But now I'm going to mention something which may not seem so significant, but any horse person who knows what they're doing will see the red flag. Actually most of you should see the red flag. Nothing is ever said about keeping distance between your horses. "A horse length" of distance, say some. "Look between your horse's ears and see if you can see the hind feet of the horse in front of you", others say. But they don't abide by that here at all. The horses walk literally nose to tail. Robin always told us that it was dangerous because they could bite or kick, and that's certainly true, but I thought of something else tonight. That, combined with the fact that their commands seem to be limited to walk, trot, and canter, means that the horses are paying more attention to what each other is doing than what the rider is asking. I realized this tonight when we were all on a trail ride, about twelve of us. Thijs was leading and we were cantering through some tall grass. Nose to tail, of course. Suddenly, as we started a turn, a horse at the rear decided he wanted to speed up and cut across so that he could catch the lead horse. So he tried it, flying past the rest of us on the right hand side. So then the other eleven horses all decided, "Oh, it's a race!" but they weren't playful about it - they started skittering nervously and doing all sorts of crazy things. Nobody was in control and we all lost our places in line; my horse, Jakoba, ended up almost at the front.
We finally managed to get them a little bit calmed down, but then three girls on horses came flying out of the woods to our left, galloping fast. All the horses started again, swerving and bumping into each other and scaring each other even more. This went on for five or ten seconds, so the girls were a good piece down the road, out of our line of sight. But then the instructor's horse swung his hindquarters around and bumped into my horse, so suddenly she was not only tense and frightened, but first in line. She tried to run and I held her back, but in the process, she got turned around to face the receding hindquarters of the other three horses. And took off. I was surprised that she went after them when they were so far away, but she did.
I did everything I'd been trained to do - sat way back, pulled hard on the reins, then pulled intermittently on the reins, then seesawed the reins (first one, then the other) - but nothing did any good. I had my whole weight on the reins - and thus on her mouth - but she didn't even seem to feel it; she was bound and determined to catch those girls. And she did - spooking their horses in the process, me trying to stammer an explanation in Dutch and control my horse at the same time. I got her turned around to head back to the group, and after a few balky sidesteps and prances, she got on with it. But then she saw where we were going - back to 'her' group of horses - and so she took off again. Again, I couldn't hold her back. She of course stopped once we got there, but she was still edgy and so were the others. We eventually got back into a line and got going again. Everybody kept asking me, "Are you over the shock?" and stuff, and that was when I realized - I wasn't even scared. Not for one second. I was never unbalanced - never had a moment of 'Uh oh, I might fall'. I stayed 'with' her the whole time. There was no adrenaline rush - I wasn't shaky or anything after we got back to the group. When I realized she was going to run, I had a 'flash' of 'oh crap, I really don't feel like dealing with this', but that was it - no 'oh my God, she's going to run away with me!' feeling. So I was rather proud of that.
But that's what I mean - the horses learn to respond to what the other horses do rather than what the riders do, no matter how good the riders are - and, as you can see, that can have disastrous consequences. Yay for Robin and good training.