I had a really interesting (read: slightly sketchy) ride on Mystic about a week and a half ago.
It somewhat mirrored this scary ride I had about a year ago (TLDR; she was panicky/jumpy/bolted into the path of a truck). And I’m going to admit something that I’m not proud of about that ride last year – I was incredibly mad at my horse. As we rode along that day I tried to make her circle/stop/chill the fuck out with increasing intensity… with almost no success/improvement throughout the ride, in fact it got worse and worse. I was mad at myself too, that I wasn’t a good enough horsewoman to get a handle on my about-to-explode-volcano of a mare. We were fighting each other at every moment and I was not winning. I can remember how frightened I was as the oncoming vehicle locked up its brakes and I made eye contact with a terrified looking driver. I hopped off and walked the rest of the way home, in a strange state that hovered between shock/anger/fear/frustration/embarrassment.
I read something around that time that essentially said: “horses misbehave for two reasons, pain and fear”. And it got me thinking. My best guess was that the saddle I used on her that day was uncomfortable.
I pooled what remained of my nerve and rode her bareback, she was 100% fine and back to her normal amazing self. That saddle was sold and we have been hitting the trails almost exclusively bareback ever since. We have encountered moose, loose cows, angry neighborhood dogs, horses galloping up and down the fenceline, people shooting guns on nearby properties, chainsaws, random wildlife popping out (birds, squirrels, chipmunks) at inopportune times, sudden weather changes (snowstorm/windstorm etc), farm equipment/hot tubs/other weird things being hauled down the road, motorcycles, cyclists and pretty much every random thing you would prefer not to encounter on the trail. And Mystic has not taken a wrong step.
I rode her on November 11th & November 12th. On November 11th we were constantly getting splashed by oncoming vehicles (first time we’ve ever encountered that…. super slushy snow eek). The first time one passed I grabbed some mane and braced myself, she didn’t even flinch. After a few more vehicles passed I stopped grabbing mane and just gave her a nice pat every time we were passed. I felt like luckiest human being on the planet to have a horse like her. I almost cried driving home, I was so incredibly grateful for Mystic. If someone offered me a million dollars for her I would have no, slept like a baby and never thought of it again.
November 12th was a whole new ballgame. She was fine at first (on the property she lives on) but once we got off the property she was not herself. She pooped like 3 times in the first five minutes down the road. Her back felt tense. She was lookier and spookier than I have ever known her to be.
I thought about what I’d learned the previous year. Pain. Fear. And I decidedly to take a different approach.
I spoke calmly to her and stroked her neck. When she had a more calm moment I rewarded her heavily and told her what a good girl she was. I made extra effort to “sit chilly” and reminded myself keep breathing. Although I found myself being a little worried about her state but there was no longer any anger/embarrassment/frustration. I ride with my friend C whenever I ride out and she didn’t say anything (on either scary ride) to make me feel bad about myself or my horse, she just asked me what she could do to help. I wasn’t angry at Mystic, I knew she was scared and was doing her best. We made it back to the property in one piece and I gave her lots of pets and carrots.
When I stopped for gas on my way home I heard there was a cougar sighting in the area I was in. That seems like a valid thing to be afraid of! Not sure if that’s what was troubling her or not. And I will never know.
But I had a pretty big breakthrough about my own riding/journey with horses. I come from the old school of “you gotta show him who’s boss!” attitude. And while in certain situations that attitude has its place, that’s not how I look at things anymore. I want to be my horse’s partner. I want to be the safe place when they’re afraid. On my first sketchy trail ride I was getting mad at Mystic for behaving badly, whether she was in pain or just afraid… how would that help? If you are afraid/frightened and someone yells at you – would that help? Or would you feel resentful of them? That kind of dynamic doesn’t sound like a partnership to me. I hope in future when I’m struggling with my horses I will be able to check my ego at the door and listen to them.
And if someone showed up with a million dollars on November 12 I still wouldn’t have sold Mystic. Sometimes she is my rock and sometimes I am hers.