Returning from a lovely hack on my share pony Trooper, I rode past the arena to a familiar sight. There was Charlotte riding – no wait, battling – with her pony, Flame, yet again. The pony looked cross and was showing the whites of her eyes. When Charlotte asked her to go forward she kicked out, spun round and bolted, while her rider clung on for dear life.
Trooper and I watched in disbelief as Flame got faster and faster. Eventually, she ground to an abrupt halt and Charlotte flew over her head, landing with a thud. Unhurt, she got up and attempted to catch Flame, who had taken off in the other direction. “I hate my pony,” Charlotte told me. “Everyone else is so lucky – they can do anything with their ponies. Flame just wants to throw me off! She’s horrible!” When Charlotte finally caught Flame, she gave her a smack with the whip before leading her back to the stable. Flame looked wild as she pranced beside Charlotte.
A bad start
Charlotte had owned Flame for a year and bought her as a just-backed four-year-old. She’d had lessons from an instructor who had said Flame needed to know who was boss. I’d watched a couple of their lessons and all I had seen was an instructor who shouted a lot, a pony who looked confused and a cross rider. Charlotte often ended up in tears as well.
One day, I braved the subject of Flame’s difficult ways with Charlotte. “Charlotte, can I have a word?” I asked her. “I’ve been seeing you having trouble with Flame. I wonder if I can help?”
“Be my guest,” Charlotte replied. “You wont get through to her, though – she’s evil. I’m going to sell her anyway.” “Even so,” I said. “I’d like to give Flame a second chance.”
The next morning, I put a headcollar on Flame with a lunge line attached and led her into the arena. The whites of her eyes were showing, she had her ears pinned back and I thought she looked defensive and ready to attack. I unclipped the lunge line and Flame galloped around the arena, while I sat in a corner pretending to read a book.
After a while, Flame stopped galloping and stood trembling in a corner. I expect she was anticipating a telling off, but I just carried on reading my book.
It was some time before Flame’s curiosity got the better of her. She nervously crept over to see what I was doing and the more I ignored her, the more curious she became. I fed her a mint, clipped the lunge line back onto her headcollar and led her back to the stable. I’ll do the same tomorrow, I thought. Slowly but surely was going to be key.
“You’ll never make Flame sensible to ride,” Charlotte informed me. “Maybe not,” I said, “but I’m going to do the best I can”.
I’d been doing groundwork with Flame for a few weeks and we had progressed to introducing scary flags, flapping plastic bags and walking her over a tarpaulin. Today I was going to ride her for the first time – and Charlotte was coming to watch. After tacking up, I put on my body protector and climbed quietly on board. Flame was calm so I rode into the school on a loose rein, giving her reassuring pats. I wasn’t nervous because I trusted Flame would look after me. I’d never thought she was evil anyway. I trotted on both reins and rode over a few poles on the ground before deciding that was enough.
“She needs to work harder than that!” said Charlotte, who probably wanted to see Flame misbehave. “No she doesn’t,” I replied. “She needs short sessions to build up trust.”
Charlotte didn’t come and watch me again until several weeks later. She appeared just as I was riding Flame over a small course of jumps. “Good girl,” I praised her as we cleared the last. Once Charlotte had got over the shock, she seemed delighted. “Wow, Leanne. I thought Flame was untrainable! You’ve done so well with her.” Charlotte smiled, but she looked nervous.
“What’s wrong?” I said. “Flame has been so much better since you’ve been riding her, I think you should take her on loan. You’ve given her a second chance and she deserves better than I can give her,” Charlotte explained.
“Of course I’d love to keep helping you,” I told Charlotte, “but don’t be silly, I know you and Flame will be fine! It just takes a bit of patience and understanding.”
Charlotte edged up to give Flame a pat. I smiled, and hoped Flame’s second chance was enough.