I started taking riding lessons 2.5 years ago, in preparation for a 40th birthday trip to a dude ranch. My husband and I are now addicted to riding. It took us a while, but in March, we found two horses to lease at a farm about 20 minutes from our house. The price was amazing and the farm has great trails and three outdoor arenas. The first few times I rode Anna it was wonderful. I have learned now that it was the honeymoon phase. After the first few weeks, Anna tested and tested me and she was winning. I ended up in tears a few times and even got hurt pretty bad when I was leading her across a creek and didn't give her enough lead rope and she landed on me when she jumped. (Totally my fault but it completely took away the last ounce of confidence I had)
I started talking to the farm owner (who happens to own Anna as well) and asked her if she thought she was too much horse for me. The owner didn't think so and explained that Anna had figured out what she could get away with and she would continue to do so until I showed her who was boss. When we went on our regular trail ride and she spooked at cows she had seen 100 times before, I realized she had to sense my own feelings when I saw the cows. They were standing closer to the fence than they usually do and I remember being worried about it. There is no doubt she sensed my hesitation and decided it was spook worthy. Even though I knew I was causing the problems between us, I didn't know how to fix it. I thought I was being assertive when she would attempt to graze while we were riding. She would stop at a trot and bend down to grab a bite to eat, almost sending me over her head several times. I would give a kick and yank up on the reins, but I couldn't fool her. She totally had my number.
During the 3rd week in May, my husband and I spent a week at McGinnis Meadows Cattle and Guest ranch, in Libby Montana during their horsemanship week. On the first night we were asked what we wanted to accomplish that week and I said I needed to gain confidence as a rider.
They put me on a tried and true ranch horse for the week and we learned the Buck Brannaman style of horsemanship from the ground up. We spent about 8 hours a day, in the saddle, working cattle and doing things I never dreamed I could do on a horse. In addition, we learned ground work and in the saddle techniques to help us become better riders. When I left there, I felt like a different person/rider.
I have been home for a few weeks now and the difference with Anna is astounding. I don't feel like I am doing anything different from before...but my confidence is so much better and she must sense it. Before we left for Montana, I had been trying to get her to get up on a huge tractor tire that is part of the Parelli Playgound at the farm. (The middle is filled in with dirt) She outright refused and I was always too scared to push it. Friday night, I decided she was going to get up on the tire and I walked her right to it and she climbed up without a moment's hesitation. We went on a trail ride this Sunday and came to a ditch that she once refused to cross. It once took 15 minutes to get her to cross and this time she went right up to it and didn't blink an eye. In addition, since we have been back from Montana, she has not attempted to graze while I am on her back...not even once.
Our "relationship" is far from perfect and we still have some issues to resolve but I am no longer thinking about terminating the lease. Her owner says that she can tell that Anna is enjoying me now and she can tell by seeing me ride her that there is a new found respect on Anna's part. I am actually looking forward the the days we ride again.
I decided to post this for two reasons. One, if you ever get the chance to go to McGinnis Meadows, I highly recommend it. It was one of the best experiences of my life. And two, it is so true that horses can sense hesitation and lack of confidence from their rider. It is amazing how much different a horse can be when they realize you are confident in what you are doing. I still have so much to learn but I am looking forward to learning it with Anna and I would not have said that a month ago.