Ever had your horse just act off? Not lame, but off?
As the owner of mare-zilla, watching my horse’s moods and personality is part of the keys to survival. Owning a mare means some days are just walk/trot days, and you have to accept that. Not by any stretch of the word are they “bad” or and “worse” than some geldings I’ve ridden (I tend to fall off geldings more!) But I really am a Mare Momma and have taken the time to really learn to read Claire’s personality.
With the bizarre Virginia weather thus far we have had everything from 85 degrees to ice storms all in one week! So riding hasn’t been super possible until the last month or so. I’m super proud to say Claire and I had a great clinic recently and moved to a new barn where I was working and able to take lessons from a new dressage instructor. Leading up to my first lessons with her I had been riding well, but Claire like many mares this spring, has had a particularly rough “season”. And by rough I mean we are riding near the pasture and she stops to advertise to the one, clueless gelding on the farm!! Being a mare mom we learn to deal with this and the mood swings like having a teenage daughter however the week afterwards was my first lesson and we would press on and keep practicing.
Saturday before my lesson I noticed that Claire was especially cranky, not back sore, not lame, just not in the mood for work. So we took it easy and tried to make the best of an unhappy horsey. Again she wasn’t mean just maybe “tense” would be a good word for it. My first lesson with my new instructor came and so did Marezilla! Other students had hauled in for lessons and when I arrived, Claire was running the fenceline chasing horses that were working in the ring!! (GREAT first impression to give a new instructor!) I finally got Claire caught, stalled and tacked and though she was ready to explode at any given moment I knew once I got on her she’d be ok. Sure enough, we were better off than on the ground though not all with it.
Our first lesson progressed with a slightly naughty mare who was mildly interested in work but still not my gal. Sure she’s “up” when new horses are around but this was a whole new level! My 20 meter trot circle became a launch pad for a new dressage move I call “back bucking”, in which we back up so fast we are at trot speed while simultaneously bucking… (I did stay on!) While I was totally embarrassed and slightly terrified at what my beast was doing I knew this wasn’t my horse. I just kept telling the instructor “I know you’ve never seen Claire and I but this is just not normal Claire!”
I went home, cried for a bit. Cried because I felt totally foolish in front of this great teacher who was trying SO hard to be supportive, and cried because something wasn’t right with my horse and I had no idea how to even begin to describe it. She wasn’t lame, all we’ve ever dealt with on her is lameness. I couldn’t see past anything other than “She’s not lame”. In the past I’ve had people tell me “It’s her attitude. You need to make her do it or send her to a trainer” when I’ve known that’s not her issue.
Fortunately I am a lucky lady and have an amazing vet. I”ll say I am intentionally glad she’s not part of a group practice because I always get to see the same vet, who takes as much time as I need to make sure Claire is right. I can text her at 3am when my pony mare is giving birth and can send her photos of things to have guidance on if I need her out or if I can manage it myself. So I did the only thing I could do… I called the vet, who has become like a best friend over the last three years, and started crying. That woman takes me in stride so well! We started back tracking to the last month of activities and behaviors. We finally mapped out her moods and behaviors and to ease my mind, she offered to come out.
Well, between the lightning bolts, we jogged, flexed and poked on that pony in all the normal spots she has issues with. We checked the new-ish saddle for fit issues, nothing there, but Claire kept telling us something wasn’t right. Finally we did a bit more looking and a little more poking and we saw that Claire was just having some reproductive issues. She had such an intense “season” that the rest of her cycle followed suit with intensity. Poor gal was properly treated by my vet and I’m happy to say was a gem on the lesson on Friday before the show. My instructor (who actually came back!) couldn’t believe it was the same horse!
The Point of this little blog post is to trust your instincts. If you know your horse is not right, take a step back and think if it’s a training issue or maybe something more. Too many times I’ve tried to tell Claire “behave, you wicked mare!” when I should say “I know something is not right”. Remember to always listen to your horse, sometimes they can tell you everything without a word.