When Q was diagnosed with a lesion in her LH suspensory late last summer, it felt like a gut punch. My mind immediately drudged up some silver linings though, primarily that I could take this time to slow down and get this mare back on a good page mentally. Q's horrible spooking habit has only worsened in recent years and with it her confidence. I made countless mistakes that led to it, and I am making every effort to resolve it now.
The good thing about any mistake is that you can learn from it and prevent making it again. Some mistakes will be repeated before you can learn from them and others take longer to resolve, but it's always worth it in the end. In this
situation, I'm having to dig deep mentally to resolve bad patterns I
developed. It's a hard road to confront myself on certain things, but in order to improve my future endeavors with horses (and life, really) it's a road I'm happy to travel.
For me, the hardest step with Q has been having to put a hard stop on lofty goals I had with the mare. I've known for a long time that's what would be the best thing, but it was so hard to commit to slowing down! The suspensory diagnosis slammed me backward onto my ass and forced my hand. My innate perfectionist nature and drive to power forward was halted. As uncomfortable as this made me, I knew deep down it was a good thing and the right thing.
Bringing this little mare back around has been a process - it still is a
process! But I am finding success.
The first step was changing up our tack so I could feel more secure riding through her spooks, and then deconstructing her spooking behavior to try to find some rhyme and reason to the when's and why's. Ultimately, the mare has learned that balking/spooking leads to less work - even if that reduction in work is temporary. She exhibits the behavior the most when we begin work, when things become "hard", and when she deems us "done".
The more I've ignored her behavior in the past few months, the less she has presented it. Even her excessive overreactions to truly startling stimuli (deer bursting out of nowhere, dogs barking and lunging on their chains, etc.) are beginning to diminish to a more reasonable place.
My absence of reaction to her reactions has helped a ton, as has my mindset of continuing work to move her feet and perform the task at hand (sometimes with added tasks if she's being a pill). But on top of these things, the fact that I have not hit the turf due to one of her spooks has also made an impression on her, I think. (Please, oh please, let me not have jinxed myself just now.) By not directly (nothing physical or verbal) or indirectly (falling off) reacting, I've taken a lot of the "fun" out of Q's behavior and robbed her of finding a reward in its execution.
The decrease in her spooking behavior is a sure-sign of success, but our ride this weekend was a huge indication that what I've been doing is exactly the right thing for her.
Lauren, Stan, Q and I set out on a 25°F blustery winter ride on the rail trail on Sunday. We tackled 16 miles over 2½ hours. Stan led 13 of these miles, but Q did step up to the plate and lead for two consecutive miles in the middle and then again for the final mile.
She was forward, with ears pricked, and body relaxed the majority of time she led the way. She certainly scanned her surroundings for threats, as she always does, but it was with less gusto than she typically exhibits.
I was absolutely blown away. It wasn't the biggest achievement ever for her (hi, OD 100),
but at this point in our relationship, it was monumental. To have a
relaxed mare on the rail trail (through spots I distinctly remember
having multiple disagreements with her in the past) was such a great
I mentioned to Lauren during the ride that I had no real goal for when Q would return to endurance this year. I may take her to some dressage stuff before we race again. Ideally, I'd love to say by next fall (because that is a super generous timeline), but honestly, I don't know. It's up to Q. I don't have huge expectations of her at the moment.
No expectations is kind of a beautiful place to be though. Shy of being maimed or some other horrible catastrophe, no expectations means I can end every ride happy about something.
Slowing down was hard to embrace, but I'm really grateful to be in the spot I'm in now.
So, what about you? Do you have a story about a time you slowed down a process with your horse that led to a lot of rewards later on? Did you find it easy to slow down or are you like me and struggled with it at first?