On a loose rein . . .

  • Why do Thoroughbreds shy so much? I’ve been thinking about this a lot as roadwork has resumed — well, not so much roadwork as cannoning from one hedge to another, hoping the intervening piece of tarmac doesn’t contain any other road users.

    The new breed of equine behaviour expert has all the answers. I’ve read all this stuff about flight-readiness and fast-twitch muscles and, as far as I can tell, it boils down to just plain twitchy.

    My retired mare is so bomb-proof in traffic that she makes the Merseyside constabulary’s hardened crowd-control police horses look like a litter of skittish kittens. She’s been there, done that and bought the sweat sheet.

    Nor does she have any hang-ups about all those other threats posed so particularly to Thoroughbreds — the horse-eating pet cat, the dragon-concealing black bin bag and, of course, the shark-infested small puddle.

    So you would think everything would be fine in riding-out world, wouldn’t you? What else is there for a Thoroughbred to shy at you ask. Well, read and learn . . .

    The most explicable one is dogs. Except she doesn’t shy at all dogs, or even necessarily all barking dogs. She doesn’t shy at Labradors and she doesn’t shy at terriers, even when they are a snarling frenzy, but she does shy at Poodles.

    She shies at cows — but not all cows. Friesians and Charries she throws a total wobbly over, but Guernseys, Jerseys and rare Devon Reds are evidently not a threat. She shies at sheep — but, again, not at rare breeds like Jacobs or Shetlands.

    I’ve discussed this problem with professional horse-copers. The racing trainer was unsympathetic: “I don’t know what you are whingeing on about,” he said. “She’s just whipping round, all racehorses do that. You’d be better off with a warmblood.”

    Call it what you want, but that doesn’t explain why she whips round at one breed of cow and not another.

    As the road miles are building up, I have done controlled observations on this, and I can prove she is selective by predicting what she will and won’t shy at, with an almost 100% success rate (which has been helpful for improving my own survival rate).

    But just as I thought it was safe, last week we sank to a new low, as I found myself doing 0-30 up the wrong side of the road, and all because — get this — a bird made a funny noise.

  • To find out what Janet believes is the real reason behind her mare’s challenging behaviour, read the complete column in the current issue of Horse & Hound (20 November), in newsagents now.

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