We’re on a roll. If you would have asked me six months ago if I thought we’d finally be marching ahead with our training, I would have laughed at you and then probably cried about it later at home with a glass of wine.

Bringing along my big green OTTB gelding has come with a lot of ups and downs. Probably more downs than ups, if I’m being honest, over the last year. For a while, it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We would take one step forward, and my tummy would tremble with butterflies and hope, only to take two steps back because of a health issue.

Several vets, acupuncture sessions, new meds and a complete diet change later, and my big chestnut gelding is happy and eager to work. It almost feels unreal.

He is so healthy these days that he rides like a completely different horse. So much so, that sometimes he can be a lot to handle.

As I aged out of riding as a junior and had to scrimp by riding in college and thereafter, I haven’t been in a solid program with a trainer in a long time. That’s changed in the last couple of weeks. I’m riding with one trainer at our home farm for centered riding and dressage. And more recently I booked a jumping lesson with a show jumper at a big competition barn just down the road.

I trailered Mikey, my gelding, to the farm for our first ever haul-in lesson together just last week. I had zero expectations of what I wanted to accomplish in this lesson, as we hadn’t been doing a lot of consistent jump work. But I was excited to give Mikey the experience of schooling on a different property, in a bigger ring with the kind of quality fences you’d see at a horse show.

Mikey surprised me that day and came off the trailer totally cool and ready to work. He never batted an eye at the liberty pool in the arena or the colorful jumps and all their flashy compartments.

Our trainer was able to pick up on our issues right away and forced me to work on them with a boldness I’ve resisted before. Because of Mikey’s back-and-forth health problems, I’ve been riding like a weenie for a long time. Any time he’d spook or want to go sideways instead of forward, I’d ask him to walk and just try again. This trainer told me something early on in our hour together that made a lot of sense: don’t sweat the small stuff.

As Mikey threw a tantrum or refused to be perfectly straight to a fence, my trainer told me to sit down, put my leg on, hold my hands high, and just send him forward. He could wiggle around all he wanted, but he had to get over the fence and down the line, no matter what. It was my job to focus on the job ahead of us, not Mikey’s tantrums.

And it worked! I was more insistent and strong in my direction, and after a short while, Mikey stopped with the silly, green diversion behavior and began paying attention. We didn’t have the perfect take off spots or distances, but I unlocked a side of my horse’s brain I hadn’t experienced before. We were working more like a team than I had felt in ages.

But that’s why we pay the good trainers the big bucks, right? It seemed like a simple fix. All it took was me playing a more active role as the person in charge, and Mikey was happy to follow my lead. I’m excited to see where we can go from here.

Video from the lesson:

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