Riding out alone…

Something magical happened. The latest thing I’ve been working on with Heidi is riding out alone. I’ve got her going well in the arena and the pasture, but riding off the property alone was too much for her. Sometimes she would go down the driveway to the road, but then have a meltdown and want to go home. Other times we wouldn’t even make it down the driveway. I started walking her down the road to the lake, then getting on and riding her home.  That’s been working really well. 

The thing is, I need Heidi to ride out alone or I’m never going to be able to do the conditioning we need to get ready for a ride. I don’t have a riding buddy in the weekdays, and weekends for 5 miles aren’t going to cut it. This issue is something I need to get fixed. 

Today was the first time I tried riding her out alone in a while, and she did great! She went right down the driveway, walked down the road like it was no big deal, and made it almost to the lake before she stopped. She didn’t try to turn around, just stopped. It’s very tempting in those moments to try and press for just a little bit more from the horse, to ask her to keep going, but I’m learning it’s much better to quit while you’re ahead. Rather than trigger a meltdown, I asked her to turn around so it was my idea, and we walked home totally happy and under control. It was the best she’s ever done, and a big step up in her confidence and trust in me. I’m a happy horse owner today.

The way to her heart…

When I got Heidi, she hated everyone. She wasn’t scary aggressive, but she would pin her ears if anyone approached her in the pasture and every now and then she would bite. Over the past year, she has totally blossomed into quite a sweet mare. She’s always happy to see me and she doesn’t mind me being affectionate with her. I wouldn’t say she was very affectionate back, but she at least tolerated my affection. 

Snoozing during her massage. Total bliss. 

I’ve started giving her little massages, mostly on her hind quarters, and I’ve seen a whole other side to her. She has a big personality; you never have to wonder what she’s thinking. If she’s irritated, you will know. Those ears go so far back, she doesn’t even look like she has ears. If you hit the right itchy spot, she puts her head in the air and puckers her top lip. She’s very demonstrative. 

Why’d you stop?

Since I’ve started massaging her, she’s gone from patiently tolerating being touched to actively seeking me out for rubs. She positions herself and swings her hip toward me when I get a good spot. Tonight I was happily rubbing her butt when she stepped backwards so that I was at her withers. I gave her a good wither scratch and she craned her neck and made her duck face. She sighed, licked and chewed, farted, the whole nine. For a horse that’s been slow to trust, I thought that was a big moment for us. The whole thing lasted close to 30 minutes and that whole time she was relaxed, focused on me, and not even interested in her hay. Usually nothing stops her from eating. 

She’s a very sensual horse, for lack of a better word. She’s very tuned into her physical needs. She never passes up a chance to eat or drink on the trail, never gets too nervous to eat. Now I’m discovering that she never passes up a good butt rub either! 

The next thing to conquer…

When I got Heidi she was almost unrideable. If I tried to hop on her casually in the yard, she would buck or rear. As soon as I slid a leg over, those ears would go back flat to her head and she would start to go up. She hated the arena, refused to move forward and even reared. She was always great on the trail, but anywhere near the barn she was a nightmare. Just being able to get on her safely was the first mountain I had to climb. 

Below you see Heidi when I first got her and she hated everyone…

Now she’s all right with being ridden, and she’s quit the theatrics of rearing and bucking, but she is still ridiculously barn sour. It’s almost impossible to ride her out alone. She has a temper tantrum and tries to turn back if I try to head down the driveway and down the road. This is the next hurdle we’ve got to overcome. I’ve got to get her past this so that I can get conditioning rides on her. I need to be able to ride safely alone. I don’t always have a friend to ride with. 

Heidi is an odd duck. She’s really mellow and chill, not spooky, a very reliable horse in some respects. That is, until she decides she doesn’t want to do something. Then she’s a turd. She has no physical problems. She’s simply doesn’t feel confident doing certain things, and I’ve got to build her confidence. I have to show her that there are no dragons in the driveway, or wildcats on the road. My job as the trainer is to give her trust in me and confidence in our partnership. I know some people say they could solve her problem in one afternoon, but that would involve more force than I’m  comfortable with. I like to go slow and steady, doing things in baby steps until the baby steps add up to big progress. I like the horse to be a willing participant in every step. I think of it like building a brick house. Every day I try to add a brick, one at a time, slow and steady, until I’ve built something useful. If I get too focused on the end goal, I rush and get overwhelmed. When I think of laying bricks one by one, I feel like I’ve accomplished something every day, no matter how small. 

I have no doubt that I’ll be able to ride her out alone with no problem before too long. She’s a good horse on the inside, just needs some coaxing!

Lunge work…

I’m a big believer in lunging as a foundational part of training. The horse has to be able to move correctly on the lunge before it’s going to be able to move correctly with the weight of a rider. I spent a good 6 months lunging Heidi before I rode her very much, and most of the lunging was at the walk. You can build a lot of muscle just by walking. Now that she has a beautiful, swinging walk, we’ve moved on to the trot. There’s a huge difference between a horse that is moving correctly, lifting his back, and stepping deeply under, and a horse that is just poking along, dragging itself off the shoulder instead of pushing from behind. She’s gained a lot of muscle over the past year and she’s moving beautifully. You can see for yourself in the pictures!

Go anywhere, do anything…

I like a horse I can hop on and do anything with. Ride bareback through the pasture, go for a swim in the lake, trail ride, do a fun show, you get the idea. I’m an amateur just looking to have fun so versatility and safety are key. Heidi is getting more and more versatile. 

She used to be so weird about being ridden. I never knew how she would react to things. She’s super barn sour and I still have a lot of trouble riding her out alone, but I’ve been working on getting her more confident about it just being the two of us. A couple months ago, I walked her about a half mile down to the lake then hopped on bareback and planned to ride her back to the barn. Ha ha. Nope. She got so spazzy, I got off. She was nervous and unsure about doing something that differed from the routine and about having no other horses around for confidence. 

Tonight I tried again. I walked her down to the lake in a halter and lead rope and used a park bench to hop on bareback. I let her walk back to the barn and she was totally fine! She was not concerned at all. It felt so good to be riding my horse totally relaxed and happy, just the two of us, on a beautiful evening. It’s a simple thing, but simple things feel like big victories with her. 

One year anniversary…

I’ve had Heidi for exactly one year as of yesterday. She’s gone from a bucking, rearing, pissy, bitch of a mare to a real sweetheart, something I wouldn’t have imagined a year ago. I’ve fallen completely in love with her and all her quirks. 

I’m really proud of how she’s developed both mentally and physically, and proud of myself for finally learning some patience. If there’s one gift Heidi has given me, it’s patience. I’m excited to be learning a new discipline (endurance), and optimistic about our partnership. She’s a kick ass mare and I’m proud to call her mine!