After our last lesson, we had some specific homework while Trainer was out of town:
- Get The Mare to relax
- Stop holding onto her face
- Work on some low jumps, concentrating on softening her before the fence, and getting organized on the backside of the fence WITHOUT pulling her up
- Don’t get involved in her issues, and maybe even stay away from the things that get her amped up
So armed with that, we spent the next few days only walking and trotting. Walking on a long rein. Trotting and actively making myself let go, move the trot forward and back – without my reins. The Mare kind of hated the slow work at first, but once she figured out what I was asking (and that I wasn’t holding onto her face), she caught on pretty quickly.
The weather warmed up for a good bit in the upcoming week, so we broke out of the indoor and spent a few days hacking in the sunshine, which was a total mental reset for us both. We started to incorporate some canter work again, and I started to ask her for more lateral give at the canter, rather than barreling around like we had been. Still focusing on not keeping an iron grip on the reins, the difference in her work ethic was becoming apparent – we’d spent the last few months fighting, and in the last week, we were making progress again.
So Trainer comes back from Georgia, and offers me a lesson spot before I head home for spring break for a few days. Because of my exam schedule, I was only able to hack her the day before our lesson, and warned Trainer that she might be a tad spicy.
A complete 180 from our last lesson, as we went to work and explained what we’d be working on while she was gone, Trainer commented, “Well whatever you’re doing – it’s working.” The canter is still slowly becoming less of a hot mess (and I’m supposed to be learning to “let it be ugly” until The Mare figures out that I’m not here to hold her up – that’s her own job), but overall…it was a totally different horse I was riding.
We were working on some consistency issues, and each time we passed the door towards the fields she’d toss her head. I told Trainer I didn’t think she liked the change in lighting, and got the Riot Act read to me. “Okay, that’s fine. But she’s going to go places and there’s going to be things she won’t like, she still has to do her job. You are tough on her on some things and then make excuses for her on others – don’t make excuses for her. Don’t get involved in her issues. Ride how you are going to ride, and don’t make excuses.”
Translated: Put on your big girl panties and deal with it already.
And with that swift kick in the pants, we did. We went on to have some of the nicest, softest grid work (we got a “this is the softest I’ve ever seen her jump, she is being very good” towards the end of our lesson).
The recurring theme from this lesson was to let go, stop overthinking, stop micromanaging, and instead work on offering The Mare as much consistency in my riding as possible.
What’s nice about The Mare is that she doesn’t need something drilled into her for weeks or months before she “gets it”. The improvement – once we identified where we needed to fix habits – is already readily apparent.
I’m relieved to continue to break the cycle of insanity and continue on the path to bettering The Mare, and myself. We are working on developing a more consistent lesson schedule as we prepare for summer shows and Morgan Grand National in the Fall, and if we continue to grow anything like the same fashion we have in the last several weeks, I am excited to see the horse that I’ll be taking with me.