Trudy Andrew | Canadian Author

Horse Tails

Practice makes Perfect

Practice truly does make perfect. Whether human or animal, repetitive work will see improvements, though just like humans, too much repetition creates boredom in horses, too. Still, handling a horse every day, or as often as possible, sees improvement, especially if activities are changed up often enough, so the horse doesn’t get soured. There are some horses that simply detest ring work. Yet take them out on a trail, and they’re as happy as larks.
Fortunately or unfortunately for me, Robin was a bit of a wingnut, no matter where she was worked. If nothing else, she was certainly consistent, consistently cranky. Still with time and riding, I saw huge changes in her, and good ones too. Robin didn’t have brakes, and brakes on a horse, are of utmost importance. All the usual methods didn’t seem to sink into that pretty, golden head of hers, so it took a bit of ‘out of the box’ thinking, to impress upon her that when I asked for whoa, I meant it. At first, I started with a walk, and when I asked for a halt, I would abruptly turn her into the fence or arena wall. She had no choice but to stop. When she tried to turn left or right, I stubbornly persisted, and kept her nose to the barrier. From there, we picked up speed. She learned to stop at a trot, canter and finally, gallop and stop. I had all her issues sorted out, except she still spooked, and hard. That horse had a more vivid imagination than I, and saw scary things everywhere. Horse attacking creatures could be under any leaf, behind any tree, and rocks could actually be a predator silently sitting … waiting, ready to leap without warning. Then there were the invisible dangers, the ones only she could see! That was a whole other story of itself.
It soon became apparent that she wasn’t quite as bad in the company of other horses. If they were calm, Robin was calm. If they spooked, so did she. She was a herd animal that looked for self-assurance and instruction from other horses. Ideally, I wanted her to look to her rider for reassurance and direction. I wanted her to trust her rider, me.
At the time, I was big into competitive trail and endurance riding. The natural progression of things was to compete with Robin. She could use the miles, and I needed a competitive horse. That she was so herd-bound was an annoying problem I was putting up with, while working on a solution for. Thankfully, she wasn’t a ‘spook and bolt” sort of a horse. She was more of the neck jolting, back jarring sort. She did it at all gaits, but with every increase of speed, the impact of her splayed leg, sudden stops multiplied the affect accordingly. A ride of any length on Robin was something you felt all night, and groaned about, when you crawled out of bed in the morning.
When I was conditioning the horses for competition, I gave them every opportunity to take a bit of water whenever the opportunity arose. Over time, they learned to sip water every chance they got. I was competing in an endurance race, stuck amongst a group of horses and riders, and as per usual, Robin was busy torturing me. I tried to leave the small mob, but they seemed as eager to stick with me, as I was to leave them behind. It wasn’t that I felt the need to race ahead, certainly not so early in the game. I simply wanted to get Robin off on her own, in the hope that the bone rattling spooking would somehow, someway lessen. With five miles behind me and twenty to go, I couldn’t imagine the suffering that would be inflicted upon me, if I stayed with the group.
Suddenly, the opportunity I had been hoping for, presented itself. Ahead of us, the trail was covered by a rather nice-sized pond. It was now or never. When Robin would’ve stopped to drink along with the other horses, I pushed her by. It wasn’t easy. She wasn’t very impressed with the idea, but went. For the next couple of miles, I think that darn horse balked and spooked, more than she went forward. She was stubborn. I was more so. She suddenly gave in, or possibly gave up. Either way, the result was the same, she began to listen and quite amazingly, stopped spooking.
That horse could run. She had the stamina her Arab quarter gave her. Some of the strength of the quarter horse, and the speed of her thoroughbred half. I didn’t ask for more, or tell her to do less. I just let her run. If she tired, we would slow to a trot or walk. I listened to her body language, watched for signs that she was tiring, yet didn’t see them. The miles flew by under her hooves, as I watched for trail markers. My lack of any sort of sense of direction was slightly concerning, but I didn’t worry about it. If I got lost, Robin would take us back to the trailer.
When Robin stretched out and ran, it was a truly amazing thing. It was as if she lost height as her stride lengthened and she lost herself to what she was doing. We caught and passed rider after rider.
The first few were a little difficult to get by, as Robin wanted to stay with other horses, but I urged her on. To my surprise, I caught a glimpse of the ten mile marker, then the five then to my amazement, the two mile marker. There was only two miles left, before the finish line. The miles had disappeared beneath us, without incident or a single spook, and without her ever coming out of the easy gait, she’d maintained with apparent ease. I asked her to ease down to a nice, groundcovering walk, and she complied. The rules were that forward movement had to be maintained in the last two miles, but there was nothing that said, we had to gallop to the finish.
I rode in on a completely recovered horse with an excellent pulse and respiration, and on the winner in more ways than one. From that day forward, Robin was like a new horse. She quit acting like a complete wingnut, and the constant spooking ended as well. Being a goof, took work and energy. I think she finally realized, she didn’t know how long of a ride she was going on, and that it wasn’t a good idea to tire herself out. At least that’s what I think she realized, as she instantly became an incredibly sensible horse.

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About Trudy Andrew

Trudy Andrew lives on a small farm just east of Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she enjoys her Morgan horses. A dreamer since she was a child, its no surprise to those who know her well that her imagination would find an outlet in writing, as it has in the past through artwork.
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 Oakbank, MB