I've been riding with Mark now for about 12 years, and many of those sessions have taken place here in Cedarburg. I've know the family for those years, and Heather gave me enormous help with Pie and Red back in 2012. They are gracious and welcoming and have been an enormous help to me in my horsemanship journey.
Last year, they were kind enough to lend me Whisper to ride in a one-hour private lesson with Mark after the clinics (I wasn't able to attend the clinics due to my daughter's college graduation). My challenge for the prior year was to ride all my horses the same and to develop my own style - riding Whisper allowed me to test that out.
This year, my "mystery horse" for all three days of the clinic was a seal bay/brown Percheron/TB cross mare with cute slightly out turned ears - her name is Roxie. She is the clinic host's personal horse.
Our first day turned into a big mess, and neither of us felt that good about things by the end of it.
Here's a brief summary of the events of day one:
She was a bit nervous in the indoor arena and I did some lungeing before my session. She did some bucking on the lunge at the canter.
She did not stand well for mounting, and was not quiet - like my horses, the Black Star horses stand for mounting, so something wasn't quite right for her.
She was fussy with her head and mouth, which was not usual for her.
We started out doing some work on getting the walk I wanted and also getting her to relax and soften up in the turns. This was going pretty well - it took a while - but she started to settle down and relax, and her walk got much better and the turns were softening up. She was still fussy with her head and neck, but it was a bit better. My job was to get good turns and some softness on the turn or circle before allowing her to move in a straight line.
Then one of her herd mates who'd been cooling out in a stall next to the arena left to go back to the pasture. Roxie started to get pretty distracted - lots of calling. We kept on working, and she started to settle a bit once again.
Another mare came into the arena, she got very distracted and was calling again. We kept doing our circles, but my directing was slow - my timing wasn't very good - and she wasn't settling.
Then the wind started to pick up and it started to rain hard - the rain was pelting against the arena very loudly. We kept working, and she didn't settle that well and it felt that she was getting more nervous.
Throughout all this, Mark was calmly giving me directions, but my timing wasn't the greatest but I was persisting, although I was getting more nervous.
Then the storm really picked up and it started to hail - we were in metal arena - the wind was slamming hail against the walls and roof of the arena. All the horses outside started running madly and screaming and Roxie really started to lose it, and more importantly, so did I.
She started crow hopping - several auditors said she had all four feet off the ground a couple of times - I felt that she was about to lose her mind. I was no longer able to control my own worry, and so couldn't help her and told Mark I wanted to get off, and I did. That's where our session ended - ugh. I felt terrible, and like I had let her down.
Mark had a couple of things to say about all this. He said that as we get older, it's perfectly natural to be more cautious and even fearful about getting hurt. And with Roxie and me, the fact that I didn't know her or what she was likely to do made things more difficult.
But he also said that for someone at my stage of horsemanship, where my technical skills are pretty good and you almost always do pretty well with your own horses, if what you do works with your own horses but not with others, particularly if the wheels are starting to fall off - then you haven't made it part of you on the inside - your responses aren't automatic - it's just technique.
This is where I am now - I'm pretty much able to work things through with my own horses and "know" what to do even with other horses, but it isn't yet fully embedded and part of me - that's clearly one of my next challenges.
If I'd been able to focus on what I wanted Roxie to do, rather than on all the other things going on - horses coming/going, rain/hail storm, I would likely have been able to continue to give Roxie the direction, with good timing, she needed to remain calm. When panic starts to take hold and we get into a defensive mindset, we can no longer direct but start reacting to the decisions we start allowing the horse starts to make. And even though Mark was giving me directions on what to do with her, my reaction time was slowing down, which made me less effective. All this put us behind the curve and Roxie felt abandoned - the connection got lost.
Wow - what a comedown. I felt just awful, and very discouraged.
As I was leaving that evening, I told Mark that I hoped I had a better day tomorrow. Mark's response was "you had exactly the day you were supposed to have." What did that mean? I was still pretty embarrassed and upset and he was perfectly fine with the way things were. I stewed a lot about that over night . . .