Since buying Gracie in November it has been a steep learning curve! I didn’t ever set out to buy a lightly backed 4 year old. It kind of just happened. I am enjoying so many parts of it. But other parts have been very hard. But 4 months on I have realised that having lower expectations of what we hope to achieve is not necessarily a bad thing!
Having a rethink is ok!
I have been having regular lessons since Gracie returned from being backed at my instructors yard in December. At first they felt like necessity. I felt quite overwhelmed at first and felt like there was so much to learn I didn’t know where to begin. So I was having twice weekly lessons at first. One with my french instructor Noelie, who backed Gracie and one with Mya’s owner who is my friend Kate. This was very helpful at first, but it quickly made me feel pressurised to ride in between and achieve something. I started feeling stressed about everything. Very conveniently for us our Covid curfew was lowered to 6pm so the decision to cancel my French instructors lessons was taken out of my hands. This actually helped me calm down and not get too wound up about trying to achieve too much each week. It turns out a lesson a week or even a fortnight is working way better for us and I now love our solo rides just as much as my lessons.
Scrap the phrase ‘what I should be doing’
Young horses like any horse are individuals and should be treated like one. Not all horses will develop in the same way. Each horse will like different things and dislike different things. There is no set guide to what you should be doing. In fact that phrase should be scrapped from your vocabulary because trust me when you do it it’s like a weight is lifted from your shoulders! Go at your own pace and what suits you and your horse!
Changing your plans is a necessity not an option!
This was the hardest thing for me to cope with when I first started riding Gracie. I had in mind what I wanted to achieve that day and if we couldn’t do it for any reason I would be sooo disappointed! Now a few months down the line this has happened quite often. Our first hack still hasn’t happened. Our first jump lesson was meant to be today. A few rides have turned into in hand sessions. Now I just roll with it as it is necessary but before it would make me feel like I was doing something wrong. Now I realise we will get there it just may not be when I thought we would!
Enjoy every little success you have
This is vitally important when dealing with young horses! Or you may feel quite deflated all the time. Each time I see Gracie I have gotten into a habit of mentally noting what went well that day. Sometimes it is very basic things I wouldn’t have even noticed with Smartie or Mya. But really don’t under estimate how important this is. Today for example was meant to be my first jumping lesson with Kate. I was really looking forward to it. I have done lots of pole work with Gracie and felt ready for it. But when I arrived at the stables there was a clinic going on taking up the whole outdoor arena. There were lots of people, horses and trailers there that aren’t normally and it was VERY windy. Hmmm.
This meant that we had to use the indoor arena that I had only ridden Gracie in once properly. It’s big, echoey and noisy in there. It’s a great arena, it’s just a lot for a young horse. We couldn’t do any jumping. Gracie was just too stressed. We did however do a long session in hand to start with until Gracie calmed down. I then did get on and she was tense but ok. We then worked on our canter and it was quite frankly rubbish! Gracie just raised her head very high which caused her to be very unbalanced. She wasn’t forward, it was a real struggle to even canter a 20 metre circle and she bucked.
This time a few months ago I would have been in tears disappointed that I couldn’t make her behave appropriately. However today I noted all the things that went well instead. Here they are:
- I was able to tie Gracie up and tack her up without any problems.
- Whilst leading her around the indoor arena, I learnt how to better control her from the ground. How to stop her invading my space and not run off with me!
- Gracie did calm down and I was able to get on her. At beginning I was wondering if that would even be possible today.
- We were able to have our lesson & Gracie did listen to me despite there being a lot going on around her and did also have a few strides of nice canter & lots of nice trotting.
Jumping will be another day. There is no rush!
Horses are hard. Young horses are even harder but having a positive frame of mind helps tremendously. This is hard at times I realise this. Trust me I really do know. We had another clinic at the yard last week & I lunged Gracie before my lesson in tears as I was so worried that I wouldn’t be able to control her!
Now I have lowered my expectations of our sessions I am always a lot calmer and happier. I need to remember that Gracie is learning every time I bring her in. It’s so easy to be frustrated when things don’t go well. But now I have realised that I just have to deal with what arises that day. If all goes well we will do what I planned. If not we will work on what pops up. Standing still whilst mounting, walking around the yard without napping & standing still to be tacked up are all things I’ve had to work on instead of my actual riding plans and it is always so worth it!
And finally don’t be too hard on yourself. I am the Queen of this and it’s not nice. Lowering your expectations isn’t giving up or failing. It’s just setting us up to do better!