Marty and the Cursebreaker

In this week’s edition of making the most out of a bad situation, I decided to turn the Haunted Field concept to my advantage.

Since that Saturday night when all hell broke loose, our herd have been extremely wary of the right hand side of the track. At night, I would only move the fence for grass on the Safe Side because otherwise I’d come up in the morning and find Iris and Marty ‘trapped’ at the very end of the Bad Side, unable to come round to the gate unless I went and fetched them. I rarely had time for that!

During the day, Marty and Cash would get grass on the Bad Side but it was clear that they spent as little time there as possible. Although the grass was always eaten, there were no poo piles left in the vicinity. I found the latter rather interesting, because none of the horses would defecate anywhere but on the Safe Side – and only in a certain area. There wasn’t even a little squishy poo left in fright to be found on the Bad Side, or in the limbo-land along the top of the track.

Look, I’m a horse person. It’s kind of my job to pay attention to poo. Gods know I see enough of it!

A couple of days ago I moved the fence on the Bad Side, went to poo pick the Safe Side, and then glanced up to see Marty trying very hard to bring Cash back round to “safety”. He kept swooping in between Cash and the fence, making no attempt to eat, and receiving quite a few kicks and bites for his trouble. Eventually Cash allowed himself to get swept up in Marty’s anxiety and they both came galloping round the track. Once Marty had approached me, Cash – who seemed a little baffled about why he was there – immediately left to go back to the grass. Marty refused to follow, and when I walked away he stuck to my side like glue. Cash walked, then trotted, then cantered down to the grass, snatched a few mouthfuls, and then his nerve failed him and he came running back. I could not persuade either of them to go back after that.

A lot of Marty’s training with Anna focused on helping him deal with anxious situations, and on teaching me how to handle them. I had asked her what to do when he sees something worrying and goes into freeze-frame. With a horse, I would allow them to look but would not sit idle, as I don’t believe that offers any comfort to them. Should I do the same with a mule, I queried? Or do they need to be allowed to stand and think, because of the donkey in them?

Anna said that in Marty’s case, allowing him to stand and stare would not help him. I needed to interrupt that thought and direct it, keeping him present and engaged.

The scary area of the field seemed like an ideal place for me to practice this. I had an area where I knew his energy would be up, but where I had no fear of the worst case scenario (him getting loose) – although it wouldn’t be ideal, if he left the scene he would still be contained in the field. Quite different from him getting loose while we’re out on the trails! This would keep my own anxiety down and would mean that I could focus on helping him rather than worrying about the what ifs.

As an added bonus, on the day I planned to do this I arrived at the yard to see that the cattle had been turned out in the field beyond ours. Marty could glimpse them through the trees and he was on high alert!

The face of a mule who doesn’t know what I’m doing, but is pretty sure that he wants to be involved.

I brought him in, haltered him, and did some basic groundwork for a few minutes before setting off. I walked like I had somewhere to be, and made it clear that I expected Marty to keep up. He froze twice, once in the limbo-land and once as we drew level with the Corner of Doom. Each time I worked gently but firmly to direct him; asking for a specific number of steps, asking for a fluid back-up, and tipping his thought from left to right until he could smoothly look away from the source of his concern.

We walked all the way to the end of the track, watched Ben and Iris in the arena for a bit, and then strolled back. On the return journey, he was calm and had a nice, loose walk. He was interested in his surroundings but did not feel the need to stop and freeze. I could feel that his energy levels had come right down.

I didn’t have any relevant photos, so here are some pictures from a few weeks ago of them hooning around the track.
I’m not saying he’s fat, BUT…
“Shark attaaaaack!”

Anyway, the result of that little quest was that we have unexpectedly broken the curse! I arrived the next morning to find Marty and Iris grazing calmly in the No Man’s Land between the Corner of Doom and the end of the Bad Side. They both walked (walked! No thundering!) round to the gate when I called them. And there was poo!  So much poo! They had obviously spent most of the night hanging out on the Bad Side, and most amazing of all, there were even two poo piles in the Corner of Doom itself. This area has been strictly off limits for two weeks, and now they feel comfortable enough to spend time there again.

This new, laid-back behaviour has been repeated every day since, and is exhibited by all three herd members. No longer do they feel the need to run from one side to the next, or avoid one side completely. They poo with abandon, wherever and whenever they feel like it.

I have a suspicion that the return of the cows may have had something to do with it; perhaps they feel safer knowing that there’s a large herd nearby. But I would like to think that mine and Marty’s patrol played a small role in the curse-breaking, at least…

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