Immediately off of the trailer, Robbye was…out of control. Her anxiety just completely takes over her, and she can’t focus on me to save her life. She doesn’t bolt or kick, but she completely ignores me, screaming and trotting in circles, to the point of running into and over me. That’s just absolutely not acceptable for any horse, much less for one as big as her.
(I don’t understand where all of this anxiety comes from. Since I bought her at barely three years old, Rob and I have traveled frequently. Trail rides, shows, fun little events like this hunter pace. Why does my calm, cold-blooded mare get so scared when we go somewhere new?! Maybe it’s because I get so scared. That’s probably it. )
And she was so distracted and nervous that I couldn’t get a chain over her nose to be able to control her. I have lots of “lessons learned” from this trip, and one is that I’m going to put the chain on in the trailer, right before she gets off, from now on. She respects the chain and I usually only have to bop her with it once, so…it’s worth it for my safety.
Ordinarily at this point at a show I’d tie Rob to a trailer and let her scream herself silly. Well I’m trying to learn from you all, and not just from the people I watch in real life, and I know many of you use hand-walks to calm your horses at strange locations. Why have I always just left Robbye to cry herself silly? Probably because I was busy crying MYSELF silly! But the hand-walking worked very well; as we made our way among the trailers and lots of sane, happy horses, Robbye inched away from insanity and back toward grazing and her usual cold-bloodedness. By the time we got back to the trailer she was only crying once in a while, and was willing to eat hay like the big girl she is.
(I also used the hand-walking as a sort of dominance warm-up time, since her submission is our #1 issue right now. We’d take a few steps, halt, then back. Take a few steps, halt, then do a turn on the forehand. Walk a few steps, then graze for a minute. This got her paying attention to me, submitting to me, and relaxing.)
Anyway, I know this is all super riveting, but it was actually a great break-through for both of us!
I had decided, knowing that there would be an empty dressage court, a warm up arena looking a lot like a stadium course, and a hunter pace covered in cross country jumps, that I was going to pretend this was a horse trial. So we tacked up for dressage, then proceeded to absolutely rock our “dressage test”.
This is the first time ever that I’ve been able to replicate our under saddle work away from home. Ever. And considering the way this day started – completely out of control – I am absolutely thrilled. She was round, forward, willing, and happy. I felt confident, brave, and really really proud of my horse. After a long dressage school, we walked straight through the trailer parking – with zero drama! – and popped over the warm up jumps for our “stadium round”. They were only about a foot high, and I was in my dressage saddle so I’m sure I wasn’t pretty…but man, was it fun. When Rob realized it was time to jump she just lit up, and happily galloped over the little fences. I’m calling it a clear round!
At this point she was completely pooped and so was I.
We each got a short break, then it was time for our actual pace. We didn’t do all of the fences – just the small ones – but I am just so proud of both myself and my mare. Though she was tired, she was very willing, and offered some gallop even at the end of the 30 minute trail ride.
(It really was a great workout for both of us, too. I really pushed her to keep working even when she was tired, and pushed myself to not feel guilty about it!)
Really, I would have been happy if we had headed home after our dressage school. We got past her new-place-crazies, I got on by myself and worked through her giraffe stage, ending with the quality of work I would expect at home. The fact that we followed that up with a great little jumping round, and then followed that up with a trail ride, and on that trail ride jumped some more!?
What a successful day. I was brave. She was brave. We had fun and definitely learned a lot.