We Made It
Sunday night was the two week mark for my arrival in Florida for the season, and to say I’ve been going nonstop is an understatement. Avery, of course, has joined me, and it makes me smile to see how much he’s improved since being here. He has been able to help in the barn again, something he hasn’t been able to do for about a year. The barn here is set up a little bit differently, so it makes it easier for him to get around and stay out of the way. As a result, I think he’s happier, and his strength has improved. On days when the barn is busy, he spends a couple hours with us in the morning and again in the afternoon. On slow days, he can be outside just about all day, either traveling or snoozing – all while wearing his wheels.
Almost every day of the week is chock-full of lessons, riding, barn chores, sunshine, and a lot of learning. While so much of the experience thus far is just like it was for me when I was here a few years ago, there is a lot that has changed – in a good way. For one, I feel a lot more comfortable and confident in the routine and in what’s going on, and I know most of the clients already, so it’s like a big reunion. My body is used to this kind of work now, unlike four years ago when I was cleaning stalls more sporadically and not used to a six day per week schedule. I also have more horses to ride this time, which means even more fun than before! And I did promise to introduce you to one in particular…
This is Hochmut – the literal German translation of her name means “High Courage” – and I’ll be calling her HM from now on (but also known as “H-Mizzle” or “Her Majesty” around the barn). She’s 12 or 13 year old Hanoverian mare, around 16hh, imported by Ruth from Denmark just after being started under saddle. She was a dressage horse for awhile, did some showing up to First Level, then took a break for a few years, had a baby, and began looking for a new job. Remember Diva, the big red mare I rode a few years ago? After seeing how I got along with Diva, Ruth thought I might get along with HM, too. I was given the chance to ride her, and we’ve been working together for a little over a year now.
Ridiculously beautiful, gorgeous mover, incredibly sweet, and infinitely opinionated – if she were human, she’d be a supermodel. Her hobbies include posing for photos, soaking in the admiration of the local peasants, loudly announcing when she doesn’t like another horse within 20 feet of her stall, and being waited on hand and foot (hoof?). In the past, she developed a reputation for being difficult, strong, and (although talented) downright lazy.
Throughout the past year, we’ve been through a lot together and gotten to know each other very well. My first ride on her was mostly about me hanging on and sort of directing her…as she had one big spook/spin and cantered away. Honestly, I had never really enjoyed handling her on the ground, but I knew after that first day that I liked riding her and I slowly/accidentally started to fall totally in love with her.
Although we got along well and made good progress for the majority of the year, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I changed my warm-up to suit her better, and she truly began to trust me. I used to expect that her first trot be on the bit so I could move right into suppling/bending and go from there (it’s not like she’s a green horse, after all!), but she has some loud opinions about when and how her rider uses the bridle – often involving what I lovingly call “giraffe moments”, and could get VERY, VERY strong if I didn’t listen to her.
So I decided I didn’t care. Every day, I did the exact. Same. Thing. At the trot, I gave her a long enough rein so that she could put her head wherever she wanted, but short enough that I still had a following, soft contact. I didn’t use the reins except to follow her mouth and steer. The only thing I did NOT compromise on was that no matter what, she MUST be in front of my leg. I kept that up, just doing laps around the ring, until she began to stretch down and put herself on the bit. Only at that point did I begin to (quietly and softly) ask for flexion/bend. Over the course of several weeks, she began to trust that I was going to be predictable and fair. The more I refused to engage with her emotional outbursts (remaining quiet but not changing my questions/expectations), the more willing she became to do whatever I asked.
Now, she is much quicker to put herself on the bit, and in October/November I found that I could add leg and ask for more trot/canter/bend/whatever, and she would answer “Sure, no big deal” instead of head tossing and getting offended.
What We’re Doing
My goal has been to develop a strong relationship with HM and just see where that leads us. Okay, yes – I daydream about what that might be. But in the end, I can sincerely say that with her, the journey itself is pretty exciting and downright packed with learning. I try to mix things up to keep her interested – lunge, go over trot poles, school half pass/counter-canter/etc, and even play around bareback. Now that we’re in Florida, it’s the first chance I’ve had to a) ride her consistently and b) ride her consistently under Ruth’s watchful eye. With those factors, I am SO excited to see what we can do!
The thing about this mare is…every time I ride her, she makes me feel the same excitement I used to have back when I was 12 and looking forward to my one riding lesson every other week. As I ride, it’s an ongoing conversation. It is not easy, by any means, but the reward of her increased trust is totally worth it. The more I ride her with a view to be solid with my expectations, yet compromise when needed, the more good she gives me.
On Sunday, the two week mark of my arrival (and after four days of light lunging to help her settle), I hopped on HM for our first ride together here. We kept things super simple – just walk/trot – with the only expectations being:
1) Stay ahead of my leg
2) Have a good, quiet, short ride
And we did just that.
Since then, we’ve had a few more rides, and she keeps getting better each time. I’ll check in again in my next post to let you know what we’re working on.