Being able to understand your horse’s psychology and behaviour is the first step to creating a mutually beneficial relationship built on trust and respect. If the horse’s experience involves pain and/or inconsistency they become at the very least uncooperative and at worst develop serious behavioural and training problems. When my special mare, Jewell, came back into my life almost 3 years ago, she arrived with emotional and physical problems – lack of trust, chiropractic misalignments, hormonal imbalance, and a history of bucking and being extremely flighty and highly stressed. My intention has been to regain her trust and respect and rebuild her confidence as well as her emotional and physical health so that she will once again become my willing partner.
I have been working with Jewell fairly consistently over the past few weeks. The ground work was essential in getting her over the fear of contact. I suspect that someone in the years that she was not with me was riding her with draw reins because, at first, she would brace her neck and go behind the vertical as soon as there was any contact on the bit. Working her in hand, lunging on the vienna rein and long lining all helped to get her to stretch long and low into the contact allowing her neck and back to relax. She was doing so well that she worked with the women in the recent Mare Magic workshop. It was great to see her and the women doing such good work together as they built mutual trust and respect
The day after the Mare Magic workshop, I worked with Jewell. She was lovely & relaxed which is a testament to the work the women did with her the previous day. In fact, she was so good that I sat on her for the first time since I bought her back almost 3 years ago! At first, she did not want to stand at the mounting block. With just a few minutes of work, she was calm, level and bending around me. I got on her back and became so overwhelmed with emotion that I was shaking – so I had to dismount! I cried on her shoulder for a couple of minutes – a release of some stress about my Mum* (who had been taken by ambulance to the hospital the night before) as well as some guilt about Jewell’s prior experiences that had created her emotional and physical problems.
In our next session, Jewell stood quietly at the mounting block with no sign of stress and allowed me to mount. I got on and off her several times and she had no need to move away at all. From the saddle, using only my leg aids, I asked her to bend to both sides which she did calmly with no sign of stress and no need to walk away.
When I lunged Jewell in our next session, I noticed that she was not moving well in her hind quarters. I suspected she needed a chiropractic adjustment as she had chiropractic issues when she came home 3 years ago. Lorna Bell, Equine Sports Therapist extra-ordinaire, quickly found the problem and released her locked hip as well as most of the muscle tension.
Wanting to give her muscles some time to rest, I waited 3 days to work with Jewell again. Once again, she allowed me to mount her without any issue. We walked quietly and calmly around the sand ring for 15 minutes. At first, she had some tension in her back and neck, but she relaxed within a few minutes when she realized there was only following contact on the reins – no pulling or fixed hands. She responded brilliantly to light aids from my seat and leg for bend, walk and halt. What an awesome ride that was!
As our journey together continues, it is my responsibility to:
1) be AWARE of Jewell’s physical and mental states to keep her healthy and happy
2) set and maintain BOUNDARIES that earn her trust and respect
3) be CONSISTENT in my behaviour so that she feels secure knowing what to expect from me in any situation.
These 3 key elements are the foundation of establishing and maintaining a willing partnership with any horse.*At the hospital, Mum was diagnosed with a chest infection from which she has since recovered.