Shortly before I graduated college, I sold the appaloosa filly I had raised from birth, because I decided her personality was a poor match for me and my riding goals. My dad offered to buy me a new horse as a graduation gift. I set out to find the ideal hunter and accidentally fell in love with a rescued draft cross mare.
When I got Ursula, she was in decent physical health, but she had (and still has) some mental health issues. I don't know whether these are due to the abuse she suffered or just for lack of handling. In any case, she was extremely head shy and fearful. Haltering her was difficult. Touching her ears was out of the question. The first time I tried to put the reins over her head to ride her, she flew backwards and reared. She was super tense all the time. She broke three breakaway halters in the first three months that I owned her, and the owner of the boarding stable where I kept her deemed her "dangerous" and refused to take her halter off because she couldn't get it back on once it was off.
Despite her deplorable ground manners, Ursula was rideable at least at the walk and the trot (sort of). She wouldn't trot in a straight line. It was a drunken swagger, and I couldn't get her to canter at all. She was all strung out and had zero collection.
The good thing is, Ursula is super sweet and eager to please. With just some patience and some time under saddle, Ursula was walking, trotting and cantering at a steady pace and in straight lines! She is now comfortable around me and my family, and everyone is able to take her halter on and off without a fight. I can touch her ears without a freak out. She's fearless on trails and took to the show atmosphere like a pro!
In three years, we went from super green and frightened, to calm and consistent on the flat.. but our journey is far from over!
Just a few weeks ago, I bought a new saddle for Ursula. It's a used saddle and I took my time to find one that really fit, then had the fit confirmed by a professional saddle fitter. This has made a world of difference! I am now getting some collection and engagement out of her, and much more forward motion. Ursula seems to enjoy her job more than ever before! We have also started lessons over fences and are doing very well.
Here are some photos taken shortly after I bought Urs:
Here are some recent photos in the old saddle:
Here are very recent photos of Urs after we got the new saddle: