Today I took Heidi on her first off property solo ride, just me and the Heidi Monster. Not a big deal for most horses, but a huge deal for mine. Riding alone isn’t on her list of approved activities and there was a time when I couldn’t have done this with her. She would have bucked me off. #byefelicia
I left the barn at 7:15 a.m. and trailered 45 minutes north to my favorite trail. When I got there, there was one car but no other horse trailers. Heidi was a little freaked at first, looking around and being hyper alert. She isn’t spooky in the least, so freaked for her means dancing around and being a pill about getting tacked up. I rode her in the bitless bridle because if we’re going to do this thing, let’s really do it. You know, alone in the woods with Mrs. Spaz and no bit.
I had prepared myself for the possibility that I might be walking the whole time because, when Heidi is freaking, she freaks hard. She goes from zero to rearing faster than I care to deal with. The only thing that sets her off is when she wants to head for home and I try to stop her. She’s gotten much better, but still not perfect by any means.
I started off riding her and she headed down the trail with no problem. I didn’t even know if she’d do that. We went a quarter of a mile and she couldn’t deal, tried to turn and head back. I got off and decided to walk her way out into the woods and try riding her back. My plan worked!
I walked with her for 2.5 miles. By the time I got back on her, she was completely relaxed. We rode the 2.5 miles back and it was one of the best times I’ve ever had with her. It’s hard to capture in words, but I felt like we were a team, that she was enjoying herself just as much as I was, and that she wanted to be there with me. I’ve had a long, hard road with her and it finally felt like we were partners. Me and Heidi against the world.
I tried to make it enjoyable for her. I packed my fanny pack full of carrots and, every once in a while, I’d reach down and give her one. That really perked her up. I wanted her to have fun while she was working, and build a positive association with our time on the trail. “See, it’s fun out here! The human packs snacks!”
Trust has been the struggle for us. Heidi is hesitant to trust anyone else to lead her. She’s boss mare and humans have to earn her respect. It’s not automatic with her; I’ve fought for every ounce of respect and affection. But I’ve also struggled with trusting her. When a horse bucks you off and rears with you, you gain a certain amount of caution and hesitancy.
When I got Heidi she was totally unfit. She didn’t feel balanced on trails and many times I felt like she could take a tumble at any moment on less than perfect footing. I found myself having anxiety that I had NEVER had before with any other horse.
On this ride, it was like she was telling me to trust her. “Relax Human, I got this.” And she did. She picked good footing and carried us both safely up hills and over rocks and through some tricky terrain. A lot of the trail was on the edge of some steep slopes, and normally I would be trying to steer her away from the edge, but she felt sure footed, so I let her do her thing. I relaxed, gave her head, didn’t try to micromanage her, and she took care of me. She felt like she had some purpose on the trails, like she was going to get us both home. Before it felt like she was a reluctant participant that was only looking out for number one. I was elated. That trust has been a long time coming.
When we made it back to the parking lot, she got a small mash as her reward. We loaded up and went home without incident. It was just a trail ride, but it was huge for us.
Recently one of my horse friends was looking to rehome one of her horses. On paper he’s totally my type. Big, grey, warmblood cross. Another friend was asking me if I was interested. When I said no, she was shocked because he seems like he would be right up my alley. But I’m completely happy with Heidi. I bought her with the intention of selling her, but I have totally fallen for her. When she’s cooperating, she is so much fun to ride and a blast to be around. After a year of work, we’re really clicking and becoming partners and it feels great! She’s the horse for me.