Middle ground

Last weekend’s ride was not without its bobbles, for both my friend and I. Unfortunately her horse, Cody, found a tunnel under the trail and stumbled to his knees and she had to bail. Both are fine, though she did bust a rib, she is otherwise upright (just don’t make her laugh for awhile!)

Of course as soon as I heard her down I was off Tarma (slightly glad I haven’t got an Air Vest yet, forgetting to unhook would have sucked!) but also to save her from my dog. Anytime someone has an involuntary dismount, Benny immediately throws himself at them to check on them via Full Body Labrador Check, which is the last thing you need when you’ve just had the breath knocked out of you.

We got the trail marked and her back on Cody after a bit, she’s a tough lady to keep riding as we were several miles from the trailer still. At least Cody is a gaited Paso Fino and smoother than most.

Water dog, water horse

For my part the ride also was also less than smooth, but I did monage to stay on the horse (too soon? Too soon!) Tarma and I couldn’t seem to see eye to eye on much, and every decision was an argument. She went Full Teenager High Drama over pretty much everything during the ride, but was nice as pie for everything else.

I asked her to walk, cause it was a hot day and we had Benny along? Best she could do was that teeth rattling jog. Go left instead of right? Lets rush so she can force me to give up and let us go right, then looked shocked and affronted when we go left and I tell her that wasn’t nice. Slow down, be careful on a tricky downhill? Let’s put our nose in the air instead of watching our feet.

Flash forward a week and with my riding buddy out of commission (cracked rib from that tumble), we steal Cody and I take Kade for a trail ride. All is peaceful and chill and easy. Both horses are content to mosey, no racing or argument or anything, just a beautiful ride in the sunshine. Wonderful.

The very next day (the cat came back!) the War Mare is back in full force. We tried riding with Terri again, who is prepping her mare for an eventual 100 mile ride and therefore has a faster base pace than I’m aiming for, this being Tarma’s first “real” endurance season. I’m fine with Tarma’s faster speeds, but only when her brain is along for the ride. I’ve learned to tell the difference between her rounding her back, widening her stance and powering forward…and her sticking her nose in the air, shoving her neck as short and behind the vertical as possible, and evading any attempt to influence her choices. That ‘could be a bolt if another horse gets in front’ is what I deeply object to, as a person who enjoys not only staying on top of the horse but also not annoying everyone around me with my mare’s questionable manners, not to mention she can’t go in that freaky giraffe frame for 50 miles and finish sound.

Mutual “What the hell” faces

Terri was trying to give me tips for how to get her to stop bracing and ignoring me, which helped a tiny bit. We’re better than the last time we rode with her ‘pre-bit’ but we’re both still tense and working at odds. We do find peace and a better measure of communication solo, though she’s still speeding up and trying to bull her shoulder through turns. If I want to stay straight and there’s a side trail, she tries to shove us into a right turn and everything I’m learning in our dressage lessons kinda of falls apart trying to keep her straight, or works but is just ugly. I know some of my response in the moment is born of frustration, but I haven’t yet found the key to balancing Tarma’s need to have a say and feel heard and doing what the human says is needful in the moment in a graceful way. Right now it’s Tarma saying “We’re going this way!” and I go “Hell no lady” and use some muscle and then she throws serious shade and mare ears for a bit.

We have the physical component more or less worked out (though saddle and pad fit will always require ongoing tinkering). With my main goal of Decade Team, it’s the relationship aspect which becomes even more important, and we’re in a period of resetting the baseline. I spent our first year together focused on building her up physically and learning about her safely, showing her (for better or worse) what she could expect from me. I really didn’t ask any big questions or insist on much (aside from trailering).

Tarma’s happy place

Our second year saw us out and about plenty, but I still wasn’t insisting we do things a certain way, or really asking her things she really didn’t want to do. This mare lives to be out and about and exploring new trails, and other than a few ETS events which we struggled through, that’s what we did. You can really see our current struggles in our dressage lessons. What we’re asking of Tarma isn’t super hard physically, but it’s a mental game and she doesn’t see the point of it. Even when I’m set up and asking correctly (not always but that’s why I have a trainer!) she still wiggles around, avoids or bulls through, with occasional moments of rightness I’m learning to be quicker at recognizing. When we’re struggling to get her to shift just her shoulders or take a corner correctly, I remember cantering around a smaller ring on my friend’s amazing gelding and sigh. And then my friends remind me that said gelding was around humans and being trained from the moment he hit the ground, whereas Tarma took care of herself and two foals for the first chunk of her life and this is all still new to her.

Obviously I don’t want to go full ogre and force her to Do The Thing, so I have to try to find the way to persuade her that this is happening without shutting down that input and spirit…but also doing the Hard Thing. A neat logical circle that is. I can’t just explain to her that these stupid circles and tiny movements in lightness will make her stronger and sturdier for years to come, opening up what’s possible for us. Nor can I just ramp up to crazier bits. There’s a middle ground somewhere in there between “Just don’t ride ever again” and “Just make her do the thing, anyway you can” and that’s a conversation between Tarma, myself, friends, trusted trainers and bits of advice I can gleam here and there. Even in the midst of our biggest disagreements, she usually has me laughing and I never loose sight of what we’re already capable of together. I know some days I’m too much the ogre and others I’m too permissive, but when she still screams for me when I enter the barn at night or walks (part way) towards me in the pasture I’m not screwing it all up.

Tarma’s feelings about dressage lessons: No.

On Saturday we’ll try our second 50 mile ride at the Mary and Anna Memorial Ride in La Pine, another relatively flat high desert ride. I’m keeping to roughly the same plan as Grizzly with some key tweaks, mainly in the person management side. We’re not taking her comfort gelding this time, so I might be able to ride out of camp but again, I have no problem hiking out a mile or so to avoid any start line emotions and antics. We’ll stay mostly solo the first handful of miles so I can ensure her brain is along with us and not racing with a herd, though if we find a good group or similarly paced friend I don’t mind hooking up if they’ll have us. I love her, but the bit is staying in the whole ride this time, just in case. I’ll electrolyte her at the first check again (and myself too!) This is my first ride with an out check in several years, which I think will actually be better for us cause Tarma might argue less over directions if we just…keep going. This will also minimize the amount of passing and being passed and going back and forth and possibly getting lost. That’s the biggest change I’m going to make, I’m going to follow the Ride with GPS on loud so I don’t miss a turn, pretty sure that cost us almost 45 minutes to an hour at Grizzly. I have a bunch of human electrolytes and better food options (including avoiding the food cart Friday night for sure!), plus my SheFit bra to strap the girls down. We got this…probably, and as always if we don’t, there’s lessons to be learned. Live to ride another day, or to finish is to win, both fit!

Physically she’s hot damn stuff!

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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!

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