Anyone who has ever kept horses will know that some of them are natural born escapologists, always testing fences for weak spots and when they find a wobbly post they will keep leaning on it until it eventually gives in.
It had been a while since I had a new horse and when you have been the owner of a plodder who will stay behind a piece of bale band, it's easy to forget what demons they can be. Bracken was pretty quick to remind me. I have done little else other that upgrade fencing since he arrived just over two weeks ago.
The problem was that Bracken has been on the mountain, running with a herd and of course he just wants to be with other horses, or perhaps in his little mind he wanted to run away and find his own herd.
Outside the paddock that I had given to Bracken is the whole unfenced area where my other horse Jack has his freedom and of course Bracken would like to join him. There is no way that I could risk letting him do that because quite frankly my fencing is poor and Jack only stays because he can't risk missing his bucket therapy.
The first few days of trying to defeat Bracken's attempts to escape were very fraught. Every time I went down to feed in the morning I had my fingers crossed in the hope that he was still there. One morning he had escaped but was just hanging around with Jack and followed me straight back into the paddock, another example of the magic of bucket therapy.
I had to beef up the perimeter fence all down the longest side, a length of around 200 metres. He was barging it with his breast and pawing at it to try and find somewhere he could jump over. Not all bad because it's not every horse that will naturally jump, so another little bonus there.
My son and I beavered away putting in new posts and top rails whilst being watched intently all the time by the very inquisitive Bracken. Finally after about three or four days of worry he eventually resigned himself to being stuck in his paddock and just got on with the business of eating grass.
Getting the paddock secure was the first priority but before we could get serious about starting to work with bracken, we needed to get both a handling area and a stable so that we could gentle him up without the need for a halter or the need for him to be tied up.
First off I put some posts in the ground for the handling area or corral if you want to call it that. The weather soon started to deteriorate and I quickly realised that the stable was now the priority. If you leave a horse out in a small paddock when it gets wet you lose your turf and you also run the risk of your horse getting mud fever. This is a kind of thrush which affects horses around the fetlocks when they are kept in permanently wet conditions. a similar condition can leave a horse's back all scabby and that is called rain scald.
Now when I say that things are tight financially, I mean really tight. It is a very careful balancing act when you choose to live a lifestyle like mine. I was earning more money on 1982 than I am now and of course the cost of living is somewhat higher. I really have to think very hard before I go out and buy timber or fencing materials so the way I do things is by picking things up when I see them at a boot sale or better still hanging out of a skip.
I had a good scout around for enough wood to turn a lean to, into the stable. I had up until then been using it as my forge but as it was three quarters of a stable it seemed like the most sensible choice and so I began work immediately.
It needed to grow a couple of feet and have a front put in with a stable door. I also needed to section off an area of about ten foot by four as a feed storage area. I hunted around for wood and corrugated steel and I just about scraped enough together. We live opposte a double glazing fitter who puts old doors and windows out that he has replaced so I had a bottom stable door from him which I had been saving for a couple of years.
I managed to get it altogether and built in a couple of days and it seemed ok apart from the fact that I didn't have enough ply sheets to double line two of the sides. I fitted all the ironmongery and that was it, ready for Bracken to move in before the ground got saturated along with his feet.
He had settled well in the paddock and lost all the anxiety he had been displaying when he first came but I had no idea how he would handle being in a stable, I was about to find out.
I put a knotted halter on him whilst he was having a bucket of food & then lead him to the new stable. He walked in without any problem & turned around with me whilst I put a bolt on the door. He went around surveying all the sides to begin with but then took a shine to the woodshaving litter under foot. He had a good sniff, then a mouthful and then began to do the "I'm going to roll" dig with his front leg. I thought he looked ok so I removed the halter and stood back to watch. That was a bad move. He started to get edgy and looked around for weaknesses. He focused on the door and I realised that it was low enough for him to have a go at jumping it. I barred his way and he went around looking for anywhere else. He pawed the walls where it was single lined and he looked up at a gap on the wooden fron about six feet up and reared up to take a look. The trouble was I had burned my bridges. I took off the halter and threw it over into the next room and now he was fixed on the door.
He had a couple of goes at rearing to give it a punch but I put him off with a hand in front of his face. Next he reversed up to weigh up his stride to jump it. I couldn't just open it and let him out because he would have bolted down the woods so I had to wait until he lost interest and then dash next door for the halter. After about five minutes he went to have a nosey over the divider into the workshop. I saw my chance and vaulted over to grab the halter and then quickly back again to bar his way. I slipped it over his nose, tied the cinch and led Bracken back out to his paddock.
Back to the drawing board. The door needed to grow about ten inches and I definitely had to double line the remaining single walls. This is where the title "Great Escape" comes from. I had no timber, no money, but I had a job that simply had to be done.
I wandered around looking at where I could pinch a bit from other areas. I had a duct board in the workshop which had been an old shed floor in it's day. It was eight by four so that was one wall covered I found another shed side which had been keeping the weather from my log shed, a couple of pallets and finally a piece of oak and two iron hinge straps to fix the door. Two hours work and it looked about right to me, time to fetch Bracken again to have another look and see what he thought.
He mooched in, took a quick look at the previous weakspots, then he looked at the door, sighed and just stood in the middle of the stable as though to say, "I give in, I can't jump that without a run". I gave him some hay and stayed for a while to watch him but he had lost interest in trying to escape.
All we have to do now is get to know each other properly.