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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
--The Backstory--

Although I've been riding since May 2020, I finally decided I should be writing all this down. This journey has already been a roller coaster of highs and lows; challenging, exhilarating, joyful, and fulfilling. I think if I would have started writing back in May, I'd be surprised by how far I've come.

I've loved horses (or maybe the idea of horses) ever since I was a young girl. My mom was a single mom and money was tight, so riding lessons were a luxury we couldn't afford. I went to some Girl Scout two-week horse camps and absolutely loved having a horse that was my very own partner for the whole time. It was heaven.

Fast-forward 25-ish years. I'm finally in a spot where I can afford lessons and my kids are at an age where they'll be fine if I spend a few hours at the barn in the course of the week. I started lessons at the same very large barn as my daughter. I didn't know any better at the time, but looking back now, those horses were so overworked and the (very sweet) trainer was just not experienced enough to give high-quality instruction. After getting bit while tacking up and feeling frustrated in my lack of progress, we switched to a high-end hunter/jumper barn. Long story short- it wasn't much better. The people were snotty, the instructor was better, but was so booked that she had no time to show us the ropes of proper horse care. On my 2nd lesson, my riding partner for the day, a mare described as "crabby," turned her butt when I walked in the stall to groom her and kicked me in the side. Thankfully, I wasn't hurt badly, but had a pretty nasty bruise and, thanks to this and the bite I received previously, I now had a pretty intense fear of horses. I knew I couldn't stay at this barn for safety reasons, but I didn't know what else to do. I was really starting to wonder if horses were for me. I couldn't shake the idea that maybe I just wasn't meant to be a "horse person."

With some encouragement from those closest to me, I decided that I needed to find a way to connect with horses that would help me gain back some confidence. I knew that these barns with huge lesson programs were not going to work for me at this point. After some serious internet searching, I found a rescue barn about an hour away that was looking for volunteers. I decided to sign up to volunteer one day a week. I learned how to clean stalls, feeders, and auto-waterers. But I was also asked to take horses in and out from pasture and my anxiety crept up. However, some very patient staff helped me work on this. I also started taking groundwork courses and eventually riding lessons from this same rescue barn. I began to feel my confidence growing again and I began looking forward to being among horses again instead of being in fear.

In November, things are going well and at lessons one night, I pick up the canter on a beautiful horse I'm riding. I don't know exactly what happened, but going around a corner, I lost my balance, and I fell. HARD. On my outstretched hand/wrist. I ended up breaking my ulna and shattering my radius. I had to get surgery to have metal plates and 8 pins in my arm. Needless to say, all that confidence was once again GONE. But for whatever reason, I knew that this wasn't the end for my work with horses. Merely a bump in the road.

Thankfully, my healing process was remarkably quick and I had my first lesson back in January. My trainer highly suggested I start back with private lessons, which I have. I have also added a group lesson mid-week. The fear is slowly subsiding. My trainer has been so good about going back to basics and focusing on my seat and moving with the horse. She has purposely had me ride the same horse several times so that I can begin to get over the fear of what happened with him (especially since it was NO fault of his own).

I think that's all up to speed. In this very short time I've been working with horses as an adult, there have been a lot of negative things that have happened. But the gift of my age is knowing that experience is the best teacher (even though she can be a BI*&% sometimes!) and that life's too short to let fear/anxiety stand in the way of a true passion. And always, the connections with horses and the simple pleasure of being with horses... those moments of joy outweigh the bad.

So, my goal is to use the journal to keep track of what I'm working on and experiencing as I try to learn all I can about being the best human for the horses around me... with the long-term goal of one day leasing and perhaps owning my own horse.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Today was a great day at the rescue ranch for a number of reasons. On the volunteer side, I continue to gain confidence with catching horses in the pastures. Some take a little longer than others, but I think this experience with working with horses of lots of levels of training will ultimately come in handy. When I first started volunteering, I remember having to take big deep breaths before even stepping through the gate. I was so afraid that I'd get hurt again. I still have some anxiety around this- don't get me wrong- but groundwork classes have really helped me take control of it. I ride with someone on the groundwork team and she told me the other day that even she, after hundreds of hours of groundwork experience, still gets nervous working with horses. I would have never guessed!

I also got to help a cast yearling today, which was something I had never even heard of before today!

My lesson today was fabulous- not because I did everything right, but because I feel like I was able to respond to almost every correction. I once again rode the same horse that I fell off of back in November. This lesson and last week's group lesson felt really good. I could feel my legs in a better position and more still, my core more engaged, my seat more plugged in, and my upper body straighter. There are lots of little tweaks, though. I can't believe how many times my trainer has to tell me to put my inside shoulder back, close my fingers, and keep my heels down. :/ Poor lady should just record herself yelling those things! I'd also been working on leg position and had been having some issues with it until last lesson, I had a horse with a good, consistent trot and large knee rolls and those two things seem to help keep my legs in a decent position. At today's lesson, I hardly needed any reminding about leg position at all! At the beginning, my legs began to creep forward a bit, but a quick pop up into 2 point seemed to help me adjust.

The past two times I've ridden, I've been working using my body, leg cues, and even some subtle rein cues to discourage my horse from falling in at the circle. I'm slowly getting there, but I feel like such a dunce sometimes because my trainer has to tell me how to do it EVERY time. It's just not a natural thing for me yet. She really pushes for me to feel when the horse falls in and help him fix it right away. This is super important for me because my instability at a turn is what caused me to fall off at the canter in November.

As always, I did quite a bit of no stirrup work. I tend to lean to the inside when doing no stirrup work and my outside leg gets way short, so I'm focusing on reaching my legs down and around and keeping leg on and heels down. I'm still a bit nervous with this, especially since the horse I ride a lot has a big bouncy trot (and he tends to try to get a bigger trot when following behind other horses).

The best part of the lesson was that I got to try some trot poles! My trainer asked if I was comfortable and I trust her very much, so I said yes, of course. She said that the little jump could propel my horse into a canter, so to be prepared for that to happen. I felt ready, even though I haven't cantered since THE INCIDENT. :) Well, my big guy pretty lazily popped over the trot poles and we didn't end up cantering, but I was very happy with my form nonetheless.

I'm going to ask if my trainer will take some video of me at my group lesson on Wednesday. It's so hard to think about my position when I can't see myself. I do kind of wish our arena had mirrors.

I've been watching a lot of dressage videos lately- it's definitely something that intrigues me. The lesson horses at the ranch aren't especially trained in any specific discipline, so I don't know that if I ever chose to pursue dressage, it could happen there. But I could be wrong. Something else to ask my trainer...

So, I go to sleep tonight, thankful for horses, my trainer, and the opportunities I've been given to learn.

/BLTN/
 

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heels down. :/ Poor lady should just record herself yelling those things!
LOL my instructors could really use something like that. I'm imagining an electric megaphone that lets you pre-record a few messages.

Or maybe they don't need it. Right now, every time I ride, even if it's by myself, I can hear "heels down, heels down," in my head LOL.

Anyways I just wanted to say that I'm impressed you stuck with it after all of that. I am not sure I would have. Keep up the good work!
 

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Good job sticking with it! Those first lesson horses sound absolutely miserable; how sad for them! Glad you've gotten away from that environment.

It's exciting that you and your kid can share a hobby together. It's nice having a pal to tool around with!

I follow a YT channel called "Your Riding Success". You may like it since you have an interest in dressage. The channel takes a more in depth look at the rider and the emotions/feelings within.

Good luck and I look forward to more entries!
 

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@BetterLateThanNever (love the username!) WOW! It sounds like your riding journey started out pretty darn rough, I am very impressed you were able to persevere through all that. I feel like if I were in your position I may have felt too beaten down to continue on. So, really, amazing job :)

It sounds like you're in a really good place now, and I look forward to reading more about your lessons in the future. Best of luck!!
 

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Congratulations on your success! I am so sorry you had so much trouble at the beginning. I am not sure if I would have been able to keep going after all that. I have been working with and riding horses since I was 5, on and off, several years on, and then several years off, back and forth. Now I've been leasing for a couple years steady and I still feel like a dunce. I was never very "schooled". I had lessons as a very young kid and then a few again as a Middle School kid and I rode every horse I could. My Great Aunt had a horse ranch so that's where I started. I also worked in a couple large horse stables. But I also just turned 50 and I have some chronic health problems and have gone mostly blind in the last 16 years, as well as having other problems due to autoimmune arthritis and Fibromyalgia. Due to all of that--I too am scared of getting injured and sometimes have a lot of anxiety around horses. I get fearful when they spook and I get fearful when they are having some issues with slipping, tripping or being slightly lame.
I think it's ok to be a little anxious sometimes--we do need to respect the danger factor of horses--even the most seasoned horse people need to still be careful. Just not so much that it prevents joy and moving forward. And it sounds like you are working through all this beautifully. I would encourage you to start leasing sooner rather than later. Find a nice, sane horse. Riding the same horse has a huge comfort factor. You get to know them and how they move and they get to know you and your style of riding and it becomes a nice partnership--sometimes! LOL
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Tonight was group lesson night and WHAT a lesson it was! I was definitely a bit out of my comfort zone, but in the end I walked away feeling more confident and proud of myself.

When I walked in, I looked to see who my horse partner would be tonight and went to grab the appropriate tack. Then my trainer said, "Oh, you're riding bareback today." Surprise! I've never ridden bareback before, but I was excited to try. Once I figured out how to get on (beached whale comes to mind), it definitely took some getting used to. The guy I was riding is a stocky Haflinger cross and has a very wide back. It took a minute to figure how to balance properly. We stuck with walk/trot tonight. My trainer invited me to try a canter, but my legs were already getting tired and I figured I shouldn't push my luck. We worked on bending on the circle and feel good about my use of seat and leg to direct motion. I even posted the trot for a good long while (hence the screaming thighs!).

We played a very silly game tonight of "musical triangles," basically a game to practice getting to a point quickly and halting quickly. I didn't win any rounds (which I'm totally okay with- not competitive at all), but enjoyed the practice and the fun. Playing this with a group of middle-aged adults of varying levels of anxiety was a hoot! :) BUT...on the last round, our trainer said we were going to switch horses. I was fine with this...or so I thought. There were 4 of us tonight and 3 of the horses we were using I was very familiar with and comfortable riding on. So I wasn't too worried because I figured my trainer would put me on one of them. The 4th is a sensitive and somewhat spooky Thoroughbred that is FAST and likes to try to bully his riders a bit. And guess who my trainer put me on... YEP! The TB. My reaction: "I have to ride THAT?" Now, he is huge, especially next to these short, stocky horses I'm used to riding. I have to admit I was a little nervous even getting on him. I'm used to lesson horses that you really have to kick hard to get going. This guy--you barely have to touch him and he's off like a flash! So I had to be very conscious of all things my body was doing and the messages he was getting from me. Once I asked for a trot, he took off quickly, but I'm proud to say I stayed calm, practiced slowing my posting trot, not allowing him to be in charge of the pace. I can't say that we really participated in the game, but I did get a chance to see how a much more "spirited" horse rides. I was happy to be on the ground again after riding him, but very thankful for the learning.

I'm sad that it'll be 2 weeks before I ride again due to a little vacation we're taking, but I'll come back to it fresh and ready to go.
 

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Wow! I've never ridden bareback, so that entire lesson sounds absolutely terrifying to me! Then switching to a horse you're not accustomed to? Eek!

But it sounds like you had an awesome time, expanded your knowledge and stayed safe, and that's what matters :) It's nice you didn't feel pressured to be super competitive and were able to take the challenges at your own pace. That's often something my instructor brings up when I start getting too stressed out about doing something correctly or fast enough or whatever, that right now I'm still in the "fun" stage, that the mistakes I'm making now are all in the name of learning and that's why I'm on a forgiving horse to help me through that. And I think that's something that can benefit a lot of beginners. We're in such a rush to get everything correct right away, when really, right now is the time to mess up because we're still figuring it all out.

Anyway, have fun on your vacation!!!
 

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Wow, that would be daunting. I used to ride bareback all the time in my teens and through my 20's and into my 30's. Even cantering and galloping. But now that I'm 50 and had many years off no freaking way. I've ridden bareback a few times in the last year--only at a walk or very slow jog and I was daunted. I did get a bit more comfortable over time, but yeah, it's not relaxing. And to be on a hot TB--no way! LOL The Haflinger sounds like a good bet for a first bareback ride. :) I am considering trying some bareback with my new lease horse, he's big and wide enough and slow enough, but I too am not sure how to get on. The mounting block is a small one and the private individual's barn I'm at doesn't have a platform. Beached whale indeed! Too funny! Looking forward to reading your posts!
 

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Congrats on doing a bareback lesson!

When riding bareback, there are two kinds of horses IME: (1) the kind that force you into doing the splits to sit on them, but are very comfy otherwise (like the one you rode), and (2) the ones whose body is shaped like a triangle, which seem more secure but also may hamper your ability to have children in the future LOL. Both will have you walking funny the next day, albeit in different ways.
 

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Wow, what a comeback from some tough early experiences. That group lesson sounds like a ton of fun! I would love the occasional lesson with a bunch of middle-aged adults of varying levels of anxiety. Those are my people 😀. I'm impressed with your ability to post bareback. I found that so much more balance-challenging than the canter (and I could barely hurl myself "up" at all, I just felt like I was sitting up taller or something when trying to post).
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Wow, what a comeback from some tough early experiences. That group lesson sounds like a ton of fun! I would love the occasional lesson with a bunch of middle-aged adults of varying levels of anxiety. Those are my people 😀. I'm impressed with your ability to post bareback. I found that so much more balance-challenging than the canter (and I could barely hurl myself "up" at all, I just felt like I was sitting up taller or something when trying to post).
Oh my gosh- it's really fun with that group and I love being able to listen to the corrections my instructor is giving the other ladies so I can try correcting that for myself! :) Is that cheating? It also helps me stay loose and have fun and not so "in my head" when I'm by myself. I'm still slightly terrified of the canter, though I've heard time and time again that it's easier!
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
My daughter rides on Friday nights, so I asked my trainer if I could possibly crash her lesson since I won't be riding for another week and a half or so. She said I could and, as always, I began to wonder who my horse partner would be for the lesson. As I thought about my last lesson, I knew who it be would be...I just KNEW it. And I was right--that dang TB I rode on Wednesday night. Oh boy, I was scared.

I rode him with a western saddle to feel a little more secure, but I was still so nervous. Our last ride together went okay, but it was only for about 5 minutes after he had been ridden by someone else for the prior 45 minutes. I was sure that my trainer was making a bad call.

The first few minutes were okay. We stayed to one side of the arena since he tends to have baby spooks near the corners on one side of the arena. Eventually, though, we went down to the other side of the arena and it was fine. Then he picked up the pace and I could feel myself bracing. From then on, he had my number and I had to fight him every step of the way. I felt bad for the other two riders in the lesson as my trainer pretty much had to focus on me the whole time. This TB is a bully and spoiled rotten and is used to getting his way. He was definitely trying to push me around and sometimes, he succeeded. He requires constant stimulation to keep his mind active, so we did lots of circles and rein wiggling.

At the end of the lesson, I was exhausted and not real proud of how I handled myself. My trainer said that when it came down to it, I was able to stay somewhat calm and keep my hands soft, which is something to celebrate. I'm not the giving up type, so even though I was really nervous to ride him, I asked my trainer if I could ride him again in the future. She said, "Oh yeah. He's gonna be your boyfriend now- get ready." He's a good teacher, for sure, but maybe I can ride him every other lesson... :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Last night was group lesson and I have to admit that I was a little nervous going back. I know, I know, it had only been a week and a half since my last ride, but I was a bit worried that somehow I may have forgotten (or rather, my body may have forgotten) how to ride. Funny the fears us adults have that kids never even consider. My daughter is always so blissfully ignorant. :)

I was relieved a bit to see that I was riding one of my favorite, steady-eddy horses. My trainer asked me to put on a western saddle and I began to wonder WHY... Well, to my surprise and excitement, we were going on a trail ride! Now, I did a bit of trail riding at my first barn and I loved it. It was a good mix of gentle hills, and several straightaways where we could trot or canter safely. But this was nothing like that. The first part was a VERY steep hill and we basically had to grab mane and 2-point all the way up. We crossed several creeks and went up and down some pretty intense terrain. Now, none of that was too daunting, really. What was...adventurous...was the horses. My trainer was riding one of the rescues and he was, shall we say, spirited. She nearly got bucked off at several points. The assistant was riding the same stinker I rode the lesson before this and he did some mini rears and really fought against the halt. One of the riders was riding bareback and was riding a pony who was really feeling his oats and only wanted to go one speed--fast. He nearly slammed the poor woman into trees a couple of times. But miracle of miracles...no one fell off, no one got hurt. Luckily my horse and the horse of the other lady in the class were very calm and handled the whole thing like total champs. As for everyone else, well, they have some good stories to tell. Whew.

At the very end, right before the sun set, my trainer had me and the other lady on a calm horse run some trot/canter transitions up a gentle hill. It felt nice to get a little bit of speed and wind in the hair. My trainer said she thought we deserved a little excitement, too. Ha. I was perfectly fine with the level of excitement I had!

My daughter is going to have a full day of horses tomorrow as she has a camp all day and then her regular lesson in the evening. Here's hoping she holds out okay.

I start my third round of groundwork classes on Saturday and I'll be back out to volunteer on Sunday. My daughter starts a groundwork class for kids NEXT Sunday. So, I'll be at the barn 4 days throughout the week. Yikes. Unfortunately, it's an hour away, so that's going to be a lot of car time. Maybe I can get someone to recommend podcasts.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
This was a VERY busy weekend- lots of horse time. I like it because it emulates a little what my life might be like once I actually lease/own a horse. I just wish the ranch weren't so dang far away.

Friday's lesson for my daughter went well. She got to ride with another young girl that she really likes, so they had a good time together. My daughter was tired after doing a horse camp all day, but she somewhat held it together. After her lesson, she helped our trainer with a green broke rescue mini-- hand walking, lunging, and eventually, in the saddle on a lunge line. Overall, they both did great- although his trot was like a jackhammer. :)

Saturday began my third series of groundwork classes and there was a TON of people there. I had been spoiled by the 2-3 person classes I had in the fall. Anyway, since there were so many new people, we went over the very basics. I didn't mind- it's always good to get refreshers. I was happy to see that I remembered a lot of the work that we did in the fall. Originally, I was supposed to work with a mare who is known for being kind of a jerk in her stall- when she first came the ranch, she would turn her butt in the stall, pin her ears back, and even nip at people sometimes. However, the trainer was the one that got her out and she had no problems with her. I also saw that she has a stunning trot and canter- what a beautiful mover! But, this particular horse makes me nervous because her personality reminds me a bit of the big mare that kicked me way back in August. ::shudder:: But I worked with a lovely little Arabian and everything went great- we did all the usual: lateral flexion, disengaging the hindquarters, desensitizing, backing, halting, etc.

Today was private lesson day and I'm so happy to say that it went very well. My trainer is amazing. I can only hope that every equestrian has someone as knowledgable, empathetic, and encouraging as she! I'm not going to lie- I was definitely nervous because she had me on that silly TB again AND back in an English saddle. :). But this is the magic of private lessons...with her focus solely on me, over the course of the lesson, my trainer coached me into getting him to relax, stretch out, and see that when he does that, things are so much easier! We started off by doing some half passes at the walk up the quarter line- to engage his quick mind and to help create a connection between him and I. Our half passes weren't pretty (my fault), but we did it okay, and that's a start. We did a lot of circling, first at the walk, then at the posting trot, working on my ability to direct him with my hips and leg, more than my rein. Lots of this. LOTS of "Inside shoulder back!" "Elbow back!" At one point, she literally said "shoulder back" 3 times in a row. D'oh. Towards the end of the lesson, we were working on some half arena circles and as I came down the long side of the arena, I went into a canter. It was messy and ugly, but I DID IT! Two things that scare me- a sassy TB and cantering...and I did it. Not to be braggy...but I even got a couple of compliments from some people watching. Now, could I do any of this on my own without my trainer? NOPE! But I know I'll get there.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Today was group lesson day and, as always, it was a ton of fun. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I was a little disappointed that I wasn't riding my new buddy, the spoiled TB. :) Since more people have been riding him, I have definitely seen improvement in his willingness to work with the rider and that makes me love him even more. Plus, he's so dang handsome and a very smooth mover.

BIG NEWS (at least to me)... I'm going to my first show next weekend! It's a schooling show and I'm only doing classes on the flat and a ground poles class- nothing major. But, still, I'm nervous! I'll be riding a horse that is on loan from a barn where my trainer used to work and is very close with the trainer still. She says he's really sweet and very well trained so I don't have anything to worry about. So, part of our class tonight was preparing for the show- practicing what the judges would ask us to do and what they'd be looking for. Sounds like there are going to be a lot of people showing in each class, so I have to be particularly careful about spacing and being aware of my surroundings.

We did quite a bit of no stirrup work tonight and focused a ton on sitting trot, which is really great for me because I am forever working on relaxing and not clenching my buttocks. The horse I rode tonight was that same Halflinger cross I rode bareback and dude's trot is bouncy as heck, but again, it's a good teaching moment for me. I also cantered tonight! This big guy has been getting in a bad habit lately of diving in the middle at the canter and since mostly beginner riders and kids ride him, they don't yet have the skills or muscle to drive him back over to the rail. So, he was pulling that with me and since I'm nervous at the canter, I had a hard time getting him back, but after the 3rd or 4th time, I felt much more secure in my seat and I was able to put my leg on very consistently to get him over. Each canter is a win for me!

We had thunderstorms roll through tonight and the lights actually went out twice-- luckily they have generators that kicked on. My friend riding the silly TB was worried that he might spook, but he did okay.

Overall, another great lesson. I am so happy!
 

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This is so nice to read. Do you mind me asking--are you still at the rescue place? Or is this a regular barn? It just sounds like exactly what I would love to find. That they offer ground lessons too is great. I basically want to be a middle aged Pony Clubber I guess. :)

Exciting about the show!
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
I don't mind you asking at all! I'm still at the rescue place. It has truly been the best thing that could have happened after a rough start in the horse world.

There are about 90 horses there at the moment, but there are a handful that are trained well enough to be lesson horses. And some of the advanced students ride horses that are rescues, but have some training and need more riding hours. A middle-aged Pony Clubber is RIGHT! I always feel like the Pony Club when I ride with the group of ladies on Wednesday night. It makes me giggle.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
I have to admit--last weekend was exhausting. My daughter had lessons on Friday night, which was fine. She also got to canter up the hill, which she was scared to do, but ended up doing fine.

I had another groundwork class on Saturday, but I wanted to be sure to get some volunteer time in, so I get there at 7:30 and worked around the ranch until class started at 10. Class was great and I learned a TON- I worked with a horse who was a relatively new rescue and has major issues with personal space, stopping, and backing, so I got to put some skills to work.

By the time I finished class, I was exhausted, but I had a lesson scheduled for that afternoon, which got pushed back even later! Sooooo tired! I was riding with a lady I really like, so I was excited. But I was also riding that lovely TB and I could tell from the 2nd I grabbed him from his paddock, it was not going to go well. It was a very windy day and every thing that moved caught his attention. His eyes were wide and his focus was shot. So I think I went into the ride already scared of what could happen when he's all keyed up. Once I got on, it was just as I thought- he was in a major rush, tried to ignore cues, and was doing baby spooks all over the place. I was having difficulty keeping him focused on me and we were having a hard time going through turns and keep an even pace. I stuck with it, but at one point, I asked my trainer to get on so I could watch what she did with him (and honestly, I needed a break). I also felt bad for the other rider because it was turning into more of a private lesson. I got back on and finished out the ride with some fairly decent figure eights, but nothing fantastic. I focused mostly on being calm and on using my pelvis to help direct his movements. I left feeling pretty crappy about my riding abilities and the fact that maybe I was actually teaching this TB some negative habits. This would be why I waited so long to write. I really didn't want to rehash that. After some time to reflect, I know that this horse can either help you feel like you're on top of the world or like you are the world's worst rider with little in between. I cut this one as a loss and tried to shake it off.
 
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