- Train Training, as part of the ongoing Bomb-Proofing Programme:
One of the first things that Tommy and I will encounter as we set off on our journey from the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, is the level crossing over the railway track that runs up the east coast of Northumberland. I identified this as possibly being our first real ‘test’. Mindful that whatever question I ask of Tommy, I want the answer to be ‘yes’ (I can do this), I begin to devise a way of familiarizing him with this very scenario.
Step One: Train Spotting.
So just before Christmas, I decided to ask a local livery yard if they could have Tommy to stay for a few days whilst I am away visiting my daughter for our combined Birthday / Christmas celebrations. This is not just a little planned hols for Tommy, there is a definite method in my madness. Some of the paddocks at Rosevidney Livery Yard just happen to border the main line railway track that services the trains to and from Penzance. The proprietor, Verity Perry, kindly agreed for Tommy to be turned out into the paddock closest to the railway track for the duration of his stay.
The appointed day arrived and I rode Tommy over to his temporary accommodation to help settle him in. Before I headed off the following day, I dropped in to see how he was coping with this new ‘traffic’ situation. Far from charging around the field at the sight and sound of the locomotive speeding down the line at such close proximity to him, there is barely a flicker of the ears to acknowledge its passing presence. He is far too occupied munching grass to really notice. I decided to make a short video of his reaction. See if you can spot the difference.
I must admit, I felt rather cheated by such a relaxed attitude having expected a few fireworks to begin with at least. But of course, I was delighted, and as Christmas and New Year came and went…………..
I prepare to put step two into action and as I wait for the tides to be just right, enjoy a rare appearance of the first frosts to reach our corner of Cornwall transforming my familiar morning drive to the stable into a journey of dazzling, silver light.
Step Two: Crossing the Line
Apart from the appearance of frost, it is still unseasonably mild. Then the first of the winter storms arrive and one morning when I get to the stable, although the palm leaves are being blown into a flapping frenzy, the sun has broken through the murk and I decide to take Tommy along the three-mile stretch of beach from Marazion to Long Rock where I plan to take him across the level crossing by the car park. Here the train tracks meet the coastline having crossed Marazion Marsh where the starlings roost and the migrating birds find their first landfall. The train tracks then run along behind the beach and the service depot on their final approach to the station in Penzance, the end of the line.
When we arrive at Long Rock, I am fully expecting to have to get off to lead Tommy across the level crossing, but after only a slight hesitation on his part, and with a ‘Really? Oh Ok, if you insist’ type attitude, he side-steps calmly if a little gingerly across the tracks. I am delighted and we repeat the exercise a few more times with much praise and patting of woolly-bear neck. We didn’t hang around to wait for a train to come along and the siren to sound as the barriers come down. I felt quite confident at this stage that he would cope quite well with that but wanted to leave it at that for today. That would be step three of train training, another day.
With mission successfully accomplished for now, we turn back along the beach towards St. Michael’s Mount and I decide to head up onto the fine shingle to avoid having to cross the torrent that is gushing out of the storm drains, carving a deep channel in the sand, even though this means walking closer to the kite surfers and their flappy, brightly coloured sails. We have already negotiated the swollen river that comes off the marsh and runs into widening ribbons of water towards the sea near the Mount and I’m not overly keen to repeat the experience, aware there may be hidden patches of quick-sand that could gobble a horse in moments. By crossing that river, he has already proven to me that he can do it, if asked, and one more ‘yes’ to that particular question ticked off.
We approach the demarkation line that separates the compacted, grey sand on the beach with the line of soft, shades-of-ochre shingle (see picture above), and as soon as Tommy steps into the creamy sea of fine grains, he sinks into it up to his knees which has the effect of stopping him dead in his tracks and I drop the reins to allow him to investigate this new sensation. Then he does something that truly surprises me. He gentle nudges a small patch of shingle away from the top layer with his nose. Somehow, this simple gesture touches me deeply. It is both a playful gesture and at the same time done with serious intent: a gesture that is intended not only to explore the salty smell and feel of the fine gravelly texture with his sensitive nose parts but also to investigate if there are any hidden dangers lurking below the surface. I feel I have witnessed a moment of pure native horse behaviour and whatever the reason for this investigation, he deems it safe enough to proceed. Without any more hesitation, (did I detect a shrug of the shoulders?) and with renewed effort he carries on regardless of the deep shingle which makes it quite tough going until we reach the dry sand at the top of the beach with its ‘sand-school’ familiarity. Here, in the lee of the dunes, he stops for a well-earned wee.
We arrive home happy to have achieved more ‘firsts’ together, Tommy looking forward to a welcome feed and a roll in rabbit-mound field, and me, satisfied we have answered more questions with a positive response. I feel we are beginning to really understand each other. Not only do I have a renewed sense that we will look after each other but also a growing respect for our combined instincts. Tommy is not perfect by any means, but then neither am I! However, the more I really get to know him, the more chuffed I am by this little horse.
(For more ‘shadowy’ picture posts, go here).