My normally stalwart red mare was having a bad day. Even as I went to bring her in from the pasture she uncharacteristically bucked, pinned her ears, and shook her head while on the end of the lead. As we made our way back to the barn I was already formulating in my mind a change to the lesson plan I had originally mapped out for the day.
We all have bad days, animals and humans alike. I certainly have them and I’ve
adjusted my riding plans accordingly to accommodate them. When my students have them I necessarily make accommodations for them too. They are perfectly normal and just a part of life. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to be perfect all the time. Plus, they make us appreciate the good days even more.
Because we are having a bad day doesn’t mean the world stops turning. It does mean that we still accomplish things; we just might go about accomplishing them a little differently or accomplish something different altogether. It was with these thoughts in mind that I began to change what and how I would accomplish my goals for the afternoon’s ride.
First I needed to work out some foolishness. My mare is on 24/7 turn out which helps a lot but on this day it wasn’t going to be the answer to the issue we faced. If your horse doesn’t currently spend a lot of time turned out consider adding some additional turn out time to his schedule.
A little time spent on the lunge line can be helpful too. Unfortunately, my mare absolutely hates being lunged so I try to limit those occasions when I do lunge her to meaningful training sessions and not just to work off excess energy. She seems to appreciate the mindfulness of lunging used for training rather than simply to burn off energy. Sadly though, recent rain has made my work areas muddy. I did not have a lunging area available where I felt that the footing was safe enough for lunging for any reason. For some horses though lunging can be an extremely useful training tool.
Instead, I use a little trick called keeping her mind busy and her feet moving. I added considerable leg yields, transitions, turns on the forehand, and found many, many different paths around our arena while I made large and small circles around jumps, cones, etc, as just a few of the ways to keep her thinking of about work instead of being naughty as we settled into our ride.
After about fifteen minutes her bad mood seemed to dissipate and we were able to get on with much of lesson plan I had originally intended. Even so, as soon as I let me guard down she threw in a few unexpected surprises that included a pretend spook (she’s virtually bombproof most of the time) at the rustling of leaves and a bolt as I asked her to pick up the canter. Rather than engage with her I simply made her work harder.
She is one of the most intelligent horses I have ever had the pleasure to ride and I know her well enough to know that she absolutely hates being made to repeat tasks that she already feels successful at. For her, just being asked to calmly repeat a maneuver she normally does well two or three times because of something she performed incorrectly is punishment enough.
Our ride went on a bit longer than I had planned but soon enough she was really and truly back to business as usual and it was time to stop for the day, return to the barn, and prepare for the evening’s chores.
We’ve been together more than a decade now. Surviving her near death experience together early in our relationship and the fact that for the past several years she’s been an only horse have cemented our relationship to the point that we read each other well. From this I expected the next day’s ride to go well and it truly did. She was back to being phenomenal in no time and I am reminded to be thankful for the ninety-nine percent of the time she’s her calm, laid back, and workmanlike self that compliments me so well.