In an attempt to continue breaking our cycle of insanity (i.e. doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result), Trainer offered me a spot to ride with Mary Lowry, a trainer and astute horsewoman in Kentucky, who periodically comes up to Trainer’s barn to give lessons. I rode with Mary last fall, and she had some pretty cool insights into The Mare.

I’m riding a fine line of budgeting for the summer and Morgan Grand National, but am becoming painfully aware that a bigger portion of my funds need to be going to our preparation. So I mulled it over and after a little convincing from Trainer, decided I would take the spot with Mary.

I got back from a few days home for spring break ready to get in some good work before our lesson on Sunday, but The Mare had another agenda and we spent the week with small moments of brilliance and a hot mess in between. The day before our lesson was cold, windy and I had to get off and lunge her (something I try to avoid doing if I can work through an issue) before getting back on for a half-heartedly productive hack.

I tried desperately to believe that our lesson had to go better than the previous few days’ rides.

Mary brought lovely weather with her, and despite a chilly start to the morning, it warmed up in enough time that we were able to lesson outside, which I knew would help The Mare’s mindset.

Mary asked what we had been doing since the fall, what we were working on, etc. I explained The Mare and I were having some differences of opinion, that we were working on softening her to the base of the jump, getting me to not hold onto her face, and doing a lot of trot jumps, moving the trot forward and back and generally working on The Mare’s relaxation.

Mary told me that everything can’t always be going great, and things get ugly before they get better (which is pretty much where The Mare and I are at currently – the ugly phase). Mary remembered that we are aiming for Morgan Grand National, and quickly pointed out that being goal-oriented in the equestrian world can get dicey because you are partnered with a horse – who may not be on the same page when it comes to the rider’s goals.

Then she goes, “Do you know what rappelling and rock climbing are? So in rock climbing, their ropes are loose. They move slowly. If they misstep or fall it’s not like they’re going to die, but their leads are loose so they move more slowly. In rappelling, they move FAST because their leads are tighter, so they can move faster. You are rappelling right now – you are holding onto her and she is just running. You pull, she pulls back, and she runs because that’s the only way she thinks she can get over the jump.”

My mind was blown – and we hadn’t even gone to work yet! That imagery just made sense in my head.

We went to work and had some decent trot work, and then went to go canter – and were quickly stopped. Mary asked me if I knew how my running martingale worked, and then asked if we could get rid of it. We added the martingale pretty early in our jump training, and haven’t ridden without one since. I hesitantly agreed – what was the worst that could happen? (Spoiler: we won’t be using a martingale from here out)

Mary then pointed out that our canter was pretty much the same as it had been when she saw us last – and while she recognized we were trying a lot of stuff to try to improve it – it clearly wasn’t working. We had to find another way.

Then she called me out. “I took the martingale off and you’re busy on the reins with your fingers…why do you do that?”

“Because I like to micromanage…” I sheepishly answered.

So now enter butt-kicking mode: “This is going to be a lesson on YOU,” Mary called out.

Things to accomplish: hands up, reins short, stop with the micromanaging, let go, let loose, learn to do nothing when she makes a bid, and get out of the tack and stop driving her forward.

Basically all the things I have a hard time doing – relinquishing control, not trying to make every step planned out, and from a physical standpoint – The Mare is VERY hard to get out of the tack on. But I am over making excuses, so let’s give it a whirl.

But by the end of the lesson, there was a noticeable difference. It is going to take a lot of work still, and we all recognize that The Mare’s weakest gait is the canter – and that might not ever change – but she we can make her more rideable.

Trainer was able to be in the ring while we were riding, so she was able to see the exercises Mary was having us do and what our homework moving forward is. One of the big takeaways was that the way we flat and the way we warm up to jump cannot be the same, because she doesn’t jump the same way she flats.

It’s going to take a lot to undo my bad habits and re-learn riding in a way I am not quite comfortable yet, but I can see that it is the way The Mare needs to be ridden. And if it’ll help her improve, then I can put myself outside my comfort zone.

So hopefully as we move forward from this lesson, this recovering perfectionist can start to lean towards the “rock climbing” type of riding rather than the “rappelling” type, slow both our brains down and learn to let go.