Owning The Mare, and especially branching out to a new state for vet school, has required a new level of independence on our part.  While I’ve learned a TON through that process, I in no way claim to be 100% confident in my ability to continue our training totally solo.

Our last lesson was at the end of October, when Trainer had Mary Lowry up from Kentucky to teach some lessons. We were given some great homework as we were preparing to move into the indoor winter months. I had every great intention to continue scheduling lessons…then it was Thanksgiving break. Then it was final exams for the semester, then we hit a massive cold spell, then The Mare got walloped and had a huge hematoma, and then I was home for winter break for a week. Our riding schedule was erratic – there was no way I was scheduling lessons in the middle of all of that.

I came back from winter break ready to get back in the saddle. But for the next month or so, we started spiraling downward. The Mare is not a difficult horse to ride in the sense that she is usually pretty agreeable. As a Mare, she definitely tries to insert her own opinions into the conversation, but she generally goes along with what I’m asking.

But we were having ride after ride of tense, running, rushing, grabbing the bit and resisting. I spent one ride practically just a human lunge line while she ran around in circles. Sure, we were getting in some jump schools and bumping up the fences and that was all fine and good…but I felt like I was manhandling my horse around – something I’ve never had to do with her. Clearly, something was not working.

Trainer was getting ready to head to Georgia for some warm weather training, so I asked if we could squeeze something in before she left. I had a couple halfway decent hacks before our lesson. Maybe she had just hit a hard heat cycle, or maybe it was the super cold weather. Or that I’d been home for a while. Or maybe it was that I’d started her on a joint supplement and she was just feeling really good. Whatever the reason, this lesson was going to be GREAT, I could just feel it.

Except it wasn’t.

I divulged to Trainer how things had been going lately as we started working. We started trotting around, The Mare was booking it around with her head on her chest.

“Stop posting to her speed. SLOW YOUR POST DOWN. Make her meet you. Slower. Slower. Slowwwwww-er. It’s going to feel so uncomfortable. She’s probably never trotted this slow in her life.”

We did circles upon circles of trying to move the trot forward and back. Circles upon circles of suppling to the left and right. Circles upon circles with Trainer reminding me to let go of The Mare’s face every two seconds.

“I can see EXACTLY when you hold onto her, because she immediately starts fighting you. Do not get involved in her issues!”

The canter was a hot mess, I’ll just leave it at that.

So much for the great lesson I had been hoping for.

We started trotting a little vertical, and I stopped on the backside – a tactic that has been in our arsenal of training tools for a long time.

“What happens if you don’t stop her after every fence? You can’t do a course like that in the show ring. We need to get you to stop doing that. The jumps are not the problem – it is the in-between.”

So we went back to trotting this vertical. “Back to your flat work. Okay, now LET GO. Okay and back to trot but DO NOT LET HER STOP.” A few repetitions of this, and now she’s landing and coming back to an organized trot in about five steps. We changed directions and repeated the exercise until she was doing the same going the opposite direction, and until I was not holding a death grip on her face to the base of the fence.

As we were cooling out, we talked about our homework moving forward, and tried to come up with a game plan. And though she’s not a difficult horse to handle, she is a mare, and that means sometimes I don’t know what horse I’ll be getting on that day. Sometimes continuing to work through our issues is the best way to go. Sometimes if we start to have a difference of opinion, literally stopping and taking a breath is the best way to continue forward. Sometimes doing a lot of transitions is the only thing to keep her focus.

Trainer agreed (she also has a spicy mare and is well in-tune to our struggle). “But” she said, “you have developed habits. And doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result – that is the definition of insanity“.

“This isn’t going to change overnight. We need her to relax, we need to strengthen her canter and get her more confident there, and you need to remember to let go”.

It was 100% not the words I’d wanted to hear, 100% not the lesson I was expecting, but definitely one that we needed. Armed with a lot of homework and a little bruise on my ego, I was ready to prove that I could break the cycle of the habits I’d picked up.

My saddle time is where I find my sanity, and I’m eager to re-center our work moving forward.