“What do you think I need to do to fix her?” I asked.
He simply looked at me and replied: “You can’t!”
I had just spent an hour and a half watching the best rider I knew ride my young mare through Waterloo State Park. I rode my trusted trail horse, Cutter, keeping a good distance between the man and horse in front of me. I had witnessed tail swishing, head tossing, a few little bucks, and a lot of rearing. I watched my horse as she twisted and twirled, ran up a hill, and crow hopped down the other side. I watched her gait smoothly at times but more often rush and pace through winding trails and open fields. Ronnie took off his saddle. My mare was foam covered and pawing at the trailer. She was pissed and I felt deflated.
This was supposed to be a solution-finding kind of trail ride. I had been confident that my mare’s behavior was due to my lack of knowledge. I was sure I had been the problem, and that I was not a good enough rider for her, that she needed a firmer hand and stronger seat. I was expecting Ronnie to give me a list of tasks that I needed to accomplish to expose an amazing trail-riding horse underneath this ugly exterior of stubbornness and idiocy.
Instead, he told me my problem wasn’t fixable. She wasn’t going to be a good trail horse. I gulped back my disappointment and whispered: “I can’t fix this? Ever?”
He kindly said: “It would take a lot of effort on your part to make this mare into a safe trail-riding horse.” To me those words meant there was hope. A tiny flame within my soul remained lit as I loaded the two horses into my trailer and drove home.
I don’t remember if I cried. I know I felt like it. But I also felt empty, so empty that even the tears were gone. I had spent the last five years reading, studying, watching videos, and talking to “expert” horse trainers. I had already experienced problems with Bug’s mom; one of the reasons I decided to stop riding and breed her instead. I wanted a foal so I could start with a clean slate.
Unfortunately, Sky died when Bug was three months old. Bug did not have the privilege of receiving life lessons from her mom. She was pretty pushy, but she was also sweet, cute, funny, and easy to handle. Why she was such a challenge on the trails was a complete mystery to me, and apparently, to Ronnie too. Wow! She took Ronnie for a ride too. Part of me felt a bit of pride. I guess I wasn’t such a bad rider after all; not even Ronnie could control her. But then I realized that knowledge didn’t help me at all. Now what?
Weeks went by. I think I walked around in a trance. I worked a lot of hours, spent very little time with my horses, stopped reading about vices and behavioral issues, stopped watching videos on how to ride correctly, unsubscribed from Equestrian magazines, and went to bed with unfulfilled expectations. Part of me was heart broken, the other part remembered Ronnie saying, “It would take a lot of effort….”
Deep down I was still willing. I wanted to try something else, something different. I didn’t want to give up hope.
The time between that trail ride and today is long. The stories are numerous. The outcome is fantastic. I found help. I buckled down and put in the time. I got rid of pride, anger, and frustrations, and found hope, admiration, and fascinations. I ride that mare bareback and bridleless some days, and some days I don’t ride her at all. But I am always there to stroke her neck, and she is always there for me to lean on.