The Behind-the-Scenes Horse Who Made Me a Horsewoman

Much of being a horsewoman is hard work, dedication and learning from your mistakes. I have a remarkable mare who has allowed me to grow and go on to be successful with other horses. She deserves more recognition than I give her.

Many of you have been following my rehabbing journey with Funny Bunny B. Thankfully we’re continuing to make progress but how have Buns and I become so successful? Successful in our riding, our rehab and as a team. I owe a lot of credit to a horse that I’ve owned longer than Buns who gets WAY less recognition.

When I purchased this horse approximately five years ago, she was WAY out of my league. She had all the buttons and she was sensitive to cues — quite honestly the most responsive horse I’d ever swung a leg over.

Photo by Marcella Gruchalak

This mare was trained by Nicole Cammuso of NC Equine who, in my opinion, is one of the best trainers I’ve ever encountered in the horse industry — and I don’t say that about too many people who call themselves trainers.

Nicole trains well-rounded horses who excel in the show ring as well as in every day encounters. But this mare is in a different league — she’s the real deal, the entire package. Her name is Boon Town Tilly. I fell in love with her the second I laid my eyes on her. Her build was just about as perfect as far as conformation goes and her movement matched her perfectly proportioned body.

Photo by Marcella Gruchalak

I had to have her — even though I was not ready for a horse of her caliber. She was more horse than what I was accustomed to riding at the time. I was used to dull, trail riding, fun show geldings, not horses that could win against the toughest competitors. Buying Tilly opened my eyes to competing at a higher level, but most importantly to what it means to be a good horsewoman.

Since buying Tilly, I have learned a plethora about myself and about horses, which has made me successful with horses I’ve been given the opportunity to ride and work with following her.

Truth be told, I didn’t deserve a horse like Tilly at that point in my riding. She needed to go to someone who could push her and maximize her potential but instead she ended up with me and began maximizing my potential to meet hers.

Photo by Marcella Gruchalak

One thing about Tilly is that she is very literal. She does exactly what is asked of her, EVERY TIME. If she doesn’t, something is really wrong. Through her, I realized how sloppy I was in my riding. I was cueing her to do things I really didn’t want her to do. This led me to micromanaging her. She quickly taught me that was NOT the correct answer. Something I admire about Tilly is how honest she is. She lets me know when she’s frustrated with me.

Tilly very quickly taught me not to micromanage her but to micromanage myself in order to cue her correctly. I needed to be more controlled and more subtle. With horses, less is more. Tilly emphasized that for me. I micromanaged myself, learning how to isolate different muscle groups to give lighter cues. It was a process but every time I got sloppy in my riding, Tilly let me know.

With isolating my muscles I could slow and quicken my seat to lengthen and shorten her strides and I could control my hands to remain in a VERY small area yet get my cue across. My legs weren’t swinging around kicking her in the flank or shoulder and in return, I started riding a happier horse. Who would have thought that making minimal movements allowed my horse to make controlled and precise maneuvers?

Photo by Kat Procyk

While riding correctly and subtly is exciting and important, it’s just a fraction of being a good horsewoman. Like every other equestrian, I have failed, many times. Most of us don’t like to admit it or share the experiences because we want to look good on social media. The thing is, the failures are what really drive us to become better. Recognizing and changing the behavior is vital. I’ll let you in on one of my biggest failures because it taught me what it means to be a good horsewoman.

On one particular occasion I took Tilly to a local saddle club’s open show. There were pleasure classes in the morning and the gaming classes followed in the afternoon. It was a scorcher that day, over 90 degrees.

I took Tilly in the morning and entered us in every class we could possibly be in. Why? Because I knew we could win.

By the time the gaming classes came around — what Tilly really enjoys — she was acting odd. She was leaping into the arena and not paying attention to where I wanted her to go. I should have taken this as a sign to quit, that she’d had enough, but, I wanted to keep winning.

Photo by Hudson Photography

The class right before her favorite event, barrels, we came out of the ring and Tilly wouldn’t move. She started to lay down and wouldn’t get back up. She couldn’t walk. She was tying up because I had pushed her too hard, left her boots on all day — holding in unnecessary heat on that hot day — and I most likely didn’t give her enough water to meet her minimal requirements for the temperature. I had really failed Tilly as an owner that day.

Sure, I won some great two dollars ribbons but at the expense of my horse’s well being. That’s not winning. From that point on I told myself to forget about winning and start listening to my horse. I was selfish and that’s not how I wanted to be.

From that day forward, I strived, and still strive, to be in tune with my horses. I put their health and well being first and foremost. I make sure to give my horses breaks, thorough cool downs and really select the events they enjoy doing rather than throwing them in every class just to win.

Photo by Alan Coley Photography

Tilly taught me all of that. She works hard for me every time and on that occasion I really let her down. I won’t do that to her again, nor any other horse I have the opportunity to ride. Tilly continues to make me a better horse woman. Because of her I went from a backyard horse snob to a constantly learning and evolving horsewoman.

Horses can teach us a lot — if we let them. I’m fortunate to have a horse like Tilly to continue teaching me so that I can instill that into other equestrians and horses, and that’s exactly what I did with Buns.

I took it slow — his training, his rehab, everything. I want to be able to enjoy him as long as possible and Tilly taught me the way to do that, how to form a lasting bond and create a solid partnership. Without her, Buns may have ended up a completely different horse and I owe her more credit than I give her.