When I got Cassie this spring, she was very green and she was young and, as it turned out, still growing, so I took things easy with her. I wanted to get to know her and build the relationship. That was my first priority. I quickly found out that Cassie had a few issues and was not the easiest, but we got along well. I didn’t really push her though, Cassie is very sensitive and reactive, so I decided it was more important for her to trust me. Over the last two months, Cassie has matured. She is coming out of her shell and she has gained confidence. This has led to more dominant behaviour, especially towards Minnie, but I did notice at times that she was very subtly testing me.
Today, all subtlety went out the window and what I got was a serious challenge.
It was a fine afternoon and when I came home for work, I didn’t have to go anywhere, which is exceptional, because living in the countryside with two teenagers means one tends to spend a lot of time functioning as a totally taken for granted taxi driver. Today, I had an unexpected free afternoon, so I decided to take Cassie into the picadero and try some liberty work.
We walked into the arena and I took off Cassie’s head collar and let her go. She ambled around a bit and went for a roll, and when she got up she walked up to the fence. I slipped in behind her and indicated for her to walk on, just like I do every morning when I drive Minnie and Cassie from the yard to the field. Cassie shot off like a bolt, so I stepped more into the centre to slow her down, but Cassie turned without slowing down and ran straight at me. Now, I am used to Cassie running up to me at top speed, she is a high energy horse and why walk if you can run, but this was a bit different. The expression on her face told me clearly to “get out of the way or I’ll run straight through you”. I’m not sure if I managed to stand my ground, she had run past me before I had time to do anything and my heart was hammering in my throat. Cassie is not a small horse and an imposing sight when she runs straight at you.
Cassie kept this up a few times and I almost felt like a toreador. She was not frightened, what she was doing was very deliberate. If I did nothing, she stopped and I could walk up to her and stroke her entire body. She was calm. If I asked her to move on again, she would explode once more. This was not fear. This was a challenge. A test. I decided to not let her get in the gate area. She could have most of the arena, but I would keep that quarter and block her access with my driving whip, which I use instead of a lunging whip.
The first time she came round, I was too late. She struck out at the whip with a front leg, then extended the motion to jump across and galloped on. I didn’t give her a chance the second time. Before she reached me, I struck the ground with my whip, Cassie turned and tried the other side. I stood my ground and after a few more attempts, Cassie stopped and looked at me and chewed. I turned and walked off. Cassie followed. However, after a few paces I felt the quality of her following change. She was trying to drive me! I changed direction and so did she, trying to slip in behind me again. Clever girl.
When Cassie and I had walked the perimeter in both directions side by side, I felt it was a good moment to stop and opened the gate. Cassie waited for me and calmly walked beside me to her stable and food.
For me, this was an interesting experience. It showed me that Cassie is far more dominant than I had originally thought and how sensitive she is to my feelings, more so than my actions. For when Cassie flung her challenge at me, there was a seed of fear in me ready to bloom. I wasn’t sure if I was fit enough and fast enough to meet her challenge and Cassie recognised that immediately. It is so easy to forget how powerful horses are and that at the core of their being, they are in essence still wild.