I left for vacation on Friday, so Thursday night I wanted a quick, relaxing ride before I left for a week. Relaxing isn’t usually the best way to describe riding Heidi. It may be relaxing for a little while, but nearly every ride has some sort of drama, usually in the form of Heidi throwing a temper tantrum about where she doesn’t want to go. She’s gotten better for sure, but she isn’t Ms. Reliable by any stretch of the imagination.
Heidi surprised me by being pleasant and actually giving me a low key, relaxing ride. All we did was walk around the pasture, but she wasn’t horribly barn sour like she used to be. We rode all over, and other than one corner she got funny about, she was great. When I got her, she was so barn sour that she wouldn’t even walk away from the gate by the barn without a major rearing, bucking meltdown. Now I’m hopping on and zipping around the pasture with very little trouble.
I have to admit, it is supremely satisfying to make progress with her because every victory is hard won.
One valuable thing I have learned from her is not to be handsy with the reins. If she starts acting up, my first instinct is to tighten up my reins to gain control. I think most beginner and even intermediate riders would feel the same way. It takes a lot of practice not to over-use the reins. Obviously riding off seat and legs is best but, let’s be honest, when shit gets scary most of us tighten up those reins!
With Heidi, typically what happens is I want to go one way and she tries to turn around and head for home. The more I tighten the reins, the more pissed she gets. What works is letting the reins slide through my fingers when she starts tossing her head, while simultaneously using my leg to move her hind quarters and turn her around. When her head goes up and she doesn’t hit the bit, she calms down a little. When she realizes her head is free and I’m not going to fight with her, it helps her brain start functioning again. If I start pulling on her head, she goes into beast mode.
She’s not a bolter, thank God. She’s never run off with me, so I feel comfortable easing up on the reins and using my seat and legs to get her turned around. A few years ago I wouldn’t have been able to do that. I would have felt totally out of control having to rely on seat and legs because I didn’t have the skill to do it, quite frankly.
So even though she’s a giant pain in the ass and I don’t want another horse with that level of problems, she has made me a better rider. I’m not saying we should all go out and buy nutty horses to improve our riding; I’m just saying I’ve learned a thing or two from being forced to ride one. I could not have sold her in good conscience before at least trying to fix some of her issues, so that’s what I’ve tried to do. In the process I’ve come to really like her and I’ve decided that her positives outweigh her negatives. There’s a good horse under all that sass.