; in fact, one of the hottest May months in a century. After the meteorological disaster that was 2017 I can’t say I am complaining. I don’t do well with heat, but it’s pretty to look at, and no one yells at me for sitting in the shade.

The heat means I have to braid Emilie’s mane or she’ll sweat buckets. She wasn’t too fond of this notion last year, but something must have clicked: Now she stands perfectly still and seems to even enjoy the treatment. Of course she also picks half the braids out in an hour once released into the pasture. Oh well.

Barbecue on Thursdays, carrots optional.
Barbecue on Thursdays, carrots optional.

I love how expressive Emilie is. She talks. All the time. Some of it is vocalized, little grunts and snorts (in a surprisingly deep tone). Most is her eyes and ears, though. I always pull her forelock aside so I can watch her eyes when we’re together. Her eyes are so remarkably talkative, and so are those big draft horse ears.

"No, seriously, then she said ..."
“No, seriously, then she said …”

Pony Sez #34

Pony Sez #34

The Boss takes charge. The Boss wants to work, but you got to ask nicely and you better not forget to praise and reward. The Boss knows that there is a job that needs doin’, so you better roll up those sleeves, put that hard hat on, and get to doin’ it, mate.

Each horse I have owned has had its own unique personality. Some have been pleasers; one was aggressive, and my current Jutland draft is very much the boss of me.

I don’t mean that in a bad way. Emilie is better at being a horse than I am. She’s cool with changes and loves exploring new things. Whenever I curl up in anxiety or pain, she’s the one telling me to breathe and chill. I may point the direction we’re going, but Emilie is very much the one who gets us there. Together.

Back in the saddle!

Back in the saddle!
Emilie is infinitely more at ease and in control of the situation than I am.


I’m proud of husband and horse this week. The credit for me finally getting on Emilie’s back is theirs, completely and utterly theirs.

I have not been riding regularly since November 2016. My Friesian, Pilar, fell lame, and then she fell sick and eventually, she died. We bought Emilie in February 2017, and a week later, she came down with a volvulus. In July she was finally over her surgery but something had gone wrong in her back: She’d be lame in a completely random leg every other day. After another hospital visit and a move to a farm with far more acreage for her to roam, she was finally declared healthy in late March 2018.

During all that time, I sat on my fat ass. It didn’t get any less fat.

Therein lies the problem. I can barely walk. I do yoga, but after more than a year of not riding, my legs are weak and useless. Last time I tried to get on a horse my knee flat out refused to push off the ground. I fell down, and I hurt my leg enough that I couldn’t walk at all for two weeks.

They make me so proud

I got into water gymnastics to strengthen that weak knee, and the husband built me an 80 cm stepping stair. I can slide from it to Emilie’s back and not have to push off at all. Together, we introduced Emilie to the stepping chair and explained to her that all she needs to do is stand there and open her mouth. Then I’ll fumble around and climb on board while all she needs to worry about is how fast she can eat carrots. Emilie thinks this is a pretty good deal.

My timing is less than ideal, as usual. I can barely cling to her back – forget proper riding! – due to weakened muscles and chronic pain. Emilie is barely saddle broke and has no idea what the signals and cues actually mean. It’s like that old joke – for inexperienced riders we have inexperienced horses.

For now we rely on the things we taught her from the ground while she recovered. Follow the husband. Walk shoulder by shoulder. Listen to verbal cues, they don’t change whether they come from the ground or on your back.

We’ll take the long road together. She’ll help me get my ability to move back, and I’ll teach her what she’s supposed to do. She’s cool with this. She loves solving problems and figuring out cues, and getting rewarded. It doesn’t seem to matter to her whether I’m sitting on her back or on a chair next to her, as long as I keep talking and explaining to her what I want.

The only thing Emilie doesn’t like is the saddle girth. She tenses when the saddle is put on her back and tells us she’s worried about it being tightened. But as long as we just tighten it a few holes at a time and give her time to wait and relax between holes, everything is fine.

That first spring day!

The first proper spring day this year arrived rather late, on April 2. We got up early to visit the horses before noon, but there was no convincing them to pay any interest to puny humans. Not on a day with a dramatic sky and warm, balmy sunshine.

First spring day under dramatic skies.
Dramatic skies is a thing on West Funen.

We could have gone out there and fetched Emilie, of course. We decided not to, however. I know how much that first spring day means to me, basking in the sunlight. I suspect it’s no different for the horses. They paid us no notice whatsoever, and mine is usually quite the attention hog.

I work with Emilie on the basis of fifty percent. Every other time we’re together, we do something I want to do. The rest of the time we do things she wants to do. Today was clearly an Emilie’s choice day, and Emilie’s choice was to stay outside with her buddies and enjoying the sun. And that’s really quite fair.

As a side effect bonus this means that Emilie is usually quite excited to see us; after all, half of the times we’re there, we’re going to do something interesting and fun that she wants to do. Whether that’s grazing the hedgerows, playing soccer or learning tricks for treats, the important thing is that it’s even better than being outside with her friends.

Only one horse could spare us a passing glance.
Only one horse could spare us a passing glance.

Winter this year has been a peculiar affair. The first half of November was warm, then the weather shifted to nonstop rain that seemed to last until February — and then, bam, an eastern wind from Siberia brought us snowstorms and freezing day temperatures. March continued in the same pattern, as if once here, Siberia would just not go home.

The red one. There, behind the white one. That's Emilie. Busy.
The red one. There, behind the white one. That’s Emilie. Busy.

Give it another month and there’ll even be grass in the pasture that’s currently resting.