Over the years of being a non-horse owner, I have come across many many different horses. I see this as one benefit of being a non-horse owner. Through my various experiences keeping active in the horse industry by essentially borrowing the horses of others, I have seen it all. There is always the push button pony, the lazy I’d-rather-be-eating horse, the hot ex-race horse, the pony who’d rather be eating children for breakfast, good ol’ steed, the perfect lesson horse and the not so perfect lesson horse.
Horses come in all types of personalities, and horses all like and dislike different things (just like their human partners). Because each one is like a snowflake, they do not always pair well with everybody. That’s where you get the horse that everyone hates. They’re moody, opinionated, mare-ish (let’s face it, it’s usually a mare), stubborn and sometimes considered “mean”. I have come across a few examples of this particular horse. One of which, is my current hunter/jumper lesson horse. And you know what? I love her.
Mischka is a small thoroughbred mare with a strange background. She spent most of her early years in a pasture with a donkey. Upon arrival at her current home as a lesson horse, she would squeal with threatening eyes at everyone attempting to enter her stall. Although she eventually turned into a good lesson horse for beginners, her attitude remained. Around the barn it is known by all that Mischka needs a large bubble of space around her. In the barn aisles you can’t walk other horses by her, but rather walk around to another entrance to get your horse to its stall or the wash rack. The same goes for riding in the ring with other horses. She could be cantering up to a jump, see a pony out of the corner of her eye, and mid-stride still cast a dirty look their direction. When being tacked up, she’ll try to nip as you groom and girth her, or reach her hind leg towards you to shove you away. As a lesson horse she is the unmotivated kind. She will canter the jump for you and never refuse, but all the while will make you work for her speed.
Around the barn, everyone gets frustrated with Mischka.
When I was first introduced to her I too received all of the above mannerisms from this mare. I was warned of her attitude, told to keep a crop in hand while tacking up and watched as others would slap her for taking a bite of them and get annoyed with her preferred slow pace. It was not until I advanced in my lessons that something changed in me that would later show a change in her.
As an experienced rider who was new to the jumping realm, it did not take me as long to move up in the discipline. I am absolutely no expert and still have a lot of work to do, but I was soon able to progress into more advanced training in my lessons. This meant that Mischka also needed to advance in her own training with me. Gone were the days of lazy warm ups with beginner riders. Mischka and I would warm up much longer than before. We incorporated many bending exercises along with extended and collected movements to improve athleticism and suppleness.
At first came resistance. Understanding that this was new to her, I rode her not expecting perfection, but simply offering her the chance to succeed. In time, she became a star pupil. Watching her make progress was so rewarding to me. As I felt her improve throughout our lessons, I would simply praise her with a pat on the neck and a soft “good girl”. I believe that this made all the difference. I could feel the pride in Mischka when I acknowledged her success. This was a horse who loved a challenge. This was a horse who wanted to be a part of a team.
Due to the increase in bending and collection, I would also massage her neck after each ride to release any new tension. Boy did Mischka love and appreciate this! After a few weeks of this she began to trust me when it came to grooming and tacking. Gone were the days of threatening nips and pawing in the cross ties. I still get the occasional side glance when I tighten the girth, but she will then simply nudge me with her nose and look away as if to say “…fine…”. Mischka would not be Mischka without a little attitude here and there. Does she still threaten other horses? You bet she does! But it is easily redirected.
I no longer use a crop while riding Mischka. In fact, it is often now a chore to get her to slow down. Turning towards a jump lights a fire in her and she is ready to go. When this happens, I tend to get too excited to stop her, so I am working on slowing myself down as well! Others around the barn find our relationship strange. They say things like “Wow, Mischka never goes that fast for me.” or “She must really like you!”. I think it all boils down to respect.
Through riding Mischka I learned about trust, partnership and respect for the horse. I have learned to further try to understand a horse’s actions before assuming the worst. All Mischka needed was some praise and respect in her abilities. As riders we can often put ourselves first and blame the horse. Put yourself in their shoes. If someone were frustrated with you at work, assumed you couldn’t do much and never thanked you for anything, would you do a good job? Would you be very happy? Would you strive to be the best that you could be?