How to Regroup and Keep Improving with a Challenging Horse
When working with horses, sometimes in order to go forwards, we have to go backwards. With my troubled mare Willow, it can feel like one step forward, then two steps back. Because she is a highly anxious horse with a history of dangerous bucking and spooking, I have spent a long time doing groundwork with her.
Eventually, I was able to get on her bareback from the fence with no issues. Then I progressed to getting her OK with a saddle on, and then finally the big day came; I was able to put my foot in the stirrup and swing my leg over. And what happened – nothing. Well, I breathed a big sigh of relief, because all the stories I had been told about her had messed with my head, and I was worried she might explode. But after the relief wore off, I soon discovered something I didn’t expect: Miss Willow "Doesn't Like to Walk During Groundwork, Only Trot" had no forward under saddle.
So now that I was on, I had to get forward, and to get forward I would have to put pressure on Willow. She seemed fine. We spent a couple of sessions poking around the arena with me in the saddle, and even stood quietly next to the fence soaking in the attention from people who knew her history and were giving her pets and congratulations for being a quiet horse with a rider on her back.
But a quiet horse isn’t necessarily a safe horse, and something niggled at the back of my mind; she didn’t seem calm so much as resistant to going forward ~ unlike the horse I was used to on the ground, who would move her feet at the lift of a finger.
Tips for Helping Your Body Learn Body Language
Are you new to doing groundwork and thinking "I am such a klutz - I will never get the hang of this!" Well I am a founding member of the Klutz Klub.
Look at this photo of me and Ava when I was first learning how to do groundwork. It's embarrassing - she is running me over, I am facing the wrong way, I was constantly getting the rope tangled around my arms and legs.
“The ball is not going to go anywhere until we hit it.”
~ Nancy Lopez, pro golfer, winner of multiple championships.
So how the heck does hitting a golf ball compare to training and riding horses? Well, both require that just about every part of your body - head, shoulders, arms, hands, hips, feet - work smoothly together to achieve a specific result, and it can be frustrating when we don't get that result.
What Nancy is saying is that while we are swinging the club to hit the ball, we shouldn’t be thinking about what is going to happen to the ball AFTER we hit it. Is the ball going to land in the fairway, what about that sand trap, that pond? Will I lose the ball in the bushes, will the other players make fun of me?
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