Tarma chose this week to show me both the highs and lows of attempting to build a relationship with a horse, especially an opinionated one. Earlier this week I was feeling pretty shitty and down. I took my guilt and sadness and just sat in her stall, and instead of eating or offering tricks for treats as she normally does, she just…licked me for several minutes. She’s had two foals, so I’m guessing she was trying to calm me down like one. It was sweet, and she stood over me with her lower lip hanging until I calmed down. It was as much of a breakthrough moment for us as surviving our first solo trail ride.

But boy, did it set some expectations for last night! I got to the barn a bit later than normal, with a vague thought to maybe, possibly ride my horse. I’ve put up a mental block lately, thinking “If I’m going to ride in the arena, I should ride in the beautiful bareback pad I purchased, as it’s good for my seat and a solid workout and the arena is a safe place to do so.” This has had the unintended effect of me avoiding riding in the arena at all, as my seat and fitness are just kind of soft and sad and not where they need to be. Instead I tacked her up in our Wintec saddle, and she was chill, standing ground tied and lipping at Kade’s hair, no stress at all. I’ve switched to ground tying from the cross ties based partly on needing to train her to ground tie, and also I’ve noticed she’s much more comfortable and able to relax a bit more not cross tied. I still do both as I believe all horses need to tie in a variety of situations, but we’re still working on relaxing together as much as possible right now.

She was equally quiet in the arena, while I was doing my deeply ingrained two lap pre-ride walk. It’s a habit I picked up in Pony Club and find hard to shake; I (almost) always walk two laps around the arena before mounting. This helps me see what horse I have today, especially handy when I was catch riding for years. We can also check out any scary corners or possible distractions together, and gives me a chance to slowly tighten the girth and check saddle fit instead of all at once. This went well, she barely flicked her ears at anything, including another boarder futzing with their truck. She even decided to be chill just standing by the mounting block, sometimes a sticky point for her. All signs pointed to a quiet ride.

Enter: Another horse! I’ve ridden her several times with other horses in the ring, and while she notices them it’s usually not a big deal, and even calms her a bit. NOT LAST NIGHT YA’LL. We hadn’t even ridden a lap, and as we came up alongside Artax she tossed her head as she does to tell me she has a sassy opinion. I acknowledged it but asked her to move on so we weren’t crowding them, and as soon as we passed she decided she had had ENOUGH OF ME. I’ve learned enough about Tarma to be able to more or less safely say her reaction wasn’t due to being scared or stressed or something wrong with my tack; her over the top expressed opinion only came after I asked her to walk away from the gelding she wanted to be next to (not even one of her herd mates! Artax lives with the rowdy gelding crowd the next pasture over!)

She took off on a full on, bronc bucking fit. I hadn’t put my breastcollar on for what could have been a simple arena ride, so surprise, I didn’t stick it. She walked 10 feet after I came off and stopped, but I couldn’t see her expression as my glasses came off when I fell. The other boarder found them, obviously totally startled by Tarma’s hugely expressed opinion. I hopped right back on and we stood by the mounting block while I lectured her for a solid five minutes. I informed her that while I welcome her opinions and thoughts, and I do my not always great best to set her up for success, a bucking fit out of nowhere just wasn’t going to fly. I’m no cowboy to sit those, and just cause we have disagreements on things doesn’t mean she can express her thoughts on that quite so loudly. Alas, the lecture didn’t sink in. Horses. Even though Artax had exited stage right, we couldn’t get 10 strides before she was tossing her head around and tightening her back.

Mom lecture face

I’m not a huge fan of lunging, but I needed to see if she could get into a more receptive frame of mind, so I dismounted and asked her to circle for a few minutes. She only threw shade once, and when I asked her to stop she immediately put her head down, sighed, swallowed and chewed, all signs of her relaxing and letting go of stress. Determined now to end on a decent note, I hopped back on (still no issue with the mounting block at least!) and asked for two loops over the ground poles a more optimistic Jame had set out earlier. She did it, with only one “Do we have to?” pause, with a lowered head and even cadence, and I called it a night. She didn’t try to walk away while I untacked her and cleaned out her feet, even offering a kiss, her new favorite trick, before I led her back to her stall for a delayed dinner.

Questioning her life choices, hopefully, or just judging my life choices

I’m thinking my take away lesson from this all is Tarma’s not Flash, she can’t be unworked for several days and be good to go. She’s still young, still somewhat green and she needs consistency from me more than anything. If we’d been futzing in the arena most nights, she might have been more able to handle another horse coming and going. The other big thing is I have to work on my fitness if I’m going to keep up with her. Yes riding builds fitness, but it means you have to be riding, but I’m so far into marshmallow land I have to be supplementing that somehow. I started running again and hated it without a dog to keep me company. I’m going to add yoga first thing after waking up, instead of heading straight to work, and pick up the weight lifting program I did pre-surrogacy again. Today is farrier day and we have some weekend rides planned with friends that I’m cautiously optimistic for.

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After years of borrowing horses, working to ride and catch riding, I finally have my own horse, a spicy chocolate mare...but also a demanding day job (who doesn't?), a nerdy husband, a soccer loving kid who needs to be parented (by me, duh), and the ultimate trail buddy, a chocolate Labradork!

2 thoughts on “Contrasts

  1. I don’t know much about horses, but I can tell that you are doing what you can to make this partnership work. Good job for seeing what you need to do (including working out without your horse) rather than just blaming her! A ride is always a co-creation, and sometimes you have different objectives! Good luck working things out…and getting back the pre-surrogate body. After I thought it got harder after each c-section….

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