I was so excited when I bought my mare. She was my first horse (at the tender age of 42) and I couldn’t quite believe my luck – it had finally happened after so many years of wanting and waiting.
But I was a very inexperienced horse owner and, with the benefit of hindsight, committed a grave error very early on in our relationship.
Quite simply I didn’t give us a chance to bond. I didn’t give us a chance to get to know one another. And for her especially, I didn’t let her get to know a new place to live, new horses to live with (she was now in a herd of a dozen or more horses after being paddocked with only one other), a new environment, new rules and routines and a new owner.
Six weeks after I bought her I took her on a 20km endurance ride. It was the first such ride for both of us. I’d never been before and didn’t know what to expect. My horse hadn’t been before, was completely out of her depth and I didn’t have the knowledge or skills to make it better for her.
It wasn’t the best ride I had ever had, and she ended up bolting a couple of times on me. We were both complete messes by the end of it. But it was cold hard proof that, while I needed to work on a lot of things with both of us, the main issue was our relationship. I needed to get to know her and she needed to get to know me.
But finding time to just bond proved to be incredibly difficult. I couldn’t visit her during the week due to work commitments and I only had the weekends to see her. Too bad if it was raining or I had something else on.
And then I had well-meaning encouragement from others to ‘just ride her’. This attitude didn’t sit well with me but I tried to keep up, to be a tough horse person. But it was my downfall.
After two falls, one ending in a mild concussion, I let go of having to keep up with the others and went my own way. I stopped riding and just started spending time with her. Grooming, feeding (of course), groundwork and taking her for walks.
Tiny bit by tiny bit she started to relax around me and I around her. She came to know my routine and I came to know her attitude and responses, her likes and dislikes. I decided to let us both just be.
Gradually I started getting back in the saddle but I took my time. I wanted to enjoy my riding and not feel pressured into doing it. If something went wrong, I would stop riding and look at our relationship – chances were I was pushing her and me too far and too fast. I would go back to our little bonding exercises and start again.
There have been a couple of occasions since then, when she has been ill or injured, where I couldn’t ride and, while I was disappointed, I took the opportunity to just be and bond with her. It took the pressure off both of us to perform and I could feel that she was more relaxed being around me.
It certainly isn’t a quick fix but I am grateful that I took the other path, that I listened to myself and her, and slowed down enough for each of us to get to know the other.