Many thanks to all of you who took the time to comment on my last post on the thread of horses in my life. Your words and thoughts are very valuable to me, and it's good to know that others have experienced many of the same things in their lives with horses. I try very hard to be honest in what I write here - good, bad and ugly - and the fact that you as readers don't mind when I do that is important. It's hard to tell where these thoughts will lead me, but it's good to get them out in the open so they are more visible to me. This may help to clarify what paths are possible and right; that's one of the things I really like about blogging - I think better when I have to write things out.
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I decided to go to the barn yesterday afternoon and see if I could work with Maisie enough to get a satisfactory ride - I expected it was going to take some effort by both of us and it did. I'm pretty tired, and I expect she is too.
It was warm - 70sF, sunny with some wind. After grooming, I saddled and bridled Maisie and took her into the arena and got on. After some warm-up at the walk, we worked at the rising trot for a few minutes, using the whole arena. After about ten laps, including some large circles, she was starting to get pretty revved up and was about to stop listening to me and have a meltdown, which isn't what I wanted. So I dismounted, got the fuzzy nose halter and lunge line, and we lunged, and lunged and lunged some more. She was fairly excited and working hard - lots of cantering and some vigorous trot work. Once she began to relax a little bit, I took off the halter and lunge and remounted. Still no go even at the sitting trot - she was distracted and wanted to ball up and explode. So I got off and we repeated the lungeing - she gave me some pretty dirty looks. This time the trot was more regular and she was starting to focus a bit. We worked for a while, then I stopped and got on again.
We walked for a bit so she could catch her breath, and every time her walk got too fast we did a small circle until she adjusted her pace, and then we moved on. Then we started our trot work. My objective was to be able to do some effective sitting trot work, keeping her in front of my leg and listening - when she sucks back and falls behind my leg is when the trouble begins, but she has to be able to accept my leg without exploding which was the point of the lungeing - to take the edge off her energy enough that she could listen. We got there - I got in a set of nice sitting trot work with her moving well off my leg and staying in front of my leg - if she started to think about falling behind I was able to move her up. We did a lot of figures - small circles, serpentines and some leg yields. There was a lot of impulsion, but it was controllable. I was able to add a small amount of straight line work at the end and we finished with a nice trot up the center line to X and a halt.
Then we went on a short walking trail ride with Sugar and her owner. It went well - Maisie was pretty tired by this point and was sweaty and needed to cool down. There were a couple of occasions where she wanted to jig on the way home - we turned in a small circle until she gave up on that idea.
I think in order to move forward with her that I need a plan - I went in with one this time; I need to be prepared to take the time and put in the effort to get to an acceptable result on every ride; and I need to be more assertive about redirecting or managing behavior that I don't want. I managed to do this today - I don't know that I'll have the energy to do it every day, but I shouldn't ride her unless I do. I think once she's convinced that she can do what I'm asking without flying off the handle, she'll be fine and the need for the extra stuff like lungeing may fall by the wayside. Right now I have to be prepared for her to not be a "just get on and ride" horse, and if on some days she is, that'll just be icing on the cake.
I know what to do, and how to do it, at least with Maisie, if I can find the energy and focus to do it. The real question is whether I want to enough to put in the effort required. Only time can answer that question, but as a number of you pointed out there are lots of possible paths to take - including taking a vacation, which is the best idea I've heard in a long time. I haven't had a real break in a number of years (too many to mention as it's embarrassing), and it's overdue.