This is the very special story of an unusual horse and one very perceptive, patient owner.
Riddle was orphaned at birth – his mother died within hours of him being born. Orphaned horses are not unheard of, but they present a unique challenge. A foal needs to learn vital equine skills very early on – ones that human guardians cannot provide.
At the end of Riddle’s first year there was a major turning point in his short life. Despite the demands of a big city career, Jane Mortimer decided that he was the horse for her, and refused to be put off by the enormity of the task in front of her.
Riddle had up to this point lived in his own little bubble and Jane found that any attempts to break into his world were met with extreme resistance. Riddle wanted to be left alone and had many techniques for resisting his introduction into the “real” world.
Jane found that only way to handle any situation Riddle found difficult was to avoid confrontation. Even everyday chores (being asked to walk onto the yard of his new home or picking his feet) were met by him shutting down. Riddle would express his discomfort by planting his feet and refusing to move. If Jane persisted, he would simply lie down. If Riddle was particularly stressed, he would become violent and would rear up and strike out with his front feet, resulting in Jane being knocked unconscious on one particularly bad day.
She decided her only option was to “wait him out”.
Equine communication and socialisation skills were the other critical area of his life where people were unable to replace the teaching of another horse. When he was first turned out with a group of horses, he would invade their space until they got fed up and started to hassle him. This would lead to him jumping out of the field to escape when he became scared and frustrated by their reactions.
Despite best efforts to find a solution, this state of affairs continued until Riddle was 2.5 years old. That’s when he came to the conclusion that all horses were a threat and his only course of action was to go on the defensive with other horses.
By the time he was 4, Jane had to resign herself to the fact that he was a danger to himself, and any other horse that was near him. The only safe solution was for him to have a field of his own, where he could watch other horses and be in a safe environment.
As the years passed, there was one major positive. The strength of the bond between Jane and Riddle was now so strong that he trusted her judgement when he was beside her. The next major step in his life was to be ridden.
She started his formal schooling by leading him around the lanes and letting him enjoy being out and about. When the day came to sit on his back, he took it stride and barely realised that she had changed position from beside his shoulder to being on his back. One week later they were out again but the difference was that Jane was sitting on him, not walking beside him.
One of Jane’s most cherished memories is of a sunny summer evening spent quietly schooling in the field. Without making a fuss, Riddle answered her request for canter by departing on a smooth and effortless stride, and she remembers feeling like they could carry on dancing like this forever.
After so much effort, it was amazingly simple. Among the desperate and testing times, this is the one she will always treasure.