Walking without help, wondering when it would get easier.

April 1, 2018. I’m dating these posts because I’m a little behind, and it’s been a journey. Over the last three weeks I’ve been heading down to the barn to ride Bizzy at the walk. She’s been very up when we bring out into the ring, and broncing on the lunge line. When we would walk, at first, Lauren would lead her with me on her back, like a pony ride.

One day she was so up, and it was so windy, we didn’t ride her at all, which is so unusual for us. Lauren lunged her, and then I lunged her, and then we took her inside and groomed her and discussed emergency dismounts. Why was that on our minds? Because the week before Lauren had hopped down mid-bronc back to the gate in the middle of what had been a good-ish ride.

So over the last few weeks, when I’ve had a couple of walks on her that went well, and where Lauren left us to walk on our own, it felt like a breakthrough. But it wasn’t the real breakthrough we were looking for, as it felt tentative. I was aware of her ears constantly. She was looking for excuses constantly. Pricking her ears forward at anything. “Come on, Bizzy,” I would think as I drew her back to me, her ear flicking back or just flopping down as indication she was listening again. One of the times recently, when Lauren was still walking beside her, she tried nipping at her to get a rise out of her, to get an excuse to flip upward.

It was like that the whole time. Each time there would be a spook or a scoot; a few times I felt what it was like to get air between my seat and the saddle. But each time I would be centered, and after that initial adrenaline-inducing surge, she wouldn’t really do that much – and we would live to ride another day.

That was our winter into spring. Snow squalls, huge winds, nervy horse, wondering if it would get better, when it would get better, would we ever trust it and trust her.

Taking it down to the walk.

Over the course of November through March, really through the winter, Lauren was working her at the walk and trot. By February, we started only walking her. She was so up every time, so over-responsive to every aid – especially contact – that it seemed the only thing to do was just to walk it out.

We lunged her, of course. Lauren rode her more and more, around the snowstorms and whenever she could. I rode whenever I could get down there. Bizzy stopped going into orbit the way she did in November and December every time Lauren put the leg on or gave a little bit of contact, but still she was spooky, tripping, looking for some little reason to scoot or jump. But still, it was all we could do to have a nice, contained, relaxed walk without someone holding her or walking alongside.

The idea was (and this is echoed in everything you read about bringing Thoroughbreds off the track): Let her walk and relax. Let her realize we’re not going to ask for a single other thing. Let her do this in the worst months for horses – the months when their backs are cold (hence all the bucking and broncing on the lunge, kicking out and stretching out that back), the months when some horses are nervy anyway.

The idea was for me to know all I was going to do was walk. And her to know all she was going to do was walk. And then, through that, learn to accept a little bit of pressure on her mouth, a little bit of leg now and then.

Along with lots and lots of scratches on the neck and praise, telling her she was a good, good girl.

Early rides.

I didn’t expect that riding her would mean learning to ride again myself. It’s been a humbling experience. In trying to ask her to move forward, suddenly my leg was swinging, my hands were bouncing, and I was unaware of each until I saw the videos. Ugh! It tells me that whatever I could do on “made” horses, I don’t have the skills and strength down to use them on any horse, including a green horse, and that’s where I want to be.

But Bizzy listens and moves. She wants to do what we ask, and you can always see that in her expression. In the early months, because Lauren was pregnant I was the only one who rode her. After February of that year, her training rides with Lauren began.

Here we are in our first foray out of the safe circle at one end of the ring.



First ride.

We started with pony rides. You can tell from the expression on my face that it was a joy and a surprise to get on her back. She was so skinny and so wiggly, and it was just a thing to be up there. I think we only walked that day, with a very light contact as you can see. She had no muscles! Soon, when we would ask for a trot, she would do a little leap into it, and sometimes a crow hop.